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Himal South Asian Volume 17, Number 5, May 2004 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2004-05

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Undo the
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The life and work of a humanist
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 Vol 17 No 5
May 2004
O    N    T    E    N    T   S
Finders keepers losers weepers
by Jehan Perera
Compromise and cohabitation
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
'Monolith India' and the vote bank
by Syed Alt Mujtaba
Satyajit's Sansar
by Partha Chatterjee
Divorce and the market economy
by Stroma A Chatter}}
Dialogue between Shia and Sunni
IZ • ■ by Muhammad Zakir Khan
A 'primitive' national policy
by Sudhirendar Sharma
India, the GM-trashbin
by Devinder Sharma
CBD: The unmaking of a treaty
by S Faizi
The Dam and the Tribal
by Subir Bhaumik
Replicating Kerala and Sri Lanka
by Zulflqar BhuWaf Samiran
Nundy and Kamran Abbasi
• The theological 'other'
* Kashmiriyat and Islam
by Yogiiider Sikand
The empire of reckless
by CK La!
Contributors to this issue
Kanak Mani Dixit
Assistant Editor
Joe Thomas K
Contributing Editors
Calcutta   Rajashri D.gsgupta
Colombo    Marukde Silva
■Dhaka       .Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi     Beena Sarwar
new delm   Mitu Varma
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Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
CK La! is columnist with the weekly Nepali Times.
Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst, chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for
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S Faizi is a consultant ecologist based in Trivandrum.
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THE GENERAL elections in Sri Lanka in
the first week of April 2004 have revealed
Sri Lanka to be a fragmented polity, both
politically and ethnically. The main political casualty has been Ranil Wickrama-
singhe's United National Party (UNP),
which sought to lead the country to ethnic
peace through compromise. The election
results generally indicate that the UNP failed
to keep its traditional urban Sinhala
Buddhist middle-class base. The main
electoral beneficiaries have been the parties
that espoused ethnic nationalism without
compromise. Foremost among these would
be the Jana Vimukthi Perumana (JVP),
which overshadowed its larger partner the
Peoples Alliance, with JVP candidates
getting on top of the list of candidates elected
with the highest preferences in the United
Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The JVP
took an uncompromising stance against the
peace process and the concessions made to
the LTTE. In the north-east the LTTE's proxy
party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA),
swept the polls among the Tamil voters
decimating its opponents, by virtue of LTTE
assassinations and intimidation, by vote
rigging and also quite possibly by choice.
The exit
The fact that the UNP fell into third place
behind both the UPFA and the JHU in the
suburbs of Colombo suggests that the
Buddhist monks broke into the UNP's vote
bank, rather into the UPFA's, as had been
anticipated. The leeching away of the UNP's-
middle-class base cannot be attributed solely
to economic factors. Much seems attributable to the unhappiness with the concessions
made to Tamil nationalism in the course of
the peace process by the UNP.
The most important lacuna in the UNP
government was the aloofness of its top
leadership from the concerns of the
Sinhalese masses, whether in respect of the
peace process or economic hardships. The
perception of rigidity with which the UNP
government sought to implement structural
adjustment requirements, such as cutting
back on welfare and agriculture subsidies,
served to alienate the people from the
government. For instance, the government
preferred to repay the Treasury's overdraft
of SLR 38 billion that it inherited from the
previous government in 2001, and bring it
down to SLR 5 billion at the time of the
present elections, rather than use the money
for the people's direct welfare. This decision
and others similar to it were justified on
the basis of good governance, and were
supported by the technocrats of the
international donor community. But what
was technically and economically a sound
strategy was politically a disastrous one.
The people wanted the economic benefits
of peace immediately as they were poor and
hungry, rather than wait for a future that
might never come.
Where the peace process was concerned,
the UNP failed to explain itself adequately
to the populace. This was repeatedly told
to the members of the erstwhile government
by activists from civil society, who
had many years of experience in
working directly with the people.
But the government seemed to think
that the people would experience
the fruits of peace for themselves,
and find them very good. When the
economic peace dividends did not
materialise in the way the people
anticipated, the UNP government
should have gone to the people and
explained the complexity of the
situation. Instead, the UNP government seemed to want to leave this
to civil society organisations, which
were unequal to the task.
Time for goodbyes.
The leeching away
of the UNP's
seems attributable
to the unhappiness with the
made to Tamil
nationalism in the
course of the
peace process
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
 All smiles: President
Chandrika Kumaratunga
at the vote.
The challenge to
the new government will be to find
the resources to
pay for the gigantic
bill that its promises add up to.
The LTTE also did much to
erode the credibility of the UNP
gover-nment by smuggling in
weapons, recruiting children-,
assassinating its political opponents and the government's intelligence agents, and by boycotting
the peace talks. Finally by coming
up with an interim administration
proposal for the north-east that
had no role in it for the central
government, the LTTE opened the
door to President Chandrika
Kumaratunga to take control of the
defence ministry and dissolve
Parliament in February 2004, a full
four years before completion of its
term. Now in negotiating with the
UPFA, the LTTE will find that their
hardline stance will have to be
replied to with its own hardline
stance. All this, to the likely
detriment of the peace process.
The entry
There were three main promises made by
the UPFA during its election campaigns. The
first was to take a harder bargaining
position in dealing with the LTTE. Second,
to provide quick economic relief to the
people. And third, to change the constitution. Unless it delivers soon on its
promises, the new UPFA government will
be found wanting by those who believed in
their promises. Going by the results of these
initial few weeks and public pronouncements, the priority task of the new
government appears to be to redraft the
The start for the UPFA government have
not been easy.. Its two main component
parties, President Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka
Freedom Party (SLFP) and the JVP, continue
to be at loggerheads over the allocation of
ministerial portfolios and government
departments. A power struggle such as this
is perhaps inevitable in any new relationship between two powerful parties.
What may make the differences
harder to resolve is that both the
SLFP and JVP are advocates of hard
There is in fact an irony in the
new government's initial approach
to the LTTE. Despite their criticism
of the former government, the UPFA
combine has behaved in much the
same way in its dealing with the
LTTE split in the east (after Karuna, the
eastern commander broke away from the
Tigers in March). Sections of Sinhalese
opinion, reflected in the media as well,
demanded that the government should
exploit the differences within the LTTE, and
seek to make the break in its ranks a
permanent one. But the new government did
not take any such action. It did not even to
try to enforce the ceasefire agreement which
the LTTE violated in mobilising its troops
for combat with the breakaway group.
On providing immediate economic relief
to the people, among the UPFA's promises
was increasing the salary of public sector
employees by 70 percent, creating 30,000
new jobs, and subsidising farmers and
other needy groups ■— all of this within the
space of three months. Numerous studies
have shown that the economy is the most
important issue to people outside the war
zones of the north-east. The UPFA was
politically astute in capitalising on this
reality, but now it faces the challenge of
delivering on the promises. The challenge
to the new government will be to find the
resources to pay for the gigantic bill that the
promises add up to. The largest cost, by far,
would be to increase the salaries of the
public sector employees, who number one
million. Either the government will have to
cut government expenditures elsewhere, or
it will have to raise new revenues from
Sri Lanka's public sector is the largest
in the world, in relation to the size of its
population. Most of those who work in the
public sector are paid salaries inadequate
for dignified maintenance of family and the
self. The December 2001 Tissa Devendra
Commission recommended salary increases
coupled with a phased reduction in the
numbers employed in the government
sector. While this would have made the
increase in the salary bill an affordable one
to the Treasury, the new government is
promising both a large salary increase and
a further increase in the size of the public
The question is of finding the additional
funds to honour the promises. The government has no savings in the Treasury that
can be used, as the annual budget deficit is
8 percent. In order to borrow locally or
internationally, the government will have
to renegotiate agreements with the international financial institutions. While the
government has a sophisticated negotiator
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
in Sarath Amunugama, the new finance
minister, who is an advocate of hard
bargaining, whether he can convince the
international lenders that spending more
money on salaries and subsidies is good
economics remains to be seen. The financial
and economic skills of the new leadership
are yet to be proven.
The difficulties that the new government
is experiencing in delivering on its promises
with regard to the LTTE and the economy
may be the reason why its main area of
advocacy and propaganda at this time is
constitutional change, which requires a two-
thirds majority in Parliament. At the recently
concluded general election, the UPFA
obtained 46 percent of the popular vote and
won 105 seats out of 225 in Parliament. It
certainly does not have the required
majority on its own, and not even a simple
majority. However, achieving two-thirds
majority is not an impossible task. The
consensual manner in which the 17th
Amendment to the constitution (to make
provisions for the Constitutional Council
and Independent Commissions) was passed
in Parliament in October 2001 would
indicate this. But it is also true that if
constitutional change is seen by other
political parties to have a partisan dimension to it, they are unlikely to support it.
And indeed, the UPFA's attempt to tinker
with the constitution is coming across as a
partisan effort to serve its interests rather
than those of the country as a whole. So far,
no political party represented in Parliament
outside the UPFA has welcomed the proposed scheme of constitutional change. On
the contrary, they have questioned the
appropriateness of focusing on the issue of
the executive presidency.
The UPFA's constitutional proposals had
not been finalised at the time of writing.
However, it is said to envisage, as a first
step, the abolition of the executive
presidency and changing the electoral
system. But the issue that has divided the
country is the ethnic conflict and not the
executive presidency or the electoral system.
It is therefore the ethnic conflict that needs
to receive priority in the UPFA's scheme of
things. After all, the ethnic conflict pre-dates
the executive presidency. It was in 1977,
under the prime ministerial system of the
1972 Constitution that the Tamil United
Liberation Front (TULF) asked for its
mandate for Tamil Eelam. There is no doubt
that the priority issue for the UPFA in its
initiative for constitutional change should
be the need for a federal system of governance. As changing the constitution is
about changing the sovereign law of the
country, the representatives of all ethnic
communities need to participate in the
making of the new document. Whether or
not there should be an executive presidency
in a federal system can be considered at the
same time. £
-Jehan Perera
GEORGE W Bush and General Pervez
Musharraf are reportedly good friends.
They are also both, at least apparently, on
the hot-seat. George Bush is dealing with
the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq,
with resistance to the American occupation
growing by the day. Meanwhile, Musharraf
has opened himself up on many fronts -
from the National Security Council (NSC)
(chaired by the president, the council gives
the military a legal role in governance with
powers of vetting decisions affecting
national 'interest') to refusing to commit to
taking off his uniform at the end of the year
- and therefore remains under intense pressure and scrutiny. Bush
and his team of neo-cons continue
to harp on Musharraf's stellar
performance since September 11,
while Musharraf continues to do
America's bidding, the recent
'successful' 12-day military offensive in South Waziristan (on the
The structuring of
the NSC once and
for all will
institutionalise the
army's grip over
state affairs.
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Do we have a general
or president?
border with Afghanistan) the most visible
On the whole, the victimisation of
political opponents that the Musharraf
government has engaged in consistently
since its takeover four and a half years ago
has remained largely outside the purview
of criticism from the Bush administration.
As a gesture of tokenism, the LS State
Department did issue a statement expressing "regret" at the sentencing of
prominent opposition leader Javed Hashmi
- also the Alliance for Restoration of
Democracy (ARD) president and staunch
critic of Musharraf's 1999 coup - to 23 years
in jail with hard labour. Similarly, as most
other pliant allies of the United States have
done, Musharraf's government has tiptoed
around the flagrant violations of democratic
and human ethics that have characterised
US actions in the war on terror.
Ironically, while Bush could be ousted
from the White House by the popular vote
come November, Musharraf remains largely
unaccountable to anyone within Pakistan.
Perhaps more importantly, the geo-political
situation in Southwest Asia and the
strategic needs of the United States -
regardless of whether Bush is in power or
not - is what is likely to be the determinant
of Musharraf's fate.
Despite the unquestionably frightening
amount of power that he wields, Bush is
dealing with burgeoning crises, including
the unprecedented rise in price of petroleum. Meanwhile, his initiatives in Iraq and
Afghanistan, undertaken precisely to
maintain the preposterous levels of cheap
oil consumption in the US, are beginning
at long last to backfire drastically. Then
there are the continuing accusations that a
lot more was known about September 11
than has been consistently claimed over the
past two and-a-half years. Levels of dissent
within the United States remain abnormally
high, even if not immediately visible
through the prism of the mainstream media.
As Bush plunges into his re-election bid,
The 12 days of South Waziristan
HOME TO a population of
under a million (mostly Pashtoon), the hilly .and mountainous region of South Waziristan in Pakistan shares an 80
kilometre-long border with
Afghanistan. Seen as a largely
anarchic region, it was in the
news recently when a military
offensive was launched by
Pakistani security forces starting 16 March to capture Al-
Qaeda militants, mostly
Chechen, Uzbek and Arab,
along with supportive local
tribesmaen suspected of hiding
Forces from the Pakistani
a%my and the Frontier Corps
Uased heavy artillery and gun-
ship helicopters in the 50 sq
km area near the regional
capital of Wana, around the
villages of Schin Warsak,
Daza Gundai, Kalusha, Ghaw
Khawa and Kari Kot. The
firepower from the side of the
militants was equally heavy,
leaving 16 paramilitary troops
dead on the first day. At the
end of the 12-day operation
63 milit.ants, mostly Chechen
and Uzbek, 93 Pakistani tribesmen and 73 'foreigners'
had been killed. The 'successful' operation left 46 military
and paramilitary troops dead
and another 26 injured. Faux
intelligence inputs regarding big 'catches' from the
Al-Qaeda were seen to have
triggered off the entire
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
one feels that Musharraf will play a
significant role in determining his fate. The
much awaited captures of Mullah Omar and
Osama bin Laden will have much to do with
Musharraf's resolve, which, as has been
proven in Waziristan, is not lacking. But
Musharraf has problems of his own, and
continues to create more for himself even as
he seeks desperately to consolidate his hold
on power. Between the NSC and the uniform
issue, at least one thing has become reassuringly clear to Musharraf and his aides -
that the mullahs are now firmly on board
and are definitely not inclined to rock the
boat. And given the absence of any other
popular political force on the scene,
Musharraf might even consider himself to
be sitting pretty.
And why not? The structuring of the
NSC once and for all will institutionalise the
army's grip over state affairs. The ruling
Pakistan Muslim League-Q and the defectors from the Pakistan People's Party that
helped create the present majority in
parliament required to form a government,
have conveniently insisted that Musharraf
stay in uniform. And for the time being, the
overseas imperial power is patronising the
army with no holds barred. The Musharraf
bandwagon, meanwhile, keeps rolling
along with more and more turncoats and
opportunists jumping on board. Incredibly,
there are now over 20 sitting ministers in
the federal cabinet, not to mention the fact
that each provincial cabinet is also bursting
at the seams. The rationale is straightforward — in exchange for support this
government needs to continue creating
patronage-distribution opportunities for
'independents' and opposition deserters. It
hardly matters that there is absolutely no
need for state ministers for every second
portfolio. Furthermore, there is the burden
on the national exchequer of the inordinate
number of sitting ministers. Rather than
dismantling the decadent, patronage-based
political culture that prevails in the country,
the Musharraf years have in fact reinforced
it to a very large extent.
Jamali & Co.
Of course, none of this is happening without
the support and international 'legitimacy'
that the Bush administration has provided
Musharraf, in spite of major potential crises
such as the Qadeer Khan nuclear proliferation fiasco ('Inside the nuclear closet',
March-April 2004 Himal). What concerns
the principled few who continue to demand
democratisation of state and society in
Pakistan is the possibility that, sooner or
later, a far more convincing political face
than that of Prime Minister lamali & Co. will
be restored to the seat of government because
of the imperatives of international 'legitimacy' - to be dictated by the United States,
of course. In particular, Benazir Bhutto's
Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the only large
political party in this country that has
actively refrained from criticising the US in
recent times, would be the most obvious
candidate to take on this job if and when
the need arises.
But then, as they say this is deja vu all
over again! The political elite of Pakistan
have always settled for second best at the
hands of the army, and there should be little
doubt that this dynamic has ensured that
both the political process and the people of
Pakistan remain in suspended animation
as the economic and power elite cohabit
with the military. The political elite may be
completely unrepresentative of the people
of this country, but it is definitely more
representative than a hierarchical institution such as the army ever can
be, which is why it needs to be
brought in and compromised.
Regardless of how strong or weak
the opposition to military rule has
been, Pakistan's political elite have
never wilfully challenged the
army's monopoly over state affairs
when perhaps it could. In the
1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in spite
of coming to power riding the crest
Catching up with the
Rather than dismantling the decadent, patronage-
based political
culture, the
Musharraf years
have reinforced it.
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
The political elite
may be completely unrepresentative of the
people of Pakistan, but it is
definitely more
than a hierarchical institution
such as the army.
of an anti-establishment wave, gave the army
the option to come back into the political
fold after the ignominy of East Pakistan. In
1988, his daughter Benazir had the option
to defy the military establishment after
returning to mainstream politics on the back
of considerable popular support, but she too
compromised at an early stage of her
comeback, thereby setting the stage for the
debacle of the 1990s.
On this occasion, should Bush — or John
Kerry depending on the outcome of the
November presidential election in the US —
decide that the image of Musharraf's
military rule needs to be tempered by the
populist liberalism of Benazir's PPP, some
might consider this a victory for democracy.
But it would not be, because once again
Pakistani political elite would be
compromising basic democratic
principles to come to power. And
what kind of power would the PPP
wield in such a dispensation? The
situation since October 2002 has
provided a glimpse of just how
independent puppet civilian rule is.
So let us hope that Pakistan's
politicians do not make a mess of
things again. Not because they are
"bloody civilians" as military masters are so keen to categorise those
who are not privileged enough to
wear a uniform. Not because their
supposed constituents - the people
- compel them to make a mess of
things. But because they are shortsighted, opportunists, and because their class
interests simply do not permit them to do any
differently- It is not often that the nexus
between global imperialism, the state elite
and multinational capital is exposed in the
manner that it has been over the past two
years (Tauji's foundation', November 2003
Himal). Ordinary Pakistanis have come to
realise that the army is hardly the country's
great defender as it claims to be, but should
the PPP be so foolish as to come back to power
at the behest of the United States, the army
will once again get itself out of a very tight
jam. ^
-Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
VOTE BANK politics has come to become
an Indian reality and democracy in India
has come to be the fine art of balancing
different vote banks with very little exception. Some political parties may openly
denounce the politics of cultivating vote
banks but overtly or covertly they practice it
in their own constituencies, for political
survival and advancement.
It has been said that democratic processes would put an end to India's unique
divisions, which were wilfully exploited by
the colonial masters to perpetuate their rule.
It was reasoned that periodic elections
would gradually diminish the divisions
based on caste, creed and religion. However,
in the process of empowering the masses,
democracy has sharpened the diversity by
transforming them into vote banks and
important 'variables' in the political process.
The trend is most prominent in caste
categories within the majority Hindu
community. Political parties exploit the
aspirations of caste groups which differ from
one another, or are at least made to think
that they differ in significant ways. In fact,
many political parties have become synonymous with certain caste categories. The
Bahujan Samaj party and the Samajwadi
party in Uttar Pradesh represent 'lower' and
intermediary castes as do the Dalit Panthers
of India (DPI) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 (PMK) in Tamil Nadu
Religion is the other broad category on
which hinges the survival of several
political parties. The leading party of the
ruling National Democratic Alliance, the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is primarily a
Hindu party trying to market Hinduism in
the cloak of nationalism. Even its secular
face is Hindutva. The Akali Dal in Punjab
and the Muslim League in Kerala espouse
the cause of the Sikhs and Muslims interests
at the provincial level.
Language is another category in the
diversity among the peoples of India.
