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Himal: The South Asian Magazine Volume 11, Number 9, September 1998 Dixit, Kanak Mani Sep 30, 1998

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September 1998 • 11/9
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Vol 11
No 9        September
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Deepak Thapa
Copy Editor
Shanti] V.C.
Contributing Editors
Afsan Chowdhury dhaka
Beena Sarwar whose
Manik de Silva Colombo
Mitu Varma new delhi
Prabhu Ghate new deu»
Suman Shakya
Anil Karki
Sambhu Guragain
Awadhesh K. Das
Anil Shrestha
Tripti Gurung
Roshan Shrestha
Chandra Khatiwada
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him np
htlpj I www. him
ISSN 1012 9804
Library of Congress Card Catalogue Number
88 912882
Imagesetting at Polyimage, Kathmandu
Printed atjagadamba Press, Kathmandu
Tel: +977-1-521393, 536390
Cover art by
Venantiusj. Pinto, New York.
10    SAARC is unwell:
long live South Asia
by Rita Manchanda
18    "Hunger is more powerful
than nationalism."
Interview withAshis Nandy
Host as hostage
Badge of nationalism
We, the third force
Ration card monster
The gas rush
Krishna's Corner
28 Briefs
Hiroshima rnort amour
Exit editor
An American story
Pipe dream
33     A failed mountain book
by Nigel j.R.Allan
40 Media file
42    Lessons from Ladakh
by Mdrtijn van Seek
AND PRO •«.:.."3 **B**   f\j'
21     "Why should school children
need for India, Pakistan,
Interview with LA. Rehman
25    Extremely Irritated in Colombo
by Sasanka Perera
51     Sex and marriage in Nepal
by Shanta Basnet Dixit.
54    A Dragonfly in die Sun:
An Anthology of Pakistani
Writing in English
reviewed by
Shobhana Bhattacharji
56    The willing fields
of Bangladesh
by Quddus Mia
60 AipeWjLt&bfy "j&KCSs
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THE TORRENTIAL rain in Colombo ' _ -
preceding the saarc summit and the ""'
gloomy skies visible through it reflected the general mood. Colombo
was host to the summit but was not a
city of cheer. The rains had caused
bavoc; trees were down, the potholes had
deepened, and some areas of the city were
totally inaccessihle due to flooding.
Metaphors of the separatist war were everywhere in the intensified security and check
points. The summit days were suddenly declared holidays for the government sector; not
in a mood of celebration of course, but due to
anxiety over security Public transportation
was halted, and many shops were closed. Colombo was a ghost city: a cordon sanitaire for
the SAARC leaders to meet in. The public was
at a distance or behind closed doors, largely
unconcerned about the goings-on anyway.
If President Chandrika Kumaratunga had
hoped to strut on the regional stage by holding the 10th saarc summit (the original venue
having heen shifted from Nepal in deference
to Sri Lanka's desire to play host in its 50th
year oi Independence), she had certainly not
counted on India and Pakistan playing spoilsports by turning on the nuclear heat. So, what
could have been a glorious moment for the
Lankan president on the international and
national scene, instead became a mere
side-show: that of a well-dressed, and well-
mannered - points of emphasis that are her
regular occupational hazard - woman upstaged by the tension between India and Pakistan.
The eyes of tbe international and national
press were firmly on Atal Behari Vajpayee and
Nawaz Sharif: their talks, their body language,
their statements. That there was a summit
declaration at all in tbe face of the two bickering giants, observers say, was due to
Kumaratunga's statecraft, diplomacy and sheer
personal charm. But that again was behind
closed doors, away horn public gaze.
The Sri Lankan public was more pre-oc-
cupied with the postponement ofthe provincial council elections - a long-standing threat,
which has now become a reality under an
island-wide Emergency. Elections were to he
held in five of the provinces: the parties had
begun campaigning; and women's groups had
invested money and energy to demand in
creased women's representation on the electoral list. But, ultimately, it was the military
that won the day. Lhe argument was that a
master plan was in plate to rout the Tamil
Tigers by the end of the year and that to pull
out troops from the war zones to provide security for the elections would cause expensive setbacks.
Lankans, by and large, are deeply sceptical of this promise, having heard it hefore with
different sets of dates. Even if tbe military were
to succeed in capturing the last 40 km of the
road to Jaffna, this accomplishment would
hardly qualify as 'winning the war. After all,
winning wars is not about capturing or retaining territory alone; wars arc fought
on many fronts including the one for social
For Sri Lanka, it w:as bad enough that the
saarc summit coincided with the postponement of the local elections. What was worse
was that it achieved little with respect to
the one promise that may have been the
KR\5rW/fe   COKdEf^
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
jamboree's saving grace - the beginning of a
serious process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan. The expectation was belied.
Indeed, the Colombo Summit's fruitless
outcome was as disappointing as Chandrika
Kumaratunga's 1994 election pledge to abolish the presidential system. It is widely believed that she will call for early presidential
elections injanuary 1999 lo strengthen her
hand, and to herald a return to a more
decentralised and accountable form of governance - something that the now-deferred
provincial council elections were to provide
in the first place. lb
-Neloufer de Mel
KALAPANI" - BLACK waters - the term has
an ominous ring to it in much of South Asia
due to its association with the hellish colonial-era penitentiary in the Andamans. In
Nepal, too, the term carried the same connotation despite the country's having evaded
British rule. But not any more. Today, emotions on Kathmandu's streets run high the
moment "Ka lap ani" comes up.
The place Kalapani hes at the junction
where China, India and Nepal meet in Nepal's
northwestern corner (see map). A cursory
glance at the map does not reveal anything
remarkable about the area. Its only significance, but a strategically important one, is
Political activists wave
the Nepali national
flag against the
backdrop of Kalapani
the location of that most valuable of mountain prizes high up on the border with Tibet/
China: a pass in an otherwise impenetrable
Himalayan barrier. (This was the same pass
that the star-crossed Kailash-Manasarovar pilgrims of India were headed for when they were
killed in a landslide at the village of Malpa in
Uttar Pradesh's Pithoragarh district in mid-
August this year.)
Since the 1962 India-China war, India has
maintained a military presence at Kalapani
some distance south of the pass, a position
that the Nepal government claims falls within
its territory and thus wants vacated. India does
not accept Nepal's claim.
The sticking point is the source of the
Mahakali river. Under the 1816 treaty between
Nepal and the East India Company, Kathmandu had to give up all its conquered lands
west ofthe Mahakali river (also known as the
Sharada in India), and that document is still
the recognised basis for the frontier between
western Nepal and the Indian region of
Around the area in question, there are
three branches of the Mahakali, and the controversy rests on which one of these is the
Mahakali proper and which are just tributaries. India claims that the eastern-most branch
is the Mahakali, while Nepal claims it is the
one which flows just west of the Indian military camp. There are also those in Nepal who
claim that the third branch, furthest west (and
by all accounts with the largest flow), is the
'real' one.
The issue of the Indian post at Kalapani
suddenly burst upon Nepal's national scene
in 1996, following the two countries' signing
of the Integrated Mahakali Treaty, which envisaged the building of a massive 6500 MW
high dam at Pancheswar. (The "integrated"
in the treaty was meant to end the earlier controversy over construction on the Tanakpur
Barrage, built downstream on the Mahakali,
which had resulted in the inundation of some
hectares of Nepali territory.)
Where the Mahakali Treaty hoped to make
a fresh start leaving behind previous misunderstandings, it unleashed another, more powerful controversy. When the treaty came up
for debate in the Nepali Parliament, the main
communist opposition party came armed with
27 'flaws' in the agreement, one of which happened to be the existence of the Indian camp
at Kalapani.
The affair immediately became highly
charged. The Kathmandu government took
the matter up with New Delhi, which although dismissive of the claim, agreed that a
joint expert committee should meet to get to
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
the bottom ol the matter. Till now, lhe two
sides have met formally three times, without
Successive governments in Nepal (the
present one is the fourth since 1996) have had
to play to the national galleries by maintaining, with varying degrees of stridency, that
"Kalapani is ours". Parties in opposition,
meanwhile, have lost no opportunity to use
Kalapani as a battering ram against the
government of the day. Going outside Parliament, bandhs and protest rallies have been
organised. Newspaper write-ups have built up
the henzy.
It all reached fever pitch when the student
wing of the Marxist-Leninists, recently split
from the L'nited Marxist-Leninists, went on a
"Long March" to Kalapani to try an-d plant
the Nepali national flag there. (They were
prevented from doing so by the Indian police.) The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu did
not help matters hy issuing a statement, much
in the style of Nepali politicians themselves,
claiming that Kalapani was India's. Forced into
a corner. Prime Minister Ginja Prasad Koirala
has, on more than one occasion, parroted the
same reirain, "Kalapani is ours!"
The proper thing to do with Kalapani
would be for both sides to let the expert committee carry through with its work away from
the media glare. The issue's politicisation in
Kathmandu has little to do with the Nepali
politician's love of motherland, and everything
to do with domestic factional politics. Those
who issue the strident cry, "Kalapani is ours!"
are more interested in cornering domestic
opponents than resolving a bilateral bordeT
prohlem and 'reclaiming' Nepali land.
Except for stray reports, the goings-on in
Nepal and the anti-India rhetoric that has heen
spewing out have not been taken up by the
national papers in India, busy as they have
been with the travails of nuclear-dom and the
shakiness of the BJP coalition at the Centre.
Even when the Delhi media's attention was
on the Malpa landslide, there was no mention, even in passing, that Nepal has heen
claiming proprietory rights to the route the
pilgrims would have taken up the pass.
If the high-decibel level of the Kalapani
campaign continues in Nepal, it is only a
matter ol time before politicians in Lucknow
and Delhi begin to pick up the opposing refrain. Should that happen, Kalapani will cease
to be a cut-and-dried matter of horder delineation to be agreed upon by technocrats with
the help of ancient documents and maps. It
would then hecome a question of 'national
honour' in India as well, at which point, the
Nepali hope of possibly reclaiming Kalapani
would recede even further.
One would go so far as to ask whether the
Nepali politicians, so cynically using Kalapani
rhetoric for party-specific gams, are not themselves acting against the national interest. For,
if Indian politicians too get engaged with
Kalapani, then resolution of the problem
would become remote. And the Indian military camp would continue to stay where it is.
WHEN FORMER Pakistan president Farooq
Ahmed Khan Leghari launched a new political parly in Lahore on 14 August, the Independence Day, it was widely seen as an attempt to provide an alternative to the two
main political groupings, Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League and Benazir Bhutto's
Pakistan People's Party. So far, however, the
newly formed Mitlat (National) Party has
failed to make any wave in Pakistan's muddy
political waters and Leghari remains yet another pretender to the third force.
The country has seen a host of these. Most
prominent among them in recent times have
been former cricketer Imran Khan, former
chief of army staff Gen Aslam Beg and, not to
forget, Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat
The basic rallying point of all of them is
the same, even though the remedies they suggest are different: the two main parties have
failed to govern the country; therefore it is time
someone else, more specifically "we the third
force" took the reins. An approach that is
flawed from the very outset, for rather than
proving themselves more capable, the sole
emphasis is on discrediting those who are or
have been in power. They want power not as
a natural democratic consequence of their
political worth to the people, but rather by
In a country where politics is nothing but
a hlatant route to power, the theory is that
those who do not see a future lor themselves
at the hustings, often try to establish their
political credentials to ensure a place in a government formed without a general election.
It is in these 'governments by decree' that
those who wield the real power, the generals,
make their appearance. The launch of a new
parly always has Pakistan's political pundits
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
Leghari at
the launch.
wondering whether the new; entrant is backed
by the military.
Third-party politicians have been known
to resort to all kinds of stunts to seek favour
with the army establishment. They have asked
that incumbent governments be thrown out
and a national government be set up, or worse
still, a government comprising ol so-called
technocrats. How these technocrats are to succeed where popular governments have failed
is, of course, not discussed.
The concept of a third force in Pakistan,
mainly hecause of its purported links with the
army, is quite different from the one in, say,
the United Kingdom, where the Liberal Party
has for long been seeking to assert itsell. Since
the UK liberals present themselves as a political alternative rather than as an aspirant to
back-door entry to power, they are also able
to propagate their ideals, which in turn leads
to some of their views being adopted by the
two main parties.
The only time this has happened in Pakistan was when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto borrowed
a few catchy slogans from the socialists and
incorporated them in his popular agenda in
the late sixties. With Presideni Ayub Khan on
one side and the leudal politicians he had
persecuted on the other, Bhutto emerged as a
third force and went on lo become a popular
leader. As bis popularity rose, his parly gradually took its place as one of the two main parties striving lo retain the status quo.
Bhutto's was one unique case, and even
his rise was attributed to the days he spent in
the Ayub administration where he had acquainted himself with the power mechanism
of the stale. That is exactly what was lacking
in Imran Khan when he first emerged on the
political scene. Leghari has plenty of experience in this regard, hut is short on charisma
and political ideals (or even slogans.) to
mobilise the people. That is, if he is actually-
looking to achieve this end.
-Ashd 'ar Rehman
EVEN WHILE the saarc leadership met on
Bentota's sunny heaches, India's prime minister was being embarrassed by his insistent ally.
Bombay's don, Bai Thackeray. x4s part of his
cleansing drive, the Maharashtra government
of the njP and Shiv Sena was forcibly removing "illegal immigrants/infiltrators" from the.
slums of Bombay.
It was no coincidence that most ol those
removed were Bengali Muslims, who as
Thackeray claimed, "would have decided our
fate by voting [against him]". His argument
was that they were not Indian citizens, and
that they were stealing jobs. The issue made
headlines when the West Bengal government
strongly ohjected to the move. In the melee
that ensued (Maharashtra vs West Bengal), the
poor immigrant was left stateless.
The Bangladesh government, as always,
got into the farcical aci of denying that any
of its citizens had crossed lhe porous border
into India to earn a living. The beleaguered
Indian Central government wohbled along
Thackeray's move was flawed on two very
important counts: he blatantly abused, for
sectarian reasons, the loopholes in India's
weak system of guaranteeing procedural rights
to immigrants (assuming all those he got deported were indeed immigrants), and he attacked, on purely economic grounds, the keystone of Bombay's prosperity - migration.
India's Foreigners Registration Act gives a
foreigner certain procedural rights, such as a
chance to argue his case in court, and to prove
his citizenship through any ol the following:
ration card, birth certificate, voter ID, or domicile card. However, the law in India, unlike most other democracies, overwhelmingly
favours the authority, where the victim is
guilty till he proves his innocence. Proving
innocence is easy when you have the means,
not when you are barely cobbling together a
square meal.
Now add to that the wishes of a very powerful and belligerent man who is convinced
that all Muslims in his country are "infiltrators", and all Hindus who cross borders "refugees". You can end up with a situation where
carrying around proof of citizenship matters
about as much as a tumour on your foot. On
HIMAL   11/9   SEPTEMBER   1998
 the day ihey were caught, probably no amount
of proof could have saved the Bengali Muslims from deportation. The mala fide nature
of Thackeray's deportations was apparent
when the Calcutta High Court decided that
three of the first lot of deportees packed by
train across India were in fact Indian citizens.
Over time. India has tome to an uneasy
peace with the Bangladeshi immigrant. Nearly
every year since 1971, India has been (to use
the term in vogue) "pushing back" a few hundred immigrants - a fraction of those who
cross over. Nevertheless, the number has been
increasing every year, from less than 300 annually in the 1980s to a high of 750 in 1997.
By July this year, 582 had already heen deported, and another 122 were in remand. This
increased push back reflects the escalating
pressure ofthe ultra-conservative lohhy which
seeks to create a Hindu Rashtra.
The fact is that Bangla-speaking immigrants have been an important source of cheap
labour in lhe cities of India, and particularly
in Bombay where they have contributed to the
competitiveness of the gold, diamond and zari
industries. Bomhay is facing hard times; the
recession is threatening all jobs, hig and small.
It is then no surprise that Thackeray managed
to read the city's pulse, concocted a cause for
the job scare, and targeted the silent and
scared immigrant. At least in (his respect,
Thackeray is not alone. Malaysia and Indonesia, when up against a recession, are also
busy shipping out Bangladeshi (and other)
migrant labour.
To pass, a recession requires downward adjustment of wages and asset prices. Fluidity
of lahour is critical to the survival of domestic industry. Capital and productivity, not deportation, are solutions to a recession. The
best policy is to let wages and asset prices
adjust in a free market, and hope that improved productivity will improve the capital
output ratio. Circling your wagons to cure a
recession is possibly the worst remedy.
Because of lhe apathetic attitudes of both
the New Delhi and Dhaka governments, the
upper courts seem to he the only recourse left
for migrants. But this is hardly a viable solution; the judges are nol there to deal with such
issues on a case-by-case basis. The Central
government in New Delhi must intervene, and
interpret the problem with the understanding that the question is no longer about citizenship; it is ahout the violation of basic rights
to push forward a sectarian agenda. To refer
this issue to the courts or to committees will
be unfair to all immigrants (national or international) in any part of any country.
For years, Bangladesh and India have heen
ignoring the porosity of their borders. Now
they must admit the fact and allow those who
did migrate to stay on and work, for the logical end to the retrihutive justice that the Shiv
Sena has in mind is far loo ugly to imagine, A
cleansing has no logical limits of purity. And
retrihution, specially when couched in terms
of job snatching/undercutting, could lead to
'cleansing drives in other cities as well. The
facade of moral probity and liheral attitudes
towards neighbours, ihat India once maintained, is fast vanishing and the country is
lapsing into a redneck mentality that does not
go with its size.
Countries create borders hoping that the
people inside them would reinforce their sanctity, and that by not crossing these borders,
citizens would somehow forget the other side.
Unfortunately (for these countries and their
creators), shared dreams are nol so easily jettisoned, nor are common destinies. If a
Bangladeshi 'infiltrates' India, he does not do
so to defile its purity. He does so because economic circumstances compel him to look towards those who, until the lasl redrawing of
that map, were part of his shared dream.
-Shatitatiu Nagpal
£n route to Dhaka via
BANGLADESH THESE days is getting to
know what noveau celebntyhood is all ahout.
Sitting on a potential IbSD 25 billion treasury
chest of gas deposits, gone are the days when
this deltaic countrv could only attract foreign
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
 aid workers. Now it's the turn of energy entrepreneurs, (see page 56)
But, as is the case with newfound celebrity status, the Dhaka government is realising
that the experience can be an unnerving one:
a blown gas field; rumours of financial skullduggery; relentless pressure from cut-throat
multinationals and their battery of lawyers; a
sacked energy minister; bidding scandals; and
the accusation that Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina Wajed is lining up the richest gas-field
of them all for her close friend.
All these find the government squirming
in acute discomfort, without a real clue about
what to do with this recently discovered gifl
of nature. Then there are the heated arguments
over selling or not selling gas to India, and
the fears of repeating a Nigeria where poor
villagers can only helplessly stare at the export pipelines that pass them by. Finally, there
is this doomsday scenario: what if the reserves
dry up within 20 years, leaving Dhaka "paved
with gold", and the rest of Bangladesh in "literal darkness", as some predict?
For all that, there are immense possibilities of a rich and fulfilled Bangladesh. Al
though the extent of its energy reserves have
not yet been proven, the worlds biggest energy companies believe that Bangladesh is heir
to at least twice as much gas as Britain's share
of the North Sea. "It's going to have a huge
impact," says Calgary oil man Robert Ohlson.
"At the end of the day, Bangladesh could become self-sufficient."
Dhaka officials reckon that just extracting the gas could bring in USD 25 billion in
terms of new investment, and the national
treasury could be richer by another USD 2
billion a year in revenue from its share oT the
fields. And that, calculates the World Bank,
could double the country's current per capita
income of USD 300 within a decade - provided, of course, that the money is used well.
However, by some accounts that is least
likely to happen. Says Osman Chaudhary, a
leading Bangladeshi economist: "Given our
government's record, I'm not very confident.
The way the system is now, the money will go
into a few pockets." Like Nigeria's, then, will
be Bangladesh's fate.
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It may be too early to organise a requiem for SAARC, but
the region's future lies beyond its vacuous flag-waving.The
future ofthe Subcontinent cannot be a state project.
by Rita Manchanda
The latest saarc summit concluded in
Colomho on 31 July in the wake of lhe
India-Pakistan nuclear tests - without
discussing the tests. The "heads of state or
government" gave their wordy speeches, but
nobody was listening. This was definitely the
most dismal summit in the organisation's tortuous 13-year history, notwithstanding lhe
halmy breeze on Bentota heach.
By living the lie of soppy multilateralism
and ignoring the immediacy of hilateral rivalries and conflicts in the Subcontinent - in
particular between New Delhi and Islamabad
- SAARC. had confirmed its reputation as an
organisation long on words and short on
deeds. Alter years ol unrequited hope,
the realisation was now complete that little
else can be expected from an organisation
that revolves entirely around the need-to-pontificate of prime ministers and presidents.
