Digital Himalaya Journals

Himal South Asian Volume 16, Number 2, February 2003 Dixit, Kanak Mani Feb 28, 2003

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Vol 16 No 2
February 2003
Paths to peace
Securing ceasefires in Nepal
and Sri Lanka and moving on.
CO   NT   E   N   T   S
Sri Lanka: Making, and keeping,
by Jehan Perera
India-Pakistan: The n-word
The king's ceasefire
by Pushkar Gautam
Mechanisms of power sharing
by Jehan Perera
Dateline Jaffna
by Frances Bulathasinghala
Manufacturing a government
in Sindh
by Hasan Mansoor
Celluloid combustion
by Binitesh Baruri
The sustainability of hunger
by Devinder Sharma
AIDS and India: Funding Its way to
the forefront
by Rajeshwari Menon
Indian feminism and the patriarchy
of caste
by Anupama Rao
Dual citizenship: Of what and for
by Itiy Abraham
When good help is hard to find
by Anagha Neelakantan
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas J Mathew
Assistant Editor
Shruti Debi
Contributing Editors
Calcutta   Rajashri DaSgupta
Colombo    Manik de Silva
dhaka       Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi     Beena Sarwar
new delhi   Mitu Varma
n. .America Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
.Andrew HM Nash
Design Team
Indra Shrestha
Kam Singh Praja
Suresh Neupane
Bilash Rai (Graphics)
Bhushan Shilpakar (Website)
Subscription/Overseas Sales
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Nepal/Northeast India Sales
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■; sates @
Marketing Office, Karachi
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City Press
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Himal is published and distributed by
Himalmedia Pvt Ltd
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Contributors to this issue
Anagha Neelakantan is a Kathmandu-based writer and former editor with Nepali
Anupama Rao is an assistant professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia
University, New York.
Binitesh Baruri is studying Direction at the Film and Television Institute of India,
CK Lai is a Kathmandu engineer and Nepali Times columnist.
Devinder Sharma, formerly with The Indian Express, is a food and trade policy
analyst based in Delhi.
Frances Bulathasinghala is a Colombo-based writer on defence and political
Hasan Mansoor is a Karachi journalist.
Itty Abraham is Programme Director, South Asia Programme of the Social
Science Research Council. He lives in Washington, DC.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist in Colombo, writes a weekly column in the
Daily Mirror.
Pushkar Gautam, a former Maoist fighter from eastern Nepal, is a political
columnist based in Kathmandu.
Rajeshwari Menon is a freelance writer and health researcher based in Delhi.
Cover design by Suresh Neupane
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www.hi mai nfiaeucorn
 Vacancy Announcement
ActionAid is a major international non-governmental development organization with its mission "to work with poor and marginalized women,
men, girls and boys to eradicate poverty and injustice and inequity that cause it".
ActionAid as a member of the ActionAid Alliance works in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean regions. It partners with
CBOs, NGOs, social movements, people's organization and activists and critically engages with governments, international organisations and
private companies to ensure pro-poor policies, programmes and practices. ActionAid through its innovative projects, social mobilisation and
policy advocacy work focuses on issues of gender equity, livelihood, food security, education, and governance, trafficking of women and
children and HIV/AIDs.
In Asia ActionAid has offices in India, Nepal, China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam and has programme presence in
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Its regional office is located in Bangkok.
We are presently recruiting staff with responsibilities for the following regional work.
Media Relations Officer (Ref: 01/2003) HIV/AIDs Coordinator (Ref: 03/2003)
The Media Relations Officer as a media professional will primarily be
responsible for ensuring effective engagement of lhe media in
ActionAid's work. The successful candidate will work as part ofthe
communications team and be responsible for maintaining a close
relationship with local, national and international journalists across
Asia. Other responsibilities will include writing press releases,
preparing information packs, drafting brochures and presentations,
coordinating journalist field trips and strengthening ActionAid Asia
staff capacity to deal with the media.
Candidates will have a degree in journalism with a minimum three
years working experience in a media related field, excellent
communications skills with articles and press releases as back up.
They should posses an insider's knowledge into the working of the
broad media, understanding the mechanics and motivations of people
who work in it and its consumers. They will have run campaigns and
may even have worked with issues important to ActionAid.
