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Himal South Asian Volume 15, Number 10, October 2002 Dixit, Kanak Mani Oct 31, 2002

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 South Asian susu
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 Vol 15 No 10
CONTENTS
COMMENT.ARY
Sri Lanka: So far, so good
by Jehan Perera
Pakistan: Hamstrung politics
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
South Asia: A tale of two floods
by Andre Vltchek
BURMA SPECIAL
12
Deadlock in Burma
by Larry Jagan
China and South Asia's east
byBertil Lintner
ASEAN's Burma tangle
by Kavi Chongkittavom
The road home to Pong Long
by'AungNaing Oo   ZiiZmm
Bleak Burma
byAungZaw
OPINION
32
Lives irt need of authors
by Ramachandra Guha
REPORT
38
Dolphin of the Ganga    ft||lp|
by RK Sinha
Thriving or threatened in Nepal?
bySaradKC j|||
.. Bhulan: What's in a name ?
by Rinku Dutta
REFLECTIONS
48
Seventy years of Hindoo Holiday
. by Hemant Sareen
REVIEW
52
The ethnographic draughtsman
by Mark Turin
Fault and fauitlines
by Anindita Dasgupta     WmZ
RESPONSE
4
BRIEFS
28
MEDIAFILE
36
SOUTHASIASPHERE
45
BOOKS RECEIVED
59
LASTPAGE
60
.ft:.:>-ft::;ft::a:
 Contributors to this issue
7o7
Editor
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas J Mathew
Assistant Editor
SbrutiDebi
Contributing Editors
Calcutta    Rajashri Dasgupta
Mariikde Silva
Afsan Chowdhury
Beena Sarwar
Mitu varma  .■;■ 770
COLOMBO
..DHAKA
:  KARACHI
NEW DELHI
:.. n. America aAmiteva Kumar
Editorial Assistant
Andrew HM Nash
Design Team
Indra Shrestha
Kam Singh Praja
Suresh Neupane
Bilash Rai (Graphics)
Bhushan Shilpakar (Website)
Marketing
;; adyertising@himalmedia.com
Subscription/Overseas Sales
AnBKarid
subscription@himalmedia.com
Nepal/Northeast India Sales
Sudan Bista
sales@himalmedia.cbm
Marketing Office, Karachi
.AjmalKama!
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316 Madina City Mall
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Ph.+92-21-565062375213916
,emai):. cp@crtypress.cc
PI
Himal is published and distributed by
Himalmedia IM Ltd
GPO Box 7251, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977-1-543Z33,523S45
Fax: 521013
Email: editors@himalmedia.com
http://www.himalmag.com
ISSN 10129804
Ubrary of Congress Control Number
88912882
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Kathmandu
Tel: +977-1-521393,543017
In
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
Andre Vltchek is an independent writer/researcher who lives in Hanoi.
Anindita Dasgupta is a historian who teaches at Cotton College, Guwahati.
Aung Naing Oo is a research associate with the National Reconciliation Program based in
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Aung Zaw is the founder and editor of Irrawaddy magazine, which focuses on Burma and
Asia.
Bertil Lintner, author of Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948, is the Burma
correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review. He is based in Bangkok.
CK Lai is a Kathmandu-based engineer and columnist for the Nepali Times.
Hemant Sareen is a freelance writer based in suburban Delhi.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist in Colombo, writes a weekly column in the Daily
Mirror.
Kavi Chongkittavorn is assistant group editor of National Media Group, publisher of the
Bangkok-based English daily The Nation.
Larry Jagan, who has been covering Burma for the last 12 years, is the BBC's Southeast
Asia analyst based in Bangkok.
Mark Turin is a researcher with the Digital Himalaya Project of the University of
Cambridge's School of Social Anthropology.
Ramachandra Guha is a social scientist based in Bangalore. His latest book is A Comer of
a Foreign Field: The Indian history of a British sport.
Rinku Dutta is molecular biologist currently teaching in Kathmandu.
RK Sinha is professor of zoology at Patna University.
Sarad KC is a Nepalgunj-based reporter for the BBC.
Cover design by Chandra Khatiwada
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 ASIA FELLOWSHIPS 2003-2004
-ASIAN STUDIES IN ASIA-
Applications are invited from citizens and residents of South Asian countries for the ASIA Fellowships 2003-04
awarded by the Asian Scholarship Foundation (ASF) which is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. Its
office in Bangkok administers the ASIA Fellowships in the region with assistance from partner offices in Beijing, New
Delhi, Manila, Hanoi, and Jakarta. The ASIA Fellowships offer opportunities for outstanding young and mid-career
Asian scholars and professionals to conduct research in a participating Asian country for six to nine months.    Fellows
should identify preferred placements in host countries. The ASF Board of Directors selects the Fellows, oversees
the program and makes policy decisions.
ELIGIBILITY
1. Citizens of and residents in Bangladesh, Bhutan,
India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Republic of Maldives,
Sri Lanka.   The program is not open to applicants from
countries in West and Central Asia, Afghanistan,
Singapore, japan. Hong Kong, North Korea, South
Korea, or Taiwan, and projects cannot be carried out in
these countries/territories.   Applicants who are not
residing in their own country at the time of application
are disqualified.
2. Research proposals must be in the humanities, social
sciences and policy science only.    Projects must be
designed to be carried out in 6-9 months in the People's
Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong), Myanmar,
Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei,
Philippines or Indonesia, or in any of the seven South
Asian countries above.
3. Master's or doctoral degree or equivalent professional
training and experiences.
4. Minimum of 3 years of university teaching experience
for academics or S years of work experience for
professionals.
5. Applicants must be forty five years of age or younger
at the time of application.
6. Proficiency in English or in the language of the host
country appropriate to the proposed research project.
7. Projects must focus on an Asian country other than
the applicant's own.    Under no circumstances will the
Fellowship support research in the applicant's own
country even for the own-country part of a comparative
study project.
8. While an applicant from South or Southeast Asia may
propose a project in a country within his/her own
region, preference is given to applicants who propose to
conduct research in a region of Asia other thon their
own (e.g., an award to a South Asian scholar or
professional for research/study in China/Southeast Asia).
9. Applicants are cautioned against planning to conduct
their research in a country with which their home
country has a difficult diplomatic relationship because of
the uncertainties of securing an affiliation and obtaining a
visa for research for a long-term stay, though such
proposals are not ruled out.
10. Preference will be given to projects that focus on one
country. Applicants may not propose to carry out their
projects in more than two countries.
I I. Fellowship awards are not for the purpose of
completing doctoral dissertations or for any degree
program whatsoever.   Those who are currently enrolled
in any degree program, or have just completed a degree
program less than one year ago will not be eligible to
apply.
12. Those who have recently completed their graduate
studies or training abroad may apply for the ASIA
Fellowships only after a year of completing their studies
or training and should be residents in their own country
at the time of application,
13. For persons who have been on leave from their
employers on any research grant/fellowship, a minimum
period of one academic year in service with their
employers is necessary before being eligible for applying
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For Application Forms and further information, please access the Asian Scholarship Foundation Website
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All application materials must be received by; January 10. 2003
Prospective applicants are requested to read this advertisement carefully because the program is not obliged to
respond to inquiries which violate the eligibility criteria or to inquiries which ask for information given somewhere in
this advertisement.
 Response
The NRI's affections
Tibet truths
I ENJOYED reading Bela Malik's review of 'Cinema
India' ('Arrival of the native' Himal September 2002).
As a member of the "well-settled generation that has
come of age" outside of my native India, I found her
observations on NRI "ethno-entrepreneurship" particularly interesting. She is right to point out that the superficial 'India' marketed for expatriates and their children is often a sanitised amalgam of the Subcontinent's
dominant cultural products, specifically, the north Indian wedding and curry dishes.
To assume, however, that "non-resident nostalgia
invariably reduces India to some familiar and ostentatious denominator" glosses over the complex dynamics of Indian families divided between East and West
and fails to grasp the precarious position many nonresident Indians (NRIs) find themselves in. Undoubtedly, there is some truth in her observation that many
Indians in India enjoy the reflected prestige of overseas cousins, just as Indians overseas invest a great
deal of importance in maintaining a cultural homeland, or at least the facade of one. But this nostalgia
manifests itself in many forms, not all of which are trite
and self-serving; indeed, many reflect a sincere quest
of NRIs to forge an ethnic heritage for their children. To
implicate all NRIs as "desperate immigrant[s] longing
for cultural respectability" neglects the nexus of manufactured and genuine attachments
that continuously compete for attention. ^^ammmmmt
in making this assumption, Malik
equates consumers of Bollywood-India
with their producers without a thorough
exploration of this intricate relationship.
More importantly, Malik does not
suggest what the relationship between
Indians in India and their "angst-rid-
den, identity-starved" cousins abroad
should be. She seems to suggest the less
contact the better, since these parties are    	
reduced to unsavory socio-cultural and economic alliances. However, if one were to lift the corporate packaging off the NRI identity, one would uncover the same
attachments and affections that characterise a family
anywhere. In fact, in certain instances, these ties are
probably even stronger because of the geographic and
cultural distance, which force families abroad to work
harder at maintaining these relationships and preserving a sense of family identity.
I look forward to reading more meditations by Malik on Indian identity, but I hope that they better penetrate the nuance of cultural and social relationships.
Such articles are especially interesting for those of us
who grew up in the West but have extensive ties to the
East.
Fatema Gunja
New Haven, CT, USA
Under the corporate packaging of
the NRI identity
are the same attachments and
affections as in
families anywhere
THE COVERAGE on Tibet {Himal September 2002)
was balanced and thought provoking, raising issues
that need to be considered by all players. The veils of
mystification obscure the views of both sides: the exile
community's view is of Tibet as being sans blemish
and the Chinese government's view is of happy minorities luxuriating in the benefits of a benign motherland.
Both parties are working from disadvantaged positions
because they do not see the larger picture. It is the middle ground that will provide the space for the resolution of this complex and protracted issue - as Buddhists,
it behoves us to cut illusions with the sword of wisdom.
hi the end compassion (not pity) may well be the key.
Samphe, Kathmandu
Hardware obsolescence
I FULLY agree with the points made in Gaurab Up-
adhaya's article 'Digital Delusions in the South' {Himal August 2002). However, there is one aspect of the
planned obsole.scence of the computer industry that he
has not dealt with, namely the availability of parts and
replacement machines. This is a problem I have encountered several times, particularly in organisations using
older machines and running on older
^^^^^^^m versions of operating systems. The problem begins with the hardware components breaking down. Often the companies that produced these machines do
not manufacture them any longer, and
they no longer make individual components for replacement either. Even if they
do, the parts are more expensive than
replacing the machine with a used, but
more recent and powerful machine
would be. As a result, these organisa-
       tions are forced to buy more powerful
machines as replacements. In such an event, the operating systems on these newer machines cannot run the
old software, and willy-nilly they have to upgrade their
software as well. Of course, this is all in the realm of
proprietary software, and an open-source operating
system will remedy the software-driven need to upgrade
hardware, but the problem with repairs and replacements remains.
An associated issue is that of the environmental effects of dumping old computers, something that is now
getting some attention. Computers contain very toxic
chemicals and cannot, or should not, simply be thrown
into a garbage dump. A recent case deals with old computers being shipped to a city in China where poor
people extract traces of valuable metals by melting the
various components and then sell them. Obviously, the
by-products do significant damage to the health of these
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Response
individuals, but they also adversely affect the environment and any nearby waterways. The case is typical of
a trend: less industrialised countries take old computers from more industrialised countries because they are
inexpensive, become dumping grounds for the highly
toxic chemicals contained in component parts, and they
rarely have the means or social structures to handle
either the environmental contamination or the diseases that spring forth thus. Part of the reason for shipping
out old computers is because the environmental and
public health disaster that these potentially are then
become someone else's headache. This dimension of
hardware obsolescence has not been given due attention in Upadhaya's article.
Upadhaya seems to take a pessimistic view of the
future of the 'simputer'. There could, however, be a different reading of it. Tlie significance of the simputer is
not in its individual success or failure as much as it is
in showing that hardware can be developed outside
the more industrialised countries, based on local needs,
suited to local conditions. The simputer itself might
succeed or fail, but that is immaterial if it inspires other
inventions that embody its values. If later efforts are
successful, production structures may even come up
that support repairs of computers older than three to
five years.
Layton Montgomery
University of Wollongong, Australia
Unfair!
MY DAUGHTER phoned me from Pune asking if
my husband, Dr SB Wangyal, had quarrelled or fought
with anyone. When I replied I had no idea she asked
me to check my email and what I read disappointed,
hurt and disgusted me. There was, in my inbox, a review of my husband's book by a certain Mr Lai ('Grieving till it hurts', Himal, May 2002) that took the book as
well as the author over the coals; and what is worse, it
seems to have been done with a certain amount of relish. I have been forced to write what follows because
my husband keeps mumbling, "Don't argue with the
umpire! This Lai has made a poor decision with fantastic finesse! But I don't make the rules and I can't
bend them either".
There is very little doubt that Lai has the gift of writing and he has used the power substantially in the review. But what does he tell the reader tibout the book?
Precious nothing. The fact that the annexation of Darjeeling by the British is challenged in the book for the
first time has not been touched upon. While almost all
previous accounts of Sikkim's history have glorified the
British, that Dr Wangyal disagrees with that bias has
not been reviewed at all. The second part, where the
author points an accusing finger at successive governments for manhandling Darjeeling, has not been
touched upon either. Lai laments that there was no
bibliography and why should there be one when
the footnotes mention the names of all the books with
the authors, publishers, including the year of publication? A man of elaborate and eloquent words accuses
the author of having too many footnotes and I guess if
they were not there he would have cried foul at the
omission.
Mr Lai notes that it is the opinion of the people for
whom it is written that counts most. Mr Badrinath
Pradhan, former member of parliament (Upper House)
and a hardened communist called it, "a beautiful book"
in spite of the author accusing the reds of many abuses.
Mr Topden, Additional Chief Secretary (Sikkim) commented, "He has written the book as if he were a Sikkimese". Mr SND Lama, a Nepali writer, too recommended the book to many people. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the proof of the book is in its
sales: almost the entire stock was sold out in three
months and that is the only reason that one does not
find the book on the shelves of Kathmandu stores.
I particularly detest the comment that the book fails
because it has a sentimental bias. It has, and therein
lies its beauty; it is written with emotion and passion.
My husband does not claim to be a historian and that
frees him, and abundantly so, from appearing to be
unbiased and actually being free to air his views or 'soft
sentiments' as Mr Lai seems to think them.
Finally, good English does not necessarily make a
good review. I hope that Mr Lai will keep that in his
grey matter when he rips apart another book.
Dr Diki Wangyal, Jaigaon
The only South Asian magazine needs a
Managing Editor
To market, represent and administer Himal magazine with a view to expanding readership; to plan
and oversee subscription campaigns; and to manage the magazine's affairs generally.
Requirements: All-rounder with work in related field(s);
outgoing personality and good communicator; South
Asian nationality; willingness to relocate to Kathmandu and live on survival salary. Age no bar.
Interested? Send your curriculum vitae plus a one-
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SouthAsian magazine'to HRD@himalmag.com.
HIMaAL
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Commentary
Anton Balasingham
The discussions
indicated a meeting of minds
that went
beyond agreeing
on future dates
and agenda
SRI LANKA
SO FAR, SO GOOD
THE OUTCOME of the first round of peace
talks in Thailand between the Government
of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was better than anticipated. While sceptics had doubted if the
parties would agree to subsequent rounds
of talks, on 18 September the two sides
announced three more meetings to be held
in Thailand between this October and
January 2003. More remarkable still was the
rapid progress made at the first round of
peace talks, which surprised even hopeful
supporters of the Norwegian-facilitated
peace process. The government-LTTE
discussions indicated a meeting of minds
that went beyond simply agreeing to dates
and an agenda for future talks.
The positive interaction between the
government's chief negotiator, professor GL
Peiris, and his LTTE counterpart, Dr aAnton
Balasingham, at the closing media conference could not have been a better example
of joint problem solving. They answered the
local and international media in harmony
and articulated the view that their talks had
been meaningful and successful.
There was no indication of either
Peiris or Balasingham looking
for advantage or putting the other
on the spot. On the contrary,
Balasingham had words of great
appreciation for the government
for sending men of calibre and
understanding with whom it was
possible to negotiate. He spoke
of the congenial environment
at the talks, a sentiment reciprocated
by Peiris.
The best form of negotiation is one in
which two parties approach issues in the
spirit of problem solving. The success of
these initial talks could not however have
been due simply to the good rapport
between the two sets of negotiators. Much
groundwork was laid in the informal talks
that are known to have been taking place in
Wanni, Colombo and London over the past
nine months of ceasefire. Among matters on
which agreement was reached was the
setting up of a joint committee to deal with
the problem of high security zones and the
resettlement of displaced people. Likewise,
negotiators forged a creative agreement
under which official government funds and
international aid could be made accessible
to the LTTE.
However, the potentially contentious
issue of an interim administration for the
northern and eastern provinces claimed by
the LTTE as a Tamil homeland - a position
opposed by majority Sinhala opinion - was
left untouched at the first meeting. The talks
did, however, reveal two important issues
on which the LTTE showed its willingness
to compromise. It did not push for the
immediate establishment of an interim
administration, instead expressing satisfaction with the establishment of a 'joint task
force' in which it will be a partner with the
government in rehabilitating the north and
east. This important agreement in all
likelihood will be a halfway house for the
time being, until sceptical Sri Lankans see
that such a partnership with the LTTE does
not harm lives or the country.
Secondly, the LTTE made a major concession on the vexed issue of a separate
state. The bogey of Tamil separatism is what
gives strength to Sinhala nationalism,
which negotiators took a meaningful
step towards defusing. Balasingham
clearly said that Tamil 'homelands' and
self-determination only meant regional
autonomy and substantial self-government
within Sri Lanka, not in a separate state.
The government's acknowledgement
that the LTTE would be its partner in
the administration and economic reconstruction of the northern and eastern
provinces was its return offer to the LTTE.
The media conference was an early demonstration of the efficacy of this partnership,
with Peiris and Balasingham both helping
each other out with the probing questions
of journalists.
Peace education
A long list of problems stretches before the
two negotiating teams, including many
which seem to have been untouched at this
first session. The issue of a human rights
framework found no mention in the communique, nor was there any public discussion
of a role for civil society in the ongoing peace
process. Both of these issues are important,
and clearly the peace process needs to be
founded as much on social acceptance as
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 mmmm
on political will. Sustaining the peace
process will also require a knowledge base
that independent think tanks have the
capacity to generate.
Civil society organisations have a
crucial role to play in both generating a
knowledge base of possible options for
conflict resolution and disseminating
information. In doing so they promote social
acceptance of the need for a changed social
and political order. Much of the groundwork for the present peace process was laid
in the peace education campaigns carried
out by civic groups over the past two
decades when the government and LTTE
were at war with each other.
Sri Lankan civic groups, including those
such as the Peace Support Group, which
were present in Thailand at the time of the
talks at the invitation of Thai-based Forum
Asia, have called for the implementation of
a human rights framework. These issues
need to be taken up. In response to a
journalist's question on human rights at the
press conference, Peiris said that these
issues would be taken up in subsequent
talks. The sooner this is done the better. The
international community in particular has
the leverage to influence the two sides to
respect human rights and ensure the
participation of civil society in the peace
process.
Both government and LTTE spokesmen
at the media conference expressed their
appreciation for Thailand's hospitality and
Norway's facilitation. The two parties also
intend to make a joint appeal to the
international community for assistance to
rebuild Sri Lanka. In the months ahead Sri
Lanka will rely on international support to
ensure that its peace process remains on
track. The increased involvement of civil
society would provide a broader foundation
on which the peace process can be built,   b
- Jehan Perera
PAKISTAN
HAMSTRUNG
POLITICS
GEORGE W Bush is no longer friends with
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder ever
since the latter, who has just been narrowly
re-elected, had the gall to oppose
military action against Iraq.
Meanwhile, the United States
military machine is getting ready
for yet another strike against a
country that has already been
pummeled many times over. In
West Asia, a familiar scene presents itself - Israeli forces running
riot through Palestinian towns and
villages, and to top it all off, Yasser
Arafat's headquarters being bulldozed to the ground.
It would be inaccurate to say
that Gerhard Schroeder, or other
Western European leaders who
are opposing military action against Iraq or
voicing even the slightest concern about
state-sponsored terrorism in Israel, are the
world's most prominent upholders of
human rights. But nonetheless, they seem
to have decided that absurdity must stop
somewhere. If not, the 'war on terror' could
go on indefinitely, and that augurs badly
for the entire world, rich or poor, powerful
or weak. Nevertheless, it is likely that Bush
will have his way, and Chancellor Schroeder will just have to accept that.
And so, as all common sense seems to
be quickly dissipating from the practice of
international politics, South Asians should
consider how US unilateralism
will affect us on the home front.
After all, what happens at home is
intimately related to the myopic
decisions of George W Bush and
his operatives the world over. The
upcoming Pakistani general election is the strongest evidence of this
unfortunate fact.
It is now common knowledge
that the Pakistani military has
gone out of its way to ensure the
consolidation of its role in politics
once the newly elected government
comes to power. Indeed, whether or not it
will actually be accurate to term the new
government as being democratically elected
remains to be seen. But the fact is that the
election will take place, and when it is over,
there is little that is likely to substantively
change.
There are many reasons for this. One is
that the US is quite happy with General
Musharraf being in power. And General
Musharraf is quite happy with the US on
his side, just as Zia-ul Haq was two decades
ago. And so no one is too concerned when
Pakistan
should be
appalled at
the rapidity
with which
sovereignty is
being made
an obsolete
concept
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Commentary
The global
hegemon has
given General
Musharraf a
clean slate for
now, and so the
Pakistani
people and
Pakistani
democracy will
have to pay
the military redrafts significant portions of the
constitution, when 40
retired generals and colonels stand for elections,
when there is significant
and worrying talk of pre-
poll rigging, and when
democratic principles
and the norms of human
rights are completely ignored across the country.
The Pakistani people's
reality is shaped by
the actions of the US.
The global hegemon has
given Genera! Musharraf a clean slate for
now, and so the Pakistani people and
Pakistani democracy will have to pay.
This is not to say that Pakistani democracy has a proud history in any case.
Mainstream electoral parties have drifted
so far from the general public that it hardly
feels like a general election is around the
corner. Political parties however, regardless
of whether they are responsive to people's
needs or not, should ask themselves some
serious questions. The decade of the 1990s
saw four governments all toppled before
they completed their terms. There can be a
variety of explanations for this, but ultimately, it must be said that all of
these governments were operating
under the larger security paradigm that determines decisionmaking in Pakistan.
That being the case, political
parties ought to ask themselves
how long they will continue to
accept that the future of democracy, and therefore the future of
their own politics, is largely determined by others, including the
military and the US. Indeed, one
of the defining features of the
upcoming elections is the manner
in which the military has already
clearly stated that the new government will not be permitted to undermine
the economic agenda that has been put into
place by finance minister Shaukat Aziz and
company. The international financial
institutions (IFIs), for their part, have also
been unambiguous about their preference
for the military to retain a significant say in
economic decision-making.
It is another issue altogether if one
assumes that politicians are completely
uninterested in articulating their own
politics and the needs of the people at-large,
and would rather continue to engage in
power games to secure their own limited
interests to whatever extent possible. But it
is difficult to imagine that all politicians are
happy to reap the rewards of colluding with
the military while perpetuating the kinds
of injustices and inequalities that always
characterise undemocratic systems. This is
especially true given the fact that the military
government has systematically defamed
politicians over the past three years, in close
collaboration with the IFIs. The latter have
pointed out that corruption, economic
mismanagement and "poor governance"
are the defining characteristics of elected
governments in Pakistan, in contrast to
which the present military government
seemingly has a monopoly on good
governance.
While it is necessary to acknowledge
that Pakistan's next prime minister will be
far less able to resist the dictates of the US
and the IFIs than Chancellor Schroeder,
states such as Pakistan should be appalled
at the rapidity with which sovereignty is
being turned into an almost obsolete
concept. The first alarm bell should be
ringing in the secretariats of all political
parties that are taking part in these elections. After all, they are the ones directly
affected by this current practice of international politics.
But the fear is that most of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan are
neither informed nor interested enough to
be doing anything about this situation. The
world over, civil society has accepted the
responsibility of reinvigorating political
processes, particularly in countries where
formal democracy has been practiced
without interruption for decades. In Pakistan there is perhaps even more urgency
required in not only opposing militarisation
of state and society, but also in erecting
viable political organisations that articulate
people's needs and resist the onslaught of
corpora tisa tion.
This will hardly be a painless process,
or one that has a definite timeline. But it is
necessary because the alternative is much
too grim to contemplate. For the time being,
the very least that can be done is to ask
difficult questions of political parties about
how much they understand the problems
of the populace, and how much they are
willing to risk to address these problems.
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 This, of course, requires civil society to ask
just as critical questions of itself, and the
extent to which it is playing the role that is
desperately needed.
The time has come to reconsider whether
or not military governments, international
institutions and global superpowers who
use the language of poverty reduction,
human rights and peace really mean it, or
whether in fact they have just made their
usurping tactics a little more sophisticated.
The time has also come to shed the fear of
supporting movements and initiatives that
are radical, such as tenant movements
which demand land reform, movements of
forest dwellers which refuse to allow any
more of their vanishing resources to be
pillaged by the state and timber mafias,
movements of fisherfolk demanding that
their waters and livelihood be protected
from profit-hungry corporate trawlers, or
movements of teachers and students opposing the privatisation of education Only
when civil society takes such initiatives on
its own will political parties be forced to
redefine their politics, and only then, in this
era of frightening militarisation, will Pakistan even begin the long march towards
democratisation. b
- Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
SOUTH ASIA
A TALE OF TWO
FLOODS
IN THE northern Bangladesh district of
Kurigram, disaster had struck in late July
2002. Hundreds of kilometres to the west,
in Rajasthan, drought stalked the land, but
northern Bangladesh was flooded with
excess water pouring in from the Subcontinent's northeastern stretches. Millions
of survivors abandoned their homes for the
relative security of marginally higher
ground. The death toll, at that point reaching
only into the low hundreds, included nearly
as many deaths by diarrhoea as by drowning. Several people had died of snake bites,
and relief workers were wading through
submerged villages delivering what little
aid there was. There was not nearly enough
food or medicine for all those in need. "We
could provide relief to only a small number
of flood victims", explained a
relief worker in Sirajganj.
Yet while the mount-ing
human toll of Asia's swollen
rivers daily added new names
to its death registers, the
world's rich averted their
eyes, pre-ferring to see instead
the threatened historic districts and city centres of the
Czech Republic, Germany
and Austria. In scenes made
familiar through up-to-the-
minute satellite coverage,
floodwater filled subwav :::: ;:"ft :-
stations in Prague's old city,
endangered postcard landmarks such as the
Charles Bridge and the National Opera, and
devastated corners of the city dubbed by BBC
World "a jewel of Central Europe". Just
across the north-western Czech border, one
of the German cultural capitals, Dresden,
mobilised thousands of emergency workers
and volunteers to save famous architectural
landmarks like the Zwinger Palace and the
Semper Opera House. Czech officials also
organised the populace for flood fighting,
and went so far as to airlift animals from
the Prague zoo to safety. The summer floods,
now safely in recess, claimed about
100 lives in the Czech Republic, Austria,
Germany, Russia and Romania together.
Without delay, the wealthy
world stepped in to set things
right in Central Europe. The
US and several Scandinavian
countries descended on Prague
with heavy pumping equipment.
The White House pledged
generous financial aid and
President George W Bush even
called his Czech counterpart,
Vaclav Havel, to assure him that
the United States would rush
supplies and monetary assistance
to the Czech Republic for areas
devastated by flooding. Not to be outdone
by transatlantic generosity, the EU, which
the Czech Republic may join as early as
2004, stepped in with USD 516 million in
advance aid for German farmers, and
another USD 55 million for the Czech
Republic. The Germans, in turn, dug deep
to find USD 500 million in immediate aid,
and a whopping USD 6.9 billion in long term
assistance. Down in Rome, the Pope offered
prayers for the displaced of Central Europe,
and  European Commission  president
CNN's website
has a European floods
section, an
honour typically
reserved for
US presidential
elections and
bin Laden
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Imm
India under water, Semper Opera House under lights.