Various political parties have cultivated
linguistic constituencies. The Telugu Desam
Party (TDP) in .Andhra Pradesh, the Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All
India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
(A1ADMK) in Tamil Nadu, as well as the
Assam Gon Parishad in Assam, all flaunt
their linguistic constituencies.
The other category for political mobilisation is ethnicity. The Jharkhand Mukti
Morcha (JMM) in the tribal-dominated
Jharkhand and some other political parties
in the Northeast and the hills and tribal
regions elsewhere have ethnic groups as
their vote banks. Provincialism also forms
the basis of political divisions with political
parties like the Shiv Sena, DMK, AIADMK,
Biju Janta Dal, Assam Gon Prashid,
Haryana Vikas Party being province-based
political parties. Then there are parties
which have farmers as their constituency.
Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar
Pradesh and Om Prakash Chautala's
Harayana Vikas Party fall in this category.
The left parties, CPI .and CPI (M), are
ideology-based political entities and have
a committed ideological cadre as their .
constituency. West Bengal, Kerala and
TripuTa are the few states where these
parties are strong.
Centrifugal forces
Even during the British days there existed
the religious, the left, the pro-Raj, the pro-
worker, the pro-farmer, and the pro-landed
class political parties, among many others,
which espoused the cause of these myriad
groups thus creating their separate vote
banks. The general elections in 1936 and
1946 brought to fore the choices of vote banks
for different political parties in India.
The Congress, which had a pivotal role
in the freedom struggle, was the natural
choice of many Indians for at least the first
three general elections after Independence.
The Congress vote bank comprised upper
caste Hindus, Dalits and Muslims. The
party had a smooth run till 1967, when for
the first time it lost its majority not in one
but in nine states of the country. That year
is considered to be a watershed in Indian
politics. Since then two sets of political
forces emerged in India - one that challenged the all-India supremacy of the Congress
and the other that tried to break free from
the centralised structure of the state.
In fact, from 1967 onwards there has
been a tug-of-war going on in Indian
politics. Would political parties with
overarching all-India characteristics govern
the country or would regional satraps forge
linkages to run the affairs of the country?
The trajectory that has been emerging of late
reveals that all the parties ruling at the
centre have had to accommodate parties and
groups representing different regional
constituencies through coalition
The first non-Congress government was formed in 1977 - a
coalition of several parties led
by the Janata Party, an offshoot
of popular socialist leader Ram
Manohar Lohia's Socialist
Party. The hotchpotch coalition
had sprung to challenge the
supremacy of Indira Gandhi's
Congress. It even included the
BJP that emerged out of the Jan
Sangh (formed in 1967 to represent Hindu aspirations).
Since    1967,    parties    have
Drill it in!
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Wik Z
Hema Malini, 55, is
one of the BJP's.
Even during the
British days there
existed the religious, the left, the
pro-Raj, the pro-
worker, the pro-
farmer, and the
pro-landed class
political parties.
emerged left and right of the centre at the
national level, and a flurry of political
parties have come up at the regional and
provincial level. The Shiv Sena in
Maharastra, the Asam Gon Parishad in
Assam, the Telugu Desam party in Andhra
Pradesh mentioned earlier are some of
The other phase of political development began at the national level with the
rise of the BJP since 1984 in the country. The
party began cultivating the majority Hindu
vote bank by espousing the cause of the
Hindus of the country. It attacked the
Congress for pampering minorities and
cultivated its own constituency on the anti-
Muslim platform.
The National Front government led by
VP Singh, which drew inspiration from the
Janata Party of 1977 and the Socialist Party
of 1967, came up in a big way in 1989 by
widening the net of the vote bank to other
caste categories. Thus the M,andal Commission report which allowed 27 percent
reservation for OBCs in government jobs in
that year was another watershed event in
Indian politics. As a result of the
implementation of the Mandal
report, intermediate castes tike
Yadavs and Kurmis came into the
forefront in the Ganga plain.
Parties like the Samajwadi Party,
the Bahujan Samaj Party, the
Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar
Pradesh, the Rashtriya Janta Dal
and the Samata Party in Bihar
and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa
are all post-Mandal offspring.
The United Front government
led by Deve Gowda in 1996 was yet another
attempt by left of centre forces to govern the
country. The United Front government had
regional and provincial coalition partners
such as the TDP and DMK which played the
major role in holding power at the centre in
New Delhi. The formation of the National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1998 led by ?
the BJP reinforces the evolution in Indian
politics where regional and local political
parties are increasing their influence at the
national level by forging alliances with
national parties to form governments at the
While it is difficult to predict whether
national parties will be overtaken by
combinations, of provincial parties, all
political parties will continue to draw
sustenance from diverse categories within
the Indian electorate. There is no end in sight
to the phenomena of vote bank politics in
India. As new groups come forward to
demand space in politics, the creation of
new vote banks is an accelerating process.
There is emerging consciousness among
various marginalised groups to get united
in the course of political mobilisation.
The result is the emergence of newer
political parties to espouse the cause of the
differentiated, and often marginalised, of
India. The fate of democracy is thus
entwined with vote banks. However, in the
process of new vote banks being created, it
is also true that narrow and parochial
agendas are gaining an upper hand even
as the broad all-India vote banks lose
ground. In the mushrooming of local-
regional political parties some would see
Indians discovering their political identity,
with local and regional considerations
gaining ground and it being harder to tie
down voters as 'monolith Indians'? The
answers open up a big debate ■— is India is
a nation or a nation of nations. Political
developments point to the latter. t>
-Syed AH Mujtaba
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
There is more to the man than
his films. Satyajit Ray's philosophy towards life and inter-personal relationships is etched in
each frame of his movies, which
eventually made him the prototypical Southasian humanist
by Partha Chatterjee
Satyajit Ray's Father Panchali (The Song of The Lit
tie Road, 1955), was the turning point: in Indian- -
cinema. Before it, songs and villains were the two:
staples of Hindi commercial films of Bombay, and those•
in the other regional languages. If the lead characters ■
known as the hero and the heroin felt happy, sad^ perplexed or just foot-loose they burst into song. This cour-,
tesy was sometimes extendedto other supporting players, usually to comment on the. action of the plot- Then
of course, there was the story, if it .could atal! be called
that, hinged on the principle of blame. The characters ;
were puppets in the hands of fate and its agents usu-;
ally other members of the immediate or extended fam-' ■'
ily or their own social group or quite anotheKThe par--'
rative was usually inspired by elements fromtwo.'ep-.:
jcs, Mahabharata and Ramayana, In short,: Indian cineH ■
ma before the advent of Satyajit W^'fb&-theatre'in"
"film that drew sustenance from htyth, legend and:reli- •
gion-      ■"■'■'.■'77 '■'' 7 7''■''''Z':'''::'■
There had hardly been a,more auspicious film debut anywhere since Orson Welles' epoclvraakitig firsts
pi Citizen Kane in 1941/ whichdid him: mors 'harm;:
n good — a masterpiece at 26 and-a;life-in exile :
ce 1950, resulting from specious charges :of: extrav-:
an.ce and intransigence made by: PtollywodcL But;
Satyajit's career graph was the exact Opposite: growing appreciation and fame,:-a'deputation" .foi^ always ;
completing a project well within a frugal .budget, con-
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
sistently making a reasonable profit for his producers
and sometimes even more as in the case of eight of his
films. Even the versatile and gifted Francois Truffaut of
the French New-Wave who made as effective a first
feature film as Four Hundred Blows {'Les Quatre cents
Coups') in 1959 as did his iconoclast colleague Jean
Luc Goddard a year earlier with Breathless (A boute de
souffle'), could hardly have matched the sheer maturity of Father Panchali.
The debut film was adapted from Bibhuti Bhushan
Bandopahyaya's poetic saga of Bengali rural life in the
early 1900s. The sprawling novel was pruned by the
fledgling script writer, its essence retained with unusual skill. Satyajit had written a couple of feature film
scripts earlier including the very 'Hollywoodish' - his
own word - adaptation of Tagore's Home and the World
or Ghare-Baire which he was to direct late in his career.
There were no songs in Father Panchali or, for that matter, villains. Life with its ebbs and flows and its enduring majesty was the real hero on screen. The tragedies
and the lighter moments in the lives of the members of
an impoverished Brahmin family had a truthfulness
all had to graduate via lesser works to a truly ambitious one. Even Goddard, Truffaut and Rohmer had
made shorts before they did longer fiction films. dRay
was the only one who had never directed a film of any
kind before.
As a boy and then later he had been a good still
photographer. Along with Hari S Dasgupta, the America-returned pupil of the great Jean Renoir and another
friend, Chidananda Dasgupta, Satyajit helped found
the Calcutta Film Society in 1948, They screened foreign, mainly Russian classics. This experience supplemented the avid film-watching, usually of Hollywood
fare in the earlier years. Then on a 1949 trip to London
at the behest of his employers DJ Keymer, a prominent
English advertising agency based in India, he saw 99
films in three months. Vittorio de Sica's neo-realist masterpiece The Bicycle Thieves made a deep impression
and helped him choose filmmaking as his vocation in
Satyajit had, in 1950, been an observer on the sets of
the Hindi film Mashaal (The Torch), directed by his famous cousin Nitin Bose in Bombay for matinee idol
Apur Sansar (1959)
rarely seen in cinema. Time and its passage, a cardinal
principle of the medium, were captured with unusual
fidelity. The film's Wordsworthian tone, however unintentional, struck a chord in the hearts of Western audiences particularly in England and America. At home,
too, Father Panchali was a success with audiences in
Calcutta even before it was awarded the prize for "The
Best Human Documenf at the 1956 Cannes film festival. A young master had sprung full-grown from the
head of Jove.
Panegyrics aside, it is necessary to point out that no
other director had made a film of such quality without
an actual apprenticeship in the craft of cinema. Ingmar
Bergman had to direct 17 films before he made the excellent comedy Smiles on a Summer Night in 1956. Similarly, Fellini, Antonioni, Rossellini, de Sica, Ford,
Renoir, Hawks, IVIizoguchi, Murnau, Ophuls, Lang, Kurosawa, Ozu, Lubitsch, Hitchcock, Bresson and Resnais
Devi (1960)_
Ashok Kumar's production company Filmistan. He
wrote in the same year the script for A Perfect Day, an
unusual ad film directed by Hari S Dasgupta, in which
the consumption of a packet of Deluxe Tenor cigarettes
is depicted with humour and, in the end, surreal wit.
Those were more leisurely times and any product could
be promoted on screen over 10 minutes as opposed to
today's 30 seconds. The director had graciously allowed his inexperienced friend to attend the shooting
and editing of the film to help him get a feel of the medium. Later in the years of celebrity he wrote for Dasgupta the scripts for two prestigious documentaries: the
first a 50 minute Technicolor extravaganza for the Tatas
that showed the production of steel at fhe comp.any's
plant in Jamshedpur and, the second, on the necessity
of immunisation sponsored by Sandoz, the famous
Swiss pharmaceutical company. These were not really
written for money but as gratitude to a friend who had
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 helped him gather first-hand experience of cinema. Earlier, as chief assistant director on Renoir's The River shot in Barrackpore, near Calcutta, Dasgupta had introduced Satyajit to the great man, Dasgupta
achieved eminence as a documen-
tarist and had made a poetic, Flaherty-like reconstruction of a Bengali village bride's return home for
the annual Durga Pooja celebration.
The film, Panchthupi, had a seminal
influence and indeed was the inspiration for Father Panchali.
The only cinematic exercise the
young Satyajit had undergone on
his own was a vivid, accurate story
board in ink and brush for a proposed documentary on the sitar virtuoso Ravi Shanker. His powers of
observation were apparent even
then, as was his understanding of
music. He drew the finger positions
on the sitar correctly to suggest the
particular note being played in each
frame. Ray's first film marked the
beginning of other people's careers
as well. The original choice to do
the camera, Nemai Ghosh, a card-
carrying communist, had had to
leave Calcutta for Madras to earn a
living after the Communist Party of
India had been banned. Subrata Mitra, later to win enormous admiration from fellow professionals, especially abroad, had at age 21 never operated a cine camera before. He
had been an observer on Renoir's
The River and impressed the unit
with his meticulously maintained
fighting diary. As a still photographer, he had shown a flair for
composition. A tyro director had
talked a fellow tyro much younger
than himself into filming a full-
length feature!
Bansi Chandragupta, the art director, had assisted Eugene Lourie
on the Renoir film and brought his
newly acquired knowledge of set
construction and dressing to his
first independent assignment,
which had to have almost all its sets
built on location in a village near
Calcutta. The end result was, in retrospect, exceptional. Dulal Dutta,
the editor, was the only full-time
professional in the team. Ravi
Shanker came back after the fine cut
to create a haunting background
score. The sitar for the famous scene
of the sweet seller being followed by
Apu, his sister Durga and a dog was
actually played by the cameraman
Subrata Mitra. Amongst the actors,
only Kanu Banerjee (Apu and Dur-
ga's Brahmin priest father), Chuni-
bala Devi (Indir Thakur, the aged
relative) and Tulsi Chakravarti
(Prasanna, the village grocer-cum
school teacher) were trained professionals.
Satyajit's first venture set him off
on a path of continuous artistic and
commercial success. His films, modestly budgeted even by Indian standards, always earned money steadily for the producers over the long
term. Tarun Majumdar, the very
competent Bengali commercial filmmaker, always thought of his illustrious senior as the most bankable
of Bengali directors, a man who succeeded in the international art
house circuit and in the commercial
set-up of Bengal, particularly Calcutta. This was possible because of
the lucidity of expression in Satyajit's work that reached a wide variety of people. Subtlety in his case
was a help and not a hindrance,
contrary to the beliefs ofthe film distributors of Bombay who sabotaged
the run of Sliatranj Ke Khilari despite
a respectable showing in Delhi and
Lucknow: but that was much later,
in 1977. The accessibility of his
work meant continuous dignified
employment and a middle-class existence, relatively free from financial
It was a lonely life, though, with
hardly a confidante to share his
ideas with. The quick disappearance of the uniquely gifted Ritwik
Ghatak (see Himal, November 2003)
from the film scene was to Satyajit a
personal loss. Between 1952 and '62
Ghatak had directed six films, and
four of them, namely Ajaantrik,
Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar
and Subarnarekha, were destined to
stand the test of tune as was his penultimate film Titash Ekti Nadir Naam,
made in 1972. Ritwik died of alcoholism and penury four years later.
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
 Satyajit felt his absence continuously and said so in a long interview given in the early Seventies to Calcutta, a
fine but short-lived magazine devoted to culture.
Satyajit and Ritwik were the two
masters in Indian cinema born out of
the nation-building energies inspired
by the freedom struggle. Both possessed a healthy eclecticism and were
clearly benefited by their knowledge
of the English language. At the same
time, each was rooted in the Bengali
ethos and became a fine writer of Bengali prose (Ghatak, mainly in his early and late twenties and Satyajit in
middle-age and later). Unlike his
friend, Satyajit wrote his published
prose exclusively for the teenager.
Father Panchali (1955)
by Victor Banerjee.
It was time to accept the fact that
the mind was tiring sooner than
before, because the body could no
longer take the strain of a punishing work schedule Satyajit had
maintained without  a  second
thought since his mid-twenties.
Apart from writing the script of his
films and composing the music, he
directed and held the camera. Then
there was the additional responsibility of publishing Sandesh since
its revival in 1961. The very entertaining and informative children's
magazine had enjoyed immense
popularity under the stewardship
of his late father, Sukumar Ray,
who gave it stature immediately
after the Great War of 1914-18 until his untimely death
in 1923. Satyajit, 38 years later, roped in friends to write
and himself devised games and puzzles for the magazine and tried various stratagems to keep the costs
down.    Inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal
detective Sherlock Holmes and his indefatigable assis-
    tant Dr. Watson, Satyajit created the
private investigator Pradosh Mitter,
A.K.A. Feluda and his juvenile assistant Topshey to amuse middle
and early senior school kids. Every
year a who-done-it featuring this
duo appeared like clock-work to coincide with the Durga Puja season
in autumn. It was inevitable that
health and quality would both be
eventually affected. Satyajit was obviously working far too much, perhaps in a vain attempt to ward off
There was from early youth a matter-of-fact acceptance of his many gifts, and at the same time a paradoxical shyness and diffidence in acknowledging them.
Satyajit learned to draw very well as a student in 1940-
41 at Shantiniketan, Rabindranath Tagore's pastoral
university. He also sang in a fine natural baritone and
had an unusual ear for music, which became yet more
receptive since his attachment to his cousin Bijoya in
his adolescence. He was to marry her in 1949, and she,
to be his best friend, most trusted associate and the one
person who perhaps knew a little bit more about music
than he did. She had been a child prodigy and was
expected to be an outstanding exponent of Hindustani
music. A curiosity about Western classical music led to
a keen interest and then a surprising degree of proficiency, so much so that her barrister father saw in his
daughter a future Galle Curci. It was Bijoya who taught
the lad Satyajit how to read music. It was her coaxing
reasonable, decent, wronged, loving husband etched      that made him cut a private disc of an Atul Prasad (one
The mind's loneliness
Lack of competition can be dangerous for even the most
protean of artistes; it can lead to all kinds of complications. In Satyajit's case, it was irritability and an inability to acknowledge the contribution to the success of
his films by gifted collaborators like
Subrata Mitra and Bansi Chandragupta. After Mitra left for good in 1966
following Nayak, his very able assistant Soumendu Roy took over. But Ray
insisted on operating his own camera, and reduced a fine craftsman like
Roy to a 'lighting man'. He too left after Ghare-Baire (1983-84), unable to
take curt orders from Sandip Ray, the
director's son, who he had looked
upon as a nephew. Bansi Chandragupta had left much earlier only to return once, when requested by the di-
rector for Shatranj Ke Khilari.
Ghare-Baire was made when Ray, a habitual indoors-
man and chain smoker, had the first of his three heart
attacks. Son Sandip took over a part of the shooting
and the entire post-production. Soumendu Roy and editor Dulal Dutta, despite being peremptorily ordered
about by Ray Junior, stuck to their task with teeth gritted. But the film was uneven and even boring in places
not being totally made by Satyajit himself. Ashok Bose's
art direction was just about adequate and an unheard-
of lapse in detail concerning a tonsured widow in white
with tweezed eyebrows, did raise quite a few. Casting
Shatilekha Chatterjee, a stolid actress in the pivotal role
of Bimala was the only mistake the director made in
casting a part during his long career. Apologists of
course tried to find hidden gems of wisdom in a competent but dull narration. The one high point in the film
was the surprisingly sensitive portrait of Nikhilesh, the
His films like his beliefs
were both true because
they were beautiful and
beautiful because they
were true, thus bringing
together Tagore and
Gandhi without intending
to consciously.
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 Aparajito (1956)
of the finer West Bengal musicians)
WTiile at Shantiniketan, Satyajit
made the acquaintance of Prof. Alex
Aronson, a Jewish academic in exile
from Hitler's Germany. Aronson had
a formidable collection of 78 rpm
discs of Western classical music. Together they discovered an old, unused piano in bad shape that had
once belonged to Tagore. Satyajit tinkered on it and soon became a competent two-finger pianist. In the last
years of his career, he was to use a Rowland Synthesizer to compose the music for his films. It was, in his case,
both a compromise and a convenience, used as he was
to the rounded tones of the acoustic piano. Apart from
Bijoya, Adi Gazdar, a practicing medical doctor and a
knowledgeable and skilful pianist, also helped Satyajit
in his musical studies. Alok Nath De, the fine flautist
and arranger in Bengali films, did pass on valuable
tips on orchestration, tonal characteristics of various
instruments, and about vocal colours.