SAARC Advocacy Coordinator (Ref: 02/2003)
The SAARC Advocacy Coordinator will be responsible for poverty
focused and people centred advocacy work related to South Asia
Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The successful
candidate will he ensuring Action.Md's engagement with social
movements and peoples' organisations at the South Asia regional level.
Coordinating ActionAid's advocacy work including policy research,
campaigns, lobbying in direct interface with SAARC and related
processes on issues such as peace and justice, food security and
sovereignty, education, water rights, anti-trafficking of women and
children, HIV/AIDS, migration w ill be a vital part ofthe responsihilities.
The HIV/AIDS Coordinator will be responsible for ensuring both
expansion and deepening of rights based HIV/AIDS programmes in
ActionAid countries and at a regional level. Supporting people
vulnerable to and living with HIV/AIDS and their organisations to
claim their rights and take charge of their lives will be central to this
job. This role will involve carrying out research, strengthening staff
capacity, doing policy analysis and advocacy work and linking with
people, organisations and processes working to secure the rights and
entitlements of people vulncrahle to or living with HIV/AIDS. The
successful candidate will engage with governments and business sector
for leveraging resources, policies and practices and will actively
participate in ActionAid's international campaign against HIV/AIDS.
Candidates will have a thorough understanding ofthe social, economic
and political issues related to HIV/AIDS in Asia. They will have
relevant higher education and at least five years of direct experience of
HIV/AIDS or of working with people living with HIV/AIDS.
Partnership Development Coordinator (Ref: 04/2003)
The Partnership Development Coordinator will lead the region in a
coordinated effort to generate more resources both from international
official funding sources as well as from Trusts and Foundations. The
successful candidate will be responsible for developing strategies for
increasing volume and value of grants, competitive bids and tenders;
will deepen relationships with official funding sources for engagement
on policy influencing beyond money and open new relationship and
avenues for diversifying income. Strengthening the official fundraising
team's capacity wil! also be an important part of the responsibilities.
Candidates will have a higher degree in social sciences, marketing or
economics and minimum of five years relevant working experience in
the development sector including knowledge of major official donors
and having a proven ability in managing effective working relationships
with them and possessing an ability to design proposals and be
successful at raising funds.
Candidates will bave a sound understanding about poverty, human
rights, geopolitics, gender and civil society issues in the region. They
must have relevant higher education and more tban five years of
experience in policy research, advocacy or campaigning. In depih
knowledge about SAARC structure, policy, processes and programmes
and proficiency ifi a number of South Asia regional languages will be
General notes
For all of the above positions we are interested in people who are self-motivated, have a capacity for working independently, able to work across
distances and committed to working on issues of poverty and rights. They should have excellent interpersonal, networking and communication
skills. Fluency in English both written and spoken is essential and knowledge of languages of ActionAid Asian countries would be an asset.
Experience of working in multicultural environments both within the region and internationally in the development sector would be highly
advantageous. The jobs would involve travel of minimum 30 % within the region and to wider parts of ActionAid.
Women candidates are particularly encouraged to apply.
Please email your application with a recent CV and names of two referees to: job@actionaidasia.ori: bv 25"1 February 2003 and mention
the vacancy reference number indicated beside each position in the subject of your email application.
We will be able to respond to the shortlisted candidates only for the selection process by mid March 2003.
 Let reporting stand alone
MANJUSHREE THAPA'S article on Nepal (Himal January 2003) is not enhanced by the prominent reliance
on Amnesty International data. Himal readers would
have been better served had the magazine let Thapa's
reporting stand on its merits without trying to tie it to
Amnesty's recent report, which departed from standard
practice by not independently verifying the government's figure of 4050 Maoists killed. There is scant evidence to support that figure, and given the penchant
for inflated 'body counts' from battlefield reports it is
likely that this figure is very wrong.
Amnesty's evidence for its assertion that half of the
supposed 4050 killings were illegal is thus on shaky-
ground, a fact borne out by the lack of evidence in the
report. Amnesty presents data to substantiate six extrajudicial killings. How they got from six to
2000 is completely unexplained. They reference no lists of those allegedly illegally
I also question the way Thapa uses data
from the Nepali human rights group INSEC,
whose data comes mainly from government
figures which Thapa herself says are probably exaggerated. It is critical to understanding the conflict to know what the aggregate
figures for people killed by the state and by the Maoists
represent. All deaths are tragic, but the security forces
killing a Maoist combatant cannot be equated with a
Maoist killing a member of the security forces or a civilian. To simply ascribe a higher figure of total deaths to
the state without describing who those people were does
the dead and readers an injustice.