The world's
poor are
holding on to
precious little,
living in miserable conditions,
with no access
to clean water
or medicine
Romano Prodi vowed to raise USD 500
million for a natural disaster fund available
to "ELI states and those negotiating entry"
- and then pledged to double that amount
to an even billion within a few years. The
Czech Republic, the most prosperous
country of the former Soviet block, has a per
capita GDP (purchasing power parity
formula) of USD 12,900; Germany's is USD
23,400.
While the economic details of the
European floods may be unfamiliar to
many, the stories of heroism to save
threatened museums, music halls and zoo
animals are hardly unknown, even in the
ignored corners of the South. All the
international news channels (including BBC
World, Deutche Welle and CNN
International) continuously offered in-
depth coverage of the tragedy on
their global broadcasts. CN'N has
even gone so far as to establish a
special European floods section on
its website, an honour typically
reserved for US presidential elections and the hunt for Osama bin
Laden.
In South Asia, the television
cameras have yet to arrive, much
less aid of any significant amount.
Floodwaters along the reaches of
the Ganga, Brahmaputra and their
tributaries displaced or trapped 25
million, mostly poor, people. According to
the latest 'official' numbers, the Subcontinent's floodwater human toll has
topped 900. Nepal, the smallest of the
region's affected countries, has suffered the
heaviest losses, with at least 424 deaths. In
China, floods have claimed 133 lives in the
past few months; in Vietnam, at least 10.
On the other side of the globe, 10 people
died in central Mexico after high water
brought on by unusually heavy rains burst
through two dams, including one near
San Luis Potosi, burying several villages
under water.
Not surprisingly, information about the
ongoing tragedies in South Asia, China and
Mexico hardly appears on television
programming beamed from the wealthy
countries. Moreover, dispatches from Asia
and Latin a^merica carry no mention of 'aid'
or 'relief. No promises are being made to
the people from these faraway places who
are suffering what may well be the effects of
a global warming primarily triggered by the
rich world's unbridled consumption. No
heavy equipment was shifted to India,
Nepal, Bangladesh or China from nearby
US Navy bases or from altruistic Scandinavian countries. The EU has resisted weak
calls for assistance, and, as of going to press
at the fag end of the Asian monsoon, George
W Bush has not yet called South Asian
leaders to offer the full resources of his
country for the rehabilitation of flood
victims.
As always, the rich world is ready to
defend its citizens while neglecting the
plight of the poor in other parts of the world.
Destruction of cosy houses in the Bavarian
city of Passau evokes more concern in
Geneva or New York than the displacement
of millions of poor peasants in India.
Flooded cellars of Prague's national theatre
mobilise incomparably more assistance
than the destruction of Mexican villages.
Human life has different values, depending on where it is being threatened, a fact it
does not take an 11 September to bring
home. This reality is unfortunately accepted
even by some of the poorest countries
themselves. Viet Nam News, the national
English language newspaper, carried long
articles about the flood situation in Europe,
while hardly mentioning that some poor
Hanoi neighbourhoods on the banks of the
Red River were under water.
In Nepal, the Red Cross was appealing
for USD 1.6 million to help provide food,
shelter, blankets, clothing and water puri-
10
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 V*-   '    •  -;
fication tablets to flood victims. Truly a
pittance, if one considers the magnitude of
the tragedy. But then again, the implicit
message in grants from the rich world is
that poor countries should be grateful for
anything they do get, even if the amount is
insulting. Forget about the hundreds of
millions of dollars being offered in the first
stages of relief to Europeans.
While the International Red Cross
aimed to raise USD 7.4 million in emergency
aid for Central American countries devastated by Hurricane Mitch (1998), these
very countries were paying USD 2.2 million
every day in debt service to their creditors.
When they pleaded to have the debt cancelled, the World Bank responded that
"although there is a great deal of sympathy
for the devastated countries, it would be
unfair, impossible and ultimately irresponsible to end the debt burden and walk
awav". No substantial help for the hurricane victims was ever delivered. Only a few
years later, hundreds of thousands of people
in Nicaragua and Honduras are, once
again, on the verge of starvation.
Czech, German and Austrian emergency
units and armed forces are already cleaning
up the mess left by the flooding of summer
2002. Insurance companies are opening
their wallets (in the Czech Republic, to the
tune of USD 597 million), governments are
talking about emergency relief funds, and
newspapers are advising their readers on
how to file insurance claims for the maximum amount of money (an estimated
130,000 Czech claims have already been
filed). Just as the water did a few weeks
earlier, sympathy and funds are now
literally pouring into Central Europe, and
the long list of threatened "architectural
jewels" is mentioned over and over again
in thousands of detailed reports from the
flood frontlines. Czech and German emergency shelters are providing victims with
hearty food, medical care and, above all,
limitless sympathy.
The world's poor are holding tight to the
little bundles they have been able to rescue
from their flooded homes and shacks, living
in miserable conditions, mostly with no
access to clean water or medicine. Does the
rich, 'white' world have any genuine
sympathy for those suffering beyond its
high walls7 The answer on the airwaves,
and on the ground is: probably not. b
- Andre Vltchek
rULBRJGHT      FULBRIGHT POST-DOCTORAL RESEARCH
NeSMB^l       PROGRAM FOR NEPALI SCHOLARS
The Commission for Educaiionat Exchange between the United States and Nepol (USEF/ Nepol) announces the competition for
the Nepali Scholar Past-Dodoral research granls for academic year 2003-2004 under the auspices ofthe Fulbright academic
exchange program. Depending on the availability of funding, USEF/Nepol will provide grants to as many as four Nepali scholars
to conduct post-doctoral research ata U.S. university during the 2003-2004 academic year for o period of six months.
The subject ofthe proposed research should relate directly to Nepal. Typewritten research proposals using the prescribed form
will be accepted in any field. Applicants should have previously established contact with and solicited expression of interest from
the U.S. university where their research is to be conducted. Women are encouraged to apply.
Generai Requirements for Entering the Competition
* Only those scholars who received their doctorate during the years 1 989-1999 are eligible to apply.
* Applicants must present a fully-developed research proposal, three letters of reference, and the documentary evidence of
thefollowing:
* a recognized doctoral degree;
* a MINIMUM of three years post-doctoral professional experience in Nepol;
* Nepalese citizenship;
* a certificate of good health; and
* letter of invitation or appointment from a U.S. university.
Application  Forms
Detailed instructions and application forms must be taken out from the Fulbright Commission (USEF/Nepal) office
at the American Center in Gyaneshwor, Kathmandu by 4:00 p.m. Friday, October 18,2002. No applications will be given
out after this date.
Completed  applications must reach the  Fulbright Commission  (USEF/Nepal) no  later than 4:00 p.m.  Wednesday,
November 20, 2002.
 Essay
Deadlock in Burma
by Larry Jagan
For more than two years now Burma's military leaders have been holding secret talks with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the
National League for Democracy (NLD). The dialogue
started while Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house
arrest. When she was released earlier this year, the
international community and the people of Burma expected the process to move to the next stage - substantive political negotiations. But instead it now looks as if
the whole process has stalled. Progress needed to resolve the country's political deadlock looks as far away
as ever.
Just a few months ago a political breakthrough
seemed not only possible but also imminent. The United Nations special envoy, Razali Ismail, who brokered
the talks between the two sides, in fact, believed that it
was just a matter of a few weeks before something substantial was achieved to break the impasse that is now
more than a decade old. But Burma's generals have
revealed their true colours. The military leaders have
for long asserted that the country was going through a
transition toward a multi-party democracy. Now, however, the country's powerful intelligence chief, General
Khin Nyunt, says, "Such a transition cannot be done in
haste or in a haphazard manner". He warned, "The
world is full of examples where hasty transition from
one system to another led to unrest, instability and even
failed states"
In line with this, Burma's generals have taken to
making public pronouncements about their vision of
democracy, and the hardline underlying that vision
does not inspire much confidence. They have borrowed
quite liberally from the political philosophy of one of
their few uncritical supporters, Dr Mahathir Mohammad. The Malaysian prime minister has always maintained that Malaysia's form of paternal democracy,
which he believes incorporates what he terms 'Asian
values', is the most appropriate for Burma. He told the
generals when he visited Rangoon earlier this year that
they do not necessarily have to adopt a Western approach to democracy. More importantly, he has constantly warned the regime that it should not bow to
international pressure and instead evolve a Burmese
variant of democracy.
But 'native democracy' seems to derive its more practical orientation not from Malaysia, but from the Chinese approach to politics. This is best exemplified by
the intelligence boss' recent rhetoric. He has been saying, "The democracy we seek to build may not be identical to the West but it will surely be based on universal
principles of liberty, justice and equality". It is therefore more than likely that Burma's military rulers are
now looking at the Chinese political model as the basis
of their new constitution.
General stranglehold
Despite recent expectations to the contrary, what seems
to be happening is that the country's top military leader - Senior General Than Shwe - has actually strengthened his control over both the army and the administrative structure. Ever since the arrest of four members
of the former military dictator General Ne Win's family
six months ago, allegedly for planning a coup against
the current military regime, there have been growing
signs that Than Shwe is intent on establishing his own
dynasty.
Even before Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons were detained in March, Than Shwe had been
reasserting his authority. He dismissed two top generals who had been accused of being heavily involved in
12
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 corruption. He then made major changes within the
army high command, transferring 10 out of 12 of the
country's regional commanders, who exert almost complete authority in the areas under their control,
and stationing them in Rangoon instead. They were
replaced by officers whose allegiance to Than Shwe is
unquestioned.
These actions have fuelled the growing suspicion
in many quarters that Than Shwe, having secured his
leadership position beyond question, is intent on staying in power. "General intends to hold onto power for
another 10 years", says a senior military source close to
Than Shwe. "He is prepared to talk to the opposition
leader, work with the NLD in an interim administration, and even consider power-sharing at some point,
but his main strategy is to drag the dialogue process
out and retain power as long as possible".
The trend of recent promotions in the army - with
Than Shwe's two top lieutenants being promoted and
one of them, General Maung Aye, also being appointed
Deputy Senior General - is a clear indication that this
is an army top brass that does not intend retiring soon,
despite being overtaken by old age . The suspicion that
the generals are bent on consolidating power is
strengthened by the death sentence awarded to the arrested members of Ne Win's family, even though most
observers believe this will be commuted to life imprisonment. Either way, the end of the Ne Win dynasty as a
potential rival to the ruling combine in Rangoon is certain. Indeed, the fear in pro-democracy circles is that
General Than Shwe is fashioning a lineage of his own
on the model of the Ne Win dynasty. The Senior General is now often accompanied on his official travels
around the country by his teenage grandson, who has
on occasion even been paraded around in his military
uniform. This was conveyed in a particularly stark
manner when the state-owned media continuously-
showed pictures of the two, even as the Ne Win affair
was getting full play.
Those who know Than Shwe well say he is an avid
sports follower. In fact many diplomats in Rangoon
believe he spends much of his time watching international football games on satellite television. A senior
Asian politician recently asked the general how he saw
Burma's political game - between the army and the
pro-democracy opposition - working out in the future.
"You've got it all wrong", he replied. "We are the umpire not one of the teams in the match". For the Burmese
people, all this is par for the course. For them the past
14 years have been full of hopes being raised only to be
dashed by the junta's intransigence.
Today, on the streets of Rangoon there is growing
despondency. This is in stark contrast to the mood
throughout the country six months ago, after the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house
arrest on 6 May. She had spent the previous 19 months
confined to her residence for trying to visit party activists in Mandalay, central Burma, in defiance of a travel
ban slapped by the State Peace and Development Council. For the residents of Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi's
release was a moment they had long waited for. Though
the state-run media studiously avoided covering the
event for hours, on the day she was freed people were
watching satellite television and listening to overseas
radio broadcasts. The official silence was to no avail,
and by the time she arrived at the party headquarters
everyone in Rangoon knew that she had been freed and
large crowds had gathered to greet her.
"The country needs her free", an old man buying
rice in the shop a few doors down from the NLD office
said back then. "She will rebuild her party and win the
next elections". Others were looking to her for some
relief in their daily struggle for survival. "Now Daw
Suu is free, things will get better - we will get more meat
and vegetables to eat", said a young mother shopping
in the market near the party headquarters. For the NLD
and its key leaders, Suu Kyi's release was an ecstatic
moment. "They are relieved", a senior member of the
party said. "They have shouldered all the responsibility for the last 18 months and now Daw Suu is free, a
great weight is lifted from their shoulders". These three
reactions encapsulate the range of expectations of the
freed leader, but the political expectation is clearly the
most demanding one. The leader's release lifted the sagging morale of the opposition movement and transformed the headquarters into a hive of activity from the
cemetery it had come to resemble during the period of
her internment. On 6 May, the ramshackle office, near
the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, was full of party activists preparing for the arrival of their leader.
But what happened on that day in many ways exemplified the political process that was to unfold -
that the climate and agenda of opposition activity is
still at least partially being dictated by the junta. On 6
May, the crowd outside the party office was destined to
be disappointed. No sooner had Suu Kyi arrived than
she was whisked into the building by NLD leaders who
feared that the crowds outside might get out of hand,
thus giving the military an excuse to place her under
house arrest again. Her moment of arrival became also
in a sense her moment of seclusion. Now, as time passes without any concrete progress towards negotiations
the public euphoria over her release has been gradually dissipating.
External mediation
This discouraging recent history notwithstanding, the
United Nations envoy Razali Ismail continues to be
optimistic that progress towards real political discussions is still possible and that a meeting between Suu
Kyi and a senior representative of the military government, probably General Khin Nyunt, is on the cards.
This, despite the fact that many other concessions he
expected from the regime are yet to materialise. Perhaps
Razali's optimism stems from the fact that external pressure has been consistently maintained on the Rangoon
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Essay
government to find a negotiated settlement.
There is no doubt that international pressure has
been largely responsible for diluting the junta's intransigence. For more than 10 years, the world community
has been trying to engage the Burmese generals in a
dialogue through the UN, which has consistently demanded that the regime improve its human rights record
and institute political negotiations. For the past 11 years
a special rapporteur on human rights in Burma has
compiled annual reports which have been tabled at the
UN General Assembly. These reports have been among
the principal bases for the UN resolutions adopted
unanimously every year urging Burma's government
to respect human rights, free all political prisoners, start
concrete tripartite talks with the opposition and the ethnic groups, and honour the election results of 1990.
The 1990 elections remain, even after more than a
decade, one of the most contentious unresolved issues
of Burmese politics. Back then, the Burmese military
had honoured the outgoing military dictator Ne Win's
1988 promise to hold national
elections. Despite the fact that the
opposition leader had been under house arrest since July 1989,
the NLD swept the elections on
27 May 1990, winning over 80
percent of the seats. But the military regime then refused to honour the election results and held
onto power despite the barrage
of international condemnation.
This has always stood in the way
of international engagement
with the Burmese regime.
Apart from monitoring the human rights situation
in Burma, the UN has also tried periodically to help
break Burma's political stalemate by offering to facilitate discussions between the two main protagonists in
the conflict. This was how Razali Ismail, a senior Malaysian diplomat, came to be appointed UN special
envoy to try and break the Burmese deadlock. He has
visited the country every three months since his appointment and held discussions with both Aung San
Suu Kyi and the top military leaders, including General Than Shwe.
Razali has not only had the weight of the UN behind him, but the active support of the Association of
South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, who is
regarded by Than Shwe as Rangoon's most important
regional and international ally. On several occasions
over the past three years the general has sought the
Malaysian leader's advice on a number of issues, including on how to reduce the country's international
isolation and develop the country's economy.
While international pressure has played its part in
improving the situation, Razali Ismail's own efforts at
selling the idea of negotiations to both sides cannot be
Aung San
discounted. It was he who finally convinced the generals that they should release Suu Kyi if they entertained
any hope of ending their international isolation. For
her part, Suu Kyi was far from certain that being released would actually help the opposition's cause. In
fact, while under house arrest she often told visiting
diplomats that her release was her only bargaining chip
with the generals. Razali eventually persuaded the
reluctant leader that her release was an important precondition for the negotiations to make substantive headway. Discussions between the two adversaries on the
political future of Burma, he argued, would require Suu
Kyi to rebuild the NLD and discuss crucial policy
issues with other leaders of the party.
The secret talks started shortly after the NLD leader
was put under house arrest in September 2000. Since
then, it has been a slow and tortuous process. The key
priority was to build confidence between the two sides,
to overcome mutual suspicion. For the NLD, the mam
demands were the immediate release of all political prisoners, the reopening of the party
offices, and assurance that party
members would be allowed to
function without being harassed
or intimidated by the military authorities.
The general expectation was
that with the release of Burma's
most prominent political figure,
national reconciliation would
graduate to the phase of substantive political dialogue. "Both sides
agree that the confidence-building phase is now over", Suu Kyi told a news conference
in Rangoon immediately after she was released. "The
authorities have said they look forward to moving to a
more significant stage of the talks". But things have
turned out somewhat differently. During her captivity,
Suu Kyi had met top generals, including Than Shwe,
Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt, more than 70 rimes. But in
the five months since her release, according to the NLD
spokesman, U Lwin, there has been no meeting between
Suu Kyi and the generals.
The party and its perils
As always, the generals seem to be calling the shots
and stalling the talks. The opposition leader and the
NLD still have their work cut out for them if they are to
succeed in sustaining the pressure against the regime.
They need to rebuild the party and rejuvenate its activities. Most party offices throughout the country have
been defunct for years. The party headquarters has fallen into disrepair, and even today resembles a rundown
mausoleum of democracy rather than a vibrant centre
of political activity.
Fortunately, the general despondency about the negotiations petering out seems not to have infected the
NLD itself and some signs of revival at the party head-
Than Shwe
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 quarters can be detected. On most mornings, there are
education classes in session on the ground floor, where
young activists study subjects ranging from public
health to English language. In the afternoon, the party's medical workers run a health clinic where babies
are measured and weighed, and the mothers given
powdered milk. There are regular meetings of the
various sub-committees that have been established to
revitalise the party and prepare the ground for it to function properly as a well-equipped political party when
the situation changes in Burma and there is full political freedom.
"There are committees preparing policy on health,
education, defence and the economy", says U Lwin,
"but our most important task is to reopen all our offices
in Rangoon and the divisional headquarters throughout the country". While most offices in Rangoon have
now been opened, only a small fraction of those outside the capital have been revived. Allowing the NLD to
function is one of the government's concessions to the
political process.
It is critical, at this juncture, for the NLD to show that
it will be able to run the country in the future. Although
the party won the 1990 elections convincingly, that victory was seen by many not so much as a vote for the
NLD as an endorsement of its charismatic leader. NLD
leaders even admit privately that the party would be
nothing without her. The party has to be prepared to
fight another election, in case the military allows polls
to be held, and demonstrate that it has the organisational fire to match Suu Kyi's personal charisma.
Paradoxically enough, it is Suu Kyi's popularity that
fuels concern about the NLD leadership as a whole. The
fear is that there really may be no one within the NLD
who could replace her. The other top leaders - U Lwin,
Aung Shwe and Tin Oo — are all in their 70s, and the
party in the near future will feel acutely the lack of a
new generation of leaders. Linlike the military, which
is carefully grooming junior officers to occupy high office in the future, there is little succession-planning
within the opposition movement.
The party also faces the problem of inadequate cadre expansion. LI Lwin admits that membership is falling. "We once attracted the students, but we now have
great difficulty in interesting them in joining us", he
says. He feels this will change though when there is
greater freedom for political action. However, there may
well be a deeper basis for this problem. Ever since the
NLD was formed, there has always been tension between the young radical students and the old guard,
most of whom were formerly soldiers under General
Aung San and later General Ne Win.
There has been resentment among young NLD activists over the past decade that Aung San Suu Kyi has
appeared to favour the old guard. And there is also
growing impatience among the younger rank and file,
who would like more transparency and vigour in the
negotiation process. "We are frustrated by constantly
being told to be patient and trust our leader", says one
young NLD member. The junta's delay in taking the
dialogue forward could potentially deepen the generational divide in the opposition.
The party's problems are compounded by the incipient and dangerous rift between the NLD and the
pro-democracy opposition groups in exile, such as the
National Coalition Government of the LInion of Burma,
which refuse to take the military's sincerity at face value. That attitude is likely to conflict with Aung San Suu
Kyi's present political strategy, and if the divide becomes more pronounced it could diminish her ability
to be the unifying force she currently is.
For Suu Kyi and the NLD, one positive change that
may help overcome these problems is that since her
release there have been few restrictions on her movement or her political activity. She has even been allowed
to visit government development projects and UN
projects. In a calculated publicity ploy, the military regime has even told her that it welcomes suggestions
from her. "But they have been careful to tell her to send
any comments or suggestions she might have in a letter", says a Western diplomat. "They certainly do not
want to give an impression that she is being given any
role in government at all, even in what would be seen
as the legitimate role of an opposition".
No matter how slim the possibility may seem at
present, Aung San Suu Kyi and the party need to prepare themselves for future political talks with the
generals. This entails taking a substantial number of
important policy decisions and clarifying the party's
explicit position on many issues. The two major issues
are its stand on the status of the 1990 election results
and the .NLD's participation in the National Convention, created by the military regime for formulating a
constitution, which the party walked out of six years
ago. The leadership will also have to formulate its position on an issue that has international implications,
namely its attitude to trade sanctions and humanitarian aid. Any changes in the party's policy will have to
be based on a vigorous discussion both within the
party central committee and with the rank and file.
The biggest question that will confront the party,
and one that gives the military regime the greatest scope
Editorial Note
Staying with 'Burma'
IN 1989, Burma was officially named Myanmar by the State
Law and Order Restoration Council (renamed the State Peace
and Development Council in 1497) to emphasise the fact
that the country was made up of more than the Durman
people. However, the substitution of the colonial name by
the supposedly more 'egalitarian' Myanmar has been rejected
by the pro-democracy movement because it is an initiative
of the junta. The democracy movement in the country has,
therefore, stayed with 'Burma', which is what Himal also
follows.
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Essay
for manipulation, is how to involve the ethnic leaders
in any substantive talks about Burma's political future.
Ever since the secret talks between the opposition leader and the generals started, there has been pressure to
involve the leadership of ethnic groups in tripartite
talks. This is something that Aung San Suu Kyi has
also been particularly concerned about. The NLD has
always maintained good relations with the ethnic political parties. To emphasise Suu Kyi's commitment to
strengthening this relationship, on the day she was released, leaders of four ethnic political parties - the Shan,
Mon, Arakanese and Chin - along with a Kokang representative were invited to join the NLD central committee members for a briefing by her.
So far the NLD has been advising ethnic leaders that
they need to organise themselves before they can directly participate in talks. The de facto leader of the
ethnic groups, Khun Tun Oo - who heads the Shan
Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) - says he
wants the ethnic groups to form their own national convention to discuss their common concerns, political
aspirations and, above all, to build trust and confidence
between all the ethnic groups before they are even involved in the dialogue process, let alone in tripartite
talks.
This in itself is a major stumbling block, since a national convention of ethnic groups would involve legal
political groups like the SNLD, political groups that
have been de-registered by the military government, ethnic rebel groups which have signed cease-fire agreements with Rangoon, and armed ethnic guerrilla
groups like the Karen National Union which are still
fighting Burmese troops. So far the generals have tried
to prevent political groups like the SNLD from meeting
and talking with Shan rebel groups like the Shan State
Army which have signed a ceasefire agreement with
Rangoon.
There is no doubt that Rangoon's military chiefs know
that only the ethnic groups can provide an answer to
Burma's decades of ethnic strife and political uncertainty. However, the military regime to date has not given up
its talk of a unitary state, whereas the ethnic groups want
a federal state. The NLD vision of Burma's new constitution actually comes quite close to a federal structure, and
talks may in fact lead Burma out of its decades-old morass, but the generals are adamant about not allowing a
meeting among all the players in the game. So far they
have kept the ethnic groups who have signed ceasefire
agreements out of the national reconciliation process. It
is likely that Burma's military leaders see the ethnic
groups as a pawn they can use against the NLD.
The army's resistance to ethnic autonomy and a federal system has been clear from the outset. When the
army first seized power in 1962, it claimed that it had
been forced to take control in order to prevent Burma
from being split by ethnic rebel guerrillas demanding
autonomy, and plunging the country into anarchy. In
the circumstances today, if the generals do allow the
ethnic question to be raised, it may well be to drive
a wedge and pre-empt the possibility of a combined
opposition.
Consequently, the NLD will need to address these
issues at the earliest, for though the talks have stalled
for the present, the possibility of the regime returning to
the negotiating table as a consequence of accentuated
social unrest cannot be ruled out. At that juncture the
NLD cannot afford to have permitted the situation to get
out of its control.
Rice and revolt
The rapidly deteriorating social and economic situation has affected the NLD no doubt, but it is the government which may find its plan to cling to power for the
long term undone by inflationary tendencies in the market and the accompanying collapse of law and order-
In fact, what the government is confronted with today
is an internal crisis of serious proportions. Though the
public at large is despondent, some activist students
have started a campaign demanding immediate political reform. In the wake of the recent arrest and release
of some dissident students who had been protesting
publicly in Rangoon, more students are planning a leaflet campaign demanding political change.
There is a real danger of social unrest escalating
throughout the country. The aborted political negotiations may be the focus of some of the current protests,
but the underlying economic crisis will very likely amplify the disturbances to unmanageable proportions.
Reports of looting from across the country are increasingly frequent now. Diplomatic sources in Rangoon say
at least six rice warehouses in rural areas have been
ransacked in the past few weeks. Several trucks transporting rice to the districts have been robbed on the
highways and two rice boats were attacked on the Irrawaddy. These incidents are direct consequences of
inflation and the shortage of basic necessities.
Rice prices have been escalating rapidly as the government finds it increasingly difficult to procure sufficient stocks of rice to meet the domestic demand. A
50-kilogram bag of the lowest quality rice currently sells
for more than 7000 kyat, an increase of more than 50
percent in the past two months. Better quality rice is
now more than 1000 kyat for a kilogram. In Rangoon,
the price of rice has registered a more than 100 percent
increase since the beginning of the year, while in some
rural areas, residents complain of a four-fold increase
in price over the past five months. There is certainly a
serious problem of supply in the domestic market. Analysts believe this is partly because of the government's
obsessive export drive; the junta has set a target of exporting more than a billion tonnes of rice this year. This
export-induced domestic scarcity is accentuated by crop
damage due to floods, which have severely disrupted
the government's distribution system. The flood
forecast for the coming agricultural year is not very
promising either.
IB
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 The fear that the rice shortage is going to reach unmanageable proportions because of long-term environmental factors next year is not unfounded. An
independent agricultural expert doing preliminary research in Burma has privately warned the UN that
there is a very real risk of famine in the year ahead
because of the likelihood of crop failures due to massive soil degradation arising from over-cropping and
acute lack of fertilisers.
Burma's generals have always been nervous about
the prospect of civil disturbances as a result of rice shortages. In the past six months they have been selling rationed low grade rice at subsidised prices throughout
the country but especially in urban areas like Rangoon.
Residents there say people line up every day for hours
to buy the small quantities of essential commodities
being dispensed at these government outlets. These
queues are getting longer even as the permitted ration
is getting smaller in volume. Because of the low rice
supplies available for distribution even the minimal
relief being provided is shrinking as the number of stalls
has been reduced in some areas of Rangoon.
Inflation is now at over 50 percent a year. Even the
bribes necessary to keep basic amenities like phone lines
in working order have gone up. Medical costs have more
than doubled over the last three months since the border with Thailand has been closed. Wages and salaries
have not kept pace with the rise in prices. Burmese economists estimate that an average family of five needs
more than 80,000 kyat (USD 80) a month to live, costs of
food, medicine and transport included but not luxury
goods. As against this, the average monthly income of
professionals - teachers, university professors, government officials - is less than 10,000 kyat (USD 10).
Many families, especially those living on the outskirts of Rangoon or in the poorer rural districts, can
afford only one meal a day. They supplement this with
a bottle of glutinous water that is left over from cooking
and is available for less than a cent in roadside markets. Average Burmese living standards are declining
rapidly and UN officials fear that a massive humanitarian crisis is looming. They estimate that already at
least one child in three under the age of five suffers
from malnutrition. If the situation remains unchecked,
they fear that this could double in the next 12 months.
Rice shortages have in the past brought people
out onto the sheets in protest against the government.
According to senior military intelligence sources, the
government fears the possibility of food riots and has
already begun to form and train special military units
to control civil disturbances.
