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Himal South Asian Volume 16, Number 7, July 2003 Dixit, Kanak Mani Jul 31, 2003

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Blind men
civil -society
2004 alarm bells in Dhaka • LTTE and the internationals
• India-China: bhai-bhai once again
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For reservations
Tel: 00977-1-429085/86/87/88 Fax: 00977-1-410957 e-mail: htltibet®
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Vol 16 No 7
July 2003
India: The Nathu La switch
South Asia: A Subcontinental
by Ammara Durrani
Sri Lanka: The LTTE roadmap
by Jehan Perera
South Asia: Same-sex South Asia
by MV Ramana
Pakistan: Between two hegemons
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Civilising civil society: Donors and
democratic space in Nepal
by Seira Tamang
Illegal fives in Karachi
by Hasan Mansoor
Beyond the MFA doomsday scenario
by Dina M Siddiqi
Pakistan's budget: The economics
ot hypocrisy
by Shafqat Munir
Nepal's mysterious afffictions
by Anil Bhattarai
The word of god for benighted
by Yoginder Sikand
Political maps and cultural territories
by David Ludden
25        ANALYSIS
Penury in plenty
by Indrajit Roy
Aid in developing Nepal
by Jagannath Adhikari
The profits of catastrophe
by TMathew
 Contributors to this issue
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas J Mathew
Assistant Editor
Stiruti Debi
Contributing Editors
Calcutta    Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo    ManikdeSilva
Dhaka       Afsan Chowdhury
k/wachi     Beena Sarwar
n. America .Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
Design Team
Indra Shrestha
Kam Singh Chepang
Suresh Neupane
Slash Rai (Graphics)
Bhushan Shilpakar (Website)
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Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
Ammara Durrani is an assistant editor with The News international, Karachi:
Anil Bhattarai researched social medicine in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He is with the
Nepal South Asia Centre, Kathmandu.    ,
CK Lai is a Kathmandu-based engineer and Nepali Times columnist.
David Ludden is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently engaged
in field research in Bangladesh.      -»
Dina M Siddiqi is a cultural anthropologist based in Dhaka, working with a legal aid organisation.
Hasan Mansoor is a Karachi journalist.
Indrajit Roy is a development professional based in Allahabad.
Jagannath Adhikari is associated with Martin Chautari, an NGO based in Kathmandu.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist based in Colombo, writes a weekly column in the Daily
MV Ramana is a physicist at Princeton University.
Seira Tamang is a political scientist at the Centre for Social Research and Development,
Shafqat Munir researches at SDPI, Islamabad.
Yoginder Sikand is a researcher of Islamic history and a freelance writer based in Bangalore.
Cover design by Kam Singh Chepang
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 Apparent similarities
THANK YOU for responding in such
impressive detail to my letter concerning
Nasreen Rehman's article 'Singing the
nation' (Himal, May 2003), and also for
publishing Rehman's reply.
Rehman states that she is not familiar with my work,
and I must confess that I was not familiar with hers until
I read the article. However, if I were writing on a subject as
specific as the national anthems of the Subcontinent, 1
would certainly have ensured that I was acquainted with
her work, as well as other substantive material on the
subject that had appeared in recent years prior to the publication of my own piece. Clearly, Rehman did not follow
such a course, and without commenting on the adequacy
or otherwise of her research, let me simply state that I now
accept her word that she was unfamiliar with my work.
My apologies to her for thinking that she was.
Unlike Rehman, however, the eciitors, as pointed out
in their response to my letter, were familiar with my article, although they were apparently convinced that her
essay was sufficiently different from mine to be published
without any reference to the earlier piece. In support of
this thesis, the editors quote five sentences from my essay
and two from Rehman's to show that, despite a "superfi
cial resemblance" in certain respects, the "thrust" of each
essay is different.
I entirely agree that these pieces have "different
perspectives" and indicated as much in my original communication. Nevertheless, I would argue that this has no
real bearing on the issue of plagiarism, because, as is clear
in a close reading of the two pieces, there also seem to be
apparent similarities.
One could therefore go on endlessly in this vein, yet
such an exercise would surely serve very little further
purpose. If any good has come out of this matter, it is that
readers now have two essays, both published in widely
read Subcontinental journals, on what is obviously emerging t^s an interesting area for postcolonial theorising. That
these essays seem to have so much overlap, given that
they were written independently, is both sud-prising and
heartening, whatever view one takes on the relative positioning of Rehman's article vis-a-vis mine. In this connection, let me once again end by thanking Himal for the serious and thoughtful attention it gave to my initial letter.
Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Delhi
note from the editors
RB NAIR'S letter to Himal included extracts from her January 2001 article in Seminar and Nasreen Rehman's May
2003 article in this magazine. In the interests of space, we
Vacancy Announcement
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development was established in 1983 in Kathmandu, Nepal, serving
eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas and the global mountain community. As a mountain
learning and knowledge Centre, ICIMOD seeks to develop and provide innovative solutions, in cooperation with over
300 regional and international partners, which foster action and change for overcoming mountain people's economic,
social and physical vulnerability. This mission is carried out through acting as a multidisciplinary documentation
Centre, a focal point for training and applied research activities and a consultative Centre in scientific and technical
matters for the countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region at their request.
in 2003 ICIMOD embarked on a new five-year strategic plan to address: Natural Resources Management; Agriculture
and Rural Income Diversification; Water Resources and Hazard Management; Culture, Equity and Governance;
Knowledge Management; and Policy and Partnership Development.
ICIMOD is seeking to recruit qualified persons for a one-year period for the following vacant regional and local level
project positions for which applications are now invited.
□ Energy Officer Pos.t graduate degree or equivalent in energy planning, energy economics or related field
with minimum 3 years' experience in community based energy resources for rural development gained in the
HKH region
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Exchange Project) Graduate in water resources, hydrology or related subject with minimum 3 years' research
experience in integrated water resources management or hydrology.
□ Web Person. Water Resources (Regional Cooperation in Flood Forecasting and Information Exchange Project)
Graduate in computer science, information science or related field with 2-3 years' experience in website
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Further information on the vacancies, including Terms of Reference for the positions, can be found at
or can be requested from the address below. Applications with complete curriculum vitae together with the names and
addresses of three referees should be sent to the following address by 31 July 2003.
Personnel Officer, ICIMOD, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal
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e-mail: admin @
are not printing them. Readers who wish to compare the
two articles can access Nair's piece at www.india- and Rehman's piece at
We will not entertain future comment on this issue in
our print edition.
Missing manpower
WHILE AGREEING with Aruna Upre-
ty's response to 'Neglect of the fallen
womb' by Bijaya Subba et al (Himal, April
2003), I have something to add. Although
the article's authors rightfully draw attention to an under-noticed medical affliction among rural women in Nepal,
they do not contextualise the ailment in
Nepal's political economy. As such, the solution they proffer is the usual: awareness and the purchase of a wonder
product, a pessary costing NPR 30.
The point is to avoid uterine prolapse. It cannot be
avoided when entire villages are bereft of able-bodied men
who have gone to Kathmandu or overseas in search of a
better life. For labour-dependent households deprived of
manpower, one option is to produce more working hands,
which they do, notwithstanding UNFPA's efforts to the
Society cannot suffer fhe desertion of men from villages without 'side effects' - uterine prolapse and high female fertility, among others. Labour-exporting economies
often defy their own logic.
Bela Malik, Kathmandu
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THE RECENT visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to China has set
the ink flowing in the South Asian media,
particularly because it comes together with
a definite thaw in the New Delhi-Islamabad
relationship. Vajpayee's visit to Beijing was
important in many respects. It was the first
prime ministerial visit to China after India
became a nuclear state, which means the
meeting took place within the framework of
a new power configuration, in a changed
geopolitical context. At the same time, the
agreement to allow trade across the Sikkim-
Tibet border cleverly unravelled a pesky knot
that had bedevilled Sino-Indian relationships for much too long. By the simple act of
agreeing on cross-border trade at one point
- Nathu La - the two governments rendered
moot the discussion on Indian recognition
of China's annexation of Tibet and India's
annexation of Sikkim.
The trade across the border, of course,
can have a bilateral confidence building
dimension all its own. To develop Tibet,
China needs access to the sea promised by
Highway 31 , which leads down to Siliguri
and on to the Calcutta port. Once this
corridor generates economic dividends for
both countries, the ghost of the 1962 border
war between India and China may finally
be exorcised. At the same time, it is possible
that uncharted developments may soon
overtake the Indian Northeast, especially if
an energised economy dilutes the sanctity
of the internal state security apparatus that
has been built up in this region. Who knows,
even faraway Calcutta's trade may see a
revival of sorts as container trucks ply the
distance to Lhasa via Siliguri and Yarung.
The immediate beneficiaries of the opening up of the Nathu La passage to Lhasa via
the Chumbi valley in Tibet are the state of
Sikkim and its Chief Minister Pawan Kumar
Chamling. At the same time, now that the
Nathu La is open, it is incongruous to
maintain the lock on the all-weather route
up from Kalimpong via the alternate Jelep
La. Not opening Jelep La may, however, be a
calculated holding back, as the Indians give
themselves time to see what the cost of freeing
trade access for cheap Chinese goods,
previously confined to the grey market,
means for domestic producers vis-a-vis the
Northeast market. However, if the numbers
work out right and Jelep La is opened,
Darjeeling district may expect to see a
revival of its own fortunes. Unlike Sikkim,
Darjeeling is not a recipient of central
largesse and it has been going to seed over
the decades, as the local economy stagnates.
The 1962 Sino-Indian war battered the
Indian establishment's psyche, converting
the Himalayan rim into a super-sensitive
border region replete with travel restrictions.
It also led to a surge in mountain road-
building and the very presence of security
forces led to a militarisation of regions and
societies (especially in the Northeast) that
had their own brewing internal conflicts
and disputes with the centre.
Today, if New Delhi is less apprehensive
about China, it could very well mean that
Nathu La is only the beginning, to be
followed by the opening up of Jelep La and
a lot of the other fas (passes) in the Tibetan-
speaking Himalayan rim of South Asia. The
long-standing antipathy in New Delhi for
Kathmandu's desires for north-south roads
within Nepal may also finally be overcome.
The end result of this little switch on Nathu
La could be the start of economic and human
relationships across the northern frontier of
South Asia.
As far as the Sino-Indian strategic
relationship at the inter-state level is
concerned, it was only in
1975 that the two neighbours began a rapprochement. Even so, all was
never well with the relationship, one major cause
being the significant military and economic assistance provided by China to
Pakistan, including in the
nuclear sphere. In order to
justify the Pokhran II tests
in 1998, Vajpayee told the
lower house of the Indian
parliament that India's
nuclear weapons programme is not "Pakistan-
specific". Defence Minister
George Fernandes was
more direct, when he
famously described China
as enemy number one .
Apparently, the Chinese have opted to let by-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
India must have
calculated that it
would gain by
putting pressure on
the Sino-Pak
special relationship
to the extent that it
is anti-India
gones be bygones, and decided that the
economic possibilities of political rapprochement are more important than how New
Delhi perceives Beijing. But there is obviously
more to the friendly and reciprocal overtures
from both sides.
Careful calculations
Post-11 September and post-Iraq, the Chinese
are far more conscious of the need to evolve
their positions in an increasingly US-
dominated world. It may have legitimate
fears about encirclement, with the US
presence in Central Asia and its 'proactive'
policy in South Asia. The need to independently reach out to India, for reasons beyond
the possibilities of economics and trade,
seems understandable.
For its part, as the economic turtle to
China's hare, India must feel the need to link
its economy in some way to the runaway
success of the People's Republic. The choice
to work more closely towards regional
security and stability in a spirit of mutual
engagement rather than mutual containment
is understandable. With mutual engagement, a detente with China and the resolution
of the border disputes, India must have
calculated that it would gain by putting
pressure on the Sino-Pak special relationship
to the extent that it is anti-India. In any case,
for all concerned, it would be best not to
challenge China in the nuclear arms race.
As far as the global superpower is
concerned, both India and China seem to be
quite willing for George W Bush to act out
his fears and fantasies in West Asia. For
Cltina, there is the added benefit of
deflecting any Islamic activism
among the Uigyurs of Xinjiang,
while the Indian state has simply
decided to run with the liberalisation bandwagon at the instance
of its English-speaking establishment and Hindu right-wing swa-
deshis, no longer interested in
representing the 'downtrodden of
the earth'. Significantly, Beijing and
New Delhi both refrained from
condemning the United States over
the March invasion of Iraq.
In the whys and the wherefores of this
trans-Asian rapprochement, let us be clear
about what is important and who benefits.
The economy of the People's Republic of
China has annual growth rates that hover
between seven and eight percent. In the field
of information technology, to take one
example, China produces hardware, which
tends to spread the income around. India
produces software, which concentrates it at
the top. India needs to catch up, and if this
requires economic linkages with China, then
so be it. Realising this, perhaps, Indian
techies treated their Chinese counterparts to
a power point presentation on the actualities
and benefits of proposed cooperation.
It is hopefully this type of reading that
got the realists and the idealists in South
Block together to push the Nathu La deal
through. The remaining border disputes are
also de facto settled (the Arunachal frontier
and Aksai Chin), and if they can similarly be
put behind us, one could get started on the
true tasks of Asian solidarity. This might, of
course, translate into less South Asian
cooperation, as India becomes more preoccupied outside the region.
Whether this is a quick way for Vajpayee
to become a statesman along the lines of
Nehru, or whether tdhis is a well thought out
move that has the support of the defence,
foreign affairs and internal affairs establishments will become apparent with time. But,
in that things have not moved immediately
into high gear, and that a degree of circumspection characterises this thaw, there is
hope that this is careful foreign policy and
not the whim of an aging politician. /.
THIS SUMMER'S thaw in Pakistan-India
relations has breathed new life into track
two processes between the countries. The
region's pacifists have risen with recharged
spirits, with visits and exchanges following
the recommendations that evolved in
countless earlier seminar discussions. The
most recent such visit was undertaken by a
group of Indian parliamentarians led
by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, an
independent member of the Indian upper
house. Organised by the Pakistan-India
People's Forum for Peace and Democracy,
the visit (to Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi)
was in reciprocation to a journey in May by
a delegation of Pakistani legislators led
by Ishaq Khan Khakwani of the ruling
Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam).
Speaking in Karachi, in the last week of
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
June, Nayar and his compatriots sent out a
strong message of peace and friendship
to an appreciative audience. There is a
"Subcontinental consensus", said Nayar,
that war was not the answer to our problems. "We have to ask ourselves two
questions: are we ready for peace; and are
we ready for a commitment to peace?"
There are, however, two disturbing
features in these latest visits. One, neither
delegation included representatives of the
right wing parties, the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) of India and the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal of Pakistan. And, two,
despite the rhetoric of profuse fraternal
affection, both delegations validated their
respective governments' views on the
'hurdles' to peace. The Pakistanis and
Indians, thus, stood by their respective
government positions on the "core issue"
debate, the one insisting it was Kashmir,
the other pointing to cross-border terrorism.
Track two diplomacy between Pakistan
and India, a phenomenon linked with civil
society's growing consciousness of and
confidence in itself, has developed since the
late 1980s. Through escalations of tension,
as manifest in the 1998 nuclear tests, the
1999 Kargil conflict and the exchange of
nuclear threats in the summer of 2001,
practitioners of this track of diplomacy have
tenaciously held on to informal talks. The
Neemrana dialogues, which began in 1991
with American support, have facilitated
exchanges between educators, ex-military
men, ex-bureaucrats, artistes, businessmen,
parliamentarians and members of the
While the sincerity of these conflict
resolution practitioners has never been in
doubt, the Pakistan-India track two runs the
risk of being only occasionally relevant to
track one, which refers to the official
diplomatic exchange between the governments of the two states. The tension,
apparent in the most recent exchange of
legislators, between representing a state
and representing an ideal arises from the
typical limitations of track-two diplomacy.
Notwithstanding these limitations, it is
imperative that track two representatives
resolve the tension with the state if their
efforts are to bear the fruit of peace. Ordinarily, this would begin with influencing
the minds and agendas of the ruling
establishments in each country, but if we
accept that the national power elites have
an entrenched interest in sustaining a slow-
burn conflict, that is easier recommended
than done.
Peaceful survival
There has been, however, a curious development which gives some hope to the peace
constituency in Pakistan and India. In the
post-11 September global reality, where
right-wingers once again find themselves
in a strong position, every aggressive word
and deed by a state actor can easily
be justified in the name of national
security. We could rationally have
expected, going by past behaviour,
that this would embolden the ruling
establishments to drop the peace-
and-reform mantra. Strangely
though, Pervez Musharraf and Atal
Behari Vajpayee seem to be taking
great pains to sustain dialogue
and reinstate the track one peace
process. The two gentlemen could not
possibly have taken the 'going down in
history' sentiment so much to heart. What,
then, is the reason behind this fresh track
one resolve for peace?
After General Musharraf's October 1999
coup, the military in Pakistan learned that
despite its continued control over the
country's power structure, it could not
afford a repetition of military rule in the
style of Zia ul-Haq. General Musharraf,
therefore, embarked on an ambitious facelift
for his role. In the name of reforms, he
adopted most, if not all, of the socioeconomic and political agendas that had
hitherto been the ideological property of the
civil democratic parties. He nurtured, for the
sake of the outside world, the image of a
'liberal' soldier.
In India, the right wing Bharatiya Janata
Party at the helm of the current coalition
government also seems to have begun a
careful rethink of its image and policies after
the 1998 nuclear tests. Apart from the
inherent challenges posed by the partners
in its coalition government, the BJP realised
that if it wished to lead India onto the free-
market bandwagon, it would have to live
up to the republic's secular-democratic
Thus it was that the hard-boiled and the
hard-nosed in Islamabad and New Delhi,
who so far had invested in perpetuating the
conflict, initiated a careful shift in their
political paradigms, spurred primarily by
global political and economic pressures.
This development should have been a kind
The hard-boiled
and the hard-
nosed are making
peace because of
political and
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
of a wake-up call for the secular democrats
of the two countries, for it signified the onset
of an increasingly concentrated political
space in which contending forces claim a
similar political agenda. But the liberals
conceded the space, and now right-wingers,
who are using it for political survival rather
than promoting it out of a genuine desire
for peace, have taken up their agenda.
A common perception is that pressure
from the West, more precisely the United
States, is the strongest factor in the evolving
Sucontinental equation. This cannot be
entirely correct in the light of the political
survival argument. If indeed it is for political
survival that the banner of peace is being
held up in Islamabad and New Delhi, the
pacifists who are being edged out of the
political space must carefully consider
two points. First, how has 11 September
empowered the very actors that have waged
a war of hatred for the past half-century
or so? Second, given their newfound
empowerment and legitimisation, why have
these elements decided to tread the path
towards peace?
These questions may sound retrogressive in the midst of the euphoria in the
editorials and opinion pages. But they have
to be raised keeping in mind the future of
political liberalism, secularism and democracy in the two countries after a peace deal
has been clinched by those very people and
institutions that have fought against it for
Difficult though it may be, the pacifists
need to break the shackles of 'ground
realities' and move the dialogue beyond the
official line on the 'constraints' on peace. In
the negotiable space that is politics, the
liberals of both countries must reclaim the
initiative for peace in order to ensure their
own political survival for the sake of the
people. In Pakistan, the argument goes: if it
takes a general rather than a civilian
government to clinch this deal, why fight
it? But what that would entail for the future
of democracy in Pakistan is anybody's
guess. To a journalist's question in Islamabad, Nayar said: "Let us face it, whatever
agreement India is to make with Pakistan,
it has to be with General Musharraf".
What the pragmatic approach of a right
wing party such as the BJP might mean for
the future of secular politics in India again
is a line of questioning that Indian liberals
and pacifists seem loath to pursue.
This, then, is the crux of the dilemma for
the liberals in Pakistan and India. Having
laid down the groundwork through decades
of perseverance, they risk being unable to
claim their efforts in the open political arena.
Or they risk derailing the peace process by
challenging the legitimacy of those that at
the moment seem to be taking it forward. It
may be that there is now a realisation of the
utilitarian gains of peace; the question that
no one seems to want to answer is what are
the costs of such a peace. Considering that
the leadership of the BJP refused even to
meet the Pakistani delegation, perhaps
Nayar should have asked whether the right
wing establishments that have embraced
peace today will be committed to the
process if tomorrow peace is no longer
politically or economically expedient.
There may be a lesson lurking outside
the Subcontinent: while Tony Blair's "new"
Labour gave him the blessings to wage
war in West Asia, Pakistani and Indian
liberals have given their blessings to their
adversaries for the greater good that peace
would bring! b
-Ammara Durrani
THE NORWEGIAN facilitators' late-June
announcement that the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was willing to re-enter
peace talks with the government, which
LTTE chief spokesman Dr Anton Balasingham confirmed in London, came
as welcome news. The London meeting
between the LTTE and the facilitators was
the first in nearly a month, and the timing
of the announcement, coming during a
prime ministerial state visit to the United
Kingdom, helped to bolster Ranil Wick-
remesinghe's credibility.
As the LTTE's chief political negotiator,
it appears that Balasingham can act with
relative autonomy to help or to hinder the
peace process. On this occasion, as on
several others, he chose to help. However,
accompanying tWs softening of stance was
a call from Balasingham to redefine the
peace talk agenda. He would rather address
crucial issues relating to the harsh realities
of the people in the underdeveloped north
and east than pursue guidelines, milestones
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
and roadmaps for what he described as
an imaginary solution. Balasingham's
statements since the LTTE suspended
participation in peace talks on 21 April have
uniformly called for a radically "new,
innovative" approach to the peace process.
The demand for a radically new and
innovative approach indicates uneasiness
in the ranks of the LTTE with the manner in
which the peace process has progressed.
What seems to be most frustrating for the
LTTE is its inability to administer the north
and east in the manner promised by
the federal system to which it publicly
committed itself at the peace talks in Oslo
last year. After a year and a half of ceasefire,
the powers of governance remain legally
vested with the Colombo government,
making federal-based power sharing seem
a distant dream. The LTTE's ability to deliver
material benefits to the north and east
remains negligible due to a combination of
International expectations
When it signed the ceasefire agreement with
the government in February 2002, the LTTE
may have anticipated rapid progress
toward its domination of life in the north
and east, either by means of an interim
administration or through the joint committees that were established at the peace
talks. But this has not happened, and
legally, the central government remains the
mainstay of governance in that region.
Balasingham's most recent insistence on
a radically new and innovative approach
to the peace process is an indication of the
LTTE's thinking on the problem. In rejecting
the conflict-resolution mechanism of guidelines, milestones and roadmaps that pave
the way for a future solution, the LTTE is
insisting on an immediate handover of
ground-level control. However, it is unlikely
that the LTTE will succeed in altering the
model of the peace process so long as
the international community is actively
involved. The guidelines, milestones
and roadmaps procedure, which gained
expression in the final statement issued at
the LTTE-boycotted Tokyo donor conference
on 10 June, is in fact being followed in the
ongoing internationally mediated peace
processes elsewhere, most prominently in
West Asia. In insisting on a different route
to peace, the LTTE may consciously
be seeking to distance itself from the
internationalisation of the peace process, in
which not just Norway, but also the United
States, Japan, India and the European Union
have taken great interest.
There is no question that the ground
situation in the north and east, and the
improvement of people's lives there, should
take priority. But the ground situation
comprises economic issues, as much
as it does issues of security of life and
other human rights. In this context,
the recent spate of assassinations in
the north and east, as well as in other
parts of Sri Lanka, represents an
abnormal situation and comes as a
harsh reminder of the brutality of the
as-yet unresolved conflict.
Resistance is futile
The desire of the LTTE to slow the
internationalisation of the peace
process stems from an apprehension
that it is losing ground with the
international community, which is
an accurate assessment of the evolving
situation. International players will naturally seek to ensure that democratic values,
human rights and pluralism are contained
in any solution, interim or otherwise. The
international community, looking at local
problems from afar, is less concerned with
the particularities of a country's history,
and with the animosities and past practices
of various parties, than with the generalities
of human rights and good governance on
the ground in the present.
The LTTE's human rights violations,
most notably those against its political
opponents, but including taxation and its
conscription of children, have cost it much
international sympathy. The Norwegian
facilitators are under pressure from
the international community to find
a way to stop human rights abuses
in Sri Lanka. The remedy for this is
not to try to reduce the role of the
international community in the peace
process, but for the LTTE to adjust its
own behaviour to be in conformity
with acceptable standards. As an organisation that seeks politico-administrative
power in the north and east, the LTTE needs
to demonstrate that it can be trusted to
govern in a manner that respects human
rights and basic democratic freedoms, such
as the right to life and expression of ethnic
and political pluralism.
Taking the peace process forward is not
simply a matter of talking about sharing the
Balasingham: Back to the table.
desires to reduce
influence on the
peace process
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
bearers of morality
deny any historical
basis for same-sex
love in South Asia
powers of governance, lt is also about a
discourse in which the use of coercion and
violence is invalid and outlawed. There is
no doubt that the rapid and positive
progress in the peace process up to now has
been, in large measure, due to the intervention of the international community.
Indeed, resistance to the internationalisation of the peace process in the post-11
September world is likely to be both counterproductive and futile. When even Hamas
in the Occupied Territories of West Asia has
fallen in line with international desires and
suspended attacks against Israel, it will be
near impossible for Sri Lankans to resist the
tide of the times.
On the positive side, there is an abundance of international goodwill and financial support for Sri Lanka's peace process,
as was manifest at the Tokyo donor
conference. If this support is to be tapped
constructively, the LTTE's struggle for power
has to be subordinated to the guidelines of
human rights and milestones of good
governance in the roadmap to a federal
solution. /ft
-Jehan Perera
JUNE WAS a watershed month for homosexual rights in the West. On 10 June, a court
in the province of Ontario, Canada, declared
same-sex marriages legal. Since the federal
government has not appealed the decision,
Canada in effect has become the third
country in the world, after Belgium and the
Netherlands, to legalise same-sex marriages,
and hundreds of same-sex Canadian couples have already taken advantage of the
ruling. Two weeks later, on 26 June, the US
supreme court struck down laws
banning sodomy, which are still on
the books in 13 states, ruling that
the state cannot make "private
sexual conduct a crime". And four
days after that, the British government made public a plan to give
lesbian and gay couples the same
rights as their married heterosexual counterparts.
The homosexual community in South
Asia, especially in India, has been making
news as well. On 29 June, the city of Calcutta
hosted the first-ever gay pride march in the
Subcontinent. Though small in the number
of participants, it was an important start,
and there are other indications that the
community is making its presence felt. The
Indian Council of Medical Research is
debating the adoption of guidelines that
would allow lesbians and single mothers
to use reproductive teclinology to conceive
babies. The BBC reports that The Boyfriend, a
recently-published Indian novel dealing
with love between an openly gay man and
a young boy who feels unable to pursue his
homosexual instincts, "has raised hopes
within the country's largely invisible gay
community of the chances of coming out of
the closet". And in Nepal in May, the Blue
Diamond Society, an NGO working to
promote homosexual rights, held a beauty
pageant for homosexuals, lesbians
and bisexuals in Kathmandu's National
These developments notwithstanding,
homosexuals in South Asia are a rather
persecuted lot. Even in the big cities, where
conditions have improved over the last
couple of decades, and where there is now
some limited semblance of social life for
members of the community, especially for
those who are wealthy and have access to
clubs and the Internet - there are significant
hurdles in the path. Homosexuals are still
subject to many forms of discrimination, in
particular housing and employment. In
Bombay, "people have been kicked out after
their sexuality was revealed", says a gay
activist who set up an Internet service called
GHAR (Gay Housing Assistance Resource).
If gay men have a difficult time, the
strongly patriarchal nature of South Asian
societies ensures even worse treatment
for lesbians. The oppression and discrimination they face has been rationalised on
the basis of claims about gender, culture,
tradition, values and morals. One noteworthy recent instance of anti-lesbian
activity was the Shiv Sena's campaign to
stop screenings of the 1999 film Fire, a work
centred on a lesbian relationship, combined
with virulent attacks against its director
Deepa Mehta and the actors who played its
protagonists, Shabana Azmi and Nandita
As in the case of fire, the growth of
religious extremism and militant movements has negatively impacted the status
of gay men and lesbians. Religious national-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
ists have often opposed public discussion
and artistic displays of or about the community. The self-appointed bearers of their
own narrow conceptions of what constitutes morality, these movements have tried
to deny any historical basis to same-sex love
in South Asia. (Those who mistakenly
believe that our region has no historical
tradition of homosexual love should read
Same Sex Love in India: Readings from
Literature and History, edited by Ruth Vanita
and Saleem Kid wai.) The Jamaat-e-Islami
even recommends capital punishment for
those convicted of same-sex romantic
Conditions in rural areas are particularly difficult. The relative anonymity
provided by cities and the social spaces -
clubs, parks and so on - are not available in
rural areas. Here again class, caste and
gender make a difference. Gay men among
the rural elite, such as those from landlord
families, often use their social positions to
engage in forcible sex with poorer or lower
caste males. Such instances often lead even
progressive groups to condemn homosexuality. One should note, however, that
such acts are instances of violent exploitation based on social and economic power
tantamount to rape - and are condemnable
for that reason. They do not offer any reason
to oppose homosexuality per se.
What makes all these forms of social
discrimination particularly odious is that
gay men and lesbians lack legal protection
in all South Asian countries. For example,
after independence India adopted the
British penal code dating to the 19th century,
and few changes have occurred in the
intervening years. Section 377 of the code
relates to homosexuality: "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the
order of nature with any man, woman or
animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either
description for a term which may extend to
ten years, and shall also be liable to fine".
The situation in Pakistan is much worse.
Apart from civil law derived from the British
penal code, there is also a religious law
calling for up to 100 lashes or death by
stoning. In Sri Lanka, sex between men is
punishable by 12 years in jail, while the
existence of lesbianism is not even acknowledged in the penal code. Bangladesh,
Bhutan and Nepal all have similarly
repressive laws on homosexuality.
These laws are not implemented often;
Azmi and Das in Fire.
ie, there are not many instances of homosexuals actually being imprisoned for their
sexual preferences. But they are frequently
used to harass, blackmail and extort bribes.
And because same-sex love is legally
unacceptable, many gay men and lesbians
marry members of the opposite sex - with
consequent deception, frustration and
misery for all concerned.
Thus, the laws, which should be meant
to protect people rather than to discriminate
against them, especially those regarding
sexuality, must change. The scrapping of
South Asia's anti-homosexuality laws is
important - often the law must change before
social mores do. Legal protection is probably the only way that South Asia's homosexual community can be guaranteed social
rights, rights against exploitation and,
importantly, health rights. b>
-MV Ramana
THE LATE-June Bush-Musharraf Camp"
David show seems to have been widely
accepted as a great success, at least in the
corporate media's projection of things. That
being said, if a nationwide poll were
conducted in Pakistan, it is likely that most
Pakistanis would judge the meeting as
eyewash, because history has taught us that
ordinary Pakistanis are always the losers
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 Not for Pakistan.
in such games. Nevertheless, the public
relations exercise was executed more or
less effectively - General Musharraf has
received the green light from those who
matter to carry on with his unique form of
"sustainable democracy" in Pakistan.
One interesting issue stood out in
the Camp David discussions. George
W Bush minced no words when he said
that Musharraf had pushed hard for the
delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan,
originally sold in 1988-89. Musharraf seems
to link the delivery of the fighter jets to
ensuring Pakistan's "sovereign equality"
vis-a-vis India - getting the jets would be
no less than US acknowledgement that
Pakistan's stance on India is legitimate and
acceptable. It is therefore quite symbolic that
Bush unambiguously asserted that the USD
three billion package offered to Pakistan
does not include the F-16s.
Despite the best efforts of the US State
Department over the past two years to
convince us that there is no more valuable
partner in the 'war on terror' than Pakistan,
the simple reality is that keeping India
happy is a far greater priority for the US
than pleasing Pakistan. The latter is
important insofar as it remains stable and
cooperative, but the big fish in the Subcontinent is, and always has been, someone
else. It is now only a matter of historical
interest that during the cold war India
maintained a principled stance of non-
alignment, and that between Moscow and
Washington, India was closer to the former.