Satyajit could apply everything
he had learned to the music in his
own productions. After a spirited
first collaboration with Ravi Shanker
in Father Panchali, he found it increasingly difficult to work with him. Onetime associations with Ustad Vilayat
Khan and Ustad Ali Akbar, both famous instrumentalists in the Hindustani style, did not prove fruitful
as they were unable to compose music to suit the limited time frame of a
given scene. Ray's background score
for Kanchenjungha (1962) was evocative. The film was an exceptionally
successful experiment in using real
time as screen time to give glimpses
into the lives of various members of
an upper-class Bengali family on vacation, spending an afternoon in picturesque Darjeeling. The music had to reflect the
thoughts and desires of the characters and tacitly comment on them occasionally. The composer's efforts were
commensurate with his ambitions.
The high point of Satyajit's career, one could say,
were the songs in Goopy Gyne Bngha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, 1968). The sparkling musical fantasy for children based on a story by Satyajit's
grandfather Upendra Kishore Roy Choudhury, had
catchy tunes with words to match. Every song was a
hit and the album became a best seller. This was not the
first time he had tasted success. Four years earlier, his
music for Merchant Ivory's Shakespeare Wallah became
very popular and the LP sold 500,000 copies. He
grasped the intricacies of composing
quickly and by the time he came to
do the music for 'Satyajit Ray Presents', a TV serial based on his aSto-
ries directed by his son Sandip, he
was in full command of his abilities.
The haunting signature tunc to the
initial thirteen episodes summed up
the kev theme linking all the stories -
- that life is full of surprises and uncertainties.
An active desire to appreciate
other kinds of artistic activity than
his own also helped Satyajit have a generous world-
view akin to Chekhov's. Like the Russian master, Ray
was also a moralist with a strong sense of right and
wrong. This awareness also informed his cinema. His
Brahmo Samaj background and widowed mother Sup-
rava Ray's loving but watchful upbringing in his formative years instilled in him a sense of independence.
Satyajit realised early, the necessity of earning an honest living — and enjoying it.
There was also a keen sense of
the absurd in him. He laughed uproariously when he found that a certain viewer had caught his joke in
the final shot of the Monihara episode in Teen Kanya (Three Daughters/
Two Daughters, 1961 — only two of
these three shorts were distributed
in the West, hence the conflict in
translating the title). The seedy looking narrator walks away after telling his story of a neurotic woman obsessed with jewellery who comes
back as a spirit to drive her husband
mad; the camera gently tilts down to
his ganja chillum at the end of the
scene, suggesting that the whole
thing was the figment of the poor fellow's imagination.
Illustration from Sandesh.
     Accidental happiness
Satyajit could sincerely appreciate a
film even if it differed completely from his own style.
Coming down the staircase of Archana cinema in New
Delhi in 1977 after a screening of Andrei Tarkovski's
immortal Andrei Rublev during the International Film
Festival, he expressed his innermost feelings simply by
saying "I wish I had made this film". Tarkovski's hymn
to the human spirit had by some quirk of fate been funded by the rigid commissars of the Soviet Union in the
mid-1960s. Satyajit's own attitude towards communism, especially its Indian version, was at best ambivalent. In artistic matters, he felt differently. Constantine
Stanislavski, the aristocratic pioneer of poetic realism
in early 20th century Russian theatre, was someone he
admired. Sergei Eisenstein's silent masterpiece Battle-
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
ship Potenkm and his final film in 1946-48, the two-part
Ivan the Terrible,, the last one in colour, made a deep
The director had genuine admiration for many of
the members of IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association), the cultural wing of the undivided Communist
Party of India. The organisation had conic into being
following the Bengal Famine of 1943 that killed five
million people, lt made farmers and industrial workers
aware of their rights as citizens and at the same time
made a dent in the consciousness of certain sections
amongst the educated middle-class. Satyajit was impressed by the rousing vocals of the IPTA song squads,
the pictures of Sunil Janah, the Party photographer, and
the linocuts, drawings and paintings of Chittoprasad which passionately championed the cause of
the have-nots. At the same time, he
understood that the CPI, despite its
best intentions, was completely incapable of ever taking charge of the
Indian state.
Satyajit's own predilections
were broadly liberal and certainly
humanist. His films, like his beliefs,
were both true because they were
beautiful and beautiful because
they were true, thus bringing together Tagore and Gandhi without
intending to do so consciously.
This interplay of truth and beauty-
gave his best works an organic
wholeness. To those who pursue extreme ideologies like rampant, violent capitalism or draconian communism, such clear, innocent faith
and the promise of renewal might
even seem embarrassing.
Starry-eyed lyricism was never
a part of Satyajit's vision, as suggested by many a stilted critic of the
times. There was from the beginning, alongside the idealism, deep
knowledge about human nature
and conduct in which kindness,
cruelty, expediency and sacrifice
overlap at certain moments. In
Aparnjito (The Unvanquished, 1956), for instance, Apu
after having lost sister Durga and father Hari leaves
his widowed mother Sarbajaya behind in their village
home, to go to study in Calcutta after receiving a scholarship. What would be considered as 'taking wing' in
the West, even now, in many quarters in India is seen
as a grave dereliction of duty. However, Ray invests
this moment in the film with an air of inevitability, rather
than as a fall from grace.
Apu's destiny will take him away to a future full of
discovery, uncertainty, even grief, where restlessness
Satyajit realised early
the necessity of earning
an honest living -- and
enjoying it.
will hold sway over moments of respite, and happiness shall come as if by accident. He marries Aparna,
his teenage bride fortuitously, having gone to attend
her wedding in a village at the invitation of his friend
who happens to be her cousin. Just before the ceremony, it is discovered that the prospective groom is an
imbicile. Apu steps in gallantly to the rescue. The married life is a quiet delight but ends abruptly as Aparna
dies in childbirth leaving behind their baby son, Kajol.
Having been robbed of his happiness by this sudden
twist of fate, Apu loses his sense of logic and refuses to
see the child, born in the home of his maternal grand
Wanderlust takes over and Apu travels to distant
places carrying his sorrow and restlessness within him for the next
fewyears. Wisdom ultimately prevails to restore balance. Apu is reconciled with his kindergarten-age
son. Father and child become
friends after some hesitation, and
the end has them embarking on a
journey of discovery. Life has extracted a heavy price before parting with one of its simplest truths—
that loving and sharing is the key
to happiness and contentment. By
equating a human being's life with
the four seasons, Satyajit brought
to his early films a folk wisdom that
has withstood the onslaught of the
trends of critical analysis bent upon
'demystifying' every phenomena of
existence, including the most difficult and complex of all, that of the
relations between human beings.
Freudian anguish first made its
appearance in Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970) to startle the director's admirers. His technique too
had changed to accommodate his
subject matter. Tlie protagonist Siddhartha, caught in the process of
trying to get a job to keep up appearances in an orphaned middle-
  class family with depleted resources, has to sacrifice his ego and his
left-wing ideals. His process of growing up involves
loosing all his illusions including his love for Keya, a
girl from the Westernised upper-middle class that is
deeply attached to social climbing and the benefits it
brings. Ray used black and white negative images and
abrupt jump cuts along with use of discordant sound
to portray the alienation of the wounded Siddhartha.
In a pivotal scene, he is asked in a job interview what
he considers to be the most significant event of the times.
"The war in Vietnam, Sir", replies Siddhartha to the
surprise of the member of the selection committee. "Even
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
Chabi Biswas in Jalsaghar (1958)
more important than the moon landing?" "Yes sir", he insists, saying
that it was a logical outcome of the
development of science in the 20th
century, whereas Vietnam stood for
the victory of a supremely courageous people who overcame their
poverty to defeat the mightiest nation in the world. Siddhartha does
not get the job and ends up as the
representative of a small pharmaceutical company whose products
he pushes in rural and small-town
Open anguish, even despair, is seen for the first time
in the director's work was muted and even subtly
diverted in the next film Seemabaddha (Company Limited, 1971). The film is an intimate set-piece about the
gradual loss of values, and hence, humanity in the educated middle-class protagonist Shyamal Chatterjee's
rise in the corporate world. The presence of the Nax-
alites so palpably felt in Pratidwandi
is suggested through distant bomb ^m,,.,^^^^^™
blasts in the sound track and the
gentle queries of Tutul, the sister-in-
law from Patna on a brief visit to Calcutta. The ambitious lead character
has to break a strike in the company's factory in order to get a leg up
in the corporate ladder. He sells his
soul without much ado, to the sorrow of the adoring Tutul, who silently takes note of his fall. The photog-
raphv is grey, in keeping with the
dTiood of the film.
The folly of man's ambition and    _^__^_	
nature's benign bounty is juxtaposed in Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973), which
revolves around the man-made famine of 1943. The verdant countryside with plants and flowers blooming and
ripe paddy in the fields serves ultimately as an epiphany in the course of events soon to become tragic beyond
comprehension. Asani Sanket came at a time before 'Development Studies' had taken hold, and it left many
Ray admirers, especially in the West, uneasy with its
deeply felt, dignified treatment of an overwhelming,
senseless tragedy that could have
been avoided.
Perhaps to recover from the emotional exhaustion of the previous
film, Satyajit next made Sonar Kella
(The Golden Fortress, 1974), a thriller
for slightly older children between
twelve and fifteen, featuring his detective Prodosh Mitter a.k.a. Feluda
and his devoted assistant Topshey.
The story is about a precocious little
boy, Mukul, who recalls his previ-
When Chabi Biswas
died in a car accident in
1962, Ray declared that
it was no longer possible to write certain
kinds of roles because
there would not be an
actor available to play
Satyajit Ray on the sets of Ghare-Baire
ous birth in a desert town that has a
golden fortress. A parapsychologist
gets interested and takes him on a
trip to investigate the matter. A pair
of comical villains upset his plans
thinking there is a huge treasure to
be discovered, till Feluda and company come to the rescue. Made with
the panache and joy that informed
cinema in its formative years, Sonar
Kella wore in its virtues lightly.
The next film Jana Aranya (The
Middleman, 1975) marked a return
to black and white and the despondence over the loss
of basic values in contemporary Bengali/Indian society. This was the darkest film he had ever made, and
Satyajit called it his most ruthless film. The nation had
plunged into despair over the complete disregard for
democracy by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the ruling Congress Party, who had declared a state of national emergencv to quell the gathering opposition to her
lust for power and the institutional-
■■■^^^^^™^^"    isation of corruption.
Somnath, an educated young
man, decides to open a small businessman after failing to get a reasonable job despite his best efforts. He is
befriended by Bishuda who teaches
him the ropes. The elderly fixer offers his protege a banana on a particular occasion and without intended innuendo, asks him, "Have you
ever tried eating your own banana?"
Setting the tone for the story. The aspiring entrepreneur makes steady
progress, to the amusement of his
worldly-wise older brother and bewilderment of his retired, old, upright father.
The hour of reckoning arrives and Somnath is tested. His path to progress is blocked by a randy Marwari
who can give him a profitable contract provided he gets
him a girl to appease his appetite. At first Somnath does
not understand what is required of him and seeks the
advice of Adak Babu, a veteran of the commercial market and familiar with its codes. He promptly directs
Somnath to one Natabar Mitra, a comic scoundrel by
inclination, who advices acquiescence. But finding a girl for a libidinous tycoon is not easy.
The first attempt to rope in a
comely, compliant housewife fails
because her drunken husband returns unexpectedly. The second,
ends in farce when Mitra and Somnath go to a respectable lady to find
her two daughters 'otherwise occupied' and are set upon by a frolicsome dog, a big German Shepherd,
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Mahanagar (1963)
while she holds forth on a former
boss of her elder one's who took her
to Hong Kong on business and
promptly put her to 'work'.
The third and final piece begins
on a bizarre comic note with a pimp
from rural Bengal reading from the
Kirtibasi Ramayana about the betrayal of Sita and the coming of the cad
and turncoat Vibhishana. It ends
with Somnath escorting Kauna/
Juthika, who happens to be his best
friend Sukumar's sister, operating
as a prostitute, to the hotel room of the businessman
who shall help awaken the lad's sleeping destiny.
When he returns home after the ordeal, Somnath tells
his father that the contract is in the bag. The old man
smiles in relief. But the audience has other ideas. An
earlier scene comes to mind when his father asks him,
"Tell me son why should they award you a contract?
On what basis?" Bhombol, Somnath's elder brother
promptly interjects, "On the basis of his bribe of course!"
Jana Aranya is a story of innocence lost. It is also
about the eclipse of stable middle-class values and the
triumph of heartless materialism. Sometime at the beginning of the film, Somnath and Su-   	
kumar as young, frustrated job aspirants are seen sitting by the Ochter-
lony monument indulging in light-
hearted banter.
Sukumar : "they ask irrelevant
Somnath : "for instance?"
Sukumar : "who was Ramachandra's sister? As if
knowing the answer would guarantee the job".
Somnath : "I know the answer to that one. Shanta.
Shanta was the name of Rama's sister".
By the time the story ends the characters have been
swept away in a wave of existential despair. Satyajit,
for all his Brahmo correctness including the use of a
Rabindra Sangeet in counterpoint to the gradually unfolding tragedy, cannot ultimately avoid retaining,
however reluctantly, the cynicism of a Bertold Brecht
and the hopelessness of a Samuel Beckett in his tableaux of contemporary Bengali life.
Grand design
Satyajit's obvious versatility and ease along with the
capability of doing consistently fine work, with of course
a few exceptions, puzzled those looking for an auteur.
Many such theorists saw him as a slightly more sophisticated version of a master craftsman like David
Lean or Carol Reed. Unlike the two Englishmen, Ray
was never a director for hire. Every project—except for
the who-done-it Chiriyakhana (The Zoo, 1967) which
he did for the financial benefit of his unit members -
was chosen consciously.
It was difficult for the 'film society types' of his times,
Satyajit's characters do
things. They are usually curious people.
as it is for their successors in ours,
to understand how a man could
make so many films disparate in
subject matter yet sublimally linked
by a vision of the world. Clarity of
thought and feeling were present in
all of them, including the lesser
ones. This classical trait is what
flummoxes the post-modernists
who usually tend to look upon life
as a series of accidents on which to
      improvise. They forget that nature
has its own rhythms and patterns
that can be felt but not quite intellectually comprehended. There is indeed a grand design that holds together
all living phenomenon and endows them with life and
People still wonder how the same director could
have made a profoundly moving comedy-fantasy like
Parash Pathar (The Philosopher's Stone, 1951); a tragic
study of crumbling feudalism, like jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958); Kanchenjungha (1962) an elegant, probing portrait of a Bengali upper-class family in real time;
a Mahanagar (The Big City, 1963) that chronicles so sensitively the struggles of a barely middle-class conservative family in Calcutta trying to not
slip down the social ladder by letting the daughter-in-law of the house
go to work; Charulata (The Lonely
Wife, 1964) and Aranyer Din Rairi
(Days and Nights in the Forest,
    1969) — the first, a period-piece
about a neglected wife in an enlightened zamindar family at the end of the 19th century,
and the second a contemporary serio-comedy, both
films echoing the most positive of Chekovian sentiments;
effervescent children's films like Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
and Sonar Kella; moving shorts about the world of children, namely Two (a.k.a The Parable of Two, 1964) and
Pikoo (a.k.a. Pikoo's Day, 1980); exemplary documentaries The Inner Eye (1972) on his teacher, the painter Bin-
ode Bihari Mukherjee, gone blind in late middle-age,
and Sukumar Ray (1987) about his amazingly gifted father — both films object lessons in maintaining the right
balance between intimacy and distance to convey essential facts about the subject; and, finally, his wise
swan song Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991), a last will and
testament disguised as a story of a globe-trotter returning home after 35 years to a family (or its remnants) that
is wary of acknowledging him.
The film 'scholahs' argue that only a maverick can
be so profligate in his tastes and output, pointing out
that filmmakers post-World War II, or even before, 'made'
the same film over and over again. They trot out names
like Renoir, Mizoguchi, Bunuel, Fellini, .Antonioni, Bergman, Kurosawa, Godard, Tarkovski, Jansco; all of them,
the pundits argue, had a vision of the world — but
Ray? Yes, his work did share a likeness to those of the
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 Aparajito (1956)
three Hollywood masters John Ford,
Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder. It
was a difference of touch. Satyajit's,
like theirs, was light, and his tone
too was conversational. These days
heaviness is often mistaken for profundity by the so-called cinephile.
In his public dealings, Satyajit
was straight-forward— a quality rare-
b. ?een in a celebrity in a Banana Republic, that too in a country like India, its largest and most repugnant
example. He always valued work and this respect for
honest effort permeates his cinema. Satyajit's characters do things- They are usually curious people. Even
Bishambar Ray, the impecunious, egocentric zamind-
ar in Jalsnghar, who is loathe to move, when the occasion demands is goaded into action. It was only understandable that Satyajit should have found the slow,
showy, intellectual films of Kumar Shahani and Mani
Kaul thoroughly pretentious. He had no use for a film
or filmmaker who was unable to attract a paying audience, however ^^^"■"■■■■■■■i
small. He had himself after all
proved in the course of a long career
that it was possible to have one's
cake and eat it too.
Not since Renoir, Ophuls and
Ford had there been a director who
has got such harmonious, believable
performances from his actors. He
had a way of instilling confidence in
them and making them perform beyond their capabilities.No one, save   	
Vittorio de Sica and Francois Truffaut, equalled Satyajit's handling of children. Despite
his height or perhaps because of it— he was six four-
and-a-half — he was able to impress people.
Chabi Biswas, a mercurial but powerful actor and a
'difficult' man to get along with, gave three memorable
performances in jalsaghar, Devi (1960) and Kanchenjung-
ha. Ray knew how to harness Biswas' creative energy.
In all the three films, the actor played a tyrant with feet
of clay, yet each one with distinct individuality. It was
the writing as much as the direction that was responsible for such varied and rich performances. When the
actor died in a car accident in 1962, Ray declared that it
was no longer possible to write certain kinds of roles
because there would not be an actor available to play
Soumitra Chatterjee, a young theatre enthusiast
went to international fame working with Ray in fifteen
films beginning in 1959 as an impressionable young
man in Apur Sansar and ending with Shakha Prashakha
(Branches of a Tree, 1990) in which he plays a brilliant
man, brain-damaged in a road accident. Chatterjee did
a range of entirely plausible characters from the droll
bridegroom Amulya in Samapti (one of the shorts with-
it is only understandable
that Satyajit should have
found the slow, showy,
intellectual films of
Kumar Shahani and
Mani Kaul thoroughly
in Teen Kanya) to Narsingh the shabby cabdriver touched by romance in
Abhijan; to the effete dabbler aAmal in
Chandata; graduating to even more
complex characters like Asim, the inwardly insecure sophisticate in
Aranyer Din Ratri and Prodosh Mit-
ter, the tough, sharp but humane private investigator in Sonar Kella.