It is not surprising that there has been an inordinate
increase in crime levels, especially in Rangoon. Some
observers claim that the situation is worse than it was
in 1987-88. This new spate of crime is certainly a reflection of Burma's rapidly worsening economic conditions, especially in the cities, and could easily well up
into political unrest.
Compulsions and equations
Political unrest sparked off by economic collapse will
seriously compromise the government. But it is an outcome that the NLD does not want either. For the NLD,
the process of building trust has come a long way, and
it fears a return to the absolute repression of a few years
ago. In September, on the anniversary of the founding
of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated her willingness to cooperate with the military regime in the interests of the people. The real implication of this statement
is still not clear, but it certainly was an invitation to
the military to cooperate on social and humanitarian
issues.
If the dialogue process is to make any progress, the
NLD and the military must at least be seen to be looking
for common ground "Aung San Suu Kyi and the military must find ways of working together, the future of
the country depends on it", says Aung Naing Oo, a
Burmese political analyst based in Thailand. "The NLD
needs the army because they do not have the necessary
experience yet to run a country". The first and most
obvious step in this direction is the forming of a joint
committee, involving representatives of both the
military and the NLD, to set priorities in health and
education and mobilise humanitarian aid to put these
programmes into practice. But even this seems quite
some way off. The NLD favours the idea, but so far UN
envoy Razali Ismail has not been able to convince the
generals to accept it.
Burma's political future is now critically poised.
There is no doubt that most people in Burma are struggling to survive and need a change. Aung Sang Suu
Kyi may be free, but the military is still in control. Both
the generals and the opposition have their compulsions, and there is really no clear indication of how
events will transpire in the coming months. For the junta in Rangoon, politics may be manageable, but the economy is evidently not. The resultant social unrest may
spiral out of the control of both the government and the
NLD. That cannot be a pleasing prospect for either side
or for Burma as a whole. It is therefore incumbent on
the NLD to set about rebuilding and mobilising its base
against the government, without provoking violence.
At the same time it will need to cooperate with the generals on issues of humanitarian concern, without weakening its cadre's agitational resolve. Both sides are
treading a fine line, and it increasingly looks as if the
final arbitrator will be the 'international community'.
When that final settlement will happen is anybody's
guess. But in the interim the threat mounted by spiralling inflation and social unrest have added to the difficulties of the regime in Rangoon. "The generals must
know they are running out of time", says a UN official,
"and starting substantive political talks as soon as possible is essential if they want to ensure stability".        b
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
17
 Perspective
China and South Asia's east
For economic and strategic reasons, Burma is crucial to both
China and India. China has first-mover advantage but India
has now woken up to the threat in the east. Meanwhile,
the junta is looking less cohesive than it did.
by Bertil Lintner	
While Burma remains largely shunned by the
West for its human rights record and repressive political system, the country's biggest
neighbours, China and India, are jockeying for influence in Rangoon, with Pakistan actively supporting
Beijing in the regional power play. To complicate matters, this has set off an internal power struggle within
the junta in Rangoon The outcome of this multi-layered regional competition is more likely to determine
Burma's political destiny than any move made by the
West to pressurise it into a dialogue with the country's
pro-democracy opposition forces.
The configuration of this conflict became clear when
Pakistan's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf,
paid a landmark visit to Burma from 1 to 3 May 2001.
Burma's military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has consistently maintained
that foreign naval vessels would not be permitted to
visit the country's ports. But prior to Musharraf's arrival, no less than three Pakistani naval vessels - a submarine, a tanker and a destroyer - were seen in
Rangoon. At the same time, a Chinese submarine was
reportedly visiting the port city of Sittwe in western
Burma ahead of a visit by a high-powered Chinese military delegation. These two countries would be keen to
persuade Burma's military leaders not to get too close
to their common regional rival, India.
New Delhi, for its part, has also been trying to improve ties with Burma since it normalised relations with
the military junta in 1993. In February 2001, Jaswant
Singh, the Indian foreign minister, visited Rangoon to
discuss avenues for closer cooperation. This was preceded by Burmese army chief and SPDC vice chairman
General Maung .Aye's two visits to India in 2000. Meanwhile, the powerful intelligence chief and first secretary in the SPDC, Lt General Khin Nyunt, seen as a rival
to the army chief, is believed to be pro-China and he
paid a highly publicised visit to Pakistan in July 2000.
China and its ally, Pakistan, enjoy a considerable
head start in the race to woo Rangoon's military leaders over to their side. Burma began to formally develop
into an important Chinese ally when, on 6 August 1988,
the two countries signed a trade agreement. By then,
the days of Mao's support to the Communist Party of
Burma (CPB), which holds the record for the longest
running communist insurgency anywhere, were well
and truly over and Dengist pragmatism was guiding
Chinese policy. This agreement was the first of its kind
that a hitherto isolated Burma had entered into with a
neighbour. It was especially significant because the
agreement was signed at a time when Burma was in
turmoil: two days later, millions of people in virtually
every city, town and village in the country took to the
streets to demand an end to army rule and a restoration
of the democracy the country had enjoyed prior to the
first military coup in 1962.
The Chinese, renowned for their ability to plan far
ahead, had expressed their intentions, almost unnoticed, in an article in the official Beijing Review as early
as 2 September 1985. Titled 'Opening to the Southwest:
,A.n Expert Opinion', the article, which was written by
the former vice-minister of communications, Pan Qi,
outlined the possibilities of finding an outlet for trade
from China's landlocked provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, through Burma, to the indian Ocean. It mentioned the Burmese railheads of Myitkyina and Lashio
in the northeast, and the Irrawaddy river, as possible
conduits for the export of Chinese goods - but it omitted to mention that all relevant border areas, at that
time, were not under Burmese central government
control.
That situation changed in 1989 with the Wa mutiny
within the CPB. The Wa is the hill tribe whose members
formed the rank and file of the insurgent CPB, whose
leadership of was primarily Burman. Subsequent to the
revolt, the CPB split along ethnic lines into four different regional armies - and all of them entered into ceasefire agreements with the government. By 1990, trade
between the two countries was flourishing, and ties
between Burma and China gradually gained strength.
By 1990, Burma had become China's principal political and military ally in the South Asian east.
Chinese arms poured into Burma to help the survival of the extremely unpopular military regime, recipi-
18
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 ent of worldwide condemnation when it brutally
crushed the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. In view of
the Rangoon massacre of 1988, and the Tiananmen
Square massacre the following year, it is hardly surprising that the two then isolated, internationally condemned neighbours would feel a great empathetic
bond. On 30 September 1989, Burmese intelligence
chief Khin Nyunt said in an address to a group of
Chinese engineers working on a project in Rangoon:
"We sympathise with the People's Republic of China
as disturbances similar to those in Burma last year
broke out in the People's Republic of China [in May-
June 1989]".
Brothers in arms
Burma's strategic importance to China was not lost
on observers. By late 1991, Chinese experts were as-
sftsring in a series of infrastructure projects to spruce
up the poorly maintained roads and railways. Chinese military advisers arrived in the same year, the
first foreign military personnel to be stationed in Burma since the Australians had a contingent there to
train the Burmese army in the 1950s. Bur- ^^^^^_
ma was, in effect, becoming a Chinese client state. Ironically, what the insurgent
CPB had failed to achieve for the Chinese
on the battlefield had been accomplished
by shrewd diplomacy and trade.
The total value of Chinese arms deliveries to Burma in the 1990s is not known,
but intelligence sources estimate it to be
between USD 1 and 2 billion, most of it acquired on extremely generous terms. After    	
crushing the 1988 uprising, and to prevent a recurrence of similar popular movements, Burma's military regime has more than doubled the size of its armed
forces. The number of men in the three services increased from 186,000 in 1988 to 450,000 in 2001, and
all three branches underwent significant modernisation programmes.
Military hardware delivered by China in a little
more than a decade includes 80 Type 6911 medium
battle tanks, more than a hundred Type 63 light tanks,
250 Type 85 armoured personnel carriers, multiple
launch rocket systems, howitzers, anti-aircraft guns,
HN-5 surface-to-air missiles, mortars, assault rifles,
recoilless guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers,
JLP-50 and ILG-43 air defence radars, heavy trucks,
Chengdu F-7M Airguard jet fighters, FT-7 and FT-6 jet
trainers, A-5C ground attack aircraft, SACY-8D transport aircraft, Hainan class patrol boats, Houxin-class
guided missile fast attack craft, minesweepers and
small gunboats. In 2000, China delivered 12 Karako-
ram-8 trainers/ground attack aircraft, which are produced in a joint venture with Pakistan. Pakistan, for
its part, has also sold munitions to Burma, including
120mm mortar bombs and machine-gun ammunition.
While one of the reasons why China has decided
Burma was
effectively
becoming a
Chinese
client state
to arm Burma may be to provide a military umbrella to
protect new trade routes through potentially volatile territory, some analysts view the support in a more long-
term perspective. Access, even indirectly, to the Indian
Ocean gives China a strategic advantage. The Strait of
Malacca is, for instance, a key transit point for the bulk of
Japan's West Asian oil imports.
But it is India, not Japan, that has reacted the strongest to China's high-profile presence in Burma. Of
particular concern has been the Chinese role in the upgrading of Burma's naval facilities - including at least
four electronic listening posts along the Bay of Bengal
and the Andaman Sea: Man-aung on an island off the
coast of the western Arakan, or Rakhine, State; Hamggyi
Island in the Irrawaddy delta, Zadetkyi (St Matthew) Island just north of the entrance to the Malacca Strait; and
the strategically important Coco Island just north of India's Andaman Islands. Chinese technicians have also
been spotted at the naval bases at Monkey Point near
Rangoon, and the Kyaikkami facility south of the port
city of Moulmem.
Although China's presence in the Bay of Bengal is
_^_^^ currently limited to instructors and technicians, the fact that the new radar equipment
is Chinese-made - and is most likely also
operated at least in part by Chinese technicians - has enabled Beijing's intelligence
agencies to monitor this sensitive maritime
region. China and Burma have signed several agreements under which they have
pledged to share intelligence that could be of
use to both countries. The arrival of a Chi-
     nese submarine in a Burmese port also adds
an important strategic element to Beijing's arms sales to
Burma, indicating that they were much more than purely commercial deals.
In June 1998, India's defence minister George
Fernandes caused great uproar when he accused Beijing
of helping Burma install surveillance and communications equipment on islands in the Bay of Bengal. Burma
denied the accusations, while China's foreign ministry
expressed "utmost grief and resentment" over the minister's comments. New Delhi however, had good reason to
be concerned. In August 1994, the Indian coast guard
caught three boats "fishing" close to the site of a major
Indian naval base in the Andamans. The trawlers were
flying the Burmese flag, but the crew of 55 was Chinese.
There was no fishing equipment on board - only radio
communication and depth-sounding equipment. The
crew was released at the intervention of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi. The incident was discreetly buried
in the defence ministry files in New Delhi. But when China's designs became more obvious, the new and more
alert government in New Delhi began to pay greater attention to developments in Burma.
In March 1997, the China News Agency in Beijing
reported that a Sino-Burmese expert group had "conducted a study on the possibility of land and water transport.
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Perspective
Intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt, on state television
via Yunnan and into the Irrawaddy valley in Burma".
On 5 May that same year, the
official Xinhua news agency
reported that Beijing and
Rangoon had reached an
agreement on developing
this route. Xinhua said this
route would be 5800 kilometres shorter than the older
route of access to open waters which linked the Yun-
nanese capital Kunming and
the nearest port on China's
east coast, Shanghai.
Long before that agreement was reached, however,
China had begun to construct a railway from Kunming
to Xiaguan (near Dali), on its side of the Yunnanese
frontier. By now, the old Burma Road from Kunming to
Ruili on the Burmese border has also been upgraded,
and Chinese engineers have completed work on the
last 120-kilometre stretch of the road from Ruili across
the border to Bhamo on the Irrawaddy river in Burma's
Kachin State. Bhamo is the northernmost port on the
Irrawaddy that is accessible from the south. _^__^_
Intelligence sources in Burma say the plan
was to use a fleet of barges to transport
goods from there to Minhla, some 1000 kilometres downriver and 280 kilometres
north of Rangoon. From Minhla, a road is
being built across the Arakan Yoma mountain range, running via An to Kyaukpyu on
the coast. Kyaukpyu had been chosen as
the site for a new deepwater port rather than
the silted mouth of the Rangoon river.
It was to finalise this plan that army
chief General Maung Aye went to China in
June 2000, but it now seems certain that al-    	
though he did agree to strengthen trade relations, Beijing
may not have got all the concessions they had expected
- and it is believed that India may have played a role in
this turn of events.
Cultural calculus
Historically, independent India had maintained extremely cordial relations with Burma. Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu, the first prime ministers of the two
countries, shared a common worldview, and India even
lent some assistance to the government in Rangoon in
the political crisis that followed on the heels of independence. Even after the coup in 1962, India kept up
formal relations with Burma until 1988 when India's
stance changed with the military regime's brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrators. India's
prime minister at the time, Rajiv Gandhi, came out in
open support of the movement for democracy and it
was stated policy that India would give shelter to gen-
Around
1993 India
realised that
its policies
had pushed
Burma closer
to Beijing
uine Burmese refugees. Supporting the country's pro-democracy forces is thought to
have been India's way of
countering China's influence in Burma. However,
around 1993 India began to
re-evaluate its strategy out of
concern that its policies had
achieved little except push
Burma closer to Beijing. The
result was a dramatic policy
shift aimed at improving relations with Rangoon. A senior Indian official says that
the Burmese generals have
been sending signals to New
Delhi to take greater interest in development work to
lessen their heavy dependence on China.
In January 2000, the then Indian Army chief, General Ved Prakash Malik, paid a two-day visit to Burma,
which was followed up by a visit by Maung Aye to the
northeast Indian city of Shillong. The unusual nature
of this visit by a foreign leader to a provincial capital
was accentuated by the arrival of a group of senior In-
^^^^^ dian official from trade, energy, defence,
home and foreign affairs ministries to hold
talks with the general. In the aftermath of
these meetings, India began to provide non-
lethal military support to Burmese troops
along the common border. Most of their uniforms and some other combat gear now come
from India. India is also reported to have
leased some helicopters to the Burmese.
In November 2000, the Indian government felt confident enough about bilateral
relations to invite Maung Aye to New Delhi
as head of a delegation that also included
    several other high-ranking junta members
and cabinet ministers, notably two of the secretaries of
the SPDC, Lt Generals Tin Oo and Win Myint, foreign
minister Win Aung and Col Kyaw Win, deputy head of
the powerful Directorate of the Defence Services Intelligence. Conspicuous by his absence was the intelligence
chief, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt - who, tellingly, had taken off
for a visit to Pakistan on the very same day that General
Malik arrived for a second visit to the country in July
2000.
In many ways, Burma's military government has
been caught on the horns of a dilemma. It had to accept
Chinese aid when nobody else wras prepared to support or do business with it - but what began as a rather
modest trade agreement developed into a heavy political and military dependence. Moreover, tens of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants have moved across
the border over the past 10 years and taken over local
businesses in the north of the country. This illegal migration has caused friction with the local population,
20
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 and some ethnic clashes have already taken place
between Chinese immigrants and local tribesmen
in the north. Maung Aye, a staunch Burmese nationalist, is said to be more concerned about these demographic changes than defence and trade agreements
with China.
Mystery also surrounds the renewed presence of the
Indian right-wing Hindu organisation Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Burma. The RSS first came
to Burma in the 1940s to provide services for the country's ethnic Indian minority, but it lay dormant after the
military took over in 1962 and most Indians left. Now,
a renewed effort to build up a Rangoon branch of the
RSS is being made - apparently with the blessings of
General Maung Aye. The RSS (which in Burma is called
the Sanatana Dharma Swayamsevak Sangh) has convinced some Burmese generals that Hinduism and Buddhism are "branches of the same tree" - and that "the
best guard against China is culture", to quote a Calcutta-based RSS official. Although the RSS is the parent organisation of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party, which leads the current coalition government in
New Delhi, it is far from certain that the fundamentalists' Rangoon mission has the blessings of the fndian
government. But, parallel to this development, New Delhi is actively encouraging Maung .\ye to visit historic
Buddhist sites in India, which seems to lend credence
to the suggestion that this could indeed be part of a
"cultural diplomacy" drive on the part of India to woo
Burma away from China, and to take advantage of the
rift between the army and intelligence chiefs.
But the question is also what Burma could do to
loosen its dependence on China, if it were to decide to
do so - and if India is to have any chance of succeeding
in its attempts. Intelligence analysts say that China's
economic, political and military grip over the country
has alreadv become so strong that it would be very hard
for Rangoon to change its policies. Any major political
change in Burma is also unlikely as long as its two
most important leaders are still alive: the ageing strongman Ne Win, who established army rule in the country
in 1962 - and who is still regarded as the "godfather"
of the Burmese military establishment despite a court
case brought against his daughter, son-in-law and
grandsons earlier this year - and General Than Shwe,
the present chairman of the ruling junta. But Ne Win
turned 91 in May 2002, and Than Shwe's health is said
to be deteriorating rapidly, although he is only 68. In
May 2000, Than Shwe even wrote a letter to the junta,
intimating his intention to retire from his post.
Without Ne Win pulling strings from behind the
scenes, and Than Shwe gone as junta chairman, observers believe that the rivalry between Maung Aye and
Khin Nyunt could turn into a far more critical power
struggle. Given their different opinions on foreign policy - and their respective links to rival regional forces -
the outcome of that struggle could also determine
Burma's place in a broader regional security context. /\
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 Perspective
ASEAN's Burma tangle
Uneasy bedfellows they obviously are, but what are the dynamics of the
ASEAN - Burma relationship?
by Kavi Chongkittavorn
When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was being established in 1967,
Burma was approached to be a founding
member. Rangoon declined, citing the principle of strict
neutrality as a barrier to joining an organisation perceived to be an imperialist tool. That attitude persisted
for two decades. But the emphatic international condemnation of the bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy movement of 1988 changed the mindset. The military junta, named the State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC) in 1997 before which it was known as
the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC),
realised that in order to survive it must end its self-
imposed isolation and find regional friends.
The fall of the Berlin wall in     	
1989 also altered the political
landscape of Southeast Asia.
In the region's hotspot, Cambodia, a 14-year-old conflict was
brought to an end two years later, enabling former foes such
as Vietnam and the rest of
the Indochinese states, including Cambodia and Laos, to reconcile their present and forget
their past. Their admission to
ASEAN in the late 1990s was a
watershed event in regional politics, marking the closure of the ideological split forced by the Cold War.
Burma's return to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
in 1992, after it had departed in 1979, was indicative of
its desire to rejoin the international community.
Almost three decades after the initial tentative contact, both Burma and ASEAN found themselves in need
of each other for different reasons. Following the crackdown on the democratic movement, the Burmese regime wanted to shore up support within the region
amid growing pressure from the West as well as international organisations. On the one hand, ASEAN's cardinal principle of non-intervention in the domestic politics of member countries suited Burma's diplomatic
offensive very well. On the other hand, ASEAN's interest in admitting Burma was prompted primarily by its
serious concern with China's expansion southward
towards the Indian Ocean. Reports of a Chinese naval
presence in Burma prompted senior ASEAN officials to
conclude in a 1995 Bangkok meeting that the only way
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra toasting
Burma strongman Than Shwe.	
to counter Beijing's growing influence was to embrace
Rangoon regardless of its brutal regime and underdeveloped economy.
This choice was influenced by ASEAIM's view that
Burma constitutes a strategic junction in Asia, linking
China and India, the.world's most populous countries.
Therefore the inclusion of Burma was a better option
than leaving it alone in the woods, open to the courting
of the two Asian superpowers. Meanwhile, realising
the geostrategic predicament of its immediate neighbours, the Rangoon regime has been playing one against
the other. For years, Rangoon manipulated its China
card effectively against India and ASEAN, playing on
the fear of the enlargement of the Chinese sphere of
influence. India, once a fervent
supporter of the exiled Burmese
pro-democracy movement, switched its policy in the first half of
the 1990s and began to appease
the Rangoon regime in an attempt
to neutralise China's increased
presence. Now, New Delhi too has
acquired a toehold in Rangoon.
Unfortunately for ASEAN, Burma's entry into the organisation
disrupted its traditionally strong
ties with the West, which has been
providing substantial aid and technical assistance to
member countries. ASEAN's regional interests notwithstanding, Western countries continue to be critical of
Burma. They have been criticising the Burmese junta's
treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader,
and remain well aware of the harsh political oppression in the country. ASEAN, pushed to the defensive,
has argued that it can handle the Burmese situation
better than countries outside the region, through the
so-called ASEAN way of consensus building and noninterference. The organisation's hope clearly was that
through peer pressure and discreet diplomacy, Burma
would give in and cooperate with it on the more sensitive issues.
But, for ASEAN it has been a wait in vain. Burma has
not cooperated. Even so, the organisation's optimism
has not waned. Five years have elapsed since Burma's
inclusion but the organisation's thinking has failed to
evolve despite Rangoon's calculated insult of refusing,
in 2000, to welcome an ASEAN fact-finding mission,
22
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 known as the ASEAN Troika. Instead, the Burmese regime went out of its way to welcome a similar team
from the European Union a year later. And whatever
change has happened in Burma has not really been at
the behest of ASEAN. The process of political dialogue
between the regime and the opposition made progress
in October 2000 through the facilitation of the United
Nations Special Envoy for Burma, Tan Sri Ismail Razali. Much credit has been given to his efforts for the release of Suu Kyi from house arrest. ASEAN's case for a
special role for itself in the unfolding Burmese political
process is therefore not very credible.
Meanwhile, Rangoon is back to playing the game it
is now adept at. The junta leaders know full well that
in order to revive their ailing economy and ward off
growing pressure for political reform, they have to tussle with international opinion and the opposition. They
have so far made the most from the minor concessions
to the civilian political process. After Suu Kyi's release
last May, the regime managed to secure some financial
gains. Japan, which is Burma's biggest aid donor, has
pledged more humanitarian aid as an incentive for the
regime to loosen up. Lobbyists hired by Rangoon are
active these days in the US Congress, working to stop
possible legislation that seeks to impose an American
trade embargo.
It is clear that Burma will continue to drive wedges
within the international community. As an ASEAN member, Rangoon now has the cover of regional respectability. The regime also now has an international
forum and to that extent is no longer an international
pariah. Political dialogue, brokered by Razali, is bound
to proceed only very slowly as the regime consolidates
its grip on the polity and attempts to undermine the
popularity of the opposition. Without concerted effort
from the larger international community and more
sustained and sterner measures from ASEAN, the junta
will overcome international and domestic challenges,
succeed in reigning in civil political forces and continue its repression at home. ;\
The Road Home to Pang Long
After the damage done by the generals, it is time for democrats to try and
fashion a federal Burma. But the Rangoon regime is all for continuing the
'status quo of disunity' among the ethnic groups.
by Aung Naing Oo
My blood is of the Karen so 1 will kill the Bur-
man if 1 capture them", declared the tattoo on
the chest of a young Karen guerrilla fighter.
More than a decade ago, an encounter with such a determined mind was a chilling experience for a Burman.
lt was especially so because one had just arrived in
a Karen rebel camp, fleeing the Burmese military
dragnet.
Things have changed over time, but this tattoo reflects an anger that the ethnic peoples of Burma still
feel at having been subjected to unspeakable suffering
by the Burmese army. This bitterness and animosity
is deep-rooted and ubiquitous, and indicates the intractability of Burma's ethnic conflicts. If there is one
significant trait that Burma shares with her South Asian
neighbours, this must be it.
The relevance of ethnic identity in Burma is clear
from just a glance at the country's demographics. The
Burman are the dominant group but ethnic minorities
make up 40 percent of the country's population and
reside in 60 percent of its land area. Also, Burma has a
significant colonial legacy. While conflict in multi-ethnic Burma has pre-modern antecedents, its present-day-
form dates back to the early years after it gained inde
pendence from Britain. Soon after the British left Burma
in 1948, the country w7as plunged into bloody chaos as
the democratically elected government of U Nu in
Rangoon came under threat from various ethnic armies.
The Karen were the first to rebel, their short-lived but
historic military success becoming a precursor to a wave
of independence movements across the country. This
struggle for power was as extensive as it was intense,
and by the late 1950s all but three ethnic groups had
taken up arms.
The military seized power in 1962 under the leadership of General Ne Win, the army chief, ostensibly to
prevent the disintegration of the country. The reference
was to the U Nu government's attempts at redressing
ethnic grievances by amending the constitution and
possibly orienting the political system towards federalism. The military takeover meant an effective halt to
any effort to tackle the ethnic problem within the legal
and democratic framework. The 1947 constitution was
abolished along with several other fledgling democratic institutions. And thus, the spirit and essence of the
Pang Long Agreement, signed on 12 February 1947,
was lost. In the Pang Long Agreement had been enshrined the principles of peaceful coexistence between
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
23
 Perspective
the Burman and their ethnic brethren. It was signed by
Burma's independence hero General Aung San and
ethnic leaders, and had been the basis of the 1947 constitution.
The Burmese army tried to create a socialist utopia
overnight. The ethnic armies continued their fight for
autonomy from the centre, but their wars were largely
ignored by Rangoon. The weight of heavy-handed military rule - in the guise of homegrown state socialism -
all but completely buried the ethnic leaders' calls for a
federated state. In a mock form of federalism, however,
the socialist government divided the map of the country
into Burman and ethnic areas. Seven administrative divisions were formed in predominantly ethnic Burman
areas and seven states were established corresponding
roughly to the homelands of the major ethnic groups. All
real power, however, was in the centralised iron grip of
the men in uniform in Rangoon. This situation was to
last for 26 years as Burma's socialist ideologues drove
the country into self-imposed isolation.
The nearly three decades of 'socialist' ■""■■^^™
rule ended only in 1988 when pro-democracy protests swept the country.
Unfortunately, the pro-democracy
movement failed to secure victory during the uprising. Following the large-
scale massacre of unarmed demonstrators by military forces, a new group of
military officers calling themselves the
State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) assumed power. Despite the
devastating oppression, the democracy
movement in the summer of 1988 paved the way for a
multiparty election in 1990. The opposition National
League for Democracy (NLD) won hands down, capturing more than 80 percent of the vote. Though the
SLORC rejected the results of the elections, the stage was
set for political negotiations that were to come a full
decade later. Most significantly, a dialogue between the
military and civilian groups, and thus the discussion
on federalism, was re-established. For the first time since
1962 the ethnic nationalities and Burmans sympathetic to their cause had a say in politics.
Ceasefire complex
The politics of ethnicity are not linear. A year after the
uprising in 1988, the Communist Party of Burma collapsed due in part to a mutiny by its Wa members, who
made up the bulk of the rank and file. The SLORC responded to the development with a bold step, concluding truce agreements with the communists who then
returned to their own ethnic bases and formed armies
of ethnic composition. Within six years, almost every
ethnic army either had surrendered or signed a ceasefire agreement with the regime at Rangoon.
As history has shown, the ceasefires were not comprehensive. Many of the armies were allowed to retain
their arms and a portion of their territory, and were
The military
takeover meant
the ethnic question would not
be tackled within
a democratic
framework
even granted business concessions by Rangoon. The
regime, however, steadfastly refused to discuss politics
with these groups. Complete surrender has been the
only avenue to participation in the political process,
which is effectively a non-starter due to the regime's
total lock on power. The regime's attempt to write a
constitution cementing its leadership in any future political system resulted in the NLD walking out of the
constitutional convention in 1995, declaring the process and principles espoused in it unacceptable. Its
demand for political dialogue was not accepted by the
regime. Not surprisingly, as the uncertainty has lingered over the years, all major ethnic groups have chosen to retain their arms.
The ethnic truces complicated the already complex
nature of Burma's ethnic problem. The major effect was
the creation of different status among the various ethnic groups. A number of groups remain committed to
political settlement, while others have settled for lesser
gains. Some groups were transformed into
■""^■™" local defence forces, and now essentially
act as Rangoon's agents. Others, such as
the Pa-O and the Kokang, traded in their
political identities for business deals and
closer relations with the regime. Several
ethnic armies, notably the Mon and the
Kachin, have tried to strike a balance between local political autonomy and a relationship with the generals in Rangoon.
Still others, such as the Karen, the Karen-
ni (Kayah) and the Shan, have maintained
an armed commitment to independence or
federalism. Aside from increased complexity, another
result of the ceasefires has been a breakdown in inter-
ethnic unity.