Now that bipolarity in international affairs
is a thing of the past, India has moved a lot
closer to the US, and will likely to continue
to do so.
This leaves the Pakistani establishment
in a fix. For many years, the US Central
Intelligence Agency funded non-state actors
based in Pakistan to wage a 'holy' war
against the Russians in Afghanistan. But
now, with the monster on the loose and
Pakistan's military establishment having
built its own empire from the embers of the
1980s Afghan war, the US takes a different
view of things and wants the religious right
curbed. At least, that is what one is made to
believe. In reality, it probably suits the US
just fine that the mullahs in Pakistan are
responsible for the occasional tumult, just
as the US is fairly comfortable with mullahs
in most Muslim-majority countries around
the world. This is because it is important for
the US establishment to maintain the threat
perception of extremist islam so as to
continue its imperial march.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that, at
least on the surface, the US will continue
to exert pressure on Pakistan to curtail
the religious right's activities. As such,
Pakistan's bargaining position is weak
in comparison to India's. The Indian
establishment - just as complicit in perpetuating the conflict over Kashmir as the
Pakistani establishment - is therefore quite
content to go about its business and forge
ever-closer economic ties with the US. The
losers in this saga are the people of the
Subcontinent, and they will continue to lose
untO and unless some other force comes to
the fore.
The tautology here is that only the
collective will of the people of the region can
create such a new force. As such, the prospect
probably seems remote to most people for a
variety of reasons, including oppressive
social constraints, and the rapidity with
which corporate and consumer cultures are
penetrating society. We consequently face
the immense task of constructing a dynamic
political vision out of the circumstances of
the day. Even so, it is worth noting that the
global hegemon and South Asia's elites are
feeling the weight of the immense contradictions in their evolving relationship,
which are now making the boat rock.
Capital offence
It is important to remember that, as always,
a significant portion of the USD three billion
aid package to Pakistan will line the pockets
of generals and brigadiers. This makes
perfect sense for a number of reasons.
Washington is well aware that sooner, or
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
later it will have to do something about the
military's domination of politics in Pakistan
- it is now increasingly difficult to justify
military-style "sustainable democracy"
when the number of countries across the
world where the military runs the state is
down to a handful. The natural dynamics
of global capitalism ensure that the US will
assist the military in consolidating its
corporate empire within Pakistan so that
when a military retreat from the political
sphere is the only way forward, its top brass
will be content with the riches it has
acquired, and will continue to acquire in
the future. Even so, the military - being the
military - will not go quietly, and it is up
to the Pakistani people to power the
movement that expels it from the affairs of
the state.
Meanwhile, the Indian establishment
will exploit the existing situation to the
greatest extent possible to fortify its claims
to regional hegemony, something already
underway with its economic take-off
facilitated by foreign capital. But fortunately, the march of the Indian capitalists
is not unimpeded. In India, the tradition of
resistance is far more developed than it is
in Pakistan, and so capital's swoop is
facing a legitimate challenge.
However, as in Pakistan, in India there
seems to be a widening gulf between those
who see the most important issue before the
Indian polity as the struggle between
secular and non-secular forces, and those
who see the inroads being made by capitalism and imperialism into the country as the
primary concern of the present day. The
problem is that the Bharatiya Janata Party
represents all of the truly regressive trends
that prevail in India at the moment. However, the Congress has proven to be - and
will likely remain - a willing partner of
international financial institutions and the
global financial elite. There is therefore no
significant difference in the politics of
India's leading political powerhouses, even
while one represents the religious right, and
the other secularism.
As elsewhere in the world, the parochialism espoused in the politics of South
Asia's religious right is a reactionary
outcome of a number of objective conditions.
That is not to say that such trends have not
existed in the region till now; in fact, certain
communities in South Asia have a long
history and culture in which such trends
are definitive. Nonetheless, the manner in
which such trends have become
almost all encompassing is mis-
representative of South Asia's
traditions. Inorganic trends in
society are by definition the outcome of interventions from without.
And so ultimately, if the Subcontinent does face the spectre of
sectarianism and parochialism, there
should be no doubt that capitalism has
everything to do with it. Whether it is
General Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, LK
Advani or Sonia Gandhi who meets with
George W Bush, the discussion and result
will be almost identical. We must acknowledge this fact, and then mould a new reality
unclouded by our own narrow concerns of
self-interest. The real problem facing South
Asia is not our supposedly obsolete and
warped perception of the world, but rather
neo-colonialism. And it is time that we did
something about it. b
-Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
The US is much
more concerned
about keeping
India happy than
pleasing Pakistan
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available to new subscribers
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
Civilising civil society
Donors and democratic space in Nepal
by Seira Tamang
Civil society as a concept has had a long and distinguished, if somewhat rarefied, existence
among political philosophers. In recent decades,
having undergone some alchemic transformations at
the hands of development theorists, it has surfaced
among the people with more rhetorical allure than it
has ever had in the past. In this more seductive guise its
ecumenical progress has been very sumptuous. At the
hands of development publicists it has now become a
tidy blueprint to explain what is amiss in 'underdeveloped countries' and what awaits them if they only make
their societies more civil. But as with all nostrums, this demotic concept of civil society cannot afford to look too closely at its own constitutive axioms. Reconciling its numerous and fundamental inconsistencies is a potentially self-
negating act. Given the evident inadequacies of
the concept, what is surprising is that the development priesthood has managed to secure for it
such widespread acceptance across the global
It is customary, for instance, in Nepal, as in
other less-developed' countries in the present
time, to predicate viable democracy largely on
the emergence of a vibrant and active 'civil society'. In the cannon of development, a concomitant assumption is that such a civil society can
be financed into existence. But this constant reiteration that civil society is the solution to all of
Nepal's ills does little to clarify the nature and
potential of democratic space in Nepal. Instead,
civil society and other associated terms in donor liturgy - "democracy", "development",
"empowerment", "gender" - are deployed in
simplified, sanitised and circumscribed forms.
As the anthropologist Saubhagya Shah points
out, shorn of their "particular political and economic histories, these privileged discourses get
circulated as transparent and free-floating normative orders". Across the world, civil society
has been accorded a single uniform connotation that does not admit of the different political
possibilities that its pedigree affords.
Situating civil society
Civil society's conceptual ancestry is long and
diverse, spanning a range of theorists such as Georg
Hegel, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Adam Smith and
Alexis de Tocqueville. Though its lines of descent are
complex and its interpretations numerous, conceptions
of civil society can be broadly divided into two categories, the liberal and the Marxist - with their respective
neo/post permutations. It is generally agreed that what
constitutes civil society is based on some form of coordinated activity beyond the individual and household
and beyond the confines of the state. It is thought to be
an arena of associational culture that implies a sense of
collective action. Broadly, civil society serves as
a sort of bridge between the realms of society
(defined as an aggregate of individuals and
households living together within a more or less
ordered community) and the state (defined as a
set of government norms and institutions for the
purposes of structuring and controlling a given
The state-society bridge which constitutes
civil society may be built from the direction of
society towards the state, in which case it serves
as a way of imposing and enforcing social norms
on the workings of the state. Or, the civil society
bridge may be built from the direction of the state
towards society, in which case it creates a hegemony of the kind theorised by the Italian Marxist, aAntonio Gramsci. This civil society architecture normalises state domination over society
by creating the appearance of a state that is an
organic social product. In either case, civil society legitimises the state. The difference between
these two constructions is a normative one that
distinguishes between a legitimation that rests
on an actual integration of social values into state
functioning and a legitimation that is built on
the effective exercise of state ideology and control over society.
The liberal approach is derived from de
Tocqueville's work on democracy in 19th century
America. Tocqueville emphasised the beneficial
effects of civil associations for the creation and
maintenance of democracy, and in the liberal
view it is civil society which imposes and enforces social norms on the workings of the state.
It is the key to the limited state. This idea of civil
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
society was further elaborated and given an empirical
foundation in Robert Putnam's research on democracy
in Italy. His work, which has been particularly popular and influential among policy-makers, stresses the
necessity of a vibrant organisational culture as a prerequisite for a stable democracy with horizontal group
solidarities which cut across vertical ties of kinsfiip and
patronage. The most recent work within this tradition
to have earned the accolades of the multilateral community is Ashutosh Varshney's book, Ethnic Conflict
and Civic Life, a study of Hindu-Muslim violence in India, in which he reiterates the role of horizontal solidarities in thwarting civil conflict.
In the neo- or post-Marxist variants, civil society is
seen as being inextricably linked with the state and
political organisations, with the latter sustaining its
power through the indirect domination of the former.
Importantly, in this view, civil society - though an arena
of oppression characterised by internal divisions and
power inequalities - is also the site of struggle and resistance against authoritarianism.
The orthodox development view of civil society in
Nepal, as in the rest of South Asia, subscribes to the
liberal/neoliberal approach. Much of the analyses focuses on the need to promote practices and strategies to
strengthen a vaguely defined civil society. This is not
surprising since the concept of "civil society" was introduced in Nepal via the world of development, which
tacitly accepts the liberal perspective. As many commentators have observed, the rise to prominence of civil
society is symmetrically aligned to the global dominance
of the neoliberal ideology. This is in contrast to the 1970s
and 1980s, when the idea of civil society formed the
rallying cry for critics of authoritarian regimes in Latin
America and East Europe.
The East European collapse inspired sanguine
prophecies about "the third wave of democratisation"
and expressions of faith in "people power". In a climate overwhelmingly conducive to the export of democracy, external forces were thought to be capable of
aiding its institutionalisation in countries emerging into
freedom, if domestic forces were not equal to the task.
Under this benign supervisory regime, international and
western NGOs were assigned the role of facilitating
transnational advocacy networks, which in turn would
strengthen local NGO capacity to alter and shape domestic politics and eventually change state behaviour.
Concurrently, civil society underwent a de facto
definitional amendment. Though, theoretically, it was
acknowledged that civil society is constituted by diverse forms of associational life, in practice it came to
be more or less restricted in meaning to NGOs and emphasis was almost exclusively directed towards amplifying their role and potential. The policy of
"strengthening civil society" in the pursuit of economic
and political liberalisation was central to the New
Policy Agenda adopted in the late 1990s by multilateral and bilateral organisations such as the World Bank,
the United Nations Development Programme, the Inter-American Development Bank and the US Agency
for International Development's initiative for "sustainable democracy".
Since then, the quest for strengthening civil societies has gained momentum. In addition to the Bretton-
Woods and United Nations institutions, bilateral donor agencies and international non-government bodies have all enthusiastically embraced the NGO as the
instrument of democratic development. This is in fact
an institutional corollary of the ideological premises of
the Washington Consensus, whose strenuous objections to the state as an economic agent have been influential in conferring on NGOs their pre-eminent role in
creating a depoliticised democratic environment in
which citizens are primarily civilised consumers of
goods and services provided by an inherently efficient
private sector. The NGO therefore has both a civic and
economic role.
As political Utopias are explicitly forbidden and the
state is compelled to withdraw from direct participation in production and distribution, NGOs are regarded
as ideal service delivery mechanisms working towards
the ends of development. In more recent times, the ambit
of this function has been enlarged and, in addition to
dispensing the traditional package of services, NGOs
have been given the mandate of delivering democracy
and civil society as part of their development mission.
NGOs therefore are civil society organisations par excellence. In this role they serve as founders of "civic
culture", which is the bastion from which to combat
non-democratic forces threatening the state. While the
overt emphasis is on the contribution of 'civic
organisations' to the process of democratisation, the
freedoms of a democratic society are also deemed to
include the freedom of choice in the market place. This
enthusiasm for democracy is sometimes indistinguishable from free market ebullience and the democratisation process also entails donor support to civil
society explicitly for cultivating the ethic of private
The liberal rhetoric of civil society
Civil society as it exists in the development lexicon has
the appearance of lacking in conceptual, definitional
and purposive clarity. From being a determinant of democracy, civil society often becomes an end in itself,
redefined tautologically to mean those institutions, ie
NGOs, which partake of the features of a prefabricated
construct of civil society that in principle is constituted
by a limited and sometimes contradictory range of sentiments and dispositions about development and democracy. In a general climate in which the instrument
is mistaken for its purpose, the proliferation of NGOs is
taken to be an index of democratic evolution. However,
what undermines these claims to democratic virtue and
distinction is the specific sociology of the financial and
institutional environment in which they operate. In par-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
ticular, the relationship between domestic civil society
organisations and their international financial patrons
has important implications for democracy.
Nepal's own 1990 democratic revolution, which
saw the end of the repressive Panchayat regime, opened
up political space for autonomous organisations at precisely the time in which much foreign aid assistance
was channeled into - among other things - the construction of a civil society. In the aftermath of the political change, existing organisations grew in strength and
overall there was an exponential growth in the number
of NGOs operating in the country. While appreciating
both the changing forms that INGOs and NGOs have
taken over the years and the specifically political spaces
that NGOs in Nepal have gained since 1990, it is however important to recognise the manner in which civic
actors have been shaped - knowingly, and unknowingly - by international forces.
The widespread currency of the term "civil society"
in Nepal can be traced to the mid- to late-1990s. Not a
few INGO-funded books on the topic were published
during this time along with many articles in various
newspapers and magazines. Much of this output, continuing today, follows the liberal civil society agenda
in all its "development" approaches and aims to curtail the excesses ofthe state. For example, Govind Dhakal,
an exponent of this train of thought, in an article titled,
"Foundation of an autonomous civil society and the
environment of the citizens in Nepal", argued that the
"quest for the foundation of an autonomous civil society can only be realised when centralised power and
authority is well decentralised to the development actors in various forms". More recently, Alfred Diebold,
the Nepal Resident Representative of Friedrich-Ebert-
Stiftung (FES), Germany, which has sponsored much of
the literature on civil society, stated, "In developing
countries, the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society have a primary responsibility for addressing the concerns of the poor and
powerless and lend support to the politics of transformation". The language appears to have changed, but
the development agenda is still clear.
The predominant notion of civil society used in
Nepal is of groups working together in association for
a better normative life that liberal democracy represents.
The routine literature on the subject, as a rule, is prescriptive in tone, with accompanying laments on the
lack of civil society associations. Nepal is of course no
different from other countries in which the generic use
of "civil society" occurs and, consistent with the international trend, the term is vaguely defined. In fact it is
often equated with the non-state sphere as a whole so
that there appears to be no difference between society
and civil society. The danger in eroding the distinction
between society, an altogether inadequate descriptive
term, and civil society, which is a potentially useful
analytical category, has been highlighted by Prahlad
Dhakal, who provides examples of the comical usages
of the latter term in Nepal. Thus, civil society not only
buys tomatoes and cauliflower, it also steals domestic
water meters and indulges in similar other patently
anti-democratic misdemeanours.
It is not just civil society literature on civil society
that falls short of any analytically meaningful contribution. Even academic analyses of the term in Nepal -
many of which, incidentally, have been sponsored or
co-sponsored by donors - are as, if not more, conceptually ungainly and deceptive in their formulations. The
radical connotations of the term, as expounded by both
Marx and Gramsci, are simplified to such a degree that
their very different conceptions of the role of civil society and the implications this has for the manner in
which democratic struggles can be visualised become
sterile and effete. Typically, for instance, Gramsci's idea
of "hegemony" and civil society is sanitised to fit a liberal conclusion. According to a 1996 document co-produced by the Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies
(NEFAS) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung,
Gramsci, therefore, underlined the importance of
human ideas and efforts in changing the course of
history and altering the process of development. Participation of the masses in decision-making and
applying the methods of mediation can be expected
to achieve pluralistic consensus and enable the social, economic and political systems in adjusting to
the needs and aspirations of people as well as to
link human consciousness with the maintenance
or peaceful change of the system.
For Gramsci, civil society is an accessory of the state
in-so-far as it is the sphere in which the capitalist state
executes its project of hegemony. In this view, civil society is the instrument through which the state obtains
approval for its policies and programmes and generalises its acceptance in society. This is in stark contrast to
the liberal idea of a pluralistic consensus and dominant systems changing in accordance to the needs of
people, as suggested by the foregoing quotation. In a
more recent reworking of the liberal formula in Nepal,
the value of both Marx's and Gramsci's thoughts have
been unequivocally consigned to the past. In opposition to their views is "the modern version of civil society" which constitutes a space in which ideals of democracy and human rights are unproblematically
For the most part, there is a lack of conceptual clarity, intellectual rigour and even the most rudimentary
theoretical foundations in most of these analyses, as is
epitomised by this statement from the NEFAS-FKS publication: "The common tendency of civil society to escape from both the paternalistic values of communism
and laissez faire value of capitalism underlies its salience as both overlook voluntary, non-profit, and non-
monetised functions of the society". What this means
is not exactly clear to any serious student of civil soci-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
ety. Despite this lack of clarity, the proprietors of civil
society do not brook any departure from their slipshod
Thus, in the introductory overview of a 1998 book
based on several seminars throughout the country,
titled "The Role of Civil Society and Democratisation
in Nepal", the editor laments somewhat paternalisti-
cally that in the seminar on civil society and gender,
"in spite of explaining to the participants the concept
of civil society in relation to democratisation and the
importance of the gender perspective in achieving [the
aim of civil society], the discussion, more often than
not, strayed from the major theme and concentrated
heavily on the sad plight of women in a male dominated society like Nepal". This wilful disregard of
women's concerns about their lived realities and the
imposition of explanatory categories from above, hints
at the disempowering manner in which ostensibly
"democratising" principles or objectives are actually
applied in Nepal's development world. Clearly, society to be civil must also be obedient to the strictures of
civil society patrons. _
Unreal foundations
The inability of academics and analysts to move beyond 'trendy' jargon
and received wisdom of grossly inadequate explanatory competence is
evident from the manner in which
civil society is, in general discourse,
equated with NGOs. It is equally obvious from the critique of NGOs, made
from different perspectives, in both
academic and general parlance. While some observers
herald NGOs as alternatives to the state, NGO culture
has also been variously called "dollar farming", "begging and cheating bowl", "slave of the foreigners", "preventing revolution" and as family entrepreneurial
endeavours. (Such arguments are also familiar in
Bangladesh, which like Nepal is a highly donor-affected
country.) Yet, these sorts of critiques are oblivious to
the consequences of NGOs for the manner in which civil
society and its democratic promise can be realised.
The issue is not just that narratives of civil society
are often merely prescriptive and not even remotely relevant to the real dynamics of how civil society actually
functions in the Nepali context. Nor is it simply that
the use of the term "civil society" as an alternative to
"NGOs" avoids the stigma that attaches to the latter.
The issue in Nepal - as in other places - is also related
to the fact that despite their conceptual confusion and
limited value in explaining Nepal's past or future, such
imported concepts command public and official importance because of the manner in which they are linked,
pushed and advocated by the world of development
and donors for various politico-economic reasons, and
also because of a basic unwillingness on the part of
intellectuals and development professionals alike to
In a general climate in
which the instrument is
mistaken for its
purpose, the proliferation
of NGOs is taken to be
an index of democratic
interrogate the terms of the discourse.
In her article, 'Selling Civil Society: Western Aid and
the Nongovernmental Organisation Sector in Russia',
Sarah Henderson argues that the rhetoric of a vibrant
civil society for political and economic democratisation,
in whichever form, does not actually comprehend or
question the manner in which these high ideals actually play themselves out in reality. To begin with, the
relationship between democratic stability and civic
groups is predicated on the assumption that internally
civic groups inspire habits of cooperation, solidarity,
public-spiritedness and trust. Externally, these networks then aggregate interests and articulate demands
to ensure government accountability to its citizens. Civic
associations socialise participants into the norms of
generalised reciprocity and trust, the merits of group
action and the recognition that mutual dependence is
the key to public welfare. All these are considered essential for social solidarity and the social capital that
permits effective cooperation between individuals as
well as between citizens and the state. Horizontal civic
^^_^^__^_^_ networks are seen to promote the
democratic polityr by inculcating a
culture of cooperation, thereby enhancing the capacity of citizens to
mobilise for public causes.
However, the validity of such liberal arguments about civil society
is undermined by the entirely unrealistic foundational assumption
that all civil society organisations
are implicitly working towards
common objectives latently assumed to be democratic in some form or another. Not
all organisations falling under the rubric of civil society are necessarily working towards the promotion of
democratisation. In Nepal, for example, the World
Hindu Federation is as much a part of civil society as
aA.BC Nepal, an anti-trafficking organisation. In the same
vein, civil society does not consist of only noble causes
and well-intentioned actors. As an analyst has pointed
out, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, as
a representative of the aspirations of ordinary Serbs,
can rightfully lay as great a claim to being an exemplar
of civil society as Vaclav Havel.
It is also quite clear that various associational group
are structured very differently. Many if not most of
Nepal's most well known NGOs are organisationally
different from trade unions and neighbourhood
organisations. In general, NGOs in Nepal are susceptible to authoritarian tendencies, with low potential for
genuinely democratic membership-participation. Many
NGOs are not democratically structured internally. And
competition between organisations with conflicting
aims and ideological goals is scarcely conducive to the
spirit of cooperation that civil society is expected to fos
An active and diverse civil society's capacity to play
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
a valuable role in the evolution of democracy is often
neutralised by the fact that the proliferation of interest
groups can have detrimental effects by stifling the functioning of representative institutions and distorting
policy outcomes in favour of the better organised blocs
and syndicates. This usually implies, in a majority of
instances, the most affluent and well-connected
organisations, including those able and willing to use
extra-legal procedures to ensure outcomes to their
Financing democracy
Most importantly, as Henderson points out, arguments
extolling civic associations do not take into account the
manner in which international influence affects the two
key components of civic theory: horizontal ties and the
norm of reciprocity. Indeed, in the
case of Nepal, the role of international foreign aid is almost always
forgotten or sidelined. For example,
in recent reports on the Maoist conflict, the preliminary, and usually
perfunctory, introductions to Nepal
at large, including, ironically, the
number of years that foreign aid has
been active in Nepal, make no mention of any possible connection between the present political, social
and economic malaise and active
donor complicity in fabricating it
historically and currently.
This is all the more remarkable since many of these
reports concede the "structural dependence of Nepal
on foreign assistance". In the words of one report by
the UK's Department for International Development
(DFID), this dependence signifies "the potential for aid
to have a significant influence - either positive or negative" in greater measure than in "many other contexts".
aAnother DFID-sponsored report, while pointing to the
possible role of development aid in contributing to the
Maoist conflict can only see that contribution in terms
of "raised and unfulfilled expectations" and "inequity
in the distribution of resources".
Reinserting the role of foreign donors within the
Nepali context demands a more thorough analysis and
one that may unfortunately not be easily forthcoming
since it complicates the easy and accepted recipe - "add
foreign assistance and stir" - for building up civil society. To begin with, as many observers in Nepal are aware,
groups that have received aid are not any more likely to
develop networks of accountability to citizens as well
to the state, both of which are crucial from the perspective of governance. Critics have noted the manner in
which NGOs are not publicly accountable, transparent
or subject to monitoring except perhaps to supervisory
and monitoring constituencies and stakeholders in the
Rather than building
networks and developing
publics, civic groups
consciously retain small
memberships, withhold
and stash information,
and engage in uncooperative and even competitive behaviour
networks of association involving other civil groups.
Instead these groups, with all their organisational facilities, glossy publications etc, are professionally quite
detached and removed from the domestic social constituencies they claim to represent or work on behalf of.
Their use of global language is indicative of the ways
in which they and other NGOs are closer to their
transnational partners than "the people" that they claim
to represent. Western financial patrons, on whom they
are dependent, constitute their primary constituency,
and it is often claimed tha,t for many, villages are not
the area of operation. All of this has resulted in altering
priorities from domestic needs to those that reflect
the priorities and agendas of foreign assistance
Studies in Russia and other post-communist coun-
—„,^^^m^^mm^ tries have uncovered the manner in
which, while enabling groups to aggregate interests, foreign aid does
little to help groups to internally
develop abilities to instil habits
of cooperation, solidarity, public
spiritedness and trust. To the contrary, research specifically shows
how foreign aid has been decisive
in fostering internal rivalries, jealousies, and overall divisiveness in
the women's movement in Russia.
In Nepal, the failure of women's
groups to establish viable networks
among themselves - from the politics surrounding anti-trafficking endeavours, the collapse of the Women's Pressure Group formed to pressure the government to act on behalf of women on burning issues and current peace initiatives - illustrates not
only the political rivalries involved but also the economic benefits at stake in a Wfajs-driven land of associational groups. The splintering of well known
organisations - INHURED International broke into two
distinct factions each claiming to be the "real
INHURED"; founding members of the Centre for Women
and Development left to form another women's
organisation while some members of the Women Development Centre took others to court over accusations
of financial irregularities - provides some food for
thought along these lines.
Clearly, of the funded civic groups in Nepal, few are
engaged in activities that might be associated with
This sensitivity of civic groups to the external dynamic is easily explained. The economic benefits to be
gained from a hinder clearly outweigh any incentive
that the domestic market could ever provide. Therefore,
regardless of good intentions to build a civic community, the need to sustain their own funding source propels them to focus on producing results that satisfy the
hinder, rather than necessarily making a substantial
Neither are they more likely to be part of more dense      community impact. Likewise, the material gains from
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
grants provide incentives for groups to engage in activities that militate agamst the ethos of building social
capital. Organisations often hoard information, duplicate each other's projects, and squabble among themselves. The fear of jeopardising their own funding
possibilities results in the unwillingness to share grant
As a consequence, rather than building networks
and developing publics, groups consciously retain
small memberships, withhold and stash information,
and engage in uncooperative and even competitive
behaviour with other civic groups. Overall, given the
incentive structures of the grant game, apart from nominal claims to the contrary, it is actually irrational in a
financial sense for groups to behave in ways that might
build networks and horizontal ties with members of
the community or with local business. Superficial criticisms against "dollar farming" tend to miss the systemic nature of such behaviour. This obviously, is not
to suggest that all Nepali civic activists are financially
driven, selfish amoral actors but to point out the manner in which the "funding game" structures this sort of
Doubtless the equipment and training given by donors has increased the organisational capacity of recipient groups. It has been argued, in the context of
Russia, that as a consequence donors appear to be most
effective in building the capacity of groups to perform
civil society's external functions of advocacy and interest articulation. This is applicable to the Nepali context
where the positive contributions of NGOs have been
enumerated in an ActionAid document as: organisation
and leadership, increased awareness, reaching poor
and disadvantaged people and areas, expanding access to basic services, giving voice to disadvantaged
people, internationalisation of issues and government
policy change.
While all this may be true, it is secondary in relation
to the more crucial determinant of how these groups
perform civil society's internal functions of developing
networks of communication and trust. Aid has done
little to improve this dimension of civic group activity.
Instead, the attempt to finance civil societies into existence has led to the emergence of a vertical, hierarchical,
and isolated civic community that partakes of the very
features of social organisation that are profoundly
anti-democratic. In Nepal, a DFID-sponsored report
of 2000 refers to aid having "sustained Kathmandu
elite patronage systems", and reinforced local client
Even well meaning attempts to rectify these mistakes
fail to get to the real source of the problem. Consider the
recommendations made in a 2002 Finnish report on
donor and recipient Southern civil society organisations, Voices from the Southern Civil Societies. The
report called for, among other things, more institutional
and open funding, the promotion of self-sufficiency,
longer-term perspectives from donors, support for
networks, support for national umbrella civil society
organisations, training and technical assistance, and
constituency building and advocacy. All of this eventually comes back to increasing organisational capacity. These reformist recommendations fail altogether to
address questions of how cooperation, solidarity, public spiritedness and trust are to be created, and how the
aggregation and accumulation of demands can be made
in practice, given this environment.
This concern is all the more serious because it
involves the question of long-term sustainability in a
climate of excessive reliance on donors, who themselves
are constrained by the need to show quick, short-term
products at the expense of long-term goals if they are to
remain in the funding market. Compounding the matter further is the overall inability to measure the 'success' of democracy promotion programmes. Donor
urgencies combine with the lack of an appropriate
index of measurement to produce doubtful claims about
the progress of democracy.
To cite one instance of this, a Washington DC development-consulting film, with a USD 26 million contract
from USAID to promote local government democracy in
Poland, reported "increased participation in local government decision making". But the claim is unverifiable because of the absence of a baseline to show how
public participation had risen over the project's lifetime and whether the increases, if any, could be linked
directly to the project's activities as opposed to other
wider changes taking place in the country. A commentator in The Washington Post noted that all one opinion
survey revealed was that "one in six citizens had
attended municipal budget presentations and one in
four citizens had met with their local representatives at
some point during the previous year". This is too tenuous a basis on which to rest claims about the success of
financed democratisation.
Civil society in the image of society
Existing social and economic relations of power, as well
as the resistance to it, inflect civil society as a historically constituted and socially produced entity. In Nepal,
historical privileges have enabled certain caste and class
groups, by virtue of their education, to seize the opportunities offered by the development world. What has
not been sufficiently analysed is the effect that the emergence of a distinct civic elite within the NGO community has for the nature of the putative democratic space
being created in the country. A related question that
has also escaped serious attention is the extent to which
foreign assistance has reinforced the structured inequalities of caste, ethnicity, gender and religious belief. The problem with the liberal framework, with its
dogmatic faith in the formal terms of political democracy, participation and rights, is that it simply assumes
the equal capacity of all, irrespective of economic
and social disparities, to involve themselves equally
in its processes. As the political theorist Neera
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
Chandoke argues, it is simply a "primitive form of
Civil society conceptualised in real time, as distinct
from a purely normative vision of the future imposed
on the present, is a sphere of social reproduction
and association that has many tiers and scales of
organisations. It is also internally more heterogenous
and conflict-prone than liberal theory, fixated on the
idea of a sui generis civic convergence abetted by hard
currency, is willing to concede. Thus, it has been found
that small neighbourhood groups, which emerge from
the locality, are distinct in character from large macro-
level organisations which tend to be more hierarchical.
This latter tendency is visible in the Kathmandu-based
formal organisations, which are first-level recipients
with an established funding track record. The cycle of
financing is therefore circular and self-referential,
legitimising the continuous transfer of resources to
these "proven" organisations whose fund-worthiness
rests on the fact that they already receive funds. The
process is not very different from the pattern of credit
flows in the financial market, leading to significant entry
According to a 1997 ActionAid report, an estimated
100 NGOs absorb 80 percent of total funds routed into
the NGO sector. This estimate excludes "special"/
"mega NGOs" such as the Family Planning Association, the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and the Nepal Red Cross society. This has accentuated the already significant inequalities between the
Kathmandu-based organisations and regional groups
in Nepal. (It is also useful to remember that aid is simultaneously widening the gap between rich and poor
directly or indirectly through high salaries for employees in donor-supported projects.) A donor-funded report on conflict and development, pointed out that one
of the "unintended, collateral effects" of aid has been
"an excessive focus on some regions and on capital
intensive projects, strengthening patronage systems
and regional cleavages, in particular between the
Kathmandu valley and the rest of the country".
The secrets of development
Aside from geographical inequalities, much has been
said about the culpability of the Nepali intelligentsia
for the "failure of development" - on issues of co-
option, lack of independent research and the unwillingness to critique the development orthodoxy. But more
fundamentally the involvement of the intelligentsia in
the world of development raises the question of their
role in the development of "civil society". In a non-
colonised country where English is paradoxically both
powerful and marginal, the development elite with their
bilingual skills and stature as "authentic Nepalis"
serve as gatekeepers of information to their non-Nepali
speaking bosses and colleagues. The primacy of the
English language in working with donors has allowed
certain elites to have privileged access to resources.
According to a DFID report,
Society's caste employment and income inequalities are indeed strikingly reflected in many agency
structures, which are dominated by the Brahmin and
Chhetri castes and the Newari group. In spite of the
emphasis given to rural employment, the management of programmes is still overwhelmingly placed
in the hands of a 'gatekeeper' group.
A European Union 'Conflict Prevention Assessment
Mission' report restated the same assessment.
The problems of politicisation, caste and ethnic inequality are the context of civil society activity. For
donors, civil society is a very small group of English
speaking elite operating in Kathmandu. There has
been little attempt to reach out to the regional partners or capitals to plumb deeper into the social strata
of Nepalese society, for partners or informants.
Having made this candid admission the report immediately goes on to put a positive gloss on the group,
suggesting without a trace of irony that the "small numbers of socially concerned English speaking elites in
Kathmandu" have had a "great burden" put upon them.