Barred from discussing the here-and-now
issues such as nuclear warfare, refugee flow,
and migrant labour, the leaders who gathered
in Colombo played safe. They trotted out a
laundry list of commitments that were easy
to agree to because they were so easy to forget, on halting women's trafficking, banning
child labour, lowering travel barriers, enhanc
ing trade, and so on.
Colombo provided definitive prooi that
this organisation of regional states is not
headed anywhere, but did this also apply to
efforts to firing South Asia's people together?
Was a "South Asian community" still worth
lighting lor? Among the scholars and journalists interviewed immediately alter the
summit (sec box), there was healthy scepticism
ahout romantic notions of historical togetherness, and doubt that Subcontinental
camaraderie could he rekindled at the wave
of a wand.
At lhe same time, these experts believed,
by and large, that there was no other way forward hut to continue to expand the space for
people-to-people involvement across the hor-
ders ol South Asia, well outside lhe realm of
government. It was important to continuously
keep opening more doors, most importantly
between India and Pakistan, for that frontier
and that rivalry had the potential of foreclosing all other possibilities.
Waste of time
The scepticism of scholars may at first seem
surprising, given the many cross-border and
South Asia-wide activities taking place. The
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
 last decade has seen a mushrooming of regional dialogues initiated by a wide variety of
organisations, from development NGOs to
chambers of commerce, research institutes,
activist groups and donor agencies.
There have been South Asian book
fairs, theatre, film and dance festivals,
artist camps, student tours, and so on
and on. A decade ago, it would have
been difficult to imagine the ease with
which people from the various countries are meeting today. Nearly every
day, somewhere in a South Asian capital or city, or even outside the region,
a South Asian meeting of some kind
or other takes place.
And yet, the separation of national
societies remains significant, and the
Tact of the matter is, after decades of
nationalistic separation, the rebuilding of trust requires not scores, not
hundreds, but thousands of self-igniting initiatives.
Some of the pessimism regarding
a South Asian coming-together has to
do with the misperception ofthe role
of the SAARC organisation in bringing
about 'togetherness'. There is, indeed,
the unfortunate trend of equating
South Asia with SAARC, even though
one is a region and all that it encompasses, while the other is an inter-governmental organisation with all the restrictions that the term connotes.
There was, in fact, a time when observers fawned over SAARC, saying that
at the very least the SAARC summits
forced the leaders to meet once every
year or two to mouth support for peace, regionalism and development. After 13 years of
such pontification, the point has been made.
and the public is tired, The organisation's institutional profile remains sterile, and the so-
called "saarc process" is choked by treaty
congestion. Commitments are rushed through
at ceremonial summits and ministerial meets
in an enthusiastic ballast of rhetoric, to be
promptly ignored no sooner than the delegations get back on national terra firma.
For example, a couple of years ago, the
seven minister-level delegations which met in
Rawalpindi saw no problem in grandly announcing, inspired by Unicef, that "all hazardous forms of child labour" would be
abolished by year 2000, and, further, that
"all forms of child labour" would be abolished by 2010. Al the Male summit of 1997, one delegation proposed telescoping plans
for the South
Asia Free Trade
Area (SAFTA)
from 2005 to
2002. Some of
those present
were incredulous at the audacity of the
but the prime
ministers and presidents (and king) came up
with one better the next day: SAITA hy 2001!
The SAARC organisation must - but as
things stand, it cannot - rise above the lowest
common denominator agenda it has set for
itself. It is required to look beyond the pompous declarations, the expert committees, the
focal points for this or that, the poverty commissions, and other soft-focus subjects that
promise but do not deliver. A secretariat that
is hostage to the desires and procrastinations
1998  SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
 From there to here to
where: the first SAARC
summiteers of 1985
(top) and the latest
of seven different foreign ministries, with
practically no authority for independent action, can hardly be expected lo direct the
If the rude awakening of a suddenly
nuclearised South Asia had been expected to
force the 1998 summit to a higher plane, that
hope was belied by the attitude of insecure
governments unwilling to discuss the
matter in public fora. The credibility of the
organisation hit rockbouom with its inability
to discuss nukes barely weeks after the India
and Pakistan blasts. The very body language
of the Indian and Pakistani delegations was
enough to make one despair over this bilateral enmiiy which was holding the interests
of 1.3 billion people ransom.
The widening fault line across the Altari-
Wagah border sucks in ihe whole region, and
there is no one among the leadership of ihe
other South Asian states with the moral stature to take a public stand against Pakistan or
India, more particularly the latter. The nuclear
tests, followed by the breakdown of the
India-Pakistan dialogue, will echo (at the official level) for years to come.
In the middle of all this, Mian Nawaz
Sharif was heard saying that his meeting with
Atal Behari Vajpayee was a "waste of time".
The Pakistani high commissioner in New
Delhi was sent in to fill this diplomatic breach,
to ingeniously explain that his prime minister had not meant the obvious, but instead
had meant that it would be a "waste of time"
to resume the dialogue unless ihere was in
the first place an agreement on how to conduct the dialogue.
Peaceniks vs nuclear-mongers
In the most polluted pond, a lotus flower
blooms. And so it was with the nuclear tests
conducted by India and Pakistan, which, so
we were told by the papers and television, led
to an outpouring of joy on both sides. Actually, much more spontaneous and significant
was the upsurge of anti-nuclear protests held
by tens of thousands of citizens in the two
adversary countries, and picked up by many
in the neighbouring countries.
Thus, while the suddenly-nuclear enmity
of India and Pakistan did definitely paralyse
the SAARC organisation, the Pokhran and
Chagai blasts seem to have energised activists in each country of South Asia to work ever
harder for regional cooperation. They will
continue their independent efforts to talk over
and around the guns and cannons.
The positive fallout of the nuclear tests was
that everybody now knows there is a substantial body of sober opinion in the Subcontinent which does not buy establishment-speak.
This body of opinion is not to be pooh-
poohed, and it goes far beyond the 'alternative-wallahs' and so-called peaceniks who
have long foughi for a "people's SAARC". If it
is the India-Pakistan divide which is spoiling
South Asian progress, then one can only thank
the nuclear-mongers in New Delhi and
Islamabad for having forced these tens of
thousands of citizens who want rapprochement to emerge from the woodwork.
Given that now we know that the numbers for peace are significant, what is the way
ahead? Anthropologist Shiv Vishwanathan,
for one, is persuaded that real experiments in
criss-crossing nation state boundaries are already happening. Part of this conviction
comes from the response he received from Pakistan to his anti-nuclear article "Patriot
Games" in the Economic and Political Weekly
immediately after the Pokhran blasts (see also
Himal, July 1998). "If they've already crossed
the boundaries in their head why should
crossing physical boundaries be a problem?"
asks Vishwanathan.
Political scientist Rajni Kothari is convinced that regionalism across South Asian
frontiers will occur only when there is greater
space for democracy within each of the coun-
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
 ,!■' ib -.-u-\
tries. He says, "Once there is greater federalism, greater democratisation through 'regionalism' within the country, it may be more amenable to regionalism outside. For example, die
challenge to a monolithic hegemonic India in
South Asia must come from within, that is,
the democratisation of the state structure of
India, a breakdown of the country into its own
various regions."
For Kothari, the future South Asian community lies, therefore, in a confederal structure, which would include India in its various parts. Adds Kothari, "For the moment,
the problems of governance can only become
more acute as institutions such as the judiciary, the university and civil society as a
whole come under pressure, reinforcing the
centralising authoritarian tendencies of individual governments."
Psychologist Ashis Nandy believes that regionalism will be much more difficult to
achieve in the hands of the increasingly' paranoid and insecure governments who need external enemies. However, he says confidently
that there will be countervailing forces at play.
He says the political class is being discredited
in all the countries, and there is hope in this.
The very people who are trying to build up
the image of a monolithic enemy are trusted
so very little by the public, he says.
Nandy also feels that, incongruously, the
"dissent of the couch poialo" will push forward the. South Asia togetherness agenda. For
example, the Indian news consumer, with an
increasingly short attention span, has already
gulped down the euphoria unleashed by the
nuclear test and, totally bored, would like to
move on. Nandy points at opinion surveys by
STAR TV which reported public support for the
tests in India going down from 90 percent
right after the Pokhran blasts to 60 percent
three weeks later. "My personal guess is that
the support for the bomb in India is at about
36 percent, which is the figure we got in a
1997 survey."
Many other social scientists also believe
that for ever)' act of "fencihg-in" by the state
authorities, there will be hundreds of "secessionist" impulses, made up of cross-cutting
vested interests. "This textured weave of
vested interests will grow through everyday
political changes rather than any grand
socio-political engineering design," says
Nandy. Thus, the Nepali businessman, a
staunch nationalist no less, will look to India
as his main market, or to Bangladesh, for the
export of turnip seeds. The writings of an ardent Bangladeshi nationalist are more admired
in West Bengal than in Bangladesh. When
millions of cross-cutting cultural, economic
"No! There is no such thing as a sense of South Asian
Shekhar Gupta, editor, New Delhi
"Do I feel South Asian? Do I feel Nepali? Where have we
been able to develop a Nepali community or a Bangladeshi
community, let alone a South Asian one?"
Rishikesh Shah, scholar-diplomat, Kathmandu
"You have to find a better basis than the assumed Indian
civilisational link on which to anchor a South Asian community."
Tapan Bose, filmmaker and human rights activist, Kathmandu
"South Asianness doesn't exist, we only wish it were there."
Rochi Ram, lawyer, Karachi
."It is difficult for countries which do not see themselves as
successful to come together and establish something of
Dinesh Mohan, educationist, New Delhi
"The regional identity is emerging at a non-official level, at
the peoples level. In that sense South Asianness has begun."
Chowdhury R. Abrar, educationist, Dhaka
"Once you go outside the region, you do feel a definite
sense of civilisational commonality as a South Asian."
Dipak Gyawali, economist-engineer, Kathmandu
"There's no South Asian spirit because there are deep-
rooted, historical antagonisms among the countries, which
shapes the popular perception."
Shahdeen Malik, lawyer, Dhaka
"Culturally we South Asians feel close, but there is a
distancing politically Its really time to have a civilian
S. Balakrishnan, development considtant, Kandy
1998  SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
Terminologically speaking
BACK IN 1989, when the publishers of the prestigious
Cambridge Encyclopedia came out with a new edition
for the region entitled Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, the cover carried in small type, "Pakistan,
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka", while it was only on the
title page diat "Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives" was
included. When Rishikesh Shah, former The Cambridge Encyclopedia of
foreign minister of Nepal, enquired of T7Y\fTTF^T?   A
the publishers, their marketing depart- \   lyl      ))    p&V
ment told him, "Nobody has heard of <LWi \l ik^ i±&~~il 0
.   Z1 _      ,       . "   ■■    NEPAL, BHUTAN AND THE MALDIVES
Interestingly, the term South Asia
was a Western invention, a neutral post-
colonial term popularised in the newsroom of the BBC
and by journalists and academics elsewhere to replace
the "Indian Subcontinent". The terminology became
completely kosher once it was endorsed in the appellation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). That was in 1985, and "South Asia"
was readily pressed into use by scholars and media everywhere.
However India - and more particularly New Delhi
as the self-regarded inheritor of the historical legacy of
the entire Subcontinent - was irritated at first by this
semantic development, and at the alacrity with which
everyone wanted to dump "Indian Subcontinent" and
go for "South Asia".  .
Today, while true regionalism is yet a mirage, "Soulh
Asia" has successfully achieved popular usage. Even
the English press in India has succumbed to its use
oyer the last five years. In July, significantly, Delhi's The
Asian Age daily changed its section titled "Pakistan,
Bangladesh and [in small letters] saarc", to read, simply, "South Asia". Which was the obvious thing to do
in the first place.
Whereas barely a decade ago, the Cambridge
Encyclopaedia did not countenance "South Asia", today, library shelves abound with new works that use
the term as a matter of course. A random look at the
shelves will reveal titles as varied as South Asia Vision
and Perspective; South Asian English; Islamic Contribution to South Asia's Classical Music; A Field of One's Own:
Gender and Land Rights in South Asia; States, Citizens
\NGLADESM:. Slil jftANKA;-
and Outsiders: The Uprooted Peoples of South Asia; and
The South Asia Human Development Report, this last the
brainchild of the recently deceased Mahbub ul Haq.
Every year, a fresh crop of regional groups emerge
carrying names such as the South Asian Chamber of
Commerce; the South Asian Media Association, the
South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre; the
South Asia Forum for Human Rights; the Climate Action Network of South Asia; or the South Asian Network for Food, Ecology and Culture. Numerous Rosas
(Regional Office for South Asia) have sprouted, based
mostly in Kathmandu or Colombo, opened by international agencies such as Unicef and Save the
Children. Then there are quite a few South Asian
organisations which do regional work widiout using
"South Asia" in their name, such as Duryog Nivaran, a
Colombo-based organisation which studies disasters, or
the. Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, also based in
The batde of terminology seems won, and "South
Asia", the term, is here to stay. The work now involves^:
building South Asia as a place and as a sensibility     -.A
and political interests get to play freely on the
surface, that is when South Asia will begin to
move towards a community, or a confederation, as Rajni Kothari would have it.
Non-state, non-romantic agenda
In the roadmap of the way ahead that is being
contemplated by South Asian thinkers, there
is an implicit recognition of the need to anchor a collective South Asian destiny in multiple networks of non-official groups, interacting across borders to tackle common concerns of poverty, illiteracy, environment, human rights and governance. This is, to begin
with, quite different from state-initiated efforts
which are driven by the need to exercise trans-
 regional leverage to counter the pressures of
a globalising economy. SAARC fits into this
need to form an economic bloc, and certainly
the process has its uses, but we must recognise
that bureaucratised regional frameworks
privilege the national identity above a regional, ethnic, linguistic or even a feminist or
environmentalist identity.
As a human rights activist who watched
the recent Colombo summit from the sidelines said, "1 do not helieve it is the agenda of
states to promote a regional identity. It is to
promote their own identity. In Colombo, 1 saw
a gathering where everyone had gone to make
sure that their national positions were not
compromised, whether it was on the nuclear
issue or refugees."
The SAARC system, after all, brings
together Indians as Indians, Bangladeshis as
Bangladeshis and Nepalis as Nepalis, with
each group zealously defending its own sacred turf. And it goes without saying that the
geo-political dynamics ofthe region is defined
by the central colossus that is India. It is not
only that the other states are contiguous with
India and linked through India, but that much
of their history and culture is defined in relation to what is today's India. The situation is
further complicated by the fact that the self-
image of the Indian elite as the successors to
Imperial British India has bred what is perceived by the neighbours a hegemonic state.
For this reason alone, a South Asian
peoples' future cannot be con
templated through
lens ofthe nation-sta
which would necessarily buttress
India's paramount geopolitical role.
Fhe limitation of the state
project for
South Asia can
be seen in an in- \
terpretation of a '
seemingly innocuous statement by the Indian
Foreign Secretary K.
Raghunath at an exclusive briefing to an association of retired Indian diplomats
in New Delhi; he said that the recent
Colombo summit had celebrated a "sense of
fraternity" among the South Asian countries.
Scholar Rajni Kothari was quick to point out
that "sense of fraternity" was just another way
of asserting that India had been able to estab
lish its dominance over the partners while isolating Pakistan, which is what happened in
Colombo. Indeed, to many non-Indian observers, the 1998 summit was an exercise in
which India got its way with host Chandrika
Kumaratunga playing handmaiden to New
Delhi's determination to keep the nuclear issue and peace and security concerns out.
The goings-on at SAARC summits and other
do's are far from the thoughts of many who
are seeking to promote discussion across borders. For those who are most serious and urn
romantic about the need for such discussion,
the challenges are very practical. For example,
feminist economist Bina Aggarwal, who has
done extensive work on gender and land
rights in South India and Sri Lanka, has douhts
about whether, at least in the women's movement, there is a living sense of a South Asian
community. She may have been called upon
to lecture on land rights at places like the
Kathmandu University, but she believes that
this was more an outgrowth of the work of
various feminists' networks rather than an
outreach emerging from a sense of a South
Asian women's community.
Aggarwal makes a distinction between the
many conscious initiatives within the women's
movement to build a South Asian consciousness and the organic existence of a South
Asian community, which she feels does not
exist to any significant degree. In understanding this subtle distinction between 'feeling South Asian, and 'taking ad-
tage' of living in South
perhaps, lies the path
To evolve a South
Asian sense of community, one cannot
be taken in by the
prattle emerging
from the saarc
summiteers, nor by
sentimental notions of oneness,
shared culture, history and mindset.
The age-old ties
and the cultural
complementarities may
indeed exist, but they are
t in themselves enough to
make up for the concrete divides created by 50 years of state-building and history-
making in the different countiies.
It is important, extrapolating from what
Aggarwal says, to discard (or at least not use)
the idea of "organic" South Asian-ness and
instead consciously build modem-day bndges
How a SAARC ngo
would tackle poverty.
1998   SEPTEMBER  HIMAL   11/9
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 Travels and tribulations
IT IS not all smooth sailing when South Asians want to
meet each other across frontiers. In fact, it is getting
harder, by some counts. This seems to be a period of
pulfbaek as far as intra-regional travel is concerned, no
matter what the SAARC declarations say about the need
for easing travel procedures. This
reality was nicely captured, if indirectly, in a television footage
from die Attari-Wagah border in
mid-August, which showed Indian
and Pakistani activists who were
maintaining a candlelight vigil to
mark the 51st anniversary of Independence being kept apart by
the men in khaki.
These are times when every
South Asian government; with the
possible exception of the one in
Male, is facing significant internal
security threats, This has led to a
fencing-in, and regional travel is
among thefirst tobe affected: Take
the case of Nepal, often touted as
the most convenient meeting
place for South Asians for the ease
with which all and sundry get a
visa on demand at Kathmandu's
Tribhuvan International Airport.
Over the past few months, however, Nepali immigration is suddenly creating difficulties for selected South
Asian travellers, particularly those holding Sri Lankan
passports, presumably at the request of India.
If even peaceful Nepal is putting up barriers, then
could Bangladesh be far behind? Was it just an aberration thai the Bangladesh embassy in Kadimandu in July
delayed and in effect denied visas to three Nepalis and a
couple of Kathmandu-based Indians to attend a regional
conference on minority rights, to have been hosted by
In Sri Lanka, on the eve of the SAARC summit, the
Colombo Foreign Ministry is known to have sent out
'advisories' to its embassies that no
visas be issued to visitors during the
summit period, undermining efforts
to host a parallel people's SAARC forum during the summit. Indeed, the
Colombo summit could have been
held on the high seas, so minimal was
the involvement of South Asia's
people (as opposed to governments)
or media.
Within India, the heightened
siege mentality has prompted moves
to amend the Foreigner Registration
Act. Taking a leaf out of Pakistan's
statute books, punishment for
infiltration could include the death
penalty. Meanwhile, the Shiv
Sena-backed state government of
Maharashtra got itself into a frenzy
and deported alleged Bangladeshi migrants from Bombay. Further, the India-Pakistan tensions following the
nuclear tests have, as expected, severely curtailed cross-border travel.
Hopefully, this low point in intra-regional travel will
soon be superseded with easier passage in the near future. And, over time, we could hope that all South Asian
frontiers will be like the Nepal-India border — completely'open'rather than'porous'. A
on a practical plane. What is required seems
to be a conscious forging of a modern-day
South Asian identity rather than rhetorically
relying on a spontaneous overflow from a
sense of civilisational commonality that is
rooted in the collective memory of a history
and culture.
After half a century and three generations
who have grown up in walled-in nation states,
after all the prejudices, animosities, and snide
references to each other, we have, to some
extent, lost the possibilities of using the cultural route to a South Asian future, at least in
the beginning. The lived memory of community has worn off and the forging of a com
mon political destinyr is a long way off. We
have to begin, instead, by appealing to the pro-
fessionat instincts of economists, sociologists,
teachers and historians. When we see how the
various parts of South Asia can benefit from
economic exchange, when the modern-day
angst bred by communalism and political opportunism is tackled in each country, that is
when a South Asian future will beckon.     /:>,
R. Manchanda is a Delhi-based print and television journalist.
The ideal frontier is
the India-Nepal open
Ashis Nandy, psychologist,
author and social commentator, who is with the
Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies,
New Delhi, spoke to Rita
--     .
\   j
\  1
—-,   ;
§8 •
' T&.
■'*  **
'■   a.'.
; :    ~   . ft
"Hunger is more powerful
than nationalism."
• fs there such a thing as a South
Asian civilisatiorta! community?
There is no such thing as a South
Asian 'community', only South Asian
'communities'. Even the term 'South
Asian' is defensive, a substitute for 'Indian'. Unfortunately, the term 'India'
has been hijacked by the Indian nation-state. I do wish the old term
'Hindustan' had survived. I myself use
'South Asian' because I do not want
my non-Indian colleagues to feel 1 am
appropriating their space. In the original sense, India's civilisational spread
is from Afghanistan to Vietnam.