The junta, named the State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC) in 1997, has refused to declare a blanket nationwide ceasefire. It has instead continued with
its policy of proposing individual ceasefires with the
remaining insurgent ethnic groups. The aim, clearly, is
to maintain the status quo of disunity, and it is certain
that the SPDC will respond negatively to the recent call
by representatives of several ethnic groups, sounded
when they met in Copenhagen, to allow them - whether as political parties, armed or unarmed, 'ceasefire' or
'non-ceasefire' - to meet freely.
Tripartite dialogue
For two years now, the Burmese junta has been in secret talks brokered by the United Nations with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. No tangible results have
emerged from the negotiations. Suu Kyi has repeatedly
expressed a willingness to cooperate with the generals,
but since they have no political motivation to see these
talks succeed, nothing concrete has emerged from the
table yet. Recent reports even suggest that the talks have
stalled. Nevertheless, when the time to tackle thorny
issues comes, and hopefully it is a question of when
24
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 rather than if, one of the trickiest is bound to be the
ethnic question.
Leaders of ethnic groups have repeatedly asked to
be allowed to participate in the negotiations, but so far
these calls have gone unheeded by the regime. Reminiscent of the suspicion of leaders of the African
National Congress that Nelson Mandela had sold out
the revolution in his negotiations with Pretoria's apartheid government, Burma's ethnic nationalities are concerned that they have been left out of the loop by an
NLD conspiracy. The exclusion of ethnic representatives from the dialogue between the SPDC and the NLD,
which commenced when Suu Kyi was under house
arrest, led the ethnic leadership to conclude that the
Burman were seeking a Burman solution, to the neglect
of the interests of the minority peoples
But the fact is that the activism of the pro-democracy
groups led by Aung San Suu Kyi has given the various
ethnic minority groups some much-needed breathing
space. "Tripartite dialogue is our policy",
confirmed Suu Kyi in May 2002 upon her
second release from house arrest. She was
referring to a popular phrase for the partic- f
ipa tion of ethnic groups in the negotiations,
alongside her group and the junta. Besides
the NLD, the UN and other international
pressure groups have supported a tripartite composition at the negotiating taible.
However, even if the junta were to allow it,
the complexities of differences in formal
status, aim and political commitment of the
various ethnic communities will have to
be sorted out.
Furthermore, there is the question of
who really represents the ethnic groups. A Tatmadaw
For, apart from armed factions, there are
recognised ethnic political parties working alongside
the NLD as well. This provides an excuse for the regime
to drag its feet at the bargaining table. The various
ethnic groups have come to realise this and are now working hard to dispel the image of disunity. In the meantime, with the regime continuing to prevaricate and postpone a political showdown with the NLD, no one knows
when the ethnic representatives will be taken on board.
Federalism as Balkanisation
Over the years, in Burma, the term 'federalism' has come
to be regarded as synonymous with 'Balkanisation'. Forty
years after the 1947 constitution was shredded and discarded, this belief is as strong as ever, especially among
the Burman who continue as the politically dominant
group. The concept of federalism is still not understood
by the ordinary Burman or by the junta, although in the
case of the latter it is perhaps a wilful lapse. In order to
back up its anti-federal stance, the junta has argued
over the years that Burma cannot be divided into 135
pieces, referring to the official list of main and sub-ethnic groups in the country.
Proponents of ethnic reconciliation argue that ethnic conflict in Burma is unlike the situation that existed
in Rwanda or Yugoslavia. They point to the fact that
the army's oppression is directed not only against the
minority groups but also the ordinary Burman. They
emphasise that the last episode of communal violence
occurred as far back as during the Japanese occupation
(1942-45) and even then it was not ordinary Burman
that were responsible for the massacre of the Karen, but
the Japanese-trained Burma Independence Army.
The ethnic issue is as critical as that of democracy
in a country where minority peoples comprise about
two-fifths of the population and live in the larger portion of the national territory. The conflict therefore cannot be considered simply a 'minority question'. Wars
have been fought, and precious resources and lives have
been wasted over the years. The military policy of
'divide and conquer' was strategically feasible for a
period of time, but is sooner or later bound to fail disastrously. The regime has already overextended itself in its obstinacy, and the
results are there for all to see in the crippled economy. The time of reckoning
is near,   the ethnic peoples' legitimate
demands will inevitably have to be
addressed.
Indeed, the ethnic issue has become
more complicated the longer its resolution has been put off, to the extent that
the junta is even using this as an excuse
for forestalling on negotiations. Today,
there is a possibility that the ethnic
groups may settle for more modest concessions than they had previously
solcl,er sought, at least temporarily, if the nego-
tiations are considered 'reasonable'.
They are likely to do so if the federal goal is recognised
as a long-term process rather than treated as an immediate solution to Burma's ethnic conflict. However, despite this possible change of stance, the ethnic problem
is likely to always haunt Burma's leadership - be it
made up of Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta or any other
person or entity. The debate over federalism will rage
on, but it is this debate that will serve as the locus for
peace and ethnic reconciliation in Burma.
Four decades since the military seized power, Burma
has not seen a day of freedom. Nor has it seen peace,
with the ethnic crisis perpetually looming large over the
political landscape. Ending this crisis is obviously the
key to achieving both freedom and peace in Burma. The
best way to do this is to return to Pang Long, where the
founding fathers of the country placed their trust in each
other, and agreed to coexist and cooperate. As it was the
first time around, the road to Pang Long will be long and
difficult, marked by deep-rooted distrust, hatred, suspicion - all of them exacerbated by the Burmese army's
anti-federal stance. No matter how hard it may be, however, the road to Pang Long is the road home for Burma, b
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
25
 Perspective
Bleak Burma
The generals know they cannot improve the social and economic plight of
the Burmese, but they will not let go.
by Aung Zaw
Fourteen years ago, Burma's
present junta came into power promising to bring about
democracy and prosperity. The
promises were never honoured.
Now, trouble is brewing in military-
ruled Burma.
Rangoon-watchers and analysts warn that a repetition of the
social unrest and political instability that took place in 1988 is looming on the horizon.
As the social and economic situation deteriorates, people are acting out of desperation and frustration. "We
are on the brink of starvation", a senior Rangoon-based
journalist told this correspondent in early September.
However, his warning will not reach the Burmese people or authorities. His dire prognosis will not be allowed into print by the notorious Press Censorship
Board.
Burma's military leaders do not like to hear such
things. Instead, they prefer to read reports prepared by
bureaucrats and economists who deliberately amplify
Burma's GDP growth, while ignoring the realities facing the poverty-stricken country. But on the street in
Rangoon, the journalist's words have the inescapable
ring of truth.
In September, Burma's currency, the kyat, plummeted to new all-time lows on the black market. By the end
of that month, the beleaguered unit had hit an unprecedented low of 1100 kyat to the dollar, after losing some
10 percent of its value over a just a week. Those who felt
that the worst had been reached were in for further bad
news as the slide continued and the kyat reached 1200
to the dollar. At the time of writing, the bottom is still
nowhere in sight. While this precipitous plunge will
play havoc with the country's medium- to long-term
economic planning, which at the best of times is seldom better than farcical, in the here and now it is already pushing many citizens to the edge. Prices have
skyrocketed, making even the most basic foodstuff prohibitively expensive. The price of eggs has reached
outrageous levels. An egg costs 30-40 kyat, enough to
put it beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.
Burma's opposition leaders are well aware of the
deteriorating economic situation. In August, Aung San
Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy
(NLD), told this correspondent, "When the economy is
in shambles, the social conditions of the country only
get worse. When both of these factors continue to worsen, it is the people who have to bear the brunt. Our
country will suffer greatly if the current dismal economic situation is
not reversed".
Deep denial
Burma's economic deterioration
has been accompanied by an
alarming increase in urban crime rates. Rangoon and
Mandalay, Burma's second largest city, appear to be
the worst affected. There have been reports of looting
by large crowds in the suburbs of Mandalay. At a press
conference m end-September, a government official denied reports of the lootings but admitted that "some
people stole rice". Reportedly, hunger-related crime has
become so widespread that the generals have been unable to bring it under control. Ironically, the generals
themselves are now living in a climate of fear and insecurity. To prevent the situation from unravelling, the
government media has been instructed to avoid reporting instances of such crime.
Despite the growing hardship of the people and simmering unrest, Burma's generals have shown no signs
of moving towards much-needed economic reforms. Instead, they have demonstrated once again that they are
in deep denial about their incapacity to meet the country's most basic needs. On 16 August 2002, at a regular
weekly press conference, the deputy minister of home
affairs, Brig-General Thura Myint Maung, went on the
defensive when a foreign news service correspondent
asked him about rising unemployment and the issue of
human trafficking, which is fuelled by the desperate
desire of the Burmese to look for work in neighbouring
countries. Rather than answer the question, the general simply reiterated the myth that Burma is a land of
plenty. "If you step out of your home, you can catch fish
and prawns", he assured his incredulous audience. It
is difficult to say if Thura Myint Maung's off the
cuff comments really reflect the government's grasp of
conditions facing the great majority of Burmese. Nevertheless it is clear enough that official statistics paint a
picture of the economy that few Burmese can even begin to recognise.
Burma's minister for national planning and economic development, Soe Tha, recently claimed that the
country had achieved an economic growth rate of near-
26
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 ly 11 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2002. He
said the high growth rate was the result of opening up
the economy and the adoption of a market-oriented system. However, according to one insider, UN envov Razali Ismail, who is assisting in negotiations between the
NLD and the military junta, expressed his "disappointment" with the figures cited by Soe Tha when they met
recently in Rangoon.
Japanese experts and government officials who have
been pushing for economic reform in Burma reportedly
shared Razali's dismay at the junta's unrealistic
assessment of the country's economic performance.
Sources in Tokyo and Rangoon say that foreign observ-
s rf. have been especially troubled by evidence that General David Abel, the junta's economics czar, has been
sidelined. According to well-informed sources, the move
to marginalise Abel, who is regarded as open to reform
proposals, was engineered by Senior-General Than
Sf™e, head of the military government. Than Shwe has
begun to roll back some of the tentative reforms already
in place. At a recent meeting between Burmese and
Japanese officials in Tokyo, Abel's absence was conspicuous. Instead, Than Shwe sent Dr Than Nyunt, the
chairman of the civil service selection and training
board, who wields little or no influence over economic
policy. Than Nyunt's sole qualifica- ^^^^^^^^^
tion is that he can prepare reports that
appeal to the head of the junta.
Stubborn generals
Sadly, after more than a decade of at
least professing to want progress, it    	
appears that the Burmese regime is intent on bringing
about a regressive trend. "We are heading back to the
Ne Win era, when reports were prepared by puppet
ministers and bureaucrats who did not dare to upset
the Old Man", commented one journalist. Economic
mismanagement under the dictatorship of General Ne
Win had forced Burma to seek Least Developed Country (LDC) status in 1987, a year before the country was
rocked by massive social and political upheaval.
Today, many observers fear that the regime's misguided policies will set Burma up for more unrest, as
the country's social and economic crisis deepens
against a backdrop of frustration wdth the slow^ pace of
political change. Rangoon-based observers warn that
looting and petty crime are unavoidable and say
that the government should begin to treat the situation
seriously.
In an interview to the London-based Burma Campaign, Aung San Suu Kyi said, "We do not think in
terms of GNP and GDP, we are not thinking in terms of
money flow^ and things like that. We are thinking in
terms of the effect on everyday lives of people. The way
the situation and the economy affect the health of people, the education of our young people, that is what we
are thinking of. But the generals are not paying atten
"If you step out of
your home, you can
catch fish and prawns"
pies and attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
The fear among some observers and journalists in
Rangoon is that the military may use Burmese Muslims as scapegoats if the situation gets out of control. In
the past, authorities have diverted attention from political and social problems by creating anti-Muslim riots
in this predominantly Buddhist country.
Meanwhile, Burma's military leaders show little sign
of the political will required to enter into a substantive
dialogue with the NLD. While numerous protests were
organised in the West and in A5F.AN nations on the
occasion of the military regime's 14'h anniversary, Burma's foreign minister, Win Aung, told the United Nations General Assembly that his government stands by
the goal of introducing a multiparty political system.
But the government has set no timetable for democratic
reform.
Over the last decade, despite international pressure
and sanctions, the military government's human rights
record has shown little improvement. Over 1500 political prisoners still remain in custody. The notorious
Insein prison, located in suburban Rangoon, has recently seen the addition of new^ inmates. Two activist
students who were staging a peaceful protest in front
of the city hall during the Malaysian prime minister,
___^__^___ Mahathir Mohamad's recent visit to
Rangoon wrere apprehended by intelligence officials and thrown into the
prison. Peaceful gatherings are still
banned in Burma. Last year, a 76-year-
old professor, staging a solo protest at
     the same location asking the regime to
initiate political reform, was arrested by security officials and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
Quite apart from arrests, there is the urgent issue of
the treatment of political prisoners. Recently, Aung May
Thu, a 60-year-old political prisoner suffering from a
perforated gastric ulcer, died after an unsuccessful eight-
hour surgery. He had been arrested in 1989 on charges
of being linked to the defunct Communist Party of Burma and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Although the
sentence was commuted to 10 years, and he had served
his term, he was kept in prison under a law allowing
indefinite detention of persons considered a threat to
the state. He will not be the last political detenu to die
in prison, and he was not the first either. Dozens of
political prisoners have died in detention as a result of
maltreatment and medical neglect.
As the political stalemate continues the people of
Burma face the prospect of living through years of
darkness. It seems the stubborn generals will carry on
ruling the country with an iron fist, even though it is
clear to all that they lack the political will to solve
Burma's long-standing problems. Sooner or later in
Burma social and political unrest will erupt, at which
point it is feared that the generals will resort to their old
technique of unleashing repression and violence. The
tion. Instead, they seem preoccupied with visiting tern-      future of Burma looks bleak.
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
27
 Briefs
Prime or composite?
THREE COMPUTER scientists,
Manindra Agrawal, Neeraj Kayal
and Nitin Saxena from the Indian
Institute of Technology, Kanpur, delighted the mathematical wrorld by
solving a problem that has frustrated mathematicians for many years.
They figured out a clever way of
quickly distinguishing prime numbers from composite numbers.
Mathematical results seldom get
mentioned in newspapers like The
New York Times; this ingenious
work made it to the front page.
In elementary school we learn
about prime and composite numbers: a number whose only divisors
are 1 and itself is called a prime
number whereas if a number can be
evenly divided by some other number, it is called a composite number.
Thus 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 are prime
numbers but 15, being divisible also
by 3 and 5, apart from itself and 1, is
a composite. Similarly, 62579459 is
a prime number and 208598179 is
not (sceptics, go ahead, verify this!).
Euclid proved, some 2000 ago,
it's about selling soap!
WAS THE UN World Summit on
Sustainable Development (26 a<\ug-
4 Sept 2002) convened to develop a
timeline for resolving contentious
environmental issues or to make the
world realise the significance of sanitation <md introduce it as a major
development goal? Going by the
outcome, it is evident that at Johannesburg the world was undivided
on just one issue - sanitation. Unless 2.4 billion people, mostly in the
developing South, get basic sanitation facilities the world cannot be
considered developed, the summit
concluded.
This least controversial of all
problems had the support of diverse
stakeholders. "Lack of sanitation is
the cause for more than three quarters of diseases worldwide", announced Sir Richard Jolly, chair of
the Geneva-based the Water Supply
and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). Cholera and dysentery
Three is prime!
that there are infinitely many prime
numbers. Hence, we can never make
an exhaustive list of them. However, the point is, given a number how
do we tell if it is a prime number or
not?
One idea is to try to divide the
number by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on till
one discovers a divisor of the given
alone account for the death of 7 million children every year, or 6000
every day. If people could wash their
hands properly, most of these
deaths could be under control, he
said.
Subsequently, the WSSCC launched an ambitious campaign to promote hand washing. Nicknamed
WASH, the campaign sought to package water, sanitation and hygiene
such that these could be brought
within easy reach of the deprived
millions. Unsurprisingly, the programme was not launched in the
Ivory Park shanties on the outskirts
of Johannesburg, but in a decidedly
un-African part of the city, at upmarket Sandton, the venue of the
summit. The avowed aim of the
WASH campaign was simple: encourage people to wash their hands.
Apparently, however, this could not
be done unless a public and private
sector partnership was first forged.
For Unilever-, Colgate Palmolive
and Procter & Gamble, this is a pro-
number or verifies that it has no other divisors other than itself and 1.
This method, called trial division,
works okav for small numbers but
obviously becomes prohibitively
time-consuming for targe ones. If one
were to apply trial division to a 50-
digit number and use one's personal computer, the computer would
compute for thousands of years before arriving at an answer.
Mathematicians and theoretical
computer scientists have struggled
to develop methods that can solve
this problem in "reasonable time"
which, when precisely defined in
theoretical computer lingo, is called
polynomial time. A major open problem in computational number theory has been to devise a method by
which prime and composite numbers can be distinguished in polynomial time. Agrawal, Kayal and
Saxena have managed to solve precisely this problem. Their method
distinguishes prime numbers from
composites, and they prove that
their method takes polynomial time.
The paper titled "Primes is in P" is
available at the IIT Kanpur website
motion campaign of a scale they
could not have ever imagined or undertaken. Under the patronage of
governments and UN agencies,
these multinational personal care
companies will now make inroads
into a hitherto unexplored market
with minimal marketing investment. The governments and UN
agencies will perform their pro-poor
obligation of making the communities aware of the virtues of hand
washing, and the companies will
make the big bucks. To be launched
simultaneously in Ghana and in
India in October this year, for corporations the campaign is a direct
gain from the summit. It is expected
to open up markets that are estimated at USD 10 billion annually. Considering the massive returns on investment that this is likely to yield,
is it any wonder that many feel that
the multinational corporations hijacked Johannesburg?
In India, half a billion people do
not have access to proper sanitation.
28
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Briefs
(http://www.cse.iitk.ac.in/news/
primality.html).
What is pleasantly surprising is
that the method is not too difficult.
The main idea can be explained in
a paragraph to students with some
background in number theory and
computer science. The details are
not cumbersome either: the entire
paper is less than nine pages long,
and contains all the details of their
method and the proof that their
method works 'in reasonable time'.
This work represents a huge success for scientists working in South
Asia in general and in India in particular. What we learn from this success is that world-class science can
be and is being done in the region.
Agrawal, Kayal and Saxena end
their paper by posing another problem to the mathematical world
where they point out that an answer
to it would lead to an even faster
method for distinguishing primes
from composites. So, if anyone out
there is looking for interesting problems, here is one that deserves space
on your notepad. [i
Sannad Abbasi, Lahore
They are scattered in 'b7ji..r'7bb/7s
rural and peri-urban
areas across the country and reaching
them would be a costly proposition for any
corporation, whether
it sold soap or bottled
water. However, now
that the WASH campaign is here to facilitate the process, many
more companies will
enter the soap market
to get a share of the
cake. Furthermore,
the campaign will provide a fillip
to an ongoing hygiene education
programme that is being run by
UNICEF.
For an industry that has been going through a lean patch with the
gIob.il economic slowdown, such an
offer served up on a platter could
not have come at a better time.
Though pushing products among
the socially disadvantaged is not
Tibetans travel
NOT UNTIL I came across nearly-
half a dozen Tibetans at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International
Airport was I convinced that the
younger generation of Tibetans were
now leaving India in hordes.
Indeed, Tibetans emigres —
thanks to the increasing globalisation of human traffic — are embracing international travel in a big way.
Many Tibetans born and educated
in India, including many of my own
contemporaries, have left, only to be
replaced by an influx of newcomers
from Tibet, an estimated 3000 of
which arrive in India every year.
Some are going on vacation, some
to study, and some for good, to work
in New York and Paris (many to
become maids in middle-class Western homes). "It is probably because
of my nomadic blood that I find so
much satisfaction in travelling",
says Tsering Wangmo, an Indian-
educated Tibetan poet, now settled
in the US.
Others are travelling on shorter
trips to new, previously undiscov-
new, social investments by the government and UN agencies in the
process provide a much-desired
legitimacy and the tag of social
responsiveness to corporations. As
Uri Jain, general manager of
Hindustan Lever, remarked, ultimately, "it is about increasing the
market". b
Sudhirendar Sharma, Delhi
ered destinations. At the airport in
Delhi, for instance, two writers were
quietly making history by being the
first Tibetans to ever travel to Skopje, Macedonia, to attend PEN International's literary festival there.
Holding Tibetan identity certificates
and speaking minimal English,
they asked me for help. They were
travelling to Skopje via Vienna on
an Austrian Airways flight but had
visas for neither Austria nor Macedonia, which does not have an embassy in Delhi. "I cannot let you
board the plane", said the Indian
Austrian Airways official, "you
need a visa for Austria, at least". The
conversation went back and forth
for a while, with me acting as the
translator, till finally the letter from
the PEN branch in Macedonia appeared. "Yes, you should have
shown me this", said the man before nodding out an approval and
allowing them through customs.
In the departure hall, I met another Tibetan. She had come to me
to ask if I could keep an eye on her
luggage and caught sight of my necklace, which bore a Tibetan gzi, a precious black and white stone. As it
turned out, she was moving to Taiwan to study Mandarin after majoring in Chinese at New Delhi's
prestigious lawaharlal Nehru University. Such an achievement would
have been unheard of only a decade
ago. The odds that a Tibetan refugee girl, who did all her schooling
at a refugee school in Dharamsala,
India, in the foothills of the Himalaya, would go to arguably India's
leading graduate school of liberal
studies seemed too high. And to
think she chose to major in Chinese!
"I learn Chinese because only by
learning the language of my enemies
on the mainland will I be able to
overcome them", she said.
Some go through amazing transitions, often at a high price. There
is the story of Dolkar, a Tibetan nun
who arrived in India in early 1991,
fell in love with a fellow Tibetan and
got married. Two years later, the
husband died, but not before the
marriage had produced two children. She, a nun, completely ill-
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
29
 Briefs	
equipped for such adversity
with two children, moved to
Nepal where they got by on
about a dollar a day that she
earned by washing clothes for
expatriates, mostly aid workers
and students of Buddhism. Till a
young English postal worker
travelling in Nepal saw
her and agreed to help her.
For that he had to marry her
A speedy visa procedure at the
British High Commission enabled them to fly to London and then
to a remote town in England, her
husband's hometown, where she
learned to speak English.
Last year, she travelled to Nepal
to be reunited with her monk brother, who brought her out of Tibet a
decade ago. They went separate
Religious zoning
IN SOUTH Asia, as S Akbar Zaidi
says in his article 'Who is a South
Asian?' in Karachi's Dawn of 9 September 2002, there is a conflict in
perspectives because of the nation-
states we happen to originate in. On
the road in Delhi, Zaidi notices a
hoarding advertising a teleserial
called Draupadi. He asks a lady
friend who Draupadi is, to receive a
look of shocked disbelief: "'Hai
Rama... what kind of a
South Asian are you? You
don't even know who
Draupadi is?'" A feeling
that he always gets in India returns, says Zaidi:
"All of us who live in this
region called South Asia,
are now Indians".
In South Asia, just as
there are multiple perspectives, the conflicts too are multiple. But Hindus have an advantage: like the Arabs, the Indian Hindus' source of religious and secular
culture is one, while for us Indian
Muslims, culture has many sources
and the conflict arises when that is
denied.
We are talking about multiple
identities versus monolithic ones.
The Arabs are actually quite close
in every way to right wing Hindu
Draupadi on South
Asian tv.
ways when he stayed back in
a monastic school in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. She also
went back to Tibet to meet her parents. For Dolkar, the British passport is a metaphor for the journey of
reinvention: from a teenage refugee
Bajrang Dal activists. The Arab lslam versus Persian lslam debate
was generated because Indian Muslims found the Arab cultural tradition alien and unsuited to the local
context. Read Iqbal and the debate
becomes clear.
What we really seek though, is
an answer that ends all debate. But
the answer may lie in its absence or
in the multiplicity of possible answers. We can and should be comfortable with all of these but political and religious dogma
forbids us and we do like
to be conventional.
The Indian Hindu has
very few cultural-religious sources - and those
that there are come from
within the borders of India. The Nepali Newar
tradition is perhaps the
 —-   best example of political
syncretism expressing itself in religious cultures. Bengali Muslims, in
contrast, have so many contending
sources of inspiration; a syncretism
was necessary to give space to so
many beliefs, all considered halal to
the religious but pre-dogmatic mind,
Ashis Nandy has written that this
itself became a new religion. With
Islam now, though, the emphasis is
on unity, a rallying call to fight the
enemy. And Islamists cannot ac-
nun to a mother of two kids and
a  British citizen,  all in one
decade.
Most stories however do not
go that way. Tibetans land up
on the periphery of the EU in the
k      hope they will cross over at some
tw\     point. The EU, already over-
•s*i burdened with immigrants,
is hardly keen to oblige
though, and so they remain
on the wrong side of the border, waiting. They may be sending money back home but the emotional cost of dislocation is high.
Kids grow up parentless, families
break apart, and worse, in a community where life expecta ncy is low,
people pass on, before ever seeing
one another again. t>
Tsering Namgyal, Taiwan
commodate a critique beyond a
point. Apostasy laws also rule out
debate on certain fundamentals.
'Heresy' and its promised after effects are common to all the three religions that originated in the present
West Asia. Their dogmas also are
indistinguishable from each other
in most cases, including in wanting to establish an absolute monolithic supremacy as opposed to the
polytheism of the "Indian" religions.
That polytheism had been an inspiration for religious and political flexibility, but in India today an almost
monotheistic Hinduism is being
politically preached.
I read the Mahabharata and about
Draupudi in a religious comic book
for children. They used to be sold in
Dhaka as a matter of course before
1971. Depending on perspective,
Draupudi is the positive symbol of
a woman with choices, or a negative symbol, a woman with five husbands. A Bengali household would
sympathise with her plight (her husbands lost her in a game of dice to
their cousins, the 'evil' Kauravas) but
it would never bring her home as a
daughter-in-law. lt is a complex acceptance and denial. (As many
STD/AIDS researcher are finding
out, the sharing of wives among
brothers is a common but highly derided practice.)
30
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Briefs
Campus chaos
THE BANGLADESH University of
Engineering and Technology (BUET)
reopened to near-full attendance on
28 September, after two sine die closures within the span of three
months had crippled academic life
at arguably the country's most prestigious academic institution.
The university was closed on 9
June 2002, following violent protests
by students against the killing of
Sabiqunnahar Sony, a second-year
student of the chemical engineering
department who was shot dead in
crossfire between two rival factions
of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal
<TCD), the student-front of the ruling
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
~-e fight was over rights to a tender
By the way, betting wives was
common till the late 1970s among
the poor in Dhaka, and in our neighbourhood, being senior residents,
my uncles used to routinely be called
upon to settle these matters.
Going by the lady's reaction in
Zaidi's piece, it would seem Draupadi was created by an executive
order in New Delhi's South Block.
The 'South Asia' she casually flings
at him is the bureaucratically imagined one.
As long as South Asia is imagined from the state's point of view,
there will be a struggle to reconcile
the natural with the politically
imagined. If, however, a region can
be imagined minus the consciousness of political geography... say, as
a cluster of environmental zones...
now, that is a thought! Our problem
is that we are un-reconstructed post-
colonialists: the idea that whatever
follows the fight against the colony
is good is the root of our problems
because post-colonial nationalism
has thus become dogmatic and intolerant.
To end, a thought: Friday is a holiday in Bangladesh because it is the
Islamic holiday while in Pakistan,
its Islamic parent, Sunday is the
weekly holiday, just as it is in India,
its Hindu ancestor. b
Afsan Chowdhury, Dhaka
that is thought to be
worth DTK 87 lakh.
Subsequently, in
disciplinary action
taken during the closure, the authorities
expelled 17 students,
including not only
the ones who were
allegedly involved
in the armed clash
that took Sony's life,
but also those who
had resorted to violent protest against
the alleged killers.
The campus reopened on 11 August to great pandemonium: the students reacted
sharply to the expulsions, especially because the protesters of Sony's
death were handed down their punishments in the same order as the
alleged killers. The protesting students embarked on a weeklong programme, including a student strike,
demanding immediate punishment
of the killers and the withdrawal
of disciplinary measures against
those protesting the killing.