Satyajit always knew that his actors would have to behave in front of
    the camera rather than consciously
act. His was a style of filmmaking where the energising
happened below the surface, much like the steady flow
of quiet waters. Similarly, his direction of children was
never apparent. He would before every shot take them
aside and talk to them in a conspirational whisper. He
was their friend. Being able to gain the confidence of
children was there from the beginning. Apu and Durga
in Father Panchali were perhaps the first children in
Indian cinema who behaved their age. The roll call of
natural, charming child performers
in Satyajit's films is long: Uma Dasgupta and Subir Banerjee in Father
Panchali; Pinaki Sengupta (the adolescent Apu, Aparajito); Aloke
Chakravarti (Kajol, Apur Sansar);
Aparna Dasgupta (Mrin Moyee, Samapti); Prasenjit Sarkar (Pintu, Mahanagar); Kushal Chakravarti (Mukul,
Sonar Kella); Shatanu Bagchi (Mistaken Mukul, Sonar Kella); Vikram Bhattacharya (Satyaki, Agantuk ); and
    Arjan Guha Thakurta (Pikoo, Pikoo's
Actresses like Sharmila Tagore in Apur Sansar, Devi,
Seemabaddha and Madhavi Mukherjee in Mahanagar,
Charulata, Kapurush-O-Mahapurush, gave Satyajit some
of the finest performances of their careers. Robi Ghosh
was amply rewarded with roles that enabled him to
play comedy with different shades of emotion in Abhijan, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Aranyer Din Rain, Jana Aran-
ya and Hirak Rajar Deshe. Tulsi Chakravarti, after playing Prasanna the village grocer turned school teacher
in Father Panchali, was unforgettable in the role of the
bumbling, funny, pathetic, elderly clerk Paresh Chandra Dutta in Parash Pathar. The cameos too were cast
meticulously: elderly musicians who turn up one
evening at the village post master's house in Post Master (one of the Teen Kanya shorts) or the deaf old solicitor
in Agantuk leave an indelible impression, Satyajit loved
actors as much as de Sica, Fellini or Bergman, and his
players, in turn, amply returned his affection.
The master's technique, including in the handling of
actors, was subtle, unobtrusive. There was hardly any
moment of sudden drama or emotional outbursts. Feelings and ideas always went through the process of distillation. Although he favoured Western musical struc-
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Aparajito (1956)
tures'to build his films on, for instance the rondo in Charulata, the
quality of emotion that shaped the
content was completely Indian; reminiscent of certain melodic structures
that came alive through the judicious
use of komal or soft swaras. Towards
the end, Satyajit's film language became a shade too Junctional, restricted as he was by failing health,
though he used this limitation to
great advantage in his last film. Agantuk was pure cinema despite the heavy emphasis on dialogue. The ideas were expressed and carried forward
through cinematic plasticity. The same cannot be said of
Gana Shatru (An Enemy of the People, 1989) an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's 1904 play and Shakha Proshakha:
both looked like competent TV plays although the latter
did have moments of fine cinema.
The magnificent Rays
The concern for social and political transformation figured gently but strongly in Satyajit's films. He was never
an overtly political man in his private life unlike Ritwik
Ghatak, who was a card-carrying m^—m—^—mm~^
member of the CPI and a stalwart of
IPTA. That, however, did not mean
that Satyajitdid not care about what
was happening to the society he
lived in. He once said to his old
friend Kironmoy Raha at a private
meeting in 1977 after the end of the
state of emergency at which this writer was present: "It
is good that Jyoti Babu (the CPI-M leader) and his colleagues have decided to oppose the Congress, but why-
are they supporting the Janata Party?" He had been able
to see right away that a coalition government with the
Jana Sangh at its helm was bound to collapse sooner
than later. Sure enough, Indira Gandhi and her Congress returned to power within two years, with the Janata government able neither to stick together nor to administer the country .
Trie director was fortunate enough to escape the fate
of being a selfish, callous, debauched spendthrift like so
many members of the Bengali feudal class. This can be
ascribed to his family's unswerving dedication to artistic and scientific pursuits. His grandfather Upend ra
Kishore Roy Choudhury's versions of Ramayana and
Mahabharata for Bengali children still attract attention
because of their verve and wit. When he died in 1915 at
age 52, Upendra Kishore had made a reputation as an
artist, photographer, author, illustrator, and founder-editor of the peerless children's magazine, Sandesh. His son
Sukumar, Satyajit's father, became in his tragically short
life of 34 years a master writer and illustrator for children, and an exponent of nonsense verse the equal of
Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Sukumar was also the
inventor of the half-tone block in printing and had stud-
These days heaviness
is often mistaken for
profundity by the so-
called cinephile.
ied photography and printing technology in Manchester, England.
The Rays were truly enlightened
representatives of the Bengali aristocracy whose finest representative was
the great thinker-artiste Rabindranath
Tagore. It was only natural that Satyajit should retain a curiosity about
the decadent Indian feudal classes,
with their refinement, love for music,
of course painting and other pleasures
of a leisurely life. At 37, he had done
jalsaghar on a dying, bankrupt Bengali zamindar, adapted from Tara Shankar Bandhopadhyaya's novella. Then,
at 56, in 1977, he completed his first film in Hindi, Sha-
tranj ke Khilan a many-layered satire based on a short
story by Munshi Premchand. The story deals with the
annexation of Avadh by the British in 1857 and the overthrow of the popular, artistically gifted Nawab Wajid
Ali Shah.
The two effete zamindars around whom the story
revolves, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshain Ali, are addicted to chess and continue to play the game even when
the British forces march into Lucknow, the royal capital.
B__ma^—p—n They symbolise for the director the reason for the abject failure of the local
elite to confront and neutralise the British. In a larger sense, beyond the immediate confines of the story and the
film inspired by it, Satyajit appears to
suggest the reasons for the success of
    British rule in India for a hundred aind
ninety years.
Man's place in a fast-changing, largeh/ amoral world
pre-occupied Satyajit, and this also is evident in his literary exercises. The one short-story that represents his
deepest concerns is, "McKenzie Fruit", where perhaps
we find the truest portrait of his inner self. Nishikanto
Babu, a retired school master, goes to Karimganj in rural
Bengal to his friend's for a holiday. One day, while out
on a stroll, he discovers a tree growing in the compound
of an abandoned bungalow formerly owned by an Englishman. He has never before seen the tree nor the kind
of fruit growing in abundance on it. Out of sheer curiosity he plucks one. Eating it, he discovers to his delight
that the nagging arthritic pain in the joints have disappeared. Nishikanto Babu offers the fruit to a scabied dog
and it gets cured.
Unable to believe his luck, the school master writes to
leading scientific organisations at home and abroad
about the strange tree and, its miraculous fruit. They reply asking for details, and he sends samples of the fruit
for laboratory analysis. The reports come back confirming his discovery: that, yes, indeed there are miraculous
curative properties. He then makes the mistake of sharing the knowledge with his host, where a local acquaintance, a jolly landlord fallen on bad days, happens to be
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 Aranyer Din Ratri (1969)
Events quickly overtake
Nishikanto Babu. The bungalow and its large compound of miracle trees is
fenced off and now in the
control of a city businessman who wants to export
•br.i fruit at a premium, in
partnership with the formerly indigent landlord.
Suddenly, nature's gift is
appropriated for commercial gain by the unscrupulous.
The school master can do nothing to prevent this monumental injustice; business after all is legitimately a part
of democracy. He, however, has in the end a solitary
fruit in his safe-keeping and it incredibly retains its freshness over time.
The tale of "McKenzie Fruit" has
the simplicity, transparency and
profundity of a fable. Satyajit had
earlier written a film script that
evoked a similar appreciation. "The
Alien" was meant to be science fiction, but added the purity and lyri- associated with juvenile literature. The story was about an alien
from outer space who comes to a remote Bengali village where Bajoria
a wealthy Marwari businessman
has engaged Devlin, an American
expert, to drill for water during a
period of drought in an attempt to
prove his own piety. The visitor from
'outside' befriends Haba, an orphan and with him perceives what
life is like in the world of humans.
Tlie project of "The Alien" was
destined not to take off, but the script
was generously circulated by one
of the prospective producers — Columbia British — and the executive
producer Mike Wilson. Early in his
career, Stephen Spielberg must have
come across it to make his finest film
E.T., whose basis was the central
idea of Satyajit's screenplay. "The
Alien", as written, for its sheer
breadth of vision and poetic intensity, promised to be a far greater film
than any in the sci-fi genre and the
only one in which knowledge was
to be used for a positive, creative
purpose. Had Peter Sellers and Marlon Brando not backed out after protracted negotiations, the film as
made by Satyajit would in all probability have been a towering
Jana Aranya (1975)
Father Panchali
Parash Pathar
Apur Sansar
Teen Kanya
Rabindranath Tagore
Kapurush -O- Mahapurut
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
jAranyer Din Ratri
The Inner Eye
Asani Sanket
Sonar Kella
Jana Aranya
Shantranj Ke Khilari
Joi Baba Felunath
Hirak Rajar Deshe
Sukumar Ray
Shakha Prashakha
The alien leaves the
earth on his spaceship
along with his human
friend singing 'a simple
folk-song about flowers,
rivers and paddy fields
taught tti him by Haba',
(writes Marie Seton in Portrait of a Director: Satyajit
Ray). Tn a state of weightlessness and suspended
animation, the boy floats in the cabin, together with the
other earthly specimens he has helped his 'friend' collect - a frog, a firefly, a snake, a lotus, a squirrel and a
bulbul bird all of which are also in a condition of suspension. Inevita^bly, the conception of The Alien suggests that only those who are as little children can enter another plane,
or plfinetary existence'. In the same
essay, the alien is described in his
farewell to the earth as seen seated
cross-legged on the floor of the cabin
of his spaceship, Buddha-like with
a glow of red sunlight on his face
and a halo above it...
This striving for perfection in an
imperfect world and fulfilment
through purity of purpose was the
hallmark of Satyajit's children's fiction and his best films. An uncompromising idealism and a healthy
contempt for money and therefore
capitalism marked his life and work.
He never asked his producers to pay
him separately for composing the
music for his films and only charged
a consolidated fee for writing and
direction. His un-worldliness sometimes exasperated his wife Bijoya,
who is knowrn to have said, 'He does
not understand how difficult it is to
run a household'. All his life Satyajit lived in a rented flat and his most
prized possessions were his books
and records.
Royalties from his writings
brought in enough to support him
and the family for a year in case he
did not make a film. He said so in an
interview to Gowri Ram Narayan of
Tlie Hindu. Satyajit's greatest contribution as an artiste was to foster a
healthy curiosity about the world
and the pursuit of truth and beauty
under the most trying conditions. He
was, in that sense, a unique and
whole individual in an increasingly fragmented world. [\
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Divorce and
the market economy
The behaviour and movement of consumer markets as a result of the
phenomenon of divorce may be interesting, but the market potential
from separated couples remains untapped.
by Shoma A Chatterji
The urban world continues to mull over the im
pact of divorce on society, on the family, on the
partners directly involved in the divorce, and specially, on children. What escapes most
is the fact that the splintering of
families underscores a rise in production levels in the economy.
The extended family comprising of the male 'head of a family' with his wife, children,
their families and grandchildren living under the same
roof, eating out of the same
kitchen and pooling in their
labour and income resources
to cover expenses is slowly on
its way out in urban India. Exceptions are traditional business
families where living under the
same roof is directly linked to business interests and any split within
is presumed to inevitably lead to a
split in business interests to the detriment of all concerned. In this
sphere too, however, the positive effect of such split on market forces has
remained a grey area. When the joint
family breaks up to create several
nuclear families, the first outcome is
a rise in the demand for housing. The     '
entire housing sector - real estate,
promoters of real estate, construction
and recovery of unused land, expands in monetary and business
terms. Traditional homes covering
spacious footage of premium land
fall under the promoter's axe and
new skyscrapers take their place,
mercilessly destroying a once-beautiful and expansive skyline.
The environmental waste is taken for granted -
lesser greenery in the cityscape, lesser land for
children's parks and playgrounds, narrower pavements and more human waste to litter the streets. But a capitalist
economy thrives on such ecological waste instead of lamenting it.
Just so long as there is 'development' at the cost of ecology.
These market repercussions are multiplied when
even the nuclear family breaks
up as the result of separation
or divorce. One of the partners
must move out to seek accommodation elsewhere. Relocation
means a rise in demand for housing all over again, notwithstanding the narrowing of the
area of apartments to handkerchief-sized flats. There is an
immediate rise in the demand
for consumer durables - the
partner who moves out with or
without children, must get a set
of consumer durables (a refrigerator, a mixer-grinder, a television set, furniture, a telephone
connection, a gas connection, perhaps, a computer, and so on). This
considerable rise in demand, directly contributes to production,
distribution, exchange and employment through backward and
forward linkages. The long-term
and short-term effects when a
couple split are a continuous rise
in the demand for consumer perishables as well - cereals, pulses,
vegetables, and so on. There is a
India does not have any
social security scheme
for divorced partners
who suddenly find themselves at the wrong end
of the stick if they are
not employed.
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
rise in the demand for domestic help
too. Among other benefits - more money
goes to the exchequer by way of taxes
under different heads, more employment opportunities across the board,
increased potential for home business
such as home-made catering, telephone
banking, car-pool and so on. The happiest of course is the legal fraternity.
Meanwhile, the judiciary sees the possibilities of expansion of family courts
in the country.
Sadly, neither the establishment at
the central and state levels, nor the investment sector, have been able to tap
the infinite potential inherent in the
separation of families. The financial infrastructure has not been able to adjust
to this new family structure in the Indian economy. Banking, insurance and
public-issues have never bothered to
create separate areas of savings and investment for separated couples. Till
date, Indian investment companies and
banks have no provision for housing
loans for single partners of aSeparated
couples. This is a specific lack because
re-partnering or remarriage after separation and divorce is not at all common.
Loans for automobiles and two-wheelers have no provision for separated
partners though this could lead to much
greater revenues than at present.
Couples today, in general, have a
much lower tolerance level within marriage than couples in their fifties and
sixties. As a result, the divorce rates in
India's urban sphere are shooting up.
The question of who is guilty is not important because couples are now looking at it as a question of choice. In the
US, studies have shown that women's
increasing financial independence reduces their motivation to enter into and
or to maintain relationships. Consistent
with this hypothesis, early studies typically found that women with limited economic resources were more likely to remarry than other women.
However, this pattern may have altered due to the following factors:
Changes in attitudes and values regarding gender
roles — such as the greater value placed on women's
economic achievements and men's involvement with
Changes in the labour market — such as reduced
employment opportunities for older men;
Changes in consumption patterns — which may
make two incomes seem increasingly necessary to
achieve a desirable standard of living;
Changes in law and public policy
— such as substantial increases in social security payments and more rigorous child support enforcement.
These changes reflect and reinforce the benefits for women of having independent financial resources,
both in and out of relationships. In
this context, re-partnering may not be
perceived as a solution to the financial strain of divorce — even for
women with few economic resources.
Besides, the social stigma attached to
re-partnering among women in India
proves to be a big hurdle for young
divorced women at a moment when
they may need to choose remarriage
both as a social and economic solution to their problem.
India does not have any social security scheme for divorced partners
who suddenly find themselves at the
wrong end of the stick if thev are not
employed. Prolonged litigation pending divorce places further pressure on
their finances, thereby also delaying
any plan of remarriage or re-partnering following divorce. Exchange
theory conceptualises children as an
economic appendage and as a barrier to new relationships due to the
constraints on time and financial resources they impose. Looked at from
a different perspective, children might
be perceived as making up for a new
relationship following divorce, particularly if sexual relationships are
perceived as high risk and not reliable emotionally. At a minimum, children provide company and can act
as the hub of an ongoing family life
for the resident parent.
There is a need for the financial
sector to respond to changing mores
and realities. For example, banks, insurance companies and private financing agencies should make available provisions for loans on easy instalments and low
interest to fund court cases, so as to provide security to
the litigants. This might be done on a welfare-oriented
basis, much like banks taking up rural development of
remote areas. This will also automatically place hidden 'ceilings' on exorbitant fees charged by exploiting
lawyers. Responses such as this would be a better alternative to shedding tears about the changing family
scenario, for change, as the saying goes, is the only thing
that remains constant.
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
between Shia
and Sunni
by Muhammad Zakir Khan Azmi
Shia-Sunni sectarian conflicts have been a feature
over most of Muslim history, and they have closely
linked to the competition for power. It was this
that led Syed Amir Ali (writer on Islamic history and
society) to remark in his book, The Spirit of Islam, "Alas!
That the religion of humanity and universal brotherhood should not have escaped the internecine strife
and discord; that the faith which was to bring peace
and rest to the distracted world should itself be torn to
pieces by angry passions and the lust of power".
Shortly after the death of the Prophet of Islam
(PBUH), the early Muslim society was divided on the
question of succession to the position of leadership of
the community. A small group be- ^^i^^k
lieved that the function must remain
within the family of the Prophet, and
backed 'Ali', whom they believed to
have been designated for this role
by appointment (ta'yin) and testament (nass). They believed that the
spiritual heritage bequeathed by
Mohammad (PBUH) devolved on Ali
and his lineal descendants. Hence,
they repudiated the authority of the
jam a'at (the people) to elect their
leader. They became known as his
'partisans' (shi'ah). On the other
hand, the majority agreed on Abu
Bakr as the leader on the assumption that the Prophet
left no instruction on this matter. They gained the name
'The People of Prophetic Tradition and consensus of
opinion' (ahl al-sunnah wa'1-jama'ah).
Besides the political dimension, there also existed a
difference of opinion about the merits and functions of
the successor to the Prophet. Sunni Islam considered
the Khalifah to be a guardian of the shariah in the community, while Shi'ism saw in the 'successor' a spiritual function connected with the esoteric interpretation
of the revelation and the inheritance to the Prophet's
'hidden' teachings. In contrast to the Sunnis, the institution of lmamate is fundamental to the Shias. The
Imam, besides being a descendant of the Prophet, must
For successful dialogue
between Shias and
Sunnis, the nature of
differences between the
two sects from the doctrinal, juristic, intellectual
and political perspectives must be
possess certain qualities — he must be ma'sum or
sinless, bear the purest and most unsullied character,
and must be distinguished above all other men for truth
and purity. On the other hand, the Sunnis believe that
the lmamate is not restricted to the family of Mohammad
(PBUH), that the Imam need not be irreproachable
(ma'sum) in his life, and nor need he be the most excellent or eminent being of his time. So long as he is free,
adult, sane, and possessed of the capacity to attend to
the ordinary affairs of state, he is qualified for election.
In general, the Sunnis continued to support the established authority of Ummayads and
Abbasides, though the later Sunni jurists accepted
^m ^w^^m only the first four caliphs as full embodiments of the ideal of caliphate.
For their part, various Shia groups
continued to challenge the legitimacy of different caliphates for the
most part of Muslim history. The
Shias, however, enjoyed political
power in the fourth century under
the Buyides, who controlled all of
Persia and wielded power in
Baghdad, and later under the
Fatimids in Egypt. Amongst the
Shias, the Itna 'Asharis, followers
of the twelve saintly Imams, repre-
hended the use of force, and maintained an attitude of complete withdrawal from temporal power until Shah Ismail, the great Safavi monarch,
made Ithna 'Ashari Shi'ism the state religion of Persia.
Under Shah Ismail a vigorous campaign was launched
to convert the majority Sunni population to Shi'ism.
Consequently, one of the major developments during the Saffavid reign was the end of the mutual tolerance between Sunnis and Shias that existed in Iran from
the time of the Mongols. A common form of Saffavid
abuse was to curse Abu Bakr and Umar for having
'usurped' Ali's right to be caliph. This hatred served
two purposes: it reinforced Shia sectarian identity as it
underlined Persian against Arab ethnicity. Another
development was the Shia rejection of Sufism, and a
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
growing concentration on law and the external observances of religion and ritual. Besides other factors, these
anti-Sunni policies of Safavids were responsible for their
deteriorating relations with the neighbouring Sunni
powers such as the Mughals in India, the Ottomans in
Turkey and the Uzbeks in Central Asia.
Dialogue on convergence
The frightening upsurge in Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in recent days in some countries that have left
hundreds dead and thousands injured raises the ques-
non of whether there can be any possibility of dialogue
between the two groups. Indeed, the deeply entrenched
Shia-Sunni division remains the major obstacle to Muslim unity and the critics of Islam have consistently
sought to play upon and fan the differences. Unfortunately, some Muslim 'scholars' have played into their
hands, and through their bitterly sectarian speeches
and writings have inflamed hatred between Shias and
Sunnis on a massive scale.