• Is there a validity in narrowing it
down to a South Asian region?
Culturally we are close to each
other. It is a land mass ol hundreds
of iniertocking communities, they are
not less than 600. In the past, these
communities kept a check upon each
other and at the same time provided
a certain vivacity and dynamism to
the larger region. Today, we've lost
that. I do not care how many nation-
states are drawn up behind rigid
boundaries; the nation-state is a bor
rowed concept from 19th-century
• Is it possible to consciously forge a
South Asian community?
We have not even been able to
develop an Indian community, a Pakistani community, a Bangladeshi
community! It is bogus to seek a
monolithic South Asian society. What
we have to have, instead, is a concept
of interlocking communities constituted in a kind of confederation of
cultures, to use a term used by Ali
Mazrui in the African context.
* Have we lost these interlocking
communities in modern times?
Take the Sindhi refugees who
came to India at Partition. One of
their great fears is lhe gradual decline
of their culture. As their children
grow up without Sindhi, picking up
a standardised version of Hindi, they
feel they have not only lost their property and their land but also a part of
their religion. That religion, they
shared with their Muslim neighbours,
including some of their holy figures
and places of worship. This kind of
inter-relationship bas been lost:
that I am not only what I am, that
I can properly define myself only
with reference to you. This kind
of cross-reference was one of the
binding cements of the Subcontinent's
civilisation, and I think that is
• Are we romanticising the past when
we seek a consensual South Asian
That's an urban middle-class response. The fact of the matter is that
the majority of the people in the region live that life. It is not in the past,
1 would say it is an attempt lo export
into the past what is next door to you,
what is actually at the ground level
the dominant force. When we did a
survey in 1997, we found that the
majority of Indians, including Hindus, opposed the demolition of the
Babri Masjid. I am very proud of that.
• Do we know each other any longer
as we move into the third post-1947
HIMAL   11/9   SEPTEMBER   1998
 I remember an old illiterate Muslim from Jama Masjid being interviewed on television last year. Asked
what was different after 50 years, he
said, previously we did not eat with
each other and we did not inter-marry,
but there was some kind of understanding of each other. Today, he said,
there was much less resistance to mixing, hut more and more we live in
separate worlds.
• Have our history books reinforced
On the contrary, our [Indian] history hooks emphasise our commonalities. However, these commonalities
are defined very mechanically. Our
history books have been secularised,
which basically means that they are
hostile to all religions, as encumbrances which have survived. I am not
a believer, but most do believe. There
is no respect for that.
• History in Nepal, Bangladesh or Sri
Lanka has also to serve the nation-
buililing project of reinforcing their
'otherness' vis-a-vis India.
India is a very large country. It is
natural that in their attempt to define
their identity, these countries have
denied cultural exchange or cultural
encounter on which the vivacity and
vigour of their own cultures have depended. That is disastrous. In Pakistan, even the Pakistanis know the
history books are known to be atrocious. But there is also a reaction
against this sort of thing. It is very
difficult to sustain an anti-Hindu
rhetoric when most people have not
seen a Hindu for 50 years. There are
hardly any Hindus left in Pakistan. In
fact, there was much greater exposure
to the domination of a Hindu minority in Bangladesh. Anti-Hindu rhetoric in Pakistan has heen sustained hy
the poor relations with India, and I
wonder what would happen if that
relationship improved.
• There is a heightened siege mentality in all the countries. In India, there
are moves to amend the Foreigners
Act to expel Bangladeshis.
I suspect that all this is transient.
While some Indians are pushing
out Bangladeshis, others have very
strongly taken up their cause. If they
[Bangladeshis] have come here they
should be given work permits. People
have crossed national boundaries for
centuries, and they will not stop doing so just because you've declared a
part of the land Bangladesh and another Pakistan. It will take quite a few
generations to accept the notion of
impenetrable boundaries. In any case,
refugees will come whenever economic factors push them out. Hunger
is more powerful than nationalism.
* What are the prospects for a regional
consciousness, given the mounting
problems of governance all over and
the growing insecurity of our riding
The more our problems with governance, the more the institutional
decay, the more there will be need to
create external enemies. But there are
countervailing forces: the more there
are official versions of history, of what
we should believe, the more the young
will be sceptical. The Indian puhlic,
for example, does not trust those very
people who are busy building up this
'other', the enemy. The whole political class is getting discredited in all
our countries.
• Do you see the SAjXRC organisation
promoting a South Asian consciousness?
No, perhaps among intellectuals,
but I doubt even that. Basically SAARC
is an official initiative of governments
which realise that they cannot do
without each other in simple matters
like trade and visas. 1 do wish the
organisation had more promise, but
much more helpful is the way ngos
have started working together on theoretical and practical matters. It is commitment which has pushed them together and therefore their effort will
not die easily.
You see, everywhere in South Asia
there are societies which are independent, which cannot be ignored. They
work within the everydayness of political change rather than seek to engineer political change from above.
Among such people, there are cross-
cutting interests everywhere. As the
first generation South Asians die out,
many of the cultivated animosities will
lose out. Time takes care of a lot of
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1996   SEPTEMBER  HIMAL   11/9
 Being Hindu in
Modern Times
(May 1996)
Hindu fundamentalism
is like driving a car
looking only at the
rear-viewr mirror: one
may be mesmerised by a
glorious vista ofthe past
but there lurks a tragic
accident up ahead.
Orbital Junk (June 1996)
Even as South Asia gets hooked on satellite television,
there's nobody looking out for the public interest.
How ro get public television for the Subcontinent?
Soul Searching at 25 (September 1996)
Bangladesh may be all of 25 years old, but the
Bangladeshi is still groping after an identity
Red Alert (September/October 1997)
The philosophy of "Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse
Tung", which caught the public's imagination in
Naxalbari 30 years ago, has spread across the region.
The Best in Film (December 1997)
Documentaries have the power to force change.
The public is ready to watch them. Documentaries
just need to be given a chance.
Net Set (January 1998)
We gave them Rajneesh, they gave us Bill Gates.
The Internet in South Asia must shed its exclusivist
Jinnah (February 1998)
Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been 'converted' by
the nation be founded till he can no longer be
recognised. Faking Jinnah has meant a lesser
China and Us (June 1998)
How should South Asia deal with a China which
believes in its destiny to the predominant Asian power.
*Only, of course, in Himal.
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 LA. Rehman is journalist and chair of
the Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan as well as of the Pakistan-India
Peoples' Forum for Peace and
Democracy. He was interviewed
by Kanak Mani Dixit.
"Why should school children need
visas for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh?"
k Who is to be blamed for the
continuing distance between South
Asian peoples?
The ruling elite of South Asia, in
whose interest it is to keep the people
of the region apart. The elite would
like to erase all history. You see, when
politics was communalised, history
too got communalised. Some of the
seeds of confrontation were of course
sown by the British themselves. To my
mind, successive governments of India and Pakistan have been following
the politics ofthe early 1930s. Instead
of making a clean break from the
troubled past, they want that past to
be alive.
At the turn of century, India represented a unity of people with a
shared history and a common purpose
of ousting alien rulers. People subscribing to different religions had
lived together for many centuries and
a considerable cultural intermingling
had taken place. Back then, to my
mind, there was something like an
Indian people, an Indian character,
and something like an Indian hope.
Unfortunately, the failure of the political leadership in the third decade
of this century led the people of India up the path of mutual hatred.
A Do you see some kind of federation
as the ultimate future of ihe South
Asian countries?
We should not jump the gun, for
when we do so we alarm those in the
establishment. Firstly, w7e have, the
difficult task of convincing the custodians of power that their confron-
tationist attitude, which ignores the
geographical, cultural and economic
pulls within the region, actually does
grave harm to their own long-term
interests. The inter-state conflicts
have drained our societies of so much
resources. If these conflicts were resolved, the elites themselves would be
more honestly and securely ensconced in power. Today, they all rule
by usurpation and imposition rather
than by popular will. We should have
been building schools, hospitals and
industries rather than lapsing into this
stupidity of testing nuclear devices.
The ruling elite of our countries
have created such a cage for themselves and their societies, inventing
disputes and keeping them alive, dis
torting the history books, destroying
the education system, creating refugee problems, and making it difficult
for us to talk to each other or meet
each other. They will start air services
but for the ordinary person, railway
travel is ever-more difficult. Postcards
will not reach their destinations in
India or Pakistan, but the rich can
always pick up the phone and dial
Karachi or Bombay. A poor family in
Karachi has to travel a thousand miles
overland to get an Indian visa, but the
Karachi rich have no problem in
flying to New Delhi to buy dahej
[dowry] for their daughter's wedding.
SAARC promises no visa requirement
il you are an MP or a judge ofthe high
court, but they come from the very
category of people responsible for creating the confrontation amongst us!
A So who would you ease the visa
requirements for?
For school children! Why should
they need visas to go on tours from
Pakistan to India, from India to
Bangladesh? The only fear of the
establishment is that the children
will discover that the hatred incul-
 T*..*«?,n «,77 2--
*etz     * ■%■■ i
cated by the history books has no
basis in fact.
i. Who are the ruling elites that you
refer to?
Firstly; there are the politicians.
Those who have forgotten how to
compete on a positive platform and,
for sheer survival, have lo create hot
spots and flashpoints where there are
none. Then there is the civil and military bureaucracy, among whom there
is also a vested interest in defence
spending. As tar as businessmen are
concerned, many have surrendered lo
state patronage. In Pakistan, for example, there is no genuine industrial
bourgeoisie, and all industry and
tiade have developed and been diverted elsewhere on the premise that
Pakistan and India will never be
friends. Normal trade and economic
relations, therelore, are not in the interest of such vested business interests. The system of patronage would
* Who arc the other culprits?
Academia is pail of the problem,
for the direct and indirect control by
government has brought most scholarship to heel. Academics do not feel
free to express themselves, and there
are some countries where the law prohibits university professors from expressing opinions on matters of the
day. As far as the press is concerned,
it is also part of the problem when
the newspapers only publish what is
bad about the neighbouring country.
k Are there not some good trends in
the media?
Yes, satellite television, for all its
problems, is helping in demolishing
some of the mutual myths. This is
help horn an unexpected quartei, for
the electronic media is helping Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis understand their neighbours. I would
only hope that these channels will
soon be available to enterprising
people who can uplink truly South
Asian programmes. This would also
help do away with some of the vulgarity that we see at the moment.
Meanwhile, 1 have heard thai a
Punjabi channel is to be launched,
which is sure to bring the population
on the two sides of the India-Pakistan
border a little closer. This will have a
good impact on all ol South Asia.
i Where did we take the wrong turn
in the Subcontinent?
In the decade of the 1950s, the
countries ol South Asia were still finding their way into the future. Il was
in lhe 1960s that the opportunity was
missed. A fundamental mistake was
made in attaching ourselves lo distant
power blocs instead of discovering
commonalities nearer to home. The
Cold War and lhe power game made
us more and more dependent on overseas pations, and our freedom was
The 1960s therefore was the period of definitive break. You see, when
problems arise among societies, the
sooner they are resolved the hctler.
With lhe passage of time, they become
more and more chronic. Between India and Pakistan, whenever we had
some agreements, such as the Nehru-
Ayub agieement, 01 the Nehru-
Liaquat agreement, oi the Shimla
agreement, we did not sincerely follow them up. Even when lhe two governments were negotiating settlement, they were telling their own
peoples, "No, no settlement."
i How will you undo the five decades
of extreme nationalist education?
That is a tragedy and a challenge.
We have been living in enclosed wells,
unable to look at each other in the
eye. We have been so status-quo oriented, we cannot look beyond our
The younger generation docs not
have any experience other than that
of being Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani. We can begin to icverse this
trend, lirstly, by writing a common
history of South Asia. This history
would expunge all the bate material
inserted hy vested interests. We
should open places for South Asian
students in each other's colleges and
universities. A South Asian Open
University is needed.
Non-politicised professionals
should meet. Pakistani farmers in lhe
Punjab want to know why their kin
across the border have done so well.
When there is waterlogging and salinity, why should advisers come from
overseas rather than from Rajasthan?
They want hotlines to London and
Washington DC. whereas we need
hotlines between Lahore and Bombay
to treat cancer patients eflectively.
k Those seeking regional rapprochement are accused 0/being romantics.
I do not think we are romantics.
For example, in the India-Pakistan
people-to-people dialogues we do not
only embrace and shake hands, we
also discuss nuclear war, Kashmir,
disarmament, communalism, sectarianism and good governance, it is not
being romantic to work towards
democratic governance and rule
of law.
1 have had personal experience of
sitting with people in the power structure - politicians, bureaucrats, retired
military officers - and talking of South
Asia, India and Pakistan. They, too,
have come to realise that the headlines they make are transient, whereas
a people-lo-people dialogue is all
about building the future. In our
work, we have come lo realise that
those in the power structure are actually helpless, prisoners of their own
creation. So the people have the responsibility of taking the politicians
off the hook. We have to prepare the
ground so thai the prime ministers of
India and Pakistan will not be afraid
ihat if they make peace they will be
thrown out of office.
> What are your own plans in the
days ahead.?
More than anything else,
we should work to increase each
country's slake in lhe others economic and political stability. We have
been foolish enough to believe that if
India gets weaker, Pakistan gams.
This is a fallacy, for it is absolutely in
the interest of Pakistan to have a representative, secular, democratic and
stable India. Il is also necessary for
India to have a stable, secular, democratic Pakistan. We should hardly be
waiting for our neighhours to collapse
and die.
We are hen! on creating a public
lobbying force to get over the initial
hurdle of elite interest which is holding our long-term interests hostage.
Creating this public opinion is not as
difficult as some think, for lhe desire
to communicate is there very close to
HIMAL   11/9   SEPTEMBER   1998
the surface. We have seen that whenever the state lowers its guard, the
people immediately respond. When
you open up the possibilities, the
public responds immediately and
Of course there are roadblocks
created hy the state machinery and the
media which is dependent on the
establishment's favours. In India and
Pakistan, the papers have become
political ideologues, promoting certain political interests and the material interests of puhlishers and editors.
And so they find it easy to distort
and caricature the people-to-people
i Is it true that India does not need a
South Asian community as much as
its neighbours?
Of course India needs its neighbours. The combined weight of South
Asia is such that an ascendant South
Asia will make an impact worldwide.
And because each country will benefit according to its size and weight,
Indian stands to gain immensely. Also,
when all the neighbours henefit,
imagine the economic fallout lor
India's states and regions which are
adjacent to these countries!
That India is too big is a fallacy
wrhich is going to cost it, foi it
immediately creates a sense that a big
country must spend on a large-
defence force, il must have so
many nuclear weapons of such size,
and so on. Who will this logic hurt
but the people ol India.
k Is there a difference between SAARC's
view of South Asia and the so-called
people's view?
SAARC is still an organisation of
reluctant memhers. It has not been
able to do even what it has set out to
do. They may sign formal agreements
and make promises on agriculture or
on the girl child, but they do not have
the mechanism to implement, saarc:
is not a functioning organisation, as
a cooperative clearing house or promoter of understanding. It is there, it
should continue, but much more is
required hy South Asia.
VAC 98/5
Position Announcement
Head, Mountain Natural Resources' Division
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) was established in 1983 to promote an environmentally
sound mountain ecosystem and to improve the living standards ofthe mountain populations of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas (HKH).
This autonomous Centre focuses on the specific, complex, and practical problems ofthe HKH, covering ail or parts of Afghanistan,
Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The Centre, with an annual budge; of $ 5 million, is answerable
to an international Board of Governors. The Centre lias a staff of about 130, including 25 setiior internationally recruited professionals, at irs headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The Division Head is expected ro perform rhe following tasks.
a)     Manage the overall divisional research, training, information dissemination, and networking activities
b.)     Interact and collaborate with national and international organizations having all or parts of their mandates in mountain
c)     Work closely with the Directorate and other Divisions of the Centre in the overall planning, management, and development of
ICIMOD as a fully integrated mountain development centre
Act as a focal point for integration of key aspects of natural resource management in the HKH
• A post-graduate academic degree or equivalent in forestry, soil sciences, or other fields of natural resource management.
• At least 15 years experience in natural resource management or research, of which part should have been gained in the
HKH/Qinghai Tibetan Plateau
• Experience in managing multidisciplinary teams, particularly in association with international/regional agencies, is desirable
• Capacity for intellectual leadership and skill in working with colleagues of different national and cultural backgrounds
• Excellent knowledge of English
• Weil versed in word processing and other aspects of modern information technology, and this should preferably include CIS and
Remote Sensing
Salary and henefits are competitive with comparable 77 positions. T:ie candidate shou.J preferably be aged between 45 to 55 years.
It is anticipated that the successful candidate will assume the position in January 1999. Applications, together with the phone/fax
numbers or e-mail addresses of three referees, should reach the following address by 1 November 1998. Additional information
concerning the position will be made available on request.
MR. Tuladhar
Head, Administration & Finance
P.O. Box 3226
Tel: 977-1-525313
Fax: 977-1-524509
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 Extremely Irritated
in Colombo
by Sasanka Perera
Already, three or four days before the
saarc Summit on 29-31 July, Colombo residents were experiencing
grave disruption in their lives as the traffic
police went about practising the fine art of
blocking roads and diverting traffic. It got
worse once South Asia's collection of sorry
excuses for democrats and leaders actually
landed at Katunayake Airport.
We would probably have somehow survived this phase of conferencing and media
frenzy better had the 84,000 deities of the
Sinhala pantheon been in a good mood. But
the offerings of fretful Buddhist commuters did nothing to assuage
these deities and the streets of
Colombo reeled from the
devastating impact.
One of the things that
was going on in the minds
of the  thousands who
were stuck for hours by
road closures near and far
from   the   conference
venue of Bauddhaloka
Mawata was,  why  on
earth did we firing this
upon ourselves? After all,
this summit was to have
been held in Nepal, and this
traffic horror would have been
Kathmandu's prohlem. Alterna
tively, lhe Nepalis could have airlifted this bunch of politicos to some
mountain resort in a remote corner of
the Himalaya. There, they could have been
made to eat memos.
But no, that was not to be. The Sri Lankan
government actually asked For special consideration to be able to hold the conference
out of turn in Colombo in order to show off
in the 50th year of Independence. I suppose
the Nepalis happily agreed so that they could
keep their own hills unpolluted by the pres
ence of South Asian nuclear thugs and their
apologists. Or, more likely, since the Nepali
government is not known lor its own principled positions on anything that is worth having a principle about, they perhaps agreed simply to avoid the nuisance.
On the other hand, perhaps it was a good
idea to have the summit in Colombo to mark
the nation's 50 years of Independence. For one
thing, the siege conditions under which the
conference was held, restricting the ability of
citizens to move around freely, closure of major highways or parts of them, ad hoc holidays declared for some individuals
because they could not come
to work, were all indicative
of Sri Lanka's failure as a
nation-state, a country
at war with herself,
where chaos has become
Bui forget the commuters lor a moment. What
about the conference itself? Were any major decisions made? Will we be
able to travel across the region without visas within
the coming year, can we
carry out regional trade without encountering unfriendly
taxation? Did we convince the
nuclear thugs to throw away their
dangerous toys? If there was any real
advance, it has been a well-kept secret.
In the final session, however, 1 do remember the Maldivian president saying that the
food and hospitality were excellent. Personally, as a Sri Lankan nationalist, I am relieved.
At least now we know, and the rest ol the
world knows, that we are good cooks, and are
also capable ol making heds for people to sleep
comfortably on.
Other than being adequate cooks and hed-
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
 Announcing Film South Asia '99
Himal announces the second edition of Film South Asia, the biennial festival of South Asian documentaries. Film South Asia
'99, to be held in Kathmandu in September 1999, follows Film South Asia '97, the first-ever event of its kind which Himal
organised in October 1997.
A total of 55 films from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were screened during Film South Asia '97. Some 50
film-makers, film activists and journalists from South Asia attended the four-day festival giving the event a truly Subcontinental
flavour, A rough categorisation of the 55 films showed the following: 20 were social commentaries, 9 about personalities, 9 on
environmental subjects, 1 historical, 10 ethnographic portrayals and 6 in other categories.
Film South Asia '99 will showcase quality documentaries of the Subcontinent and Subcontinental sensibilities on any subject
under the sun. The festival will have both competitive and non-competitive section and the films to be screened at the festival
will be chosen from the entries by the festival selection committee. Three outstanding films from the festival will be awarded
citations and cash prizes by a three-member jury.
A selection of 15 films from Film South Asia '99 will go around South Asia and other parts of the world as part of Travelling Film
South Asia '99 just as one from Film South Asia '97 did (see below).
Entry forms will be available from end-September 1998. Look out for more information on Film South Asia '99 in these pages.