I was particularly surprised not to see any figures of
the total deaths of security forces, especially of police,
of whom over 1000 died last year. Although I realise
the article focused on the suffering of innocents, it is
very useful for judging the severity of the conflict to
know how successful the insurgents are against the
government's forces.
What is happening in Nepal is tragic and almost
beyond comprehension, as Manjushree Thapa ably
details, but I trust Himal to strive for accuracy and not
Paul Marks
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
Puppet and puppeteer
DEEPAK THAPA has written what is otherwise an
excellent obituary of Rishikesh Shaha (Himal January
2003), but for calling the late Shaha a "scholar statesman". In my view, Shaha was not a good scholar, even
less so a good statesman. But, in my view, Thapa has
Shah was a
stone on which
the palace
its sword
followed the beaten path of eulogising rather than critiquing, and has ignored the weaknesses of Shaha as a
politician/political scientist.
Consider the following. Looking at the titles of books
to Shaha's credit - I have read only one, Heroes and
Builders of Nepal - one can see that he was more of a
political historian or political scientist. Shaha wrote
many articles - of which I have read only a few - criticising, say, the panchayat system, but, even according
to Thapa, Shaha did not utter a word against the last
three Shah rulers.
We all know that in the Panchayat regime, the king
ruled through puppets. Shaha criticised the puppets of
the system but not the puppeteer. And in Heroes and
Builders of Nepal, the author eulogises King Mahendra
in rather unscholarly terms. King Mahendra could be
considered, along with some others, one of the worst of
the Shah kings. A scholar who cannot analvse or critique persons in his field of specialisation
is not a 'good scholar'.
Shaha was also not a statesman. His
close relationship with expatriates or with
the Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai
in the recent past does not qualirv him as
such and neither does his prediction that
rebellion in Rolpa would not die out. Shaha, whom political scientist LS Baral called
one of the triumvirate 'Decern bensts' for
welcoming King Mahendra's coup in 1960, went on to
write the constitution of 1962 - and we all kjiow how
good that was. He also held many posts during the
Panchayat period. I think, during that period, Shaha
was nothing more than a Panchayat system facade concocted by Mahendra to keep up appearances.
After jettisoning the people-elected government, Mahendra needed to show the outside world that there
was room for dissent within the (autocratic) Panchayat
system. He needed people with international reputations to assist him in this strategy. People such as Shaha, Tulsi Giri and even KI Singh wTere agreeable enough
to go along. Mahendra made these people criticise the
government (but praise the king!) so that he could show
the world his democratic face. But keep in mind that
others who criticised the December coup or the Panchayat regime faced brutal repression. For instance, in
1964 Shaha published an article criticising the government in the two regional papers - Swatantra Vichar and
Dainik Nepal. The government let Shaha off scot-free
while the two papers were banned for printing tbe
Shaha, in most aspects of his life, was neither a gem-
stone (statesman-scholar) nor a rock that blunted the
darbar's tarbar (sword) but was instead a sharpening
stone, allowing the palace to harm democracy and the
people of Nepal.
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 Parallel with America
CONGRATULATIONS ON Himal January 2003 on
the 'invention' of Asia. 1 work with the Inuit people in
Canada, who have established their own territory -
'Nunavut' -covering one-fifth of the Canadian land-
mass. As a European-Canadian, I work as a policy advisor with the Inuit, basically reinforcing their 'hunch'
that many of the development ideas of 'white' government and corporations are flawed. There are many parallels between the insights in Himal and the observations and experiences of Inuit people in the Canadian
Incidentally, as with 'Asia', the history of the concept of 'America' is also questionable. In 1507, a German cartographer decided that since the other continents had been given 'feminine' names, the 'newest'
should be named after its male 'discoverer', who he
mistakenly identified as Amerigo Vespucci - hence
Amerigo', now America. As a result, the 640 first nations of Canada find themselves named 'Indians' or
native 'Americans' - both mistaken labels attached by
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Ministers fail
to keep
not due to
deliberate ill
will but
they do not
have the
capacity to
fulfil them
Mahinda Rajapakse
IT HAS been a consistent feature of the Sri
Lankan peace process that important
initiatives by the LITE are downplayed and
trivialised by sections of Sinhala nationalist
opinion, which could instead, more profitably, seek to hold Jaffna to its word. One of
the biggest breakthroughs of the present
peace process was the announcement by the
LTTE's chief negotiator at the current peace
talks, Dr Anton Balasingham, that the LTTE
would be prepared to settle for a federal
solution. The international media and most
analysts outside Colombo viewed this
statement as setting the basic parameters
within which a negotiated settlement may
be found.