Such are the sociologies of democratic partnership.
Donor responsibility for reproducing existing inequalities within the civic sphere is seldom discussed
in the context of conflict. An issue of considerable importance in this regard is how much information the
Nepali elite "sieve" before presenting donors "facts"
and "realities" which then guide funding decisions.
This question has particular resonance for janajati and
dalit groups, especially in the affect this has on their
ability to have their concerns heard and acted upon.
The censoring of information and the implications this
has for the right to information and the capacity to be
fully informed agents are key democratic issues.
There have been demands that donors listen more
closely to what NGOs are saying. But this demand makes
sense only if there is some idea of what exactly NGOs
are saying, which also means identifying the type, form
and extent of information being screened from donor
decision-makers. A foreign director of an INGO, a few
months after his arrival in the country, expressed his
bewilderment at the extent to which he was actively
excluded from information in his office by the Nepali-
speaking staff. On being queried, towards the end of
his four-year tenure, whether he still felt frustrated and
excluded, he cheerfully confessed to having cultivated
an attitude of resignation about this aspect of heading
an organisation in Nepal.
Reports produced by donors are also not immune to
this tendency of filtering out information. Tlie Finnish
report cited above, which sought to understand the
nature of civil society in the South through self-analysis, obviously relied on selected associational groups
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
to participate in honest reflection of their experiences.
As is clear from the Nepal section of report and as related by one of its main authors, the reluctance of certain selected authors to critically and honestly undertake this exercise greatly undermined the effectiveness
of the project. Since self-serving analyses also inform
donor perspectives, this has a clear impact on how they
can conceptualise their roles, responsibilities and
programmes vis-a-vis recipients. This is of course not
to argue that donors make ill-advised and inappropriate decisions only because they have been misled or
inadequately informed by Nepali staff. It is simply to
highlight the increasing power and influence of this
newly coalescing elite to influence decision-making in
intended and un-intended ways.
This "sieving" process tends to take place in a distinctive sociological environment. Nepalis working at
all levels of "civil society", but especially higher up in
donor INGOs and their more powerful partner NGOs
form informal and personal ties. The explicit use of familial forms of address such as "dai", "bhai" and "didi"
is a commonly observed trend and suggests the
personalised, kin and client-based atmosphere of the
development workplace. This can have fairly obvious
implications for transparent functioning, ranging from
the nepotistic to the sinister. In one case, involving professional differences between an INGO and NGO, a senior manager at the NGO as a Chhetri sought and gained
informal meetings with a senior Chhetri manager in
the INGO, and pleaded on the basis of specifically kinship ties for help to prevent the INGO from making public some unflattering infojrmation about the NGO.
In another instance, allegations of gross malpractice verging on criminal misdemeanour, including
charges of violence, occurring in an organisation did
not receive the attention it merited. The Nepali elite of
international donor organisations promoting rights, at
a clarificatory meeting to discuss the issue, could not
bring themselves to even entertain the possibility of the
allegations having any substance, as they claimed they
"loiew didi" well. This was in contrast to the attitude
of their foreign counterparts also present at the meeting, who at least acknowledged the need for further
inquiry. Here again fictive kinship relations formed the
backdrop to their adamant stance.
The use of unofficial channels is not uncommon the
world over. However, such practices do pose problems
when viewing civil society not only as an associational
sphere, but also as a public sphere from which to voice
public concerns. The active involvement of these
elite in the screening, repressing and censoring of
information crucial to civic engagement highlights the
tenuousness of claims to democratic ideals professed
by such organisations. For people to be politically
engaged and active, a space that provides the conditions of freedom must exist, and this must include the
freedom of information and the freedom from debilitating hierarchies.
Brand certification
Despite the rhetoric of "partnership", donors broadly
dictate the nature of the relationship with recipient
groups, who willingly accept the terms thus dictated.
Rhetorically at least, foreign assistance is also an affirmation by donors of their own moral concerns. If the
bona fides of this rhetorical affirmation are accepted at
face value, and if dictated partnerships are the established norm, the question that arises is why donors
cannot do anything about the moral lapses on the part
of partner NGOs that they tacitly condone through continued financial support. Primarily this is because in
their role as intermediary financiers of democracy they
are not themselves free agents. Theoretically they are
responsible only to those they are mandated to service.
But in practice they walk a thin grey line, as they are
answerable to the institutional sources of their own
Fostering democracy is a perilous venture since the
pursuit of its lofty goals is conducted within the sometimes-contradictory rules of two different systems of
practice. It must fulfil the procedural requirements of
the formal bureaucracies from which funds emerge. One
of the most demanding of these requirements is that
funds allocated for a fiscal year must be spent on assisting credible organisations within the prescribed time
if minimally the same volume of financial allocation is
to be made available in the forthcoming year. In a sense,
to prolong the future they have to whitewash the present.
In the Nepali context, this was obviously evident in
the case of donor institutions desisting from a comprehensive inquiry into the possibility of gross ethical
malpractices occurring in a Nepali organisation they
were funding. aAn attendant development was the request by a high ranking embassy official that the status
of the allegations be clarified as soon as possible as he
was under pressure from certain groups in his home
country to give the green light for resuming the flow of
funds to the institution in question. This request provides an insight into the bureaucratic logic of funding.
Recipients are the raison d'etre for donors and are thus
indispensable if mobilisation of funds is to be maintained at existing levels.
Since hinders are perpetually seeking fundable activity, there is a robust competition among donors in
Nepal for "good NGOs" they can support. In these circumstances, despite the apparent urge to create the
"good society" based on civil norms of public conduct,
the ethics of the situation at hand are relegated to the
background by the incessant and unyielding drive to
spend funds in order to raise more funds. The relentless circularity of the funding process and the relative
scarcity of "good NGOs" combine to produce a situation tailor-made for pragmatic compromises that vitiate the professed agenda of bringing democracy to
people who are denied the benefits of a rule-based regime.
It also provides an insight into a similar circular
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
process of NGO brand-certification. This is a peculiar
dynamic in which country offices of donor institutions
take on the task of certifying the credibility, competence
and reputation of local NGOs. These NGOs are seen to
conform to international parameters, and therefore the
recognition accorded to them is a specie of development rating. This is typically the process by which funding agencies legitimise their own choice of partner
organisations by limiting the available choice to a short
list of organisations whose credentials they have themselves rated. In effect, because of the inexorable need to
disburse funds, the aid establishment has assisted in
the building of national and global reputations of certain associational groups in Nepal. Since "good NGOs"
are allegedly hard to come by, and since a handful of
such organisations in Kathmandu have managed to
monopolise international endorsement and certification, the options available to donor establishments are
finally very limited.
This cartelisation of credibility and international
endorsement, in which donor agencies actively participate, has several visible conse- uBHsaH—hbuvmh
quences. Donors now are faced
with the need to fund these organisations for the sake of the prestige
of being associated with them, since
that is what their own hinders want
them to do. This is the paradox of
institutional kinship in Nepal.    	
Internationally-reputed icons have been built by global
funds, only to emerge later as national totems. In this
latter capacity, buttressed by global reputation, they
appear to have become particularly immune to any criticism - criticism that has emerged from the field, where
their true work and worth is easily gauged. These criticisms are well known and acknowledged within informal Kathmandu networks, but do little to either modify
project operations or donor attitudes.
This exemplifies not only the growing internal institutional impediments to building civic society
through aid, but also the manner in which international
assistance to associational groups facilitates barriers
to open, democratic fields of discussion and critiques
as well as mechanisms of accountability and transparency. This argument thus goes beyond the issue of the
increasing autonomy of NGOs from "civil society", and
the contradiction between increasing NGO independence from parent states and their growing dependence
on patron states. In the context of donor dependence on
"reputed" NGOs, it also raises questions about whether
"dependence" on donor states need necessarily in turn
promote accountability.
One large NGO recently turned down a NPR
6,250,000 grant from an INGO and ended all relations
with it on the ground that it did not feel comfortable
working with a "partner" which had compromised on
the ethics of confidentiality and collaboration. Reading between the lines, it would appear that the INGO
had raised ethical questions about the behaviour of the
NGO staff towards target groups. Turning down such a
large grant indicates not only the extent to which this
organisation felt uncomfortable with the sorts of questions raised by the INGO but also the extent of alternative funding sources available to it. The NGO's diversified donor base obviously gave it significant leverage
over each of its individual donors. A senior Nepali
manager of an INGO still working in partnership with
this NGO, and trying to reform the institution from
within, wryly acknowledged that attempting to push
the NGO to change too much would probably result in
his INGO "being thrown out as well" - ie expelled from
the "partnership".
Given this complex relationship of mutual dependence, the question by now needs to be reversed. It is
not simply whether foreign aid can really assist the
emergence of democratic foundations. Rather it is
whether it actually assists the rise of undemocratic associations and practices. According to the sociologist
Chaitanya Mishra, in Nepal,
In Nepal, an estimated 100
groups absorb 80 percent
of total funds routed into
the NGO sector
[tjhere are a few fairly "large" NGOs
that are relatively independent
NGOs that are relatively independent of any particular international donor/development agency
as well as particular governments.
    Such NGOs do enjoy some leeway
in defining their own identity as well as in formulating policies and programmes relatively independently of international donor/development agencies, INGOs and government.
Mishra's positive formulation of this independence
misses the potential negative impact it can have with
such organisations being essentially unaccountable.
But donor circumspection does not always stem
from the need to placate truculent "partners". Less controversial than many other issues, but just as significant in terms of consequences for public debate is the
"grey" literature generated by Nepali intellectuals for
donors but voluntarily withheld from general circulation. As a result, a great deal of information generated
about Nepal remains outside the purview of discussion since donors decide what is suitable for public
disclosure. Furthermore, the practice of writing reports
to reflect donor requirements is not unusual. A veteran
consultant, in personal communication, divulged how
in more than one professional relationship with donors, his research on dalits or janajatis has been judged
too inflammatory for public consumption, forcing him
to terminate contracts and publish his studies elsewhere.
In other cases, reports have been heavily edited, and
where 'sensitive work' is involved there is the practice
of signing confidentiality clauses, of having one internal document and another external one for public dis-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 . Jb>
:        d^a   ft
H      a/ft
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1         *K
tribution - the latter usually being a bland summary.
Donor speeches on the merits of their own countries'
public sphere and the weakness of politically underdeveloped countries such as Nepal are laced with well-
meaning counsel not only on the participatory foundations of democracy but also on the free flow of information as a precondition for influencing social and political decisions. And yet, through numerous devices, both
subtle and brisk, donors actively impede precisely that
flow when it comes to protecting their own complex
institutional interests.
Clearly, there is a dual dynamic to why donor rhetoric on democracy does not quite live up to its promise.
On the one hand, the procedural rules governing the
international financing of democracy promotes an indulgent attitude to the civic deficit among domestic
partners in the civil society enterprise. On the other
hand, at a more fundamental level, the metropolitan
principals of the project are themselves not immune to
the profoundly anti-democratic impulses of the global
neo-liberal establishment, whose hegemonic interventions, informed by delusions about the universal virtue
of western techniques of economic and political management, are often explicitly geared to the imposition of
an elite-dominated, regimented democracy among
politically backward people ignorant of the benefits of
free enterprise.
In this respect, recent donor analyses of the Maoist
conflict are revealing, lt suggests a will to intervene in
"civil society" stemming from a desire not just to use
them for development purposes in areas no longer seen
to be safe for direct donor intervention but to see which
"constituencies in civil society need strengthening",
while simultaneously being aware of the dangers of
"politicising marginalised groups and generally raising unrealistic expectation in the population (a sense
of rights not balanced by a sense of responsibility) leading to frustration". The anti-politics agendas of what
has been called the "anti-politics machine" could not
have been more explicit, and is all the more striking
as it comes after many years of sullen silence in an
atmosphere not exactly conducive to rampant donor
The problem of ensuring that participatory citizenship does not excite expectations that cannot be met
within the limitations of neoliberal prescriptions is obviously one that exercises the institutions of aid.
Hence the frequent references to the "unrealistic expectations" that are raised by routine political activity. There
is a self-exonerating purpose to this incrimination of
politics. Civil discontent, and presumably insurgency,
is the outcome of irresponsible politics, and not irresponsible policies. Bluntly put, popular expectations
must not exceed the limits of what aid economists have
decided is good for the people. As NGOs administer the
sacraments of redemption, politics must abstain from
raising any expectations that a neoliberal policy regime
cannot fulfil.
On 5 July 2002, the World Bank Country Director
for Nepal, Ken Ohashi, expounded this position publicly and very forcefully in an article in The Kathmandu
Post titled "Ask for a Better Budget, will you?", outlining the features of a good budget system for Nepal, the
challenges for the Nepali government, and the role that
citizens needed to play. Quoting from a World Bank
Public Expenditure Review, Ohashi said, "[f]or any technical solutions to work effectively, the behaviour of political leadership and political parties needs to change
significantly. The key challenge in this regard is how to
redirect the involvement and energies of the political
leaders and political parties in a more constructive way
to facilitate the development process and public resource
management".  He then went on to say,
1 have often heard that with the restoration of democracy in 1990, public expectations soared beyond
any reasonable chance of achievement. Politicians
have simply pandered to these expectations by
promising everything people wanted and more,
without any regard to what HMG [His Majesty's Government] can afford. 1 believe that much could have
been done to manage expectation through transparency, information and a dose of realism.
The article concludes with the advice, "It is also time
the citizens of Nepal demand more sensible budget decisions and more responsible budget implementation.
Ultimately, lazy citizens will only get a lazy government".
Ohashi's call for "the people" to ask for a better budget, is very much in line with donor suggestions to
strengthen "civil society". The World Bank as an institution does not as a rule historicise its arguments. Besides it has a severely underdeveloped theory of the
state. So it is only to be expected that Ohashi's generous advice contains no hint of the complex manner in
which state and society relations have historically been
structured, the structural inequalities which continue
to inform current relations, and the role played by
organisations like his own in facilitating, or inhibiting
the growth of accountability in state institutions. But
precisely because he cannot afford to situate any of his
suggestions in the lived realities of Nepali people,
Ohashi is compelled to make technocratic and breathtaking recommendations that people's expectations
should be "managed".
The irony of his argument is that on the evidence of
past experience there is little to suggest that the expectations and wants of the people are high on the list of
priorities of the political class. If there has been any
pandering it is substantially to the demands of international organisations and not to the needs of the people.
There is of course, the additional matter of how not to
be a "lazy citizen" and to demand "more sensible budget decisions and more responsible budget implementation" without entertaining too many expectations that
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
the government might forgetfully pander to. Voluntary
mass austerity is evidently the key to a responsible polity and an efficient economy. (Just incidentally, my own
attempt to provide a critique of Ohashi's article came to
nothing, as my letter to the editor of The Kathmandu Post
was not entertained on the ground that very few foreigners of his stature write for the paper. They did not
want to run the risk of offending him and thereby foreclosing the possibility of further contributions from him.
The World Bank will surely be happy to note that its
advice about not pandering to expectations has registered in influential quarters.)
Reflecting the same attitude, Western embassies,
prominent democracy advocates, acquiesced in the
king's dismissal of the parliamentary prime minister
Sher Bahadur Deuba on 4 October 2002 and his replacement by a royal appointee. Do- ^^^^^^^^^^^^
nors and ambassadors routinely
and stridently demand adherence to stringent standards of
"rule of law". And yet these same
institutions and offices cheerfully
endorsed the unilateral political
decision because they were purportedly "for the good of the country" and "the welfare of the
people". This is particularly
ironic given the recommendations of a donor report on con-    	
flict and development, completed
before the royal takeover, which emphasised the necessity of "reinforcing the rule of democratic law". However, as in the case of Kenya, where donors knowingly
endorsed unfair elections twice, allowing Daniel Arap
Moi to remain in power, it is clear that aid institutions
are more interested in preventing the breakdown of the
political and economic order, in securing which they
are not averse to approving the suppression of political
From the interventions of both Ohashi and the embassies, and from the strategic suggestions outlined in
donor conflict reports and the generally programmatic
manner in which the term "civil society" is employed
in the country, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that
their intent is to "civilise" Nepali civil society and citizens in a very specific and defined manner.
The scholar Hakan Seckinelgin draws attention to
the dual process involved in US funding of civil society
organisations. One is by funding those civil society
organisations "that can be identified on the basis of an
organisational understanding of civil life underpinned
by the American context". Donors, knowingly or not,
tend to gravitate to 'partners' who share their ideological bent. The other is the reformulation of civil society
that takes place. The application of Western liberal codes
of conduct and behaviour changes pre-existing social
relations, motivating a very specific form of associational links along neoliberal understandings. It has
In a country where English is
both powerful and marginal,
the development elite with
their bilingual skills and stature
as "authentic Nepalis" serve
as gatekeepers of information
to their non-Nepali speaking
bosses and colleagues
been argued that in the current global context, aid needs
to be considered as a relation of government, which
has the power to reorder the relationship between
people and things to achieve desired aims.
As Sarah Henderson points out in the Russian case,
"hinders are... expressions and facilitators of US interests as well as the monetary engine behind civic
organisations" and "funding efforts, presumably designed to bring about stabilisation in Russia, must also
reflect US interests and concerns and be justified to an
increasingly conservative Congress in terms of US
national security and political commercial interest".
A recent article in The Guardian by Naomi Klein confirms this view. According to it, the head of USAID has
attacked NGOs in Afghanistan and Iraq, funded by his
organisation, for not sufficiently promoting the fact that
^^^^^^^^^^^^^ they were giving out donations
from the US government, USAID
also has told several NGOs that
have been awarded humanitarian contracts that they cannot
speak to the media.
An issue often left out of con-
sideration in analysing this
kind of conduct is the geopolitical security calculation,
which in Nepal constitutes an
increasingly important component of the metaphor of civil society organisations used by international institutions as a part of the 'civilising process'. A very specific form of civil society is required to
legitimise both the post-1990 Nepali neoliberal state
and the global order. There are few aspects of Nepal's
new political system that have not been shaped by donor input and political aid, by funding the liberal proponents of procedural democracy in civil society at the
expense of real democracy. This does not just influence
the rules of the games. It also constitutes part of the
strategy by which a state that continues the same exploitative economic system can be newly legitimised
via the agenda of "civil society".
All this is part of the new democracy strategy by
which international political interventions can occur
overtly and with domestic and international support.
Given that opposition to authoritarian rule had emerged
from civil society in many countries, the imperative
has become, in the words of the critic W Robinson,
"to penetrate civil society and from therein assure control over popular mobilisation". He goes on to say,
"The composition and balance of power in civil society
in a given Third World country is now just as important to US and transnational interests as who control
the governments of those countries. This is a shift
from social control 'from above' to social control 'from
In the context of the Maoist movement, this imperative has particular and disturbing resonance. £,
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
by Hasan Mansoor
When Pakistan launched its
National Alien Registration Authority (NARA) in
January 2002 to address the perceived problem of illegal immigration, an estimated 3.3 million non-
citizens were residing unlawfully in
the country, close to two million in
the southern city of Karachi alone.
NARA received a mandate of three
years to document illegal residents
in Pakistan, specifically those in
Karachi, and to issue work permits
to non-citizens "who will get themselves registered". But, perhaps not
surprisingly, 18 months into its
mission and halfway to its deadline
of December 2004, NaARaA has registered only 35,000 people, just one
percent of the estimated total.
The reasons for NARA's poor
performance to date are numerous,
though many relate to difficulties
inherent in differentiating 'real' Pakistanis from non-citizen 'impostors'. Immigrants and their children
have blended into Karachi's bustling urban life, and many have secured government-issued National
Identity Cards (NICs), often with the
help of other non-citizens elected
(illegally) to local administrative
bodies. More broadly, they have created their own patronage networks
and ensconced themselves into
Karachi's existing ones, gaining
access to jobs, political connections
and social services that make them
as much residents of the city as any
native-born citizen.
Owing to the scale and diversity
of the immigrant population, estimates of its size and composition
remain rough. In Karachi, the largest segment - about 1.3 million -
hails horn Bangladesh, while totals
from Africa, Burma and India reach
into the hundreds of thousands.
Most Bangladeshi migrants travel
overland -to Pakistan via India,
where they are sometimes able to
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
make arrangements in advance for
work in Karachi, where supposedly
pays are higher than anywhere else
in South Asia. Karachi is also home
to 80,000 Afghans, who are counted
as refugees rather than as aliens on
the assumption that they will return
to their native country once conditions improve.
In a sprawling city of 12 million-
plus people, Karachi's non-citizen
residents represent about 15 percent
of the total population, and because
many of them have secured voting
rights, they constitute a significant
electoral block. A report prepared by
NARA's Karachi office states that at
least 80 unnaturalised immigrants
have been elected to a cluster of 20
union councils in the city, six of
which are led by non-citizens,
though local government officials
put the number of elected immigrants at closer to 130. Another three
dozen such candidates are believed
to have gained office in the interior
of Sindh. And while about half
of the non-citizen population in
Karachi is concentrated in the city's
western district, it has spread effectively throughout the entire metropolis, often in small squatter
settlements, making identification of
'illegals' all the more difficult.
On the whole, NARA officials'
efforts to register immigrants appear
thwarted at nearly every turn, sometimes violently. Non-citizen residents in the Karachi localities of
Machchar colony, Ibrahim Hyderi
and Mauripur recently turned back
visiting NARA officials with force,
and NARA's efforts outside of the
metropolis enjoy no greater success.
Attempts to register international
migrants in the southern cities of
Nooriabad and Thatta, in Sindh,
and Hub, in Balochistan, have
failed, casualties of patronage networks and organised resistance to
the campaign. "The problem is that
aliens have got powers to resist and
help their other fellows to become
Pakistanis", an officer explains,
noting that he and his colleagues
are ill-equipped to overcome such
tactics. NARA also suffers from more
banal organisational woes, in par
ticular cash shortage that prevents
it from acquiring a fleet of vehicles
or expanding its staff beyond its
present four-dozen employees.
Patronage politics
Owing to its size and uncertain legal status, Karachi's non-citizen
community has enmeshed itself in
the patronage networks of politicians and political parties, trading
votes for political protection. The
millions of non-citizen residents living in Karachi have proven to be a
valuable vote bank for political parties, particularly for those with weak
roots in the metropolis.
Mazhar Shaikh, an additional
director general of NARA, expresses
dismay at the nearly impossible
task of registering non-citizen residents, the fault for which he says
'They are Pakistanis in
all respects, by all conditions universally accepted for citizenship'
rests in large measure with their
political connections. "A number of
them have become elected nazims
[mayors] and councillors, who stop
their community members from getting registered". He says that once
elected, these officials push through
NIC applications for other non-citizens to help them evade detection
by NARA. Shaikh says that he has
notified the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), which
issues NICs, about the difficulties
NARA faces with identity card evasion tactics. A solution is yet to be
found. "A joint line of action is under consideration", says Shaikh,
adding that the powers of some
councillors to attest NIC applications may be suspended while discreet investigations arc carried out.
For its part, NADRA says that it is
reviewing candidate filings in an
attempt to root out politicians who
lack citizenship.
Ejaz Shafi, a former MP who lost
an election last year standing from
Karachi as a candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), has
championed the cause of Bangladeshi migrants for more than a decade. In return he has received support from the thousands of immigrants for whom he has helped secure NICs and space on voter rolls.
Though he lost last year's race to a
candidate of the religious parties
alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal,
Shafi received strong support from
the estimated 20,000 Bangla-speak-
ers in his constituency. As a strong
supporter of the community, he refuses to use to the term 'alien' to
designate persons of Bangladeshi
origin living in Pakistan. "They are
Pakistanis in all respects, by all conditions universally accepted for citizenship", he says.
Other parties, such as cricketer-
turned-politician Imran Khan's
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Allama
Tahir-ul-Qadri's Pakistan Awami
Tehrik, and former president Farooq
Leghari's Millat Party, have made
concerted attempts to cultivate
Bangla-speaking voters. Many political aspirants seek support from residents of Machchar colony, a squatter settlement inhabited by 50,000
Bangla-speakers on land owned by
the Karachi Port Trust (KPT). The KPT
has made several attempts to evict
residents, but each time influential
politicians come to the aid of the
slum-dwellers. "When I was an MP
from this area, I did not allow the KPT
to evacuate them", Shafi says, adding that he suggested instead that the
port reclaim land from the upscale
Clifton locality.
However, not all political parties
cultivate the foreign-bom vote - indeed, some doubt the calculations
on immigrant electoral strength,
and others have tapped into local
resentment of the large Bengali community to mobilise support. A
leader of the Muttahida Qaumi
Movement (MQM), an offshoot of a
partition-era north Indian organisation of Urdu-speakers, argues
that patronage networks have not
worked to the advantage of immigrants, as despite being included on
voter rolls, the government "cau-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
tiously sliced them out of Karachi's
population" when it came to distributing resources. However, this has
not stopped parties from pandering
to non-citizens at election time, he
says, and he accuses several of illegally registering non-citizens as
voters. "Even rightwing Jamaat-i-
Islami activists have put many
.Afghan voters on rolls in the city's
central district to harm the MQM",
he says. Another political mobiliser,
this one from the Pakistan People's
Party (PPP), perhaps the most powerful political force in Sindh, says
that his group does not register non-
citizens, as doing so would harm
the interests of Pakistanis.
Controversy surrounding immigrants extends to the job market,
where local resentment is perhaps
more acute than in the field of politics. For non-citizens who find work,
it is typically as domestic servants,
as low-wage employees in the garment or fishing industries, or in jobs
such as sugarcane pressing. Because
they are usually willing to work for
less pay than native-born Pakistanis,
they attract the ire of locals as well as
muffled praise from employers, who
tend to be exploitative.
Many ethnic and nationalist
political organisations, as well as
labour groups, regularly carry out
campaigns against immigrant employment on the ground that
recent arrivals damage the economic prospects of the native-born.
Along with the MQM, the Jeay Sindh
Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) opposes the
growing presence of non-citizen
workers in Sindh's economy. The
parties' election manifestoes accuse
immigrants of depressing local
wages, and promise improved job
prospects for native-born (Urdu-
speaking) Pakistanis once they are
able to prevent migrants from participating in the economy. "These
aliens are a burden on Sindh", ISQM
chairman Bashir Qureshi says,
adding that it is the government's
responsibility to solve the problem.
Searching for 'solutions'
The MQM's Kunwar Khalid Younus
argues that the government should
settle the illegal immigration problem once and for all. "What we need
is just the political will to do that",
he says. As far back as 1993, intelligence agencies considered competing proposals to 'solve' the problem,
one being a massive repatriation
scheme, primarily of Bangladeshis.
This was deemed impractical, however, as for its part, Pakistan refuses
to take m the 'Biharis' - the nearly
300,000 Urdu-speakers who have
languished in 66 Bangladeshi urban refugee camps since the early
1970s. In any event, the 'exporting'
countries are unlikely to cooperate
with Islamabad's repatriation schemes; in August 1996, Dhaka refused
to accept 70 Bangladeshis deported
from Karachi because they carried
Pakistani NICs and passports.
What 'solutions', if any, can be
found to the non-citizen resident
'We often spend much
less to get forged
Pakistani documents'
question is a matter of pressing concern in Islamabad. In addition to
launching NARA and debating the
repatriation scheme, Islamabad has
investigated other methods of regulating immigrants' existence and
bringing them within the scope of
the law. There is a process by which
non-citizens can secure legal residence and work status, but its costs
are prohibitively expensive for most
immigrants: until recently, PKR
10,000 (USD 180) and PKR 1000, respectively, for registration and
work permit cards. Even after reductions to PKR 2500 and PKR 500, most
non-citizens lack the finances to take
advantage of these options, particularly when becoming 'legal' is not
viewed as a pressing concern. "We
often spend much less than this to
get [forged] Pakistani documents",
a Bangladeshi migrant living in
Federal B Area explains. For citizens
of Bangladesh and Burma, there is
also the option of formally applying for Pakistani citizenship under
Rule 13/A of the Citizenship Act,
though Islamabad has approved
less than 1000 of such naturalisation applications till now.
Another idea is to provide migrants with transit back to their
countries of origin on non-citizen
Pakistani passports. A committee
convened by the federal government, which included two Bangla
speakers as ex-officio members, recommended the issuing of so-called
'white passports' to migrants from
Bangladesh and Burma so that they
may visit their countries of origin
and migrate back, if so inclined. But
to receive a white passport, migrants
would first have to register with
NARA and fill out Form E-I under
the Citizenship Act, a step most
non-citizen residents are hesitant to
take. However, this plan possesses
the advantage of offering an avenue
for migrants to return to their birth
countries, if they so desire, and some
NGOs have expressed interest in
facilitating such a process and
providing financial support to
While many Bangla speakers in
Pakistan arrived relatively recently,
there is also the challenge of adjudicating the citizenship claims of
Bengalis whose residence dates to
the 24 years between the 1947 partition and Bangladeshi independence. The same federal committee
that issued the recommendation
about white passports also proposed granting Pakistani citizenship to Bengalis - not Bangladeshis
- living in (West) Pakistan before
the Bengali nationalist capture of
Dhaka on 16 December 1971. After
Bangladesh's war of independence,
fewer than 25,000 Bengalis opted to
remain in Pakistan, according to
NARA director general Shaikh, while
most of the rest migrated to the
former eastern wing. A 1978 amendment to the Citizenship Act nullified the Pakistani citizenship of
those domiciled in erstwhile East
Pakistan. Bengalis remaining in
Pakistan were required to submit
a Form E-I to the home department
of their province of residence and
apply for citizenship, although
according to the Sindh home de-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
partment, no Bengalis submitted
such forms in that province after the
war. Many of these people have led
a precarious legal existence for the
past three decades.
The government committee also
held meetings with Bengali community representatives and, in response to concerns that they lack
documentary proof of residence,
proposed that local police officials
be empowered to recommend the
granting of citizenship after verification. Critics, however, say that
this proposal would only lead to
massive corruption among police
officers. Another widely shared concern among non-citizen residents is
the suspicion that the entire government registration process is merely
a plot to launch deportation proceedings once particulars are
known to authorities. Interior ministry officials dismiss this claim,
and note that none of the 35,000
migrants registered to date have
been deported. "On the contrary, we
are trying to resolve their civic and
social problems, including extending them educational, health and
other facilities", says one official. He
also discloses that the government
committee has been asked to review
other countries' immigration and
citizenship policies in order to suggest improvements in Pakistan's
13 kg of bad publicity
Debates about the role of ethnic-minority non-citizens in Pakistani society and politics, and the proposed
methods of dealing with the concerns of and about them, are also
coloured by anxieties about the supposedly dangerous and illegal practices of some elements of the immigrant population. Statements from
Pakistan's interior ministry indicate
that there is increased official concern about non-citizen residents'
involvement with religious schools
accused of fuelling sectarian hatred,
and with criminal activities ranging from burglaries and murder to
international drug trafficking. A recent interior ministry socio-economic survey showed that non-citi
zens are concentrated in 22 localities of Karachi, many in 'sensitive'
places near sea, oil and power installations and army cantonments,
prompting the police to recommend
mass evictions in these areas.
Concerns about links to religious violence are heightened given
Karachi's experience with sectarian
violence. NARA research shows that
the migrant community is making
concentrated use of 29 government
schools and nine hospitals, and
operates 44 madrasas, about five percent of the city's 869 Islamic schools.
Regarding those schools, authorities say that, despite it being a small
proportion of the city's total, they
are nevertheless worried about an
influx of students into these largely
unregulated institutions.
Today, most foreign students in
the madrasas come from Afghan,
Burmese or Bangladeshi backgrounds, although until two years
ago there were also large numbers
of African and Southeast Asian students. With the opening of the US
military campaign in Afghanistan
in October 2001, however, overseas
enrolment in Karachi's madrasas
plummeted, and now foreign-born
students represent only four percent
of the 264,169 madrasa student total for Sindh, 85 percent of which is
concentrated in Karachi, according
to a recent police report.
The already precarious position
of foreign-bom residents in Karachi
vis-a-vis the police is further complicated by military and law enforcement efforts associated with the
US 'war on terror'. The US Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with
the help of Pakistani authorities, is
closely monitoring mobile phone
conversations in Pakistan, and has
arrested hundreds of foreigners suspected of links to Al Qaeda and
other militant outfits. The FBI conducts operations in the country
with the blessings and assistance
of Pakistani officials, who have toed
the US line since September 2001.