Faced with unrelenting authorities, the students under the banner
"BUET students against atrocities",
led by leftwing student bodies, formulated a six-point demand that
included exemplary punishment of
Sony's killers, revoking the punishment of the agitating students, lifting the ban on student politics and
naming the university's girls hostel
after Sony. 24 of them, including
some of those awarded punishments, went on a hunger strike on 2
September to press the demands
home. With agitations inside
the campus picking up fire, the
BUET authorities closed down the
university for a second time on 8
September.
Known for its aversion to student politics, the BUET closures are
striking examples of the government's mounting jitteriness over
any kind of street agitation. That the
situation was allowed to escalate to
the level it did was ironically a result of the government's proclivity
to term any agitation an 'opposition'
conspiracy. The authorities had suspended a number
of [CD leaders in
their initial order
but the subsequent
handling of the
agitating students,
including police-
charging the hunger strikers, was
indicative of how
hard a line the government takes with
any kind of demonstration. The BNP
has been quite trigger-happy as far as university closures are concerned; Dhaka University, another important educational institution, has remained closed
for much of the year.
In both the cases, of the BUET and
Dhaka University, the government
and university authorities have
failed to understand the sentiments
of hundreds of students fighting for,
what they believe are, genuine causes. The government's paranoia
seems to stem from the belief that
these movements could snowball
into national agitations. If the government continues to indulge its
habit of clampdowns and closures,
its fear might even be realised
because of its own self-defeating
rigidity.
It does not help to ban student
politics, and it certainly does not
help when the government introduces words like "terrorism" into
its discussion of the chaos that condemns Bangladesh's universities
today. However, the quality of student politics certainly needs to be
reviewed. Gunfights on campus,
searches by the Bangladesh Rifles
that actually yield significant quantities of firearms and ammunition,
that too in the better institutions,
battles over 'tenders' rather than
debates on ideology or policy issues... surely, these make for an academic environment that is far short
of ideal. is
Zayd Aimer Khan, Dhaka
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
31
 Opinion
Lives in need of authors
Why South Asians don't write good biographies.
by Ramachandra Guha
In contrast to the art of the novel, the art of biography remains undeveloped in South Asia. We know
how to burn our dead with reverence or bury them
through neglect but not to evaluate, judge or honour
them. Newspaper obituaries are little more than
listings of dates and positions, so-called 'definitive'
biographies recitations of achievements with little
reference to context. This is a world governed by deference, not discrimination. A widely circulated biography of Indira Gandhi was dedicated to - Indira
Gandhi. The author of an adulatory work on the life
of the long-serving communist former chief minister
of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, was rewarded with the
pro vice chancellorship of Calcutta University. Even
when their subjects are not powerful politicians, biographers are excessively respectful. Thus, a Madras couple spent 600 pages on the first four decades of that most quotidian of lives, the life of RK
Narayan.
The Calcutta historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee
points out in a recent essay that while in the West "the
second half of the twentieth century has been an era of
great biographies", this has "left Indian writers and
scholars unaffected. Biography is not an art that flourishes in India despite the nation's obsession with individuals". The record in the countries that neighbour
India is not much better. Tlie standard, or at any rate
most accessible lives of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Zu-
lfiqar Ali Bhutto and SWRD Bandarnaike have all been
authored by Western scholars. There are indeed two
outstanding exceptions: S Gopal's life of the philosopher Sarvepalli Radha-krishnan, published in 1989 to
mark the centenary of its subject's birth, and Amrit
Rai's life ofthe novelist Munshi Prem Chand, first published in Hindi in 1962 and, 20 years later, deftly translated into English by Harish Trivedi. Both are books
by offspring, not at all uncritical, but helped by the
intimacy that comes from shared genes and the luck to
have all the subject's papers in one's attic. Both pay
proper attention to the lived life but also subtly set it in
historical context. (Honourable mention is also due to
BR Nanda's political biographies of Mahatma Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gokhale, and to Rajmohan
Gandhi's books on the nationalist stalwarts C Rajagopalachari and Vallabhbhai Patel.)
Probing the paucity
There would be at most a dozen biographies written by
South Asians that are both well researched as well as
moderately well written. This is a meagre harvest, if
one considers that biography lies at the intersection of
history and literature, fields where the region has made
handsome contributions. Social and economic historians from South Asia have acquired an increasing visibility outside the region, particularly in the United
States. And the works of South Asian novelists have
been widely appreciated When they have excelled at
the writing of history and the writing of novels, why
have South Asians been so laggard when it comes to
biographies?
To find the answer we need look no further than the
region's dominant religion, Hinduism, and its dominant intellectual tradition, Marxism. Both grossly undervalue the role and status of the individual human
being. For Hindus, a man just dead has already been
reborn as something or someone else: why bother to
recall or document the life? For Marxists, the life is reflective of wider historical forces: of the clash of classes
or the progress of technology. Why unduly dignify an
individual by writing about him rather than about the
social changes that the life mirrored?
Admittedly, while Hindus have not written biographies as Hindus, there have been professedly Marxist
lives of individuals. These have generally been written
to advance a particular historical thesis. Isaac Deut-
scher's three-volume life of Trotsky was an extended
essay in sectarian vindication, which sought to prove
that if, instead of Stalin, his hero had succeeded Lenin,
the Russian Revolution would have been faithful to its
original aims. EP Thompson's large life of William
Morris was written to prove that his hero was a scientific socialist who believed in dialectical materialism,
rather than a romantic radical with a sentimental attachment to justice and community.
Deutscher's books on Trotsky were once much
praised in revolutionary circles, but no one reads them
anymore. And Thompson is now remembered for his
books on the working class and on the history of English law, rather than for his life of Morris. When that
book was first published, in 1955, its author was a card-
holding member of the Communist Party of Great Brit-
32
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Opinion
ain. But when it appeared in a revised edition, 22 years
later, Thompson had long since left the party and most
of its tenets. In the foreword to the revised edition, he
admitted that in the original work he had "intruded far
too often upon the text with moralistic comments and
pat political sentiments". That, indeed, shall always be
the case with avowedly Marxist biographies: they
shall be strongly coloured by the party-political beliefs
of their author.
As it happens, within South Asia Marxists have not
ventured into biography in the first place. They have
felt more comfortable writing about social aggregates:
about peasants, workers, and the state - rather than
about individuals. Take West Bengal, the epicentre of
contemporary Marxism, and a province that is home to
India's most highly regarded historians and political
scientists. Bengali scholars have written insightfully
about such topics as peasant protest, industrial evolution, literary history and street culture, but not about
their own exemplary individuals. The best lives of the
icons of modern Bengal - Ram Mohun Roy, Vivekananda, Subhas Chandra Bose, even Satyajit Ray - have been
written by foreigners.
Whether Marxist or otherwise, Indian scholars tend
to work with what the sociologist Dennis Wrong once
called an "over-socialised conception of man". Doctoral dissertations almost never approach ^^^_^^^„
a problem through an individual, even
when he had a fundamental influence
in its articulation or resolution. Students
and professors alike would choose to
write on "The Dissolution of the Princely Order' rather than on 'Vallabhbhai   	
Patel and the Dissolution of the Princely Order'. It is
striking how some of the most influential figures in
modern India have yet to find their biographers. There
are no books, good or bad, that one can turn to for the
basic facts about such men as Sheikh Abdullah of Kashmir, Master Tara Singh of Punjab, AN Phizo of Nagaland and CN Annadurai of Tamil Nadu, men whose
legacies continue to shape the politics of the land.
To religious prejudice and scholarly dogma one
must add a third reason for the paucity of good biography, namely, that it is the most challenging of literary
forms. As Andre Maurois observed many years ago,
biography "will always be a difficult form of art. We
demand of it the scruplosity of science and the enchantments of art, the perceptible truth of the novel and the
learned falsehoods of history. Much prudence and tact
are required to concoct this unstable mixture... A well-
written life is a much rarer thing than a well-spent one".
The biographer must possess the instincts of a
sleuth, a nose for smelling out hidden documents and
a flair for persuading people to part with them. He must
have the staying power of the historian, the willingness to read and take notes from millions of words written in shaky and indistinct hands and lodged in dark
and distant archives. Last but certainly not the least, he
Biography lies at
the intersection of
history and literature
must display the imaginative insight of the novelist,
the ability to turn those years of source-finding and
note-taking into a compelling and credible narrative.
The biographer's oeuvre
In his Questions for a Biographer, the Bombay poet Ranjit
Hoskote nicely captures the essence of the enterprise:
How to phrase what must be told,
how force the seals, twist back the locks,
burgle the cabinet of the soul?
How to rifle his cupboard of masks
and then to squeeze into the damp
between costume and true colours?
The biographer is an artist, but as Desmond Mac-
Carthy long ago pointed out, he is an artist under oath.
He stays close to his sources, and while he may plausibly speculate on his subject's thoughts and moods, he
cannot invent. The novelist-turned-historian is thus
most likely to write good biography, as is the case with
AN Wilson, who has written a riveting life of Tolstoy
as well as biographies of CS Lewis and Hilaire Belloc,
and more recently, of Jesus and Paul.
Wilson is British, as is my own favourite biographer, David Gilmour. Gilmour is a historian who
wmmm^m^mi trained at Balliol College, Oxford, under the great Richard Cobb. He is also
a published novelist. Besides, he is no
Little Englander. He is a cosmopolitan scholar who has worked in West
Asia and travelled extensively in Asia
      and southern Europe. Gilmour has
written lives of three rather dissimilar characters. He
began with Giuseppe di Lampedusa, a Sicilian aristocrat who lived a life of complete obscurity, spending
his days reading and, towards the end, writing. A couple of years before he died, Lampedusa completed the
manuscript of a novel. He could not find a publisher in
his lifetime, but  Ulis book, Tlie   Ltivpard,  po»tU\J*vio\.iiily
won recognition as one of the finest novels of the 20"'
century. Based on a hoard of previously undiscovered
letters and papers, Gilmour skilfully reconstructs the
life of his subject, writ small against the social and political context of 20lh century Sicily.
From Lampedusa, Gilmour moved on to a man who,
by contrast, always sought to live a very public life.
Very early, this man acquired a reputation for insolence.
As the Balliol rhyme went, "My name is George
Nathaniel Curzon/I am a most superior person/My
cheek is pink, my hair is sleek/I dine at Blenheim once
a week". He seemed destined for high office, and did
serve as viceroy of India and as a cabinet minister in
several conservative governments. Like his close contemporary, Winston Churchill, he was a prolific and
best-selling author and, like Churchill again, closely
connected to America (both his wives came from there).
But unlike him he never became prime minister, an of-
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
33
 Opinion
Biographies in need of authors (from left to right): Faiz Ahmad
Faiz. Nirad Chaudhari. Salim Ali, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Sheikh
Abdullah
- J £?.
fice that his contemporaries had always thought would
be his. Curzon's was a life rich in incident and achievement as well as controversy, these captured with elegance and understanding by his biographer.
Gilmour's most recent book is The Long Recessional,
subtitled 'the imperial life of Rudyard Kipling'. It looks
at the poet's complicated views on empire and the encounter of races. This is in some ways a revisionist book,
seeking to show that Kipling was not always the gung-
ho cheerleader of imperial expansion that leftist
scholars have portrayed him to be, and that he had an
abiding love for India and for at least some Indians.
The 'poet of empire' was often sharply critical of British policies, and while an admirer of generals and rulers refused always to accept any favours from them.
His artistic integrity was uncompromised. In this, as in
Gilmour's other books, the industry is massive, but carried lightly. Judgement is nicely balanced with exposition, with the poems and letters quoted to effect, but not
to excess.
My own enthusiasm for Gilmour stems perhaps
from his being more than a narrowly 'literary' biographer. He probes his subject's emotions, as he must, but
also displays a sharp awareness of his place and time.
When writing about Curzon he can grasp the complex
structure of colonial administration in British India,
when writing about Kipling suggestively explore the
ideologies of empire and the rivalries between the European powers. His books combine scholarship with
style, the analysis of politics and policy with the delineation of personality.
Gilmour's biographies have won many awards, but
as much as those prizes he might cherish a line in Jan
Morris's review of his Kipling book. This wise writer
(and sometime biographer) termed The Long Recessional
a "fine, fair and generous work", where, "in hundreds
of pages of dense narrative, there is never a flaccid line,
and never a hasty judgement". Gilmour's other works
are marked likewise by solid research and a fine style,
but also by balance and proportion. He knows what to
say and how to say it, but also what to leave out. This
sense of balance is indirectly manifest in the length of
his various works. The life of Lampedusa, a fascinating but ultimately marginal figure, extends to 223 pag
es; the life of Curzon, a more important man by far, runs
to 684 pages, including notes and the index. Kipling is
perhaps as or more important than Curzon, but unlike
him had already been much biographised. Gilmour's
book on the poet sought not to be 'definitive' but, rather, to focus on a particular if contentious aspect of his
life and legacy. In context, its length of 351 pages seems
about right.
"You have to be a genius to sustain a biography of
900 pages", wrote AJP Taylor once. I would add: to justify that length either or (preferably) both biographer
and subject have to be geniuses. Some Indians have not
heeded Taylor's warning, nor have many Americans.
In that country there is a long tradition of the multi-
volumed life, going back at least to Carl Sandburg's
six-volume study of Abraham Lincoln. American biographers tend to throw everything into their books. The
urge for comprehensiveness keeps historical judgement
in abeyance. Their books are often too long and sometimes too solemn. Paradigmatic here is Robert Caro's
life of Lyndon Johnson; three published volumes thus
far, all of 2000 pages, and we still have not got to
Johnson's presidency.
There is no question in my mind that the British
make the best biographers. One could add, to the names
of AN Wilson and David Gilmour, those of Richard
Holmes (biographer of Shelley and Coleridge, and also
a superb essayist on the art and technique of biography), of Michael Holroyd (biographer of Lytton
Strachey and George Bernard Shaw), of Victoria Glen-
denning (biographer of Anthony Trollope and Vita
Sackville-West), of Francis Wheen (author of a wonderfully entertaining life of Karl Marx), of Hilary Spurling
(author of lives of Matisse and Paul Scott), and of Ray
Monk (biographer of Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell). Intriguingly, most of these biographers are
freelance scholars without a university position. This
might not be an accident: it might have helped them
escape the tyranny of academic fashion, which typically scorns biography and, where it deigns to allow it,
subjects it to the canons of political correctness, with
lives ultimately judged with regard to how they retard
or further the biographer's own chosen cause.
34
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Opinion
Human resource undeveloped
Now, 55 years after the British departed these shores,
South Asian scholars look to the universities of North
America for inspiration. Anglophilism is passe. Young
Indians or Pakistanis are hardly likely to read the British writers I have here praised, their ignorance constituting another hurdle to the writing of good biography.
And there are still other hurdles. For one thing, South
Asians are careless about keeping letters, records or
historical memorabilia. For another, they are absurdly-
sensitive about their heroes. In this age of identity politics, which non-dalit would dare to write a dispassionate study of the extraordinary dalit leader BR
Ambedkar? And which Delhi-based publisher, dependent like others of his ilk on government patronage,
would willingly publish a critical biography of the leading 'Hindutva' ideologue MS Golwalkar? Lives of
political icons, be they of the left or of the right, risk
being suppressed or burnt if they are too candid or
too argumentative.
When they do venture into biography, South Asians
are generally too genteel and fastidious to attempt to
burgle the souls of their subjects. We   	
somehow do not know how to deal with
tension and contradiction, with our subjects saying one thing while meaning
another, with them showing a healthy
regard for their self-interest, or (especially) with their falling in love or failing in
their careers. In most cases, reverence
and respect comfortably supersede analysis and understanding.
Hinduism, Marxism, Anglophobia, the indifference
to record-keeping, the fear of giving offence; to these
impediments now add the very complexity of the craft,
its unique combination of art, industry, scholarship,
and literature. Still, the poverty of biographical writing
in South Asia must be reckoned a pity. For the region is
hardly lacking in men and women of character and
interest. In a recent collection of his essays, Edward
Said has written feelingly of how his friend Eqbal
Ahmed took him to meet the legendary Urdu poet Faiz
Ahmed Faiz. In a Beirut cafe, Eqbal and Said listened as
Faiz spoke, mournfully at first - he was in enforced
exile - but then with passion, as he moved from politics
to poetry. Not long after I read Said's piece I came across
a lovely essay published many years ago by the veteran
human rights activist of Delhi, RM Pal. This was a tribute to the social worker Akhtar Hameed Khan, at that
time (the 1980s), being persecuted by the Pakistani government. Pal wrote of his own early encounters with
Khan, in Comilla in present-day Bangladesh, where he
was pioneering a new approach to rural development
This was the second of Khan's careers; the first had
been in the Indian Civil Service and the third in
the slums of Karachi, where he inspired the admirable experiment in community living known as the
Orangi Project.
Hinduism and
Marxism both
grossly undervalue
the individual
human being
In an intellectually alert and sensitive world, Edward Said's cameo on Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and RM Pal's
on Akhtar Hameed Khan, would inspire younger scholars to research and write full-fledged biographies. Certainly, both Faiz and Khan figure at the top of my own
personal wish list of South Asians whose lives need to
be more fully documented. This list of mine does not
include figures of high political authority - the Nehrus
and the Bhuttos - who will be written about anyway.
Nor does it include the truly 'subaltern' - the workers
and peasants who do not usually leave a trail of personal papers and thus, regrettably, have to be usually
written about in the aggregate. Rather, my list privileges the fascinating intermediary figures: the men and
women in the middle, the scholars and activists whose
lives are noteworthy in themselves and provide a
window into the great social and political issues of
our time.
Thus, a writer interested in the tortured history of
Tamil-Sinhala relations in contemporary Sri Lanka
might take as his theme the life and endeavours of the
Colombo lawyer, scholar and statesman Neelan Tiruch-
  elvam, killed by a Tamil suicide bomber for seeking to make peace with the
'enemy'. A historian of Indian science
and conservation could do worse than
approach the topic through the remarkable self-trained ornithologist Salim Ali.
A feminist might choose as her subject
Mira Behn (Madeleine Slade), the
daughter of an English admiral who
went to jail with Gandhi, fell in and
out of love with a Sikh revolutionary, did pioneering
environmental work in the Himalaya and ended her
days in the Vienna woods, listening to Beethoven. A
like-minded Bengali could tell the tale of Nirad
Chaudhuri, the unknown Indian who became a well-
known Englishman. A young and radical scholar might
write in some depth of Gadar, the remarkable folk poet
and singer whose career has been so deeply interwoven with the bloody politics of his native Andhra
Pradesh. In each case the life would be richly illuminative of the times. In any case the best days of South
Asian biography lie ahead of us. ,\
ERRATA
The September 2002 essay, 'Roads to Lhasa' by
Kabir Mansingh Heimsath, had an error in the
summary. It should have read: "Notwithstanding
years of Chinese rule, Tibet remains Tibet. There is
no grand strategy to extinguish Tibetan culture but
Beijing's misinformed policies lead to the misplaced
suspicion that there is". In the print edition, "the
nation" appeared in place of "Tibetan culture",
- editors
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
35
 Mediafile
THE INDIAN immigration service gives international air travellers embarkation cards of different sizes, and the demand for
information is not always uniform. Chhetria Patrakar has
done a fair bit of flying in and
out of Indira Gandhi International Airport lately, and once
was given a card that was so
small it would require Lilliputian fingers to fill. Reproduced here in actual size is the
embarkation card for the reader
to try filling out. Aisa kyon hota
hai?
GOVERNMENT OF INDIA    :^^^|
EMBARKATION CARD (For Foreigners Only)
. ■ - {PleaseUsacdplte! lette*3 oriy),
■ FamiK-Name: ■ ■   '	
■ Fsst jGiyg^lu&mn~   -    ._■__ •
"Sex: Mala.i Female'(Tick as applicable)
Naflofiaft-V:    "•'   ..,.„;„ -    '     ■      ■    .'.'      ■■■..'.. 	
Passport-No :   ...:._.
Place-cf Issue :_ _	
.Dat* of Issue :;„,...
Ogtecf Expuy: .    ■
■ Right Wo.:   ,
:::Portot:Dissmbarkel3ori:^,^_^__
SgriaSufs oi Passenger
The pictures all focus on Shah-
nawaz, at an Air India function,
inaugurating the Indian Airlines'
Jabalpur flight, inspecting the servicing of an Indian Airlines aircraft, at the Institute of Aeronautics, at a tourism meet in Dubai,
and inaugurating the "security
hold area at Mumbai". Give us a
break, please, Sivagat, I beg of you.
CUSTOMS
3,     No. t3f Packages: i_
■■-■ ■(aycbsdted'Bdggage
(b) Xa^-Sftooede :    ' -'      '    •
■ '4. >:-'TtfBI'^^Wa3x^dufIi(^,vgopdS,beirig impoitad
..S-SnaKj!* of Passenger
AND THEN, on the Indian Airlines flight deputing from IGIA
for another South Asian destination, flipping through
the in-flight magazine Swagat, one realises that the carrier is still sucking up to the neophyte minister of civil
aviation, Mr Syed Shahnawaz Hussain. Chhetria
Patrakar had earlier reprimanded the magazine (produced by an NRI company based in Bangkok, but that
apparently is another story, ask the editor of Pioneer)
for having been cloyingly obsequious to the minister,
who is a 'token' Muslim in the NDA government of
Atalji. But even so, Swagat writes in its September 2002
issue in an article titled 'Scaring to the Occasion', which
is supposed to review the successful first year in office
of Shahnawaz., "Despite global recession and the aftermath of September 11 terrorist attack, the modern and
youthful minister steers his ministry to further heights".
SOME TIME back, the redoubtable
Laloo Prasad Yadav of Bihar,
making his maiden speech in the
upper house (Rajya Sabha), thundered at the BJP-led government,
"Tumhare ahankar-rupi Lanka mein
-smmmmmmmmm*!^ ' main aaglagaaneaaya hoon". (I have
come to set fire to your arrogant
Lanka.) The reference of course is to Hanuman (the monkey trouble-shooter of raja Ram) who burns down
Lanka as he is leaving there after a search mission for
the abducted Sita. Which is all good, but the
demonisation of Ravan and his kingdom should perhaps be handled with more circumspection in these
days of SAARC amity. Will someone go tell Laloo? Particularly because there is soon to be (one hears) a direct
flight linking Bihar and Sri Lanka.
■
THE PROBLEM of anything that has a South Asian
provenance being called 'Indian' the world over is
indeed... a problem. Particularly for a Bangladeshi or
Pakistani, it is galling, because they go back to historical India. So, a company named Shaheen's Palace in
Jackson Heights, New York City,
has come up with an answer that
should keep everyone happy, if
somewhat awkwardly so. It produces Malai Kulfi™, packaged
in a plastic pack, and has the
originality to announce it as,
"The Most Authentic Natural
and Freshest Indian, Pakistani,
Bangladeshi Ice Cream". Well,
that takes care of that problem.
Plus, did you want to know what
your average stick of kulfi contains? Well, here it is:
Item: Kulfi
Weight: lOlgm
Calories: 250
Fat calories: 170
Total fat: 19gm
Total Carb: 17g
Sat Fat llgm (55 percent)
Cholesterol: 53 mg
Sodium: 45 mg
You apparently also get a
36
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Mediafile
/halal ICdfc
mfjAe/Hosi /Authentic; /Natural an} tyesheit
dose of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. We did
not know it, but the kulfi is Health Food!
But even as a problem of political identification is
resolved, a problem of cultural identification threatens
to throw a spanner in the works. New York health officials are sending crack teams into the mithai shops that
line the streets of Jackson Heights. The contraband that
is expected to be recovered is nuts. (Yes, nuts!> Peanuts,
pistachio, almonds, all used in South Asian sweets to
delicious effect, can cause anaphylaxis which may result in asphyxiation. Food and Drug Administration
officials want a warning on the sweets about the potential dangers of imbibing pista barfi. Locals protest that
there is no way someone from 'our' culture does not
know what is in the sweets. The best way to deal with
this: do as is done with pretzels post-Bush-choke.
■
ON THAT happy note, now, for the rest of this Mediafile,
we shall focus on Bangladesh.
■
THE BANGLADESH Parjatan Corporation, the 'national tourism organisation', tries hard to attract tourists. The brochure for Sylhet, the right arm of Bangladesh
on the map, provides interesting information on the
Gour Gobinda Fort, the famous waterfall of
Madhabkunda, and the Manipuri dance still performed
by tribal people. But then the frustration of not having
enough tourist attractions shows through. So, you have
the "rolling stones of Jaflong" that tourists may want to
observe, which essentially is rocks from the riverbed
that are being mined in order to feed the concrete fever
of largely mud-made Bangladesh. The tourist is also
advised to consider a visit to the border at Tamabil,
from where "one can also have a glimpse of the waterfalls across the border", in Meghalaya. The visitor is
then directed to the Haripur Gas Field, which is 22 km
from Sylhet town. Also, "About 35 km northwest of
Sylhet, linked by rail, road and river is Chhatak, the
seat of Assam Bengal Cement Factory". If all this excites you, and why not, contact the Bangladesh Parjatan
Corporation at tei: 880-2-817855-59.
■
INNOVATION IN naming chocolate products finds fertile ground in Bangladesh. There is a company named
Haque, (the logo looks suspiciously like that of an Indian confectionary company whose name begins with
Chatak cement factory
'P'), which specialises in producing candy and light
edibles. Haque produces the "Royal Bengal Tiger - A
Taste of the New Millennium". Highly recommended,
especially because of the "cocoa solids and milk solids
and permitted emulsifiers" used to ensure that the
chocolate does not melt in the deltaic heat and moist-
ness of Bangladesh. Besides, it is halal - really, it says
so on the wrapper - so, all you god-fearing chocoholics
out there need have no fear to indulge the pangs.
■
EKUSHEY TELEVISION, ETV, which used to broadcast
terrestrially using Bangladesh TV transmission, was
setting high standards for programme content. It was
in the private sector, and derived a certain slickness
from that, but was also doing 'socially responsible' coverage. What is more, it was attracting an audience of
millions. But the Supreme Court pulled the plug on ETV
last month, and the policemen went over and turned
the transmission off in mid-programme. Many fine jour-
n.alists lost their jobs. The lesson in this is - when you
w.=int to start something good and raise people's expectations, make sure that the groundwork is also proper.
Apparently shortcuts had been taken by the Ekushey
promoters (including an American multinational) in
the registration process back in the Sheikh Hasina
years, and the present Begum. Zia's government was
not about to help Ekushey along. So, a good thing disappears. But do not rest in peace, Ekushey! Instead,
reincarnate!
—Chhetria Patrakar
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
37
 Report
Dolphin of the Ganga
Once the susu was found along the entire stretch of the Ganga system
in the plains, but now it is limited to pockets where the flow is
large and pollutants sufficiently diluted.
by RK Sinha
Dolphins are the most uncontroversial of popular motifs of contemporary times, promoted on
television and Hollywood movies alike as
symbols of wholesome fun, innocence and gentle intelligence. The exposure, however, is biased towards marine dolphins. Freshwater dolphins, in dire need of
public sympathy and protection, have gone largely neglected. Most people are not even aware of the fact that
that some species of dolphins (or cetaceans) are found
in habitat other than seas and oceans. In fact, four of a
total of about 40 species of cetaceans inhabit rivers; three
of these are found in Asia, and, of them, two belong to
South Asia.
The South Asian freshwater dolphins are the Pla-
tanista gangetica minor (bhulan, sometimes also referred
to as Shsh) in the Indus river of Pakistan and the Platan-
ista gangetica (susu) of the Ganga-Brahmaputra system
in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The lipotes vexillifer
(baiji) is confined to the Yangtze of China, and the fourth
specie, inia geoffrensis {boto), belongs to the Amazon.
While there is no conclusive fossil record, estimates
are that the Gangetic dolphin has been around for about
20 million years. It was not until 1801 though, that the
susu was first scientifically documented and christened
Platanista gangetica by William Roxburgh, a Scottish
botanist who was at the time the superintendent of the
Calcutta Botanical Garden. Tlie dolphin that was thus
identified lives in the highly turbid waters of the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Karnaphuli rivers and
their tributaries. It inhabits these rivers from the estua-
rine area to as far upstream as is navigable by them,
depth and the evenness of the riverbed being crucial
determinants. The Gangetic dolphin is found in Nepal
too where the rivers are comparatively clear.
The Ganga dolphin has a sturdy and flexible body,
large flippers and a low triangular dorsal fin. In the
Ganga, on average, the maximum length that an adult
female dolphin may attain is 2.5 metres while the male
attains a maximum length of 2.1 metres. After a gestation period of 10 to 11 months, a fully developed calf is
born that is usually about 70 cm long. Adult dolphins
are light grey in colour whereas the calves are dark
chocolate brown. The jaws of an adult are lined with
over 130 prehensile teeth meant for capturing small fish
usually not more than 10 cm long; the lower jaw is longer
than the upper one.