For successful dialogue between Shias and Sunnis,
it is essential to understand and analyse the nature of
differences between the two sects from the doctrinal,
juristic, intellectual and political perspectives. Furthermore, to be meaningful, the dialogue must take into consideration both the aspects of difference as well as of
convergence between Shias and Sunnis. Most importantly, the dialogue should be restricted to intellectual
level, and should not, at least at the outset, involve the
masses. Furthermore, the dialogue should in its initial
stages focus on issues of convergence rather than the
divergences between the two groups.
It is important in this regard to examine the terms
used to refer to dialogue between Shias and Sunnis.
Historically, the first term that seems to have been used
was 'al-tasaluh' or reconciliation between the two
groups. Later, it was replaced by 'tafahum' or mutual
understanding. Later on another term was coined: 'al-
taqarub' or convergence. This term emerged with the
establishment of 'Dar al-Taqarub bain al-Mazahib al-
Islamiyah' by Mohammad Taqi al-Qimmi in 1945 in
Cairo. The term 'al-wahdah' or unity and 'hiwar' or
dialogue appeared later, as in the writings of leading
jurists like Mahdi Shamsuddin. It seems that the sensitivity of the subject of Shia-Sunni relations had a direct
influence on the terminology used for dialogue between
Shias and Sunnis.
The continuing efforts from the Shia side to convert
the Sunnis to Shi'ism with an aim to expand the domain of Shia rule has played a key role in the failure of
the dialogue in the past. It has also made for many
Sunni scholars to view the proposal for 'convergence'
with suspicion, seeing it as a covert means to spread
Shi'ism. Some Sunni ulema who had initially accepted
the 'convergence' invitation later withdrew from the
process. To add to this was the question of 'taqqaiyah'
(pious dissimulation) in Shi'ism, which remains a major obstacle in the process of dialogue. This raises doubts
among many Sunnis about the actual intention of Shia
offers of dialogue and creates endless confusion. Thus,
it has provoked some Sunnis to believe that all statements issued by Shias that appear contrary to their original beliefs are actually a product of 'taqqaiyah' and are
not sincerely meant. These issues have, therefore, led to
300  -
|  Killed
HI' Injured
— Incidents
1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
a stagnation of efforts to promote 'convergence', at least
from the Sunni side. The establishment of a Shia state-
in Iran in 1979 further complicated and intensified the
issue, especially because of the direct political involvement of the Iranian state in sponsoring the activities of
Shi'ite missionary groups to convert Sunnis to the Shia
Some advocates of Shia-Sunni 'convergence' have
argued that differences between Sunnis and Shias are
of the same nature as differences that exist among the
various Sunni schools of jurisprudence (fiqh). Confining his approach to the question of Shia-Sunni relations to discussion of differences of fiqh, the scholar
Shamsuddin proposes a 'Board of Convergence and
Unity Issues' comprising different Muslim groups, one
of whose primary objectives would
be 'to work on juristic openness' between them. On the other hand,
some Salafi groups see the differences between Shias and Sunnis not
simply as rooted in fiqh, but, rather,
as fundamentally religious, based
on the understanding that the faith
of the Shias is tantamount to infidelity {kufr). This explains the absence of Salafi figures in seminars
to promote 'convergence' or unity
between Shias and Sunnis (Salafis
advocate a radical worldview - strict
return to the fundamentals of religion and rejection of any behaviour
that was not specifically supported
or enjoined by the Prophet
Mohammed). For the Salafis, Shias
can only be related to through
'munazara' or debate, in order to
'prove' the Shias as 'false' (batil) and
the Salafis themselves as 'true' (haq).
Anti-Sunni policies of
Safavids were responsible for their deteriorating relations with the
neighbouring Sunni powers such as the Mughals
in India, the Ottomans in
Turkey and the Uzbeks
in Central Asia.
Infallible Imams
It must be understood that the juristic differences between the Sunni schools of thought are not similar to
the differences between Shias and Sunnis. The differences among the four major Sunni schools of jurisprudence are not in matters of faith (aqidah), and hence do
not constitute a fundamental difference, unlike that
between Sunnis as a whole and the Shias. One of the
major differences between Shia and Sunni is in their
definition of Sunnah (habit, practice or customary procedure) and Hadith (report or narration). There is a vital
difference in the nature of acceptable Sunnah for both
groups. The Shias accept only those hadith that have
been reported by or attributed to the .Ahl al-Bait or direct descendents of the Prophet (PBUH), whereas the
Sunnis authenticate all the hadith reported by any of
the Prophet's companions (PBUH). Further, Shias include in their hadith collections not only statements
attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) but also statements
attributed to their Imams, whom they regard as infallible. Unlike the Sunnis, the Shias therefore place, in
effect, the authenticated sayings of their Imams on par
with the sayings of the Prophet and of Allah as contained in the Quran. Sunnis have developed a specific
method of 'criticism' to authenticate the hadith, which
emerged soon after the death of the Prophet (PBUH). On
the other hand, the collection of hadiths available with
the Shias does not appear to have undergone the same
sort of rigorous critical examination as is the case with
Despite these major differences, both Shias and
Sunnis share certain fundamental beliefs, such as faith
in one God (Allah) and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Both consider the Quran jis God's last and final revela-
s=s - = • . iwmm--.--..: tion. They both have a roughly similar method of prayer, both observe
the prescribed fast in the month of
Ramadan, and recognise the cen-
trality of the pilgrimage to Mecca
(hajj), and the payment of the zakah
or poor-due. As far as the phenomenon of intellectual pluralism and
differences of opinion is concerned,
it should be noted that these are
natural phenomenon that cannot be
avoided in any religious community. There is nothing wrong with
this unless it is associated with imposing dictatorship or intellectual
The Muslim ummah has for long
suffered from sectarian and intellectual antagonisms that have severely
affected it throughout its history.
This antagonism is reflected in conflicts between various groups such
as the Jabriyah and the Qadriyah,
the Murjiyah and their foes, and the Ashairah and the
Mutazila, in addition to the different schools of jurisprudence among the Sunnis, such as the Hanafis,
Shafi'is, Hanbalis and Malikis. These differences still
exercise a considerable intellectual impact on present-
day Muslim social life but are no longer the source of
serious conflict. On the other hand, Shia-Sunni differences still remain the cause of violent conflict. At the
beginning of the last century, numerous reformist Shia
and Sunni ulema attempted to seriously study this question. A significant effort in this regard was the establishment of the Dar al-Taqrib bain al-Mazahib al-
Islamiya in Cairo in 1945 with the aim of promoting
dialogue and resolving differences in line with jurisprudential (fiqhi) ijtehad. It sought to promote cooperation between different Muslim groups on the basis of
mutual respect. Nevertheless, some hardliner chauvinists from both sides sabotaged the process of this mission.
.Adding to the already strained relations between
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 the Shias and the Sunnis is the
continuing conflictual relationship between Salafis and Shias,
with the Salafis being vehemently
opposed to Shi'ism. This is still
reflected in many recent Salafi
writings. Thus, Dr Nassir bin
Abdullah Al-Gefari, in his recent
two-volume study on 'mas'alat al-
taqrib bain ahl al-sunnah' or 'The
Issue of Convergence between
Shiites and Sunnis', argues that, "The invitation of convergence is a bidat-i kubra (major sinful innovation)
aiming at granting kufr and zalal (infidelity) legality in
name of Islam, This talk of convergence has caused great
loss to the ahl al-sunnah...". Some Shia scholars have
responded by using somewhat similar language,
mouthing scathing critiques of what they call as "al-
wahabiyah", a term that the Salafis do not like for themselves.
Undoubtedly, today the Muslim ummah is facing a
dangerous situation with few precedents in history. At
this critical juncture, the Salafis have adopted an extremist approach toward Shias and should be held responsible for creating an atmosphere of differences
among the ummah. The perception of the Salafis about
Intellectual pluralism and
differences of opinion
are natural phenomenon
that cannot be avoided
in any religious
the other sects, including the Shias,
is based on the ruling of the Salaf
ulema, and these are likely to entertain a certain degree of misconception. Hence, there is an urgent need
for the ulema of different groups to
understand each other, and to reach
out in order to eradicate mutual misconceptions. In order to gain a proper
understanding of Shi'ism it is essential for the Salafi ulema to study the
thinking of the contemporary Shias as presented in their
It must be remembered that Shias and Sunnis have
no differences whatsoever in what they regard as the
main sources of their faith: the Quran and Sunnah, although the ways in which they interpret these are somewhat different. As for the juristic opinions of the Salaf
(forbearers), while they are indeed to be respected, they
represent ijtehadat that can be accepted or rejected.
Therefore, considering the Quran and Sunnah as the
main and direct criterion by the ulema of different
schools might go a long way in promoting the acceptance of opinions of other schools, at least at the intellectual level. v
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
national policy
What might be considered 'primitive' by the
enlightened may not be a state of backwardness. Tribal knowledge-systems need not
conform to 'mainstream' development
by Sudhirendar Sharma
The attitude of viewing the
'primitive' and 'tribal' as
artefacts continues in the administrative echelons, even if some
enlightened social scientists see it
another way. As has been seen more
than once in India, the attempts at
reorienting the tribes' way of living,
havebeen overwhelmingly un-intel-
ligent. Locked up in the jungles of
south and middle Andamans, the
Jarawas are one of six tribes here
who shun modern living. Anthropologists who spent five months
between 1998 and 2001 with them
found that the Jarawas maintain a
lifestyle in total harmony with their
environment. Much to their surprise, the researchers learnt that this
aboriginal tribe is content with its
hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Though bundled together with
698 other scheduled tribes in the
country, the Jarawas by definition
are considered 'primitive'. For their
distinctive culture, shyness from
public exposure, geographical isolation and socio-economic backwardness, Article 342 of the Indian
Constitution characterises them as
'primitive'. There are 75 other tribes
that are thus considered primitive;
together they constitute 2.5 million
primitive scheduled tribes-people
representing 0.3 percent of the
country's population.
Ever since the scheduled tribes
were first 'notified' in 1950, they
have been seen as those who live in
a pre-agricultural stage of economy,
have low literacy rates and whose
populations are seen to be stagnant
or declining. Reason enough for the
government to launch schemes that
could pull these tribes into the mainstream of development. However,
after five decades of investing resources on the tribes, it is clear that
a majority of them are still on the
margins, de-rooted from their rich
cultural and ecological past. What
is more, attempts atbringing 'development' their way have left them
socially and environmentally
The Jarawas.
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
But if the draft National Policy
on Tribals, released in early 2004,
is any indication, no lessons seem
to have been learnt. No wonder to
find here a renewed emphasis on
schemes that promise infrastructure
and human-capital investment to
bring a turnabout in their lives. Critical to this approach is the dominant
understanding that the tribals are
people with severe limitations, who
lack power to make a case for themselves, and are limited by intellectual and financial capital. If this
were not to be the assumption, how
could the policy lay emphasis on
strengthening the allopathic system
of medicine in tribal areas while
acknowledging the fact that tribal
people have a well-developed sys-
certainly not backward. There is no
point in trying to make them a second rate copy of ourselves'. He had
gone a step further to say that:' The
tribal people should be helped to
grow according to their genius and
Conversely, the British had
slapped them for their 'criminal tendencies' under the Criminal Tribes
Act 1871, Whereas the Indian government has yet to do away with
that piece of racist legislation completely, as the Habitual Offenders
Act still apply to most of the tribes.
Katkaris, the primitive tribe in
Maharashtra, are periodically
booked under this Act. Little does
the system realise that it is the destruction of Acacia forests from
tern of medicine based on herbs and
other natural products? Contradicting itself, the draft policy seeks to
preserve and promote their traditional knowledge and wisdom as
well. However, it fails on details
when it comes to preserving the
tribal knowledge-system and benefit-sharing in the event of knowledge transfer.
Jawaharlal Nehru's principles
of defining the contours of progress
for the tribals seem to have been ignored while drafting the policy. The
late prime minister had maintained
that tribal people 'possess a variety
of cultures and are in many ways
which the Katkaris skillfully extracted kath or catechu for their livelihood that has led many to petty
Oblivious to such realities, the
draft policy instead argues for getting the stigma of 'primitive' removed. Clearly, to ease administrative disbursement of funds, the
policy favours merger of primitive
tribal groups with the tribal mainstream. "This will erode the distinct
identity of primitive tribes faster
than expected", says Rajeev
Khedkar of Academy of Development Science in Karjat, Maharashtra, that has been working amidst
the Katkaris for over a decade.
Central to the entire debate is the
continuous shrinking of the economic base of tribal populations.
While the British safeguarded the
tribes' isolation for the purpose of
maximising revenue extraction,
post-colonial policies have impinged upon their traditional rights
and ownership over forests to do
just about the same. With the tribal
population constituting 55 percent
of the total displaced people due to
meg a-projects in the country, it is
clear that the tribals are seen as barriers to the process of development.
Little wonder then that the draft
policy considers displacement inevitable, though it does mention that
displacement of tribals from their
land amounts to violation of the 5th
schedule of the Indian Constitution.
Amusingly, the policy comforts the
tribal communities by suggesting
that in the event of displacement due
to building of a large dam, they will
have fishing rights in the new reservoir!
The various ongoing development schemes for primitive tribes
amply prove that all are intended to
alienate tribals from their traditional
roots in the forests. The institutional
mechanism of imparting education,
of extending health services, and of
development interventions is structured to distance the primitive tribes
from their traditional vocations.
Tragically, the rich repository of the
knowledge base of the tribals is considered primitive and irrelevant by
the modern yardstick.
Reports indicate that tribal children do not attend the schools setup
for them; indication enough that the
education imparted is irrelevant to
their way of life. Yet, the state persuades them to go to school little
realising that modern education
will at the very least de-school the
children of their rich knowledge and
experience. The policy planners of
India must realise that the 'tribal'
have distinct biophysical characteristics and endurance skills, which
must be understood if the tribes are
not to be doomed to extinction,     lb
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
India, the GM-trashbin
While the world wakes to the human health and environment nuisance of genetically modified crops, India is fast
turning into a dustbin for the new technology.
by Devinder Sharma	
Not all GM decisions are
taken in accordance with
scientific principles. India,
which has become a favoured destination for the biotechnology industry that is virtuaUy on the run
from the United States, European
Union and Australia, is a case in
point. Besides cotton, genetic engineering experiments are being conducted in India on maize, mustard,
sugarcane, sorghum, pigeonpea,
chickpea, rice, tomato, brinjal, potato, banana, papaya, cauliflower,
oilseeds, castor, soybean and medicinal plants. The developments in
the area,of legislation with regard
to GM foods in other parts of the
world reveal a different trend.
In March 2004, Western Australia became the first state
to ban outright planting of GM food
crops. Within a few days of this decision, Victoria imposed a four year
moratorium on the cultivation of
GM oilseeds rape to 'protect its
clean and green' image. South Australia and Tasmania have also
banned GM crops. In the United
States, Mendocino County of California became the country's first to
ban the raising and keeping of genetically engineered crops or animals. In March, the state ol Vermont,
in a historic decision, voted overwhelmingly to support a bill to hold
biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by genetically engineered plant materials.
The trend is the same across the
ocean, in the United Kingdom. The
dramatic turnaround by Bayer Crop
Science to give up attempts to
commercialise GM maize, has en-
The victims from left to right: Maize, Bt
cotton, Banana, Tomato, Sorghum and
sured that the country remains GM
free till at least 2008. Despite Tony
Blair's blind love for industry, tough
GM regulatory regime has come in
the way of the adoption of the technology. In Japan, consumer groups
announced their intention to
present a petition signed by over a
million to Canada's Agriculture and
Agri-Food Minister, Bob Speller. Japan is one of the biggest markets for
Canadian wheat, and the petition
calls for a ban on GE wheat in
In sharp contrast to what is happening in the developed North, in
April, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in India
approved yet another Bt cotton variety for the central and southern
regions amidst reports that the go-
ahead came without adequate scientific testing. The approval also
comes at a time when the United
States Department of Agriculture's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is seeking public comment on petitions from
Mycogen Seeds to deregulate two
lines of genetically engineered insect-resistant cotton. APHIS is seeking public comment on whether
these cotton lines pose a plant pest
Such has been the casual approach
to regulate this most controversial
technology that it has become practically difficult to keep track of the
new GEAC chief. They keep on
changing at a pace faster than that
expected from musical chairs. At the
same time, while the UK has set in
place a tough regulatory regime
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 making the companies liable for any
environmental mishap, India continues to ignore this aspect. The
regulations that the GEAC had announced at the time of according approval to Bt cotton in 2002 were only
aimed at pacifying the media. The
GEAC has not been held accountable
for its deliberate attempts to obfuscate public opinion, and it aU seems
part of an effort to help the seed industry make a fast buck.
It is a widely accepted fact that
the safety regulations, including the
mandatory buffer zone or refuge
around the Bt cotton fields, were not
adhered to. Yet the Ministry of Environment and forests in New Delhi
refrained from penalising the seed
company. Nor did it direct Mahyco-
Monsanto to compensate crop
losses that the farmers suffered in
the very first year of planting Bt cotton in 2002-03. That the crop had
failed to yield the desired results
was even highlighted in a parliamentary committee report.
While an NGO petition before the
Central Vigilance Commission
(CVC) seeking an enquiry into the
entire monitoring, evaluation and
approval process was ignored, the
US authorities have launched an investigation into reports of alleged
bribing of Indonesian government
officials who approved Bt cotton.
Both the US Department of Justice
and the Securities and Exchange
Commission are examining whether
a former consultant to Monsanto
made an improper USD 50,000 payment in early 2002. Reuters reports
that the company is one of the
world's leading developers of genetically modified seeds, but has
had trouble getting some of its
biotech crops approved in overseas,
including biotech cotton introduced
in Indonesia in 2001. Monsanto
closed down the biotech cotton sales
operations in 2003 after two unsuccessful years that came amid complaints over yields and pricing.
In Europe, a 2002 survey showed
that 61 per cent of the private sector
cancelled research and development activities as a result of moratorium actions. With highly critical
The North is not happy either,	
reports of regulatory mechanisms
coming in from respectable independent institutions, the trend in the
US is also towards tougher regulations. This has forced biotechnology
companies to even grow the next
generation of GM crops in abandoned mines, using artificial lighting and air filtration to prevent pollen movement.
In India, however, experiments
are even underway on several species of fish. In fact, such is the desperation that scientists are trying to
insert Bt gene into any crop they can
lay their hands on, not caring of any
of the possible outcomes. The mad
race for GM experiments is the outcome of more funding from biotech
companies as well as support from
the World Bank, the Food and
Agricultural Organisation (FAO)
and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
Interestingly, while the rest of the
world is stopping GM research in
the tracks lest it destroy farm trade
opportunities due to public rejection
of genetically engineered food products, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) merrily continues to sow a seeds of thorns for
agricultural exports thereby
jeopardising the future of domestic
farming. But then, who cares for the
farmers as long as GM research ensures the livelihood security for a
few thousand agricultural scientists. A
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
CBD: The unmaking of a treaty
A convention whose formulation brought together
developing countries as a unified bloc now faces
the unfortunate proposition of disjointed Southern
by S Faizi
The Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD) has been one
of the hard negotiated international treaties as the negotiators
from the South displayed unusual
unity and negotiation skills. Negotiated amidst the global political ambience of the emerging unipolar
world order and the unopposed
Western war on Iraq; the result was
a fairly balanced treaty that accommodates the legitimate interests of
both the South and North. Formulated in 1992 at the Earth Summit in
Rio de Janeiro, this was touted as a
comprehensive strategy for 'sustainable development'. The Convention establishes three main goals:
the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable
sharing of the benefits from the use
of genetic resources.