Among the several thousand people
arrested to date in these operations,
officials say that about 700 are non-
Pakistanis, mostly Afghans and
Arabs, but there are also some Africans, Bangladeshis and Burmese.
The police also highlight migrants' participation in local crime,
in particular their connections to
robbery, kidnapping, narcotics
smuggling, human trafficking and
murder. "We have evidence of their
involvement in serious offences,
and we have recommended that the
government take the issue seriously", the inspector general of
Sindh police, Syed Kamal Shah, alleges. According to a police report,
non-citizens are implicated in a
widespread network of trafficking
girls from Bangladesh and Pakistan
to the United Arab Emirates. Police
also suspect that immigrants have
worked as hired killers in Karachi's
recent spate of high-profile murders.
These concerns came to the surface in late spring with the high-profile arrests of three Bengali drug
smugglers. On 21 May, Bangladeshi
airport authorities arrested three
women travelling on Pakistani
passports for possession of 13 kilograms of heroin valued at USD 2.25
million, one of the largest drug hauls
ever in Dhaka. Pakistani authorities
had tipped off their Bangladeshi
counterparts, who discovered the
contraband in paste tubes hidden
in the women's luggage. A preliminary investigation into the case by
Pakistani officials uncovered that
the traffickers were Karachi-based
Bengalis who had bribed officials
to receive documents attesting
Pakistani citizenship. According
to Pakistani authorities, travel
on forged or falsely issued Pakistani documents is quite common,
though it is 'real' Pakistani citizens
who receive a bad reputation for
such practices. Several Afghans
have also been caught committing
similar crimes, though Bengalis
are believed to be more frequent
The Dhaka drug bust, extensively covered in the Pakistani media, led to hand wringing and accusation-levelling in Karachi. An
official of the PPP cites the heroin
arrests as evidence of the negative
consequences of migrants partici-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
pating in the political process. Others point to the implications of the
incident for the entire bureaucracy.
A thorough investigation into the
Dhaka case, if and when it occurs,
could raise troubling questions
about the efficiency and integrity of
NARA, which issues NICs and prepares voting registers, as well as
other departments in the internal
affairs ministry, such as the passport-issuing authority. Precisely
how long corrupt practices have
been occurring, and the extent to
which bribery permeates the system, are difficult to assess, although
anecdotal evidence paints a worrying picture.
The heroin arrests prompted
great interest at least hi part because
they touched on another widely
held concern about non-citizen residents - their alleged widespread
drug use. According to a United
Nations Development Programme
report, drug abuse among immigrants in Pakistan is rampant, and
because of needle-sharing authorities suspect that HTV is on the rise in
the community. Even so, such drug
use is both a cause of concern and a
Proposed solutions
include formalising non-
citizens' work status,
naturalisation, and
mass deportation
symptom of their perilous condition,
as many take up tlie expensive indulgence to alleviate the psychological stress and general frustration of
leading a quasi-legal existence.
Yet, whether it concerns illegal
activities or dangerous habits, official and popular scrutiny of Bangla
speakers is greater than that of na
tive-born, Urdu-speaking Pakistanis, and there are concerns that
allegations of criminal activity are
being exaggerated to malign the
community. An October 2001 report
in the Dawn of Karachi on immigrants in Pakistan states, quoting
police sources, that "the over-all involvement of Bengalis in crime is
negligible", and that "contrary to a
general perception", at most 200
Bengalis are involved in crime in
Karachi. This appears to contradict
some of NARA's positions, such as
the claim that non-citizen residents
are "adding to the crime rate". Given
that persons who lack clear legal
status will likely seek to avoid activities provoking the interest of law
enforcement officials, there appear
to be grounds for doubting some of
NARA's more sweeping charges of
mass criminality in the migrant
community. />
Beyond the doomsday scenario
Bangladeshi garment workers prepare for a post-MFA world
by Dina M Siddiqi
The realisation that the Multi-
Fibre Arrangement (MFA), in
place since 1974, will be
phased out by the end of 2004 has
produced something close to national panic in Bangladesh. Many
people seem convinced that when
the garment industry is no longer
cushioned from the vagaries of _
the 'free market', its prospects *
for survival will be slim, at best.
Governments renegotiate the
quantity of trade in this category
every year as per the MFA, which
sets developed country import
quotas on textiles and garments
manufactured in developing
countries. In 1994, as a result of
the Uruguay Round of the Gen
eral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(GATT), the precursor of the World
Trade Organisation (WTO), member
countries agreed to phase out the
MFA over 10 years, in accordance
with official GATT-WTO goals of
eliminating quota systems and protectionist markets. One of the mem
ber countries is Bangladesh, whose
economy's reliance on export earnings from the apparel industry is
It is difficult to predict what will
happen in Bangladesh once the apparel industry loses its fixed and
protected export market. The greatest fear is that hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly female,
will be retrenched as a consequence. Available evidence,
however, does not corroborate
predictions of such drastic
change, at least according to
many industry pundits. They
point out that quotas on several
items have already been phased
out without any substantial ef-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
feet on overall earnings. Rather,
large-scale retrenchment in the last
two years resulted from other factors, such as the global economic
slowdown following 11 September
2001. On the other side of the argument are those who note that
the present quota system for most
Bangladeshi export items is also
scheduled for phasing out in 2004.
They are convinced that a large
number of factories will not be able
to compete in the global market,
making the prospect of mass unemployment imminent.
Whatever the prognosis, the
plight of garment workers has suddenly become a matter of great concern, even to those who previously
exhibited little interest in their well
being. Factory owners, social activists who might othenvise have little
to say on labouring women, and
hade unionists alike are now highlighting the need to prepare for the
end of 2004. While there is little apparent concern about what the
numbers or statistical trends have
to say, Dhaka is abuzz with talk
about "1.5 million workers losing
their jobs overnight".
One can only speculate on the
various interests involved in such
suppositions. Factory owners appear to be using this as an opportunity to push the government to
implement a long-standing set of
demands - the provision of a central bonded warehousing facility,
lowered duties on certain import
items and improved port facilities,
among other things. Indeed, the recently proposed national budget
clearly took the concerns of this sector into consideration with its offer
of substantial tax reductions for the
A number of prominent trade
unionists are enjoying a rare moment in the sun, having become
regular speakers at the many seminars and symposiums on the subject. Lastly, many concerned citizens worry about the social consequences of having so many young,
unemployed women on the streets
of the capital. Indeed, an underlying anxiety about uncontrolled
working class sexuality seems to be
a common thread running through
discussions on the topic.
Rarely brought up in these discussions, though, are some aspects
of market access and productivity
that have a direct relation to maintaining the garment industry in
good health. After all, the future viability of the industry depends to a
great extent on its ability to gain access to more diverse markets and to
increase labour productivity.
Dangerous sympathy
In response to a question on image
and marketability, factory owners at
a recent roundtable on the impact
of the MFA phase-out noted that they
International calls for
uniform wages act as
an alibi for justifying
Northern protectionist
trade policies
find considerable sympathy abroad
for Bangladeshi workers. They take
this to be a wholly positive development, given past boycotts and the
general demonising of the garment
industry. However, it should not be
taken for granted that this sympathy always translates into actions
that help workers. For one thing,
today a growing number of consumers 'with a conscience' in the North
are unwilling to buy clothes made
with 'sweatshop labour'. These consumers, along with student activists
and labour organisers, form the core
supporters of the movement to establish universal labour standards.
Unfortunately, it is all too clear that
the demand for uniform wages
frequently acts as an alibi for justifying Northern protectionist trade
policies. Double standards invariably operate in the discourse
on ethics in the labour market,
placing poor countries at a distinct
Some of the images of the exploitation of women workers in circulation are irresponsible, to say the
least. A college textbook published
several years ago claims that in the
slums of Bangladesh, there is a saying that "if you're lucky, you'll be a
prostitute; if you're unlucky, you'll
be a garment worker". An investigative journalist hired by a US trade
union coined this saying; the conflicting interests at stake here, given
the politics of international trade,
are not difficult to grasp. This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that generates sympathy for Bangladeshi
workers from politically correct
Northern consumers. The consequences of such attention and sympathy have been disastrous at times,
as the boycotts of earlier decades
painfully demonstrated.
But, the reality is that Bangladeshi garment factories remain notorious for their sweatshop-like conditions. Without doubt, there are
serious violations of labour rights
in the garment sector. Labour exploitation is alive and well in
many factories. However, a blanket
condemnation (or celebration) of
the industry does not do justice to
the complexity or diversity of working conditions in the sector. There
are substantial differences in working conditions between large, well-
established factories and small,
barely viable ones, and between
those in the Export Processing
Zones - investment-friendly areas
near Dhaka, in Chittagong, and as
yet in the implementation stage at
Comilla and Ishurdi - and those
Equally important, a distinction
must be made between those situations where questions of labour
rights are embedded in larger structural issues of poverty and those
that entail gross violations of human
rights. It is critical to intervene in
the discourse on global labour standards and bring out this distinction
in all its fine points. That is one way
to prevent the labour issue from being appropriated by the agendas of
Northern capitalists and labour
At the same roundtable, the
question of alternative occupations
for retrenched garment workers was
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 raised, with the suggestion that perhaps sex work was the only viable
option for many women. Invariably,
a widely vie wed. programme on a
private TV channel that had suggested as much came up for discussion as 'evidence' of this trend. No
doubt the show m question was pro-
duced out of sympathy for the
plight of unemployed garment
workers. Yet, by highlighting a dubious but unquestioned link between poor women and sex work,
the programme appears to have
done more damage than good.
Rather than generating serious concern for retrenched workers, or unpacking the pernicious effects of
globalisation and structural adjustment on an uneven playing field, the
show succeeded only in tapping
into a generalised middle class anxiety. This kind of sympathy is always
in danger of slipping into voyeurism, leading to a different kind
of exploitation of the labouring
Workers/human rights
The factory owners present at the
roundtable expressed unanimous
admiration for the diligence and
intelligence (quick "pick-up time")
of their female employees. The praise
notwithstanding, Bangladeshi garment workers have one of the lowest labour productivity levels m the
world. Apart from lack of education
and opportunities for skill accumulation, there are invisible social dimensions that affect productivity.
Often with women, but not necessarily restricted to women, it is
sexual harassment.
A study of the garment industry
by the writer earlier this year
showed that worker efficiency is
closely related to the specific conditions of employment associated
with globalisation which create 'enabling' environments for employers
and others to get away with sexual
harassment, simultaneously making it harder for employees to press
for redress. In other words, extreme
job insecurity in the garment industry promotes rampant sexual coercion and blackmail from superiors.
Since workers can be dismissed at
the whim of superiors, women -
especially if they are financially
insecure - often have no choice
but to quietly accept harassment
and to leave if conditions become
A quarter of respondents reported being sexually harassed at
least once. 30 percent of all garment
workers and 50 percent of workers
employed in the Export Processing
Zones reported having heard of
sexual assaults or rapes in their
workplace. Given the stigma attached to making such incidents
public, one can assume there was
considerable under-reporting. The
smaller factories were the worst of-
Micro-credit is not the
panacea for all
problems in all places
fenders, while very large, well-established factories appeared to afford
relatively more protection.
Gauging the impact of sexual
harassment on worker productivity,
the results of the study were striking. Almost half of the workers reported that sexual harassment impairs their productivity directly. It
is not only individual workers who
feel the impact. If a woman has been
humiliated, sexually or otherwise,
and no public action is taken, the
atmosphere of fear and resentment
infects all workers. Experiences of
sexual harassment also generate
forms of resistance that effectively
lower productivity. In the absence
of any mechanism to correct an abusive situation, workers frequently
resort to actions such as intentionally slowing down their output per
hour or feigning illness. For many
workers, this kind of oblique resistance may be the only means of
expressing their anger or helplessness. Talking back or seeking
help from superiors usually makes
things much worse.
The underlying factors that
increase worker vulnerability to
sexual harassment can be rectified
quite easily. Providing workers
with appropriate documentation,
and eliminating the informal
system of hiring and firing workers
would be a critical first step.
This does not require new legislation but rather the enforcement
of existing labour laws. Needless
to say, the increased efficiency
argument should not be the primary
motive for implementing labour
Free trade versus fair
The prospect of social and economic
upheaval after 2004 looms large,
parfly because of the memories from
the large-scale retrenchment of
garment workers at the end of 2001.
At that time, an umbrella group of
NGOs established a micro-credit
programme to help unemployed
garment workers attain self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, despite its
reputation in international development circles, micro-credit is not
the panacea for all problems in
all places. The programme was
misplaced and doomed to fail.
The best way to ensure the social and economic security of garment workers is to enable them to
keep their jobs. This is not an easy
task in the new global order, given
the minimal bargaining power that
Bangladesh has. Intervening in the
global discourse on ethics and ensuring the rights of workers in the
workplace can make some difference. Equally important are recent
efforts to make international trade
fair, rather than free - which it never
has been. The Fair Trade Initiative
pioneered by Oxfam and others, for
instance, seeks to close the immense
gap between the manufacturing
price and the selling price of goods
produced in poor countries. Some
people are quick to dismiss the venture as Utopian, since it strikes at
the heart of the capitalist system of
pricing and profits. In response, one
can only say that without visions of
utopia, meaningful social change
would never be possible anywhere
in the world.
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 Pakistan's budget 2003-04
The economics of hypocrisy
Pakistan's government releases a budget addressing the concerns of its
core constituency - the World Bank and the IMF.
by Shafqat Munir
Pakistan's finance minister,
Shaukat Aziz, when presenting the new fiscal year budget in June, made tall claims about
the country's improved economic
outlook. This budget, Aziz's fourth
since being appointed finance minister by General Pervez Musharraf
in 1999, is the first he has presented
under the military-led civilian government of Prime Minister Mir
Zafarullah Khan Jamali. Yet, despite the arrival of an elected civilian government since Aziz released
last year's budget, essentially nothing has changed in his economic
planning. The budget for 2003-04 is
merely a continuation of economic
policies aimed at achieving targets
set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In his 7 June budget speech, Aziz
offered an ambiguous appraisal of
Pakistan's fiscal health, on the one
hand d escribing a rosy recovery process, and on the other enumerating
five major challenges that appeared
to contradict his claims of sound
economic growth and poverty reduction. These challenges are: accelerating economic growth in sectors with job creation capacity, a
step deemed essential for poverty
reduction; making larger investments in human development, an
objective that has received increased budget support; recovering
losses in public sector corporations,
which would increase the capacity
to invest in human capital and development; making improvements in
physical infrastructure such as wa
ter storage, canals, roads and ports
in order to more fully realise the
economy's potential; and attracting
greater private sector investment, a
point on which some limited success has already been achieved.
Judging by the finance minister's
five points, the ostensible cornerstones of the government's economic improvement plan are in-
Shaukat Aziz points the way.	
creasing growth and employment
and furthering human and infrastructure development. If this does
not materialise, then Aziz's claims
in his budget speech will prove
falsely hopeful. Sadly, there is good
reason to doubt that the finance
minister's optimistic words will
translate into real-life improvements
for the people of Pakistan. First, the
new budget essentially continues
policies of the past several years, in
which period the poverty rate of
Pakistan touched 32 percent, according to official data, and nearly
40 percent according to independent sources and international agencies. This is up from a 1993-94
World Bank poverty estimate of 29
percent. Second, the budget no
longer even reflects the interests of
Pakistanis, howsoever defined by
the government. Policy planners
have, with the curiously titled
Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
(PRSP), settled on a new strategy to
placate international lenders.
Debt bondage
Trapped in debt by the World Bank
and the IMF, along with other lending countries and institutions, Pakistan appears fated to accept whatever conditions the overseas institutions chooses to impose. The country is currently making use of USD
two billion in World Bank money
for poverty reduction and simultaneously accepting funds from an
IMF programme, the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), to
the tune of USD 1.4 billion. Ironically, by the much-touted terms of
good governance, Pakistan should
not receive these funds, as the
country's politics hardly conforms
to international standards of competent and fair administration. Even
so, these lending bodies now require
Pakistan to draw upon their policy
guidelines to prepare and implement a poverty reduction strategy
with long-term objectives.
Launched   globally   in  2000,
HiMAL 16/7 July 2003
 PRSPs are (supposedly) developed
by national governments in cooperation with the World Bank, the
IMF and local interest groups to "describe a country's macroeconomic,
structural and social policies and
programs to promote growth and
reduce poverty, as well as associated external financing needs". To
date, 26 counties, mostly from Africa, have published PRSPs, and another 45, including Pakistan, have
.r:erim Poverty Reduction Strategy
Papers (I-PRSPs). Sri Lanka, which
presented its PRSP on 23 April 2003,
is the only South Asian country to
have done so, writh Pakistan expected to follow suit with its final
plan later this year. The purpose of
the plan is to establish a framework
for long-term planning, and to "provide the crucial link between national public actions, donor support, and the development outcomes needed to meet the MDGs
[Millenium Development Goals]".
Some analysts argue that structural adjustment policies and, more
specifically, sectoral adjustment
loans, have been the single most
important policy-influencing tool of
bilateral and multilateral donors in
the post-war era. Contained in such
docu ments as PRSPs, they have come
to dominate the economic policy
contexts of a large majority of poor
countries, and are likely to continue
to do so as the debt trap intensifies.
In most PRSPs, 10 basic conditions
are placed on prospective countries
for them to gain access to loans,
three of the most important being
sound sectoral policy, deregulation
and good governance.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, a civil society analyst, says that the problem
with structural adjustment policies
is their history of destructive effects
in countries where they have been
introduced. The primary thrust of
these policies is reducing subsidies
and budget deficits, increasing revenues and privatisation, and encouraging trade liberalisation. To
meet these terms, governments, instead of increasing revenues by taxing high-income individuals and
industries, place the financial bur
den on the common man, increasing the incidence of poverty. In Pakistan, particularly since Musharraf
came to power in 1999, direct and
indirect taxation and price increases
have adversely affected Pakistan's
lower-middle and poorer classes.
PRSP policies are also an indirect
threat to food security in that they
reduce government support for the
food supply. Yet, despite the clearly
harmful effects of these policies, and
their detachment from realistic assessments of countries' situations,
international financial institutions
have continued to advance them. At
the policy level, this results in severely misguided and counter-productive strategies.
The PRSP process began in Pakistan three years ago. The country's
l-PRSP, adopted in November 2001,
contains goals similar to those pre-
Structural adjustment
policies are the most
important tool of
bilateral and multilateral
sented in Aziz's 7 June budget
speech. In May 2003, a PRSP draft
was completed, with final approval
expected by year's end. No doubt,
the stated aims of the PRSP - economic growth, reduced poverty,
improved administration - are worthy goals, but the methods prescribed by the plan are unlikely to
achieve them. The government has
not devised a practical, time-bound
programme to increase economic
growth or to raise standards of living. To do so would first require a
plan to improve the lives of the
country's agricultural labourers,
who, at 48 percent of the workforce,
represent the largest section of the
employed population. An increase
in agricultural sector prosperity
would, for instance, do much to roll
back poverty, given that the sector
represents one-quarter of the
country's GDP and sustains two-
thirds of its people. But despite its
importance, agriculture has continuously received little government
support, a trend continued in this
year's budget.
A multidimensional condition
Under the PRSP guidelines, the government has committed itself to raise
pro-poor budgetary allocations by
at least 0.2 percent of the GDP per
annum. Based on these projections,
by fiscal year 2005-06 the allocation
for poverty reduction will reach PKR
246.5 billion (USD 4.42 billion). The
government claims that the PRSP
will broaden and deepen development by facilitating high rates of
economic growth, thereby improving employment prospects and
strengthening the social safety net.
The 2003-04 budget proposes
PKR 185 billion (USD 3.3 billion) for
poverty reduction, as compared to
PKR 161 billion (USD 2.9 billion) for
the outgoing year, a net increase of
almost 15 percent, at least on paper.
Ideally, this money will be used to
improve the education, health care,
population planning, water supply
and sanitation, rural development
and housing sectors. An allocation
of this size for poverty reduction is
actually quite substantial for a country with an economy and growth
rates described as modest, at best.
Even so, the impressive figures
found in glossy budget documents
may prove to be hollow numbers.
In evaluating this year's poverty
reduction budget, it deserves mention that, of the PKR 161 billion earmarked last year, 60 percent of the
assigned funds went unspent.
Doubts have even been raised about
whether the money committed on
paper actually existed in the first
place, and concerns naturally follow about whether a 15 percent increase in this year's budget will
translate into an actual increase in
spending. The government, apparently in an attempt to convince
people that poverty will be aggressively targeted, has re-christened
the Public Sector Development
Programme as the Poverty Reduction Programme. But, leaving aside
name changes and theoretical bud-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 getary allocations for improving citizens' welfare, it is clear that Pakistanis are falling deeper into the
poverty trap of diminished social
Poverty is defined as a multidimensional condition coupling low
or non-existent income with lack of
access to basic services such as education, health care and employment
opportunities. But measurements of
poverty are faulty in that they usually take into consideration only
income levels, according to Dr
Mushtaq A Khan of the Centre for
Research on Poverty Reduction and
Income Distribution of the Planning
Commission ol Pakistan. So, even
while economic growth may lift the
mean income level, large income
differentials can simultaneously
increase inequality, and both processes affect conditions of poverty.
"In the case of Pakistan, it seems
that poverty is more sensitive to
the inequality. With increases in
the GDP growth rate, the average
nominal income increases in the
economy, which has a positive impact on poverty. But this positive
impact is washed out due to the
negative impact of worsening income inequality and vice versa",
explains Dr Khan.
Statistical measures of physical
well-being offer a grim picture of
poverty in Pakistan. According to
official data, over 70 million people,
more than half of all Pakistanis, do
not have access to health facilities.
The doctor-population ratio is
1:2000, while that for nurses is
1:4000 and that for hospital beds is
1:1500, There are only 455 rural
health centres, despite the fact that
two-thirds of all Pakistanis live in
rural areas. Mortality rates for infants, children and mothers are high
by South Asian and world standards. The gender ratio of newborns, at 108 males to 100 females,
is disturbing, and roughly 40 percent of all under-five children are
malnourished. Unsafe drinking
water and air pollution contribute
to health problems, and an estimated six million children aged between five and nine are out of school.
For the remaining 14 million who
do attend classes, the quality of education is poor, with about 55 percent of children above the age of 10
illiterate. Only 63 percent of people
have access to water supply, the
safety of which in any event is not
regulated. Only two in five people
have access to sanitation facilities,
and air pollution levels in Lahore
and Karachi are 20 times the World
Health Organisation's standards.
Pakistan's fiscal roadmap, the l-PRSP,
is a product ol World Bank-IMF
Plight of the worker
Pakistan's growth rate, touted in the
I-PRSP as a strong pillar of the
country's economy, is actually
lower today than it was in the last
decade. Following an average
growth rate of four percent in the
1990s, the nearly four years of
Musharraf's tenure have witnessed
a decline to 3.6 percent, owing to
low levels of investment and savings. Because of connections between investment and employment,
a decline in these categories worsens poverty, which, in turn, is directly linked to human rights, labour
rights and environmental stan
dards, none of which have demonstrated significant improvements
despite the adoption of the five-pillar l-PRSP.
The country's generally bleak
economic planning is exacerbated
by disastrous shifts in employment
trends and policies. Unemployment
in Pakistan has continued to increase, with the official rate now
standing at 7.8, and, according to
the 'Economic Survey 2002-03',
about 3.3 million people are out of
work. Such conditions have resulted
in increases in related social maladies, including crime and suicide.
Moreover, the situation of those
employed or underemployed is
worsening due to the introduction
of a contract labour system and regressive labour laws promulgated
by the Musharraf government and
ratified by Prime Minister Jamali's.
,A.mong the most notable of the
recent changes in labour law is the
Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO)
of 2002, which replaced an IRO dating from 1969, and has effectively
snatched away basic protections
from workers and contravened International Labour Organisation
(ILO) conventions that Pakistan has
ratified. In the new IRO, agricultural
workers, representing half of the
Pakistani labour force, have lost the
right to form trade unions, the very
institutions meant to protect and
advance workers' rights. Taken together with the large portion of the
labour force employed in the informal sector, where trade unions do
not exist in any event, nearly the
entire labour force is no longer allowed to organise. Altogether, only
three percent of Pakistan's labour
force is currently unionised.
Experience from around the
world shows that labour unions are
among the most important of civil
society groups helping to create
rights-based conditions, though
their prospects in Pakistan are not
encouraging. The lack of organising
rights in agriculture becomes all the
more serious when one considers
government plans to introduce corporate farming in the country, even
though this flies in the face of PRSP
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 goals of improving workers' conditions. The effect of these policies is a
two-fold attack on agricultural
workers, at once corporatising the
livelihoods of nearly 30 million
people and simultaneously stripping them of their right to organise
in the face of liberalisation.
Another regressive provision in
the IRO 2002 is the abolishment of
National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) relief to sacked/retrenched workers. Until now, such
workers could file a case with the
NIRC and remain in the job until
adjudication of their claims. Now,
workers' rights have been all but
eliminated, as employers can fire at
will without worry about NIRC action. And, despite false claims that
government labour courts were
strengthened in the tripartite conference of July 2001, in reality the
situation has worsened, especially
with the recent elimination of labour
appellate tribunals.
.Ml of these measures are pro-
employer and anti-worker. Instead
of pursuing a policy of threatening
citizens' livelihoods and increasing
poverty, the government should facilitate an employment structure
promoting opportunities for employment and social protection for
Participatory dictatorship
While the government claims to
have proceeded through the PRSP
process in a consultative manner,
obvious shortcomings and condemnation from civil society contradict
this position. Fury over the PRSP process has extended to parliament,
where, after a briefing by civil society groups on 23 June, opposition
parliamentarians objected to the inclusion of certain components of the
l-PRSP in the new budget without
debate in or approval by parliament.
Casting doubts on the government's
entire poverty reduction scheme,
they demanded a transparent evaluation of all PRSP policies and implementation proposals.
Understandably, the large donor
institutions take a different view of
Pakistan's PRSP process. World
Bank country director in Pakistan,
John W Wall, a leading supporter
of the PRSP process, attended the 23
June meeting and stated, "The core
principles of PRSP should be country driven, result oriented, participatory, comprehensive and long
term in perspective". In addition to
these vague commitments, Wall also
recommended taking the three key
steps of "understanding poverty
Today, nearly the entire
labour force is no
longer allowed to
and factors that determine it, choosing public actions impacting poverty, and identifying indicators of
progress and monitoring in a participatory manner".
It is, of course, hypocrisy on the
part of the World Bank and other
donors to speak in terms of participatory and transparent approaches
even as they cut deals with a military government that does not 'consult with stakeholders', at least if
stakeholders are defined as the
people it governs. In clear contravention of Wall's sermon, the government has consistently refused to
bring PRSP policies up for parliamentary debate. Moreover, the opposition and treasury benches were
not consulted during the development of the l-PRSP or its final version, exposing the claim that
people's representatives have been
taken into confidence. Donors peddling such policies always prefer
dealing with dictators in Pakistan
instead of democratic governments.
And, as they dictate to a dictator,
they bestow on him internationally
credibility he may not have in the
The secretive manner in which
the government conducted PRSP negotiations with donors, and the fact
that its contents have not been
brought up for debate in parliament,
much less before the general public, suggest that the Musharraf-
Jamali regime is pursuing economic
policies that it knows will not survive scrutiny. Reviews of Pakistan's
PRSP strategy, or its policy components, unambiguously demonstrate
that the people's interests have been
subverted to the whims and power-
point guidelines of international
lenders. Pakistan's experiment
with participatory dictatorship, far
from improving the lives of its
people, has proven to be a bankrupt
experience. A
Himal readers in India wishing to subscribe should send INR 580/
1125 (1 year/2 years) to: Central News Agency (P) Ltd., 4E/15
Jhandewalan Ext, New Delhi 110001.
Tel: +91-11-3670532, 3670534, 3670536.
Fax: +91-11-3626036 email: or
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5650623/5213916 email:
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
Queens, princesses
and refugees
IN END-June, it seems that all was
forgiven and forgotten between
Nepal and Bhutan, The Bhutanese
senior queen Ashi Tsering Pema
Wangchuk and her college-going
photogenic daughters Chimi
Yangzam and Kesang Choden arrived in Kathmandu to the week-
long delight of the paparazzi, hugging HIV+ children, visiting Lumbini,, and - most importantly - being wined and dined by Nepal's
royalty. Crown Prince Paras and
his wife Himani suddenly surged
to the limelight as hosts to the Bhutanese ladies. One moment that
made particularly big waves was
Paras bending to a low handshake
tin a manner that has never before
been captured by Nepali photo-
Mountains of
IT IS a comfortable cliche that the
Himalayan region is home to hundreds of endangered species and
scores of undocumented languages. But it is not common knowledge
that the field of Himalayan studies
is home to a similarly diverse array
of scholarly journals. This overview
offers a few words on some of the
major journals of Himalayan studies in the year that commemorates
the 50lh anniversary of one of
the most celebrated Himalayan
feats - Norgay and Hillary's-ascent
of Everest.
Ancient Nepal (Pracin Nepal) is a
large format yellow journal devoted to Himalayan prehistory and
field archaeology and has been published by the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu since October
1967. Many recent foreign archaeological expeditions to Nepal have
published their initial findings in
Ancient Nepal, and recent editions
include accounts of work in Upper
Mustang and Kohla (an old Gurung
settlement). While the price is right,
All of this would be a most satisfying reinstatement of cordiality between the two Himalayan neighbours, except for one niggling deT
tailthat surfaced every time one saw
the three Ashis of Bhutan in front
page spreads. And that was the presence of the 106,223 refugees from
Bhutan, whose future suddenly
the distribution is not, and very few
bookshops in Nepal or India carry
the journal. Buy it when you see one,
it is a rare find.
One of the longest running, most
varied and impressively regular
journals available in Nepal is Contributions to Nepalese Studies. The
home of this journal, started in 1973,
is the Centre for Nepal and Asian
Studies in Kathmandu's Tribhuvan
University. Foreign scholars as well
as domestic academics are encouraged to write for Contributions, and
all articles are peer reviewed. Truly
multidisciplinary, the journal's
strengths these days include an-
thropolo;gy, sociology and linguistics. Articles may be in Nepali or English, and offprints are provided to
writers whose papers are accepted.
Along with Ancient Nepal and
Contributions, the longest running
journal in the field is Kailash: Journal of Himalayan Studies, published
on crisp Nepali paper by Ratna
Pustak Bhandar since 1973. The
journal was conceived to be a forum
for scholars of a younger generation
from both the East and the West to
have their material published and
critically discussed, and to this day
i took a sudden turn for
| the worse a month ago
1 when the Nepali govern-
° ment agreed to a Bhu-
°i tanese  proposal  that
would essentially render
a majority of them stateless (See Himal, June
The Ministerial Joint
Committee of the two
countries decided to accept the Bhutanese proposal to an absurd categorisation of the refugees
(as bona fide Bhutanese,
as voluntary emigres, as non-Bhutanese and criminal Bhutanese). The
verification exercise in one of the
camps has slotted more than 70 percent of the refugees in that camp in
the second category; this means that
these refugees have been rendered
stateless unless the Bhutanese or
Nepali governments, out of magna-
Kailash continues to publish
the findings of original research
projects. Originally published four
times a year, Kailash is these days
rather infrequent, and is available
only in Nepal. The first few editions have now been digitised
and are available online free at
The Journal of the Nepal Research
Centre (JNRC) has been published in
Nepal by the German publisher
Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH Wiesbaden since 1977, and contains
scores of excellent articles on the
cultures and heritage of Nepal. The
original aim - a noble one - was to
republish in English the most significant articles on Nepal written in
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
nimity, assign them citizenship.
In pulling out all the stops to fete
tire ladies, the royal palace seemed
surreally unaware of how this was
going down in the public. For an increasingly politicised monarchy,
Narayanhiti, it seems, would have
been more aware of the sensitivity
of public relations operations.
Speculation in Kathmandu had
it that the Bhutanese queen was in
town with her daughters as a backdoor diplomat, and is thought to
have purveyed the message that
Bhutan would take back up to 70
percent of the refugees that are in
the process of being rendered stateless. This jives well with earlier suggestions from; unnamed sources in
Kathmandu's foreign ministry holding that they had informal reassurances to this effect from Thimpu.