In Sri Lanka, the response to Dr Balasingham's pronouncement, made in Oslo
in December during the third round of talks,
was more qualified. Analysts pointed
critically to the text of the official statement,
prepared by the Norwegian facilitators,
saying that the LTTE and the Sri Lankan
government had agreed only to explore a
federal solution, which was not equivalent
to actually accepting one. The noticeable gap
between the LTTE's words and deeds
(especially in matters of human rights)
makes this a plausible line of argument. LTTE
negotiators and the top leadership have
repeatedly denied that children are still
recruited as soldiers, but they are. They have
also verbally accepted that the north and
east are constituted by a plural society in
which democracy should prevail, but on the
ground the Muslims and rival Tamil parties
still find themselves suppressed.
This disjunction casts doubt on the
credibility of the LTTE and its sincerity in
the peace process. Those who go on the
basis of the ground situation have reservations about the LTTE's commitment to a
negotiated compromise settlement on the
lines of generally accepted federal models.
The presidential spokesperson's comments
that the LTTE has recruited an additional
10,000 cadre since the commencement of the
ceasefire agreement a year ago and thereby
vastly increased its manpower, coupled
with the findings by international monitors
of the continuance of child recruitment, give
credence to these apprehensions.
Reports from visitors to the north and
east confirming child recruitment and of
people being intimidated into paying LTTL
taxes are gloomy in the extreme. However,
those who have face-to-face interactions
with the top leadership of the LTTE tend to
come away with a different perception.
Members of international fact-finding
missions and aid donors, as well as organisations working directly with the top
leadership of the LTTE, depict a more
optimistic situation in which the LTTL is
indeed committed to the peace process.
The challenge is to explain this disparity
between the ground reality and the impressions given by the LTTE's top leadership.
The LTTE's concern is undoubtedly to
maintain its monopoly of control in the
territories it has acquired. It is also now
seeking to extend its influence over the rest
of the north and east where the government's security forces are present. The
request for international funding for its
peace secretariat suggests that while trying
to maximise its control on the ground, the
LTTE is also seeking to reorient its cadre from
war- to peace-time duties. This is likely to
be an uphill task for the LTTE, given its
serious capacity handicap for such a
International delegations and others
visiting the LTTE's Wanni headquarters
speak of the communication bottleneck
caused by very few personnel having the
linguistic and technical wherewithal to
engage with outsiders. As an organisation
that waged a guerrilla war for over 20 years,
the LTTE has only a handful of cadres who
are able to speak in English and have
human rights and political education.
Further, the LTTE's mistrust of outsiders has
made it reluctant to bring in even Tamil
expatriates as new leaders or advisors,
possibly for fear of losing control.
Capacity shortfall
The challenges that the LTTE faces in
transforming politically need to be appreciated at this time. Even if the LTTE leadership has the will, it does not at the moment
have the capacity. But it needs to develop
its capacity to respect human and political
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
rights on a priority basis as a foundation
for a democratic society. This is a problem
that the government also faces in a different
area. The lack of visible progress in the
rehabilitation and development programme
in the north and east is prompting doubts
among locals about the government's
commitment to uplifting their condition.
The observations made by the parliamentary opposition leader, Mahinda
Rajapakse, on returning from Jaffna in late
January need to be taken seriously. While it
is a damning indictment of Sri Lankan
politics that it took until now for a leader of
the opposition to visit Sri Lanka's second
largest city and meet its people, it is a case
of better late than never. Rajapakse spoke of
the lack of development and strongly
condemned the government. He said that
the government had appointed a plethora
of ministers and set up many agencies to
deal with the rehabilitation and development of the north. But despite several
ministers visiting Jaffna amidst great
fanfare and making all sorts of promises,
there had been little change on the ground.