But perhaps that is all that could
be said of the Convention. More than
a decade after its entry into force, its
achievements remain volumes of
repetitive documents, endless stir-
realistically named committees and
fissiparous meetings. While the CBD
process indulged in its own virtual
world, in the real world biopiracy
remained unabated. The proceedings of the recently held seventh
meeting of the Conference of Parties
(CoP) do not leave room for much
hope either. The Kuala Lumpur
meeting (February 2004), in fact,
marked another retrogressive step
in terms of enforcement. The Con
vention unequivocally recognises
national   sovereign   rights   over
biodiversity, requires prior, informed consent for access to
biodiversity and stresses that such
access should be based on naturally
agreed terms. CBD also stipulates
that any commercial benefit derived
out of the use of biodiversity should
be equitably shared with the providing country, effectively making
biopiracy an international offence,
Species after species
have been misappropriated from the biorich
South, worked on and
patented, in violation of
the treaty.
and setting the fundamental legal
fmmowork  for providing .^rrpes to
biodiversity and benefit sharing.
However, these hard negotiated
provisions of the Convention were
ingeniously undermined by the
North, skilfully sidestepped by the
Convention Secretariat, and blissfully ignored by the parties from the
South. As a result species after species have been misappropriated
from the biorich South, worked on
and patented, all of it in violation of
the treaty.
The centrepiece of the Kuala
Lumpur meet was the decision to
develop an 'international regime' for
access to biodiversity and benefit
sharing. Such a decision was the
culmination of a lengthy process
initiated at the third CoP. While the
basis for access and benefit sharing
has been clearly laid out in the convention and it unconditionally requires the parties to take 'legislative,
administration or policy measures'
to facilitate benefit sharing with the
providing countries (Article 15.7),
this new exercise would only help
the developed countries to circumvent the legally binding requirements for benefit-sharing as provided in the convention, apart from
providing an excuse for continued
inaction on this count.
Article 15.7 reads:
Each Contracting Party shall take legislative, administrative or policy measures, as appropriate, and in accordance
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
with Articles 16 and 19 and, where necessary, through the financial mechanism established by Articles 20 and 21
with the aim of sharing in a fair and
equitable way the results of research and
development and the benefits arising
from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the Contracting Party providing such resources. Such sharing shall be upon mutually agreed terms.
Developing countries have, in
fact, been tricked into asking for an
international regime, while they
should actually have been asking
the CoP to review the implementation (or lack of it) of the relevant articles on access and benefit sharing,
especially Article 15.7. By agreeing
to negotiate the international regime, developed countries hope to
re-open issues that have already
been settled in the convention. For
instance, they already object to calling the proposed regime a 'legally
binding' one, while indeed the Convention has provided legally binding provisions for Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS).
United South
There has been a drastic weakening of the negotiating position of the
developing countries, which is disappointing considering the unusual
strength maintained by them in the
CBD formulation negotiations. In
retrospect, it was this strength that
enabled the developing countries to
totally reject the IUCN (The World
Conservation Union)-drafted articles and underlying notions that
states are simply 'guardians or custodians' of biodiversity (and not
owners); payment of a levy to a proposed international fund for
biodiversity use within their territory; placing the principal emphasis on 'access' to biodiversity, and
so on. In its clamouring for a convention on biodiversity in the late
80s, the key objective of the United
States was to legalise free and open
access to the biodiversity of the
Southern countries before they
could institute protective measures.
It was indeed a remarkable achievement of the Southern negotiators
Molecular biological research to study genetic resources for potential use._
It was indeed a remarkable achievement of
the Southern negotiators that they were able
to discard the IUCN draft
articles and the notions
contained therein that
formed the broad
Western negotiation
that they were able to discard the
IUCN draft articles and the notions
contained die re in that formed the
broad Western negotiation position.
It was the united and resourceful negotiations by the South that gave
birth to a balanced CBD, eliminating the prospect of a treaty for subjugating the most important resource of the South (It is this North-
South balance of CBD that prompted
the US, the original initiator of the
convention proposal, to stay away
from the treaty).
But such unity and efficiency
have withered since the treaty has
come into force. Developing countries have since remained largely
reactive and at best defensive. At
Kuala Lumpur, the G-77 arrangement was ineffective, due in part to
the late decision on its chair. The
half-minded partners did not have
any significant technical support
and the regional group meetings of
Asia and Africa were largely composed of monologues.
The conference adopted new
programmes of work on protected
areas, mountain biodiversity and
technology transfer. The protected
areas programme is a means to
achieve the 2010 target of significantly reducing the loss of
biodiversity, set by the 2002 World
Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South
Africa. Although the role of indigenous and local communities is factored in, there was no departure
from the exclusionary doctrine of
protected areas. While the programme on technology transfer
seeks to promote ways to enable the
transfer of appropriate technologies
to developing countries, the debate
on the subject did not address the
issue of how the parties have complied with the obligation under the
convention to 'take legislative, administrative or policy measures' to
transfer technology including those
protected by intellectual property
rights, on mutually agreed terms,
and to take exactly similar measures
to facilitate such technology transfers from the private sector (Article
16.4). This is another instance of
compromising on the convention's
legally binding provisions. The conference adopted guidelines for the
sustainable use of biodiversity,
biodiversity-related tourism and
environmental impact assessment
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
of development projects on the territories of indigenous peoples.
The West has never been comfortable with the CBD's recognition
of national sovereign rights over
biodiversity. In a panel discussion
organised by the United Nations
University and CBD Secretariat on
the sidelines of the CoP, one was
surprised to hear Vincent Sanchez,
the former Chilean Ambassador
who had fairly effectively chaired
the negotiation to formulate the convention, expressing discomfort with
the sovereignty provision. Supporting the expected argument of an
American delegate on the subject, he
observed that the sovereignty issue
had 'suddenly cropped up' in the
negotiations. One wonders as to
when was it that the resources, and
for that matter anything else, within
the territory of a nation were regarded as a global resource, that is,
in a post-colonial world.
At least for some, the global resource argument has been the result
of confusing biodiversity with the
subject of a prolonged debate within
the FAO parlance wherein the subject was 'genetic resources appropriated from the South and held in
the seed/gene banks in the North'.
Within the FAO fora, the South took
the lenient position of regarding
these translocated genetic resources
as a global resource, while the North
opposed access for the South to
these resources. And these resources remain untouchable to CBD
too by having denied retrospective
effect to CBD Article 15.3 which
For the purpose of this Convention,
the genetic resources being provided by
a Contracting Party, as referred to in
this Article and Articles 16 and 19, are
only those that are provided by Contracting Parties that are countries of
origin of such resources or by the Parties that have acquired the genetic resources in accordance with this Convention.
However, the Nairobi Final Act
that adopted the final text of CBD
had regarded the issue of access to
pre-CBD ex situ collections as an
outstanding  matter and  hence
The West has never
been comfortable with
the CBD's recognition
of national sovereign
rights over biodiversity.
called on the FAO system to address
this issue (Resolution 3). But the
subject of CBD's sovereignty provision is the opposite and simple: a
country's own biodiversity within
its territory.
The indigenous communities
have come a long way in playing a
significant role in the CBD process.
They have turned out in fairly good
numbers and were reasonably well
organised. However, one was disappointed to see a small segment of
indigenous groups being influenced
by fund-wielding Western agencies
in shaping their positions. India has
the largest population of indigenous people (whom the minority
ruling castes refuse to recognise as
indigenous) yet there was none to
represent them at the CoP. Several
affluent Western NGOs are listed as
collaborators in implementing the
protected areas programme. This is
obviously an arbitrary listing and
may set an unpleasant precedent.
In actual fact, these NGOs, though
they operate on the international
scale on the strength of their funds,
do not have an open membership,
democratic election of leadership or
adequate representation of citizens
from the South in their governance
structures. One fervently hopes that
such arbitrary recognition of NGOs
will not set a precedent.
Emil Salim who chaired the UN
preparatory meeting for the
Johannesburg Summit asked his
colleagues on the podium, in desperation, at the adjournment of an
inconclusive session during the
critical final meeting of the committee, "What shall we do with the
US?" (Salim had forgotten to switch
his microphone off and the next day
NGO representatives appeared at
the meeting venue wearing T-shirts
with the quote printed). How could
CBD achieve the 2010 target of substantially reducing the loss of
biodiversity without bringing the
country with the largest number of
endangered reptilian, amphibian
and fish species in the world into
its ambit? Nobody has raised the
issue of bringing the United States
to accede to the convention, not even
the Ministerial Declaration which
has called on all countries to accede
to the Biosafety Protocol. It may not
be entirely true that delegates were
happy not having the intimidating
voice of the US in the negotiation
halls. The United States can be
brought into the fold of the treaty
only if a forthcoming CoP decides
not to provide access to biodiversity
for non-parties.
The CBD represents a fair international legal mechanism available
for the sustainable management of
biodiversity, but its implementation
would depend on the .strength that
a unified South could gather in the
future negotiations. ;i
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 The Dam and the Tribal
The tribals of Tripura feel cheated of their land, and the hurt to the
psyche is deep. By decommissioning a dam, reclaiming the land underwater, and distributing it to the landless tribals, a unique effort
would be made to undo historical wrongs.
    by Subir Bhaumik 	
At 10,039 square kilometres, Tripura is northeast
India's smallest state. But this was not always
so. The Manikya rulers controlled much of East
Bengal's Comilla region during medieval times, and
later Maharaj Bijoy Manikya is said to have had the
rein from the hills all the way west to present-day Dhaka. With royal patronage, tolerance and multiculturalism flourished in an area otherwise divided by ethnicity and religion. As late as the year 2000, readers of the
Agartala-based daily Tripura Observer voted Maharaja
Bir Bikram as 'Tripura's Man of the Millennium' in
preference to those who have led the ^_____-^^^
state since the end of the royal order.
Even after the advent of the British, when the Tripura kingdom was
restricted to its present hill confines,
Bengalis and indigenous tribes-people lived in peace. No riots, not even
sporadic ethnic clashes were ever
reported between Bengali settlers
and the original populace of princely Tripura. If the Manikyas welcomed Bengali professionals or
peasants to modernise their administration or increase their land revenue through the
spread of settled wet-rice agriculture, they also created
a tribal reserve, which, in many ways, is the precursor
of today's Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District
The Partition unleashed a wave of migration from
East Pakistan to Tripura and other states on its borders. Though the indigenous tribes-people in the state
had not enjoyed a decisive majority like in the neighbouring Chittagong Hill Tracts or the Mizo hills, they
did account for up to 60 percent of the total population.
In the first three decades after Partition, the indigenous
people were reduced to below 30 percent of the state's
population, a situation which left them completely
marginalised in both self-perception and reality. This
The present ethnic conflict that pits the Bengali
settlers against the
indigenous tribes-
people in Tripura has
much to do with the
large scale land alienation of tribals.
land alienation it is which has fuelled the violent insurgency that has eaten into the vitals of this once vibrant state.
The problem did not emerge as long as the tribals
had enough land and the Bengali population was limited to certain urban or semi-urban pockets or rural areas around the capital. That changed with Independence and the merger of princely Tripura into the Indian Union A state which in 1951 had a population of
6.5 lakh saw an influx between 1947 and 1971, of six
lakh Bengalis displaced from East Pakistan. It is not
difficult to gauge the enormous population pressure thus created. During this period the state government
primarily resettled the refugees on
land under different schemes, some
enabling the refugees to settle down
with financial assistance and some
just helping them to buy land.
The operation of these schemes
accelerated the process of large-scale
loss of tribal lands. The pauperisation of the tribals can also be discerned in the growing number of tribal agricultural labourers in the three
decades since the Partition. In 1951, cultivators constituted close to 63 percent of the total tribal workforce,
while only nine percent were in the category of agricultural labourers. By 1981, only 43 percent of the tribal
workforce were cultivators and 24 percent were agricultural labourers.
But it would be wrong to assume that tribals alone
became landless paupers, with their lands were taken
over by Bengali settlers who grew at their expense - a
stereotype that tribal extremist groups seek to create.
For while it is true that tribals today account for 41
percent of the agricultural landless labourers in Tripura, the rest are non-tribals, almost wholly Bengalis. In
fact, the percentage of landless agricultural labourers
in Tripura's rural workforce is largely in keeping with
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Settler dwellings were razed by NLFT
militants in Bagber village (2000)
Fleeing the violence in Khowai
the population ratio of the two communities in the state.
While the Bengalis who arrived were accustomed
to sharp class differences in their erstwhile homeland,
East Bengal, the tribes-people of Tripura were not. At
an individual level, the indigenous people lost lands
mostly to Bengalis, rich or poor. Nevertheless, studies
made by the Law Research Institute in Guwahati in
certain areas of Tripura show the huge land loss suffered by the tribes-people at the hands of the Bengali
settlers. The study analysed the land transfer pattern
in seven 'non-scheduled' and an equal number of
'scheduled' villages in south and west Tripura. In the
former 60 percent of the land transfers were from tribals to non-tribals. In the latter the position was worse,
with 68 percent of the total land transfers made from
tribals to non-tribals. Of the villages ^^^^^^^^^^
under study, the heaviest tribal to
non-tribal transfer took place at Ha
waibari on the aAssam-aAgartala road
One has to go to Tcliamura, once a
small village but now a vital road
junction connecting west, north and
south Tripura. Gunomoni Sardar is
grandfather of the Indigenous National Party of Tripura (1NPT) leader
Debabrata Koloi and former Tripura
National Volunteers (TNV) military-
wing chief, Chuni Koloi. He used to
own almost seventy percent of the lands in Teliamura.
In 30 years, his descendants have hardly got a few hectares left for themselves by the side of the Tripura Road
Transport Corporation (TRTC) bus stand on the Assam-
Agartala Road.
Under the Congress administration, some Bengali
refugee leaders even set up 'land cooperatives' like the
Swasti Samity in north Tripura. These cooperatives violated the Tribal Reserves regulations, taking over large
swathes of land, a process that was legitimised by conniving bureaucrats. The Communist Party mobilised
the tribesmen and even took the matter to courts to secure a favourable verdict that was not honoured by the
bureaucracy. .Angry at such collusion, and frustrated
by the lack of institutional support to undo the damage, many tribal youth took to the jungles. The first sig-
Official records suggest
2558 families were
ousted from the Gumti
project area - these
were families who could
produce land deeds and
were officially owners of
the land.
nificant underground group in
post-merger Tripura was born — the
Sengkrak or 'clenched fist'.
The Sengkrak movement, as the
first manifestation of overt ethnic
militancy, started in 1967 as a direct fallout of the large scale loss of
land, abetted by the state. The ruling Congress government backed
the occupation of tribal lands in the
Deo valley by Bengali settlers
grouped under the Swasti Samity,
while the Reang tribesmen organised themselves into a
militant group to hit back at the new Bengali settlers.
This writer had conducted a correlation analysis
between land alienation and tribal insurgency in August 1984 by choosing to interview the family members
of 84 extremists of the Tribal National Volunteers. They
had been gathered at a government hostel as part of
Chief Minister Nripen Chakrabarti's 'motivation drive'
to facilitate the return of the guerrillas to normal life.
Fully 64 percent of the families had suffered loss of land
to Bengalis while 32 percent of them were from families
of jhumias or shifting cultivators who were under increasing pressure to find fresh lands for cultivation due
to the growing occupation of hill stretches by Bengali
refugees. Only four percent were from families with
     enough land that had not been lost
to the settlers.
In settled agricultural areas like
Khowai and Sadar, all within a hundred kilometres of the state's capital Agartala, between 20 to 40 percent of the tribal lands had been
alienated by the end of the 1970s,
when tribal insurgency gathered
momentum. In some parts of south
Tripura, as much as 60 percent of
the tribal lands were alienated —
sold in distress conditions as a sequel to an unequal economic com-
~~*~ petition with the Bengali settlers.
The land loss at the level of the individual was further
compounded by large scale loss of tribal lands to huge
government projects such as the Dumbur Hydroelectric project, where an estimated 5000 to 8000 families
lost their holdings with only a small percentage of them
possessing title deeds to prove ownership for the sake
of rehabilitation. The pauperisation of Dumbur's once
prosperous tribal peasantry contrasted with the huge
benefits that Bengali urban dwellers gained by electricity and Bengali fishermen gained by being able to fish
in the large reservoir. This was not lost on a generation
of angry tribal youth who took up arms and left for the
jungles to fight an administration they felt was only
working in the interests of the Bengali refugees alone.
Insurgent leader Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, now back
to mainstream politics after his TNV returned to normal
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
life following an accord in 1988,
used to refer to Nripen Chakrabarty as the 'refugee chief minister' of Tripura.
Insurgency Related Killings in Tripura
400 ~
300 -
100 -
Catchment of resentment
The heartburn over steady
land loss on a one-to-one basis
was further exacerbated by the
submergence of huge swathes
of arable lands owned by the
tribals in the Raima Valley as
a result of the commissioning
of the Gumti hydel project in
south Tripura. This project not
only disturbed the fragile ecology of the Raima Valley, but
also introduced a permanent
sense of loss into the tribal
psyche. All tribal organisations including the Communist-backed Gana Mukti
Parishad fiercely protested the commissioning of the
Gumti hydro-electric project in 1976. But the Congress
government crushed the protests. The project was determined to augment Tripura's deficit power supply
but it ended up augmenting the catchment area of tribal unrest by dispossessing thousands of them of their
only economic resource and collec-   	
tive symbol — their land.
A 30 metre high gravity dam was
constructed across the river Gumti
about 3.5 kilometres upstream of
Tirthamukh in south Tripura district
for generating 8.6 megawatts of power from an installed capacity of 10
MW. The dam submerged a valley
area of 46 sq km. This was one of the
most fertile valleys in an otherwise
hilly state, where arable flatlands
suitable for wet rice agriculture are
extremely limited. Official records
suggest 2558 families were ousted from the Gumti
project area - these were families who could produce
land deeds and were officially owners of the land they
were ousted from. Unofficial estimates varied between
8000 to 10,000 families or about 60 to 70 thousand tribes-
people displaced.
In the tribal societies of the Northeast, ownership of
land is rarely personal and the system of recording land
deeds against individual names is a recent phenomenon. Most of those ousted by the Dumbur failed to get
any rehabilitation grant and were forced to settle in the
hills around the project, returning to slash-and-burn
agriculture called /7mm. The present Feft government
has recently announced that all Dumbur ousted, wherever they are, will be covered under the 'Kutir Jyoti'
electrification programme. A list of 500 Dumbur ousted
families was supplied to the Power Department, which
Security Forces
Terrorists CZ
Total ■
While the Bengalis who
arrived were accustomed to sharp class
differences in their
erstwhile homeland,
East Bengal, the
tribes-people of Tripura
were not.
has provided electricity connections to 114 families
under the Kutir Jyoti programme. But what these families need more than free electricity is arable land and
resources to earn a livelihood.
The dam destroyed the once surplus tribal peasant
economy of the state. Tripura's leading economist Mal-
abika Dasgupta has shown in her study on the Gumti
^^^^^^^^^^ hydel project that "attempts either
to protect the environment to the exclusion of considerations for the
well being of the people or to improve
their level of well being without consideration for the environmental impact of such policies can neither protect the environment nor improve the
standard of living of the people".
The Gumti, Tripura's principal
river, is formed by the confluence of
two small rivers, Raima and Sarma,
the former flowing out of the Tongth-
arai range, the latter originating from
the Atharamura range. Prior to the dam, the river Gumti flowed southwards through a gorge in the Atharamura range, beyond the confluence point of the Raima
and Sarma. lt spilled over a series of rapids which were
locally known as the Dumbur falls at the point of Tirthamukh (literally 'pilgrim's point'), a place considered
holy by the tribals as well as the Bengali settlers, who
would bathe in the river during the pious Sankranti
every winter. Beyond Tirthamukh, the Gumti flows
westwards up to Malbassa village and then changes
direction again, cutting through the Deotamura range.