The susu has a narrow gullet and cannot masticate
its food, as a result of which it can prey on only small
fish. When the dolphin breaks the water surface to
breathe through its blowhole (a nasal opening on the
head) at intervals that can last from 10 seconds to several minutes, it produces a typical sound that is the
basis of its various local names. The Sanskrit word for
the river dolphin is shishuniachh but this gentle creature
is more usually called sous, susa, sunsar, sits, susu, soonse,
souns, susuk, Mho or huh among other things. In parts of
Nepal, the dolphin is called the suongsu.
Beaming dolphins
Since the Ganga river dolphin lives in muddy water, it
is difficult to study the animal and little is known about
its behaviour. It is known, though, that susu are solitary creatures, seldom found in groups.
Most toothed whales are thought to be able to interrogate their environment with sound. By bouncing
sounds off an underwater target and analysing the signal they get back, a dolphin is able to accurately locate
an object, determine whether and where it is moving,
differentiate between object densities, say fat from bone,
and tell whether the target is dead or alive. If alive and
potential food, a dolphin may be able to stun it, and
sometimes kill it, with a high-density beam of sound.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the susu
is that notwithstanding the absence of crystalline lens
from its eyes, which helps in forming images, and the
absence of which renders the susu blind, it occupies
the top level of the food chain in the Ganga river system. One hypothesis holds that the susu lost its vision
due to its environment. Vision would not be of much
use in the muddy waters of the Ganga, its habitat, so
over the evolutionary course the susu lost its vision.
Instead, the Gangetic dolphin seems to be a sophisticated user of 'echolocation', that is, emitting sounds
and locating underwater targets by analysing the
bounced reverberations.
Though it was discovered as long ago as 1942 that
38
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 dolphins are able to use sound
for navigation and finding
prey, and there have been
many experiments since then,
to this day we know very little
about their echolocation system. We do know, however,
that most dolphin species emit
a single and narrow 'beam' of
echolocation clicks, which
gives them an acoustical picture of the terrain; the bottle- ;*
nose dolphin, for example, has
a beam of about nine degrees,
a thin pencil-beam of sound. Platanista gangetica, though
thought to be a more primitive species, emits a 65 degrees beam with two beams of clicks, which gives it twro
pictures. One beam gives the dolphins fuzzy 'big pictures' of the river channel environment while the other
neam is reflected by an extraordinary projection of the
back of the upper jaw, giving the dolphins a more detailed view of what is directly in front of their open
mouths.
The first beam is most useful for navigating complex river channels, and 'looking' for fish, while the
second beam works best for actually capturing fish. Part
of the evolution of these creatures might have been a
narrowing of the beam width, which would give them
greater penetrative power for the same amount of energy. The concentration of energy in narrow-beam dolphins has become so intense that the prey becomes
affected by it even as it is located, resulting in an entirely novel way of catching food. Dr Georgio Pilleri, of the
Institute of Brain Anatomy at Berne, observed that the
susu continuously emits trains of high frequency (15 to
150 kHz) echolocation clicks which are interrupted only
by short pauses of 1 to 60 seconds.
The hydrological regime of a river has a direct bearing on the movement of the dolphins. There is constant
daily local migration usually in search of food but in
addition, there is also seasonal migration. The search
for food leads the Gangetic dolphin to floodplains in
the monsoon where most fish migrate in order to spawn
and the prey is plentiful. Water levels also dictate migration patters. That is why in the dry months between
October and April, the tributaries have barely any dolphins in them. A migration to the main river channels
takes place, and a reverse flow occurs after the monsoon. Howrever, barrages and dams on rivers have in
many cases disrupted this pattern.
Barrage barricade
Of all the river dolphins, the baiji, as also the finless
porpoise with which it shares the waters of the Yangtze,
is the most critically endangered. It teeters on the brink
of extinction with not more than a few score still alive.
Compared to this, the susu population seems robust. In
the Ganga, the major susu habitat, a total of 730 dol
phins have been sighted in
recent years between Bijnor,
near the foothills of the Himalaya, and Farakka, near
the Indo-Bangladesh border.
A survey team sighted 152
dolphins in the river Bhagi-
rathi-Hoogli between Farakka and Calcutta in 1995.
About 400 dolphins have
been sighted in the Brahmaputra, which is the other
major susu habitat in the
Subcontinent. It is estimated
on the basis of various surveys that about 2000 dolphins survive in the Ganga system today. However, if
not protected now, it is likely that the Gangetic dolphin
will face the same fate as its cousin in China. Indeed,
the Gangetic dolphin is in a precarious situation
today, its survival threatened by a fast receding habitat
that is increasingly fragmented.
ALiout half of India's susu population is found in
the waters of the Ganga and its tributaries within the
state of Bihar. The latest survey, conducted by the Environmental Biology Laboratory of Patna University in
2000-01, counted 68 dolphins in a 60 km stretch between the Ganga-Punpun confluence at Fatuha (about
20 km downstream from Patna) and the Ganga-
Ghaghara confluence at Doriganj (40 km upstream from
Patna). One of the areas frequented by the susu, in fact,
is the confluence of the Gandak and the Ganga, right
by Patna University's riverside campus where the laboratory is located and where this writer works.
In the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary
between Sultanganj and Kahalgaon in Bihar, the only
one of its kind in Tndia, a total of 114 dolphins were
sighted during a survey in 2000. In March 2001, 85
dolphins were sighted in the river Kosi between the
Kosi Barrage at the India-Nepal border and the confluence with the Ganga at Kursela. Besides these major
concentrations, dolphins have also been sighted in other
tributaries of the Ganga.
While there are as yet significant numbers of susu
in the mam stem of the Ganga as it flows through
Bihar, the dolphin's status in the Ganga tributaries of
Nepal is a matter of great concern. Mostly, it is the
barrages built across the tributaries in India to feed irrigation canals that affects the susu population. These
barrages block the migratory passage of dolphins,
which empties the rivers of the susu upstream in Nepal.
The Karnali river in Nepal (called Ghaghara in India) is the furthest upstream that the dolphins are found
in the Ganga system, the species not being seen in the
tributaries further to the west. In 1976, the Girija Barrage was constructed across the Karnali river, about 20
km into India. There are now about 30 dolphins upstream of the barrage, a majority of them in Indian territory, and the Karnali's flow in Nepal is thought to host
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
39
 Report
The susu in literature and legend
In India, there is enough historical and mythological evidence to confirm that the susu has been a
close associate of humans for a long time. In the
third century BC, the Maurya emperor Ashok
passed a decree through what is known as the 'fifth
pillar edict' barring the killing or hunting of the
"Ganga-puputaka" - the Gaingetic dolphin as it was
known then. Etolphins are referred to by their Persian name khokk aabi, or water hog, in the Baburnama. Bhattasali, author of Iconography of Buddhist
and Brahminical sculptures in Dacca Museum, identifies the susu as the carrier (vahana) of the mythical
goddess Ganga. In some villages along the river
Ghaghara in Chhapra district, Bihar, India, the riparian community worships the dolphins. They
regard them, because they suckle their babies, as
"cows of the Ganga".
According to one belief the dolphins are an incarnation of a royal beauty who drowned in the
Ganga. As the legend goes the lady while bathing
spotted her father-in-law riding along the bank.
Out of sheer embarrassment she tried to veil her
face with the rising waves and so went to a watery
grave.
less than 10 dolphins. What seems to have significantly endangered the dolphins of the Karnali-Ghaghara,
besides the impact of the barrage, is the loss of prey to
over-fishing by humans.
In the case of the Kosi river, at the eastern end of
Nepal, it is the massive Kosi Barrage, constructed in
1965 on the border with India that blocks the migration
of dolphins and other migratory species. Only three
dolphins were sighted in the Kosi on the Nepal side in
1993. In the same year, only one dolphin was sighted
in the Narayani-Gandak river in central Nepal Again,
a barrage built at the border point with India in 1968
seems to have decimated the susu population in upstream Narayani. Today, there are probably no dolphins on the river. Barrages on the Mahakali (Sarda in
India) at Banbasa on the Indo-Nepal border in 1928,
and at Sardanagar in 1974 about 160 km into Indian
territory, have similarly resulted in the extinction of
dolphins from the Mahakali-Sarda.
As no systematic population survey of dolphins was
carried out prior to the one undertaken by the Patna
University team in the Ganga and its tributaries, no
meaningful comparison with earlier population figures
can be made. However, John Anderson, the first superintendent of the Indian Museum at Calcutta, reported
in 1879 that even in the month of May, when the water
level was low in the Yamuna at Delhi, there used to be
a substantial number of dolphins visible in the river It
is unlikely that any susu survive this far upstream on
the Ganga system now. Other than a susu carcass
which was brought in from the Yamuna to the Delhi
Zoo in 1967, there has been no sign of the susu in the
Yamuna.
Reports of dolphin killings from different areas are
disturbingly regular, and this together with habitat
degradation has resulted in a decline in the population
throughout the range of distribution. Moreover, a dolphin gives birth to only one calf at a time after a gestation period of about 10 months at an interval of about
two to three years. The low natality means that, in any
case, the regeneration rate of the dolphin is sluggish.
It is clear that, despite the visibility of the susu in
the mainstream of the Ganga in Bihar, the Gangetic
dolphin is a threatened species.
The clock's ticking
Is the concern over the susu simply the result of environmental sentimentalism, or does the species have a
utilitarian function that can justify its existence? Cynics have been known to ask such questions. The fact is
that the Gangetic dolphin does play an important role
in a river's ecology, and in that capacity it is of great
assistance to humans and other species who draw sustenance from the water courses. Indeed, the susu is itself a valuable indicator of the health of the river, its
presence indicating the availability of fish, besides
which it is also a gauge by which to determine the levels of pollutants and toxicity in the water.
The use of organochlorine pesticides by agriculturalists has continually been on the rise in the Gangetic
plains, and heavy metals also make their way into the
river through untreated industrial and urban waste-
Studies have shown alarming levels of these toxins in
the body and organs of susu carcasses. Among the
organochlorine pesticides, DDT and its metabolites
are the most prominent compounds found in the susu,
followed by other poisonous chemicals such as
hexachloro cyclohexane, aldrin, dieldrin, chlordanes
and heptachlor. One can surmise that these chemicals
are prevalent in dangerous proportions in the waters
of the Gangetic plains, India's most fertile area and the
nub of its agriculture.
Toxic chemicals including Poly Chlorinated Biphe-
nyles (PCBs) and DDT accumulate in the upper micro-
layer of the river water and phytoplankton. These
toxicants reach the dolphins through the food chain. As
a result, a dolphin accumulates a huge quantity of toxic
chemicals, especially fat-soluble compounds. Due to bio-
magnification, some of these chemical compounds tend
to increase at every level of the food chain, and dolphins,
being at the apex of the chain, accumulate the highest
amounts of these compounds. Such compounds are well
known for having adverse effects on vital organs, and
on the endocrine system, affecting behaviour, reproduction, fecundity, feeding, nutrition and response to diseases. Organochlorine compounds and heavy metals
cross the placenta during pregnancy and are transferred
from mother to calf. In such conditions even a newly
born calf will have toxic chemicals in its system.
40
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 The Gangetic dolphin is not threatened only by pollution, however. Habitat degradation and fragmentation of population are also major causes of concern.
Heavier siltation in the rivers due to deforestation and
soil erosion in catchment areas, as well as the constriction of flow between embankments in many parts, have
decreased the depth of rivers and made it difficult for
dolphins to navigate. Barrages restrict the migration of
dolphins in upstream and downstream locations,
which affects spawning and makes the populations
genetically isolated.
Besides, susu populations in their entire distribution range from the Brahmaputra to the Karnali face the
threat of monofilament nylon gill nets, which are now
commonly used by fishermen. These nets are made of
very fine nylon thread that the animal fails to locate
with its sonar devices. It therefore often gets trapped m
the net, cannot come up for air, and ends up drowning.
Up to some decades back, fisher folk used to harpoon
Susu because they considered the dolphin to be competing for the fish. The fact is that the susu feed only on
small fish which have little commercial value, as well
as molluscs and insect larvae. Increasing awareness of
the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India
(1972), which protects the susu, has made fishermen
give up the harpooning practice, but other causes of
morbidity have become increasingly relevant.
Climax species
The susu has been declared an endangered species by
The World Conservation Union (IL'CN) and its inclusion in the wildlife act as a Schedule-I animal, makes
possession of any part or product of it an offence. The
animal is also included in appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species
(CITES). However, the good that has come from the legal
protection tendered to the susu has been negated by
recent developments that make dolphin poaching a lucrative business. Oil extracted from the blubber (the thick
layer of fat under the dolphin's skin) can be used to
attract and catch some varieties of catfish. An adult
dolphin of more than 100 kg can yield up to 30-35 litres
of oil. This oil is sold at the rate of INR 100-300 per kg
with the rate varying according to season, availability
and the economic status of the customer. Changing food
habits contribute their own pressure on the population: while earlier very few communities along the Ganga would eat dolphin meat, now many do. Dolphin
meat sells at the rate of INR 25-30 per kg and so even one
dolphin can make a fisherman a tidy sum of money.
A river with a good susu population is a healthy
river, which translates also into a healthy habitat for
humans. The presence of the susu indicates that the
level of pollutants is low, that the river's flow is large,
that there are enough fish for the dolphins to prey on,
and that the riverine habitat has not been depleted by
the diversion of water to irrigation canals, nor violated
irrevocably by the intrusion of barrages and dams. There
are still some stretches of the Ganga where one gets to
experience the frolic of dolphins that our river-faring
ancestors would have enjoyed. One such spot is where
the Ganga meets the Gandak opposite the Patna University campus. Going out on a boat in mid-morning,
one finds the confluence area well populated by susus.
Every few seconds one comes up for air, gives a snort,
and disappears into the muddy waters. Their smooth
grey skins glisten in the sunlight as they emerge and
dive quickly, possibly in hot echolocatory pursuit of
fish.
As they splash and dunk on the river by Patna city,
these dolphins of the Ganga seem unaware of what is
almost inevitable - that humans will continue to encroach on their habitat, polluting the river with urban
and industrial waste, emptying the river of its flow to
quench the thirst of agriculture, and otherwise making
the river uninhabitable by the dolphin. Little do the
humans know that what they do to the dolphin as a
climax species of the Ganga today, they do unto themselves tomorrow. The susu is a symbol of the aquatic
heritage of the Subcontinent and it is the responsibility
of the people here to let it survive. a
tf:
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invites applications from South Asian professionals and
scholars under the age 45 for its Scholar of Peace
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2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Report
Thriving or threatened in Nepal?
by Sarad KC
Nepal's Karnali, Kosi, Mahakali and Narayani
rivers were once home to a thriving susu population in the section of the Tarai plains before
they enter Indian territory. In recent decades however,
there has been a dramatic drop in Nepal's river dolphin population, primarily attributable to barrages,
which block rivers' flow and impede fish and dolphin
migration. But while all Nepali dolphin watchers agree
that a drop has occurred, opinions on precise numbers
are anything but unanimous.
While conservation officials in Kathmandu are declaring the virtual extinction of the susu in Nepali waters, the dolphin protection centre in Nepal's western
Tarai district of Kailali, a unique private effort involving local enthusiasts, has reported an increase in dolphin sightings. The centre says the rise has been evident
for the past three years, a
claim that government
experts treat with
unveiled scepti
cism. The dispute extends to even whether the susu
is extinct in certain rivers. According to Dr Shanta Ram Gyawali of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, dolphins have
completely disappeared from the Mahakali and Narayani rivers in western and central Nepal. Additionally,
he says that while 15 to 20 dolphins appear in the Karnali and Kosi rivers during the annual monsoon, only
four to six inhabit them in the dry winter period.
The Kailali centre claims there are around 100 dolphins in the Karnali's various tributaries, including in
the Pathriya, Kadha, Kandra and Mohana. While the
government has not been able to confirm or disprove
the centre's claims, officials look askance at these reports. Narayan Prasad Poudel, deputy director of the
Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, says that while "the centre has done exemplary
work in dolphin conservation at the local level, their
claims of increases in the number of dolphins appear
unscientific".
Gyawali, who served on a government census team
during the 2001 monsoon, says the group was only
able to confirm the existence of eight dolphins, despite
its visit being timed to coincide with the annual peak
presence of dolphins in Nepal. But Bijay Raj Shrestha,
secretary of the Kailali centre, takes issue with the government researchers' methodology. "It was a short and
incomplete research", he says. "If the government's officials come with adequate time, we will showr them
dozens of dolphins". Gyawali says his team plans to
make a follow-up visit in a few months.
Susu survival?
One major stumbling block to rebuilding Nepal's dolphin population is the existence of barrages along the
Ganga's northern tributaries. Critics say that barrages
have not been built according to environmental standards, and most of them lack functioning 'fish ladders'
that would allow dolphins to migrate upstream. Nepal
has raised these issues with India at bilateral meetings,
but officials in Kathmandu say New Delhi has not taken their concerns seriously. There is also the question
of whether fish ladders would work for dolphins the
way they do for certain species of fish.
There is no doubt that barrages on the Karnali, the
Narayani, the Kosi and the Mahakali on
or just south of the border have caused serious damage to the dolphin population of
Mepal. In addition, dolphins in Nepal are
also under threat from accidental killing
in nylon gill nets, generic habitat destruction, possibly deliberate killings and water pollution.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN)
classifies the susu as an endangered species and agrees
with the assessment that dolphins are nearly extinct in
Nepal and already gone from the Mahakali and Narayani rivers.
Nepal has signed the international charter of wildlife conservation, committing itself to protect endangered species like the susu. The government, however,
says that it has cut back its conservation efforts because
of funding shortfall. "Due to the current security scenario and resource constraints, there has not been
enough study on and monitoring of the dolphins", laments one official. Nevertheless, just as the tiger became a symbol of conserving healthy forests, some say
the dolphin could be promoted as a symbol of healthy
rivers. If so, the Gangetic dolphin may just make a comeback in the rivers of Nepal. b
(Translated by Mukul Humagain)
42
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 BHULAN
What's in a name
by Rinku Dutta
"One day, Plato defined humankind
as the two-legged animal without feathers.
The next day, they say, Diogenes dropped
by at the Academy with a plucked chicken".
Known to locals as the bhulan, the Indus susu is
today mainly confined to a 100-mile stretch of
fresh water between two artificial constructions,
the Guddu and the Sukkur barrages, across the lower
Indus in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. The bhulan,
even more than its neighbour in the Ganga, is threatened with imminent extinction. As is the case with the
earth's other three river dolphin species, its fight for
survival has not so much to do with adverse natural
conditions as with problems manmade. Its diminishing numbers are a result of incidental and intentional
exploitation by humans. A survey conducted jointly in
2001 by WWF-Pakistan, the Pakistan government wildlife departments and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society estimated that there are 1100 bhulans
left in the Indus waters {see survey map). A total of 965
individuals were actually sighted.
Confined to the fresh-water river system of the Indus in Pakistan, the blind and side-swimming bhulan
resembles the Indian susu in every respect, except that
it is slightly smaller, as the specific name minor implies.
Like other river dolphins, and unlike its ocean-going
relatives, the bhulan has a bulbous forehead and a long
rostrum, its skull has not undergone streamlining and
the neck vertebrae are not fused, thereby allowing remarkable flexibility of the head, which may assist it in
capturing prey, navigating in narrow waterways, and
in scanning its surroundings. It too relies on echolocation to navigate and hunt. And, like the Ganga susu,
the bhulan is a slow swimmer. Bhulans often swim on
their right sides, nodding their heads continually, perhaps to maintain contact with the bottom of the river
with their right flipper. Being quite blind, they appear
to navigate through touch, the flipper serving much like a blind man's stick.
Up until the 1970s, the Indus bhulan
(Platanista minor) was not distinguished from
the Ganga susu {Platanista gangetica) as a separate species. But, noting other distinctive features, G Pilleri and M Gihr in their paper 'Zur
Systematik der Gattung Platanista', Cetacea,
1971, argued that since no size difference has
been systematically documented, it is more appropri
ate to call the dolphin of the Indus, Platanista indi.
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
Other than by their range of geographic distribution, the two kinds of South Asian river dolphins are
primarily differentiated on the basis of the anatomical
details of their maxillary crests. These are flat, paired,
oval extensions of the upper jaw-bone that grow
upward and forward on the skull and occupy a horizontal position above and forward of the slit-like blowhole. As these differences are minor, some may still
argue that the Indus and Ganga dolphins are the same
species or are subspecies of a single species. Taxonom-
ically, two groups of creatures are the same species if,
in the wild, there is significant gene flow between the
two gene pools (gene pool: the set of genetic information that defines a species).
Essentially, if two groups can inter-breed successfully they are the same species. Since the Indus and
Ganga river dolphins are geographically isolated they
are reproductively estranged. Still, if one adheres to
Alan R Templeton's definition of a species "as the most
inclusive group of organisms having the potential for
genetic and/or demographic exchangeability", and in
the case of the South Asian river dolphins there is such
a situation, then is it not reasonable to club the Indus
and Ganga river dolphins under one specific category,
say Platanista southasianal
Molecular biology might provide some answers
A molecular phylogenetic study (the study of 111 <.Vii~
lutionary history of a genetically related group of
organisms) of river
•■,©
Lahore  ";
Indus Dolphin Survey, Apr8 20<H;
From Jinnah to Kotri8»ffjto»£.
Number of dolphins stgtoHt
 Report
dolphins conducted by G Yang and K Zhou in 1999,
published in Acta Theriologica Sinica, established that
the difference between cytochrome-b {cyt-b) sequences
of the Ganga and Indus river dolphins was very minor.
Cyt-b is an ancient gene that occurs in the mitochondria of all nucleated organisms. As mitochondrial DNA
is maternally inherited and evolves much faster than
nuclear DNA, mitochondrial genes are the first place
where genetic divergence is reflected. Therefore, Yang
and Zhou's observation that the cyt-b gene sequences
of the Indus and Ganga river dolphins are not very
different lends strong credence to the hypothesis that
these two groups of riverine cetaceans have not
diverged to an extent that justifies their being called
different species.
Problems Southasiana
Dams across the Indus and its tributaries restrict the
movement of the bhulan, disrupt migration patterns
and divide their population. Reliable data on the bhu-
lan's seasonal migratory behaviour still needs to be
accumulated but there is some informed speculation
on the subject. According to Richard Garstang, conservation advisor to WWF-Pakistan, "The Indus River bar
rages probably act as one-way valves, permitting inadvertent downstream movement but no return traffic".
The greatest threat to the survival of the bhulan, though,
is probably from the continuing decline in water flow,
especially downstream of the Sukkur barrage.
The construction of three irrigation barrages, completed at Sukkur in 1932, at Kotri in 1955, and at Gud-
du in 1969, greatly reduced the volume of water in the
river, causing the dry-season range of movement of the
dolphins to shrink. New diversion structures in the
upper Indus, and overexploitation of the ground water
that has resulted in increased demand for irrigation
water from rivers have further reduced flow. Chemical
pollutants from agricultural and urban waste, and noise
pollution from boat traffic are suspected to compound
the problem of the degeneration of the bhulan habitat.
Dolphin lives are also lost when they get entangled in
fishing nets.
These threats to the survival of the bhulan are hardly typical to its case. River dolphins in the Ganga system too face the same hurdles to survival. Another
argument then, for a common and concerted approach
to the dolphins of the Subcontinent's rivers, whether
they be in Nepal, India or Pakistan? £
Youth Initiative for Peace
Mission Statement: We are a youth movement united in our
efforts to build mutual trust and understanding for sustainable peace.
Youth Initiative for Peace (YIP) is linked with Initiative For
Peace (IFP), Our goal is to create permanent conflict management programs and facilitate initiatives for peace by connecting
people across the globe. Youth Initiative for Peace aims to re-
move misconceptions that have been created amongst the people of South Asia, by establishing a network amongst the youth
of these countries,
YIP is a growing organization, already consisting of members from India, Pakistan and fifteen other countries. Till now
our focus has been solely on the sub-continent. However, the
Focus on South Asia peace camp is our first step towards expanding our activities into the rest of this region.
Focus on South Asia
Between the 14th and 22nd of December, Youth Initiative for
Peace will bring together 56 young people from South Asian
countries, for a peace camp to be held in Lahore, Pakistan,
These countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Through the use of visual and performing arts, we aim to
improve communication, create understanding, and remove prejudices and indifference amongst the youth of the S.^ARC nations.
The camp will feature extensive workshops on the use of the
media and various mediums of communication, such as Dance,
Song, Drama, Literature and Creative Writing, Photography
and Painting. Furthermore, various experts will give lectures
and hold seminars about the different cultures, histories, conflicts and present socio-economic conditions of each of the South
Asian countries.
Outcome
YIP aims to serve as a catalyst for further movements and initiatives as well as facilitate the empowerment of youth in South
Asia and across the world.
Throughout the event we intend to motivate the participants
to chalk out initiatives that can be taken by them in their home
countries. We hope that these initiatives will be implemented as
soon as possible.
Youth Initiative for Peace will assist and support the efforts
of Focus on South Asia participants. In this way, we believe we
will be able to achieve our goal of unity, peace, and co-operation
within the South Asian region.
Admissions
Eight participants between the ages of 15 and 19 will be chosen
from each country. Youth Initiative for peace aims to maximize
the diversity of the participants, therefore translators will be available at the camp. However, a working command of English is
desirable but not essential.
Applicants will be required to submit an application form,
including the use of any medium of expression to show what
they intend to do for peace, and why thev wish to attend this
camp. Essays, audiotapes, videotapes, photographs, etc are all
welcome. CVs, giving details of their prior work for peace, as
well as achievements in any medium of expression are recommended but not essential.
Participants will be selected by members of Y'outh Initiative
for Peace, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, creed or financial
ability. Female Candidates are encouraged to apply.
Application forms can be downloaded from our website,
photocopied, or requested by letter or email. All application packages must be posted by Oct 15th 2002.
peacecamp@initiativeforpeace.org   Fax: (92-21) 5897326
www.youth.initiativeforpeace.org
 SOUTHASIASPHERE
Falling off the world stage
When you left even the stones were buried:
The defenceless would liave no weapons.
When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller's balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
- Agha Sliahid Ali, Farewell
THE WORLD began to change on '9/20', the day
George Bush declared, "Either you are with us or you
are with the terrorists". Not wanting to be known as a
friend of Osama and his m-laws in Kabul, even General Musharraf fell in line. The self-appointed president
of Pakistan declared his country the frontline state of
America's "War on Terror".
It is now almost a year since daisy cutters started to
rain on the desert landscape of the Hindukush, but Bush
shows no signs of slowing down. Unsuccessful in nabbing Osama bin Laden "dead or alive", the Texan cowboy is now set to vent his frustrations on Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. The tone and tenor of Bush's
warning to the rest of the world is still the same: do not
dare question the White House. The right reigns in the
United States, and American unilateralism rules the world.
In addition to making the global
right unite under the American umbrella, the 20 September declaration
initiated the process of suppression
of all dissenting voices. So when Israel bombarded the
Palestinian leader's official residence on a flimsy pretext, there were no protest rallies even in Sweden, home
of the Nobel Academy that awarded its peace prize to
Yasser Arafat in 1994. Just an announcement of intention by the White House that America may go after Saddam on its own was enough to transform prime minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair into HE Blair,
ambassador-at-large for the United States More than
11 September, it is 20 September that seems to have really changed the world we live in.
Increasingly, no one else but Americans seems to
matter in global affairs. Hence, it was entirely appropriate for the representatives of more than 100 countries, in New York this September for the annual General Assembly session, to proceed to the site of the terrible
tragedy on the 11* to pay their homage. Each one present
on that solemn occasion paid their respects to the dead
in their own way. The Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, sprinkled the ground with the gangajal
that he had carried across the seven seas.
Busheshwar
There is nothing inherently wrong in the head of gov-
South Asians are unfit
to rule themselves
ernment of an independent country making a pilgrimage to the site of human tragedy anywhere. Perhaps
some day George Bush too will travel to Kashmir to pay
his respects to the victims of 50 years of insurgent violence and state repression. By travelling to the WTC site,
Vajpayee proved that he still has a poet's heart, even
though this is less and less evident in his own country.