When the Colombo ministers go to Jaffna
and make promises they certainly mean
them. They are moved by the immensity of
the destruction, the poverty of the people
and their hopes for a peaceful and normal
future. Their failure to deliver on their
promises is not due to deliberate ill will or
deception but because they do not possess
the material capacity to honour their word.
The government, as much as the LTTE, needs
to strengthen its capacity for fulfilling its
promise of ensuring peace and prosperity
for the people of the north and east.
As in every sphere, there is a need here
too for accountability. The role of the media,
civil society and the international community is to be supportive of requests for
capacity building while being watchdogs
of the peace process. An offer by the Japanese
government to assist the LTTE in setting up
a peace secretariat needs to be seen in this
light. The day the LTTE begins to demobilise
its child soldiers and permits international
verification oT the demobilisation will be a
turning point in the internationally mediated peace-making effort. h
- Jehan Perera
2002 ENDED much like it began, with talk
of war, possibly war involving nuclear
weapons, hanging over the Subcontinent
like a thick, blinding fog. Addressing an air
force veterans rally in Karachi on 30
December, President General Pervez Musharraf said that at the height of the standoff
with India last June, he sent signals to New
Delhi that "if Indian troops moved a single
step across the international border or the
Line of Control, they should not expect a
conventional war from Pakistan".
Musharraf's statement, which appeared
to imply that he had threatened nuclear war
against India, quickly provoked denunciations from New Delhi and clarifications
and counter-denunciations from Islamabad. On 3 January, Musharraf insisting that
he had been misquoted, stated that "no one
in his right state of mind can talk of nuclear
war", and clarified that his reference to non-
conventional warfare meant guerilla combat in the event of an Indian invasion of
Pakistan-administered Kashmir. NC Vij,
India's army chief, declined to analyse the
semantics of Musharraf's statement, though
the defence minister, George Fernandes,
replied that "nuclear blackmail" would not
succeed and that if Pakistan launched a
nuclear strike, "we would suffer a little but
there will be no Pakistan left later". In
Islamabad on 7 January, the Pakistani
information minister, Shiekh Rashid
Ahmed, termed Fernandes' rebuttal the
"ravings of a crazy man" and said that if
Pakistan was attacked, "we have the will to
give a crushing reply", yet another ambiguous statement appearing to suggest a
willingness to use nuclear weapons in the
event of a conventional attack.
This exchange of nuclear-charged words
is only the latest episode in a years-long and
ongoing death-grip dance of South Asian
brinkmanship, in general, and Pakistani
ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons
usage policy, in particular. Speaking at the
same forum as Fernandes, the US ambassador to India, Richard Haass, called the
India-Pakistan relationship "distinctly
abnormal" and recalled that the US and the
USSR kept essential channels of commun-
The stated
willingness to
use nuclear
weapons is
wrong by any
standard -
social, moral
or otherwise
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
 No other
region in the
world has
ever come
this close
to nuclear
confrontation, nor have
remained on
the brink for
so long
George Fernandes
ication open even during the cold war's most
tense moments. And for all of the faults of
India's nuclear stance - the first being that
it was India that went nuclear first, egging
Pakistan to follow suit - at least New Delhi
has committed itself to a no-first-use policy
and placed its weapons under a civilian-
led command structure, things Pakistan
has not done. In February 2000, Pakistan
announced that its Nuclear Command
Authority would be chaired by the head of
government - then Musharraf, now PM
Jamali - but analysts argue that Jamali is
unlikely to exercise authority independent
of Musharraf, thus merely veiling the
military's control of the weapons. In
Pakistan, all roads lead to Gen Musharraf.
Pakistan started a crash uranium enrichment program in 1976, two years after India
first conducted its Pokhran tests. In 1985,
the two countries agreed not to attack each
other's nuclear installations. Pakistan
declared a moratorium on the production
of highly enriched uranium in 1991,
although Pakistan's claimed in a 1992
interview with The Washington Post that his
country had enough fissile material to
produce at least one bomb. India truly let
the dogs of nuclear conflagration loose
when Atal Behari Vajpayee gave the go-
ahead for Pokhran II, and, despite the voices
of a few peaceniks, Pakistan immediately
reciprocated. South Asia has not been the
same since, with two declared nuclear
powers constantly at the brink of all-out war,
what with the 73-day Kargil war in mid-
1999, Musharraf's October 1999 coup, the
December 2001 militant attack on the
Indian parliament and the extended standoff on the border with forces at ready.