After the overwhelming success of Film South Asia '97, the first-ever festival of South Asian documentaries, in Kathmandu in late October 1997,
Himal decided to take a selection from the 55 films shown at FSA'97 around South Asia and the wcrld. Fifteen documentaries were chosen with
the help of the festival's three-member jury to reflect the quality, thematic variety, and geographic range of documentary-making in the Subcontinent.
For the convenience of local organisers everywhere the films were shown in VHS tapes.
The objective of Travelling Film South Asia (TFSA) was to give film-makers, enthusiasts, scholars, students and the general audience an
opportunity to view the latest and finest films from the Subcontinent. TFSA was an excellent opportunity to tell Soulh Asian audiences of the
concerns ol serious filmmakers from their neighbourhood. Outside South Asia, Himal hoped to create an awareness and a dialogue about South
Asian concerns,
TFSA's worldwide journey was made possible by the support and interest of individuals and institutions all over South Asia and overseas. Their
voluntary efforts in arranging venues, accessing equipment, finding sponsors, publicising and hosting'the event, were well rewarded, we
believe, in terms of audience participation all over.
Everywhere the festival went, there was something unique in the event. In Pakistan, this was the first time since the 1960s that India-made films
were publicly screened. The crowd that came to see the Bangladeshi Mukhtir Gaan in Lahore was matched by the Calcutta audience attending
the screening of Mr. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan. All over, the film screenings led to discussions of issues covered, from the loss of traditional
culture to re-evaiuation of history, and from sexual identity to macbo-communalism.
TFSA has proved conclusively that there is a worldwide audience for quality documentary films on South Asia. It also proved that there is an
audience all over the Subcontinent for documentaries. The only thing lacking, by and large, is the venue.
The next edition of the biennial festival of South Asian documentaries, Film South Asia '99, will be held in Kathmandu in September 1999.
The following is the complete itinerary of TFSA with names of organisers, sponsors and supporters:
New Delhi
6-8 Feb 1998
12-14 Feb 1998
Chalachitram Film Society
Princeton University
5-7 Mar 1998
Naila Sattar, South Asia Students'
International Centre
University of California
IOMar-5May 1998
Raba Gunashekhara
at Berkeley
Manisha Aryal
Harvard University
11-13 Mar 1998
William Fisher
University of Pennsylvania
16-18 Mar 1998
Robert Nichols, David Ludden
Colorado State University
19-21 Mar 1998
John Riley
21-25 Mar I99B
Farjad Nabi
Beena Sarwar
University ot Alabama
26-28 Mar 1998
Stephen Mikesell
at Birmingham
University of Hawaii
29-31 Mar 1998
Gregory Maskarinec
Mary Chin
University of Chicago
2-4 Apr 1998
Gregory Price Grieve
Cornell University
6-IOApr 1998
Prasanna Dhungel, Eknath Belbase
Wheaton College
6-8 Apr 1998
Bruce Owens
16-21 Apr 1998
Tamasghar Media Network
20-22 Apr 1998
S.V. Raman
23-25 Apr 1998
Amitav Ghosh
14-16 May 1998
Peter Claes
26-30 May 1998
Nalaka Gunawardane
5-7 June 1998
Prashant Sharma, Dr Palani
8-10 June 1998
Gerard Carabin.Surya Rimaux
12-14 June 1998
Sumk Basu, Nupur Basu
25-28 June 199B
Erik de Maaker, Bert van den Hoek
Balgopal Shrestha
India Habitat Centre
Goethe Institut
Woodrow Wilson School, Department of History.
Department of Politics. Department of Women's Studies
Centre for SouthAsian Studies Graduate School of Journalism
Department of Indian and Sanskrit Studies.
Department of Anthropology,The Asia Centre
Department of South Asia Regional Studies
Asian Studies Programme. College of Liberal Arts,
Centre for Applied Studies American Ethnicity. Office of International Education
The News International.The American Centre
Department of Anthropology,
Centre for International Programmes
Centre for South Asian Studies,
School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies
Centre of South Asian Studies, International House Film Society.
SouthAsian Outreach Educational Project
Department of English
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
The News, USIS
Max Mueller Bhawan. Goethe-lnstitut
Celluloid Chapter
Asian Study Group, Islamabad
The Human Development Centre.The Allama Iqbal Open University
Television Trust for Environment,The British Council
Indian Institute of Science Film Society
International Institute of Asian Studies
 /;V ft
keepers of South Asia, Sri Lanka achieved very
little out of the SAARC jamboree; neither the
average person, nor certainly the government.
On the other hand, Indian journalists and officials who descended upon Colombo
swarmed the duty free shops in the airport
looking for electronic items and booze. The
duty-free merchants were pleased as punch:
no rupees please, and to hell with saarc!
Now to discuss for a moment the all-important summit itself. As we all know one of
the handicaps of SAARC is that bilateral issues
cannot be discussed; issues to be discussed
must be important to all countries in the region, i.e. of "multilateral significance". That
was the reason why the Indo-Pakistan nuclear
thuggery was not discussed at the conference.
It was trilateral. For instance, if some nut in
the Indian or Pakistani nuclear establishment
pressed the red hutton hecause he had had
visions or a bad day, the mushroom cloud and
the radiation poisoning would be a strictly bilateral affair. This is because in South Asia,
unlike elsewhere, radiation poisoning strictly
recognises state boundaries.
It was because bilateral issues cannot be
discussed in saarc: that, as the host and the
new chairman of the organisation, the Sri
Lankan president suddenly became an apologist for the Indo-Pakistan nuclear rivalry.
There is only one way to bring the nuclear
question into SAARC, and that is by getting
every country which does not yet have the
bomb to make one, so that we could finally
notch this multilateral proliferation into the
summit agenda. So, Colombo must now invent its own Buddhist bomb to match the capabilities ol the Hindu and Muslim bombs of
New Delhi and Islamabad. Nepal, Bhutan and
the Maldives too would have to huild their
own little atomic toys.
To he so close to the SAARC summit was a
humiliating experience because, because one
got to view at close quarters the dubious intellectual capabilities, skills and political positions of the individuals in whom the destiny of South Asia has been vested. And all
this has been done using vestiges of democratic practices, such as elections. Purely on
matters of aesthetics and finesse, the Indian
prime minister was a scary sight. In the opening session, he made a rather unimpressive
speech, reading haltingly from crumpled papers. Is this the leader of a country which touts
itself as a regional (and now 'nuclear') superpower? Everyone clapped politely, except a
Sri Lankan parliamentarian who was sound
asleep in the audience.
The parliamentarian was indicating his
boredom with the exercise of annual or biannual summit meetings of an organisation
which has its head buried firmly in the sand.
Here was a regional organisation, the parliamentarian was saying if you read his snoring
correctly, which has no credibility because it
does not look at the most serious and contentious issues of South Asia.
Just as SAARC is nowhere in the picture
when it comes to the Indo-Pakistan nuclear
rivalry, it was inactive when India trained Sri
Lankan Tamil insurgents to fight the Sri
Lankan government, or when Pakistani intelligence trained Kashmiri rebels to fight the
Indian forces.
Good at little else, saarc at least excels in
one thing, the creation of roadblocks and traffic jams. Fortunately, Colomho has already
suffered this privilege and it is Kathmandu's
turn next!
5. Perera teaches sociology at the University of
The Top of the World is at your Feet
14 years efa experience, in
Organising fall scale expeditions,
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in tke "Himalaya,
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Fax: 977-1-224031
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Contributing editor Beena Sanvar comes back from Hiroshima with a stronger
anti-nuclear resolve.
day before the 53rd anniversary ofthe
world's first atomic bombing, which
levelled the city and killed thousands
of innocent men, women and children. Walking Irom the 15-storey
high Sun Route Hotel across Irom the
city's powerful Peace Museum near
the hypocentre marked by the famous
A-bomb Dome, one crosses the river
The water is low, exposing the sandy
bank below. A crane stands serenely
on one leg near the water's edge.
Above, at road level, is a memorial to
a school that was flattened on 6 August 1945.
The monument features women in
relief on a huge stone slab, and is
flanked by an iron pillar that proclaims in Japanese and English, "Let
peace prevail on earth". Standing sen-
linel atop another pillar, is the image
ol a folded paper crane, outlined in
In Japanese tradition, cranes signify peace, happiness, long life - a
symbol that has come to mean "no
more nukes". It is said that anyone
who folds a thousand paper cranes
will get cured - even of cancer. Today, garlands of paper cranes are vis
ible everywhere in the city along with
flower bouquets, banners, and placards. One can sense a momentum and
urgency in the crowds come to commemorate Hiroshima Day, hut there
is only frenzy, no anger. Just intense
determination of thousands to remember the past and make the future
I'm running late for the discussion
I'm to attend, on the Indian and Pakistan nuclear tests, part of the
programme that comprises the 1998
World Conference Against Atomic
and Hydrogen Bombs, organised by
Gensuikyo (the Japan Council against
A&H Bombs, which has strong links
to the Japan Communist Party and a
highly political agenda). So 1 canyon,
and make my way along the river
bank to the venue of the discussion. I
love this walk on the mud track along
the river, shaded from the intense
sunlight by a canopy of lealy trees,
the orchestral, insistent hum of cicadas blocking out all other noise in this
shady tunnel.
Hard to imagine tbe scene 53 years
ago, when nothing was left alive in
this area, the river gorged with dead
bodies; people jumping in to escape
their agony, their skin peeling off like
rags exposing blood-drippmg flesh,
eyeballs and inner organs torn out,
eardrums perforated from the supersonic shock wave emitted by the explosion, the intense heat (3000-4000
degrees Celsius at ground zero) of the
fireball, the 440 m per second winds
(the fastest tornado is 70 m per second) Hinging aside buildings, animals, human beings. Men, women,
toddlers, children, pregnant women,
old people - bloated, bleeding, many
no longer bearing any resemblance to
human beings.
No wonder that those who
survived, the hibakusha (literally,
"witness-survivor of the A-homb"),
are so liercely anti-nuclear. Many, initially fired by hatred and the desire
for revenge, have since channelled
their anger into the peace movement
centred around the idea that no one
should have to suffer the way they or
their loved ones did, and still do.
Tbe insistent hum of the cicadas
fades as I emerge from the canopy of
trees to cross the road, and go through
a neat concrete jungle of shops
and apartments to enter the
air-conditioned hotel where the meeting is going on.
The presence ol Pakistanis and
Indians has meant a lot to the Japanese participants in this conference,
which has been an annual event since
1955. Although Indians have been
participating every year, this year they
are here in force, some 20 ol them,
mostly from left-wing trade unions.
This is the first lime in 20 years that
Pakistanis have attended (there are
three of us); the Bangladesh delegates
did not arrive, Nepal was represented
by a lone participant, and Sri Lanka
by three Buddhist priests and a student leader.
"We thought everyone in India
and Pakistan was for the tests, but it
is encouraging to learn that there are
anti-nuclear movements in your
countries," was the common refrain.
How does an anti-nuclear person already saturated in anti-nuclear mate-
HIMAL   11/9   SEPTEMBER   1998
 rial convey what it means to be in
Hiroshima on these days? The experience only reinforces the beliefs already held, first and foremost that
there is no sanity in planning a future in the Subcontinent with nuclear
"We shall overcome," said former
Indian Navy chief Admiral L. Ramdas,
in one of his emails, some time
helore we met for the first time, over
breakfast in Hiroshima. We are on
the 15th floor of our hotel, overlooking the A-Bomb Dome and the
Peace Park. Something symbolic
about all this - a retired Indian naval
officer and a Pakistani journalist,
meeting not to justify their countries'
policies but to reaffirm a working
relationship against the nuclear
psyche. He is right. We shall, we must,
overcome. A
WHAT DOES A conscientious editor do when s/he no longer exercises
control over editorial decisions? S/he
calls it quits, of course. And so Matiur
Rahman did on 15 July. The veteran
journalist and editor of Bangladesh's
widely-read Bhorer Kagoj Bangla daily,
which played a critical role in the run
up to the last general elections, joined
the exalted ranks ol those editors who
had wralked out of the newsroom instead of succumhing to pressure Irom
the publishers.
Trouble for Rahman began
once his puhlisher, Saber Hossain
Chowdhury, was sworn into the
Sheikh Hasina cabinet as a deputy
minister last December. Other members of the Bhorer Kagoj staff had heen
perturbed about whether their newspaper would he able to function independently in the new scheme of
things. By the first half of this year,
they found out that their fears were
not totally unfounded. The government began to make known its displeasure at many of the news items
Bhorer Kagoj was carrying.
It did not help much that the
daily was on a collision path with
Bangladesh's most powerful business
unit, Beximco. The enmity was
earned when Bhorer Kagoj showed
Beximco in a none too favourable
light regarding its role in the 1996
Dhaka stock market crash. Over the
last two years, the paper had reported
extensively on manipulation of the
stock market and about loan cleiaults,
involving some ofthe most powerful
business organisations ofthe country.
Things snowballed recently when
Bhorer Kagoj carried an investigative
report on the Sonali Bank in London
becoming the sole guarantor of a million dollar loan to Shainpukur Ltd, a
Beximco subsidiary. After the report
was puhlished, the Bangladesh Bank
intervened and annulled the agreement. But those affected by the investigation were not ones to sit tight; it
is alleged that they conveyed their
displeasure to senior government officials. The officials themselves had
reasons to be miffed with Rahman's
paper as they had been its target
for failing to
prosecute loan
defaulters despite
sufficient evidence.
Their wrath
was only compounded hy Bhorer Kago/'s recent
coverage of the
"Long March", '^:""ft<^ '
taken out by the opposition
Bangladesh Nationalist Party to protest lhe Chittagong Hill Tracts peace
treaty. The report said that activists
of the ruling Awami League had disrupted the protest by placing cars and
trucks at strategic locations to block
the inarch.
Publisher Chowdhury now had to
face the ire of the highest echelons of
the Awami League government, as
disclosed by a senior Bhorer Kagoj
staff member. A government official
is said to have told the publisher, "You
know who the troublemakers are. You
can remove them." Rahman was
asked to discontinue running the
writings of five columnists known to
be especially critical of government.
It was only a matter of time before
Rahman handed in his resignation.
What is unlortunate about this
turn of events is that Bhorer Kagoj, in
its six years in the market, had built a
reputation as an objective, professionally run newspaper. In a country
where almost all newspapers have a
strong partisan affiliation, it had stood
out hy giving free vent lo opposing
ideologies and viewpoints. Its op-ed
pages have seen writers of all hues enjoying their share ol the space, while
the editorial cartoons have made a
unique contribution to Bangladeshi
Perhaps Rahman's most important
contribution was in setting up an
international network of exiled
Bangladeshi writers. Bhorer Kagoj has
been regularly printing Taslima
Nasrins travel writings, while another
exile of religious fundamentalism,
Daud Haider, has heen frequently
contributing from Germany. And
none of this was token liberalism -
Bhorer Kagoj was the first Dhaka paper to publish pelitions and appeals
on behalf ol
jailed writers,
persecuted intellectuals or minority communities, and under
Rahman it stood
firmly for secular
principles in a
country where
many in the establishment are under the thrall of
conservative Islam.
When Matiur Rahman officially
gave up office on 15 August, what he
told The Daily Star by way of explanation is the stuff of journalism manifestos. The one-time Communist
Party member said, "1 helieve in an
independent media and in the independent role of the editor. Tbis has
been my cardinal principle in journalism. Partisan politics and independent journalism cannot function together."
- based
on a report by
by Naeem Mohaiemen
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
* -
,     ■  ■
1  >
Basic instinct: An American
gets. It may not come on a platter
or in a hurry, but the necessary
spadework is done to attain the ultimate end.
Now, however much they may
play it down, America wants a military base in Bangladesh. So, how do
they go ahout it, since there are any
number of people in any country, perhaps more so in the Suhcontinent,
who will cry themselves hoarse ahout
"national interest and sovereignty" at
the slightest provocation?
America's diplomats set to work
by seeking out the targeted country's
Achilles' heel, and having once located it, proffer to heal it. In the case
of Bangladesh, the weak point is the
natural calamities that have been
regularly visiting the country since
before it was born. Hence was conceived m 1991 the wonderfully
cryptical Status of Forces Agreement
(SOI-'A), with a Mother Teresa-esque
code name, "Operation Sea Angel".
Lnder this interim contract, the
American military helped Bangladesh
tide over (he ravages ol the 199 1 cyclone which had killed around
139,000 people. Then came the inevitable teaser: now that SOFA had
worked so well, would Bangladesh
mind making il permanent? But the
government in Dhaka was not willing to jump; signing a permanent
deal, it said, would be against the "national interest". Of that first round
that ended in a stalemate, the American Defence Attache for Bangladesh
said, "We regret thai our effort lo
conclude SOFA was not successful,
because we thought it could hest
serve the interests of the US and
Bangladesh's interest, we can understand - some helicopters to evacuate stranded delta-dwellers, for example. But what 'American interest'
could there he?
American diplomacy is made of
sterner stuff, however. It is not one
to turn away at the first slight. They
kept at it, and fully
seven years
later, in early August 1998, a new
improved military deal to combat
natural disasters was struck. This one
is worth five years, and called the
Humanitarian Assistance Needs
Assessment (if an A}.
Newspapers quoted the visiting
head of the US military team as saying that HANA is part ol the US
military's increased humanitarian activities in the post-Cold War phase,
"We want to provide focussed attention to Bangladesh's humanitarian
needs... We are trying to identify the
tools and equipment lo mitigate disasters," said lhe officer.
But then matters took on a turn
of their own. The mass-circulation
newspaper Jankantha reported For-
Boats tethered to
houses during the
recent floods.
HIMAL   11/9   SEPTEMBER   1998
eign Minister Abdus Samad Azad as
saying that he knew nothing about
the deal announced by the US embassy. "I was not here and will tell you
later about it," said the minister.
The State Minister for Foreign
Affairs, Abul Hasan Chowdhury,
told the press that there had heen no
MOD on hana and that he had only
authorised a visit by US delence officials. Over at the American embassy,
the Defence Attache however was
upbeat, telling the Daily Star reporter
that eight training programmes have
been planned for the coming months,
"of which ihree have already been approved by the highest authorities of
the Bangladesh government".
Bangladesh left-wing groups
pounced on this opporiunity to lake
a stand. And so they have been quick
with their protest-speak, accusing the
government ol sellout and claiming,
as one student's group did, that the
agreement was a "far-reaching plan
to set up a US military base in
The American embassy in Dhaka
has kept mum since. Over across the
border in India, the media and defence analysis suddenly became very-
attentive to Bangladesh affairs. Meanwhile, the country experienced its
worst flood ill decades.
The image of Mount Everest in the public mind is mostly the faraway view, taken
from the north or the south. This unique 'close up' ofthe summit pyramid is taken
from the South Summit (8751 m, see inset), which climbers pass on their way to
the top via the standard southern 'yok route' to the top. This picture was taken by
Australian climber Roddy Mackenzie with a wide angle lens which takes in,
besides the summit pyramid, the Tibetan plateau to the north as well as the peaks
that march 200 km westwards on both sides ofthe Nepal-Tibet/China border.
Pipe dream
YOU HAVE TO hand it to Centgas of Unocal Ine, the American gas
company. Even as the civil war in Afghanistan between the Taliban and
the Northern Alliance seemed certain to drag on for some time to come,
Centgas executives had been laying plans to huild a gas pipeline from
Turkmenistan to Pakistan via the war-ridden country. Knowing what that
takes, the consortium had embarked on negotiations with all the concerned parties, and that included the two warring groups.
Till even late July, it was thought that something real was on hand,
the mood was gung-ho, and a deal was likely to be clinched. Centgas
had arranged for a green signal for their project from any Afghan ruling
combination - Taliban or not. But for all that organisation, they hadn't
reckoned on the forces of anti-Americanism.
Thus, when the bomb blasts shook the US embassies in Dar es Salam
and Nairobi, and the retaliatory cruise missiles winged their way over
sea and desert in search of Osama bin Laden, the casualties included the
doggedly pursued plans of Centgas. For the foreseeable future, and possibly until as long as the Taliban control Afghanistan, the multinational
now stands little chance of getting the pipeline through Afghanistan.
For all the daring it represented, the consortiums original plan merits a second look: a nearly 1 500 km-long pipeline, carrying 2 billion
cubic feet gas every day, running Irom Turkmenistan through Herat in
Afghanistan, to Quetta, finally reaching Multan in southern Punjab; all
at a cost of USD 1.9 billion. The project was thought to be particularly
important for Pakistan, whose own gas reserves in Balochistan are due
to run out in a few years.
As they say, the best laid schemes of multinationals and men oft go
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A failed
There is no evidence that indicates mountains are unfairly disadvantaged when
compared to adjacent plains.
by Nigel J.R. Allan
During this century, Switzerland
has managed to develop that
honourable mountain occupation,
smuggling, into a profitable international enterprise better described today as clandestine banking. Consequently they have abundant money
to spend on topics of their choice.