The Bhutanese refugees are .understandably hesitant to take such
unofficial communication at face
German and Nepali which would
otherwise go unnoticed by many
scholars of the region. To this day, a
new edition of the/NRC emerges every year or so, and can be picked up
in Kathmandu or Europe.
The Association for Nepal and
Himalayan Studies (formerly the US
Nepal Studies Association) started
a bulletin in the winter of 1980,
which matured into tire Himalayan
Research Bulletin (HRB). This journal,
edited out of Portland, Oregon, is an
interdisciplinary publication of
scholarship relating to Nepal and
the adjacent Himalayan areas. The
HRB is an excellent way to stay in
toudi with conferences, events, new
publications and even old friends
(an updated address and contact
fist is included every few editions).
While this biannual journal is available through subscription only, the
dedicated website, www.himal-, has information on
the contents of past and future issues.
The European Bulletin of Himalayan Research (EBHR) was established
in 1991 with the aim of providing
an open forum for scholars in the
humanities, natural and applied
value after 13 long years of prevarication on their status from Bhutan
and the circumstances in which they
were made to leave. They can hardly
be pleased, sweltering in camps in
sciences specialising in Himalayan
studies. This biannual journal has
a quirky editorial arrangement: it is
edited in strict rotation by teams
from the South Asia Institute of
Heidelberg University, the Centre
National de la Recherche Scienti-
fique in Paris and the School of Oriental and- African Studies in London. While notes on conferences
and book reviews are welcome, a
particular strength of the EBHR is the
longer monograph-style articles,
which are heavily footnoted and
well referenced. The journal is pocket-sized and orange, and the occasional volume can be found in Kathmandu bookshops.
While Studies in Nepali History
and Society (SINHAS) was conceived
only in 1996, the journal has already
made an international name for itself as a discerning and high-quality publication. SINHAS aims to enhance understanding of cultural
politics and social conditions in
Nepal through a commitment to historical analysis, attention to Nepali
scholarship and a willingness to
explore new terrain. SINHAS is published in Kathmandu by Mandala
Book Point and abstracts can be read
the hot, moist plains of Morang
and Jhapa, with the chumminess
between Nepali and Bhutanese
royalty. A
online at
The Journal of Bhutanese Studies
dates to 1999, when an editorial
board at the Centre for Bhutan Stud-"
ies in Thimpu realised the need for
an interdisciplinary journal relating
to Bhutanese issues. The biannual
journal can be purchased by contacting the editors or read online
free at the website www.bhutan-
The Royal Nepal Academy does
not have the best track record with
continuity when it comes to journals. A few years ago the Journal of
Nepalese Studies was launched, but
this never got further than a few irregular volumes, and was quickly
replaced by the Journal of Nepalese
Literature, Art and Culture. This biannual journal can be bought from
the sales counter of the academy in
The Tibet Journal is a quarterly
publication of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTBA) in
Dharamsala, India. The journal's focus is on scholarly and general interest articles on Tibetan culture and
civilisation by Tibetans and non-Tibetans. This long-standing publica-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
tion is edited by an international
team of senior Tibet scholars, and
many seminal articles have graced
its pages. The Tibet Journal is available in many libraries and bookshops in Kathmandu, as well as directly from the publisher.
The Namgyal Institute of Tibe-
tology in Gangtok, Sikkim, has recently relaunched its flagship publication, the Bulletin of Tibetology.
First published in 1964, the journal
is actively soliciting articles on
Tibetan studies with a particular
view to Sikkim and the surrounding areas. A website,, is under construction.
Tom Lehrer once sung of chemical elements: "these are the only
ones of which the news has come to
Harvard, and there may be many
others, but they haven't been discovered". This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but a team at the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library
( is compiling one.
Readers are encouraged to send information on any major Himalayan
journals to t>
Mark Turin, Ithaca, USA
Mughal magical
FOR A continental sub-unit boasting myriad traditional art forms,
contemporary South Asia could do
more to produce works of art that
explore modem sociaal and political
issues through indigenous mediums. At least one craftsperson of the
Subcontinent has taken a stab at that
challenge - Saira Wasim, a miniaturist painter of the Mughal style,
who works out of Lahore. There is
much in the South Asia of today in
dire need of artistic examination,
and Wasim has cast her stroke
wide, using her art to vent anger
against religious extremism, nuclear jingoism and female repression.
Trained at the National College
of d^rts, Lahore, Wasim .says that, in
miniature painting, "issues which
are big conflicts in society are
touched on in a very sensitive, dec-
THE WORLD Water Forum is the
periodic and moving confluence of
global water interests. It is organised by the World Water Council
(WWC), the official organiser and
self-designated think-tank on global water policy, based in France.
Members of the WWC make up a
who-is-who of development, including all the major states, bilateral and
multilateral development agencies,
development finance institutions,
private corporations, inter-governmental agencies, research institutes
and, of course, the inevitable sprinkling of NGOs blessed with selective
This was the third forum that
WWC organised since the first one
in Marrakesh in 1997 and the second one in The Hague in 2000. Having set the course of global water
policy to synch with the profit calculus of powerful international interests, Japan was thought to be the
place to agree upon a plan of action
for the Third World Water Forum or
3WWF. Sadly, Japan disappointed
orative and colourful way". She has
adapted the traditional Mughal style
to incorporate iconography ranging
from fhe Italian renaissance to South
Asian truck art. Her pictures are
overtly political, although also playful in their recurring employment of
circus themes. Appeals to peaceful
co-existence are laced with a distinct
touch of irony, even caustic humour.
In 'Friendship', Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf, both
garbed in Tudor attire, shake hands
in a military viewing stand as India's
ex-foreign minister Jaswant Singh
looks on approvingly. Behind Musharraf scowls a jester, while to the general's right a pint-sized military officer and a worried-faced Santa
Claus offer salutes. Symmetry is
maintained on Vajpayee's side with
a clown in meek supplication and a
female juggler tossing balls. The medieval circus-cum-mihtajry parade is
completed with oxen bearing missiles below the stand. While at one
The Europeans were irked at the
Japanese for all sorts of organisational reasons. Of course, they were
also peeved by the failure of the process to deliver results. The Americans, frankly, were quite unconcerned. But the corporations were
there to attend to life's stern duties.
So they prioritised and spent large
sums of money at the forum on image enhancement exercises, in addition to pulling policy strings from
behind the scenes.
Most participants from the third
world were absorbed in the glitter-
level this is a plea for harmony, at
another level, in Wasim's words, it
is the depiction of "political leaders
neglecting their duties" in childlike
Musharraf appears in many of
Wasim's creations, sometimes alongside other world leaders like Vajpayee and George W Bush, and at other
times alone with a stoic lion and his
military retinue. In 'Haligoli', for instance, Pakistani military officials in
flip-flops clutch missiles and rifles
on rocking horses (and one rocking
lion, reserved for Musharraf), while
mullahs stare down on the scene
from above and figures on flying toy
trucks streak across the sky. 'Friends
Again', part of a series commenting
on US-Pakistani military cooperation
since September 2001, shows Bush
and Musharraf cuddling in an elevated box while Ronald McDonald
and a Pakistani soldier stand at the
forefront of a celebrating crowd. In
perhaps Wasim's most irreverent
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
ing melee of events at parallel sessions in Osaka, Shiga and Kyoto cities. Few knew what was going on.
Fewer bothered to find out. That was
not what they had come there for.
Beside, the mood at the cafes was
more inviting. The sushi was good,
the onsens were cultural. It all came
off rather well. Tradition must have
saved the hosts for, despite everything, the summit went through the
necessary motions, like a venerable
geisha at a tea ceremony where all
the guest are not equally endowed
with aesthetic refinement. The obtuse process at the forum completed the usual confusion so essential
to the ambience of summits and other international meets where fog facilitates thinking.
The American war on Iraq added to the water-borne misery at the
3WWF. Radical NGOs managed to
get their protests noticed, but for the
rest there was no cheer. The political declaration disappointed all.
The companies did not get the policy guarantees that their profits require and the bureaucrats did not
make much headway with their
ambitious advances. The third
world did not lose much, nor did it
gain anything. Same story, different
On second thought, there was
one small gain for the third world.
Amidst all the gloom, the Kazas-
aburi made significant progress. The
Kazasaburi is a wonderful technology. Glossy publications and slick
multimedia information kits assure
you that it is an innovative device.
And a cheap device. Uses only locally available material. Local people can quickly acquire the skills
needed to construct new Kazas-
aburis. It is also practically magical.
It can, unleash development without foreign assistance once'beneficiary communities are put through
a brief spell of building capacity.
Kazasaburi has the potential to
supply all the water needs of far-
flung rural communities. It can provide enough water to sustain both
people and livestock in a good size
African village. The water is filtered,
hygienic, safe, and there will always
be plenty to pot and drink. The success of Kazasaburi has been proven
in pilot projects and field tests.
A Japanese NGO is credited with
blending of symbols, 'The Kiss' depicts Musharraf typing at a keyboard
as American and British cherubs
dote on him; his computer screen is
filled with red hearts. In the background, partially hidden by half-
drawn curtains, missiles soar into
the sky in ordered columns.
Wasim says that because women
in Pakistan fear speaking out on
public issues for fear of religious censure, she uses art as a medium to express her anger at political and social conditions. She has explored victimisation and brutalisation as
themes in her art since childhood,
inventing the Kazasaburi. This accomplishment earned it the financial support of the Japanese government. With predictable Japanese
zeal and efficiency, Kazasaburi was
taken to a few remote African villages by a team of volunteers. They
were dedicated volunteers, as only
the Japanese can be. Staff back in
Japan provided them backup and
coordination support. Participatory
community development groups in
partnership with a networking organisation helped the Japanese innovators take the Kazasaburi to villagers who till then were drinking
water from depleted soak pits,
spreading disease and dying soon
And since it succeeded so well
in its objective of bringing clean
drinking water to remote African
communities, Kazasaburi was unveiled with great pomp at the Third
World Water Forum.
Information on the Kazasaburi
was shared with participants from
all over the world through multimedia presentations on the huge
screen in the NGO area, including a
broadcast quality video documen-
she says, and some of her less overtly political art, such as pieces depicting infants in lily-pad ponds and
surrealistic war zones, explores human innocence. She revisits themes
of corruption, both religious and political, in much of her work, and figures embodying disgraced ideals -
politicians, soldiers, mullahs - appear in most of her pieces. "Due to
this hatred against humsinity in our
society, there is so much corruption,
and many social and political problems", she laments. Samples of
Wasim's work can be viewed at
s/sairawasim/ lb
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 tary showing Japanese volunteers
busy planning, travelling, visiting,
helping, guiding, sharing and, in the
end, jubilantly celebrating with
thankful African communities.
Three different sessions had inputs on the Kazasaburi, besides the
one session that was entirely devoted to it. There were confidential
whispers that the Kazasaburi was
being considered for a place among
the 'Top-10 Water Actions' supervised by WWC.
Eventually, Kazasaburi won the
day. People of the third world should
heave a sigh of relief to learn that it
will be made available to the poor
in the poor countries through the
benevolence of efficient and munificent [apan.
But no matter what the World
Water Forum thought of it, i cannot
make my friend Malik Aslam the
plumber - 39, father of five, who
works 10 hours a day for USD two -
understand why he was not invited while grateful community representatives from remote African vil
lagers and Kazasaburi's innovators
were brought to the summit to say
their thanks in front of all. You see,
Malik Aslam has been sinking the
Kazasaburi for the last 20 years, just
as his father did before him and his
father in his own time. Only he has
always called it a hand pump. He
can understand why the Japanese
innovators call it a Kazasaburi, but
he cannot understand why they call
it an innovation, let alone a Japanese innovation. b
Khalid Hussain, Multan
The final century
I AM 51 and do not understand what it really means
to be old. What does the word old mean to those
whose lives are too short to have experienced the
things that makes the rest of us know that we are
growing old? Do we then not grow old because we
do not experience Big Macs, and all the rest of it that
arrived on us one day without warning and divulged to us just how old we are?
Nowadays 1 work a lot with a project involving the
'extreme' poor (also known in some quarters as 'hard
core poor') and though I do not agree with much that
goes on, 1 understand what it means to become old
and yet not be able to grow old. Because most do not.
They cannot grow old. They look with terror and fall
into a stupor at the endless hungry sunsets they must
see. Hunger is a new definition of everything. But
there is no language yet to say what it means.
In a village where 1 try not to get too involved, a
women invites me to watch her family watch her
feeble husband die. A few kids cling to her or loiter
nearby. If her husband dies she will become destitute.
As a destitute she will qualify for aid and assistance.
Even the dying man jknows that and in a dialect 1 do
not understand he mumbles on. In any case it hardly
matters what he says. What does a father dying in
his youth before the eyes of wife and children mumble that you and 1 can understand. Perhaps it is
easier to understand the wife. 1 think the woman
promises that she will be a widow by the next morning. She will qualify. .And she looks at me with pleading eyes, 1 the boss from the city in a didTty Pajero.
How can I imagine what I cannot understand,
unlike her, who imagines because she does not
understand? She cannot know that I, the boss from
the city in a dirty Pajero, cannot persuade an inert,
blinking bureaucracy that there is a woman waiting
for some money with just as much resignation as she
once waited for her husband's death.
Yet this can't mean anything for this man who
has no history, barring the family he will leave behind to live on a destitute's pension that his death
may bring them. Who can understfmd the absence of
his past, the cloying of his hunger and the irrelevance
of his death from unrecorded causes? He will neither
be mourned nor missed. How can he be when the
seeds of his loins are waiting for his death. The only
slim chance that they can live a little longer depends
on his passing. He has no history except that once, on
the death bed, he has seen a man who understands
the semiotics of age and youth, who is being implored
by his wife to push along that pension she will soon
be eligible for.
He is just a man who will die before his time because he has no control over his life in an age when
his misery multiplies regardless of whether the prices
rise or fall in distant share markets. He is not part of
history because he has not heard of Wall Sheet, that
mighty orgasm of the market civilisation, now slightly
on the wane after a premature climax. He doesn't
know he does not exist except in his world, where
nothing can be imagined because everything is far too
real and always the same. Reality has collapsed him
into a man waiting for his wife to be a widow, and in
the sameness of his daily life no one gave him any
markers to measure out his age. His is the kind of
niche market that no one has any time for. So why did
they even bother to make him in the first place?
1 walk out and immediately the power of their
imagination overwhelms me. 1 am the bhai salieb, the
mian bhai, believed by the dying to be the deliverance
of their kin, the one who will sweep away the remains
of their family into the world horn where 1 came in a
huge vehicle that reeks of the city and pity and mercy.
/\nd wisdom.
In this circular world of hunger, I am the deliverance of their imagination. Here there is no poetry, only
a blind and barely animate faith. Meanwhile, inside
the hut the man lay dying and he is the wretched
cause of that faith, because what takes him away
tomorrow, if his wife has got the timing right, will one
day take all the rest away.
I hear this is the final century. Why am I tilled with
relief? I, the boss from the city in the dirty Pajero.        b
Afsan Chowdhury, Dhaka
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
Contagious diseases Mysterious disease affects school children
^^ -g 1 • * M_*-S -aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapaaaJfYff^^^^^^^^^^^^   V"A«"41     Vil
hit several districts -—™
Eight /aH prey m Bajhang Unknown disease reaches epidemic proportion!
Unknown disease kills 32 in Makwanpur[ Schools closed as viral influenza
breaks out in Dolakha
Unknown disease infects over 300 in Kamechhap
1 HflJ^y^nr disease grips Terai disgict^
Unidentified disease killed 29i —m   "
* Many suffer
from unknown j
Unidentified disease
claims two in Doti
Diseases flare upi
Four die of
mysterious diseasr2o afflicted
inUdayapur      with mysterious
J   r disease
Mystery disease grips
entire village
Mysterious afflictions
Why have some unidentified ailments begun to take a toll in rural Nepal?
by Anil Bhattarai   	
It is the season of distress yet again. News reports
filter in partial images from different locales: heat
strokes in and mass exodus from Andhra Pradesh,
malaria and encephalitis deaths in Assam, and 'monsoon-induced' diarrhoea, influenza epidemics and
measles outbreaks in many of Nepal's districts.
The list of 'medical' afflictions for this calendar year
was long already, and now with the arrival of the monsoon it seems to be unending. Cough, cold, headache,
high fever, jaundice, dysentery, diarrhoea, vomiting, flu,
heat, dehydration, measles, typhoid, and acute respiratory infection are here, and presumably there is more
to come. The Kathmandu Post on 5 March 2003, reported
that jaundice, detected in a few persons sometime earlier, had broken out on an epidemic scale in Manthali,
headquarters of Ramechaap district of Nepal.
News coming in from the so-called 'remote' districts
has been grim. There have been several reports of children, women and the elderly falling prey to some 'mys
tery' disease or the other. Such is the regularity with
which this kind of news has appeared that the death of
large numbers of people is no longer scandalous. We
have been seeing them year after year in the same form
and magnitude, with occasional variations in detail
and presentation, sometimes on the front page or, more
often, tucked away in the corner of the 'region' page.
The irony is that this spate of reports only partially
represents what is really happening in Nepal, and that
is voluminous enough to inure the reader to the repetitive daily rituals of death, often attributed to various
unspecified diseases.
In the first week of February 2003, for example, six
people, four of them children from the Chepang community, died of measles in Makwanpur district's interior villages, south of Kathmandu valley. Several hundreds, mainly children, were taken ill but eventually
recovered. In the same village, reports say, almost all of
the children have severely low body weight. According
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
By Tu twain Pander
to a report published by a Kathmandu-based NGO working among the Chepang community for several years,
in some villages members of this community have
among the lowest life expectancies in Nepal - less than
30 years, which is half the national average. Of course,
the same reports also tell us, tangentially though, that
the people so affected by disease and death have been
living in a state of chronic hunger for years in this area,
lt is a different matter that journalists blame "lack of
health services and inadequate drug supply" for the
News of pretty much the same kind continued unabated in the months following the
February reports. Between March
and June 2003, 38 of Nepal's 75 districts had continuous bouts of epidemics of different varieties and
proportions. This much can be
gleaned from a cursory survey of the
reports published in two national
dailies. There is no reason to assume
that the rest of the districts have been
spared such calamity. Anybody
even remotely familiar with the terrain in Nepal can immediately see
that if an epidemic has arrived, say,
in Jumla, then the adjacent districts
of Mugu, Kalikot, Dolpa, Jajarkot and
Dailekh will also be affected. Therefore, if they have not figured in the
news, the most that must have happened was that the reports from
these other districts either did not
reach the editor's desk or these reports were found to be just too repetitive to be published regularly.
On 17 March, The Kathmandu
Post published another news report.
This time 21 people had died of      	
yet another "mystery disease"in
Kalikot, a mountainous district in Nepal's Far Western
region ('far to the west' from Kathmandu). The disease
had apparently been prevalent in the area for the previous two months. The numbers ran to several hundreds
in villages spread over a wide and rugged terrain. What
were the symptoms? "In the beginning, people suffer
from severe fever and feel dizzy", an assistant health
worker and chief of the district public health office, was
quoted as saying. In January, in Gela village of the same
district, seven people had succumbed to this disease. In
the months that followed, 14 more died of this
"mystery"ailment. By 18 March, the number of reported
deaths had climbed to 26. What happened to those remaining hundreds who were taken ill? We do not know.
And then there is influenza. It is everywhere. From
east to west and north to south, the flu has forced the
closure of schools and affected what is often loosely
called 'normal life'. In some places it obliged health
Those denied adequate
nutrition have a habit of
dying when a heat wave
or influenza strikes
personnel to scurry around, medical kits in hand, "to
bring the runaway disease under control". District after district and village after village came down with
high fever, cough, cold and running noses. Some unfortunates never recovered, as has happened many
times in the past.
It killed people in Udayapur to the east, Dadeldhura
in the west and Dolakha of the central region. Tens of
thousands fell ill all over Nepal. Who did it kill? Prise
open the can of worms and some clues are to be found
there. In some of Dadeldhura's far-flung villages, of
those who died, many were dalits. Though the Kalikot
deaths were blamed on a "mystery
disease", the symptoms sound
identical to those of influenza.
There is no slack in the 'discovery' of new tuberculosis cases either. And this despite claims of a
more than 95 percent success
rate in the Department of Health's
much acclaimed Directly Observed
Treatment Short Course (DOTS)
programme. Malaria is also not to
be forgotten. In fact, it is unlikely to
let itself be forgotten. Malaria is back
with a vengeance, even in the
middle hills, from where it was once
mistakenly thought to have been
banished forever. And the fact that
these are reports coming from villages distant from Kathmandu (and
therefore deemed 'remote') is an indication that the sick are also those
excluded from the socio-economic
if die oi common^
cold in Jajarkot     |
At least 19 people were killed due to the outbreak of i
common cokf in three wards of the remote Ramna-
kote Village Development Committee (VDC) for the
last four weeks, according to locals. However, lhe district public health office said that only 13 people were
killed during the same period.
San Bahadur Sijwai, a local from the affected
VDC, told The Kathmandu Post thatmost of those who
died of the disease were children, aged between one
month to two yeart. He said that he had already demanded the local administration dispatch a team of
medics to the affected villages.
Rabindra SHwal, an assistant health worker at
Ana SuiVHeahh Post, said that common cold, severe
fever, headache and problem in respiratory were the
symptoms ofthe disease. He said that teams of medics
had already been sent to the affected villages.
In yet another report from the neighbouring
VDCs of Syuna and Badalkot, around 400 people,
most of them children, were suffering from a similar
over the last few weeks. ■■    ii    ii»
Naturally culpable
If the news reports are taken at face
 value then nature is of course the
invariable culprit. There is a tendency to blame every calamity that overtakes people on
the seasonal vagaries of nature. The temperature is temperamental. The precipitation is too precipitate. Clouds
burst, rivers flood and lands slide of their own accord.
It is a world of chaos. The 'monsoon', 'change of
weather', 'floods', 'rise in temperature', 'drop in temperature' are among the many causes ritually invoked
to explain away society's own role in the diseases and
the deaths. But epidemics talk. They speak quite bluntly
about how society functions: who lives and who dies
in which society, where and when.
They also tell us about the faith that reporters and
their informants have in the miraculous power of
medicines, health services and health personnel to set
things right - an unquestioned, self-evident truth propagated for several decades of development in Nepal. Why
else would the affected residents and locally stationed
paramedics both blame inadequate supply of drugs and
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
medical personnel for the epidemic running out of
Why did the disease strike in the first place? The
assistant health worker of Kalikot sees it as an "ordinary common cold" resulting from seasonal change.
One does not need to be an expert, however, to stop and
ponder how this ordinary common cold could have
killed so many people in Kalikot when it is just a few
days of nuisance for people in the capital city. Something much more serious than some passing mystery of
nature must have been involved here.
Journalists are occasionally perceptive. So, these
news reports, by telling us about where people live, the
water they drink, the food they eat (or did not get to eat),
and their distance from emergency health services, also
tell us why certain people - like the dalits of Dadeldhura
- die of a 'common cold', while so
many others who contract it escape
unscathed. Lack of medicines or medical personnel does not tell the entire
So we piece together the picture
from other reports that tell us, to cite
one instance, that Kalikot, among
many other districts, has been perennially suffering from food scarcity,   	
out-migration, lack of clean drinking water and lack of
access to basic health services for most of its population. Kalikot district, according to the Nepal Human Development Report 1998, is also the third from the bottom
in human development progress. This in a country that
is 30* from the bottom in global human development.
Little wonder that average life expectancy there in 1996
was just 42 years, that is to say, two-thirds of the national average.
Measles struck hundreds of small kids in remote
villages of Bajhang district. Three died. But measles does
not kill anybody and everybody so routinely and randomly. And then we learn, again from other unconnected reports, that just incidentally Bajhang also happens to be one of several western districts reeling under
famine-like conditions for the last several months, and
is among the two districts at the bottom of the human
development index, lt then comes as a surprise that
only three children died. Those killed were dalits.
"Dalits are not aware of the danger of this disease",
says the reporter of a Kathmandu newspaper. Back in
February, Mohan Mainali of the Centre for Investigative Journalism did a report on famine in Bajhang. From
it we can deduce with reasonable certainty that it was
not lack of awareness about the disease that killed
people, lt was just a lack of food.
Such news is not peculiar to Nepal. What are the
"starvation deaths" in Andhra Pradesh if not a variant
of what is happening in these districts of Nepal? At
least, there a spade is called a spade. The deaths are not
attributed to killer diseases, but to starvation. Those
denied adequate nutrition for extended periods of time
These deaths occur
year after year because
they are not amenable
to prevention by health
ministry intervention
have a habit of dying when a heat wave or influenza
strikes. While the elderly and the children are left to eke
out whatever living they can, the more able-bodied head
out to the nearest metropolis in search of wages, lt is the
same old drama, with a script that is improvised now
and then to suit the context in different parts of South
These deaths in Nepal are not peculiar to this season or to this year. They appear in the news every year,
as events caused by each season, mechanically recorded
as deaths due to natural factors. Occasionally there is a
recognition that these are preventable deaths, but typically the solutions are way off the mark, On 7 August
2001, in a letter to the editor of The Kathmandu Post, one
correspondent from Kathmandu implored the health
ministry to wake up and deal with the potential death
of people from "preventable dis-
^~——~ eases". "Due to inadequate medical
supply, and negligence of health
workers, the death toll could rise"
and "our government is hardly doing anything to contain the epidemic", lt went on to say that "the
Ministry of Health cannot turn a blind
eye to this health hazard". What was
missed in the letter was that the these
deaths occur year after year because they are not amenable to prevention by health ministry intervention. At
its fundamental core this is not a health ministry issue.
Asking different questions
Instead of looking to the health ministry to solve the
problem, more purpose will be served by asking some
uncomfortable questions about the economy, the polity
and the development apparatus that thrives on poverty. What is it about the Kathmandu-centric resource-
guzzling state that districts like Kalikot, Bhajhang or
Bajura must be arrested in a perpetual peripheral existence? Why are people in many districts not getting
enough to eat and why is nobody doing anything about
it? The answer to these questions will provide the explanation for why "killer diseases" and "behavioural
inadequacies" always come to the rescue when such
deaths become a rural routine.
Come next monsoon, we will again see a repeat of
this year's morning news - of people dying of the same
mystery diseases, with the seasonal patterns replicated
in all their fine detail. The health personnel will be kept
on alert to deal with reports coming in from all the remote corners. Experts will trot out the prescribed seasonal cause and the reporters will again discover to
their utter disgust that drugs and medical personnel
are in short supply. Those who live in unfortunate
places die in unfortunate ways and all the institutions
of good governance have not been able to work out the
specifics of their life and death. b
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
The word of god for benighted Muslims
'Missionary' activity is stepped up in order to 'save' the Ishmaelites
by Yoginder Sikand
As a thinly-veiled mouthpiece of the
American establishment, Time
magazine is strictly outside the purview of my regular reading. I must, however, confess that I was tempted into breaking my vow of abstinence last month. The
30 June 2003 issue of the magazine carried
too provocative a cover to resist, lt pictured
an upheld fist clenching a cross, nudging
against a slogan asking a cryptic query:
"Should Christians Convert Muslims?"
Now, inter-religious polemics have ceased
to interest me lately, tired as I am of loudmouthed fanatics peddling their wares. However, since
the niggling issue of relations between Muslims and
others continues to exercise a fascination for me, 1 shed
my scruples about the venerable Time, and clicked on
its web-page to go through the cover story.
The gist of the story, based on reports filed by correspondents in North America and West Asia, was, to
put it in a nutshell, this: Western, largely American,
Christian evangelist fundamentalists appear to be convinced that the time has now come to wage an all-out
spiritual war against Islam. Islam, as many of them see
it, is a satan-inspired programme of terrorism thatbodes
ill for all humankind, and represents the greatest challenge to Christianity and Christiandom. As an American evangelist, identified simply as "Barbara", puts it,
lslam is in itself the ultimate "weapon of mass destruction". Gripped by a fanatic zeal to spread their faith to
"benighted" Muslims, the story speaks of scores of
Christian evangelists following close on the heels of
American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, offering
'aid', both material as well as 'spiritual', with the latter, predictably, being tied to the former. The report, quoting the Massachusetts-based Gordon-Cornwell Theological Seminary, suggests that there are today more
than 27,000 Christian missionaries working in Muslim countries, almost double the number two decades
The events of September 2001, Time tells us, seem to
have galvanised the American Christian right wing to
take its evangelical duty of 'saving' the Muslims more
seriously. There can be no doubt that growing unrest in
many Muslim countries, and the threat that the West
perceives from this, is a, if not, the, major factor in stirring the missionary zeal of the evangelicals. As in clas-
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sical colonial times, in these days of American global neo-colonialism, a symbiotic relationship appears to bind the imperial
ambitions of the American military establishment with the missionary fervour of
the proselytising Christian right wing.
Evangelical fundamentalists today enjoy
the warm endorsement of the American
president. In turn, they faithfully serve
American goals abroad, propagating an
extremely conservative, ultra-reactionary
theology, based on the deeply rooted conviction of the ultimate superiority of the
American 'way of life', on the one hand, and the firm
belief that all religions other than (their own edition of)
Christianity are wholly false, if not downright 'satanic'.
Little wonder, then, that evangelists are often the
most fanatic defenders of American foreign policy, from
zealously supporting Israel to excitedly welcoming the
invasion of Iraq, seeing in all this both a triumph over
the 'forces of evil' represented by Islam, as well as an
opportunity to proclaim their 'good news'. If Bush proclaims, in the war against terrorism, that those "not
with us are against us", so too the evangelicals announce: in the war against the 'powers of darkness', if
you are not one of us - if you choose to remain Muslim,
Buddhist, Hindu or anything other than Christian -
then you are a minion of the devil.
Personally, I have no problem at all with anyone
wishing to change her or his faith, or even with anyone
eager to advertise the virtues of their faith over all others. As an opponent of 'inherited religiosity', the fact
that one is doomed to follow or identify with a certain
religion simply because one is born into it, I believe that
change of religious affiliation is really a very basic human right. In that sense, then, the passion that fires
Christian evangelicals to spread the 'good word' is
unexceptionable. That said, however, I must hasten to
add that any sort of proselytisation that disguises itself
and conceals its ultimate goals is thoroughly condem-
nable. To use what some might consider a rather 'un-
Islamic' metaphor, it is as unethical as palming off bootleg arrack as French wine. And yet, that is precisely
what, as the Time story suggests, many evangelicals
do. In order to escape strict visa regulations, they often
travel to and reside in Muslim countries in the guise of
businessmen or altruistic social workers. A good part
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
of their time and money is spent on 'development' work,
which is generally a cover for pursuing their missionary goals. The Time story speaks of missionaries even
going to the extent of distributing toys to unsuspecting
children and using that as a means to get their message
across. They are careful to keep their real identities concealed, and some even attempt to pass of as Muslims to
dupe their potential converts.
Christian evangelists face an uphill task making
themselves acceptable to the communities they work
with, who often see them, and generally with some
truth, as propagating and imposing alien cultural
norms along with their faith. Since many, and not just
Muslims alone, regard the evangelists as propagandists
for 'Western' culture, the evangelical project has come
up against major hurdles. As a way around this barrier, a growing number of evangelists working in Muslim countries are today experimenting with what is in
evangelical circles fashionably called "inculturation"
or "contextualisation". Put simply, what this means is
that the evangelist seeks to disguise his message in the
cultural forms of the population he targets. By doing
so, Christianity is made to be appear culturally familiar and therefore more easily acceptable. In India, for
instance, numerous evangelists are now engaged in
articulating a 'Hindu' Christianity: Mother Mary abandons her long, flowing gown for a rich silk sari, Jesus is
painted brown and the Om appears alongside the cross
atop the steeple of the church, which is now made to
look like a temple. Time tells us of similar experiments
being made by evangelists in Muslim lands. Some evangelists disguise themselves as Sufis and hope to be able
to pass off as Muslim mystics; others set up what they
call "Jesus mosques"; and yet others go to the extent of
publicly reciting the Muslim creed: "There is no god
but God, and Muhammad is His prophet"!