Confusing and provocative statements
from Islamabad have helped to keep the n-
option in the spotlight. In April 2002,
Musharraf told a German magazine that
"as a last resort, the atom bomb is also
possible", appearing to reaffirm a February
2000 commitment to decide on the use of
nuclear weapons "when national integrity
is threatened". However, when meeting
with other Asian leaders in Almaty in June,
Musharraf seemed to offer contradictory
statements on the same day, at one point
declaring that "any sane individual"
would prevent a nuclear war from occurring and at another stating that "the
possession of nuclear weapons by any state
obviously implies that they will be used
under some circumstances". Coupled with
Musharraf's December remarks, it appears
that despite assurances to the contrary
Pakistan's nuclear posture rests in the
whims of one man.
Even beyond its confrontation with
India, the telltale smoke vis-a-vis Pakistan's
nuclear programme does not inspire confidence. In 2002, allegations arose that
Pakistan has been supplying technical
assistance to North Korea's nuclear programme since 1997 in return for missile
technology, charges Islamabad denies.
Further, there are concerns that individuals
within the Pakistani nuclear establishment
might put their knowledge on the open
market. In its 30 December 2002-5 January
2003 edition, the South Asian Tribune, a US-
based Internet newspaper run by a Pakistani editor-in-exile, reported that at least
eight senior and one mid-level nuclear
engineers "secretly absconded from Pakistan" between 2000 and 2002, destinations
now unknown.
It is important to avoid Musharraf-style
ambiguity and Fernandes-style flippancy to
make one point perfectly clear: the stated
willingness to use nuclear weapons is
wrong by any standard - political, social,
moral or otherwise. No leader of any
government, be it democratic or dictatorial,
free or feudal, should under any occasion
state, imply or suggest that he or she would
use these terrible tools of destruction.
Despite Fernandes' disturbingly blase
statement that India "could take a bomb or
two", the use of even one nuclear weapon -
much less a complete exchange of arsenals
- would invite unprecedented human and
ecological destruction on the Subcontinent,
and likely beyond.
As 2003 begins, we must worry about
our collective future and wait to see if
brinkmanship and ambiguity remain the
order of the day. The loose talk about the
use and counter-use of nuclear weapons
indicates how far our politicians and
politician-generals arc from reality. It also
indicates how far the public at large is from
a true understanding of the fallout of
nuclear war, which is what goads the
leaders to such craven irresponsibility.
No other region in the world has ever
come this close to nuclear confrontation, nor
have things remained on the brink for so
long. It is time to wake up, not only in New
Delhi and Islamabad, but also in Karachi,
Lahore, Madras and Bombay. And in
Colombo, Dhaka and Kathmandu. b
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 The king's ceasefire
The royal palace in Kathmandu and the Maoists have agreed to a ceasefire
without consulting the political parties. How now to bring them into the upcoming
talks, and how does a king deal with rebels who want to abolish monarchy?
by Puskar Gautam	
he government of Nepal
and the Maoist rebels an
nounced a ceasefire on the
night of 29 January 2002, the Maoists taking the peace plunge an
hour and a half before the
state. For Kathmandu valley, still
stunned by the gunning down of a top policeman, his
wife and bodyguard only three days earlier, the news
was the balm it so needed. Even though some would-be
interlocutors greeted the news with scepticism tainted
by disappointment ('nobody told us!'), and some political leaders viewed this coming together of two non-
democratic forces with extreme caution, the rest of
society seemed to accept with enthusiasm what the
ceasefire offered. In the immediate offing was an end to
the mayhem on the terraces and plains just as it was
beginning to make its presence felt in the valley, and
there was the implied possibility of a larger peace and,
ultimately, a negotiated end to the seven-year war in
which nearly 8000 lives have been taken.
This is not the first interlude in Nepal's 'people's
war'. In August 2001, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government sent a team without a brief to the negotiating table, where it sat across from a Maobaadi side intent on
buying time to consolidate and expand its campaign.
This time around, 17 months later, there are significant
di fferences. Three of the most obvious are the quiet manner in which the groundwork was laid, unique in a
polity that is in the habit of advertising its exertions;
the implicit participation of a proactive palace; and the
weight of a rapidly strengthening army, deployed all
over the country (instead of a demoralised and under-
equipped police) behind the government. At a time
when the international community has been showing
a keen interest in the conflict by enthusiastically offering mediating mechanisms and conflict-resolution expertise, some found it pleasant that the ceasefire process was an entirely 'Nepali' affair.