And so we have here the Swiss-financed promised follow-up volume to
Agenda 21, the 1992 Rio "Earth Summit" conference document on environment and development. Mountains
oj the World: A Global Priority, edited
by Bruno Messerli and Jack D. Ives
(Parthenon, London and New York,
1997), was published in time for the
United Nations General Assembly's
"Rio+5" exercise injune 1997 in New
York City. There was an earlier companion volume to this book, The State
of the Worlds Mountains, edited by
Peter Stone, also bankrolled by the
Swiss, and produced for the 1992 Rio
Summit (and reviewed in this magazine, July/August 1992, pp 45-46).
The move towards the Rio conference had its origins in former West
German chancellor Willy Brandt's
"North-South Report", which expressed the hope that economic
growth would be based on policies
that would sustain the environment
as well as expand the resource base.
In 1983, the UN General Assembly
had called for a global agenda for
change using this framework, later
revealed in the Brunddand report, Our
Common Future.
It was at this juncture that the
now-hackneyed term 'sustainable development' became popular. Chapter
13 of the Agenda 21 report, masterminded by scientists Bruno Messerli
and Jack D. Ives, was entitled "Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable
Mountain Development". The blueprint for implementing ideas in that
chapter is now contained in this volume under review. It is unclear, however, whether diis publication is an
entirely academic enterprise with a
firm commitment to enhancing the
welfare of mountain habitats and
societies, or if it is an effort on
the part of the editors to promote
their own agenda.
The Swiss, and Messerli is one,
often like to think of themselves as
unique because of their mountainous
habitat. This variety of environmental determinism is echoed in their
writings about mountains and their
inhabitants. Mountains oj the World
reflects diis concept by asserting that
mountain inhabitants need to be considered as a separate category (particularly by international funding
At the risk of alienating Messerli
and Ives, what follows is an analysis
and appraisal of their latest effort to
command and control knowledge
about mountains and their inhabitants. It is written from the perspective of a humble shing kocha (outsider
— as the Kinnaura from Himachal
Pradesh would have it), but hopefully
will be useful to the people of the
Hindukush-Himalaya by virtue of the
fact that the people with money to
spend on development projects in the
mountains are bound to read the work
being reviewed.
Verticality criteria
Under the assumption that all mountain areas are currently in dire straits,
Messerli and Ives' principal aim is the
formulation of policies towards
achieving sustainable mountain development. A related aim was to produce documentary and theoretical
material for the Rio+5 review process,
and to add to contemporary mountain scholarship.
Mountains, according to the authors, have to be viewed as a separate
natural region because their verticality warrants top priority ranking.
"Steepness and slope and altitude" are
the defining criteria. The authors
claim that mismanagement of mountain resources is widespread and thus
far "problems have not been correctly
analysed" because "bilateral and international development agencies
tended to treat mountains as unimportant two dimensional adjuncts to
be accommodated as fringe attachments to the big development projects
on the surrounding and much more
densely populated plains."
In the UN mode, the book deals
with the mountains of the world in
their nation-states; consequently, all
the data that is cited is gleaned from
country sets of data. Nowhere in the
book does one find any numbers that
are not tabulated from descriptive national statisrics. This pattern seriously
distorts the information that is presented. How can Bhutan, for example,
with a presumed one million population and part of the Himalaya, be compared to India, containing a part of
the Himalaya but with a billion people
distributed over a much larger area?
Meanwhile, there are only three
non-European chapter authors or
co-authors (all drawing salaries
from Western sources) with a solitary
woman listed as a co-author of a
Editorial amnesia
Both Messerli and Ives have connections with the Himalaya. Messerli directed a 12-yeaT geomorphological research project in the Kakani area near
Kathmandu with an outpost in
Khumbu, in the Everest region, and
another in the Punjab hills. Ives is
noted for his 1970 Canadian Geographical Journal article he wrote af
ter journeying up to
Darjeeling in a bus with
international conventioneers in a monsoon
downpour in 1968.
Together, the two are
better known as the
organisers of a mountain conference in
New York State in 1986
which enabled them to
publish a book, The Himalayan Dilemma; Reconciling Conservation and Development
(Routledge, 1989), which is essentially a synthesised and amplified version of the conference proceedings.
The "Mountain Agenda", as the
Messerli-Ives-UNEP-associated development scenario is known, was
originally thought up in the late 1980s
by two expatriates in Switzerland -
David Pitt and Peter Stone - who were
concerned about mountain communities in the European Alps. Farmers
were leaving the land for more remunerative occupations and outsiders
were creating a new niche for temporary holidays and permanent residence in the mountains.
Unfortunately, the Alpine scenario, with its stultifying bureaucratic
entrapment of regional planning,
.came to be applied to non-Western
countries, which have a tradition of a
highly mobile labour force such as
one finds in the Himalaya. Since then,
the original topic of the "Mountain
Agenda" has been taken over and reformed into a global "Mountain Manifesto".
Like previous manifestos, such as
the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere
Project-6 documents on mountains,
Mountains ofthe World, for example,
is also full of suggestions and proposals about what donor agencies and
others should do, but is short on the
nitty-gritty of what has been going on
Tor several decades in the mountains
and what constitutes the current situation, especially in the Himalaya, as
it compares to the plains.
The Preface states that there is an
"absolute lack of relevant information" about mountains. Both Switzerland and Canada, where the two editors come from, have spent a large
amount of project money in Nepal,
but little has been gleaned from these
Reconciling development
and conservation
Jack D- Ives and Bruno Messerli
past experiences. Also,
now that the "Cruise
Missile" digital terrain
data is available for the
there is enough information to evolve a comprehensive view of a mountain country via exploratory data analysis. Yet the
editor-duo seems totally-
unaware of its existence.
B Selective amnesia about
past and present work detracts from
the editorial fidelity of Mountains of
the World.
Doom proponents
The book carries no indication of the
cultural biases that exist in mountain
studies. There are essentially two
paradigms for looking at mountain
environments. One is Germanic and
has its roots in Haekel's "ecology"
derived from the German monist belief about the organic unity of the
universe. The Messerli/lves discussion about "mountain ecosystems"
invariably includes the idea that
mountain people are part of the ecosystem. Another typical Germanic
notion related to the organic community relationship is "common property resources", as seen in Tonnies'
gemeinschq/t idea. A fetish with vegetation, critical to German thinking
about mountains, is one of the hallmarks of this paradigm. Messerli and
Ives themselves have long been proponents of "mountain geoecology",
an idea derived from the work of a
German biogeographer.
The second paradigm, derived
from the political economy of David
Hume and Adam Smith, believes that
people will change their behaviour
when they are given incentives to do
so; freeing up the mountains in terms
of their accessibility and allowing
their inhabitants to respond to individual initiatives and free markets
have long-term benefits for all.
It's the doomsayrers versus the
doomslayers. The first group cringes
when a tree is felled in a 'fragile'
ecosystem or 'harsh' environment,
while the second sees some human
comfort and satisfaction in the use of
polythene sheeting or corrugated
metal roofs which mitigate the effects
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
 of the monsoon and rid the thatch of
the rats.
Nowhere in any chapter has any
consideration been given to comparing the benefits of the two paradigms.
Chapter 5 by Peter Rieder and Jorg
Wyder on the economic and political
sustainability of mountain areas
comes closest to this objective. To
examine the concept of sustainability
these authors invoke the Rio Declaration, thereby conveniently omitting
any critical discussion of the notion
itself. After working their way
through five case studies, Bhutan,
Peruvian Andes, Pay d'Enhaut in
Switzerland, North Ossetia in the
Caucasus, and Albania, the authors
neglect to consider any linkages to the
forelands that invariably have gateway
towns for the development of mountain areas. This failure to acknowledge
the external linkages between mountain areas and valley or plains areas is
a critical omission in the chapter, as
it is for the book as a whole.
Old myths, new bottle
Notwithstanding the feeble schematic
focus of the book, its many implicit
biases and Western cultural thrust,,
this international 'begging bowl' has
some creditable chapters; those on
sacred mountains, mining, and the
human perception of hazards are
noteworthy for the general reader.
Other chapters are competent descriptive accounts of much of what
has been written and are known
about mountain environs.
The editors' premise is that
development projects concerning mountains are failures
because the donors use the same
criteria to justify investing
in mountain development
programmes as they do for non-
mountain areas. Throughout the
volume the dominant theme is
that mountains and their inhabitants are different from the
plains; old shibboleths are given
another airing.
In the opening chapter for
example, Erwin Grotzbach and
Christoph Stadel tell us that
mountains are "refuge areas".
But according to Oxford don,
Mark Pagel in the New Scientist,
the reason for great linguistic
1998  SEPTEMBER HIMAL   11/9
diversity in the mountains, often cited
as proof of a "refuge area", is linked
to the diversity of habitats. "Human
language is clearly influenced by its
ecological context," he says. I would
argue that mountain people living in
a highly variable biophysical environment are in such a place.
If we examine a purported "refugee" group in a mountain environment, let us say a caste or an ethnic
group, we would find them fewer in
number than what we would expect
to find in the neighbouring plains of
commensurate size. Despite the ravages and incursions into the Gangetic
plain, I doubt if the mountains are
refuge areas for tiny groups of people.
An examination of blood groups
across the Hindukush, for example,
shows no pockets of diversity; only a
gradual cline from Central Asia to
South Asia is perceived. Here and
there we do see idiosyncratic communities like the Malana in Kulu district
(Himachal Pradesh), the Dah Hanu
in Kargil district (Jammu and Kashmir), and the Kalasha valleys in
southern Chitral (North West Frontier Province), but no evidence ayj-
pears that these are "refugee" populations.
Another old myth trundled out as
fact is that mountains are barriers. A
member of the Swiss Academy of Sciences in the final chapter of the book
endorses this view. This mistaken notion hardly holds for the Himalaya.
For example, a Yale University
Chasing rainbows: Jack D. Ives in
the Caucacus.
geographer, Ellsworth Huntington,
counted 500 dead pack ponies on the
Karakorum Pass in the late spring of
1905. Although malnutrition undoubtedly7 killed some, it was the
dreaded lardug or high altitude pulmonary' edema, that killed most; this
omnipresent danger, did not deter the
traders in Leh from traversing the
"Five Passes" (each over 18,000 feet)
route to the Tarim Basin in western
China. Similarly, in the princely state
of Bushair in the Indian Himalaya, gur
was once exported up the Hindustan-
Tibet road to China's Tarim Basin oases where it was processed into confectionery and then re-exported back
to the plains of the Punjab for sale.
Such was the profit to be made on the
I suggest that the "Barriers and
Refugees" notion in the book is
gready overwrought. Take the contention that "traditional mountain peasant societies are adapted to their environments" and that there is "the
prospect of economic and demographic collapse". No documentation
in the form of numerical analysis is
offered. On the "adaptation" notion,
has the Swiss Messerli never heard of
the mercenary Swiss Vatican guards,
or of the Gurkhas? Has he never seen
colonial-era photos of the Scottish
Gordon Highlanders fighting the
Afridis in the Khyber Pass? Mountain
people around the world have been
chronic migrants for centuries. Military service for others was always an
adaptation of mountain popu- i
lations living in a marginal en- ;
vironmeni. Can we honestly \
say, as Messerli and Ives do, \
that mountain people are
'adapted' to their environments if there is a constant
stream of migrants — excess
population - from the mountains to the plains?
Life in the watershed
At the end of the book wTe
are given the international
bureaucrat's perspective on
mountain development. El
Hadji Sene and Douglas
MacGuire, two UN/Food and
Agriculture Organisation employees with expertise in watershed management, advo-
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cate "integrated watershed management" and "generating and strengthening knowledge ahout the ecology
and sustainable development of
mountain ecosystems". These objectives are typical of the instrumentalist, mechanistic, Western view of
other people's worlds.
Do people live in watersheds?
Christian Kleinert's book on settlements in Nepal indicates that many
people do not; they live on mountain
ridges and not in the watershed valley portions. The ridges are the focal
routes of human circulation. People
live in places and the notion of a habitable place as defined by the locals
exists in die minds of some Greater
Himalayan residents but certainly not
in the minds of all. Al the western
end, the notion olmanteqa, a spatial
cognition unit, is evident in the
Hindukush because some residents
such as the Kohestanis share irrigation water from communally supported canals and leats, or streams,
but other nearby ethnic groups like
Nuristanis or Push tuns have no such
concepts. For the latter two groups,
the fidelity is not to a place, that is,
manteqa, but to a code of honour or
ethnic cohesion. Elsewhere in the
Himalaya, similar divergences come
to mind. Sutherland, in his Oxford
dissertation research in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, found that
"place" had nothing to do with a watershed because the cognitive living
space of the local people was circumscribed by the local deities, the gods
who were put on a palanquin and
taken on a tour that circumnavigated
several high passes and forded rivers.
It was the indigenous regional networks of the local folk that bonded
the ghori (community) and defined
place, not some watershed.
If there is going to be any "sustainable mountain development" then
quite clearly it has to be rooted in the
local context and not in some Western scientistical notion of "integrated
watershed management".
Shoddy research
The 19th and final chapter is the
"Agenda for Sustainable Mountain
Development", authored by Ives,
Messerli and Robert Rhoades, an
American anthropologist. Among the
seven objectives identified is "Mountain Knowledge and Research". Over
the years, I have never seen any mention by these writers, all self-styled
Himalayan experts, of existing libraries and bibliographies that concern
the Himalaya.
A number of them exist: the CNRS
Centre d'Etude Himalayennes library
in suburban Paris has the best collection of documents (on-line later this
year); Yoshimi Yakushi's Catalogue of
Himalayan Literature has thousands
of entries; Pfleiderer, Bergner, and
Greve's A Bibliography on Himalayan
Ethnography is useful; and Jurgen
Aschoff's huge Tihet, Nepal, und der
Kulturraum is on the Web. In fact, no
Web sources, of mountain information
are given in the (purported reference)
book for any part of the world. Had
the authors probed these bibliographies and sources they would have
found out that the Himalaya, even die
Bruno Messerli
entire mountain world, is a greatly
diverse place and few generalities, il
any, apply in specific contexts. The
editors' careless research fails even to
mention, never mind discuss, the
1980 UNEP Report No 2 on mountain
environments (The Major Problems of
Man and the Environment Interactions
in Mountain Systems: A Review). To his
credit, IUCN parks man Jim Thorsell,
alone of all the writers in the volume,
cites it.
Rather than read the beginning
and the end of the book, the reader
anxious to understand its conceptual
thrust should immediately turn to
Chapter 14 on mountain agriculture
by Narpat Jodha. For at least a decade,
Jodha has been articulating the condition of mountain environments. His
chapter is conceptual in organisation,
and puts forward the best argument
for the formation of mountain development. In a series of tables he links
what he calls "mountain specificities"
with appropriate responses to these
mountain conditions. Although his
focus is on agriculture, its constraints
and opportunities, his discussion of
the specificities is laid out in a
thoughtful manner. Jodha points out
that the "five year period after the
Earth Summit is too short a period to
assess changes in the state of the
world's mountains".
But he is an Indian and knows
very well that abundant data for decades have, been available, on parts of
the Indian Himalaya and adjacent
plains districts. His citing all-India
data distorts the situation in some hill
areas. For example, the appalling statistic that only half of Indian females
go to school and of that half, the average length of schooling is 14
months, is not true for the western
Himalaya hill districts.
Gross aggregated national data has
no place in comparing mountains and
plains. Ives, in Chapter 4 concerning
inequalities, provides tabular material
on die entire area of India purporting
to demonstrate literacy inequality
between mountain and plains inhabitants. It is no service to the reader
that Ives' tabular data, based on aggregated Unicef nation-state data,
compares adult literacy in all of India
(34 percent) with that of Nepal (13
percent). Hill districts and contiguous plains district data is available for
both countries but no attempt has
been seen to be made to analyse or
even cite this existing material. Similarly, Jodha concocts categories of
"mountain specificities" that are not
supported by any data, certainly not
from the South Asian mountain
Other chapters fail for the same
reason; there is no evidence that indicates mountains are unfairly disadvantaged when compared to adjacent
plains. One chapter, that on climate
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change by Maurice Price and Roger
Barry, is mostly a scenario. Nowhere
in the chapter is there any graph that
would tell us oi an increase over time
ol any measure to a point that would
justify ringing the alarm bell. At the
end of their chapter, for example,
there are two paragraphs about the
possible impacts on human health but
no evidence is given. We know from
Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical
School that the malaria line in the
Kenya highlands has recently risen by
150 metres hut this kind of measure
and its possible implications for human .veilare is not mentioned anywhere in this chapter. It is these kinds
of "fingerprints" of climate change, as
Epstein calls them, that need to be
presented in a book like this,
Jan Jenik's chapter on biodiversity
is full of alarm ahout the loss of species but he does not mention that the
best count for loss of hiodiversity in
the world today is only one species
per year. Inasmuch as I am surrounded by university and private
biotech individuals and companies,
world plant germplasm banks, and
plant science genetic engineering
nerds breeding new transgenic foods,
I am not disturhed hy this rate of
hiodiversity loss. 1 used to live in the
Appalachian mountains in the eastern United States, where, during a
200-year period, when over 95 percent of the original tree cover was removed, only three birds were extirpated from the mountains and the
adjacent piedmont all the way to the
Atlantic shore. Jenik's call lor arms is
hardly cause for despair. Like the
other authors, he docs not provide
any documentation of what it was like
earlier. There is simply no diachronic
Mountain mania
Reading the book is a chore. There
are about 60 'boxes' - vignettes and
anecdotal material by many additional writers - scaltered throughout
everyone else's chapters, Sometimes
these boxes overwhelm the chapter
contents. In one place, there are
eleven pages of box' material ol varying quality inserted into someone
else's chapter. A box on Sunderlal
Bahuguna and his past activities is
welcome. Good intentions can get
distorted by excess, however, because
we now have his son Rajeev, giving a
press conference in Dehra Dun last
year during his Kohima-to-Kashmir
motorcycle ride, saying that the problems faced by people in various Himalayan States are similar, just as their
climate, culture and lifestyle are.
When I hear statements like this, I
think mountain mania is abroad in
the world.
Photographs, many of them taken
by the editors are inserted into other
author's chapters in inappropriate
places. References that are not cited
in the text appear in lists at the end
of chapters. The deplorable Continental habit of not distinguishing "grey"
literature from published literature is
adopted throughout the hook. As an
intended reference text, the work is
definitely substandard.
In the last chapter there is a plea
for a new "science" of "montology".
This word has been around for over a
couple of decades and as much as 1
like and study mountains, I feel their
study as a singular discipline is not
compelling. Comparing, as the hook
does, mountain farmers in Swiss valleys who enjoy the highest farm subsidies in the world (according to The
Economist) with some of the struggling people of the Himalaya simply
does not make sense. The compositional variahles that are produced in
UN tabular material do not mesh with
the contextual variables of people living in place. Despite Toni Hagen's
1960s appellation of Nepal as (he
Switzerland of Asia, and the lengthy
attempts of the Swiss to get the
Nepalis to eat Swiss cheese manufactured in the Nepali highlands, Switzerland is not Nepal.
Only one chapter, that by Edwin
Bernbaum on sacred mountains,
comes close to providing some ofthe
cultural variation that is found in the
mountain world. Other chapter authors, and writers of some ofthe 'box'
material, are capable of much better
work because they have exhibited talent in the past. There are a number ol
themes that play a critical role in the
development of mountains that are
nowhere to be found in this volume.
Surely someone could be found to
write about common property resources in mountains and how they
are utilised through de jure and de
facto local practices.
Conservation of mountain wildlife, now embellished with the sohri-
quet, "charismatic megafauna", surely
deserves a chapter. Gateway towns
into the mountains are critical junctures for trade and commerce, which
are the building blocks for development. Biratnagar and other Tarai
towns are critical gateways into
Nepal, as Donald Messerschmidt has
written; Kalka and Haldwani, as Harjit
Singb has demonstrated, were the
gateway for trade to the Indian
Himalaya and beyond; Leh was the
hreak point for trade to Khotan as was
the Peshawar-Kahul access across the
Hindukush into Central Asia. After
all, Switzerland itself grew wealthy by
having towns as die brokers between
northern and southern Europe.
How does one appraise a book
that seeks to distinguish mountains
and their inhabitants from lowland
regions, but which, in 466 pages, does
not provide a single graph comparing a mountainous area with an adjacent plains area for any variable. We
have to take the editors' polemic
ahout mountains being a global priority on faith.
A lew years ago this reviewer published an edited book in which lie
suggested that the greatest risk to
mountain hahitat and society was not
from any inherent mountain conditions but from international busybod-
ics. Mountains of the World: A Global
Priority realises my fear. Given this
feeble attempt to justify tbe idea that
mountains are in dire need of a priority for international attention hy international funding agencies, I would
advise the UN/FAO, the 'Task Manager" for implementation of Chapter
13 of the 1992 Rio document, that
this hook - and its argument - I ails.