Connaught Place cartoons
In the course of my travels, which have taken me across
large parts of India, I have had numerous encounters
with fiery evangelicals on the lookout for unsuspecting
victims. Some years ago one could find them loitering
around in Connaught Place, New Delhi, passing
around pamphlets and glossy tracts, proclaiming the
end of the world and the impending dawn of the day of
judgment. This literature was specially designed to
catch the unsuspecting eye, keenly aware of the Indian
penchant for vibrant colours. It was filled with brightly
coloured cartoons of a bearded stern Jesus perched atop
a fluffy cloud brandishing a sinister-looking sword;
swarms of red-cheeked, white-faced,—distinctly Tnfo-
pean-looking angels astride galloping horses, their
manes blowing wildly in the wind; hordes of men and
women wearing crosses around their necjks being lifted
up to heaven on angelic wings; and a large swathe of
humanity, dark-faced and ghoulish most of them, going up in a ball of flame and smoke in hell. In all, more
amusing than instructive. Even more amusing, were
the missionaries' reactions to the way in which I responded to their earnest entreaties. I would first be
greeted by a well-fed face displaying a strained plastic
smile. "Are you in distress?", he would ask, somewhat
disconcertingly, and then, without caring to hear my
tale of woe, would look up to heaven with half-closed
eyes and a beatific smile and whisper: "Oh Lord Jesus
in heaven, help this brother cross the river of woe".
Then, a bundle of colourful leaflets would be thrust
into my hands, the way virtuous missionaries dole out
chocolates to starving village children. Hurriedly glancing through the mass of propaganda material, I would
curl them into a ball and toss them into the nearest
rubbish heap. The angelic smile on the cherubic face
would then curl up into a snarl, and all at once a pair of
angry, stone-cold eyes would pierce me. "Hey man!
That's no way to enter the kingdom of heaven!"
If Time is to be believed and if Western evangelists
are really now investing heavily in targeting the Muslim world for 'spiritual warfare' or 'crusade' as they
still call it, it is very likely that India, with its vast Muslim population, figures prominently on their map. Personally, I must admit to knowing little about their activities among the Indian Muslims. I have heard of several groups engaged in such work, but I have not really
got down to seriously studying them. I do, however,
know that many of them, like their counterparts working among the Hindus, are often money-raking ventures, set up by enterprising envangelists with access
to generous donors in the West. For purposes of illustration, let me describe two such groups, both based in
Bangalore, in south India, about which I know something. Although they may not be representative of the
evangelical camp in general, they do offer insights into
the ways in which the evangelists seek to spearhead
their contemporary 'crusade'.
The first of these is called the Dar ul-Nejath, an Arabic term meaning 'the House of Salvation'. Headed by
a Dr Fazal Sheikh, probably a Muslim convert to Christianity, this is a branch of the global organisation, Call
of Hope: Mission to Muslims. In order to 'reach out'
with the 'good news' of the Bible to Muslims, it has set
up what it calls the Muslim Masihi Fellowship. In order to present the Christian message to Muslims, the
Dar ul-Nejath undertakes an impressive range of activities. These include 'outreach' work, involving door-
to-door visits to Muslim homes by Christian missionaries, as well as a comprehensive correspondence
course in Islam and Christianit^Jljalso-aeenchicTs an
advanceiiJeveLeenrseTmTsram, in association with the
evangelical body, Christian Light of Life Bible College,
Austria, to train Christian missionaries in the art of
polemics, arming them with knowledge of Islam so that
they can present the Christian message to their prospective Muslim converts in a manner more intelligible
to them. Plans are afoot now to have a regular three-
week residential advanced-level course on Islam and
Christianity at Bangalore. Initial work has already
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
started in the form of classes in "Islamic theology and
Christian Evangelism", with the help of the Bangalore-
based Asia Evangelical Bible College and Seminary.
The Dar ul-Nejath claims to have a number of "honorary evangelists" (whatever that may mean, presumably unpaid workers) who are engaged in missionary
work among the Muslims of Bangalore. In a circular
issued some years ago, it says, "This ministry has
reached out [to] each and every corner of Bangalore
district and the surrounding areas of other districts".
Within Bangalore city, it runs several centres. In order
to attract young Muslims, it has set up a special Muslim school named Madrasat ul-asih, in which a Reverend Dr Fazal Masih teaches Urdu and the Bible to destitute Muslim children. The name of the school is itself
striking: seeking to pass off as an innocuous Muslim-
style madrasa. It has also a small medical centre, St Peter's
Clinic, which is visited mainly by poor    	
Muslim patients. Even in this apparently purely humanitarian effort,
the ultimate goal of conversion is
paramount, for as the circular says,
"through that [the medical centre] it is
easy to make friends and share the
The second Bangalore-based Christian evangelical organisation specially
working among Muslims that I have
come across goes by the benign and
unexceptionable name of Helping
Hands International. Among its declared aims are the setting up of children's homes,
schools and craft centres, conducting agricultural training programmes and engaging in relief and medical
projects. Yet, behind these noble ventures the ultimate
goal remains one of "evangelism and Church-planting
among Muslims". In a letter addressed to "the Heads
of Evangelical Mission and Bible Teaching Institutions", dated 27 March 1996, the organisation's executive secretary, GM Dhanaraj, remarks that the
"Ishmaelites" (the children of Isma'il, meaning Muslims) are, for the Christian missionaries, "the most unreached people of India". Of India's vast Muslim population, 98 percent, he notes with profound regret, has
as yet not been brought into contact with the Christian
message, so much so that "there is not even one Christian evangelist to work for one lakh Ishmaelites". Note
the paternalistic concern for the hapless 'Ishmaelites'.
Muslims are not even allowed to call themselves as they
wish. Almost none of them would recognise themselves
by the Tshmaelite' label that is forced on them! As the
biblical story has it, the Arabs are descended from
Isma'il, who the Bible describes (contrary to the Qur'an)
as the son of Hagar, slave-woman of Abraham, with all
the negative connotations that go with this status. All
Muslims are then collapsed together as Arabs, and all
Arabs as offspring of a mere slave. Given their base
origins, they beg, or so we are led to believe, to be deliv-
Evangeiists are
among the most
fanatic defenders of
American foreign
ered from the shackles of their bondage by saviours
sent by the Christian lord.
Having taken serious note of this lamentable state
of affairs, Helping Hands International has, in its magnanimity, Dhanaraj suggests, taken upon itself the
onerous task of "working for the salvation of the
Ishmaelites", a euphemism, of course, for attempting to
convert Muslims to Christianity. The "motto" of his
organisation, he reveals, is "tell Jesus about Ishmaelites
and tell Ishmaelites about Jesus". In pursuance of this
goal, the organisation claims to have spread its activities to eight states and two union territories of India. It
has put before itself the ambitious task of opening its
centres in all the states and union territories of the country. In order to do this, Dhanaraj writes, the organisation
has launched a training programme for Christian missionaries who will later be dispatched to engage in
    proselytising work among Muslims
all over India. The main training
programme is of a year's duration,
but there are also several short-term
courses to choose from. These are conducted at two locations - Bangalore,
for volunteers from south India, and
DOliCy, from ZealOUSly   Nagpur, for those from the north. Vol-
r ■" J    unteers are often sponsored by various
supporting Israel to
excitedly welcoming
the invasion of Iraq
churches and upon finishing their
training they go back to their "mission
fields" to put into practice what they
have learnt. The training programmes
are divided into several levels. The basic level course entails three days of lectures, followed
by six months of practical work. The purpose of the
latter is "to meet one Ishmaelite for one day everyday
for one hour and tell [him] about Jesus". This is to be
supplemented by the use and dissemination of suitable literature provided by the centre. The advanced
level and research level training programmes are similar in nature, though more intensive.
To assist the trainees, the organisation has a very
well-stocked library called by the Arabic term al-Noor
('the Light'), which, apparently, has "a vast collection
of books from all over the world on more than 50 different subjects", including, and especially, on "Evangelism Among Ishmaelites", "Reaching out to the
Ishmaelites" and testimonies of Muslim converts to
Christianity. In addition, it has a large collection of audio
and video cassettes on similar topics. Besides its numerous training programmes for Christian missionaries working among Muslims, Helping Hands International has set up what it has christened the Ishmaelite
Salvation Association (ISA) - a cleverly chosen acronym meaning Jesus in Arabic and Urdu. Till date ISA
has published 37 gospel pamphlets, 18 books and one
comprehensive correspondence course, all, of course,
tailored to the ultimate aim of converting Muslims to
Christianity. In an effort to sensitise Christian missions
to the need for greater evangelical effort among Mus-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
liins in particular, it has, according to a leaflet setting
out the various services it offers, organised numerous
lectures on 'how to evangelise Ishmaelites'. Apparently,
much intensive research and careful planning has gone
into all this, for it says that these lectures consist of no
less than "three different sets of teachings on 21 subjects". These lectures have been delivered at various
"Bible Colleges, Theological Seminaries and Missionary Training Societies in different parts of the world".
So far the ISA claims to have conducted almost 200 "challenging" seminars on the above themes at various places
under its suggestively titled MECCA programme, or the
'Middle East Culture and Christian Approach'.
Having at its command such "expertise", the ISA
provides free consultation to missionary groups
keen on "Ishmaelite Evangelism", "follow-up ministry", "discipleship" and "church-planting" among
"Ishmaelites". It offers to impart advice and training
on "how to share the gospel" with Muslims, particularly such vulnerable groups as students, patients, prisoners and women. The ISA has, or so it claims, gifted
preachers who can give excellent speeches in gospel
meetings and "open crusades", and makes available
their services to Christian churches who wish to engage in conversion activity among Muslims. Like many
other Christian organisations, the ISA too runs various
social service projects whose final aim is, of course, to
assist in conversions and to prevent those who have
already converted from "relapsing". These sei-vices for
"Poor Ishmaelite Children" are said to include boys'
homes, girls' hostels, training courses in carpentry,
agriculture, tailoring and so on, as well as temporary
shelter, jobs and medical assistance to "ExTshmaelite
families". These facilities are currently provided by six
centres of the ISA, under the Siraj (Social, Industrial,
Rehabilitational, Agricultural and Job) programme.
As I said at the outset, I have no problem at all with
those who want to change the religion into which they
were born. Nor have I any quarrels with those who see
themselves as being anointed with the divine responsibility of communicating what they take to be the 'truth'
to others. That said, however, 1 have the most serious
differences with right-wing evangelist 'crusaders' for
whom all those outside their narrowly inscribed circle
of chosen followers are doomed to eternal perdition.
There is a surfeit of such paranoid megalomaniacs in
the country - among Hindus, Muslims, Christians and
others - to deserve any more! If this is the road to salvation, then I, at least, would rather remain among the
damned! b
Mountain fbrun
The Mountain Forum promotes global action toward equitable and ecologically sustainable mountain development.
This is achieved through information sharing, mutual support and advocacy. In order to achieve these objectives the
Mountain Forum uses modern and traditional communications, supports networking and capacity building and
encourages members to be proactive in advocating sustainable development of mountain areas.
The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is the hosting organization for the Mountain
Forum Secretariat The Centre is seeking to recruit qualified persons for the following vacant regional and local level
□ Information Services Program Officer
Master's degree or equivalent in a field related to communications and/or information technology with excellent
communication skills in written and spoken English, minimum 2 years' international/multi-cultural work
experience, and 2 years' experience participating in online discussions.
□ Information Services Program Assistant
Bachelor's degree or equivalent in a field related to communications, sustainable development, or information
technology with outstanding communication skills in written English, 1 year of international/multi-cultural work
experience, and excellent computer/internet skills.
□ Ad m i n i stration Program Officer
Master's degree or equivalent in a field related to sustainable development in mountain regions with minimum 2
years' work experience in development projects; good organizational networking skills and fund-raising
experi ence for non-profit organiza tions preferred.
Further information on the vacancies, including Terms of Reference for the positions, can be found at
or can be requested from the address below. Applications with complete curriculum vitae together with the names and
contact addresses of three referees should be sent to the following address by 31 July, 2003.
Alternately they may be sent by regular post to:
Mountain Forum Secretariat, c/o ICIMOD, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, NEPAL
Tel: +977(1)5525 313, ext.675: Fax: +977(1)5524 509
IT BECOMES increasingly clear that peace in the Subcontinent requires the leaders and the public to understand physical geography, the where and whyfores of
the placement of rivers, valleys, settlements and cities.
That understanding will provide all that we need for
better cohabitation, when we know that meteorology
forecasts should go beyond national boundaries, that
rivers do not end when they reach a country's border,
nor that a river begins where one's territory begins. Here
is a poem titled "Geography Lesson", which could
serve to provide this perspective to South Asia's power
elite. It is by Zulfikar Ghose, writing in 'Jets from Orange' (Macmillan & Co, London, 1967).
Geography Lesson
When the jet sprang into the sky,
it was clear why the city
had developed the way it had,
seeing it scaled six inches to the mile
There seemed an inevitability
about what on ground had looked haphazard
unplanned and without style
when the jet sprang into the sky.
When the jet reached ten thousand feet,
it was clear why the country
had cities where rivers ran
and why the valleys were populated.
The logic of geography -
that land and water attracted man -
was clearly delineated
when the jet reached ten thousand feet.
When the jet rose six miles high,
it was clear that the earth was round
and that it had more sea than land.
But it was difficult to understand
that men on earth found
causes to hate each other, to build
walls across and to kill.
From that height, it was not clear why.
YOU, I, we would all like to know what
the new chief of the Research and
Analysis Wing (RAW) looks like, lest we
bump into him in a dark gully on a
cloudy monsoon night. Luckily, the 16
March issue of The Hindu has provided
us with a picture of CD Sahay, who took over from Vicky
Sood on 31 March 2003 (Vicky? The name of a snoop?
How unearthly.) The newspaper reports, "Mr Sahay
will bring to his new responsibility 28 years of experience as an intelligence officer. Since joining the RAW
cadre in 1975, he has been posted in many neighbouring
countries". Aha! At the very least, this is a very transparent process of announcing the new head of India's
chief of external intelligence. Chhetria Patrakar will ferret out the identities and (hopefully) mugshots of
superspooks of the other afore-mentioned neighbouring
countries, and bring them to the notice of Himal readers,
in case they happen to bump into one in the dark gullies
ofthe future.
THE KATHMANDU Post   r.    L L , .
reports: "Sumitra Dangal,   FlTSt W0imn tempo driver
the first woman Safa tempo for women's empowerment
driver of the country also      '        |M"      '■■"'"        	
claims to be the first all-round driver on the roads in
South Asia at a press meet organised by the Women
Upliftment and Group Development, Nepal, today". Tlie
fact that Ms Dangal is indeed the first Nepali woman to
be a driver of the battery-operated, indigenously produced Safas is great. Greater still, she seems to be an
"all round" driver, comfortable behind the wheel of a
trolley bus, a mini bus or a tractor. But, even better, she
now desires to provide heavy vehicle training to Nepali
women. And hear her on her plans: "Stating that she
would like Nepal to be known as the country of professional women drivers rather than a country steeped in
poverty, she has urged that the government cooperate
in her objective to conduct heavy vehicle training for
women". Bravo!
Mizo 'hand' in Bangla creation j
PICK UP a copy of The Telegraph's Northeast edition,
and little nuggets jump out at you, which may well
pass you by were you to peruse the national English
language dailies out of New Delhi. Look at this 2 June
story titled, "Mizo 'hand' in Bangla creation". Excerpts:
Bangladesh's history may have taken a slightly different turn had the Mizo National Front (MNF) carried
out its decision to execute former President and dictator Ziaur Rahman. The MNF was in hiding in the then
East Pakistan and was mulling over the pros and cons
of the war of liberation, as it would have entailed installation of a pro-India government and elimination
of all camps. The MNF was allowed to set up camps in
the Chittagong Hill Tracts of East Pakistan with the
active support of Islamabad. The outfit's sympathies
lay with West Pakistan.
Apparently, Ziaur Rahman had been captured by
iMNF cadres near Rangamati after he had led the revolt
against the Pakistan Army as a young major in the 18
East Bengal Regiment at Chittagong. As MNF leader and
Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga told The Telegraph, "Our boys were quite insistent that he should be
put to death as he was fighting the Pakistan army, which
happened to be our friend. But we later set him free".
Former MNF activists Vanlalngaia, current spokesman
of the Mizoram BJP, said, "Since he was opposed to the
Pakistan regime, it was quite natural for our boys to
assume he was our enemy". According to Tawnluia,
then chief of the Mizo underground army at the CHT
and currently vice president of the MNF, "A friend of
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 India had to be our enemy and subsequently it was
decided to put him before a firing squad without the
knowledge of the high command".
However, other considerations came to the fore due
to which it was decided to release the major who went
on to become president of Bangladesh after the
assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Said
Tawnluia, "Strategies had to keep on changing while
waging a guerrilla war and that too against the Indian
army. We realised that Pakistan was losing the war
and some kind of assistance would be needed from the
Bangladesh government if our camps were to survive".
This seems to have saved Ziaur Rahman's life, until
the assassin's bullet found him as president of the country on 30 May 1981.
Nellie finds .peace 20 years after darkest hour
HERE IS another significant bit of South Asian history
that can only be had from the Northeast press. It has
been two decades since the massacre at Nellie during
Indira Gandhi's last stint as prime minister. On 18 February 1983, nearly 1800 people were butchered at Nellie
in Nagaon district, Assam. (Other larger carnages have
since followed, including the New Delhi killings of Sikhs
in 1984 and the Gujarat pogroms of last year. But these
are likely to have larger place in the public memory than
the poor Bengali Muslim peasantry of Assam.) Reports
The Telegraph, "Thankfully, Nellie is now at peace with
itself... Tlie wounds have healed and the scars are fading. Twenty years after the worst communal carnage in
Assam soaked Nellie in blood, people in the sleepy hamlet seem to have buried the past to set an example in
communal harmony". Unfortunately, the actual reporting of the story, by Samir K Purkayastha, does not bear
out this optimism. It seems from the quotes from the villagers that the Hindus and Muslims of Nellie are keener
to evade questions on the issues of the massacre rather
than facing them. For example, Karim... "Karim pretends
not the hear on being asked to comment on the Centres'
decision to repeal the Illegal Migrants (Determination
by Tribunals) Act. But he is excited when conversations
veer to a hospital project". Says Rothindralal, "Politicians had triggered the carnage and the residents just let
the hatred dominate their conscience. I hope politicians
won't play their dirty tricks here again?"
But politicians are politicians, who is to say they will
not, Rothindralal?
IF YOU'RE looking for job security, no matter what a
coalition government or a greying man in military uniform promises you, do not accept an appointment as a
foreign minister in South Asia. The scheduled half-
yearly foreign ministers' meets of SAARC, something of
a Rotary Club for Subcon diplomats, is a gathering
known for its irregular pauses and unfamiliar faces.
Since March 1999, the ministers have only convened
three times, and the worry that they mav not remember
Ministers pose at the 2001 meeting (from left to right): Jigmi Y
Thinley (Bhutan), Jaswant Singh (India), Murari Raj Sharma
(Nepal's UN delegate), RS Mahat (Nepal's finance minister), L
Kardigamar (Sri Lanka). Abdul Sattar (Pakistan), R Rahman
(Bangladesh), Fathulla Jameel (Maldives).         	
each other after multi-year gaps is compounded by the
ongoing Subcon-wide job shuffle. From the 21st ministers' meeting in March 1999, to their 23r<1 session in August 2002, only one emissary, fathullah Jameel of the
Maldives, managed to keep his post. On the unstable
India-Pakistan diplomatic front, Jaswant Singh and
Abdul Sattar, FMs in January 2002, had to clear way for
Yashwant Sinha and Inamul Haq by the August assembly. In the year since then, Sinha has remained put,
but Islamabad's representative, Khurshid M Kasuri,
will be a fresh face at the 24th meeting, assuming he
isn't rotated out beforehand. All this makes one wonder how the ministers can have much success, quoting
their website, at "formulating policies, reviewing
progress, deciding on new areas of cooperation, establishing additional mechanisms as deemed necessary
and deciding on other matters of general interest to the
Association" if they're constantly glimpsing at each
other's name tags.
IT IS a difficult and potentially libellous proposition for
the media to comment on matters before courts when all
facts are not available, but the circumstances surrounding the trial and acquittal of the 21 accused of massacring 12 people in an Ahmedabad bakery on 1 March
2002 warrant public discussion. The trial, conducted in
a fast-track court in Baroda, concluded on 27 June with
not-guilty verdicts on all charges after half of the 70 eyewitnesses refused to identify the assailants. The most
troubling episode of the trial came on 17 May when the
teenaged daughter of the bakery owner (killed in the attack) declined to identify the murderers, and then was
escorted from the court by an legislator of the Bharatiya
Janata Party - the very group widely accused of aiding
and abetting the killers.
The 21 individuals acquitted in Baroda might very
well have been innocent of the charges against them, but
the circumstances of the trial raise troubling doubts about
the ability and willingness of the Indian legal system to
dispense justice in a fair and principled manner. Civil
society groups have called on concerned individuals to
petition the National Human Rights Commission (NI IRC)
of India to demand "a free investigation into the Gujarat
pogrom followed by a fair trial of the accused". Interested parties can reach the NHRC by fax at (91) 11-
23340016 or by email at,
-Chhetria Patrakar
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
Political maps and cultural territories
The earliest boundary between India and Bangladesh
separated peoples of the hills and plains.
by David Ludden
The international boundary between India and
Bangladesh came into being in 1947, but some of
its segments have much older histories. The oldest segment lies below the mountains of Meghalaya and
forms the northern border of the Sunamganj Zila of
Bangladesh.This boundary runs east and west, cutting
across many short rivers, whose names elude most
maps, one being the Dhamalia river, which falls from
Pandua, in India, and empties into the Surma River,
near the town of Sunamganj, in Bangladesh. Borderlands of Mughal Bengal had once spanned the basins
of the Dhamalia and other parallel rivers draining the
mountains into plains below, but a definite geographical divide emerged in 1790, in the Sylhet district of British Bengal, in the form of a boundary line that served
explicitly to restrict and regulate mobility between
two political territories, defined as the homelands of
two distinct cultures in the mountains and plains,
The rationale for inventing this boundary was an
early precursor of the "two nation theory", which eventually informed the partition of British India. At the
same time, the birth of this boundary indicates that international borders are not homogenous, despite their
appearance on maps as continuous lines. In addition,
The delta leading up to the Meghalaya hills.
the local history of this boundary evokes many others
in the old borderlands of mountains and plains spanning India's northeast and Bangladesh, where state
borders today have meanings quite distinct from the
meanings enshrined in international law and in
national sentiments.
Once an open terrain
National boundaries are now sacrosanct symbols of
sovereignty, but people who move across them routinely
experience these same boundaries as mere obstacles to
mobility. This experience reflects a much older reality
than national maps, because for most of human history, states had little power to regulate mobility across
borders. For many centuries, social and cultural boundaries marked the supremacy of specific groups in particular places, without imposing restrictions on geographical mobility. Pre-modern territorial boundaries
resembled island shores or edges of forest clearings
more than gated city walls.
Inscriptions record the first boundaries in the basin
of the Surma and Kushiara rivers, which flow through
the Sylhet region (which now includes Sylhet, Sunamganj, Maulvi Bazar, and Habiganj zilas in Bangladesh),
after they emerge from the Barak river in Cachar, in
present-day Assam. In the first millennium CE,
Kamarupa kings granted land to brahmins
around the Surma and Kushiara, in places then
called Srihatta and Khanda Kamarupa. These
names indicated domains of royal patronage for
Hindu elites whose religious rituals marked their
local boundaries. Even today, in Cachar, rituals
around the temple of Kapiliswar mark such
boundaries. Here, high-caste Hindus worship
Siva as Kapiliswar, while others venerate the site
but not the deity. This ritual boundary suggests
that an older settlement of Khasis had been incorporated by immigrant settlers for whom Hindu
territory emerged as a physical space controlled
by brahmins, their patrons, and their subordinates. Hindu boundaries thus emerged as frontiers, limits and edges of Hindu ritual and social
Over many centuries, numerous groups drew
boundaries in similar ways in and around the
Surma and Kushiara, forming disparate territories of social order. Because populations were
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
small and land abundant, people had ample space to
construct new territories, each with its own boundaries,
its own elites and systems of subordination. A patchwork of territories had emerged by 1303, when Shah
Jalal conquered local rajas and established Islam in
Sylhet, creating a new Muslim cultural boundary.
When the traveller Ibn Batuta met Shah Jalal, in 1346,
the Sylhet landscape held diverse territories of Khasis,
Garos, Hindus, Muslims and others.
Taming the wild
In 1612, Mughal armies created the first system of state
authority in the region called the Sylhet Sarkar. This
was the northeastern frontier of Bangla Suba (province),
with boundaries marked by the power of a Mughal commander (faujdar) and by state rituals in which people
paid homage and taxes to Mughal emperors. Thus, the
Mughals created a boundary that was new for the
people in this area.
Mughal authority also accentuated an existing
boundary between settled farming communities and
outsiders living in the jungle. From an- mmm^^^^^mmmm
cient times, 'civilised' groups gave
'jungle people' derogatory names to
denote a wild nature. Such labelling
valorised the subordination and expulsion of jungle people, but at the same
time marked their autonomy within their
own territories. Permanent farms, villages, towns, and cities became landmarks of civilisation, around which,
jungles marked the frontiers of expansive agrarian societies. States advanced
their supremacy by promoting agriculture, clearing
jungle, and conquering, assimilating, and expelling
jungle people.
The Mughals pursued this mission extensively, because farms, not jungle, provided state revenue, and
farmers, not jungle people, bowed to Mughal authority.
Boundaries of state authority fell at the jungle edge.
Clearing jungles to make farms became a quintessential imperial project. In the 18lh century, Nawab Murshid
Quli Khan and his successors accelerated progress in
northeastern Bengal by granting large tracts of jungle
to men who would clear forest to make farms. Local
farmers thus became pioneers pushing farms and state
power together into the jungle, where jungle people often fought back, making agricultural expansion a violent process that progressed most rapidly where state
power was most concentrated.
Because land was abundant, however, people on
the margins of state power could move away to remain
independent. Like many groups today designated
"tribes", Khasi people (also called ".Khasia" in Bangla)
lived in such spaces of mobility, and from ancient times,
had scattered among river basins to engage in shifting
rice cultivation. Ancient Khasis pioneered rice fanning
in Vietnam's Red River delta; and when conquered
there by Vietnamese, had moved up the Red River, into
Yunnan (China), across Burma into Assam, Bengal and
the Ganga river basin. Also in ancient times, Gangetic
agrarian societies and states began expanding eastward, and each expansionist wave forced 'jungle
people' such as the Khasis to submit, fight, assimilate,
and move.
Bengali societies evolved on the eastern frontiers of
Gangetic expansion, in landscapes inhabited by numerous non-Bengali peoples, who hunted, farmed, and
fished in the jungles without settling down permanently. The people living in jungle habitats had distinctive languages, religions, and social practices, including matrilineal kinship, which marked them as
primitive aliens for agrarian folk who invested in permanent cultivation, under state authority. Over the centuries, as agrarian states expanded across the lowlands,
many jKhasis and other jungle inhabitants moved up
into forest highlands and mountains, where they
formed independent domains.
During the Moghul
period, because land
was abundant, people
on the margins of
state power could still
move away to remain
Empire in cowry country
When the English East India Company
took Bengal from the nawabs, in
1757, the old northeastern frontiers of
Mughal Bengal posed many problems.
Khasis held most land north of the
Surma and ruled mountains above.
Jaintia Khasi rajas held mountains and
lowlands north and east of Sylhet
town. Cachar rajas held the lower
Barak valley. Tripura rajas ruled south-
em uplands and adjacent plains. In the
lowlands, the English increased taxation as much as
they could, but Sylhet district remained poor revenue
territory, covered with forest.
The old Mughal northeastern frontier also posed a
peculiar monetary problem, because cowry shells were
the only coin. For centuries, these tiny shells from the
Maldives were the cheapest coin all around the Indian
Ocean region, and Bengal was a famous cowry market.
But in Bengal, only the northeast had no metallic coins
in its markets, only cowries. People here imported almost nothing from downstream, except cowries, which
merchants brought upriver on boats that returned
downstream with rice, fish and mountain products. By
1780, limestone was the most important mountain product, and it came only from quarries in the high northern
mountains, in what is today Meghalaya. Khasi rajas
around Pandua controlled quarries from which limestone came down the Dhamalia on boats to Sunamganj,
a market town on the Surma built in the 18,h century
and named for its limestone trade.
Cowry currency thus described a monetary boundary. The Mughals and Nawabs would spend all their
Sylhet revenues inside this boundary, but the English
needed to convert cowries into rupees to serve wider
imperial ambitions. In 1780, the English Collector in
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 Sylhet sought to accomplish this conversion, without
exporting cowries, by using the East India Company's
cowry revenue to finance his private business ventures.
He used state tax revenues to buy limestone in Pandua,
which he sold downstream for rupees that he then used
to remit the Sylhet revenues to the Company treasury in
Calcutta. He focused on limestone, shipped from
Pandua to Sunamganj, and then downriver to Dhaka
and Calcutta.
In the 1780s, mountain trades boomed in mountains
and lowlands, between Pandua to Sunamganj, where,
at the time, most land, in the Collector's words, was
"covered with an impenetrable jungle and so infested
by elephants, tigers, and other wild beasts that... clearing and cultivation [was] attended with great difficulty
and expense". Elephants provided most income for the
few forest zamindars, who paid the English revenue.
Khasi rajas in the mountains exercised sporadic authority in the jungles below, and the English could no
more conquer the mountain Khasis than could the
Mughals, for, as the Collector said, ammm^m^m^^mm
"you might as well attack the inhabitants of the moon".
In the 1780s, natural calamity made
the jungles between Pandua and
Sunamganj more attractive for lowland
farmers and investors. Massive floods
in 17.84 and 1787 disrupted life drastically in the plains and mountains, and
famines ensued. More investors focused their attention on land above the flood line, covered with jungle, even as merchant activity expanded
along routes to the mountains. Pressed for funds to finance imperial wars, the English became more willing
to use force to increase tax revenues. As a result, a motley, violent and chaotic mixture of British imperialism
and Bengali enterprise invaded the land north of the
Surma, where prime land for new farms lay in forests
filled with people who never submitted to the Mughals,
nawabs or British.
Conflict in the borderlands
In the 1780s, various kinds of boundaries defined localities north of the Surma. Ethnic boundaries surrounded Khasi settlements. State boundaries marked
land where people paid taxes. Social boundaries enclosed farming communities. All these mingled inside
the old jagir of Omaid Rezah, where generations of
Khasis and Bengalis had formed mixed settlements of
people called Bengali Khasis, who lived in forests,
owned farmland, and traded and married among mountains Khasis as well as among Bengali communities.
North of the Surma, Omaid Rezah's authority declined rapidly in the 1780s. The English demanded
more tax than he could pay and then divided his jagir
among his heirs and creditors. Merchant power also
increased in his old jagir. New farmers and investors
moved into the forest. The English gave and took away
In 1789, 4000 Sylhet
taxpayers owned
land under Company
law; in 1795, the
number was 26,000
land rights according to people's ability to pay taxes.
In this context, serious conflict ensued.
Tension erupted first around Pandua, where the
English maintained a small force to protect merchants.
In 1783, Khasi mountain warriors seized Pandua and
the passes around. Sporadic warfare continued for
seven years, between Company armies and Khasi rajas
around Pandua. In 1788, conflict began in lowland forest villages north of Sunamganj, during flood-induced
famines. In early 1789, two lowland Bengali Khasi
warrior rajas, Ganga Singh and Aboo Singh, captured
numerous villages and controlled several river routes.
In the summer, rebel Khasis and Bengali Khasis controlled "137 Bengalee villages", Ganga Singh escaped
to the hills, and Aboo Singh attacked the Pandua fort,
killing its commander.
The English then launched a war on two fronts: in
mountains around Pandua and in jungles behind
Sunamganj. By early 1790, Company troops had conquered most people below the mountains, and open
mm^am^^mmm warfare ended soon after a British commander ordered the massacre of Bengali
Khasis around Ganga Singh's home
village. But by then, the Company had
lost Pandua irretrievably to mountain
Khasi rajas.