But the real matter of concern is the near surrender of
South Block to the foreign policy goals of the United
States. Take it from me: India is no longer the voice of
conscience of the countries of the third world, including South Asia.
Around a year ago, I heard former Indian diplomat
Muchkund Dubey repeat the well worn mantra of
practical diplomacy, "countries have no permanent
friends, only permanent interests", at a talk fest in
Delhi's India International Centre. Still, the downward
slide of India's stature in the world does not cease to
amaze me. This is bad news for all of us in South Asia,
because if India loses its voice, it is unlikely that any
one in the world will care to hear what Bangladesh,
Nepal or even Pakistan has to say about issues of global
concern. The irrelevance of India was more than clear
at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable
Development held in Johannesburg
(Aug-Sept 2002), where New Delhi
failed to draw the world's attention
to its concerns. While the foreign
minister, Yashwant Sinha, gamely
tried to respond to queries on globalisation, the head of delegation, TR Balu, was a far
cry from Kamal Nath at the original UN environmental
meet at Rio a decade ago. The only point made by the
Indian delegation to Johannesburg seemed to be a petulant response to the United Nations Environment Programme report on the Asian Brown Cloud, which New-
Delhi believes is premature and the scientific credentials of which it questions.
Ever since he has been a member of parliament, Atal
Behari Vajpayee has loved going to the General Assembly to relax in the relative anonymity of the United Nations. Not that this was afforded him as prime minister,
but he may have thought of travelling to Johannesburg
rather than New York City this year. South Africa takes
pride in the fact that it was the site of the transformation of barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi into
Mahatma Gandhi, and the presence of an Indian prime
minister would have added lustre to this showcase
event of the Mbeki government.
As the head of government of the largest democratic
country in the world, which also happens to be economically rather weak, by his mere presence the prime
minister would have shown the despotic rulers of Africa that the poor value their political rights as much, if
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
45
 SetlTHASiASPBlii
Addressing the UN: Embattled Nobel laureate Yasser Arafat, Delhi-NYC frequent flyer AB Vajpayee.
not more, than the rich. Or could it be that he absented
himself from Johannesburg because he could not bear
to show his face in a country (South Africa) that has
refused to go nuclear despite its ability to do so?
Meanwhile, back home, New Delhi has further improved its international citizenry by becoming the second largest buyer in the global arms bazaar - that too
after going nuclear. By unequivocally aligning itself
with the United States and Israel, New Delhi has vacated the moral high ground in global affairs (and, internally, it has begun to speak for the urban middle class
rather than the rural masses tliat actually make up the
country). India commands respect neither because of
its military might, like Russia, nor its economic clout,
like China. It stands tall in the comity of nations on the
back of its democracy, but seems to value this less and
less.
South Block diplomats now seem to have resigned
themselves to the ignominy of being equated with Pakistan in global affairs. No wonder, even Musharraf's
feeble protest against Bush's intentions of going after
Saddam Hussein sounds more emphatic than the
ambiguities and contradictions emanating from New
Delhi. This must be galling for Indian foreign service
officers, drawn from among the best and brightest of
civil service recruits and socialised in Nehruyian foreign affairs philosophy.
It is not difficult to put a date to the process that has
reduced India's stature from spokes-country for the
third world to regional geopolitical power - May 1998,
the month of Pokhran II, which invited the response of
Chagai. But when foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, offered India as a base to the United States to conduct
their 'War on Terror', New Delhi was practically prostrating itself at the feet of Busheshwar. Even as the White
House deity snubbed Singh and went with Musharraf,
India lost Its independent, questioning voice. Pretty
soon, the saffron strongman LK Advani, now deputy
prime minister, was publicly singing paeans in praise
of Benjamin Netanyahu, the former right-wing prime
minister of Israel, and the role of India in Arab affairs
was reduced to zero, the original contribution of Bharat to Arab arithmetic.
Region on the margins
It seems none of the leaders of South Asia have any
illusion about their role in world affairs, and this was
evident in the way they shunned Johannesburg. Nepal's
prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, left for Johannesburg with much fanfare, planning to make a mark as
the current chairman of SaAARC. But he stopped by in
Belgium (it seems to finalise an arms deal), went over to
London for a private visit, and came back home on the
pretext of a hastily arranged breakfast meet with the
Thai premier in Bangkok. Begum Zia too could not make
it to Rio+10, just as she had been unable to attend Rio
itself in 1992. Sri Lanka obviously had other priorities,
as did General Musharraf. So South Asia had to be
content in Johannesburg with the prime minister of Bhutan promoting the message of his king about the Importance of Gross National Happiness. Luckily, President
Gayoom was there to speak passionately for environmental goals (as he always has) to keep his archipelago from being swamped by global warming.
Countries of the region have also lost the ability to
help each other in times of trouble. Tamils and Sinhalas
of Sri Lanka are talking in Thailand, and the facilitator
is a Norwegian. Ever since Deuba got a darshan of
Busheashwar at the oval temple, all manner of American advisors have been advising Singha Durbar on
ways of tackling Maoist insurgency.
Not that there is anyone in Nepal who is listening
(least of all Deuba, a terrible communicator) and with
good reason. Begum Zia desperately wants buyers for
her natural gas hoard, but she does not want to sell it to
India. Bhutan too may finally lose the will to finagle
and resist, and finally accept its exiled citizens back -
but only if, say, Germany or Japan intervenes. Do not
46
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 lyiHASIASPHERE
expect New Delhi to try and roll back the unjust situation that keeps a hundred thousand Lhotshampa refugees languishing in the southeast Tarai of Nepal. Was
the diehard colonialist Winston Churchill right that
Indians.(by whom we mean most South Asians of today) are unfit to rule themselves?
It is not just politics and diplomacy, even the intellectual leadership required to reaffirm the bonds of unity
between the people of South Asia, is singularly lacking.
If we accept that Mahatma Gandhi's ideology was a
product of his experiences in South Africa, then it is
difficult to find even one person in the modern era in
this entire region that thought and lived like a South
Asian, and was not just a 'proud' citizen of any one of
our artificially constructed nation-states. Nepal's BP
Koirala may perhaps have been the exception, but he
spent his entire life struggling to establish democratic
rule in his own country, and was unable to give much
time to regional imperatives.
The question that BR Ambedkar asked more than
half a century ago is still valid: Despite an intellectual
tradition millennia old, why could brahmins not produce a single Voltaire? Intellectuals of Islamabad, Dhaka and Colombo too are merely brahmins without the
sacred thread, and they too need to mull over this matter as much as the twice-born elites of New Delhi,
Ahmedabad, Trivandrum, Guwahati and Kathmandu.
As long as the region cannot come up with its own
political and diplomatic agenda, our countries will be
forced to follow the path chosen by the power of the
day, even if that happens to be Bush junior.
India and Pakistan are adamant in their posturing,
and they are happy that this is attracting a bevy of
American interlocutors every other month, Assistant
Secretary of State Christina Rocca being the most recent
tiippie. Ostensibly, she was in the Indian capital to attend a conference of chiefs of missions of the South Asian
region. But who is to say that she was not carrying a
diplomatic gun to get South Block to endorse US plans
for Baghdad: Unfortunately, that is an offer neither
Musharraf nor Vajpayee can afford to refuse, whatever
their convictions may be. But are we not ourselves responsible for such diplomatic impotence in our leadership?   .
Once the Soviet Union had to intervene to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. To defuse
Kargil, the president of the United States had to use his
clout in Islamabad. If Musharraf and Vajpayee do not
start talking to each other now, it will not be long before
Zhu Rongji will feel obliged to invite them to dinner. As
it is, India is paying a heavy diplomatic price to keep
Beijing in good humour - recently, it had to abstain on
a UN vote that decided to bar Tibetan groups from Jo-
h-annesburg after fierce lobbying by China.
A region with more than one-sixth of the world population and at least 6000 years of civilisation needs to
move by itself rather than under the directions of a deity in a faraway land, or his nemesis saint Osama near-
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
er home. But, as we all know, South .Asia must get its
act together at home before it can begin to make a difference on the world stage. South Asia will have come
into its own when its most powerful country is able
to raise objections at Ramallah being turned into
Tora Bora. t>
- CK Lai
To Subscribe, contact:
Newsline Subscription Department
D-6, Bloek-9. Kelrkashan, Clifton, Karachi Pakistan
Tel: 5873947 5873948 e-mail: newsline@cyba.nttpk
 Reflections
Seventy years of Hindoo Holiday
Exploring today's India with the help of a book written 70 years ago by a young
homosexual man from England.
by Hemant Sareen
Consider this. A young Hindu boy's only objection to being kissed on the mouth by an English
man is that the white man eats meat. Unbelievable as it may seem today, this is a true encounter from
1920s India, recorded in a book that is now 70 years old
- JR Ackerley's Hindoo Holiday (The Viking Press, 1932).
Quite expectedly then, considering its content and considering the India of today where homosexuality is still
considered a perversity and is illegal to boot, in Indian
bookshops Hindoo Holiday is stacked alongside tourist
guides and the Kamasutra where the average Indian seldom dares to tread. With its candid approach to a subject that is largely taboo, Hindoo Holiday addresses a
niche readership that is not put off by its seeming 'decadence'.
Since Katherine Mayo's Mother India (1927), a vicious trashing of Indian culture and its society's excesses, and Lajpat Rai's largely justified strident counterattack in Unhappy India (1928), it has become easy to
dismiss any attempt to explore or expand on the idea of
India as malicious anti-national propaganda. The far-
right Hindutva brigade cheerfully disrupts the screening of films about lesbian relationships, rewrites history texts and bans books providing evidence for that
well acknowledged truth that Hindus once ate cows.
Four months ago, in June, when burnt bodies, lying on
the ground like pieces of an art installation, shared the
pages of the newspaper with the repartee of nuclear
threats between India and Pakistan, I picked up Hindoo
Holiday. Reading about the strange yet familiar place
India was, makes you wonder, what good is it, and
why even bother, evoking .an ultra-bowdlerised Bharat-
mata, a squeaky clean Mother India, who, in all likelihood, never even existed?
In 1923, Joseph Randolph Ackerley, English and 27
years old, came to India at the suggestion of his friend
EM Forster, and spent a little over five months in the
small principality of Chhatarpur as the "English private secretary" to the maharaja there. Hindoo Holiday
was the product of the journal that he maintained during his stint in India. Its people, the maharaja with his
homosexual subtext, and his retinue of a prime minister, a secretary, five Englishmen and women, the ubiquitous flunkies and some off-stage conspiring relatives,
Imperialism without apology.
make for a cast of the usual suspects, but it is Acker-
ley's treatment of them that has something valuable to
offer. Depending on historical and cultural contexts, a
reader will take various views of and from the book. Its
initial publishers found the account so scandalous, they
insisted that the more risque ponderings on the maharaja be edited out and the name of the state be fictionalised. As a result, Ackerley's Indian holiday is located
in 'Chhokrapur' - translated, that would mean Lads-
ville, or "City of Boys". And, in India today, the book is
stacked way back in the section that storekeepers think
will attract only depraved and/or curious Westerners,
looking for a 'quickie' while they travel through the
Subcontinent.
The book finds the appellation 'funny' tagged to it
by pleased readers and the knee-jerk reaction is to think
that the Indians in the book are being ridiculed. Acker-
ley, as an Englishman, occupies a superior position:
apart from the fact that he belongs to the colonising
race, his personal circumstances also are much better
than that of most of the characters. One knows that
even the maharaja, despite his wealth and status, would
have given his right arm for the Oxbridge education
Ackerley carries so lightly. However, on reading
48
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Reflections
through the book as opposed to merely looking at the
blurbs, one finds in the patiently recorded conversations that ridicule of Indians is certainly not its aim
and Indian readers suspect derision instinctively only
because of their own complexes.
Ackerley's approach is that of an anthropologist on
a busman's holiday. No clash of civilisations, no race
consciousness is discernible in his book, just faithful
records of sincere relationships between men from different backgrounds. How minimally racial and cultural superiority impinges on
the account gives the book a contemporary feel of course, but more importantly,
it highlights a neglected aspect of the British political and cultural scene in the era
India gained independence. Indian independence is either attributed to the
Herculean efforts of the Mahatma and
his notable generals such as Nehru and
Patel and the martyrdom of many foot
soldiers, or to the weakening of the imperial resolve in the wake of the second
world war. Few accounts of the Indian
struggle for independence explain, lest
British villainy and the glory of the heroes be mitigated, how the British political and social milieu had undergone a
sea change in the course of the inter-war
vears.
The Oxford movement had put the religious faith of a whole generation on the
rack; the Bloomsbury group growing
ever more influential at the time had redefined the ways art and literature
would react to new realities, rejecting
ossified norms of a defunct Victorian
society and ethos, which they held responsible for the first world war. Virginia Woolf, with her uninhibited stream of consciousness,
was a product as well as the prime mover of the group.
So was the iconoclastic Lytton Strachey whose Eminent
Victorians, that trendsetter in the biographical oeuvre,
had influence beyond literary circles. A pacifist and
homosexual, Strachey seems an ideal role model for
Ackerley, who was in all likelihood inspired by the
group and its fresh creed. This was a time when the
British left's anti-imperialism was changing the politics of the land. India's locally nurtured theories of independence fail to explain why and how left-liberals
such as Stafford Cripps, Bernard Shaw, TE Lawrence
and Maynard Keynes, whose views were anything but
imperialist, came to matter so much to British politics
and society.
Placed in such a context, Ackerley scarcely seems
the odd man out. He does not carry the white man's
burden like the protagonist of George Orwell's Burmese
Days (who shoots a mast elephant in a bazaar impelled
by fear of ridicule and native expectations). But, in the
Imperious Victoria
Indian theories of
independence fail
to explain how left-
liberals came to
matter so much
to British politics
and society
context of the Raj, Ackerley hardly jells with mainstream
British society in India, which carried the torch of imperialism without apology, often even with pride and a
sense of duty right until 1947. The classic outsider, he
simply does not have much truck with the British who
are the maharaja's guests. He can barely tolerate their
conversations about impudent but easily cowed-down
natives, their pelting stones at pie dogs and septic boys.
He writes, "I found this kind of conversation so remark-
0 able that I began to note it down on the
i back of envelopes under cover of the ta-
_ ble". His amusement and keenness to
h take the mickey out of his kind lends a
balance to the narrative and forecloses
the potential for an invidious reading
of the later part of the book when the
Indians are the primary subjects of his
narrative. Whether he is seriously trying to undermine the empire after an
agenda or whether it is British self-deprecation at work, is moot. All said, while
this view of the empire may sit awkwardly beside popular Kiplingesque accounts of the Raj, the modern reader appreciates its irony and perhaps even
sees something redeeming in the British spirit. Ackerley never joins the society of the other English, never participates. He only observes, and records.
The slippery path
Ackerley's account of India contrasts
sharply with the preoccupation of Western media, art and literature with monuments and things Indian, making those
Indians disappear, as if by the rope-trick,
who are regarded as the grey, suffering
mass of humanity - awkward, inarticulate, and unresolved. Rudyard Kipling's Indians, like
terracotta figurines, vessels for his set notions about
the Indian character, are mere details in a frieze of contorted and wily beings suffering at their own and fate's
hands. EM Forster, incidentally homosexual like Ackerley, could have seized the opportunity missed by Kipling. Unfortunately though, ina4 Passage to India (1924),
he chose to please European sensibilities loath to be
surprised with flesh and blood natives, and content
with stereotypes. Aziz, the Muslim physician who is
the protagonist of A Passage to India, though based on a
real person (Sir Syyed Ross), is at best a vehicle to carry
the symbolism of 'awakened self-esteem'.
Ackerley's Indians are as cleanly and delicately
etched as his accompanying pen and ink drawings in
Hindoo Holiday. They are treated without condescension and with an empathy that is often, surely mistakenly, attributed to his homosexuality. Indian readers of
the book come face to face with long dead ancestors
and relatives whose sepia-toned photographs catch
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
49
 Reflections
Englishman and Indian servant: Intimate relations?
dust in a crusty album or on a mildewed wall. There is
little curiosity expended on monuments or the history
of Chhokrapur as Ackerley relentlessly pursues his
characters.
No louche Caesar, as one would expect, the maharaja is a gentle, curious, insecure chap barely able to
cope with the redundancy of his political class that has
been effected by British rule. His decay and emasculation finds expression in mindless confused utterances:
"'Why are ruins beautiful?' .. 'And what is beauty? Is
it the cloak of God?'" Hard times brought on by British
overlordship mean that even the wings of his lightest
fancy, building a section of the palace in the style of a
Greek villa, must be clipped. The possibilities for the
maharaja's decadence are thus limited to a petulant
lust for boys, especially one 12-year-old who plays hard
to get and is known by the endearment "Napoleon the
Third". There is also Abdul Haq, Ackerley's Hindustani
tutor, the recognisable toady who projects extraordinary potency onto white skin. His pestering of Ackerley for a job he is not really qualified for or asking him
to arrange for the maharaja's car so that he can show
off his prize Caucasian catch in town is behaviour not
unfamiliar to Indians.
What really makes Ackerley's account of India nonpareil though, is the moral ambiguity of Hindoo Holiday. The vagueness is achieved by mimicking recognis-
ably Indian subterfuges and evasive tendencies in the
literary style. This non-judgemental stance towards
most things he witnesses is typified in the rather droll
observation: "The washstand contained a little water
and a drowned mouse". Ackerley uses irrelevancies
that force readers to interpretations to make the text
suggestive and create faux-depth.
It is this linguistic subtlety that lets Ackerley's sexual orientation slip into the reader's mind unnoticed.
His innocuous exposition of Brahma as "neuter" who
developed "a triple personality, three masculine [italics mine] deities", in a take on Hinduism, is a deliberate slip. The ruse is also
used in a description of a temple frieze: "a
long file of soldiers marching gaily along, and
another smaller, more elaborate design, which
was frequently repeated. They were both sod-
omitic [sic]". It is only quite late into the book
that the reader fully realises that the text is
dotted with signals pointing out the author's
sexual preference. Nonetheless, when the real
thing comes one is already subconsciously
prepared for it.
As if to educate us about the laissez faire
society India was, Ackerley informs the reader that Narayan, the guesthouse clerk, has already had, many relationships before marrying a girl of 12, his 14-year-old wife. He then
lets the cat of his own sexual preference out
as he proceeds with a report of his conversa-
  tion with Narayan about Sharma, the maharaja's valet:
Ah, Sharma! 1 said, smiling, He is a shameful boy.
He Maharajah Sahib's lover-boy, Narayan said.
Does he like that? I asked.
No, he does not like.
Then why does he do it?
I do not know. He is half-made.
You don't approve either, do you?
No, I don't like. It is bad, wrong. But what can I do?
You get much love from Sharma one time, said Narayan, after a pause, smiling at me.
What did he tell you? I asked.
He tell me "The sahib try to kiss me".
And what did you say?
I say he must kiss you if you want.
This conversation is highly illustrative of the moral
and literary tone of the book. When one reads the entries pertaining to the maharaja's lusting after the boy,
there is little for the reader to judge whether Ackerley
approves or disapproves of the whole thing. Next thing
we know he himself is trying to kiss, and later even
manages a mouth-to-mouth with Sharma, the clerk.
Ackerley chooses to be as reticent and coy as his Subcontinental company when tricky matters like homosexuality are to be dealt with, the resultant teasing effect of these incomplete revelations is familiar to Indians. All the while we are fooled into suspending our
own moral judgement and fail to notice that it is not
just consensual homosexual sex but also paedophilia
that is being is being described in the pages. The book
50
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Reflections
becomes almost the literary precursor to Vladamir
Nabokov's Lolita by offering, like the later classic, the
humanity of an experience rather than soliciting the
reader's judgement. Like Nabokov's anti-hero Humbert
Humbert, Ackerley too takes the reader down a path
that is morally and ethically very slippery. Charmed by
them, the reader empathises with them in their obsession with the nubile nymphet or lissome boy as the
case may be, momentarily experiencing moral disorientation.
Uncut India
One could put the moral and literary ambivalence, both
reflective of India, down to the repressiveness of Indian
society but one realises that Ackerley's India was less
hung-up about sex than India today. India used to be
the place that represented the morality of a morality.
Unsurprisingly then, the first uncut version of Hindoo
Holiday to be published was the Indian edition in 1979.
In fact, an unexpurgated version of the book did not
come out in the West till the New York Review of Books
brought out an edition in 2000.
Many social trends noticeable in today's India were
current in Ackerley's India: the continuing preference
for 'Indian treatment' (ayurvedic) over the 'Western/
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European system' (allopathic), or the pragmatism that
makes Babaji Rao, a strict vegetarian, put aside his
qualms and administer "Brand's Essence of Chicken"
(his "face puckered with disgust as he uttered these
dreadful words") to his ailing son. Even the disregard
for the caste system among the liberal elite, though that
has become suspect post-Mandal (1990), is reflected in
the book, as is the desire for self-improvement and hunger for education, which are still seen as a means of
material and spiritual uplift.
On the flip side, on view are the warped Indian sense
of judgement, a morality easily inveigled by expedience
and an exaggerated sense of dignity marked by an inclination to servility. Women were the inconsequential
gender in the Indian scheme of things, hardly visible.
"Don't notice them! They don't exist", an Englishwoman cautions the debutant Ackerley against seeking the
company of Indian women. India may be the land of
cohabiting opposites: sex with abstinence, snake with
mongoose, deification with desecration, modernity
with orthodoxy. Hardly an easy picture to understand,
but, nonetheless, a true one. Ignoring the evidence of
who we Indians are and how we once were impoverishes and diminishes our humanity - perhaps our only
significant contribution to the world. io
HIMAL
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2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
51
 Review
The ethnographic
draughtsman
I don't like catalogues, I don't even
like the word catalogue, said Dr
Michael (Mark) Oppitz, Professor of
Anthropology and Director of the
Volkerkundemuseum at Zurich
University, as he leafed through
Robert Powell's Himalayan Drazo-
ings. And after taking in the 300
pages of this 'retrospective panorama' of Powell's work, I can see why
Oppitz might resent the term.
Far from being a catalogue, Himalayan Drawings is a total book, a
complete meal in published format
that edifies the visual senses as
much as it does the intellect. The
high quality of the photographic
reproductions match the intensity
of Powell's art, and the full page
plates, which make up two thirds
of the publication, have a depth of
colour almost indistinguishable
from that of Powell's originals drawings. The most prominent feature of
Powell's signature style, now frequently seen in the posters adorning restaurants and middle-class
homes in Kathmandu, is his unique
form of fantastical hyper-realism.
On first viewing, many people take
his drawings to be doctored photographs, only later realising that the
life-like shadows and hairline
cracks were created by pen and
brush. It is all the more fitting, then,
that the printed reproductions of
Powell's work that appear in the
beautifully produced Himalayan
Drawings should be so true to his
original works. When studying
the House of Tsuk, for example,
which graces the dust jacket, one is
hard-pressed to remember that this
is a photographic replica of a pictorial representation, and not the
house itself.
The publication of Himalayan
Drawings was timed to coincide
with the first ever retrospective of
Robert Powell's oeuvre. The exhibition, with the same title as the accompanying book, was organised
by and housed at the Ethnographic
Museum of Zurich University in
Switzerland and ran from 13 July
2001 to 3 March 2002. While previous shows of Powell's work, both
in Kathmandu where he lives and
works, and at the Sackler Gallery in
Washington DC, have focused on
specific geographical locations depicted in his art, the Himalayan
Himalayan Drawings
Drawings by Robert Powell
Edited by Michael Oppitz
WMkerkundemuseum der Universitat Zurich,
2001. 304 pages, 283 colour illustrations, 59
black and white, 1 map. ISBN a-909105-41-6.
Price; Swiss Franca (sFr) 78, approx. USD 50
reviewed by
Mark Turin
Drawings exhibit was more expansive in its vision. On display were
142 pieces spanning 25 years of
Powell's work in the Himalaya (Nepal, India, Pakistan and China),
which he had created using a range
of different media (watercolour, ink
and pencil).
It becomes apparent when reading the book that Powell's admirers
are also his patrons, benefactors,
clients and critics. The exhibition
was organised by Michael Oppitz,
a long-time friend of Powell's, who
also edited the publication and contributed one of its longest chapters
The exhibit was opened on 12 July
2001 by Niels Gutschow and Gotz
Hagmuller, both respected architects and scholars and sometime
residents of Nepal, and key figures
in Powell's professional life and development as an artist. On reading
the captions for the plates, one cannot help noticing that a significant
number of the pieces are owned by
none other than Michael Oppitz,
Gotz Hagmuller and Niels Gutschow.
While readers unfamiliar with
the lifestyle of expatriates in Nepal
between the 1960s and 1990s would
be forgiven for finding these overlapping coincidences a little too self-
referential, the explanation is really
quite simple. As becomes clear from
the personal recollections shared in
the chapters of Himalayan Drawings,
the atmosphere of Kathmandu during this era was one of convivial cohabitation, with expatriate scholars, writers, travellers and artists intermingling and working on exciting new projects together. It comes
as no surprise to learn, then, that
the very same people who commissioned Powell's drawings should be
the ones to appreciate them. In his
personal preface, Michael Oppitz
describes the contributors to the
book as a "well-matched team.
Some are old companions of the artist about whom they write. Others
have joined the club later".
The first chapter is by Peter
Herbstreuth, an art critic and curator, who masterfully intertwines
excerpts from an interview he conducted with Powell and his own
intellectual appreciation of the artist's work. According to Herbstreuth, Powell "extracts pieces from
his real surroundings, reconstructs
them and shows the detail on the
picture surface", a technique which
Herbstreuth himself emulates in his
writing. The interview with the artist is fascinating, and Powell comes
across as modest and thoughtful.
According to Powell, in "any traditional architecture you see the pas-
52
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Robert Powell
sage of time. Arid that is what 1 found
boring about so much modern architecture. There is nothing designed within the building to allow
for the effect of time on a structure".
With Powell's comment in mind, it
is hard to disagree when one looks
at the modern skyline of Kathmandu. Later in the interview, Powell touches on a central feature of
his work to which many commentators call attention: the notable
absence of humans. Powell's explanation:
They [people] distract from the
basic image of the building and
it becomes too easy. It becomes
picturesque with that 'some-lo-
cals-in-costume-in-front-of-the-
building' type of thing. This is
not what I mean to show.
The absence of human figures in
Powell's work is indeed striking,
but perhaps only because the struc-
tures he depicts are so clearly
shaped by humans. To return for a
moment to the dust jacket, which
bears the House of Tsuk: everything
about the painting speaks of human
involvement and daily use, and the
absence of people from this painting comes as quite natural, in fact,
since their presence is so palpably
felt and acknowledged in the structure itself.
Herbstreuth concludes his chap-
Kuthu Math Courtyard facade, Bhaktapur
ter with a carefully worded critique
of the cliches that abound in popular Western imaginings of Mustang,
representations which are partially
fuelled by the exoticising and sensationalist press reports of the region as a land of mystery. While art
critics and journalists are quick to
conscript Powell's Mustang paintings for their Orientalist imaginings,
Herbstreuth makes a persuasive
case for reading Powell's art as precisely the opposite: "Contrary to
their ascribed 'mystery', Powell's
works demonstrate clarity and legibility. He has grasped the architectural culture in precisely constructed pictures". For Herbstreuth, then,
Powell is an artist who addresses
transformation: he creates "a picture taken from a reality that insists
on its verisimilitude, without being
veristic".
The architect and conservation
expert Niels Gutschow structures
his chapter around the theme of
"imaginary documentation", a
phrase coined by Robert Powell to
describe his own work. For Gutschow, Powell's "imaginary docu
mentation" actually "crosses the
line of the imagination to achieve a
narrative quality". Gutschow offers
a tightly written overview of architectural documentation, surmising
that measured drawing is not truly
documentary since "every line on
paper requires a decision". He uses
this brief discussion as a reflective
backdrop onto which he projects
Powell's drawings and paintings.