The negotiations required to convert the ceasefire,
which is disadvantaged by its democratic shortfall, into
a peace process will be tedious and challenging to say
the least. The Maoists will likely have to deal with disgruntled elements turning renegade and splintering the
movement - a serious problem for the country if it were
to happen - and the state will
have to evolve a formula that
includes the political parties
for the moment out of government and not party to the ceasefire discussions.
Power vacuum
In July 2001, Sher Bahadur Deuba entered the prime
minister's office by sidelining incumbent prime minister (also president of Deuba's party), the old horse in
the Nepali Congress, Girija P Koirala. One of the reasons he was able to do so was that the Maoists refused
to talk with a government headed by Koirala. Proclaiming a ceasefire even before he had formally taken charge,
Deuba paved the way for the Maoists to come above
ground. Talks began in the month of August, and three
rounds were held before the Maoists unilaterally jettisoned the negotiations in November by unexpectedly
striking at an army barracks in Dang, western Nepal.
As subsequently acknowledged by tbe Maoist leadership, the rebels used the peace afforded by the talks to
regroup and rearm, and also to grow their roots in new
areas such as the tarai.
The Deuba government, stung by the humiliating
betrayal, responded by declaring a state of emergency,
deploying the army against the Maoists, declaring them
terrorists and atavistically placing a price on the heads
of the rebel leaders. Contact between the government
and the Maoists evaporated, while the people were
caught in tbe tightening pincer of Maoist and army action. As the success rate of Maoist attacks - mainly
against government offices in district headquarters -
grew, the under-prepared army became increasingly
defensive and the government withdrew from many
villages, leaving a power vacuum that the insurgents
were happy to fill.
The Deuba government was unable to come up with
an appropriate response to the Maoist offensive. Human rights activists who offered to act as intermediaries had the confidence of neither the government nor
the insurgents, while Deuba himself was willing but
unable to initiate talks. The frustration of ineffective
action began to tell on the Congress government soon
enough. Faced with a Koirala-led offensive, Deuba dis-
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
solved parliament in May 2002, announced general elections, was unable to make them happen, and then proposed postponing them by up to 14 months. At that
point, on 4 October, King Gyanendra - by his own admission more a person of action than his late brother,
Birendra - sacked Deuba. He was replaced by Lokendra Bahadur Chand, a Panchayat era holdover and
former prime minister, who was handpicked by the
palace to head a cabinet of technocrats and politicians,
the latter weaned away from their parties.
Meanwhile, the political parties sputtered and
shouted, and certainly retained the ability to create trouble for the palace in the long-term, but were unable to
spark their followings or the public against the king's
action, not least because their hands were tied by the
Maoists' gunning for the monarchy. Analysts saw little hope that the Chand cabinet, seemingly lacking political credibility, could untie the Maoist knot. This was
the situation when one of the ministers in the king's
cabinet is said to have begun secretly developing contacts with the Maoists about two months ago.
Narayan Singh Pun is a former army officer and
helicopter pilot-turned-airline proprtetor-turned-poli-
tician. A member of the community from which the
Maoists draw their core strength in central Nepal, the
Magar, Pun is a street-smart man who left a Nepali
Congress ridden with bitter infighting to start his own
Samata Party last year. Having contacted the rebels
through their sympathisers in Kathmandu, Pun seems
to have taken particular care to ensure that the top rung
of the rebel military, represented by Ram Bahadur
Thapa (Comrade Badal), was part of the discussions.
The ceasefire announcement, when it finally came, had
the acquiescence of the topmost leadership of the Maoists. That the Maoists have appointed their senior leaders, including the number two-man and party ideologue,
Baburam Bhattarai, and Badal, to the negotiating team,
unlike earlier when a flimflam group were representing it, indicates that their intention is to conduct real
dialogue this time.
Maoist choices
The power dynamics in Nepali politics have shifted
after the royal action of 4 October 2002, with the palace
clearly wanting more of a say in national affairs that it
believes the political parties grievously neglected. Kathmandu drawing room wisdom would earlier dismiss
suggestions, and justifiably so, that the republican
Maoists and the palace, the two diametrically opposed
parties in the conflict for power, would (or could)
engage with each other without the political parties as
a buffer. But the recent developments belie that analysis. For reasons that one can only speculate on at the
moment, the Maoists decided to recognise the palace
as the power centre when they determined to make the
move towards talks.