In November 1791, the 35th Sepoy
Battalion left Sylhet, its mission only
half-accomplished. The new state
boundary drawn between British Bengal and mountain Khasi domains became a reality
based on Khasi victories in the mountains and British
victories below. The new border ran along the base of
the mountains and bisected the route from Sunamganj
to Pandua. lt marked the northern limit of British Bengal, which only then extended indisputably to the mountains, and equally indisputably, did not include
A new kind of boundary
Marking boundaries firmly was not normal imperial
practice at the time, so it required extensive justification, recorded in official correspondence. First and foremost, the boundary secured Company territory against
threats to British authority posed by unregulated mobility between mountains and lowlands. The English
drew this boundary to restrict mobility by defining the
northern mountains as independent Khasi territory.
Henceforth, mountain Khasis officially became aliens
in the plains, where all the land became Bengali
As per the official culture of the Company's governance, the new boundary separated the "races" of
Khasis and Bengalis. It imposed restrictions on "intercourse and intermarriages" that produced what one
official called the "degenerate Race called Bengalee
Cosseahs". As one collector explained, problems addressed by the boundary did not arise from the inher-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 1790 war zone
To Dhaka
ent character of the Khasi 'race', but
rather from Khasia and Bengali miscegenation; hence, from interracial
alliances that threatened the
Company's territorial order by
mixing lowland popular culture
with the wild, unruly culture of the
mountains, where people did not
respect state authority.
The new state border also became a
boundary of 'free trade'. Collectors prohibited European merchants from operating
inside Khasi territory; and they also pro-
Jubited the northern mountain Khasis
from trading in Sylhet, while non-
Khasi merchants from Jaintia and
Cachar were "considered as quiet
and inoffensive", and thus continued to be allowed free access to
markets in Company territory,
contingent on good behaviour.
In addition, the border defined eligibility to own landed
property in ethnic terms. The English prohibited Khasis from owning land on the
grounds that their land had been acquired illegally,
and on the assumption that Khasis could never abandon mountain methods for establishing property rights,
deemed alien in the plains. Collectors then expropriated the lowland Khasi landed property rights, already
established under Company law, to make way for
Bengalis. The land market tlirived as land buyers acquired state-defined land rights to support the laborious process of clearing jungle and creating new farms.
The impact of the new border thus fell most heavily
on Khasis below the mountains. Before 1790, shifting
cultivation, permanent farms, hunting, trading and
fighting were carried out in the open borderlands spanning mountains and plains, in mixed Khasia and
Bengali environs. aAfter 1790, these mixes faded away
under the impact of British authority and new waves of
Bengali colonisation. Government auctions of Khasi
land began in 1792, and a year later, the collector reported that he had completed sales of all land expropriated from rebellious Khasi and Bengali villagers,
except a "trifling remainder of Cosseah land."
Clearing jungles to make farms took a long time,
however. Fiigh taxes slowed the process and encouraged the new colonists to establish estates that were, so
that the landowners could get enough land cleared
quickly by tenants to pay taxes and reap some profit.
Extensive forest zamindar estates remained covered
with forests. Expanses of open jungle also remained
outside the reach of private property, leaving Khasis
some room to manoeuvre. New small estates multiplied
quickly, however. By 1797, land formerly owned by
Bengali Khasis had been occupied by Bengalis "very
willing and eager to enter into regular engagements to
pay revenue" to secure their property rights. The Collector justified his official erasure of Khasi rights to this
land by saying that Khasis had held it by force and not
only failed to bring it into cultivation but had "scared
away farmers", until the Company "secured the area
and confined Cosseahs to the hills".
The old Mughal northeastern frontiers witnessed a
rapid increase in privately owned landed property. In
1789, 4000 Sylhet taxpayers had owned land under
Company law; in 1795, the number was 26,000, and a
year later, it rose to 27,000. Landed estates were mostly
very small, and they were so numerous that by 1800,
about 25 percent of the population of Sylhet district
may have lived in landowning families, in villages that
averaged a mere 67 people and four landed estates
(taluks), each representing about 18 people, few more
than one landowning family, its dependents and
The 1790 northern boundary of the Bengal Presidency, north of the Surma River, gave an old Bengali
boundary a new geographical form. Inside the boundaries of Bengal, the state defined local elites, who owned
bounded plots of landed property. The state's external
boundary became a part of everyday life in villages,
where social boundaries marked the Khasis' subordinate, outsider status.
Thus, local histories impart to the former imperial
boundary that now separates Bangladesh and India
meanings quite distinct from those that emerged after
1947. This boundary defined Bengalis and Khasias as
peoples with separate histories, homelands, and cultural identities, which mingle in the local history of the
borderlands. Here, each defines the other, and the
memory of Bengali Khasis north of the Surma indicates
a distinctive borderland cultural past outside the reach
of the national imagination. J>
Note: An extensively documented version of this essay
is forthcoming in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
Guerrilla chowkidars of South Asia
Planet-like head
Impregnable pupils
Aggression dripping from every pore ofthe body
That which is exceptional must be saved
—Harishchandra Pandey in Hindi poem
Sher Bachao (Abhiyan)
IT IS time to test the loyalty of the toadies of the neocon
wolves in liberators' sheepskins. So, the imperial overlord wants its dues, and all the colonies seem to be
more than willing to oblige. Governments in South Asia
are jostling to rush their jawans to "stabilise" Iraq and
release their master's forces for 'regime change' duties
elsewhere in the region, perhaps Iran.
Colin Powell merely hinted that the imperial powers might need some foot soldiers in dangerous areas
of the occupied territories in West Asia. His wish made
Bangladeshi generals salivate. Ever since the restoration of civilian rule, the Dhaka brass is loath to let any
opportunity of overseas sentry duty pass.
In Nepal, the greed for guard duty is so strong that
when a proposal was put up in the cabinet recently to
consider the American request, it seems no one even
cared to point out the perils of aligning with an army of
occupation. Of late, the Royal Nepal Army has earned
a name for itself in peacekeeping duties for the United
Nations. But its history of fighting for imperial powers
goes back far. Even though its country was never a formal colony, doing duty for imperialists is a tradition
with the Nepali soldiery.
The first Rana, Jang Bahadur, led the Gorkha contingent that helped the East India Company suppress
the 'sepoy mutiny' of 1857 in Awadh. Chandra Shumshere backed England with man and money in the first
world war. Baber Shumshere led Nepali troops to Afghanistan to aid the British in the battle at Waziristan.
Juddha Shumshere put eight battalions of his fiercest
fighters at the disposal of Allied commanders right at
the outset of the second world war.
These rulers were handsomely rewarded for their
services. Jang Bahadur got the opportunity to ransack
Lucknow and an additional gift of some land from the
territory of the vanquished nawab of Awadh (the 'naya
muluk'). Chandra preferred cash - he settled for an
annual payment of one million rupees to be paid in
After the second world war, the award was doubled. The vulgar Rana palaces of Kathmandu valley -
now curiously being restored as heritage sites - are
built largely from the blood money of Gorkha soldiers
sent abroad to die for the benefit of their feudal lords. A
promptness in sending its serfs to serve foreign mas
ters is characteristic of the Kathmandu ruling class.
It is not just Bangladeshi and Nepali ruling elites
that are dying to do the imperial bidding in Iraq, however. Even the 'nuclear powers' of South Asia seem to
be ready to dance to the tunes of Don Rumsfeld.
Outsourcing chowkidars
The most damning indictment of "two great self-respecting republics" of South Asia has come from Dawn columnist Ayaz Amir - he has likened the poses of General Pervez Musharraf and "lohpurush" (iron man) LK
Advani to "the dance of the courtes.ans".
In the afterglow of his Camp David performance,
General Musharraf told ABC channel on 26 June that
he has agreed, in principle, to send troops to Iraq. But
he wished for the fig leaf of the United Nations, the
Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) or the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC). Pakistani civil society does
not seem to favour sending hoops to fight Muslims in a
Muslim country. And, Musharraf is slowly but surely
falling prey to the 'Gorbachev effect' - wildly feted in
the West for actions intensely hated at home.
Barring firebrands such as P Sainath and Praful
Bidwai, most "opinion leaders" of Bharat mahaan are
waving the star spangled banner, with saffron flags
firmly in place as backdrop. The New Delhi elite seems
ready to ignore the sensibilities of Indian Muslims,
dump the ideology of national sovereignty and forget
about morality in its foreign policy - all for the sake of
crumbs from the table of imperial plunder. Sensing the
hunger of his guest, Tony Blair met Advani, the Indian
deputy prime minister, in London. Subsequently, he
announced in the House of Commons that "19 or 20
countries" may join the peacekeeping operations in Iraq.
My guess is that at least 4 or 5 of those servile countries
will be from South Asia.
Patrol duty in and around Basra and Baghdad is
anything but peacekeeping. If the experience of British
troops over the last few months is anything to go by, the
mission in Mesopotamia is more likely to be counterin-
surgency operations in a newly acquired colony. No
wonder, the US Marines desperately want to subcontract the dirty work. This is one outsourcing no trade
union in the United States will complain about. Hence,
the intensive body shopping by the errand persons of
the Pentagon.
The proclivity of the American propaganda machine
to "sex up" information while being extremely frugal
with the facts is not unknown to Tony Blair, but he
must have felt the full force of its implications when
UN Secretary General Kofi a4nnan categorically denied
all media rumours about the UN role in Iraq. After his
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
talks with the British prime minister in London on 26
June, the day General Musharraf was looking for a UN
fig leaf on ABC, Annan said in no uncertain terms, "Until the [Security] Council gives us a new mandate, we
are not really talking of a UN force, and I doubt that we
will have the capacity to take over that responsibility at
this stage". He pointed out that it was the responsibility of the "occupying powers" to provide security to the
Iraqi people. With .Annan unwilling to supply encouragement, Musharraf must look for another fig leaf, and
Advani needs to fortify his justifications before ordering Indian soldiers to join guard duty in the new empire in Mesopotamia.
The SAG UFA uniform
It is obviously time to get serious about this peacekeeping-slash-occupation duty at the regional level since
we all so seem to want it. One matter to discuss would
be what uniform a South Asian force would wear while
serving on the doab of the Euphrates and the Tigris. As South
Asian countries respond to the
bidding of Uncle Sam, it would
make sense to stitch a new uniform
(suitable for imperial guard duty)
rather than go for a borrowed
langoti of the UN (or OIC or GCC)
flag. A completely South Asian outfit inspired by our shared culture
of serving colonial masters with
rare distinction would probably
inspire more confidence (in the occupying powers, if not the Iraqi
There can be no better agenda
for the SAARC foreign secretary-level meeting on 9-10
July in rain-drenched Kathmandu. After all, harping
on the non-existent regional trade ad nauseum is not
leading SAFTA or SAPTA anywhere. All peacekeeping
forces and occupying forces must have acronyms (ref
should be the first order of business. Participants of the
planned Kathmandu conclave have the requisite clout
in their respective countries to carry through an innovative scheme such as the formation of a South Asian
Guerrilla Unified Force for Action in the Gulf, SAGUFA
for short.
After General Musharraf, foreign secretary Riaz
Khokar is the second most important person in Pakistan
- refer to how he upstaged Premier Jamali in the selection
of Islamabad's envoy to New Delhi. All through
Musharraf's tour of duty (of pledging his continued
obedience to the neocon cabal) in the US and the UK, it
was the careful Khokar who accompanied the general,
not his straightforward boss, the foreign minister, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri. If Khokar pledges his support
to the formation of SAGUFA, the all-powerful Rawalpindi generals are sure to nurture the project as their
On Her Majesty's service, yet again?
own baby.
Secretary Kanwal Sibal too has enough influence
with his Bhartiya Janata Party minister that if he were
convinced of it, SAGUFA would go ahead, new uniform
and all. In the 'steel frame' system of New Delhi, babus
do not just have a say in policy formulation; they formulate national policies. Even though they seldom do
anything more than nod 'yes, minister' in public, their
political masters know who wields the danda.
The timing of the Kathmandu meeting is perfect.
There can be no better atmosphere to arrive at a consensus about SAGUFA than now - an army-friendly begum
is at the helm in Dhaka, Nepal is under the direct rule
of its supreme-commander-in-chief monarch, and
hawkish President Kumaratunga is the civilian head
of Sri Lanka's armed forces. The de facto host, former
foreign secretary Narendra Bikram Shah, is an apparatchik holdover from the Panchayat era, who has been
able to do the undoable thus far - come to a resolution
of the Bhutanese refugees issue by
essentially rendering them stateless at the behest of Thimpu.
With the foreign secretaries
making the pitch, the others are
sure to fall in line and we are as
good as home on SAGUFA. Funds
for the new outfit, you say? That
would be the least of its problems.
An advance for promised guard
duty in Iraq should not be too hard
to manage. Counterinsurgency operations there cost the American
treasury over USD three billion
every month. That is exactly the
sum George Bush has promised
his man in Islamabad - spread over the next five years
and attached with some very stout strings - for handing
over the entire Afghanistan border to the American occupation forces headquartered in Kabul. Hiring the services of SAGUFA is sure to come much cheaper.
However, the foreign secretaries of the South Asian
countries must put one condition on the deployment of
SAGUFA - they must insist that the combined troops of
Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan
and Sri Lanka will head for Baghdad via Rangoon.
Whenever a unified South Asian command becomes a
reality, its first duty must be to free Burma from the
clutches of the abominable generals.
SAGUFA can then develop other agendas for, once
started, the fund-raising must be constant so that our
jawans continue to earn per diem and hardship allowances. An important assignment for the new regional
legion could perhaps be supervision of the US presidential elections next year. Only a combined force of all
South Asian countries can ensure that no chads are left
hanging in the 2004 elections to haunt the world for the
four years after it. b
- CK Lai
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 Penury in plenty
As a result of the failure of the public distribution system, four districts in
Orissa have become notorious for starvation deaths.
by indra jit Roy
In India, a country that fulfils 99.9 percent of its net
availability of food through domestic production,
and even exports food grain, some districts, in the
state of Orissa, have become chronically prone to famine. Officially, of course 'famine' is a loaded term in a
country that touts the claim that "no one dies of starvation any longer". Unofficially, it is clear that people die
every year in Orissa because of food deficit.
Located on the eastern coast of India, Orissa has a
population of 36.7 million, of which 47.2 percent lives
beneath what is known as the 'poverty line'. This line
used to be configured with reference to calorie intake
(now, the international standard is income, judged by
the measure of one dollar per day). In India, 'below poverty line' (BPL) still often refers to populations consuming less than 2100 calories a day in urban areas and
2400 calories a day in rural areas. As per this standard,
the rural poverty ratio for Orissa, at 48 percent, is the
higher than all other states in India. The government's
human development index for Orissa reflects this dismal scenario, with a value of 0.404 (where the best is
0.638) and a rank of 11 out of the 15 states for which
these indices have been prepared.
Chronic hunger and malnutrition are inextricably
linked with the polity and socio-economic rubric of
Orissa. That these are assumed to be a consequence of
recurring drought derives from the fact that agriculture
provides direct and indirect employment to about 64
percent of the workforce and contributes 28.5 percent of
the Net State Domestic Product. Of the 6.4 million hectares that is cultivated, only 35 percent is served by irrigation facilities, the rest being rain-fed.
Rice, cultivated during the summer season - ie between June and September (known in most of South
Asia as the kharief season) grows on 4.2 million hectares - only one-third of which is irrigated. The state
receives 80 percent of its rainfall in the monsoon months
between June and September. Drought, thus, is a characteristic of the paddy season.
The contiguous patch of the districts of Bolangir,
Nuapada, Kalahandi and Kandhamal in western and
central Orissa has been identified as a chronic drought-
prone zone. Anticipated crop-loss during the drought
in 2002 in neighbouring districts such as Rayagada
was as high as 85.2 percent, in Ganjam 91.1 percent
and in Gajapati 92.6 percent.
While shortfall in food production may have to do
with natural factors, the human misery that results from
food shortage has much to do with social, economic
and political factors that the state has so far been unable
to sufficiently address. Rain plays a significant part in
the lives of hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers,
but not necessarily in the "drought-prone zone" of Orissa, where whether it has rained or not, a large number
of people are not able to procure the fruits of the soil for
Doing right, going wrong
Orissa being particularly prone to natural disasters,
including drought and cyclones, the state administration has evolved a set of codes that enable the government to respond to distress. The Orissa Relief Code (ORC)
establishes that the antecedent responsibility to deal
with drought lies with the state. It codifies procedures
to guide administrative implementation of relief. Identifying the state government as 'lifeguard' in times of
drought, the ORC holds the State Board of Revenue responsible for coordinating relief administration. It
also recommends the involvement of people's representatives in planning and development of relief-response programmes. The code also emphasises the need
to maintain continuity between short-term relief measures and longer-term welfare and development policy. For example, food-for-work schemes that provide
employment and food in the event of drought should
be programmed so that they contribute to the creation
and/or improvement of community assets and
infrastructure. Further, the code calls for provision of
institutional credit and agricultural support to affected
However, the ORC, relying on an outdated food-
shortage definition of famine and linking it to drought,
does not recognise the possibility of famine in Orissa.
Thus, according to it, famine is a "state of extreme paucity of food due to complete failure of crops consecutively for more than one year and acute distress to animals and birds on account thereof". Given that the Indian state has provisioned the speedy transfer of food
from surplus to deficit areas and has facilitated improvement in food production, the ORC asserts that
With the development of quick transport and com-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 munication facilities and with improvements in the
food production situation in the country, the conditions of famine could not be said to appear on any
local failure of rains. Hence at present the question
of declaration of any area as 'Famine-affected' does
not arise.
That famine is not simply a function of drought,
constraint in production or even deficits in supply has
been increasingly recognised, following the work of
economist Amartya Sen. air his 1981 Poverty ami Famine: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Sen linked
famines to entitlements, debunking the notion that famines were caused by food shortage. Subsequently, famine has been convincingly related not to entitlements
but to accessibility - the access to food as determined
by economic, political and social relations. Now, typically, food security determinants
are classified as those pertaining
to adequacy of food availability,
stability of food supply and access
to food. Of these, the United Nations recognises that "the most
important aspect of food security
is household access to food". Stability of household access presupposes enhanced access due to realisation of entitlements.
Equity and distribution concerns of the government in India
are addressed by taking recourse
to promoting "rapid growth of agriculture", as stated in the government's, The National Agriculture
Policy' of 2000. While the national
agricultural policy (NAP) does outline some frameworks for consolidation and redistribution of land,
tenancy reforms and entitling
landless labourers to usufruct of
trees and pastures, it does not spell
out how the growths achieved in
Indian agriculture be made more
Since independence in 1947,
India has made significant progress in food production and attaining food security. As per government figures, from 45.3 in 1950-
51, incidence of poverty as reflected in the percentage of the population living below the poverty line,
the poverty rate declined to 26
percent in 1999-2000. Recurring
droughts and famine that ravaged
the countryside till the middle of
the last century have become far
more sporadic, as well as their im
pact limited. In a large part, this is owed to the concerted effort to introduce technological innovations to agriculture in the 1960s, during what is known as the 'green
revolution'. But, for all the great strides that the country
has taken, India is still unable to control widespread
malnutrition. 88 percent of all pregnant women aged
15-49 are anaemic (data froml975-91). 33 percent of all
infants are of low-birth weight (1990). The maternal
mortality rate per 100,000 live births is 440 (1997), the
under-five mortality rate is 111 (1996), and the infant
mortality rate per 1000 live births is 73 (1996).
The experience of many Indian districts and communities, including those of western and central Orissa, has been that food availability does not always translate into access. Here, while drought does exacerbate
conditions of famine, it is not a prerequisite for famine.
Obviously, the ORC, preoccupied as it is with measur-
j; Kandhamal Rayagada
Kandhamal Rayagada
Kandhamal Rayagada
NA            | 1656.6
source; notes for district REVIEW, RAYAGADA DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION. AND notes for district REVIEW, kandhamal district
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
ing drought in terms of rainfall data and extent of crop-
loss, fails to capture the daily scourge that stalks communities in western and central Orissa. Similarly, the
primary concern of the NAP is promoting growth for
exports. Thus, there is little in either policy instrument
that offers scope for making a sustainable impact on
food security and tackling famine that is not induced
by drought.
Problem of plenty
Amartya Sen and the economist jean Dreze, in the co-
authored Hunger and Public Action (1989), distinguish
two contrasting strategies to enable improvements in
what they call the 'quality of life' of poor people: one,
the strategy of growth-mediated security that promotes
economic growth and translates expansion of private
incomes to public support; and two, the strategy of support-led security, as resulting directly from public support in employment provision, health and education
care. India's elaborate public distribution system (PDS)
is one such attempt at direct public    	
support to eliminate hunger.
Public distribution is one of the four
forms of intervention by the Indian government in the food grain market, the
other three being public procurement,
storage and buffer stock operations and
legal controls on hoarding. In her work, Weakening
Welfare: Distribution of Food in India, agricultural
economist Madhura Swaminathan has highlighted the
objectives of the PDS as rationing during scarcity, price-
stability, check on private trade, and welfare of the poor
by providing basic food to the vulnerable at reasonable
prices. Thus, the PDS is a rationing mechanism that
entitles households to specified quantities of selected
commodities at subsidised prices.
The six essential commodities that are supplied
nationally are rice, wheat, sugar, edible oils, kerosene
and coal. Rationing was introduced in Bombay in 1939.
It was abolished on the recommendation of the Second
Foodgrain Policy Committee in 1947 but reintroduced
with the onset of 'planning' in 1947. While there was a
decline in public distribution through most of the 1950s,
it is important to note that till 1970, the quantity of grain
procured was less than what was distributed through
the PDS. (This implies the dependence of PDS on imports of food grain, primarily under the US Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act 1954, as
amended, better known as the PL- 480 regime.) The end
of the 1970s, however, saw the growth of comfortable
buffer stocks, providing the basis for large-scale expansion of the PDS and also food-for-work type employment/welfare programmes. The PDS continues to be the
most flexible instrument for moderating short-term effects of supply or production shortfalls, given the vagaries that still characterise Indian agriculture.
Swaminathan also highlights some of the key characteristics of the PDS since the country embarked upon
News of when "ration"
will be available does
not always get around
structural adjustment in the early 1990s. With the revamp, the targeted PDS (TPDS) was introduced in 1996,
which places emphasis on specific areas, with preference to population in 'difficult areas'. The objectives of
the TPDS are improving access of income-poor consumers to the PDS, increasing the range of commodities supplied by fair-price shops (FPS - retail outlets under the
PDS), and providing selected commodities at prices
lower than in the general PDS.
Targeting has also drawn a distinction between BPL
and above poverty line (APL) consumers, while a separate system for those in economic transition between
the categories is being envisaged. For the DPI. category,
prices are fixed at a percentage of the economic cost
(the sum of the acquisition and the distribution costs)
accruing to the Food Corporation of India (FCI), while
prices for the APL category are fixed at par with the
economic cost. While, the issue price of rice and wheat
for the BPL category remained constant till 1999-2000,
after which it was increased, the issue price of rice and
wheat for the APL category increased
till 2000-01, after which it registered a
sharp decline.
With structural adjustment, clearly,
the principle of universal coverage has
been abandoned. Entitlements of food
grain have been reduced. And, there
has also been an increase in food prices that reflects
reduction in implicit food subsidies. In the early 1990s,
for instance, the cumulative increase in the price of food
grain sold through PDS was higher than corresponding
increase in other general price indices.
A third characteristic is a decline in the quantity
distributed. Food grain allocation fell from 20.8 million
tonnes in 1991 to 14 million tonnes in 1994 That this
has coincided with an increase in stocks of food grain
at the national level is ironic. The food grain stock has
been increasing since January 1998, and grew rapidly
after January 1999. While the minimum buffer stock
norm was 16.8 million tonnes till January 2002, in that
month, the actual stock was 58 million tonnes. Certain
supply-side and demand-side factors contribute to this
problem of plenty. On the supply side, the Minimum
Support Price (MSP), a policy instrument to prevent farmers from resorting to distress sales, has maintained a
steady increase for both wheat and paddy, given the
critical role of the rural landed classes in the electoral
process. On the demand side, the primary reason for
the increasing stocks is poor 'offtake' of grains from the
government under the TPDS .
The targeting of the PDS at specific consumers, lowering the quantity allocated to a household, and increasing the prices, has played havoc with the system,
so that now even though food grain allocations to the
states have remained more or less constant after 1994,
the offtake for both wheat and rice has registered a
steady decline. In 2000-01, the offtake in the case of
wheat fell to 32 percent of the allocated quantity, com-
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
pared with 86 percent in 1991-92. Similarly, the offtake
in the case of rice fell to 48 percent in 2000-01 from 90
percent in 1991-92.
In view of both public outrage and fiscal considerations, the Supreme Court of India issued a significant
interim order on 28 November 2001 directing state governments to implement eight food-related schemes sponsored by the central government effectively. This included schemes focussing on old age pension, family benefits in the event of the death of the head, maternal health,
school-feeding programmes, and direct food provisioning free for the aged destitute (the Annapurna scheme)
and at subsidised prices for other poor households (the
Antyodaya Anna Yojana and the TPDS for BPL households).
Antyodaya was introduced to provide food security to the poorest of the poor. The selection of families for
this scheme is done by the gram sabha, a unit of village
level government. Antyodaya cardholders are entitled
to 25 kgs of grains each month at the price of INR two
per kg for wheat and INR three per kg for rice. The Annapurna scheme, introduced in 2000 to provide food
security to elderly citizens who have no income of their
own and no one to take care of them, entitles beneficiaries to 10 kgs of food grains (rice or wheat) per month.
The beneficiaries are to be identified by the gram Panchayat - an elected body, which is the institution for
self-governance in the village. As per the court's directions, all state governments were required to make these
schemes effective by 1 January 2002.
A comparison of micro-level data from each of these
three schemes enables a better understanding as to
which demand and supply side factors predominate
in the public distribution system, and how the system
fails the 'targeted' poor, as it has been doing in parts of
Micro-deficits and macro-surplus
As in other parts of India, public distribution in Orissa
functions through the network of procurement agents,
millers and FPS. Commodities are 'allocated' from the
FCl's central pool to each district by the state Civil Supplies Department. They are then 'lifted' by contractors
employed by the para-statal Civil Supplies Corporation and transported to 'storage points', to be further
sold on wholesale basis to FPS, which are retail outlets
at the local level.
Studies in the districts of Kandhamal and Rayagada reflect the problems with associating famine
exclusively with drought, as the ORC continues to
do even as people continue to die of hunger-related diseases. In Kandhamal, which has a
population of 647,912, 118,544
ration cards in circulation and 257
FPS, the offtake of Antyodaya rice
was almost always lesser than
allotment between April and
August 2002. The only exception
was the month of May for rural BPL households. A reverse trend may be observed in regard to Annapurna
rice, which is free, where only in June and August, the
offtake was less than lifting. Rayagada, which has a
population of 823,019 and 186,605 ration cards in circulation under different schemes, is serviced by 168
FPS (including urban cooperatives and private persons).
There too only in the case of Antyodaya rice (in May
and June) was the offtake less than the amount lifted.
Annapurna allotments for the months of May and June
were not received by the district administration.
In the case of sugar, the offtake of levy sugar in Rayagada was less than 10 percent of allotment, indicating
extremely poor demand by communities for the same.
In Kandhamal, the demand for levy sugar was higher,
with the offtake being over 50 percent of the allotment
in May 2002. Similarly, the offtake of kerosene is consistently less than lifting, with only one exception in
Kandhamal in August 2002.
The under-utilisation of allotments, as reflected in
the offtake being less than lifting, is a manifestation of a
number of trends. On the one hand, erratic and irregular provisioning due to the inadequate management of
the supply chain implies that grain does not reach
retail/distribution outlets at the community level in
the first place. The case of Annapurna allotments in
Rayagada is a case in point. On the other hand, even if
distribution outlets are fully stocked, there are other
constraints. This area being sparsely inhabited, communities are located at quite a distance from one another, and often from FPS. The undulating and hilly terrain
adds to the time and effort of covering the distance to
a FPS. Added to that are considerations of the cost of
transportation (whether on foot or on automobile).
Rayagada's district administration formally admits of
poor demand for levy sugar by BPL families in the district. This is due to two reasons. First, the zonal sugar
depot is located in the adjacent district's headquarter,
at Jeypore, over 50 kms from Rayagada town, making it
difficult for Rayagada's poor to claim their entitlement.
Second, and as a consequence of the first, storage agents
are reluctant to lift the sugar and transport it to
Rayagada, which adversely affects supply. Where individuals (whether men or women) do manage to travel these distances, it is at the loss of up to one day's
wages. Social and economic affordability is most crucial for determining community-level access to food.
Besides, there are other structural factors that hamper the process. 'Ration' at the retail centre is available
for only a few days in a given month, and information
about which days it will be available does not always
source: for oata on dalpts and
for data on women, census of
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
C\(clone (1999\% drought (2000\ and flood (2001) affected
Drought affected districts
Drought and flood affected districts
Cyclons and drought affected districts
Cyclona and flood affected districts
Cyclone, drought and flood affectad districts
get around. While caste is not as pervasive in the western Orissa context as it is in the coastal plains, hierarchies based on other ascribed status, such as kinship
and tribal affiliation, determine settlement patterns. Information is radiated outwards to the periphery and
therefore awareness is inversely related to distance from
the core. Thus, by the time information reaches households at the peripheries, the stock at the outlet is usually sold out. Further, even if households have information, and can easily access an outlet, many do not command adequate fluid cash to purchase commodities at
one single time.
A survey of the occupational classification of the
main workforce reveals that agricultural labourers (defined as those who are employed on farms other than
their own) comprise a relatively high percentage of the
population: nearly 46 percent in Rayagada and over 36
percent in Kandhamal, compared to 35 percent for all
Orissa. Disaggregating data for rural areas, this figure
is even higher - 49.8 percent for Rayagada and 37.5
percent for Kandhamal. Considering that both districts
have tribal majorities, it is tempting to link landless-
ness in the majority of tribal households with exploitation by elites - mostly dikkus (non-tribal settlers), but
sometimes superior tribal clans as well. Landless
households have no option but to work as wage labourers on the lands of their more prosperous co-villagers. Moreover, females outnumber males in both districts, thereby occupying a significant space in labour
markets. In both these districts, where the sex ratio is
skewed in favour of women, women workers outnumber their male counterparts as agricultural labourers.
though the reverse is true in the overall
employment scenario. As feminist political activist Brinda Karat points out,
ft may a\s.o\>e atvvidpated vrva\"beta.\3&e.
of gender-discriminatory minimum
wage stipulations, they earn less than
their male counterparts. Tellingly, work
participation ratios for dalit and tribal
women are higher than for other women in Orissa, as they are for all of India.
The purchasing power of households (determined by income) is a critical determinant of the offtake being adequate or otherwise. Incomes in western and central Orissa are adversely affected by a number of factors: patterns
of landholding being one such. In Kalahandi district, over 50 percent of all
workers are employed mainly as agricultural labourers. Here, communities
hazard that 20 percent of the population controls 80 percent of the land.
There has been only sluggish progress
towards industrialisation, which had
the potential to absorb landless households (even if the socio-economic benefits of such industrialisation may be uncertain).
Land record transactions in Kalahandi indicate a
concentration of low-lying and hence better-irrigated
(behal) land with large landowners; public land encroachment, again by the larger landowners; provision
of credit by local sahukars (moneylenders) conditional
to mortgage of land and labour; and seasonal constraints on productive capacity. All these factors contribute to low income generation in the district. The influence wielded by feudal elements based in Bhawani-
patna, capital of the erstwhile princely state of Kalahandi and currently its district headquarters, may be
gauged from their success in thwarting the laying of
rail tracks through their 'fortress'. Both literaily and
metaphorically, Bhawanipatna was kept insulated from
development practice and ideology in spite of its location on the Raipur-Vishakapatnam highway. Development projects such as the Upper Indravati dam-construction project have not guaranteed sustainable employment options, and real wages continue to be low
due to both supply factors and continuing patron-client relations. These 'extended entitlements', referring
to informal advantages enjoyed or claimed by certain
groups or individuals in society or households, and
legitimised by society, often infringe on the legal entitlements of others.