Sustainable mountain development is
an agenda in search of a problem.
N./.R. Allan travels and writes about
Himalayan topics as a professor oj geography at the University of California.
His most recent book is Karakorum
Himalaya: A Bibliography, (Orchid
Press, Bangkok, 1998.
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
Shrugging one's shoulder and rolling one's eyes in
exasperation are not South Asian gestures. But it
will soon be one, as satellite sitcoms and
Westernised VJs push their way into our consciousness. Here is a little lady rolling eyes in
an ad in the Indian papers by Teksons, maker
of cooling systems. Now will there be moTe
images like this in the ads and columns, as
even the villagers of Bhind leam to roll their
eyes and shrug their shoulders?
Nepal really is a country in the dumps, as far
as its governmental face is concerned. From
its international and regional profile these days, you
would not know that this is a land full of history, culture, energy and ability. This was brought to mind yet
again in reading a report in The Hindu of a South Asian
Music and Dance Festival hosted in New Delhi in early
August by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
The reviewer Leela Venkataraman devotes whole paragraphs to the repertoires of Bangladesh, Bhutan and India (Pakistan apparendy was not there), whereas the lady
dealt with Nepal's presentation in one dismissive line:
"Hearing Nepali songs and seeing its dances, one cannot avoid the feeling that reverberations of our cinema
with its music and romantic interludes, have found a
kindred spirit in the. people of Nepal." There is no doubt
about it, the Nepali selection must have been made by
Kathmandu politicians and bureaucrats.
Balochistan takes the First Prize for having the youngest and handsomest chief ministers of South Asia. First,
there was Akhtar Mengal, whose ministry fell in early August after losing
support of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. And now, we have as his
successor another Baloch blue blood
in the person of Capt (Retd) Jan
Jamali, of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. The
News reports:
"Like his other
close relatives,
he is also an
Aitchesonian." Now I better look
around to see what that means!
Here are two directives contained in
Section 4.3 ofthe Policy and Guidelines 1998 for E co-Tourism in India, which I endorse: 1) "Kissing in
public is disapproved or, and, 2) "Try to relieve yourself at least 30 metres away from water sources". I have
only two concerns. One, that India might lose out on
tens of thousands of amorous honeymooners who might
be diverted to Pakistan, where, I am sure, Islamic law
notwithstanding, such a rule is not yet in the books.
Two, has anyone gone into the technical challenge and
the time element involved, particularly on densely vegetated slopes, in scouring an area of 30 m radius, which
is sizeable, before taking a leak? Other than
that, Section 4.3 of said Guidelines is
where it should be.
PTI reports that Bagdogra airport in
West Bengal will now be renamed
"Saarc Airport". Why, pray tell? According to Indian Tourism Minister
Madanlal Khurana, this is the way to
promote tourism in the seven Northeast states and Sikkim. Don't ask me
Here is the kind of writing I like. Seema Mustafa in her
The Asian Age column of 29 August, reacting on the Indian government's reaction to the American cruise missile attack on Afghan territory: "For six Americans killed
in the bomb blasts earlier, the Clinton administration
has seen it fit to kill scores of civilians. All in the fitness
of things. And the American argument seems to have
convinced our Prime Minister and his men in South
Block. Perhaps, perhaps, now we will be allowed to hit
terrorist camps in Pakistan? Yes? NO. No? NO. And
promptly India comes out with a strong attack against
America and its double standards, which was not apparent to the pmo and the foreign office until Thomas
Pickering made his statement."
There are still anti-nukers left in India, after the laddoo-
stock ran out. Here is a poem printed in The Times of
India, sent in by Nisheeth Saini of Jaipur.
Two hundred kilotons
Explode over the city.
An incandescent white-hot oven
Now that's the city.
Asha vapourised.
Vsman, the street hawker's
Got molten eyes.
Daily bleeds mother Eatima,
A womb atomised.
Arjun — that country urchin.
Carries now a cancerous gene.
All wrongs avenged,
Sweetly revenged.
A Shame my victory,
A Scar on my psyche!
Monica Lewinsky is the media property of the whole
world, given the overload of information all of us billions now have about Oval Office trysts and dress stains.
Hence, it is not out of place for a South Asian media
columnist to pass comment on the topic. Pssst. Have
you noticed how the television cameras and press photographs studiously focus on Ms Lewinsky' torso and
leave her bottom half out of the frame? What does this
say? It says that she is LARGE down under, and the voyeuristic demands of media require that the public be
shown an attractive woman, which presumably was what
hooked Bill in the first place. After weeks of perusing
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
 the papers, as they say, I
found a lone photograph
showing Ms Lewinsky in
full form, but that picture
too does not do justice to
her girth. On this one, the
AFP photo editor, as you
can see, went for the legs.
If it were an archaeological
project to search for a long-
dried-up riverbed in
Rajasdian, I would be all
for it. But what the BJP government wants to do is to
prove the existence of the
underground river
Saraswati, which, as myth
has it, joins the Ganga and
Jamuna at their confluence in Allahabad. For this incredibly retrogressive and non-scientific project, Atal-
ji's government plans to use, reports pti, the expertise
of the Central Water Commission, the
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the
Indian Space Research Organisation. Now
I know these are organisations that have
nothing better to do than to propose pouring charcoal dust over Himalayan glaciers
to increase dry-season flows in the rivers,
explode first-generation nuclear devices
and claim technological superiority, and
get messed up with Maldivian ladies.
ballyhooed Visit Pakistan Year 1999 has fizzled out.
Dawn reports that the "much-hyped programme has
fallen flat on its face due to non-seriousness ofthe Minister". The minister is Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad, from
whom apparently one can expect very little. What we
know is that though a logo for the campaign was approved, that was as far as it went. Nary a meeting was
called of the 2I-member Task Force constituted in June
1997 to chalk out a strategy. And now, a formal request
has been made to the World Tourism Organisation to
'redesignate' the year. Oh well, the tourism receipts
would have been low regardless, I guess, what with cruise
missiles flying overhead at will on their way to Islamic
Out of India, on the one hand, I am encouraged by this very positive news that
the Small Industries Development Bank
of India wants to promote - and if necessary fund in to to - an INR 200 crore project
to establish a massive exhibition centre
(like New Delhi's Pragati Maidan) to showcase and promote tbe products of the
smaller industries of the regional countries. Such is its
magnanimity that stDBl does not have a problem "even
if the trade centre is located outside India", On the other
hand, one hopes that the SAARC-wallahs did not miss
this item in The Hindu of 23 August, which reports, "ISO
3720 checks for imports from SAARC nations likely".
India's Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde has announced that the measure is meant to restrict entry of
"sub-standard" goods from the neighbours into India.
So, while the one hand seeks SAPTAs and SAFTAs, the other
hand is getting ready to raise non-tariff barriers. There
is a trade war looming, spearheaded by die bureaus of
standard of each country: PSO in Pakistan restricting Indian goods, BSO in Bangladesh banning Sri Lankan goods,
and so on.
When tinseltown discovers SAARC, that is when this
organisation of seven South Asian states will really take
off! Do I mean a Bollywood film in which Shah Rukh
Khan plays a Pakistani fighter pilot who befriends
Madhuri Dixit as a Sri Lankan mermaid who is the long
lost sister of Rajesh Khanna as the turbaned Chief Minister of Punjab, whose attention has been diverted by a
well-built Bangladeshi vamp
played by Jayalalitha? And does
Kabir Bedi enter as an Australian
double agent sent to destroy
South Asian amity who ends up
instead joining the crusade for
South Asia as a Peace Zone and
bringing about subcontinental
reconciliation in the last scene,
in which everyone - Pathan,
Naga, Baloch, Punjabi, Sinhala,
Bangla and Laloo Prasad Yadav -
end up singing "Vande Mataram"
with hands on their hearts American style? No, nothing so grand
and gooey, just as long as you
know that there is a SAARC Pro-
"■■"-•' ductions (Pvt Ltd) in Pakistan
which has just come out with a
"cinemascope Urdu colour" film with the tide Nikah.
The subject seems to have to do with the entwining of
two lovers. Hope springs eternal, perhaps the star-crossed
lovers met at the latest India-Pakistan People's Forum
meet in Calcutta and love blossomed across Wagah/
Nepal is struggling through its own Visit Nepal Year 1998
programme, unable to compete in slickness with the Visit
Maldives 1997 tamasha. Well, it now turns out that the
I like it when we give robbers humanity, for they too,
after all, are mortals with souls. Hence, a headline like
this from The News of 2 August, datelined Islamabad, I
fully do not mind:
'deprive newsman's
7 wife of purse
-Chhetria Patrakar
Lessons from Ladakh
Are autonomous hill councils the answer to highlanders'
woes? Not necessarily, if the Ladakh Hill Council is
taken as an example.
by Martijn van Beek
Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah
will, I have no doubt, do whatever
lies in his power to improve your lot...
In Ladakh you are backward and unless you leam and train yourselves you
cannot run the affairs of your country."
Thus spoke Jawaharlal Nehru on
8 July 1949, addressing a crowd in
Leh during his first visit to the Ladakh
region oi India's Jammu and Kashmir
Ladakh's political leaders spent
much of the next 40 years trying to
convince the Centre that self-rule was
not only possible, but necessary for
the proper development of the region
and the protection of its 'unique identity'. The arguments they used to
support Ladakh's case included na
tional security, patriotism, economic
progress, and cultural preservation.
For decades, Ladakhis practised
the art of representing themselves as
victims of state governments and bureaucrats in Srinagar, at best disinterested and at worst out to destroy
Ladakh. If only the Ladakhis were left
to themselves, went the argument,
their society would regain its course,
towards general prosperity, ecological
balance, and cultural richness.
When, in September 1995,
Ladakh's Leh district was finally
granted a measure of 'independence'
from Kashmir after decades of
struggle, expectations were high
among political leaders and the population at large (see Himal/vol 8 nos 2,
Happier days: Krishna Rao,
Thupstan Chhewang, Thikse
Rinpoche, P. Namgyal and others at
the inauguration ofthe Hill Council.
4 & 5). Modelled on a similar administrative arrangement for the
Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, the
Ladakh Autonomous Hill District
Development Council (LAHDC) was
given far-reaching powers in nearly
all aspects of local government except
the judiciary.
At that time, the autonomous
council formula was regarded by
some as the most promising model for
resolving the longstanding antagonisms between Jammu, Kashmir and
Ladakh, the constituent regions of
J&K. The National Conference party
of Farooq Abdullah put an "autonomy" solution to the Kashmir
problem high on its agenda, and two
commissions continue to deliberate
on a series of proposals. Some provisions of India's Panchayati Raj Act are
to be incorporated into such a package of administrative reform.
The first Hill Council, dominated
by the Congress party, is now halfway
through its tenure and even the
friendliest observer cannot fail to see
the problems. The transition from
'agitation' to 'governance' has been a
difficult one for the executives of
LAHDC. Held responsible for everything from petrol shortages to inclement weather, the popularity of the hill
councillors among the people of Leh
has declined steadily since they took
the oath of office three years ago.
They, for their part, blame the state
government for obstructing their
work. Whoever is to blame, frustration is increasing among the population, whose alienation from state and
local leaders is reaching a potentially
dangerous level.
The spring of 1998 brought yet
another election campaign to Ladakh,
the fifth in less than three years.
Months later than the rest of India,
on 3 June, the "cold desert" region
went to the polls to elect their Lok
Sabha representative. The. landslide
victory of die National Conference
candidate, Aga Syed Hussain of Kargil
must be seen as a strong warning to
the Council and the political establishment in Leh. Since elections were
first held in Ladakh in 1962, the Lok
Sabha seat had always gone lo a Buddhist candidate from Leh, and never
to the J&K National Conference.
Only in 1989, at the height of the
communal agitation for Union Territory status, was the seat captured by
a Kargil Muslim, the independent
Commander Ghulam Mohd. Hassan.
This year's campaign was unusual
in that no less than four parties contested: the Bharatiya Janata Party and
the Bahujan Samaj Party also joined
the fray, apart from the 'traditional'
antagonists, the National Conference
and the Congress (I). Candidates of
the new entrants ate into the support
ofthe incumbent, P. Namgyal, die respected and experienced former
LJnion Minister of State and the Congress party candidate. During the
campaign, even the Congress campaigners were hard pressed to come
up with examples of the Council's
achievements, and preferred to
highlight instead the personal
qualities of Namgyal.
Indeed, the Council seems to
have enough to answer for. Rather
than taking Ladakh in new directions, adopting appropriate development strategies, protecting local
farmers, the environment and
Ladakh's 'identity', it in effect
merely continued along established
paths. "The signatures are different, that's all," says one disillusioned Leh-pa. Corruption is said
to be rampant; the pace of illegal
construction in Leh continues unabated; the education system remains in shambles; filth is piling
up on the streets and stream beds;
unemployment continues to rise;
and prices are skyrocketing. Little
wonder that people are disillusioned with their hard-won autonomous status.
Blaming Farooq
Before his election and induction into
the Executive Council, candidate
Rigzin Jora had said that "we will no
longer have to blame outsiders, but
only ourselves". However, old habits
die hard, and the Srinagar government continues to be targeted by the
Council and the Congress party "The
source of all evils", as the 1989 slogan had it, is accused of obstructing
all initiatives taken by the Council.
The complaints are not entirely
unwarranted. Due to the 'normalisation' of the law and order situation
in the Kashmir Valley, the councillors
soon found the sympathetic Governor K.V Krishna Rao replaced by a
'popular' National Conference government headed by their old nemesis,
Farooq Abdullah. According to Congress members, Farooq has done everything in his power to obstruct the
Council. Indeed, under the Hill
Councd Act, reluctandy approved by
the J&K Assembly in October 1997,
the chief minister's power to do so is
considerable. Practically all major
decisions ofthe LAHDC, all plans, budgets and activities, have to be approved by the state government.
Chief Executive Councillor
Thupstan Chhewang complains: "We
have been having problems with func
tioning because whatever proposals
we have sent, whatever rules and
regulations are to be enacted with the
concurrence of die government, all
these issues have been pending with
them for months." Chhering Dorjay
Lagrook, firebrand MIA for Leh, of the
Buddhist Association Youth Wing,
says, "Basically, they are anti-Ladakhi.
They have never made any concession, whether it is ST [Scheduled
Tribe status] or the Hilt Council, with
conviction, but only because they
were compelled."
Thupstan Chhewang gives the
example ofthe 1997-98 budget. The
LAHDC had asked for INR360 million.
The state government unilaterally reduced the amount to INR 270 million, although later it did add an extra five. Kargil, by contrast, had asked
for only INR 230 million and, says
Lagrook, "The government gave them
also 27 crore [270 million]. Why
should Kargil and Leh be given the
same resources in this case, but nol
when it comes to schools, Development Blocks, and so on?" (The Hill
Council Act provides for hill councils for both of Ladakh's districts,
Kargil and Leh, although only Leh has
so lar set up one and the Muslim-majority Kargil continues to be administered directly by Srinagar.)
But opponents of the LAHDC
leadership point out that the Council has not even been able to spend
the 320 million it did get in the last
budget. This invites unwelcome
comparisons with the old district
administrations, which had exhibited the same inability to spend allocated sums. Chhewang complains, "The money was released
late, in September when the season in Leh is practically over."
Moreover, the Public Works Department was faced with an acute
shortage of superintendent engineers to supervise several of the
larger projects.
The formulation of a Master
Plan for the development of Leh
town and its immediate surroundings - what is known as the "Noti-
Congress candidate P. Namgyal
campaigning during the last Lok
Sabha elections
Prisoners of Shangri-La
THE RENOWNED Tibetologist, Donald Lopez Jr, recently published an excellent account of how Tibetan
Buddhism in the West was decontextualised and
sanitised. Lopez Jr, echoing a recent spate of similar warnings about the dangers of stereotyping Himalayan populations and their cultures, suggests that such images deny
full humanity to Tibetans and in the long run do more
harm than good. For Ladakh, a similar story applies.
This rose-tinted vision of the Himalaya and Tibetan
Buddhism brings not only a significant number of tourists to the region, but also a generous flow of foreign
aid. Ladakhis, never slow to cash in on a business opportunity, have been effectively marketing their situation to meet the expectations of Western donors, who
more often than not tend to be badly infected with the
Shangri-La bug.
In line with Western expectations which are commonly informed by Helena Norberg-Hodge's book, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (Sierra Book Club,
1991), Ladakhis have successfully represented themselves as poor victims of Westernisation and what some
call "industrial monoculture". At the same time, the
population of Ladakh is deemed to possess the kind of
social and economic characteristics and practices that
are among the top criteria of contemporary sustainable development ideology: democratic decision making, environmental sensitivity, and little differentiation between rich and poor.
Ladakhi ngos have become adept
at emphasising their 'ancient' traditions, incorporating the current development jargon, and successfully
applying for funds. The success of
groups such as the Ladakh Ecological Development Group CLEDeG), the
Leh Nutrition Project (LNP), and,
more recently, the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of
Ladakh (SECMOL) in accessing a considerable amount of foreign funds
over the past decade has led to a proliferation of ngos in Leh district. Almost every village, it seems, now has
some non-profit school project, %" ofthe times.
while more and more environmental, rural development,
and public health-oriented organisations are putting up
signboards in Leh town.
It could be argued, as some Ladakhis do, that it is
only fair that the colonial powers repay some of the
wealth they have extracted from the blood, sweat and
tears of their former colonial subjects, although this is a
problematic argument with respect to Ladakh (where
the British were often seen and in some respects did act
as protectors of the interests of the locals against the
usurpatory designs of the princely Dogra rulers).
One famous Ladakhi ngo, which had been plodding
along in what many locals and outsiders thought was an
unproductive direction, suddenly in the late 1980s received a vast increase in its funds through the effective
marketing of both Ladakh and the project in line with
Western expectations and stereotypes about the region.
This economic equivalent of steroids promoted the rapid
growth of the organisation and reinforced the negative
trends which soon became evident in its work. In spite
of more than a decade of vehement local criticism and
warnings about the direction the project was taking, foreign donors continue to line up to give money, partly
encouraged by the reports of consultants equally blinded
by the Shangri-La imagery.
Several other ngos have gone through similar developments, leading to great increases in staff, cars, and
other "operating costs", while achieving little of substance in the field. In a few recent cases, some foreign
donors have finally owned up to the years of mismanagement that they themselves had encouraged and
funded. These donors have either cut back support or
pulled out altogether. But as one ngo leader points out,
for ever}' donor that pulls out, there are
many more willing to take its place.
The donors are keen to support
projects which appear to meet the politically correct criteria of the day: community participation, uplifting the poor,
protecting the environment, empowering women. And how nice if all this can
be done in Shangri-La! Ladakh appears
to have it all: a barren but picturesque
landscape inhabited by photogenic, smiling villagers; a warm, fuzzy 2500-year-
old philosophy made safe for 20th-century Western new-agers, with a built-in
ecological ethic; an "evil threat" in the
form of Westernisation and (bonus!) Islam; and articulate English-speaking
leaders who are excellent spokesmen for
fund-raising efforts.
Ladakhi ngos are the perfect 'counterpart' to the development industry,
never mind whether all this money actually accomplishes
very much. In any case, if the living conditions of the
people in Ladakh continue to deteriorate, this merely
indicates the need for more aid to the ngos .
Already, every Ladakhi, it seems, has a guest house,
a taxi, an STD/ISD/PCO shop, and a German Bakery. Before long, there will be an ngo for every cause, every
village, every monaster)' every household. And the Western hinders will still be clamouring for more.
HIMAL   11/9 SEPTEMBER  1998
 fied Area" of Leh - has also been obstructed by Farooq Abdullah's government, maintains Executive Councillor for Public Works Sonam Dawa. A
draft plan was submitted to Srinagar
suggesting changes, which were incorporated and a final version resubmitted. No action has been taken on
it since, and so in the absence of the
planned Leh Development Authority,
unregulated development of the town
"People are expecting us to perform, but how can this system function if the government does not let
it," asks Thupstan Chhewang. "A
proper atmosphere has to be created.
But every time there are elections, relations get strained, and it takes time
to get relations back to normal. And
every time there are elections we lose
two months because the election code
of conduct means that we cannot
sanction any plans."
Commissioner vs Councillor
The achievements of LAHDC have been
few and far in between, even though
it may seem to be a model of calm in
comparison to the turbulence in other
autonomous councils of India, such
as Darjeeling and Jharkhand. While
quite a lew obstructions may indeed
be attributed to ill will in Srinagar, it
wouldn't be easy to absolve the Council ol blame lor its lack of performance,
A common complaint is that the
councillors have been more concerned with their status according to
j&K state protocol than with establishing a working relationship with
the bureaucracy. "They have managed
to antagonise the entire bureaucracy,"
points out Pinto Narboo. It seems
undeniable that the councillors have
lacked tact in dealing with the Indian
Administrative Service officers as well
as with local bureaucrats.