After crossing the Deotamura, it flows for another 60
kilometres before it enters Bangladesh. After flowing
about 80 kilometres through eastern Bangladesh, it joins
the Meghna river which flows into the Bay of Bengal.
The upper catchment of the Gumti comprises of 11
Gaon Sabhas - nearly 60 villages in all - in the Gan-
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
dacherra block of Tripura's newly formed Dhalai district. The upper reaches of the catchment area is steep
and hilly, but as it flows towards Tirthamukh it is
flanked by small flat-topped hills locally called tillas
with many lungas or lowlands between them. As the
river comes down to Tirthamukh, the Gumti waters
huge flatlands all the way along its course into Bangladesh. Before the commissioning of the hydel project,
the upper catchments supported a small population of
tribals. The small Bengali population practised wet-
rice cultivation around Boloungbassa and Raima and
some were into trading while the tribals, originally almost all slash-and-burn agriculturists called jhumias,
had began to settle down to wet-rice cultivation, having learnt it from the Bengali farmers. The Kings of
Tripura had settled some Bengali farmers even in such
remote areas to encourage tribals to pick up wet-rice
cultivation and abandon jhum, which is ecologically
Before the dam, the hills around
the present project area were sparsely populated and the area was almost wholly under dense forest cover supporting wildlife. The Tripura
Gazetteer of 1975 talked of sighting
Targe herds of Indian elephants in
the Raima-Sarma region along with
some tigers and bears in the dense
forests'. Dasgupta writes that the
area "was an abode of deers, bears,
wild boars, tigers, elephants and a
wide variety jungle cats". The region
was rich in flora and fauna.
However, after the hydel project
was commissioned, not only did almost half of the tribal families displaced by the Dam move into the hills
in the river's upper catchment area, but the roads built
to first transport construction material and then to support the Hydel project opened up the rich forests of the
area to illegal logging. The surplus-producing tribal
peasantry were not only angry for having lost their rich
flatlands and lungas - they were forced to revert back
to slash-and-burn jhum cultivation that has caused irreparable damage to the ecology of the upper Gumti
catchment. Illegal logging by businessmen backed by
politicians has further damaged the ecology. During
two extensive trips into the Gumti valley in 1985 and
1998, this writer found extensive felling of trees and no
presence of forest guards.
The tribal insurgents of the National Liberation Front
of Tripura, or the NLFT, have not banned tree felling, as
has been done by some rebel groups in the Northeast
such as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland
(NDFB). Instead, NLFT has encouraged it. In large parts
of the Gumti valley upstream of Tirthamukh, tribal villagers report that the insurgents have allowed loggers
to operate freely so long as they made their payments.
In fact, relatives of some insurgent leaders were in the
business, entering partnership deals with the Bengali-
owned saw mills of Amarpur, Udaipur and Sonamura.
Thus, the tribal insurgents who had capitalised on the
community's anger at the large scale displacement in
Gumti were now collaborating with the most exploitative segments of the settler society.
The present ethnic conflict that pits the Bengali settlers against the indigenous tribes-people in Tripura
has much to do with the large scale land alienation of
tribals because land is seen not only as the prime economic resource in a rather backward pre-capitalist
agrarian society like Tripura but also as the symbol of
the 'ethnic space'. Secondly, the psychological pressure felt by the tribes-people has been further aggravated by the Dumbur hydel project which, in one stroke,
has contributed the most to the ongoing process of land
alienation. The project has caused huge damage not
only to the ecology of the Raima-Sarma valley but also to inter-community relations in the state. Finally, it
is this writer's contention that this
white elephant project should be decommissioned to make way for large
scale land reclamation that can be
used to resettle landless tribes-people in a major gesture of undoing
Never before has a
development project
been dismantled to
preserve the interests of
the indigenous peoples.
Decommission the dam!
The Gumti hydel project must be decommissioned for four reasons:
Firstly, the Gumti hydel project
is now producing not more than
seven MW of power even in the peak
monsoon season, The state govern-
__ ment claims that bv investing LMR
11.8 million, it has been able to restore the output to the
original installed capacity of 10 MW. It also says that
while the running cost of the project is around INR 30
million per annum, it rakes in nearly INR 210 million
through sale of electricity. Officials in the Tripura power department describe the project as "very profitable".
But experts say the siltation levels would continue to
increase unless the reservoir can be dredged, there can
in fact be no increase in output. The power production
from Gumti is expected to diminish progressively.
Secondly, with huge natural gas reserves now discovered in Tripura and major gas thermal power
projects in the pipeline (including one with the capacity to generate 500 MW against the state's current peak
demand of 125 MW), it is wasteful to invest in the Gumti hydel project. If the state can produce three times more
electricity than it now uses, there is a strong case for
decommissioning a dam, a process that would free a
huge area for other pressing needs. An ideal power strategy for Tripura would be to produce around 500-600
MW of electricity, feed half of that into the Northeast-
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
em Grid, use 150 to 200 MW within the state keeping in
mind the rising demand, and sell the balance of 100
MW to Bangladesh. This has been the suggestion of PK
Chatterji former chairman of the North Eastern Electric
Power Corporation (NEEPCO). In the long run, as Bangladesh augments its own power capacity, the surplus
Tripura power could be used locally in the event of
major industrialisation or fed into the regional grid for
neighbouring perpetually power deficient states such
as Mizoram which lack the gas reserves of Tripura.
Thirdly, since more than 45 sq km can be reclaimed
from under water if the Gumti hydel project is decommissioned, huge fertile tracts of flatland would be
opened up for farming and resettlement of the landless
tribal peasantry. The fertility of this land - already good
before inundation — is likely to increase after so many
years siltation. At least 30,000 tribal families, perhaps
the whole of the state's landless population, can be
gainfully resettled on this fertile tract.
Before the dam the area's fertility was
a talking point in the state. Tripura
is a food deficit state, and turning this
valley into a modern agrarian zone
would also help in solving the state's
food problems.
During resettlement, each family
can be given at least one hectare of
prime agricultural land - thrice the
average land holding size in Tripura. The problem of tribal land alienation would thus be tackled realistically. Solution of the deep seated conflict between the tribals and Bengalis needs both symbols and substance - and this gesture would provide both. Never before has a development project been dismantled to
preserve the interests of the indigenous peoples. A white elephant
project would thus be decommissioned in view of its
potential to solve the problem of tribal landlessness.
Fourthly, if the entire or almost the entire tribal landless population can be gainfully resettled in the Gumti
project area, this would free the hilly forest regions in
the upper catchment of human pressure. Since most of
the landless tribals practise jhum, it is essential to settle
this entire population in wet plains in Gumti. The hills
cannot take the high pressure of human settlements,
while the plains can. So, from the ecological viewpoint
as well, the resettlement of the landless tribals of Tripura in the Gumti project area would be a welcome initiative. The state's forest cover, now receding, would improve; degraded forests would be reclaimed for nature,
and plantations would be developed where possible.
A word of caution: the area likely to be reclaimed in
Gumti project area should be used only for resettling
tribal landless - a compact area in keeping with Maharaja Bir Bikram's tribal reserve concept.
The tribal population
must be reminded that
the insurgents never
address grassroots
development issues
such as land.
Empty stomachs, angry minds
The Gumti decommissioning proposal should be implemented before ethnic polarisation between Bengali
settlers and indigenous tribes-people snowballs beyond
control. The state is still ruled by the CPI (M)-led Left
Front, a left-of-centre coalition which has support both
amongst Bengalis and tribes-people. Tribal parties and
militant groups will support the dam's decommissioning, and Bengali extremist groups have not yet emerged
to resist it. A political dialogue can be initiated to create
the proper climate for decommissioning and the creation of an alternative economy for Tripura.
Even the security agencies stand to benefit from this
settlement - a happily settled tribal population, easily
'monitored', is less of a headache for the police than if it
is spread out over a huge hill region with a poor economy that creates empty stomachs and angry minds.
Otherwise the incidence of insurgent violence in Tripura, very considerable for such a tiny
state, would be hard to control. According to police statistics, more
than 3000 people including 158
schoolteachers were kidnapped
and 1697 people (including security personnel) were killed in the decade between 1993 and 2003. The
trend of violence has accelerated in
the last year.
One would argue that the Bengalis can buy peace through the process of ethnic reconciliation that the
decommissioning of the Dumbur hydel project and redistribution of the
lands reclaimed can start off. The root
cause of the tribal insurgency would
have been addressed. The tribal peasantry can be substantially empowered through this relocation of prior-
ities. If the dam goes, some Bengali
fishermen in the area will feel the loss of the Dumbur
Lake (as the Gumti reservoir is popularly known), but
the rehabilitation of a few families would not pose an
insurmountable hurdle. In the larger interest of ethnic
reconciliation in Tripura, the dam ought to go.
Tribal insurgency in Tripura, now largely criminalised, must be fought relentlessly. The tribal population must be reminded that the insurgents never address grassroots development issues such as land. Till
now, they have focused only on power-sharing or resorted to mafia-style extortions. The insurgents have
not sought strategies for the empowerment of the tribal
peasantry. In one stroke, decommissioning the dam
would change the face of Tripura and hold out hope for
many communities and regions elsevvhere on India and
Southasia- b
Note: See also Tripura's brutal cul de sac'
by Anindita Dasgupta in December 2001 Himal
(h ttp://w ww.himalmag. com/decern ber2001/essay, htm)
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
Replicating Kerala and Sri Lanka
TWO YEARS turned the Indian subcontinent into
Southasia. Between 14 August 1947 and 4 February
1948, India, Pakistan (its eastern part would later become Bangladesh), and Sri Lanka all gained independence from the British Empire. Amid the optimism of
independence, the new states were comparable in population health and development indicators. Their
progress since has been different.
Non-communicable and communicable diseases
ravage Southasia. Tobacco and pharmaceutical industries are exploiting weak legislation to nurture new
markets. There is little pride in the progress of surgery,
health research, or postgraduate education. Yet one
challenge dwarfs all these: the desperate state of maternal and child health. The scale of morbidity and mortality caused byneglect of mothers and children is driving the region to disaster. And unless regional priorities switchfrom nuclear weapons to maternal and child
health the progress that is being made in community
development, by integrating care in refugee camps,
by the creators of the Jaipur foot and the Karachi
ambulance service, and on cricket fields will count for
The answers to the region's problems may already
be with us. Despite a civil war, Sri Lanka has the best
health indicators in the region (also beating those of
most other countries with comparable incomes), with
Kerala tides over basic human indices.
average life expectancy at 73 years, infant mortality at
16 per 1000, and maternal mortality at 30 per 100 000
live births. India's Kerala state has achieved health and
demographic indicators far ahead of Indian national
averages, with similar levels to Sri Lanka; over 80 percent of infants receive all routine vaccines by one year,
use of family planning services is high, and population
growth is steady at replacement levels.
The genesis of this success is an object lesson for the
entire region. Soon after independence Sri Lanka decided to invest heavily in education and health as a
cornerstone of socioeconomic development. Gains in
education have been impressive, with literacy rates for
both sexes exceeding 90 percent. Similarly, Kerala has
the highest literacy rates among all Indian states. Both
have maintained policies to achieve gender and social
equity, reflected in outstanding health and economic
indicators for women. In Sri Lanka, women constitute
over half the work force.
Political-will and grassroots support have stimulated development, underpinning largely consistent
health and investment strategies. Soon after independence, both governments introduced agrarian reform
that ended feudal land holdings, thus alleviating poverty and promoting equity. An important policy plank
has been a focus on primary care —especially maternal
and child health — through a multilayered health system with adequate provision of basic services at community level. Sri Lanka does not have a single magnetic
resonance scanner in the public sector, epitomising a
deliberate public focus on primary and secondary care.
By contrast, many other countries in Southasia boast
expensive tertiary care institutions (where sophisticated
imaging is to be found), with low funding of primary
and rural care.
This progress has not gone unchecked. Improvements in socioeconomic conditions prompted
growth of the private sector in Kerala,as public institutions failed to keep up with the
population's demand for quality care. A recent review of community health workers found
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
Sri Lanka outperforms the neighbours.
gaps in their ability to adapt from implementing vertical national programmes to problem solving at local
level. Others have criticised health in Kerala as "low
mortality high morbidity", with little attention paid to
diseases of transition. Local communities, in typical
fashion, have assumed the responsibility for resolving
these issues.
What can the rest of Southasia learn from Kerala
and Sri Lanka? Firstly, given leadership, investments
in education and primary care can provide a framework for human development. Secondly, gains have been
achieved against a background of participatory democracy; indeed, social consciousness is crucial in overcoming the menace of corruption. Thirdly, maternal and
child health is critical to development.
Can the rest of Southasia follow this lead? Yes, but
doing so requires setting aside political differences, resolving regional conflicts, and creating an atmosphere
that reduces spending on defence and nuclear arsenals.
This may sound like wishful thinking but how else will
we create hope from the despair of untold child death,
wanton neglect of girls and women, and a rich elite
feasting on the misery of millions in poverty? Health
professionals in the region have an opportunity to
join hands across national boundaries, cast aside historic divisions that suffocate progress, and begin to
realise this vision of something better — a vision crystal clear in the heady days of independence, since lost
in the intervening years of poverty, conflict, and
nationalism. b
Zulfiqar Bhutta, Samiran Nundy and
Kamran Abbasi
In the British Medical Journal
(online edition at
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2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
The theological 'other'
'Hindus' and 'Muslims' may not exactly be the
distinct monolithic identities, as is made out
in political rhetoric. The Hindus and Muslims
of South India are a case in point.
Compared to North India, rela
tively little has been written on
the social history of Islam and Hindu-Muslim relations in the southern states of India. This is particularly unfortunate, given that Islam
arrived on coastal South India considerably before it made its appearance in the north. The spread of Islam in most of South India, in contrast to much of the north, was not
accompanied by Muslim political
expansion, being, instead, mainly
the result of the peaceful missionary efforts of the Sufis and traders.
Furthermore, and again unlike the
situation in much of the north, Hindu-Muslim relations in most parts
of South India have been fairly tension-free, and continue to be so, although things are now changing
with the rise in recent years of aggressive Hindutva organisations in
the peninsula.
This book sets out to explore various aspects of Hindu-Muslim relations in Kamataka state. In doing
so, it seriously challenges several
key assumptions that underlie both
commonsensical notions as well as
scholarly writings on the vexed issue of the Hindu-Muslim encounter. Examining various shared religious traditions, cults and shrines
in rural Kamataka with which
many Hindus and Muslims are associated, Assayag questions the
notion of 'Islam' and 'Hinduism' as
practiced religions, two monolithic
entities, neatly defined and clearly
set apart, if not opposed to each other. He challenges the understanding of 'Hindus' and 'Muslims' as
two distinct communities that have
little or nothing in common at the
level of social practice and religious
beliefs and rituals. Assayag thus
challenges the grossly simplistic
and misleading notion of 'Hindus'
and 'Muslims' as being inherently
and necessarily the theological 'other' for either.
The shared religious traditions
in which many Muslims and Hindus in present-day Kamataka joint-
Ai tbe
At the Confluence of Two
Rivers—Muslims and
Hindus in South India
Author: Jackie Assayag
Publisher: Manohar, New Delhi
Year: 2004
Pages: 313
reviewed by
Yoginder Sikand
They jointly participate
in rituals on the day of
Ashura in the month of
Muharram; a Hindu
chooses a Muslim as
the custodian of a
Hindu shrine and vice
ly participate form the main focus
of this book. Assayag provides interesting anthropological details of
the beliefs and practices associated
with the traditions within the cults
of various Sufis and local deities,
revealing how the common participation of both Hindus and Muslims
in these cults helps to promote a
shared tradition and culture. Thus,
Hindus flock in large numbers to
Sufi shrines; village Muslims often
visit Hindu temples where some of
them even 'experience' being 'possessed' by the local goddess; Hindus enrol as disciples of a certain
Muslim saint; Muslims and Hindus
jointly participate in rituals on the
day of Ashura in the month of Muharram; a Hindu chooses a Muslim
as the custodian of a Hindu shrine
and vice versa.
Such shared traditions owe their
existence in part to the nature of the
process of the spread of Islam in the
region. Islamisation, typically, took
the form not of a sudden and drastic conversion but, rather, of a long
and gradual process of religio-cul-
tural transformation that was limited in its impact, and left many aspects of the converts' pre-Islamic
tradition largely unchanged. Plus,
the Sufi saints used several local traditions and motifs in their missionary work so that much of the local
tradition came to be understood as
'Islamic' by the converts. The belief
in the power of the local Hindu deities as well as Sufis as powerful
beings, being able to cure ailments
or grant wishes, attracted Hindus
as well as Muslims to their shrines,
a phenomenon that is still observable in many parts of Kamataka.
Yet, while all of this undoubtedly helped bring Hindus and Muslims into a shared cultural universe
and into closer contact with each
other, the bond of shared tradition
has not been entirely devoid of tension. In the case of several shared
shrines and cults, the coexistence
between Hindus and Muslims
could, Assayag argues, be better
described as 'competitive sharing',
'competitive syncretism' or even
'antagonistic tolerance'. This is re-
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
fleeted in myths and counter-myths
about commonly revered figures
through which each community
seeks to stress its superiority over
the other, in the process fashioning
an identity for itself based on a rewritten collective memory.
Increasingly, this antagonistic
aispect is becoming particularly pronounced as reflected, tor instance,
in the current dispute over the
shrine of the Sufi Raja Bagh Sawar,
whom many Hindus now claim to
have been a Brahmin, Chang Dev,
or the case of the shrine of Baba
Budhan in Chikamagalur, which
Hindutva militants now seek to convert into a full-fledged Hindu temple, denying its Islamic roots and
associations altogether. Assayag
discusses these new challenges to
the shared Hindu-Muslim tradition
in Kamataka in the wider context
A the process of urbanisation, the
rise of Hindutva militancy in the
region in recent years and the consequent heightening of Muslim insecurities. The author also discusses the emergence of Islamic reformist movements and the role of the
state in defining fixed religious
identities and policing community
Reverence vs. worship
As an anthropological study of Hindu-Muslim relations, focusing on
the complex nature of shared or
'syncretistic' religious traditions,
this book poses the important question of how local Muslims and Hindus identify themselves and relate
to each other. In that sense, it rightly critiques the notion of Hindus
and Muslims as monolithic communities inherently opposed to each
other. Not everyone will agree with
everything that Assayag has to say,
however. Some readers might find
his language at times dull and
heavy. Most crucially, his understanding of Islam and local Islamic
traditions can be faulted. Thus,
while he refers to the emergence of
the Mapilla Muslims of the Malabar coast as a result of mut'a or temporary marriages contracted by
Arab Shafi'i Muslim traders, he does
not provide any evidence of this,
and it is unlikely that this is correct,
since mut'a is not recognised by the
Shafi'i school. He refers to the great
Deccani Sufi Hazrat Bandanawaz
Gesudaraz as 'Bandanamaz', and
claims that his tomb is 'worshipped' by many Muslims. This,
of course, is incorrect, as the devotees of the Sufis do not worship their
tombs at all.
Assayag confuses reverence for
worship. He refers to the panjah, a
hand-shaped metal object often displayed at village shrines during the
month of Muharram, as generally-
having only three fingers, explaining this as 'in keeping with the Sunni creed which recognises only the
first three Caliphs'. This is quite
untrue. The panjahs almost inevitably have five fingers, representing
the panjatan pak, the five members
of the 'holy family' of the Prophet.