Detail is of the essence in Guts-
chow's presentation, and the reader learns that Powell counted the
courses of bricks in the courtyard
facade of Kuthu Math in Bhaktapur
in order to maintain the correct scale
in his drawing. Echoing his earlier
comments to Herbstreuth, Powell
confides to Gutschow that ..."traces of decay produce a texture that
attracts me"... a feature particularly apparent in his drawing of the
Panauti Agamachen. Furthermore,
Gutschow is highly attuned to the
technical aspects of Powell's art. He
observes that light always enters
from the left in Powell's drawings,
and that wliile perspective makes a
brief appearance in Powell's earlier
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
 Review
A lhato (god-place), on the pass above Gelung village (left); House of Tsuk, in the Narshing Chu valley, Mustang, from an "imaginary
viewpoint''.
work, it onty resurfaces many years
later in his Mustang collection. Documenting Mustang was clearly an
exciting challenge for Powell, and
one which encouraged him to experiment more freely with water colours and fine pencil outlines. The
contrast between the architectural
techniques and styles of urban
Newar buildings and the wildness
of Mustang is mirrored in Powell's
work. After working in Kathmandu
valley for many years. Mustang offered Powell "something more basic, almost modem architecture".
In his chapter titled 'Fact and
Fiction', Gotz Hagmuller analyses
11 of Powell's flights of fancy: drawings and paintings which lean rather more heavily towards the "imaginary" in the "imaginary documentation" continuum. HagmYller
states at the outset that "visual documentation of the material aspects
of a culture is never without a degree of subjectivity and imaginary
content", challenging the misconception that Powell's work can be
neatly divided between the super-
real on the one hand, and the illusory on the other. He points out,
"while Bob is certainly a meticulous
draughtsman, even his documentary pictures go beyond the reality
they depict".
Hagmuller, the chief architect of
the palace turned museum at Patan,
goes on to narrate a charming anecdote. During the 1995 exhibition of
Powell's Mustang paintings held in
Patan, visitors from Mustang attending the show asked the artist
where certain structures could be
found in their villages. Powell was
obliged to reply that some of them
existed only in his own mind and
"on paper".
Clare Harris, a specialist in visual anthropology, concentrates on
Powell's images of Ladakh. She
takes the reader on a brief historical
jaunt through the ages by invoking
the imperial draughtsmen who documented places they never actually
visited. Harris finds some of Powell's work reminiscent of an "archaeological excavation in which
the artist has used his eye to unearth
the significance of each rock and
object encompassed by his vision".
Her insights are compelling, and
she concludes that while "human
presence is rarely represented figuratively in Powell's Ladakh pictures, we are presented with the
material evidence of thought and
action". Heather Stoddard's short
contribution is an artistic treatise
rendered as a personal monologue.
The eminent Tibetologist's stream of
consciousness is punctuated with
observations and insights about
Powell's methods and aims.
In 'Art without Artists', the
anthropologist and Tibetologist
Charles Ramble begins with an
overview of the history of Mustang
and a discussion of the difference
between so-called 'high' and Tow'
culture. Through a careful analysis
of Rigsum Gonpo, or protectors
from the three Buddha-families, pervasive architectural features in both
the territory of Mustang and in Powell's depictions of this landscape,
Ramble illustrates how anthropologists' preconceptions about mean-
54
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Review
An imagined house of string; Wall of the Protectors, Lo
Monthang, Mustang (right).	
ing and continuity are not always
shared by locals. Ramble's chapter
is brimming with context: from the
environment in which Powell's art
may be viewed, to the dusty and
harsh reality of daily life in Mustang which contrasts with many
foreigners' perceptions of an enchanted land. He muses:
The exactitude of the reproduction tricks us into thinking that
we should observe them with the
same clinical detachment as convention once enjoined on frock-
coated visitors to ethnographic
museums. And then we remember that, unlike our grandfathers, we aren't obliged to hide
our enjoyment.
Annegret Nippa's chapter offers
an intensive examination of a mosque that Powell documented in the
spring of 1980. Nippa, director of
the Museum of Ethnography in
Dresden, uses her comparative and
historical learning to demonstrate
that the mosque of Gabral Jaba, located in Swat Kohistan, is an extraordinary construction with a re-
markable heritage. Powell's instinct
was spot on when he chose to focus
his artistic attention on this mosque
which, while not the biggest or most
spectacular by any means, did have
something very special in its atmosphere, its remote location and its
evident non-Islamic details. According to Nippa, Powell's images of the
structure preserve a secret that has
remained hidden from the missionaries. "Gabral Jaba reminds people
of the old days and the old gods".
Michael Oppitz's chapter, the
final one in the collection, is one of
the most rewarding. In this contribution, Oppitz does what he does
best, blending detailed ethnographic insight with comparative anthropology, and topping it off with his
deep understanding of the visual
arts. Oppitz and Powell first collaborated in the 1980s when the an-
"Many in the modern art
scene think my work
is old-fashioned...
they are stuck in this
1960s idea of what it
should be"
thropologist asked the artist to illustrate a .book on tlie northern Magar
population of Nepal. Oppitz singles
out one of Powell's drawings to
show how the artist's focus on documentation resulted in the artistic
aspects of the drawing being understated. The emphasis lay in its "auxiliary service to ethnographic explanation. In a sense, the painting was
on its way towards mutation into a
descriptive chart".
However, Oppitz points out that
Powell's creations are often images
beyond the documentary, which
collapse space, cut
through solid walls to
expose structural features of buildings, or
simply capture angles
impossible with a camera. In some of Powell's
drawings, in fact, the
viewer can find back the
photo that he should
have taken but never actually did. Oppitz punctuates his analysis with
pairs of images, usually a photograph of an
object accompanied by
Powell's rendition of
the same, and the author shows how time after time he
prefers the artist's interpretation to
the photograph. Discussing a gagri
water container, for example, Oppitz concludes that Powell's ink version "had more material presence
than the corresponding photograph", a presence which is actually intensified through its decontex-
tualisation. Oppitz points out that
Unlike corresponding photographs which cannot but catch
everything upon which they are
focussed, Bob's drawings are extremely selective, radically omitting anything secondary. They
stand aione on the sheet, undisturbed, undistracted, demanding an exclusive and solitary dialogue with the observer, on the
isolated ethnographic subject
they capture.
After comparing drawings with
photos, Oppitz further contrasts
Powell's drawings of Kalash material culture from Chitral in Pakisttin
with the same objects drawn by Uwe
Topper in 1962. The profound differences in understanding on the
pMt of the two artists, each of whom
perceive patterns of geometric lines
in Kalash culture quite differently,
reinforces for Oppitz that writing,
seeing and drawing are all "acts of
conceptualisation and interpretation". Engaging with the debate on
Powell's representation of people,
Oppitz concludes that "the human
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
55
 Review
body appears in the finished works
of Bob Powell only where he attempts to copy (and transform) given pieces of art". And while Powell
is primarily a studio artist, Oppitz
coins the catchy term "ethnographic draughtsman" to describe the artist's way of focussing in on images
of intrinsic anthropological interest,
while, at the same time "humbly following the rules of likeness".
Oppitz concludes his stimulating chapter by turning to Powell's
Mustang oeuvre, which he notes is
considerably larger and more colourful than his earlier drawings.
Colour is central, argues Oppitz, in
understanding how Powell conceptualises Mustang. The artist collected samples of Mustang soil used by
local colourists to extract pigment,
examples of which are reproduced
in the book. We further learn that
Powell does not "paint white; rather, he leaves blank, so that "white" is
the white of the paper". Even more
than in earlier work, the physical
conditions and travel restrictions of
Mustang obliged Powell to paint in
his studio in Kathmandu. Nevertheless, the photographs that he necessarily took of his objects of study
never extend beyond the functional. As Oppitz writes, "for Powell
photography will always be a research tool, an auxiliary activity to
his vocation as draughtsman".
As the reader learns from this
wonderful collection, Powell would
rather use a careful brush, a precise
hand and his fertile imagination to
assist him in his imaginary documentation. While some may find Powell's
adherence to realism and accurate
representation outdated, the artist
himself is not unduly concerned: "In
Kathmandu many in the modem art
scene think my work is totally old-
fashioned. They are stuck in this
1960s idea of what modem art should
be". The publication of Himalayan
Drawings conies a long way in illustrating both how and why Powell
works in the way he does, and in so
doing provides the reader with a feast
for the eyes and mind. ,\
Fault and faultlines
Exploring insurgency in India's Northeast
Contours, a compilation of journalist Jaideep Saikia's recent articles on security in India's Northeast, draws in readers with short
and crisp pieces that are picturesque and evocative. Writing on the
Northeast is characterised in general by a dearth of on-the-ground
reporting, and Saikia has made a
commendable effort at beginning to
fill that vacuum. Contours establishes him as a serious student of security affairs and as one of the few 'experts' on Northeast India who attempt to combine fieldwork with
analysis.
A collection of 46 short articles
on the Northeast originally published in the leading English dailies of Guwahati, Contours also includes several interesting narratives
on the author's experiences in the
Kashmir Valley as a Fellow of the
National Foundation of India.
Saikia has appropriately arranged
the book's contents so that its many
transitions are effected with ease,
from "thick descriptions" of Ka-
ziranga Reserve forests to militant
operations in various parts of Northeast India to observations on human
security in Kashmir. This ordering
of thematic moods broadens the
book's scope beyond singular considerations of security issues. Instead, it weaves a rich tapestry of
images, interspersing colourful
snapshots with serious deliberations on security affairs. It is both
an introduction to strategic issues
for interested lay readers and an
entry point for more serious reading in the harrying maze of contemporary Northeastern security studies.
The Indian Northeast, composed of the multicultural states of
Assam, .Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim, is con
nected to the rest of India by a 20-
kilometre wide 'corridor' near Siliguri. On all other sides it is boxed
in by the international boundaries
of Bhutan, Tibet (China), Burma,
Bangladesh and Nepal. Geo-politi-
cally located on India's fringe and
home to a number of unique ethnic
communities living cheek by jowl,
these eight states, with the exception of Mizoram and Sikkim, have
for the last two decades witnessed
considerable ethno-political unrest
and armed violence in the form of
ethnic secessionist movements.
Armed violence in the Northeast
has long had significant connections with insurgencies and arms
proliferation, which in turn have
strong extra-territorial linkages. As
such, it is only natural that its dynamics have been considerably affected by post-11 September security developments and strategic shifts
in the Subcontinent This has added areas of concern. VVill the global
'initiative' against terrorism, which
the West has vigorously pursued
and which already holds significant implications for Kashmir, have
any impact on the situation in the
Northeast? Or will New Delhi's preoccupation with Pakistan and Kashmir result in a loss of initiative on
this front and further delay the handful of peace processes that seemed
to have been moving towards stable settlement? The answers are far
from clear. Other than statements
from the United Liberation Front of
Assam (ULFA) and the National
Democratic Front of Bodoland
(NDFB) about willingness for talks,
little has been forthcoming.
Indian paradigms
The standoff between India and Pakistan and both countries' obsession with Kashmir have ensured
that attention and initiative have
56
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Review
reverted to the 'western front'. Expected moves in the Northeast have
either slowed down or stalled, as the
Indian political elite remains riveted to the military mobilisation along
the Pakistani border. The Northeast
has once again become a low priority, leading to fears that the only dispensation New Delhi will consider
will rely on military measures.
The recent enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2002), a
piece of legislation widely condemned for its potential for gross
misuse by police and security forces, partially confirms these suspicions. The effect of this act has been
to make civilians even more vulnerable to violations by security forces.
.Although the present government in
a^ssam has given assurances that
the legislation will not be implemented in the state, such guarantees are little comfort for communities constantly vulnerable to the
state's raw coercive strength.
Further, the carnage in Gujarat
and the despicable role that state's
administration played in that monumental human tragedy is certain
to inspire organised armed resistance in the long run among minority communities elsewhere in India.
This is of particular significance in
the Northeast, considering its substantial non-Hindu, non-Hindi
population. The rise of insurgency
in north Bengal and the raging Maoist militancy in neighbouring Nepal, developments that do not appear to have received serious assessment as yet in Indian corridors of
power, complicate matters further.
Strategic shifts within the Northeast have also undermined attempts
at resolution. The Bodo insurgency,
which appeared until recently to be
moving towards a settlement supported by a range of political interests with the state government acquiescing to the creation of a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) under the 6th Schedule of the Indian
constitution, is once again faced
with another hurdle. The strident
opposition to the formation of the
BTC by organisations claiming to
represent the large non-Bodo popu
lation in the proposed BTC area has
rekindled fears of violent clashes
and ethnic cleansing.
There have been a few positive
developments, such as the ULFA's
and the NDFB's expressed willingness to negotiate on the condition
of state sincerity, the unilateral
ceasefire to facilitate possible negotiation, and reassurances by the
Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF)
to patiently resolve difficulties arising from the BTC's creation. What
remains to be seen is whether Dis-
pur, saddled with near bankruptcy
and struggling to find basic operating funds, can seize the initiative
and make concrete progress on
these fronts. With no money for development, the underlying factors
Contours: Essays on
Security and Strategy
By Jaideep Saikia
Sagittarius Print, Guwahati, 2001
Price: INR 100/USD 20
reviewed by
Anindita Dasgupta
tor unrest will remain unresolved
and any peace secured is unlikely
to last long.
Shades of security
It is against this background that
books like Saikia's assume significance. The world and New Delhi
need to develop a better understanding of the northeastern region. And
who better to offer an explanation
than fieldworkers and researchers
who live and work in the Northeast,
as opposed to armchair writers in
the metros of India's 'heartland'?
Saikia's collection begins with
'Kaziranga Hoofbeats', a series of
stories about Kaziranga National
Park in aA.ssam. He spent a few days
with the men who tend and guard
the park, and he presents their stories in a two-part series, which provides an enthralling setting for some
of the more serious articles that
come later in the collection. In
'Bravehearts', the next section, the
author relates his experiences with
the men of 6 Kumaons' 'D' company, an Indian Army strike force.
Along with a cinematographer,
Saikia accompanied the soldiers on
a few patrols and at one point witnessed a near encounter with militants. In a fascinating narrative,
Saikia unfolds the stories of ordinary people in Assam's Darrang
district. He explains, "almost everyone we met told us that they were
tired of the unrest, that their lives
are threatened by militants, that the
army's presence was encouraging".
Some of his stories are poignant, like
that of Rakesh Singh from Uttar
Pradesh, a soldier posted in Darrang. "When I asked him how long
did he think it would be before he
went home to his newly-wed bride
and aged mother, tears welled up
in his eyes and he said 'Na Jaanu'
(I don't know)".
In 'Swadhin Asom-Brihot Bangla?', Saikia lightly touches on Islamic militancy in Assam's fertile Brahmaputra floodplains and the alleged assistance offered to fledgling
groups by Pakistani and Bangladeshi security agencies, themes
that reappear in several later pieces. In 'Security, Strategy, Summations', Saikia observes:
security concerns among our
beleaguered strategicians have
seldom permitted a measure of
long term formulation in our
midst. Most strategic agendas
are but responses to a situational imperative. But the imperative
of the hour is glasnost, an interface with the citizenry, or at least
with some of its representatives
outside officialdom.
A group of short essays follow
on the author's experiences during
a visit to the Indian army's 5 Jam-
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
57
 Review
mu and Kashmir Light Infantry regiment, which is responsible for
counter-insurgency operations in
the better part of Nalbari district. On
the night of 30 March 2000, Saikia
followed a foot patrol conducted by
the battalion's 'A' company and
was impressed by its dedication,
precision and tenacity. The next series, 'Wail of the Chinar', discusses
Saikia's research experience in the
Kashmir valley, and subsequent
pieces comment on diverse issues
such as arms proliferation, the
counter-strike strategies of the insurgents, Thuingaleng Muivah, the first
Asian revolutionary from Nagaland, insurgent camps across the
India-Bhutan border and insurgent
surrenders. The concluding essay
discusses more recent political developments involving the ULFA,
NDFB and BLTF.
While agreeing with his interpretations for the most part, one
wonders why Saikia chose to remain uncritical of the role of the In
dian army in conflict management
and treatment of civilians in the
conflict areas, or why he did not offer a serious critique of the controversial powers bestowed on the military, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. By and large, it is
fair to say that the Indian state's response to the insurgencies has been
more militarist than political. The
Indian army and state-supported
paramilitary forces have been employed to deal with the challenge,
and in the process extreme methods
have been introduced into the fabric of everyday life. Many of the
charges of abuses by security forces
are solidly documented by human
rights organisations and newspaper reporters. The New York-based
academic Sanjib Baruah is only one
to have made such a critique by arguing that "the means the Indian
state has used to deal with ULFA
violate global and Indian human
rights standards and seriously undermine respect for India's demo
cratic institutions, the rule of law
and the project of pan-Indianism".
Saikia's stories, therefore, tell only
a part of the story. Also, these being
more journalistic than academic essays, one is left wondering about the
sources of Saikia's information, ?.o
none are revealed or credited. Certainly, as a "strategic analyst" (as
he is described in the book), Saikia
is entitled to his opinions but any
academic or policymaker would
desire qualification for statements
which appear sweeping at places.
These shortcomings notwithstanding, Contours is a readable account of events in today's Indian
Northeast. One looks forward to
some weightier academic work by
Saikia in the near future. While stories like this trigger interest in
Northeastern security affairs, it will
take more serious writing horn Saikia
to get the attention of the academic
and policy communities. If these essays are any indication, that should
not be too formidable a task. b
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58
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 Books Received
Social Science Research Capacity in South Asia: A Report
by Partha Chatterjee et al
Social Science Research Council,
New York, 2002
pp  160, price not indicated
This is a survey of the existing capacity for social science research in
South Asia's 'big five': Bangladesh,
India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The task has been
undertaken by nine social scientists, five from India and
one each from the rest of the countries, and led by
Partha Chatterjee of the Centre for Studies in Social
Science, Calcutta. Among the themes covered in the
book are the history of some of the well-known social
science institutions of the region and an analysis of the
reasons they are in crisis. It contains information such as
the number of research institutes in each country and
the number of social scientists working in them, and
interesting nuggets such as the discipline- and region-
wise breakdown of articles that have appeared in the
Economic and Political Weekly over a period of three years.
There is also a general overview of the activities conducted in social science research in the region besides a look
at other factors at piay such as funding, government
interference and so on.
STATE
OF
NEPAL
State of Nepal
edited by Kanak Mani Dixit and
Shastri Ramachandaran
Himal Books, Kathmandu, 2002
pp viii+310, NPR 490
ISBN 99933  13 22 X
This is a collection of essays that
seeks to expand upon and explain
the internal convulsions that have
gripped Nepal as it goes through a
process of modernisation, particularly since the second
coming of democracy in  1990. Dealing with subjects as
wide-ranging as religion and literature. Maoism and
monarchy, ethnicity and economy, education and development, among others, the book serves as a useful
conspectus on the country for both the initiate and the
'Nepal expert'.
The Beauty Game
by Anita Anand
Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2002
pp xviii+205. INR 250
ISBN 0 14 028341  2
India entered the world of beauty
contests emphatically in  1994 by
winning both the Miss World and
Miss Universe titles. The years since
have seen protests from various
quarters of Indian society. The conservative right has
been decrying the concept of beauty contests as demeaning to the essence of 'Indian womanhood', the left sees in
the sudden success of Indian women in these shows a
marketing ploy by the multinational cosmetic industry,
while some others object to the com modification of
women. In the middle of the debate stands the ordinary
woman with her own idea of beauty and who perhaps
sees no harm in taking recourse to the vast range of
cosmetics to feel and look better. Journalist Anita Anand
delves into these various factors in exploring the link
between beauty and Indian women.
■ r
c:c>w£-nN6
SOUTHASIA
'4£    'ft IVJaTOnaa
Competing Nationalisms in
South Asia
edited by Paul R Bass and
Achin Vinaik
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2002
pp xiii+297, INR 525
ISBN 81  250 2220 X
These essays, dedicated to the re-
      nowned Indian scholar Asghar Ali
Engineer, focus on the preservation
and promotion of secularism and democracy in South
Asia. The book is divided into four parts. The first deals
with nationalist thought and practice; the second questions of secularism and Hindutva; the third consists of
observations by two scholars on their vision of India as a
nation; and the fourth deals with the ongoing struggles
within India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka on the definition of
the nation.
The Maverick Republic
by Jawid Laiq
Roli Books, New Delhi,
pp xii+240, INR 295
ISBN 81  7436 213 4
A collection of reports, commentaries and analysis pieces that Indian
journalist jawid Laiq has written over
30 years appear in a volume that
captures the shifts through che time.
Values of secularism, the dreams of social equity, material
progress and a political voice for all have fallen by the
wayside in the face of an individualistic political elite
maintaining a vicelike grip on power and the country's
resources. The reports are arranged in easy themes, and
it is clear in this book what the concerns of Delhi liberals
are. Vignettes from the past in the author's engaging
voice. !>■
Compiled by Deepak Thapa, Social Science Baha, Patan
2002 October 15/10 HIMAL
59
 lastpaoe
&a&Acx/i> h&> taaf^yvK^t^yi/
"7js Third Worldcr South Asians are always look-ing
v^for a hint, an indication, that the rest of the world
takes us seriously. It does not matter if it is about Pakistan or India or Bangladesh, the collective pride rises to
just under the surface when something is said or done
by the West which acknowledges that any one country
of South Asia has made it, such as when Bill Clinton
visits Bangalore or Swraj Paul is knighted.
And so, South Asians in general must celebrate regardless of caste, creed or national origin when Swiss
International Airlines (successor to the late lamented
Swissair) provides not only Hindi
and Tamil films as part of its inflight entertainment, but the
flight information is also provided in chaste sanskntised Hindi.
Together with seeing where your
plane is on its trajectory from Zurich to Delhi, you can also now
know that the baahar ka taapmatm (outside temperature) is - 42 degrees centigrade,
while the bhutaal gati (ground speed) is 890 ki
mi prati ghanta (yes, kmph), and the gantabya
sthan par doori (distance to distance) is 1245 ki
mi.
It would do well for the Western world to
provide other examples to show that they regard us South Asians as equals rather than just a source
of readymade garments and cyber coolies. For example, turning to the United Nations in New York, when
are you guys going to start simultaneous translations
in Hindu and Urdu? What? You do not think we have
the numbers? Then make it Hindustani and vou will
have a cool 500 million, plus a cool another 200 million
who profess they do not understand but do, thanks to
the almost imperialist invasive virus known as Bollywood. If you can have Chinese and Arabic, besides
English, Spanish and French simultaneous translations
from the UN conference booths, surely Hindustani deserves a head nod rather than a noncommittal waffle?
I will tell you what, the moment the Kashmir tangle
is resolved, the first thing Islamabad's chief executive
and New Delhi's pradhan mantri should do is to tie
themselves together and sit on dharna outside the UN
Secretariat at 43rd and 1-', demanding the inclusion of
Hindustani. If rebuffed by Mr Coffee Anon, they should
engage in a relay fast, that interesting South Asian
invention, where you can even break for coffee. The Secretary General would surely get the message when two
formerly warring partners join together for the sake of
linguistic representation.
Look at the embarrassment we have to face otherwise. Atalji addressed the General Assembly and in
sisted on speaking in Hindi, losing the edge to an eloquent Musharrafsflrtb who had left his Urdu back in
Islamabad and delivered his address in his crisp,
clipped English. .Atalji had his speech simultaneouslv
translated and read out by his personal adviser Mr
Kulkarni (a little bird told me), but the punchlines were
all messed up.
In the Brand New Bharatiya World, George W Bush
would be brushing up on Hindi terms to impress Atalji
- try prkscln/prinnstra (missile), which is the world's longest string of consonants (p-r-k-s-c-h-y-p-n-n, stupid!),
doorbhmish yantra (telephone) and adhik saamarik
mahatwa ka rashtra (country of great strategic significance, ie Bharat). In the selfsame BNBVV,
manufacturers would have become aware of
the great and expanding market that is the
Hindi Cowbelt and would position their products accordingly. The nextbranded PC
with Pentium XI processor would be
called Droot (superfast) and the new
Toyota would no longer go under
such an awful name meant to tease
our lack of intelligence as Qualis {ar-
rey bhai, arrey sahab, arrey bhaisahab,
why could you not have called it the
Qawalli?). Instead, the new four-door
sedan targeted at the upwardly mobile family from, sav, Samastipur, would be called...
Agni!
No, son, that's already taken, by the Defence Research and Development Organisation for the prksc-
hypnnastra, remember? How about... Prithvi! Sorry
baba, also taken bv the DRDO. Okay, then, how about
Gauri (as in Shiva's consort) just to thumb our noses at
the Ghauri prkschypnnastra across the border? Don't
you understand, son, that the name of a prkschypnnastra should be slightly, how do you say, phallic: Ahhh.
Then let us name the sedan Shaktimaan! Nope,
there's already a military truck by that name that's been
toiling over the Himalayan roads for three decades,
besides there is that superman character on television
who takes off from buildings. Give us some real macho
suggestions that also exude the sanskritic Hinduised
culture of which we are all so proud.
Okay, will try. Mahaan (great, alternatively, glorious), Neta (leader). Pradhan (chief). Rashtrapati (president). Rastradhyaksha (el presidente).
Nice try, but none of these quite have the zing, you
know, son. How about Yog without the 'a', to make it
completely indigenous even if the car is /
only assembled here?
Now, that's a thought.
// //>«
60
HIMAL 15/10 October 2002
 ft. .;    ■ '        ''. ■■"■'...,        ■ '   ■:
Get your own piece of South Asia!
POSTER: Take a new look at your
region with this south-side-up map
specially created by the Himal
Magazine Cartographic Section
for the January 2002 issue.
Matt-finish. 48 X 45 cm
POSTEl ..
Designed for the September 2001
Himal cover by Kathmandu artist
Subhas Rai,  Krazy Kathmanduftprovides
an intimate portrait of the city's hectic life.
Matt-finish. 55 X 41 cm
POSTER:
(riginally published in 1916 ant'
provided as an insert in th
September 2002 Himal thi
,:*#-'*
by John Claude
Matt-finish. 80 X
South Asian pride! The
Himal tee shirt, available
in black or white, allows
you to sport the Himal logo
and our 'pro/anti' slogan in
style. Available in S/M/L/XL
anti-nuke, pro-peace
a'.\pio-:iii>U'
■^■WWMMinifBl,   pt^CWaaaMaaMaaatly
anti-national, pro-people
:   .itlU-IUa.'v'Tl^lv..    "
jsii-IiaCV.'. r-rc-pijiralF
(anti-literacy, pro-education
anti-cure, |»ro.prevention j
[ anii- rarctr, pro UvctUiood
aati-ldjkvfiy, pr*-T%3 J
anti-plastic, pro-mud
anti-soda, pro-water
and-M-vtay, pro-part
anti-capita), pro~capit.il
missed, or revisit an old favourite. Archive
copies of Himal, including the pte-1996
Himalayan years.
1 HIM*
The New Lhasa
Every item except tbe Himal tee shirt available for
Bangladesh BDT 1.00 Bhutan BTN 100 India INR 100
Nepal NPR 100 Maldives MLR 100 Pakistan PKR 100
Sri Lanka SLR 100 Elsewhere USD 2
Price of Himal tee shirt:
Bangladesh BDT 640 Bhutan BTN 480 India INR 400
Nepal NPR 400 Maldives MLR 320 Pakistan PKR 640
Sri Lanka SLR 640 Elsewhere USD 12
To order any of these products from
outside Kathmandu,write to
Orders@hirnafmag.com
To purchase any of these products in
Kathmandu. contact Patan Dhoka
Kitab Pasat at 548-142.
To subscribe to
Htrnalrnedia publications,:
write to subseription@himaImedia.com
 More than just another hotel.
The poolside bar at Dwarika's is open from 4 pm to 12
midnight with special happy hour"'discounts 5:30-7:30
pm. Live music every Friday with special BBQ by tHe
poolside or in our candle-lit courtyard.
liilllilUjifrxZ^i..^,,!.
Swimming-pool
Enjoy a dip in dar spectacular 12th century style
swihimihg pool! Membership details available on
request and specialdiscounts for privilege card
holders and families. Poolside chef's:special lunch
every weekend
Krishnarpan Restaurant
Our speciality restaurant serving not only authentic Nepali
cuisine but the secrets of Nepale.se art, architecture and
hospitality. Trie finest meats, vegetables, aromatic spices,
purified oils and saffron are selected by the chef daily to
create an exotic rrieal from 6 to 20 courses. Ideas for those
special-occasion parties.
Accommodation
You have to see our rooms to appreciate their unique
style and beauty. Our rooms are larger than any other
hotel in Nepal and offer an international 5-star level of
comfort.
Also consider us for special parties, banquets, seminars
and workshops.
Dwarika's Hotel
Battisputali, Kathmandu, Nepal
(+9771) 479488 Fax:(+9771) 471379
E-mail: info@dwarika.com
Web: www.dwarikas.com

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