According to the Hill Council Act,
the Deputy Commissioner serves as
Chief Executive Officer of the Council, and presides over meetings. But
real power is supposed to lie with the
Chief Executive Councillor, who is
elected by the members of the Council from among themselves. While the
previous Deputy Commissioner assigned to Leh, PK. Tripathi, was said
to be very cooperative, his successor,
Farooq Abdullah and Thikse Rinpoche at
Leh's Gonpa Soma earlier this year.
claim the councillors, is creating severe obstacles. Allegedly obsessed
with his own status and power -
much like the councillors themselves,
according to some — R.K, Goyal has
been accused of incompetence
and obstruction. Says Thupstan
Chhewang, "They are posting very
junior persons here. They have an ego
problem because they cannot tolerate
that a popularly elected official should
be boss over them."
Apart from the slowdown in all
administrative affairs, the feud between the Deputy Commissioner and
the Chief Executive Councillor led to
the enactment of a farce: on Republic
Day last year, the two held separate,
simultaneous Hag-raising ceremonies
as they could not reach agreement on
whose prerogative this event should
be. Meanwhile, the executive councillors repeatedly scoffed at Farooq
Abdullah, refusing to receive or even
meet with him during his several visits to Leh over the past two years.
Other than bickering with local
and state bureaucrats, the apparently
monolithic Congress-dominated
Council has been diverted by internal revolts. As early as the time of
their swearing in, the councillors
from Changthang were reported to
have accused their colleagues of regional bias and even corruption. This
winter, one of those involved in that
episode, Councillor Rigzin Namgyal,
defected to the National Conference,
giving that party its first presence in
the Council.
More serious was the resignation
of Khanpo Rinpoche of Thikse monastery, soon after his induction into
the Executive Council in September
1995. He said in an interview in May
that he did so because he felt he could
strengthen the Council through his
rapport with Farooq Abdullah. The
Rinpoche, with a career in Ladakhi
politics going back 35 years, ended
up joining Farooq's NC, and was
'given' a Rajya Sabha seat as reward.
Many are convinced that the
Council's ineffectiveness has to do
with the members' lack of political
acumen and administrative experience. The one executive councillor
who had both, Mohd. Akbar Ladakhi,
unfortunately passed away in June
1996. "Those remaining are amateurs,
part-time politicians," said one observer. Currently, the most senior
councillor is Sonam Dawa, a former
Chief Engineer of J&K, who is respected for his integrity but accused
of being too bureaucratic. Sonam
Dawa himself makes no secret of the
fact that he does not like the job, and
that he might seize the first opportunity to return to his previous position
as Director of the Ladakh Ecological
Development Group, a private
organisation that has done much to
promote sustainable development in
the region.
Fit to rule?
When one considers the history of
Ladakhi politics in the past decades
as well as the ways in which consecutive Kashmiri governments have dealt
with the region, the developments
since regional autonomy was
achieved in 1995 should not cause too
much surprise.
Among the first initiatives of the
Council was the launching of a
monthly newsletter, Ladags Phonya.
This newsletter is supposed to serve,
together with local radio, as the main
public information instrument of the
Council. Yet, there are councillors
who do not even know of its existence, and its appearance is extremely
irregular. Rumour and gossip remain
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 the main source of information
among the population. If the Council is to survive the coming restructuring of the State's administration -
which will be done on the basis of the
recommendations ofthe long-delayed
reports ofthe autonomy commissions
and the Panchayati Raj Act - the
people need to be informed more
regularly and in more depth about
what the Council does, and can do.
There is little doubt that an abolition of Leh's Hill Council, as has been
threatened by Farooq Abdullah,
would trigger a fierce, possibly violent, response from sections of the
population, especially the youth.
Ladakh's representatives at the Centra! and State levels should work to
gether with the Council in a major
effort to generate popular support for
the institution of the Hill Council and
the principle of autonomy in general.
The councillors are required to look
beyond the immediate party-political
interests of the Congress. Similarly
Ladakh's leading National Conference
members, such as Thikse and Togdan
Rinpoches and Tsctan Namgyal, as
well as the newly elected Kargil-based
MP Aga Syed Hussain, must prove
that they represent Ladakh's interests
rather than those of Farooq
Abdullah's or some faction within
It is clear that 'independence' has
not been enough. The present Council has a little more than two years
left to show that Ladakhis are not only
ahle to rule themselves, but that autonomy serves the demands for peace,
prosperity and stability in the region.
The state government will have to
realise that the proper functioning of
the Council is also in its interest. It is
time to forget personal feuds and political rivalries, and get on with the
job that they were elected to do. The
cost of failure would be enormous.
Ask a Kashmiri.
M. van Beek teaches Ethnography and
Social Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and is member oj the
permanent committee of the International Association for Ladakh Studies.
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writes Shehzad Amjad in the Pakistani daily The News oj 2
August, is tlit proper appellation for South Asia's leadership
in the wake oj the failed India-Pakistan talks in (lie recent
Colombo saarc Summit.
The South Asian Destiny vs no longer the exclusive
monopoly of the ruling elites of India and Pakistan. The
people of Kashmir are today heroically laying down their
lives in pursuit of freedom that shall, sooner or later, free
the whole of South Asia.
Nawaz Sharif had the golden opportunity to take the
lead and turn the tables on India by announcing a new
peace initiative, designed purely in accordance with the
wishes of the people of Kashmir. Similarly, Vajpayee had
an opportunity to change the course of history by
recognising the democratic rights of Kashmiris to determine their own destiny. Both, in the ultimate analysis,
turned out to he the spokesmen of Pakistani and Indian
elites who have reduced Kashmir to a territorial fetish.
The nuclear powers of South Asia, in any case, have
been rendered irrelevant by the very people they have been
fighting for. Kashmir does not belong to India. Kashmir
may not really belong to Pakistan. But Kashmir definitely
helongs to the people of Kashmir. And as long as they con-
linue to remain outsider to any diplomatic encounter between Pakistan and India, the Subcontinent shall continue
to descend into the "dark ethos of nothingness". Time is
crying out for statesmen, not pygmies. History is craving
ior a great moral vision. South Asia is yearning to define
the 21st century. The question, however, is, "Who Shall
rise to the occasion7"
An olive branch, anvone?
Arundhati Roy comes lo terms wil It her Booker reputation, in
an impassioned article - "The end oj imagination" - against
the nuclear homb written for India's newsmagazines Outlook
and Frontline and the London-based The Guardian.
The fact that all this, this global dazzle - these lights in
my eyes, the applause, the flowers, the photographers, the
journalists feigning a deep interest in my life (vet struggling to get a single fact straight), the men in suits fawning over me, the shiny hotel bathrooms with endless towels - none of it was likely to happen again. Would I miss
it? Had 1 grown to need it? Was I a fame-junkie? Would I
have withdrawal symptoms?
The more 1 thought about it, the clearer it became to
me that if tame was going to be my permanent condition
il would kill me. Club me lo death with its good manners
and hygiene, I'll admit that I've enjoyed my own live minutes of it immensely, but primarily because it was just five
minutes. Because 1 knew (or thought 1 knew) that 1 could
go home when I was bored and giggle about it. Grow old
and irresponsible. Eat mangoes in the moonlight. Maybe
write a couple of failed books - worstsellers - lo see what
it felt like. For a whole year I've cartwheeled across the
world, anchored always to thoughts ol home and the life I
would go back to. Contrary to all the enquiries and predictions about my impending emigration, that was lite well
1 dipped into. That was my sustenance. My strength.
the re/rain of chimis from every dzongkhag of Bhutan at the
recent session ofthe Tshongdu (National Assembly), reports
Kuensel. The worry was over security risks to Kingjigme
from 'anti-nationals'as well as Bodoand ULFA militants during his (ravels in the countryside.
'We are relieved that, hecause ol His Majesty's own good
fortune and the loyalty of our security personnel no harm
has come to His Majesty," the Paro chimi said. "However,
we submit the plea to His Majesty not to visit high-risk
areas but to delegate the concerned officers to carry out
the necessary tasks."
The Punakha chimi said that. His Majesty being the
protective shield for the nation, the source ol kidu for the
needy, a parent to every Bhutanese citizen, and the jewel
of lhe Bhutanese system, the kingdom could not afford to
lake such a risk.
"Without His Majesty we will be lost." lie said. "It is
because of His Majesty that the ngolops and all the anti-
national elements have failed in all their seditious attempts
to undermine the security of the country." The chimi expressed the appreciation ofthe people to the service forces
for their dedicated service in protecting His Majesty the
King's personal safety and peace in the country.
The Haa chimi said that His Majesty should curtail visits
to high risk areas. But when His Majesty, in his deep concern for the well-being of his people and his country, insisted on visiting these areas, the security lorces must pay
special attention to the important responsibility ol providing the maximum level of security.
The Thimphu chimi reminded the Assembly that the
kingdom oi Bhutan had, so far, thrived because of the close
unity hetween the King and his subjects. This relationship, a historical legacy since the time ol Zhabdrung
NgawangNamgval, derived its strength from the guardian
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
deities of the nation.
"It is because of the blessings oi the Buddha and the
Sangha, His Majesty's own aura, and the good fortune of
the people that Bhutan has preserved and strengthened its
present sovereignty and achieved dramatic socio-economic
progress," he said. "His Majesty has looked after the
Bhutanese people like his own children much better than
we look after our own children."
The chimi said that the clergy, civil servants, the security troops, the business community, the farming population, and the youth of Bhutan all treasured the love and
affection tbat His Majesty bestowed on them. Meanwhile
the clergy must continue to offer their prayers for the safety
and well being of His Majesty while the people must serve
His Majesty and the country with complete loyalty and
Kliurshid, former Indian ministei of state for external affairs,
at a roundtable discussion conducted by Calcutta's The Telegraph.
In parts of Jammu and Kashmir, again they would say
"You are an Indian", sometimes innocently, as a description; sometimes with a political edge, which means that,
"We reject you, you are somebody else, you are a foreigner."
1 have spoken to people in the bjp and they say that
being Indian is part of a spiritual concept. It's not a geographical ihing, it's a spiritual thing. It comes from within.
And I've oflen asked, well, what happens when a line of
control is drawn or a border is drawn, what happens to
that spiritual concept? You draw a line over that as well?
The fact really is that there is a legal contract that we
all make amongst ourselves, which we did in 1950 and
said we are Indians because we all accept this document
as something very, very important- the Constitution. And
so long as you continue to accept it to be very important,
the institutions that have been under that Constitution
continue to be important and thai gives you your des.
Right? And whatever is outside that, is panics.
The only problem is that for Shiv Sena I am outside
that. For me, that thought, not Shiv Sena itself, is outside
il. You see, this is the dichotomy that exists. Ultimately it
is a question of feeling, f just feel Indian and doesn't matter where you are, you feel Indian. It's like heing born with
a certain family. You can consciously reject it, you can consciously strengthen your bonds with it, you can let the
bonds lapse. But there's a perception that grows around
you that 1 belong here. That's all. And I think feeling an
Indian is having a perception that you belong to where
India is. And it doesn't have to be here. Il can even be in
parts of London, where you feel equally Indian and you're
seen as equally Indian.
Asma Jahangir of the Human Rights Commission oj Pakistan, on last year's wrangle involving the president, the ch'tcj
justice and the. prime ministei; which ended in the resignation
oj the former two.
It is said that our institutions are breaking up. But these
institutions in my view were hollowed up a long time ago.
They have only needed a push to come crumbling. We
saw one instance of it last year. The judiciary did not break
up then. It began doing that a long time ago - when it
decided to hang an elected prime minister on the diktat of
a martial law administrator. It further cracked when in
1981 the judges, whom we call ''my lords" in the courts.
agreed for the sake of their jobs to have their noses rubbed
in the ground and to accept the bidding of a dictator to
forget about their previous oaths ol office and to take a
new one if they wanted to stay on as judges.
There were two aspects of what happened last year and
bolh were so weird that neither can be applauded. On the
one side was a chief justice who kept running to the chief
of army staff, had the decisions of his liking made in the
President House, and carried sheafs of stay orders in his
pocket to deliver on petitions that he always lixed belore
himself. On the other side were the other people on the
judiciary agog for an opportunity for the high office, for
There is talk of "Quetta conspiracy". It was not really
that, for a conspiracy presumes a certain sense of guilt and
the need to do things quietly, behind the walls. What happened here was a broad daylight affair - it was more a
"Quetta coup". And this did not comprise of just one
change. It was a whole package the rest of which will unravel as the time passes.
The establishment in our country, remember, does nol
put all its money on one horse. It always works hy a larger
design. When it decided that the chief justice ofthe time
could not sufficiently deliver the goods it looked for and
identified another who would.
The Quetta coup did not just consist in the removal ol
the chief justice and the president. It had also decided, for
one, that the president would be Justice Tarar. Wby? Because it had also been decided that a 'soft revolution', a so-
called Islamic revolution, had to be ushered in. This would
be an order manned by a sort of junior cousins of Taliban.
1998   SEPTEMBER   HIMAL   11/9
 Vajra (literally-Hash
of lightning), is an
artists' condominium,
a transit home for
many, providing a
base during months of
hibernation and
creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic
splendour and
peaceful ambience;
make an ideal retreat
from the clock of
Ketaki Shcth
Inside Outside.
I stayed a week at the
Vajra. by which time
had become so fond
of it that I stayed
John Collee
The London Observer
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
Swavamhhu. Dallu Bijyaswori, PO Box 1084, Kathmandu
Phone 271545, 272719 Fax 977 1 271695
 Sex and marriage in Nepal
The Nepali Supreme Court's landmark decision against virginity
tests is not any more progressive than it needs to be.
by Shanta Basnet Dixit
In the changing social context, to prese?"ve virginity, or to
indulge in sexual activities with the person of one's choice is
an individual decision. Some people are open about their
sex lives; others have secret relationships. Having a sexual
relationship does not change a woman's legal status.
Some people first have a child and then decide to get
married; others live, as husband and wife for all practical
purposes but never tie the nuptial knot.
Since society is modernising on all fronts, and individual
freedom is heing emphasised more and more, having sex alone
cannot establish that a marriage has taken place. Neither
can parents absolve themselves oj their responsibilities towards a daughter who has had sex.
Loss of virginity and marriage are not considered the same
in legal terms. Loss of virginity cannot be construed to mean
that marriage has taken place. A grown up woman having
sex with a man has become common. In such cases, a child
can be born, intentionally or otherwise. That is natural.
Only if a girl has heen married in the traditional manner or has married in a simple ceremony or has registered
her marriage according to law can a marriage be said to
have taken place, (writer's translation)
The above was pari of the landmark decision handed down
on 29 July by a hench of Nepal Supreme Court made up of Justices
Arbindanalh Acharya and Rajendra
Nath Nakkha in response to an appeal filed by petitioner Annapurna
Rana against a lower court decision.
Annapurna Rana had filed a case
m the Kathmandu District Court
seeking "sustenance" from the family property administered by mother
Ambika Rana and the legal heir'
brother Gorakh Bahadur Rana (who
last year married King Birendra's only
daughter, Shruti). The respondents
had claimed that the petitioner had
already heen married in Naini Tal, India, and had even borne a child, and
was thus ineligible lor "sustenance"
mana chamal), which the law provides only to unmarried daughters.
The mother and brother pleaded
with the judge to order physical tests
on Annapurna to confirm her marital status. These tests were to prove
that: a) she was not a virgin; and b)
she had given birth to a child. The
district court acceded to the request
and ordered a medical examination
on Annapurna; a decision that was
confirmed by the appellate court. It
was only on further appeal (hat the
Supreme Court handed down what
is seen to be a precedent-setting
This progressive and forward-
looking judgement by the Supreme
Court, which has a public image of
heing composed of staid gentlemen
(no women up there), must he seen
as an attempt to establish new principles of social relations in a traditional society that is heing buffeted
by demographic and cultural changes.
The judges sought to inject new
mores into existing middle class morality, which assumes that anyone
who is a mother has to be necessarily
There is no doubt that the Supreme Court has corrected the travesty ofthe lower courts' decision, both
on a woman's right to privacy and on
the principle of what constitutes 'marriage'. The judges were correct to stay
with the legal definition ol marriage,
which requires either registration or
a socially accepted ceremony (which
in a society as diverse as Nepal's,
changes from one ethnicity and caste
group to another).
Quite expectedly, the judgement
was lambasted and lampooned in the
Kathmandu press for having sanctioned "Western-style promiscuity" in
Nepali society. Media commentators
asserted that the ruling would unleash
rampant pre-marital promiscuity, and
lead to insecurity among young
women who give birth out of wedlock. Wrote a columnist, "The ruling
has brought shame to every Nepali
girl because she can go ahead and live
with a man, have children and still
not be married to him...A man can
now have sex with a woman, have
children and then abandon her."
These arguments, advanced by
men, patronisingly ignore the obvious fact thai women are also endowed
with innate intelligence, and can
make proper decisions lor themselves.
Women are not so vulnerable that
they are unable to fend off the sexual
advances of men. In fact, women are,
hy and large, careful about their sexuality and seek lo protect its so-called
'market value'. They know fully well
that sex without marriage is a tricky
affair, and that in a society to live a
good life and to bring up children,
haying a man in the house helps. The
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verdict, that having a child does not
constitute marriage, should ring as a
strong warning bell to all women.
Should the verdict be well-
publicised, men used to having their
way with women may now find them
less accommodating. It is likely that
a woman will be more insistent on
knowing the man's intentions before
entering into sexual relations. By encouraging both sides to weigh the
pros and cons of their actions, it
makes the sexual act itself more
meaningful, and if such a union can
be idealised, 'sacred'. As for promiscuity, the licentious did not have to
wait for a court verdict to carry on.
To reiterate, now that responsibility for individual action rests upon
oneself, it becomes all the more important that every woman in Nepal
get to know about this Supreme Court
verdict, and all its nuances. The
present case should become part of
adult literacy classes as well as senior-
level school textbooks.
The Annapurna Rana case is also
significant in that it compels Nepali
society to take another look at parental/familial attitudes towards nonconformist individuals (read women).
The dominant conservative forces are
usually able to undermine individual
rights in the name of'tradition'; in this
case the law was sought to be used to
implement the yardstick of a set of
norms that militates against the very
concept of individual choice.
The issue of property rights for
women, which has generated much
debate in Nepal, is one area where the
court decision could have far-reaching implications. The law at present
provides only for unmarried daughters who have reached the age of 35
to be equal heir to parental property.
The definition of marriage as laid out
in the decision makes it possible for
a woman in a live-in relationship to
demand a share of parental property.
All told, the Nepali Supreme
Court's decision is not any more
forward-thinking than it needs to
be, and will not necessarily force
'modernisation' on the Nepali population. In a real democracy, there is
room for people with contesting philosophies, opinions and lifestyles. We
must realise that Nepal is a country
with a multitude of ethnic groups that
have very different norms and vafues
regarding life's rites of passage. If there
is polygamy among some groups,
there is polyandry among others.
The Supreme Court decision,
in being broad and progressive,
emphasises and empowers these diverse streams. It reaffirms that as long
as people are law-abiding citizens, it
does not matter what their personal
lifestyles are. A functioning democratic society does not allow for the
undue advantage of one group at the
cost of another. Blind and selective adherence to tradition, without a feel for
the pulse of changing norms and values, will not help us determine our
direction as a democratic nation.
S.B. Dixit is an educationist based in
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Discovering a canon
If you didn't know about Pakistani writing in English, read
this anthology.
When Himal asked me whether
I would like to review an anthology of Pakistani writing in English (pwe), I agreed immediately.
There was a comlortahle feel to the
term as it seemed to suffer from
familiar baptismal problems; Indian
writing in English is equally jaw-
cracking. And the possibility of discovering new writers was more than
exciting. After all, except for the high-
profile Bapsi Sidhwa, Hanif Kureishi,
Zulfikar Ghose and Sara Suleri, in
India we hardly hear of other pwe.
For one thing, Pakistani books are
impossible to get in India. Judging by
the way the Pakistani Oxford University Press stall at the World Book Fair
in Delhi earlier this year remained
empty because customs would not
release its books, the non-availability
of Pakistani books is clearly more
than a marketing oversight. It is
hardly surprising, then, that we do
not know much about the development profile of PWE.
This is why Muneeza Shamsie's
"Introduction" is so interesting. PWE,
she points out, has been around for a
long time but it has not been greatly
encouraged. Rising costs and book
piracy are among the reasons Pakistani publishers will not risk taking
up PWE, which, in any case, has
a limited readership. Meanwhile,
American and British publishers cannot seem to find a slot for it in their
own print programmes.