Further, as anyone even familiar
with Islam and Islamic history
would know, it is absurd to claim
that the Sunnis recognise only the
first three 'rightly guided' caliphs.
At several points the author makes
sweeping statements, not backed by-
evidence, such as when he refers to
the 'masochistic character to which
the austere piety of the Shi'ites is so
inclined', or when he refers to the
rulers of various Sultanates in the
Deccan as 'waging war' to convert
Hindus to lslam, or when he speaks
of 'Islamist militants' (instead of 'Islamic reformists') seeking to purge
the local religious tradition of various superstitious practices and beliefs.
Despite these obvious flaws, the
book serves a valuable purpose, providing a fascinating glimpse into the
little-known world of village-level
communities that are generally ignored in 'standard' works on Hindu-Muslim relations in India.      b
Kashmiriyat and Islam
The conflict in Kashmir may be projected as
the 'militant Islamic' assault on the state. But
the origins of Kashmiriyat were never built on
inter-religious antagonism.
Standard Indian journalistic and
even purportedly 'scholarly' accounts of the emergence of the mass
uprising in Kashmir tend to portray
it as an externally inspired 'Islamic
fundamentalist' movement against
the supposedly secular Indian state.
This is course a misreading of a very-
complex phenomenon. While the
religious aspect obviously cannot
be ignored, the Kashmiri Muslim
resentment against Indian rule cannot be said to be simply a result of
inherent antagonism between Islam
and Hinduism or between Muslims
and Hindus as such. For one thing,
the very notion of the Indian state
(against which the Kashmiri movement for self-determination defines
itself) as 'secular' is questionable.
Furthermore, the argument that the
Kashmiri movement is in essence an
'Islamic' or a Muslim 'communal'
one ignores the fact that long before
the Islamists entered the scene, the
movement was led largely by secular elements, such as the jammu and
Kashmir Liberation Front, who,
while advocating independence for
Kashmir, were opposed to the notion of an 'Islamic' state, at least of
the kind proposed by Islamists active in Kashmir today, such as the
Lashkar-i Tayyeba and the Jama'at-
i Islami.
Understanding the roots of the
Kashmiri movement requires one to
take a historical perspective, exam-
2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
ining the changing contours of
Kashmiri identity over time. This is
precisely what author Chitralekha
Zutshi sets out to do in this well-
researched book. She questions the
notion of 'Kashmiriyat' as a unified
cohesive vision of Kashmir's past
that ignores, perhaps deliberately,
crucial internal differences and contradictions of religion, sect, caste,
class, region, language and ethnicity. Zutshi's particular focus is on
how the notion of Kashmiriyat came
to be developed over time in response to wider social, cultural,
economic and political developments in Kashmir. In the process,
she examines how key Kashmiri
leaders sought to balance their commitment to Islam, on the one hand,
and to the notion of a Kashmiri nation, on the other.
The notion of a well-defined
Kashmiri identity, Zutshi argues,
was not the original product of
Kashmiri nationalist minds, but,
instead, owed much to colonial discourses on Kashmir pre-dating the
rise of Kashmiri nationalism. From
the 17th century, European travellers wrote about the 'happy vale' of
Kashmir where, as they saw it, Muslims and Hindus alike were rather
lax in their religious commitments
and where, unlike in other parts of
the subcontinent, the two communities lived amicably together. Zutshi claims that this romanticised
picture, while true to some extent,
ignored crucial internal differences
that seriously challenge the notion
of Kashmiri religious syncretism
and the argument that communitarian differences were relatively marginal in Kashmir.
Closely examining pre-colonial,
colonial and Dogra records, as well
as the writings of Kashmiri Pundits
and Muslim spokesmen, Zutshi
traces the complex process of the
construction of a distinct Kashmiri
Muslim identity. She argues that
Sikh rule in Kashmir, under which
the Muslim peasantry suffered considerable hardship, naturally led to
a growing stress on the Muslim aspect of the identity of the Kashmiri
Muslim majority which, in turn,
functioned as a means to articulate
dissent and protest. This was carried further under the Dogra regime,
which increasingly relied on orthodox Brahminical Hinduism to claim
sanction for itself. As Zutshi writes,
the growing salience of the specifically 'Muslim' aspect of the identity of the Kashmiri Muslims was 'a
direct result of the overtly Hindu
nature of the Dogras' apparatus of
legitimacy'. Under the Dogras, the
Kashmiri Muslims, as a whole, suffered heavy privations. Top government posts and large estates were
almost entirely monopolised by
Dogras, Punjabis and Kashmiri
Languages of Belonging:
Islam, Regional Identity and
the Making of Kashmir
By Chitralekha Zutshi
Publisher: Permanent Black, Delhi
Year: 2003
Pages: 359
Price: Rs. 695
ISBN: 81-7824-060-2
reviewed by
Yoginder Sikand
Pundits. As a consequence, Islam
and Islamic consciousness served
as a crucial vehicle for the Kashmiri
Muslims to express protest against
their marginalisation and oppression. In this sense, as Zutshi says,
the emerging Kashmiri Muslim
identity cannot be said to have been
communal' in the narrow sense of
the term.
From the late 19th century onwards, in the context of Dogra rule,
remarkable changes began to emerge
in the ways that Kashmiris, Muslims and Pundits, defined themselves, their religious identities,
their inter-relationships and their
understanding of Kashmir. Kash
miri Pundits who, although a relatively tiny minority, were over-represented in the government services, leaned heavily on the Dogra regime and, some notable exceptions
apart, were hostile to the movement
for democracy and the end of Dogra
rule that was gradually emerging
among the Kashmiri Muslims.
Faced with growing resentment
among the Muslims against the oppressive 'Hindu' Dogra regime,
many Pundits moved in the direction of a more distinctly 'orthodox'
Hinduism or to the Arya Samaj,
with its characteristic hostility towards Islam and Muslims. For their
part, the Muslims witnessed the
emergence of new Islamic reformist
stirrings emanating from outside
Kashmir which were then articulated by the new, albeit miniscule,
Muslim middle-class. The Kashmiri Muslim reformists were influenced by a range of new voices, including the Aligarh movement, the
madrassa at Deoband, various Punjabi Muslim organisations, and the
heterodox Ahmadi community.
Many of them were in the forefront
of advocating modern as well as Islamic education among the Muslims of the state, and played the role
of leaders in demanding Muslim
rights and in opposing the Dogra
regime. Through their writings,
speeches and organisational efforts
they developed a discourse on the
rights of the Kashmiri Muslims
based on an Islamic vision of a just
This growing salience of Islam
as the defining element of Kashmiri
Muslim identity did not mean, however, that internal differences were
somehow solved. In fact, in some
respects they were only further exacerbated, with the emergence of
new intra-Muslim religious differences. Zutshi describes how Muslim reformists bitterly critiqued the
custodians of the Sufi shrines for
making a living off the credulous,
for various un-islamic beliefs and
practices that they upheld, for ignoring the real-world plight of the common Muslims and, in the case of
some, for collaborating with the
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
Dogra regime, hi turn, many custodians of the shrines attacked the reformists as 'anti-Islamic' or 'Wah-
habi', appealing to the authorities
to ban their activities. In addition to
the 'sectarian' differences were personality clashes, such as between
the Mirwaiz of the Jami'a Masjid in
Srinagar and the Mirwaiz of the
Shah-i Hamadan shrine, both of
whom sought to present themselves
as the true representatives of the
Muslims of the region.
The movement for self-determination of the Kashmiris entered a
new stage in the 1930s, with the setting up of the .All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, and then the
National Conference. Zutshi critically examines the politics of these two
groups and the differing agendas that
they proposed, looking particularly
at their different understandings of
Islam and Kashmiri identity. She
then draws her study to a conclu-
Dogra monarch, Maharaja Hari Singh
with Maharani Tara Devi.
Under the Dogras, the
Kashmiri Muslims suffered heavy privations.
Top government posts
and large estates were
almost entirely
monopolised by
Dogras, Punjabis and
Kashmiri Pundits.
sion by examining the dilemmas facing the Kashmiris and their relationship to Islam and national identity
in the aftermath of the Partition. Distancing herself from any particular
'nationalist' position, she highlights
the pressing necessity to 'resolve the
uneasy historical relationship between religion, region, nation and
[.,.] nation-states' in the case of Kashmir. The Kashmiris, she says, 'became citizens of India and Pakistan
without acquiring the concomitant
social, economic and political rights
on either side of the border'. This being the case, she argues, a lasting solution to the Kashmir question requires policymakers and scholars in
Pakistan, India and elsewhere to
'deconstruct Indian and Pakistani
nationalist narratives and agendas
in relation to jKashmir' and to examine the question afresh from the
viewpoint of the Kashmiris themselves. A
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2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
The empire of reckless depoliticisation
When allegiance to Power was demanded,
Those who said 'yes' and those who said 'no',
Were both considered offenders.
—Faiz Ahmad Faiz
TO BUILD and hold their empire, the Romans built
roads. Portuguese spice-traders and Spanish speculators became emperors by exploring shorter and safer
sea lanes. The defeat of the Spanish Armada might have
helped the rise of Pax Britannia, but to hold itself together, the latter had to extend its penetration inland,
which it did through river navigation and later by building railways. But the dominance of these emperors of
the Old World came to be challenged with the laying of
submarine cables. Communication networks became
the new tool of control over the 'colonies'. Emperors of
the New World could sit in the climate-controlled offices of Langley and Foggy Bottom and direct the course
of events in distant lands. Thus arose a string of puppet dictators throughout Asia, Africa, and South America in the decades after the Second World War.
The 'decolonisation' process ^^aa^HrB
worked well in very few countries;
for most, all that happened was that
the centre shifted from London and
Paris to Washington and New York.
In later years, satellite television began to rock the Russian Bear, which
fell from its pedestal in the wake of a
showdown with the jehadis in the desert wilderness of
Afghanistan. Instead of real warriors, the Americans
sent in the Rambo video to try and manage the ensuing
chaos; and in place of shipment of manufactured goods
for basic commodities, the new colonies had to make
do with loans to pay for the services of 'consultants'
that bred corrupt regimes everywhere, and branded
soda which helped create depoliticised zombies mortally afraid of questioning conventional wisdom.
The high-priests of the Bretton Woods orthodoxy
have been so successful in instituting the dogma of the
free-market that the very process of legitimating of political regimes has fundamentally changed. No contestant in the recent elections of Sri Lanka challenged the
WTO worldview. In India that is said to be 'shining'
with its 'feel good' factor (spins manufactured by the
wordsmiths of the free-market), there is very little to
choose between the political economy of the two claimants to the throne in New Delhi—the Bhartiya lanata
Party and the Congress (I). The result? Whatever be the
outcome of the political contest, the legitimacy of the
regime shall remain clouded for large sections of the
No contestant in the
recent elections of Sri
Lanka challenged the
WTO worldview.
Rather than looking inward to sustain the base, the
ruling elite of Southasia are recklessly de-legitimising
themselves by depending upon the power of Empire to
keep themselves comfortably ensconced. They do not
even want to try. The dissonance between the aspirations of the people who hold the legitimating power
and the ruling regimes who have bought the free-market propaganda wholesale, is so large that the region
can implode from within without advance warning.
Loyal Regimes, Middle India
In Afghanistan, US Marines can guard Karzai, but they
cannot make him either popular or effective. There are
four ways of acquiring authority—ancestry, elections,
guns or propaganda. Karzai has no claim to any of
them. When the Americans decide to dump him, as they
sure will sooner or later, Afghanistan will still be bereft
of institutions capable of producing a successor from
For the moment, Gen Pervez Musharraf has succeeded in taming the American eagle to do his bidding, but
mnniiiaipia^HMBi^n what will happen when he sheds his
uniform? Gen Zia-ul Haq was no
less effective in making the US treasury pay for his Islamisation agenda, but it did not save Pakistan from
acute humiliation in Afghanistan.
There is no guarantee that Gen
Musharraf's Kashmir policy will not
meet the same fate despite the non-NATO ally status
that his regime is gloating over. A parliament made
impotent by the overbearing presence of a non-elected
body like the National Security Council is sure to fail,
and the thought of a nuclear-power with a failing military is frightening.
The Empire operates in the Indian mind through subtler but more insidious means. Through concerted propaganda, an entire generation of the Indian middle-class
has been brainwashed into believing that political freedom is the root of all evil, and free-market fundamentalism its sole panacea - entire Middle India is breathlessly
waiting to board the globalisation bandwagon. But the
free market, which is not really all that free, has no space
for the marginalised, disadvantaged, silent majority. To
assert their rights, the real majority have to either opt for
the centripetal forces of left insurgency or join ethnic insurgencies, of centrifugal tendency, that are erupting everywhere, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from
Kuchh to Kohima. They have no other choice, for as a
non-market actor the majority is left to its own devices.
Justice Allybon defined ruler-subject relations back
in 1688 thus: "It is the business of the government to
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
manage matters relating to the government; it is the business of subjects to mind their own properties and interests". This doctrine still holds in Thimpu where democracy remains a detested concept. But the majority
will not always meekly allow the pelf and privileges of
the ruling Ngalong nobility. When   	
that happens—the doubting 'if is not   ^—«^—^^^—
necessary any longer—will the nobility sink as easily as Sikkim's, is
the question.
In Bangladesh, the elite are too
cultured to nurse the grudge of pre-
independence excesses—soldiers of
West Pakistan ravaged their land, but
the real overlords were the Americans—but the people in the street
may not limit themselves to dawn-
to-dusk hartals if the current stagnation continues for long. Similarly, the
abruptly interrupted peace process in Sri Lanka cannot resume as long as the Empire continues to play its
games of weakening the LTTE insurgency from within
and strengthening the Colombo regime from without.
The crisis of legitimacy haunts all the loyal regimes
of the Empire in Southasia, but nowhere is it as intense
as in Nepal, where King Gyanendra holds that, "The
days of monarchy being seen but not heard, watching
the people's difficulties but not addressing them, and
being a silent spectator to their tear-stained faces are
over". So his majesty flies around the country in full
military regalia—emerging from the helicopter to hug
babies, engage elders and grant autographs to eager
teenagers who call him 'sir'. Meanwhile, the country
continues to bear the burnt of a raging Maoist insurgency that has already claimed 10,000 lives.
Royal Model
Historically, Nepal has remained loyal to the British
Crown ever since Jang B.ihadur helped quell the 1857
Sepoy Mutiny. After the partition of British India, Nepal continued to remain a faithful ally of the West and
allowed Israel to open its first embassy in Southasia.
Whether under the short-lived democratic government
of BP Koirala (within 18 months of its election, King
Mahendra staged a coup to oust it from power) or the
30-year long Panchayat autocracy, the establishment
in Kathmandu never wavered in its commitment to the
policies of the West.
The democratic governments in place after the restoration of democracy in 1990 were only too willing to
give continuity to the traditional loyalty of the Kathmandu establishment. Even the minority government
of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxists and
Leninist) - which is as 'communist' as North Korea is
'democratic' and insists on keeping the name merely
for its 'brand' value — has never questioned the loyalty
of the royal regime to the Western alliance. But the rise
of Maobadi insurgency began to challenge this cosy
To assert their rights,
the real majority have to
either opt for the centripetal forces of left
insurgency or join ethnic
insurgencies of centrifugal nature that are erupting everywhere.
multi-nodal relationship. Perhaps the need of a new
royal model of democracy to keep Nepal under tight
leash was felt soon after the first local elections that
threw up young leaders not content with the status quo
of unquestioned commitment of the establishment to
  the policy prescriptions of the Empire.
Following the 1 June 2001
Narayanhiti Massacre, Prince Gyanendra became king, and suddenly the monarchy began to assert itself. After the royal takeover of October Four 2003, when the king sacked
an elected prime minister, its yesterday once again. King Gyanendra is
busy re-enacting the drama of the
early 1960s, when his father Mahendra turned the kingdom into a political laboratory seeking to replicate
General Ayub Khan's Pakistani model of 'basic democracy'. But King Mahendra did not have a restive population to reckon with back then, the political parties
were still nascent, and the urban middle-class was almost non-existent. Geopolitics has changed too much
in the intervening period to allow an unpopular system propped up, even with unlimited supply of funds
and overseas advice. The present king will, however,
try his best to experiment with a hybrid political sys-
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2004 May 17/5 HIMAL
: m
te it already yesterday ?: King Mahendra, son Gyanendra.
tern of semi-authoritarianism that is high on rhetoric
and low in substance. Such a system will be easier for
the West to handle, now that Nepal has become first
among the 'poorest of the poor' countries of the world
to join the World Trade Organisation.
King Gyanendra has three proven models of military-dominated polity for Iris alchemy:
» Six principles from the Western Turkey of Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk—republicanism, populism, revolu-
tionarism, nationalism, statism, and secularism—
can provide him the basis to centralise all authority.
• The "guided democracy" of Su-   „,,„,,, , ,	
harto's Indonesia can give lessons in the establishment of crony capitalism.
• Musharrafism of Pakistan offers
useful lessons in institutionalising the dominance of the military
in the affairs of the state.
But all these models are tools to produce and exercise state power. None of them can provide the legitimacy that modern regimes need. Perhaps that is the
reason the monarch has been insisting for an election
to legitimise the October Four Takeover — something
his father Mahendra did not really have to worry about.
King Gyanendra wants to play a 'constructive' role
within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, a
monarch who in his own words not only listens and
talks but acts as well. To this end, he has been desperately experimenting with all kinds of ministries and
ministers to ensure discreet "pre-poll rigging" in the
manner of General Musharraf. But Nepalis have tasted
A bugle blown from up
in the Himalaya is sure
to resound throughout
freedom for much longer than their Pakistani counterparts, fortunately, and are unlikely to be taken in.
Free-market without fundamental freedoms, private
enterprise without representative government, and globalisation without universal human rights are no more
possible in a country where the parties are agitating on
the streets while insurgents are fighting with the forces
of the state in the countryside. This time, the Empire
and its cohorts the international financial institutions
will not have their way unless they support the forces
of change. There are hints of late that this realisation
mmmmmmmaa^mmmm^l may finally be setting in. People are
no longer afraid to be offenders. The
Maobaadis may never succeed in
unfurling the hammer-and-sickle
atop Mount Everest, but the legitimacy of unrepresentative loyal regimes of the Empire is openly being
challenged in Nepal. And, make no
mistake, a bugle blown from up in the Himalaya is sure
to resound throughout Southasia.
The rise of the New Empire gave birth to corruption
and CCOMPOSA (the as-yet-nascent roundtable of the
Maobaadis of Southasia). Its fall has the potential of
heralding a new wave of democratisation of the region,
one which should not be allowed to kill its own offspring. From the crisis of the present chaos, a new
Southasia will arise to take its rightful place on the
world stage. Sings Ralph Waldo Emerson in 'Circles',
"In nature every moment is new; the past is always
swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred", /s
HIMAL 17/5 May 2004
 Monday 12 April 2004
4 4 The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when
Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were
burning and were probably deliberating on how the perpetrators ofthe crime could be saved or protected
♦ ♦♦
The public prosecutor appears to have acted more as a
defence counsel than one whose duty was to present the truth
before the court
♦ ♦♦
The court in turn appeared to be a silent spectator, mute to
the manipulations and preferred to be indifferent to the
sacrilege being committed to justice J )
[excerpts from The Supreme Court
of India's ruling during the hearing of a
petition filed by a key witness in the Best
Bakery case in Gujarat]
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> w
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HT    IT
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Marketing Office:
P.O.Box No.: 1700, Kalimati, Kathmandu
Tet: 4274537, 4271102,4276274
Plant & Head Office:
Majuwa: Deurali, Gorkha, Nepal
Tel: 065-540079
Fax: 00977-65-540080


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