Even the impact of modernisation has been dubious. With the green revolution popularising the long
grain variety of rice, and market linkages making the
profit-motive paramount, agricultural production in
western, central and southern Orissa has turned away
from traditional pulses, oilseeds, millets and citka (a
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 hardy variety of rice). These are more resistant to
drought, as was made evident in the 2001 drought in
Bolangir district, but have poor prospects in the market. As a consequence, vulnerable households find it
difficult to not only make the investments that paddy
needs, but are also unable to cope with crop-loss when
it occurs.
Thus, a condition of shortages amidst plenty continues to plague communities, which cannot command
food surpluses, and are unable to realise their entitlements. In Kandhamal, in April and May the offtake of
Annapurna rice (supplied free) was higher than allotments (which were nil), indicating that communities
would certainly access commodities provided they had
the opportunity, terrain and time notwithstanding. Of
course, that will be difficult in instances where supply
itself is affected, as in Rayagada. Meanwhile, certain
communities continue to not have the requisite purchasing power, even when products are 'available' at
subsidised prices. The relatively high proportion of agricultural labourers in the main workforce in all these
districts may be a significant factor here. Clearly,
though, the increase in the PCI's buffer stocks has been
unaccompanied by the empowering of the people to
cash in their entitlements, resulting in declining offtakes,
and contributing to the country's already high buffer-
stock and buffer carrying cost.
Relationships of security
The finance ministry's Economic Survey recommends that the burden of
subsidy on the central budget should
be curtailed (something that Sen supports, arguing that the MSP have
merely benefited rich farmers), and
that the reduction in food subsidies
be made effective through targeting
(this being typical of the adjustment
package that is seen in Mexico, Sri
Lanka, Jamaica, Zambia and Tunisia). High dMSPs comprising between
45 percent and 75 percent of economic costs to the FCI contribute to fiscal
deficit by inflating the food bill. As
has been the experience, they are directly proportional to increased procurement, and large buffer stocks,
which means high buffer-carrying
costs. A high buffer-carrying cost has
adverse implications for the fiscal
scenario of the economy. Buffer carrying cost comprised 42 percent of
total costs (economic cost plus buffer
carrying cost) accruing to FCI in
2000-01 - an increase of 12 percent
from 1991-92.
That said, food subsidy in India
averages only 0.3 percent of GDP, and
eliminating food subsidies will not substantially impact the fiscal deficit. Moreover, it still does not solve
the problem of poverty-amidst-plenty, which has come
to characterise not only western and central Orissa, but
also areas in western and central India, such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, southern Uttar
Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. There may be
some merit in the argument that the PDS is too narrow
and static a perspective on poverty alleviation, that its
contribution to poverty alleviation is an exaggeration
considering that the Spearman's rank correlation between PDS and poverty rankings across Indian states is
very low. The argument also holds that being a supply-
side measure, the PDS does not contribute to .any real
improvement of economic conditions. It is not a 'safety
net' either, because no scheme for income-generation is
associated with it.
At the same time, reviewing the resource-allocation
regime to re-channel "available resources from support
measures towards asset-formation in the rural sector",
as the NAP says, may not be the solution either. As the
Food Insecurity Atlas maintains, "non-food factors also
play an important role in causing food insecurity".
Therefore, we must look beyond constructed dichotomies between support-led and growth-mediated approaches, both of which are essentially state-managed.
Kandhamal: Total Population- 647,912; Rural Population- 603,819
110,190 (36) [35]
64,047 (58.1)
109,989 (37.5)
63,974 (58.1)
Rayagada: Total Population- 823,019; Rural Populathn-707,645
181,953 (45.9) [41]
106,622 (58.5)
178,953 (49.8)
104,878 (58.6)
KalaMMi: Total PopuMtdn- l,334,372,Rural Population^ 1,2.14,095
312,220 (50.3) [41]
173,014 (55.4)
309,487 (52.5)
;BolmgirrTotat Population- 1,335,760; Rural Population- 1.181,531
225,873 (40.2) [31]
119,884 (53.07)
224;718 (43.4)
119,542 (53.1)
Nuapadti:. Total Population- 530,524; Rural Population' 500,494 :....'
109,729 (44.7) [31]
108,566 (46.2)
64,496 (58.7)
'Cajapati: Total Population- 518,448; Runii Population- 46b,675
124,654 (45.2) [35]
76,049 (61)
122,619 (47.6)
74,942 (61.1)
'Ganprty. Total Population- 3.136,937; Rural Population- 2,5981,746:.;
501,806 (38.4) [33]
299,215 (59.6)
489,947 (42.9)
292,905 (59.7)
5,001,075 (35) [29]
2,420,553 (48.4)
4,923,637 (39.1)
2,390,685 (48.5)   |
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 Obviously, 'public action' in the last two decades has
not helped vulnerable households in Kalahandi, where
the proportion of agricultural labourers has increased
from 41 percent in 1991 to 50.3 percent in 2001, and
where, in relative as well as absolute	
terms, more people have inadequate
purchasing power. It is high time that
approaches sustained by local communities are encouraged. Some examples
of these are the community 'food and
water security systems', including grain
banks managed by self-help groups, in-   	
formation empowerment by village-level institutions,
and strategies of income generation.
The lack of food, the prevalence of starvation, hunger and near-famine conditions coinciding with food
surpluses is a political-economic issue that requires political-economic analysis. Contrary to expectation, this
is not something that local communities are incapable
of. Already, struggles against bonded labour (for extended entitlements), and for appropriate wages (legal
entitlement) have been waged, often successfully, both
In Kalahandi, 20
percent of the
population owns 80
percent of the land
in western Orissa (Bolangir, bordering Kalahandi and
Kandhamal on the northwest) and elsewhere in India.
Such political struggle for economic rights may also be
a struggle for dalits and tribals in districts such as
Kandhamal and Rayagada of cultural
identity, moulded in their image and
mirroring their aspirations while harnessing egalitarian traditions with respect to class, caste and gender.
As demands are made for the 'right
to food' and the 'right to work' to be incorporated as fundamental rights in the
Indian constitution, the Indian state will need to craft
appropriate programmes that address core 'access' issues in food (insecurity. One way to do this is by supporting community-level initiatives and opening the
space of negotiation and contest. At any rate, the 'developmental' state has responsibilities towards ensuring the well-being of its citizens, including ensuring
basic human dignity, which so far in western and central Orissa it has chronically failed to do. A
Call for entries
Film South Asia '03
Kathmandu, 25-28 September, 2003
Film South Asia, only festival of non-fiction
films on South Asian subjects, calls for entries for the fourth edition of the festival being
held in Kathmandu from 25 to 28 September
2003." ..r- ;;;:;vt;;:.;.;
Film South Asia, organised by Himal Association in Kathmandu, hasestabiisKedjtself I
as the premier event to showcase the latest*
in South Asian non-fiction filmmaking;jft te
also a platform for filmmakerslrbm ali over
the region to gather and appreciate* each;
others' works and share ideas;
!■*. ■#■*?-# s?*S
Films made after 1 January, 2001 are eligible for entry in the competitive category. Entries have to be
on South Asian subjects, broadly understood. The
filmmakers iteedhot be South Enrty is free
ft |ff cost:-All entries must reach the Festival Secretariat in Kathmandu by 30 June, 2003.
. Monetary prizes, along with citations, will be awarded
for overall excellence to the directors of the three
"b best films chosen by a three-member jury. Past juries
have been headed by renowned filmmakers Shyam
■ Senegal from India and Goutam Ghose from Calcutta among others.
For atfflitional information and entry form for Film
South Asia visit the Himal Association website
For moreMnlormatiori contact Mahesh Shrestha, Festival Director, PO Box 166, Lalitpur. Kathmandu, Nepal.
. Tel: 977-1-5542544, Fax: 977-1-5541196, email:
fjrtwwf&44*mJ*.^ ftfu^e^^i
Film South Asia '03 is supported by Jan Virjman Fund, Netherlands and Himal South Asian magazine.
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
Aid in developing Nepal
It is a moot point whether Nepal
consumes aid or aid consumes Nepal. Hard research on the aid economy of Nepal is negligible. Barring the
routine claims of multilateral and
bilateral donors, and the shrewd
suspicions of independent sceptics,
there is no empirically rigorous and
analytically sophisticated assessment that can furnish a conclusive
answer to a question that ought to
have been answered decades ago. So
long as donor slogans remain the
only source of development wisdom,
the shrewd suspicions will persist.
In the meanwhile, both believers and
sceptics alike will have to be content
with the existing meagre stock of literature, including the 2002 reprint
of Eugene Mihaly's 1965 title, Foreign Aid and Politics in Nepal.
This relative absence of detailed
empirically grounded inquiry itself
merits scrutiny as an exercise in the
sociology of institutional academics.
It remains one of the most persistent
and debilitating paradoxes of intellectual activity in the country that
the anthropology of Nepal is as overdeveloped as its economy and the
study of it is underdeveloped. While
Nepal's social organism has been so
intrusively and exhaustively scrutinised, the extraordinary role of foreign bodies in the polity and economy of the kingdom remains a quasi-
mystical trend that is left largely untouched. Perhaps it is a sign of the
overwhelming power of hard currency that aid manages to insulate itself
from systematic academic study.
It is a measure of the Kathmandu
intelligentsia's lack of interest in scrutinising the processes of aid that it
took three and a half decades between the first edition of Foreign Aid
and Politics and its second edition. In
the interim there have been few other works to complement it. Strictly
speaking, the only reason the book
qualifies to be called a second edition is the introductory chapter by
the sociologist Sudhindra Sharma,
which is a broad survey of aid flows
and priorities. Contrary to the view
that there is a paucity of reseiirch on
the 'assistance' economy, Sharma
argues, in the context of what exactly aid has achieved, that inadequate
research is not an issue.
However, his introduction itself
seems to point, in at least two instances, to a very different conclusion. According to Sharma, it is difficult to be conclusive about the total volume of aid Nepal receives because of the wide variance in the es-
Foreign Aid and Politics In
Nepal: A Case Study
by Eugene Bramcr MHhaiy
Himal Books. Kaiinmadu. 2002 (second edition).
pp lx+237. ISBN 99933 43 40 4
reviewed by
Jagannath Adhikari
timates given by different sources.
He cites the wide discrepancy between government of Nepal's Economic Survey for the ye:ir 1999, which
indicates total assistance of USD
251.4 million and UNDP's Development Cooperation Report which estimates it at USD 416 million for the
same year. Likewise, whereas the
UNDP figures show a total of 21 international NCaOs (INCOs) disbursing
about USD 24.1 million in aid in
1999, the Social Welfare Council
lists 96 iNGOs providing funds to
the tune of USD 19.8 million in the
year 2001.
In five decades of aid depen
dence if nobody can tell us anything
about the precise quantum of aid
flows into Nepal, other than quoting
the discrepant figures offered by various official sources, it clearly points
to a dearth of independent economic
research into donor activity. Further
evidence of this dearth is to be found
in the list of references appended to
the introductory chapter. The 47 entries in the list of references may or
may not exhaust the sum total of all
the material on aid in Nepal, but they
presumably represent the most relevant studies for producing an overview of aid.
Even the most cursory evaluation
of this list shows that of the 47 entries, 11 are so-called official documents. Three of them are government
reports while the remaining eight are
bilateral and multi-lateral donor documents (one each of DFID and USAID
and three each of the UNDP and
World Bank). Of the 19 monographs,
including the book under review, six
are on aid in general as it applies globally and are not specific to Nepal,
The remaining 13 Nepal-specific
monographs are uneven in quality
and not all of them are specifically
aid-related. Some are anthropological reflections on Nepal, while others are sector-specific studies into
which aid, as the preeminent reality
of the country, inevitably enters. Most
significantly, though aid is so inescapably an economic enterprise, very
few are on the macro-economics of
the phenomenon. The remaining 17
references are either reports by various organisations and institutions or
articles in journals and edited volumes. This partial enumeration of
references, if it represents the best and
most relevant, clearly does not do
adequate justice to the totality of aid
in Nepal.
So long as this absence of longitudinal and indepth studies persists,
aid in Nepal will always operate in a
climate of controversy. In fact almost
all claims and counterclaims have
been controversial. Critics have generally been very dismissive about the
effectiveness of foreign aid. They
point to the fact that even though
Nepal has received, between 1950-
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
2001, foreign aid totaling slightly
over USD 5 billion, the country's development indicators are abysmally
poor not only in relation to the quantum of money but also in comparison with other countries. In 2001,
Nepal, ranked 129 on the UNDP's
Human Development Index, was 33rd
from the bottom in a Est of 162 countries. In 2002 Nepal's position had
slipped to 31 from the bottom in a
list of 173 countries.
Criticisms of aid-driven development have gone beyond just questioning the developmental efficiency of donor activity. They go so far as
to posit rather more malign attributes
to the aid establishment than just its
inherent tendency towards the dissipation of funds. It is, for instance,
often argued that aid has stifled the
domestic capacity for capital formation and resource mobilisation, that
it has promoted institutional corruption and organisational cronyism in
the civil, political and administrative
spheres and accentuated economic
disparities in society.
Moreover, aid, like globalisation,
is deemed to be responsible for promoting external control and strangulating local enterprises through
purchase of donor country products
as part of the conditionally. Attention has also been drawn to the fact
that the loan component of foreign
aid has increased over time and part
of it at least is wasted in unproductive expenditure. This increases the
burden on the national exchequer
and hence on poor people as there is
a proportionate decline in allocations for welfare programmes
reduced as increasing proportions of
the annual budget is diverted to debt
Clearly, though aid remains an
under-researched area, it provokes a
degree of debate among the intelligentsia. For this reason, the reissue
of Mihaly's book is timely, not only
for the discussion it can provoke, but
also for situating it in a comparative
historical perspective, particularly
where the politics of aid is concerned. Mihaly analyses aid and the
factors affecting its magnitude,
nature and flows from various coun
tries between the 1950s and the mid-
1960s and concludes that it failed to
achieve the development goals visualised then.
The issues raised in the course of
the book are pertinent even today.
His analysis of the political and administrative culture that impeded
development then may well hold
true in contemporary Nepal. Mihaly
also argues that the assumptions
underlying US aid were not relevant
to Nepal's context, which led to the
failure of development initiatives.
One major assumption at that time
was that if popular expectations of
material prosperity were not fulfilled,
social unrest and communism
would follow.
To the contrary, Mihaly found
Nepalis had no rising expectations
as most of them were too preoccupied with meeting their most basic
needs of survival. This point is important since in contemporary discussion it is customary to attribute
the rise of the Maoist movement to
thwarted expectations. In other
words the argument that propelled
funding in the 1960s has resurfaced
four decades later. Mihaly debunked
the argument then. It remains to be
seen if the disciplines which involve
field research, notably sociology and
anthropology, will set out to verify
the contemporary validity of this
By far the most interesting aspect
of the book in terms of its current
relevance is the author's analysis of
domestic politics as it related to the
dynamics of aid. Thus, while the
East-West Highway provided the infrastructural basis for unifying Nepal and expanded economic opportunities, Mihaly suggests that it was
primarily intended by King Mahendra to facilitate the repression of
poUtical movements seeking participation in a democratic polity. He
argues that donor countries silently
acquiesced in the suppression of parliamentary democracy for fear of giving communism a fillip.
Mihaly also explores the nature
of the complex aid relationship between India and Nepal in the context of India's overbearing attitude
and Nepal's excessively sensitive
reaction. In this context he cites the
absurd case of the Indian government assisting in the construction of
the Tribhuvan Highway, and the
Nepali officialdom launching a quixotic project to construct Kanti Rajpath, across more or less the same
territory that the former covered. This
provides not only an insight into the
prickly nature of equations between
the two countries but also the squandering of resources that resulted from
it. But while he explores these nuances of internal impediments Mihaly has relatively fewer criticisms
of donors and foreign project technicians involved in developing Nepal.
Of course Mihaly's perspective is
not the final word on the question
and this is quite clear from Sudhin-
dra Sharma's critical introduction,
in which he departs from Mihaly's
conclusions on two significant
counts. Sharma joins issue with him
on the question of rising expectations
and argues that the Maoist insurgency is a product of escalating expectations that were not fulfilled. That is
for the present a matter of opinion
and until established by empirical
research must remain a speculative
The other point on which Sharma departs from Mihaly's argument
is on the question of Nepal's institutional and political readiness to handle aid efficiently, Sharma believes
that the circumstances of today's
Nepal are very different from what it
was 40 years ago. Therefore Nepal is
today in a position to utilise aid effectively. This is a matter of conjecture since there is little in the institutional environment that inspires
such confidence. The fact that such
divergent arguments have been
voiced through the medium of this
book bodes well for the state of the
public sphere, and for that reason
may inspire the kind of independent
research that will make up for the
very noticeable lack of fundamental
studies on the macroeconomics of
aid in Nepal. b
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
 The profits of catastrophe
As the title of Indian journalist
P Sainath's book, Everybody
Loves a Good Drought, suggests, disasters are lucrative for the relief bureaucracy and its retinue of supply
contractors and distribution agencies. The financial scope that disasters offer for the diversion of public
funds into private accounts through
various administrative channels is
the single biggest impediment to the
adoption, in South Asia, of disaster
prevention and vulnerability reduction perspectives. The stubbornness
of the prevailing orthodoxy, which
swears by the inevitability of disaster and hence emphasises the indis-
pensability of relief, can in fact be
attributed more to the profits of catastrophe than to ignorance of alternative views.
One of the purposes of Disaster
Communicaton: A Resource Kit for
Media is to discuss in detail the
available alternatives to this official
vision of disaster management. Its
first chapter is devoted to an extensive analysis of the differences between the prevailing approach and
the alternative approach. The former is piecemeal and post-facto because it can, by definition, swing
into action only after disaster has
taken place on a scale sufficient to
draw attention and funds to itself.
By contrast the latter is a comprehensive strategy that looks to a community-based prevention and mitigation programme, in which development has a central role to play
in reducing the vulnerability
of marginal groups to adverse
Through a series of empirical illustrations the chapter makes a convincing case for redefining disaster
as the necessary prelude to dealing
with it effectively. It demonstrates
how resource differentials determine the extent to which families are
affected by such events as cyclones
and droughts. Barring those who
are compelled by partisan financial
considerations to believe otherwise,
there is unlikely to be any objection
from anyone else to the view that
disaster is a function of underdevelopment, and that the magnitude
of destruction and loss is a reflection of just how many people
are unable to withstand the stress it
After having made this point
very successfully the book loses its
way. The problem with the book
begins a little before it reaches the
second chapter. While "risk", "disaster", and "vulnerability" are defined to give if a functional relevance to the holistic, community-
based approach, the authors omit
to provide a definition of what a
'community' is, let alone one that is
consistently unambiguous both
Disaster Communication; A
Resource Kit for Media
by Amjad Bhatti
Duryog Nivaran, Islamabad, 2002.
pp 260. ISBN 969 8702 00 8
reviewed by
T Mathew
practically and theoretically. The
idea of 'community' is amoebic since
the same group of people often constitute multiple communities with
different and sometimes contradictory interests. Unless defined in a
very precise way, the alternative
approach can flounder in the very
community through which it looks
to salvage disaster management. For
instance, the typical village 'community' is caste and class differentiated and the lowest in the community are those most vulnerable. Tak
ing this into account, does the alternative approach redefine community to mean only those most adversely affected? If so, how is it then to
overcome the obstacles placed by
the exploitative relationships in the
existing 'village community'? If not,
then how will it bring the oppressive institutions of the existing community to reorient itself into taking
an interest in the welfare of the very
people who they have themselves
reduced to poverty?
The other serious problem in the
early and more persuasive part of
the book is that it abstains from going into the real reason why the traditional attitude to disaster management persists in public policy. Not
all of it can be explained by ignorance, which is what the book aims
to dispel. If the line departments of
the government have a financial incentive in sticking to a discredited
paradigm, will providing a strategy for effective communication
make any difference to the future of
people who will continue to be affected by disaster under a rent-seeking regime? Until that question is
answered, the possibility of an effective strategy is precluded since
some way has to be found to undermine the pecuniary enticements that
sustain the orthodoxy.
In the course of the next four
chapters, which elaborate on the
role of the media in disaster communication, the book meanders
through an arcane information and
communication theory that is distinctly counterproductive if the aim
of the book is to improve the South
Asian media's coverage of disasters.
Chapters three, four and five are devoted to a miscellany of themes
which do not necessarily go well
together. There are cub reporter
guidelines on the structure of a succinct report, journalism school
abstractions about 'objective' reportage which are in real life often subverted by editorial diktats to the
contrary, simplified capsules on
how stories happen in the media,
and prescriptions on how disaster
should ideally be reported. All of
this is interspersed with excellent
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 material on the precise dynamics
of disaster news as it is currently
Had this media section of the
book abandoned communication
theory in favour of more of this kind
of a sociology of the media, the book
would have made excellent progress
in finding and prescribing ways in
which an effective disaster communication system can eventually be
established outside and against the
current set of vested interests in the
bureaucracy and the media. To
work out such a system it is necessary to dissect the anatomy of the
mass media and identify its limitations for the purposes of disaster
communication. That, unfortunately, the book fails to do. It is a matter
of some curiosity as to why a book
that has in it ail the potential for
collating and packaging a critique
of the mass media, ends up dissipating itself in the process of trying
to look sophisticated. This is the
main weakness of the book; its authors know right from wrong, but
do not seem to know to whom the
truth must be revealed. Is it the lay
public, is it the experienced journalist, the cub reporter, the development
professional, the policy maker? It
has something for everyone, but not
enough for each.
But there is a saving grace. The
tepid critique of the mass media and
the implicit faith in its potential to
address problems of disaster are
more than compensated for by excellent documentary material to illustrate various media responses
and motivations throughout the
world. It does appear that a more
uniformly empirical critique, at
which the authors of the book clearly excel, would have served a useful purpose in equipping publicists
of the alternative approach with
additional information. This is so
obviously the function of the last
section of the book, which is a
disaster dictionary-cum-statistical
abstract of disasters in South Asia.
The amount of information
packed in this book, though scattered randomly, is a clear enough
indication that it is publications like
this, rather than the mass media,
which are to be relied on as the first
source of information, the dissemination of which will call for the establishment of co-ordinating mechanisms for bringing together existing modes of mass communication
that do not belong to the mass media industry (locality, town and village networks of information that
exist but which are not co-ordinated). Reliance on the mass media is a
guaranteed assurance of failure.
the only things that the mass media takes up are well funded pulse
polio, hepatitis B and AIDS awareness campaigns. Notice that all of
them are preventive campaigns to
avoid disaster. Money makes all
things happen. ft
A centrally located hotel offering traditional tibetan hospitality.
Well-appointed guest rooms with
multi channel TV, telephone and the only rooftop restaurant
in the valley.
Come feel the warmth of TIBETAN hospitality.
PO Box: 101, Lake Side, Pardi, Pokhara, Nepal
Tel: 977-1-61-20853, 24553, 25153, Fax: 977-61-25206
To SubaScribe, contact:
Newsline Subscription Department
D-6. Block-9, Kehkashari, Clifton, Karachi Pakistan
Tel: 5873947 5873948 e-mail: newsHne@cyber.neLpk
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
Women for Afghan Women
edited by Sunita Mehra
Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2002
pp xiii+236, USD  13.95
ISBN  I 4039 6017 8
Edited by feminist Sunita Mehta, Women
for Afghan Women is a collection of 25
prose and poetry pieces, including  10
essays by Afghan women, exploring gender issues in
Afghanistan and in the Afghan diaspora. With contributions on religion and history, as well as on issues such as
health care and military intervention, the volume seeks to
provide a study of various themes with women as the
focal point. Most of the volume's contributions are by
writers who attended the inaugural conference of Women for Afghan Women, an NGO co-founded by Mehta, in
New York City in November 2001.
Travel Writing and the Empire
edited by Sachidananda Mohanty
Katha, New Delhi, 2003
pp xxi+185, INR 250
ISBN 81  87649 36 4
Travel writing during the British colonial
era, writes Sachidananda Mohanty,
"even when carried out under the guise
of a more honorific study and research, often concealed
a set of aims, objectives and agenda ulterior in motive".
Such writing, as well as travel writing in the postcolonial
world, has frequently been a "self-assuring" exercise for
visiting writers and one of internalising subjugation for
native residents. In this collection,  10 essayists approach
travel writing in the context of imperialism, from foreign
writers who "went native" to constructions of foreign
travel in India's vernacular languages and the "colonial
rhetoric" of present-day travel promotion.
India and South Asia: A Short
by David Ludden
Oneworld, Oxford, 2003
pp xii+306, USD 20.95
ISBN  I  85168 237 6
While chronologically organised along a
political-event timeline, this social history
of the Subcontinent is primarily concerned with the formation of collective identity, examined here principally through a 'constructivist' approach.
Noting that most contemporary historians no longer
view South Asia as possessing a singular narrative of its
past, but rather "many histories, with indefinite, contested origins and with countless separate trajectories",
Ludden describes and analyses the region's history with
frequent reference to the region's varied geography,
climate, cultural influences and human activities. Written
for the lay reader as part of the Oneworld 'Short History'
series, the work includes country profiles of the seven
modern nation-states of South Asia as well as a bibliography of more detailed historical reference works.
Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India's New Foreign Policy
By C Raja Mohan
Viking, New Delhi, 2003
pp xxii+321, INR 450
ISBN 0 67 004963 8
This book is an attempt at defining
India's position in the post-cold war
world, describing the country's principal foreign policy
concerns, and analysing its current approaches to and
future opportunities for international engagement. C Raja
Mohan, The Hindu's strategic affairs editor, argues that
India has been slowly breaking with its Nehruvian foreign
policy tradition since the mid-1980s, a process mostly
completed in the strategic outlook of the ruling Bharatiya
Janata Party, which has taken an aggressive stand on
nuclear weapons development and pursued close military
ties with the US. In chapters dealing with India's foreign
policy after non-alignment, its relations with Russia and
the West, its regional concerns vis-a-vis China and
Pakistan, and "diplomacy for the Second Republic",
Mohan argues that India has newfound confidence in its
approach to global affairs, having transited from a foreign
policy based on idealism to one grounded in pragmatism.
Hail     SON
Empire: The Rise and Demise of
the British World Order and the
Lessons for Global Power
by Niall Ferguson
Basic Books, New York. 2002
pp xxix+392, USD 35
ISBN 0 465 02328 2
Setting out not to write a conventional history of the
British empire, but instead a history of "Anglobalization",
Niall Ferguson examines the 400-year Anglo-American
project of spreading capitalism, colonising and settling
foreign territories, internationalising the English language,
propagating Protestantism, and developing and exporting
parliamentary structures. While admitting some of British
imperialism's faults, Ferguson takes a relatively positive
view of its role as a historical agent bringing change in
the world, and argues that the US "empire in denial"
should seek to emulate the "achievements" of its British
Compiled fay Deepak Thapa, Social Science Baha, Patan
Note to publishers: new titles can be sent to GPO Box 7251,
Kathmandu, Nepal. Books are mentioned in this section
before they are sent for detailed review.
2003 July 16/7 HIMAL
 The itch behind tbe egr
Ever since humans evolved into... humans, there
has been only one conclusion to draw when they
raise their hands to their ears. They are scratching
their ears. But visual cues are all mixed up in these
modern times. Now, when people seem to be scratching or massaging their ears, chances are they are
conversing on their mobiles. Cellphones have become
progressively smaller, so that they are invisible as the
hand covers the ear.
But Nepal is a country where people still by and
large scratch their ears, and, more importantly, behind their ears. Actually, this phenomenon that
seems peculiar (but may not be) to the to the general
region of the central Himalayan mid-hills is a physiological quirk that has gone unnoticed and unremarked by geneticists and scientists.
In Nepal, the condition is endemic. A bodily posture that is abjectly obsequious, head j
slightly bent, the eyes shiftily looking
downwards, only occasionally willing
to meet those of the protagonist. Then,
and let us have this in slow motion,
the right hand begins to move upwards, reaching up past the chest
and cheek. The forefinger extends
and reaches for a spot behind the
right ear, a little above the earlobe.
And there, the subject will begin a
continuous scratching, head held
slightly to the side all along.
This is not overall a posture and
specific gesture of humility, but one
of mediocrity married to inadequacy. It says to you, "What to do, we
are Nepali? This is the best we can
do. Kyarney?" It also can mean a
host of other similarly confessional and embarrassed
sentiments, such as:
"Sorry Mamu, I messed up the test because I went to
the mela".
"Yes boss, I faked the sick leave to go to my sister's
"Yes Mr Commissioner, I rigged the tendering process", 'ft ...
"Your Majesty, I just could not run this cabinet".
"Err, God, we sure have screwed up this country".
But mostly, the scratch-behind-the-ear gesture is
utilised to express this sentiment: "This is Nepal, so
second rate was good enough, I thought".
And so when conferences are organised, papers
are researched, classes are taught, development
projects are implemented, the nth five-year-plan is
drafted, and columns are written for the last pages of
magazines that have a needlessly superior sense of
self, the tendency is to take refuge ab initio in the
expectation of not making top grade. "Because we
happen to be Nepali, never colonised yes, but backward nonetheless, please do not have expectations of
us being world class".
This tendency to use mediocrity as a means to get
ahead in the world does not interest us at this juncture, but what is with the scratching!'! What is it that
generates a desire in the average Nepali to reach
behind his right ear and begin to scrape? Specifically,
is this a cultural trait or physiological reaction to
nerve-related stimuli behind the right earlobe?
If it is a cultural trait, then behavioralists must go
straight to its origins, trying to seek the particular
jjk       combination of historical and sociological factors that generated this habit. Do we know if
King Prithvi Narayan Shah scratched behind
his ears when he was defeated on Kirtipur
If it is a physiological proclivity, then the
need of the minute is to create a task force
consisting of the ablest South Asian neurosurgeons and neurologists to dig into
the skull behind the right ear to locate
the source of all this scratching.
It could not just be that all
Nepalis are dirty behind the ears,
for we have documentary proof that
Nepalis take baths. It is most likely
that there are indeed some nerve
u endings in this part of the scalp that
| help those who scratch get over
" feelings of inadequacy by giving
them the momentary ability to overcome embarrassment. It is logical to conclude that the way for the
nation to proceed in its development drive now is for
surgeons to neutralise the offending spot. Having
thus done away with the need to exhibit abject subservience, Nepalis of all walks, castes, creeds, ethnicities and regions will once again stand tall, talk back
to authority and donors, and begin to lift their country out of its continuously sorry state.
Meanwhile, do note that mediocrity is not a
Nepali monopoly in South Asia. Every SAARC
country's population, particularly its political
classes, exhibits similar tendencies      , / .    -^Z_
of accepting that second rate is /    j JIm/I
good enough. It would be impor-       lf/M$M
tant to know which part of the f"
body they scratch. /
HIMAL 16/7 July 2003
Major events leading to the emergence of Bangladesh
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"A 1
Dinajpur.     T
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i : \
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+ Site of violent clash between Bengalis
and Pakistani army, March 1-25,1971
* Site of Pakistani army "crackdown",
March 25-26
X Sites of major acts of Mukti Bahini
Area in which Mukti Bahini guerrillas were especially active
(partly inferential)
B 100,000 refugees      a 25,000 refugees
(Based on Indian govt, figures; refugee
total to Dec. 3,1971 est. at 9,700,000
• Sitesof Indo-Pakistani border clashes
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government in exile.
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of government response
provides a major cause
for eastern opposition
m martial law regime.
3-17 DEC
Indian offensive
Pakistani offensive
Bogra          Place taken by India
prior to ceasefire
Chamb        Place taken by Pakistan
Lqngewajla Place won, then
lost by Pakistan
Area taken and held by
India (in west only)
Area taken and held
by Pakistan
Bombed by India
(shown only in west)
Bombed by Pakistan
Indian naval bombardment
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^ox's* Bazar
50        0 100 Miles h\
50   0
Size: 10.(10-20-16PR
Uses: BuaTmck
Sim: 9.00-2D-16PR
Uses: BusfTKick
Uses: Bus,Tn]& ■_
Uses: Bus/Tnjck 	
Uses: Mini BusQEep
Marketing Office:
P.O.Box No.: 1700, Kalimati, Kathmandu
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