The 1970s spurt in PWE poetry was
eclipsed at the end of the decade with
the martial law regime trying to get
rid of English. There were a few literary journals like The Ravi, The Pakistan Quarterly and Vision, that published some creative writing, hut now,
except for She, Pakistani newspapers
and magazines hardly publish any
PWE. Until very recently, PWE was
not even on the academic syllabi.
Clearly, Indians are not the only
Subcontinentals who are ignorant
about PWE. Fortunately, precisely because PWE is relatively unknown, one
can break the cardinal rule against
reviewing anthologies and comment
on the contents of A Dragonfly in
the Sun.
My initial disappointment at seeing
the NRP (non-resident Pakistanis)
biggies in the collection quickly
evaporated as I renewed my acquain-
A Dragonfly in the Snn:
An Anthology of
Pakistani Writing in
Selected and edited by
Muneeza Shamst
Oxford University Press,
Karachi. 1997
hardback xxxi + 599 pages
PKR 900
reviewed by
Shobhana Bhaltacharji
tance with Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice Candy
Man whose chapters on the Partition
riots are included in tins volume. As
always, any account of these riots reduces one to helplessness: Why did
they happen? What motivates communities to such inhuman orgies of
Shamsie says that Sidhwa's novel
is the only account of the riots in PWE
so far. Which is amazing, and reminds
one of the view of some that India still
has to produce the definitive novel on
Partition. Let those who want to believe this continue to wait, but mean-
while they could have a shot at
Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan
and the recent translations of Krishna
Baldev Vaid's Steps in Darkness and
The Broken Miiror. Sidhwa's book is
in the same category. In any case, the
definitive book about Partition would
probably be a collection of fiction and
non-fiction from both countries, and
not any single volume on the subject
by just one side.
This anthology has several pieces
on confrontations: between West and
East Pakistan, between Pakistan and
emigrants to the west, between married partners, and so on. The most
powerful are those about huge issues.
For instance, Tariq Ali's The Shadows
of the Pomegranate Tree, is a novel
about the 16th-century confrontation
between the Moors and the Christians
in Granada which he wrote after seeing the world's abysmal ignorance
about the Arabs during the Gulf War.
Though I am uncompromisingly
committed to the necessity and power
of history, the extract from this novel
left me with mixed feelings. The
cross-versus-crescent rhetoric broadcast by the West over the media, beginning around the time that Ayatol-
lah Khomeini initiated the revolution
in Iran and becoming almost hysterical during the Gulf War, had made
several of us very angry. It all sounded
as if we were back in the medieval
Crusades. We wished that someone
would educate the Christian West
about their visceral and ignorant" reactions. Still, what is it about our
present which makes even a Marxist
like Tariq Ali revert to a form of
HIMAL   11/9  SEPTEMBER   1998
 "roots" and assert an aspect of Islamic
history? Why are the most rational
amongst us allowing ourselves to
think in terms of hostile confrontations of religions? Isn't that exactly
what religious fundamentalists would
like to show - that afl of us are motivated by religious identities?
Prose, lovely prose
Other prose works which I liked immensely include extracts from Ahmad
Ali's Twilight in Delhi, Zaib-un-Nissa's
The Bui! and the She Devil, Tariq
Rahman's short story, Bingo (apparently Pakistani slang for Bengali), and
Shamsie's own 5 hah raid's Golden
Bapsi Sidbwa.
Leopard. These range in time from
pre-Partition days to the present, and
in content from politics to the complex and eventually murderous confusion of physical desire, to the always
terrifying business of unequal treatment of siblings by a parent which is
evident to the victim but nol to anyone else who might he able to prevent the child from going mad. The
prose is varied, inventive, moving, as
is the language throughout the anthology. The editor's word limit prevents me from raving in like style
about the poetry in Dragonfly.
Like Indian writing in English
OWE), PWE is low on drama. Shamsie
has taken the trouble to include
extracts by two dramatists who
live overseas - Hanif Kureishi's
My Beautiful Laundrette and Rukhsana
Ahmad's feminist Song for a
In contrast to a tight form like the
sonnet's, an anthology has an awesome range of possibilities and is
likely to displease many because it has
necessarily to leave out someone's
favourites. However, the relative
unfa mil iarity with PWE has made
Shamsie's task less likely to raise readers' hackles than, say, an anthology
of Romantic poetry: This "essentially
retrospective" selection covers, as
Shamsie says, a wide range of "good,
representative poetry, fiction and
drama which has appeared or been
accepted for publication". It is, then,
intended to give a chaska (taste) of
PWB. And it succeeds.
A Dragonfly in the Sun is part of
"The Jubilee Series" which, (email
zindabad!) Shamsie explained, is a
commissioned set of OUP Pakistan
books on 50 years of Pakistan's history, sociology, literature and so on.
Shamsie, understandably, concentrates on writers of the last 50 years
but she has also included writers born
before Partition. The history of India
and Pakistan is inevitably linked. So
how does she define 'Pakistani'? Quite
simply; as those who chose Pakistan
after 1947 and those who are "Pakistani by marriage"!
Bangladesh is represented by
several Bengali writers from pre-Partition, post-Partition and pre- and
post-Bangladesh periods, and the
trauma of 1971 is recorded in stories
like "Bingo". Among other good
things in the book are headnotes
about the authors (though Shamsie
has omitted many birth dates), a glossary, no italics for non-English words,
no standardisation of spellings for
these (as a result the Hindi Paatth
Shala or school becomes Part Shala,
and Hriday or heart becomes Riday
which is as it would sound to a
non-Hindi speaker), a bibliography,
and an index.
A nice addition to my vocabulary
has been "literary journalist", the professional description of Shamsie on
the dust jacket. She told me that this
is how the British Council introduced
her about a year ago and she has decided to stick with it. The book is
priced rather high by Indian standards. Nevertheless, once the scheduled paperback version is out, I hope
it will be widely available. In India
as well. lb.
S. Bhattacharji is Reader, Jesus and
Mary College, Delhi, and Associate
Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced
Study, Shimla.
More than one reason why
Himal makes essential reading.
Himol has a list of aims, modestly stated,
which has to contend with paranoid
politicians, hidebound bureaucrats and
millions ofmiies of barbed wire. It has on
its side the virtues of readability and the
absence of dogma.
Ramachandra Guha
The Telegraph, Calcutta
A most daring magazine venture.
Khushwant Singh
Provides more emphasis on regional
issues than any other international
The News, Lahore
A magazine with a South Asian bias to
counter the petty-nationalism and narrow
geopolitical considerations ofthe region.
The Pioneer, New Delhi
The magazine that looks at all of
South Asia as its beat
Sunday, Calcutta
A regional magazine with an
international outlook.
The Economic Times, Bombay
A very different magazine by definition
and content
The Sunday Times Plus, Colombo
Himal is literate and readable.
Tsering Wdngyof, Tibetan Review
A magazine that caters to a very
interesting niche.
Indian Printer and Publisher
With its broad and humane vision, the
magazine helps capture the unity as well
as the diversity of this unique
pan of our planet
Javed jabbar, Karachi
Journalism  Without  Borders
Himal, GPO Box 7251, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tel:+977-1-5221 13/523845/521013 (fax)
Subscription information on page 22.
1998   SEPTEMBER  HIMAL   11(9
The willing fields of
In American charm offensive is
on with the discovery of natural
gas reserves, but the Bangla
state and civil society is hardly
able to safeguard its long-term
national interests.
by Quddus Mia
Tf he gets over his disenchantment
with the nuclear daredevils of
South Asia, Bill Clinton is slated to
swing by Bangladesh, too, this October. Expect pboto opportunities with
cute street children, destitute women
and select ngo barons. Expect unctuous statements about Jruman rights,
democracy, poverty alleviation, economic development and bilateral
trade. But when it comes to tire rub,
expect the hottom line to be about energy, and the access of American corporations to the massive gas reserves
that have been discovered under
Bangla soil and sea.
The visit, some months back, by
Bill Richardson, special envoy ol the
presideni and the US Ambassador to
the United Nations gave us a taste of
things to come. As he came and went,
the Dhaka media and intelligentsia
cooed with appreciation and amity. As
we all know, the task of mature journalism and pragmatic scholarship is
to keep the truth beyond the reach of
the general public.
BangladesJr claims to have a nominally hee press, but Clinton's visit will
demonstrate how much intellectual
freedom and social responsibility is
exhibited in tbe local media. With
loan-defaulting, land-encroaching
newspaper proprietors among those
manoeuvring for their slice of the gas
fields, it is unlikely that this part of
the 'free press will ever be any more
autonomous tlran the print media op
erating under the direct patronage of
the state. More liberal, less unscrupulous editors will be too flattered hy
the thougJu oi meeting the US president, too concerned about social
standing: under such circumstances
there will be no serious departure
from mainstream ululations of welcome and cooperation. There will be
long post-editorials by people invited
to official functions who will pass ofl
overheard reception banter as "intelligence" and "insight" on the state of
bilateral relations.
Imperial tutelage
So, what will be missing? When Bill
Clinton comes to Bangladesh, what
will we not hear? We already know
HIMAL   11/9   SEPTEMBER   1998
 about American interest in human
rights, responsive governance, increased transparency, and the "commitment of up to USD 600,000 to
projects in this area". To hear them
say it, human rights and advancing
democracy are subjects which will
carry equal weight as energy at die
forthcoming bilateral talks. However,
truth he told, support for human
rights and democracy is but the public relations counterpoint to the real
business of energy.
After all, Jrow would il look if
Clintcn came to Bangladesh to discuss only energy? TJre investment in
human rights and democracy represents negligible sums, made to distract public attention from tire hundreds of millions of dollars that
American corporations stand to gain
in the gas lields. It makes you look
progressive. It serves to legitimise
your presence, it's damn good business.
The United States of America has
no substantial interest in advancing
human rights or democracy in
Bangladesh. Its main interest is to use
its power to overwhelm Bangladesh
with 'goodwill' and pressure so as to
get at the hooty. in its strategy, the
United States is using what they Jrave
learnt from that matron of all imperial powers, Great Britain.
Britain was extolling the virtues of
free trade in the 1860s, the time of its
imperial pre-eminence. The British
global presence then was somewJrat
akin to that of the Americans today.
All Britain had to do to fend off any
military threats was to instigate proprietary laws in its vast colonies and
to utilise appropriated resources. Eor
example, the 1865 and 1878 Indian
Eorest Acts were used to exclude local people and give the British monopoly stakes in the teak forests of
the Mysore Presidency; this teak was
used to build warships to fight the
Germans. These Acts were accompanied by iar more progressive but lightweight lorest policies, which spoke
dreamily of local people's rights to
Note the parallels. The British promulgated proprietary lorest laws to
secure resources for themselves while
offering the local people meaningless
liberal forest politics that suggested
progress and change. The British got
their teak but the people ol South Asia
didn't get their land hack. The Americans today are lobbying to secure a
deciding and lucrative gas-mining
contract while offering token project
support lor human rights and democratic progress. Sounds like a lair
Still, the Americans do not have
tlie distinguished pedigree ol
gentrified theft and polite intimidation perfected by the British for over
two centuries. To make up for these
inadequacies, American administrations past and present have resorted
to laughable moral arguments to defend their transgressions. These embarrassing, soft focus and holier-than-
thou iterations about the greater good
of mankind of course feature the USA
in the role of Guardian. And why nol?
If you write the script, you can be the
leading actor.
Goodbye democracy?
"The 20th century has been characterised by three developments of great
political importance: tire growth of
democracy, the growth of corporate
power, and the growth of corporate
propaganda as a means of protecting
corporate power against democracy,"
says Australian social scientist Alex
The propaganda of
foreign oil companies in
Bangladesh Jras already begun. Half- and full-page
advertisements over the
past year in many ol the
national dailies testify to
this. Democracy and market access are frequently
clumped together with
puhlie statements from the
Americans in a way that is
confusing. The lollowing
is a guess as to what
the actual relationship
could be.
The concept of'democracy', American-style, is
understood to mean acceptance of market discipline favoured by Western
transnational. TJris democracy' is
not locally generated and self-articulated, and is actually threatened if you
or I feel concern for basic human
needs such as education, health,
jobs and food for our children. Tins
'democracy' is about safeguarding
economic rationality with its shops
lull of goods we cannot afford,
profits flowing to Western investors
and a detached, capitalist class ol
Bangladeshis happy with their jobs
with transnational because of status,
good pay and offices that have air
conditioners and Pentium computers.
Frontline of pillage
It may be too late. Even as Bangladesh
struggles lo establish a responsive
democratic system of national and
local government with literate elected
representatives who value public service in the national interest, it just
may be too late. The transformation
of our economic and political system
into one that serves the market, or
rather serves those in the market with
purchasing power, will make a profound impact on the worldview ofthe
typical BangladesJii.
This is a country still searching for
its soul. There is little sense of nationhood, except for those exaggerated
expressions we see on the memorial
days of 16 December, 21 February and
26 March. Most Bangladeshis today,
whether small entrepreneurs or day
lahourers, work alone. Those of us not
worried about where
the next meal is coming
from are at most concerned about our (ami-
lies, Thoughts about
where the country is
going leave us feeling
numb and overwhelmed.
As actors in a market,
we are dependent on our
own initiatives on expanding the economy.
Social capital - the
resources of a community - is gradually being
eroded as patterns of social organisation realign
around economic imperatives. The country's
celebrity loan-defaulters
and frauds are just taking the quick way out of
this nexus.
As lifestyles change, we have little
contact with other workers or with
our neighbours in the representation
The fragmentation of
is being
by the free
market and
its free riders,
society easier
to govern and
 The roof of the world.
Mt Everest. 8848 m . 29 may 1953
A roof for the world.
Hotel SHANGRI-LA.. 82 Deluxe Rooms. P'july 1979
Your private paradise in Nepal
LAZIMPAT. G.P.O. BOX 655. KATHMANDU. NEPAL - TEL : (977.1) 412999 - PAX : (977.1) 414184 - TELEX : 2276 HOSANG NI
 of public interest. Our exposure lo
political or labour organisations is
minimal, except at election time when
candidates come knocking. We, as a
people, have yet to make full use of
our human resources and our disposition is weak when approaching or
confronting the institutions of state.
We are economically Iragile and insecure We also want johs with
transnational because of status, good
pay and offices thai have air conditioners and Pentium computers.
TJie fragmentation of communities is being accomplished hy the free
market and its free riders, making
society easier to govern and exploit.
This is an end that past autocratic regimes in Bangladesh could only have
fantasised about. Unless we are fully
aware of what is happening, oil companies irom America and elsewhere
will loot Bangladesh. And we wont
even know il is happening.
Some cynics will sec this as part
ol a historical continuum, the latest
link in a chain where Marwan, Brit
ish. Pakistani and tlien our own elites
have expropriated the resources ol
this country. Multinational energy
companies have already set up shop,
creating as a frontline a class ol
Bangladeshis, sophisticated and cosmopolitan, who will deiend this potential pillage. Nowhere to date has
there been a serious discussion on the
rcdistributive potential of the wealth
lo be generated by these loreign investments.
Behind the diplomatic lies ol political delegations and business representations, Bangladesh is at risk ol
falling apart, both culturally and politically And this at a lime when we
are trying lo deepen the roots of human rights and democracy. American
promises arc a meaningless distraction. This is simpk not where their
concerns arc. That is why American
oil companies complained to the
L'S Slate Department after Madeleine
Alb right cancelled her visit to
Bangladesh in November 1997, feeling it had harmed their interests in
the country. That is why the US Energy Secretary planned a visit lo
Bangladesh this year.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh is already
a land of disconnected people less
able to participate in the institutions
of power. A majority ot the urban cosmopolitan elite has little knowledge
and no empathy with the rest of the
country, except as a place where they
can make money more easily than if
they were in Britain or America. The
cumulative impact of ihis is that we
arc unlikely to see any concerted challenge to the current ideology of the
market and the will of transnational
energy corporations in the near future.
So. there it is. Welcome to the
Willing Fields of Bangladesh. What
is mine is yours and what is yours
Q. Mid is the pseudonvm for a Bangladeshi who works in an aid agency.
Summit Hotel
Summit Nepal Trekking
P.O. Box 1406, Kalhmandu, Nepal. Tel: 521810, Fax: +977-1-523737
Email: Website:
 AbmtiMtibf'tt Ai&RTSf
Now that there are ways to clone
our pets, the news turns the
concept of reincarnation on its
head. Here we were, firm in our
belief that when the household
goldlish breathes its last it will move
up the karmic ladder to be a
hamster, and when the hamster is
no more, its soul will go into a cat,
and at the cat's demise its spirit will
occupy a puppy and so on. No
more. Today, with advances in
genetic engineering, it is possible to
ensure that a goldfish in its afterlife
will continue to be a goldfish. In a
technique pioneered by the creators
of Dolly the she-sheep, we are about
to enter The Age of Immortal Pets.
No one has asked my dog Snot
what he was in his previous incarnation, although my guess is that he
was a broccoli. If he had a choice of
afterlives, I'm sure Snot would file
an application for something as
immobile as possible, like a toadstool. Unlike other born-again dogs
I know, Snot is the kind who's not
really interested in a career progression in the hereafter to the higher
vertebrates. Snot is a fatalist and his
philosophy in his current passage
through worldly existence is very
simple: Take each minute as it
comes. Don't plan anything. Don't
expend more energy than is absolutely necessary And, don't worry.
It is the same credo by which
thousands of civil servants in the
Subcontinent live and work. The
dog would do very well as the office
mascot for the Department of
Livestock and Sports in any of our
countries. Snot lives in what
physicisLs would describe as a very
Low Entropy Level. One Day in ihe
Life of Snot would not be a very
thick volume. In fact, the dog's daily
log would read like this:
0600 Internal alarm clock rings.
Wake up and yawn.
0601 Go back to sleep.
0614 Internal alarm clock rings
again. Internal alarm clock
irrevocably destroyed.
0615 Sleepwalk to cooler spot in
0618 Sit on hind legs with droopy
eyelids. Scratch Sr sniff
armpit, lick private parts.
0619 Yelp in sleep. Rapid Eye
0620 Think about going
0820   After weighing pros and
cons, decide that walkabout
wouldn't be a bad idea at
some point.
1020   Go walkabout: irrigate
gladiolus, fertilise lawn, brisk
olfactory inspection of
1022 Finish walkabout, return to
1023 Chase away crow who
mistakenly thinks dog is
deceased. Resume siesta.
1750   Open eyes. ("Is this my next
life, or am I still in my
present life?")
1900   Semi-comatose.
1930   Bark like a maniac at no one
in particular for 30 seconds.
2000   Feeding time, wag tail.
2030   Watch cable.
2130 FIowl aimlessly at full moon
in time-honoured tradition
handed down from generation to generation of wolf
2131 Abruptly call off howling as
old shoes and curses are
hurled from upper window.
2300   Call it a day.
Snot is now about 45 in human
years, and his sedentary lifestyle, is
going to take a toll on his arteries.
So the day will come when he will
have to apply for his next posting in
afterlife. There is a long waiting list
for popular slots like a gnu, a
jackass penguin or a tapeworm.
In the great scheme of things,
Snot hasn't excelled in any way, s<>
he doesn't stand out among those
who would, for instance, be reborn
as Bill Gale's cat or Maneka Gandhi's
goat. So what is an underdog to do?
Fortunately, dog's best friend, man,
has perfected a technique of
artificially extracting the genetic
material from a cell in Snot's saliva
and fertilising an egg which incubates in a host ovary until birth and
The long and short of it is that
although Snot's soul will henceforth
be trapped in a dog's body, his
owners will have the convenience of
owning a pet that never actually
dies. When Snot is no more, when
he kicks the bucket, expires, is
deceased, becomes an ex-dog, goes
to his happyr hunting grounds, not
to worry — the late Snot will be
reborn as a puppy identical in every
respect to Uncle Snot including in
barking like a maniac for no
particular reason for 30 seconds
every evening.
Although I, as Snot's owner,
would be happy lo have his surrogate offspring, the whole thing
opens up vexing questions of ethics,
intellectual property and inheritance laws.
For instance, would I want to
sabotage Snot's legitimate chances of
ultimately being reborn as Pete
Sampras? OK, OK, maybe not
immediately. But after a couple of
improving cycles of death and
And what if our politicians get
hold of the technology and perpetuate themselves? Or worse, replicate
themselves. What would a cabinet
full of Sita Ram Kesri lookalikes
look like? There is no
doubt that genetic
engineering must be
kept as far away from
politicians as possible. But I'd like to
give Snot a shot.
HIMAL   11/9 SEPTEMBER  1998
 and you thought you'd seen it all !
The Hanging Bridge at Rangamati
The colourful tribes
The blue waters of The Bay of Bengal
The unspoiled nature
The traditional tribal flair
The Royal Bengal Tiger
You haven't seen anything till you've experienced the sights,
the sounds and the wonders of Bangladesh.
So what are you waiting for?
Discover it on:
Your home in the air
 you are jooKing at mis,
people are making fortunes
s nos
. :■■:.■';,'-


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