There are several reasons - political and organisational, national and international - why this time the
Maoist call for a ceasefire may just be genuine and not a
repeat of the cynical strategic game of the last round.
The logistical challenge of managing its wildfire
growth, supporting a brigade-strength fighting force on
looted cash, the handicap of antiquated weaponry, the
steady erosion of support from an intimidated countryside, and the possibility that the law of diminishing returns may have begun to set in with cadres getting restive over the failure in converting night-time strike missions into actual territorial gains - all these would have
influenced the decision to engage in serious peace talks.
Also, with the change in the international climate
post-11 September of growing impatience with insurgencies from Washington, DC to New Delhi, the Maoists would have realised that it was only a matter of
time before they started losing ground in Nepal. Statements made by Maoist leaders after the ceasefire
indicate that they had deduced as much. Besides, an
experience of the difficulty in planting true-red Marxism on Nepali soil, and the growing capability of the
army that had, with international assistance, begun
coming into its own for the first time in the war, would
have influenced the leadership to cash in its chips while
its military momentum was still on, converting success
in the field into above-ground legitimacy at the centre.
At a time when the perception of rebel success was
still strong, the choice before the Maoist leadership was
clear, lt could either step up the pressure through bombings and assassinations in Kathmandu valley- as seemed
to have happened on the morning of 26 January when
Krishna Mohan Shrestha, the chief of the ,Armed Police
Force, was killed. Or, it could bargain on the strength of
its advances before the revolution went out of control.
With the successes of the insurgency over the last
two years, the Maoists were faced with the choice of
establishing a 'base area', where they would maintain
fighters and protect the citizenry; or, committing themselves to a 'final offensive' and a do-or-die attack on the
state. It had already been decided in the Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist) plenum two years ago that the
creation of a base area was not possible. So instead,
since last spring, the rebels had been gearing up to execute the second option, which would mean the taking
of Kathmandu. Difficulties encountered in attacking the
valley however made the future look suddenly uncertain, and the limits to how long the leadership could
maintain troop morale on the basis of violent aggression on far-flung outposts began to become clear.
Keeping this in mind, the Maoist leadership seems
to have decided on the latter option, no matter that it
would now be required to engage with the central object of its seven-year campaign, the crown. In doing so,
the leadership seems to have chosen a 'safe landing'
over going with the cadres who overwhelmingly would
want to continue the fight.
What now?
With the Maoist leadership committing to a ceasefire,
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 the focus is now on the complexities involved in moving talks ahead. The dismissal of the elected government sublimated the divisions in Nepali politics so that
it is now relatively easy to discern three distinct participants. The monarchy, supported by an appointed cabinet, and the Maobaadi on the radical left are already at
the negotiating table. But the present arrangement leaves
out the political parties who, for all their inefficiency
(even in protesting their sidelining), are the legitimate
parliamentary force. The political parties denounce the
monarchy under King Gyanendra for evolving into an
extra-constitutional entity, whereas the Maoists are by
definition rallied against the constitution - even though
there is a whispered suspicion that given a political
berth commensurate with their ambitions the leaders
will not be unwilling to accept the system essentially
as it exists.
Before the unexpected ceasefire declaration of 29
January, there was much speculation, which has now
been laid to rest by fait accompli, on who would talk to
whom first - the king and the parties, the parties and
the Maobaadi, or the king and the Maobaadi. With King
Gyanendra unwilling to have much truck with the parties and the latter unable to unite among themselves to
force his hand, it is the Maobaadi and the king (through
his representatives in the cabinet) who have started talking. Nevertheless, in this three-way polarisation of Nepali politics, the proximity or distance of the political
parties from the talks, as designed by the king and implemented by Pun, will be the key factor in the peace
process. For tlie moment, the political parties are smarting from having been bypassed.
It need not be entirely impossible but it will be com-
mensurately more difficult for the 'unnatural' discussions between the two extreme positions to yield results for the long term. At some point, presuming that
parliamentary democracy is now a given in Nepal, the
political parties will have to be brought into the process so that the talks continue to be viable. What mechanism would be best, and what will be adopted, is as
yet an open question. But, the initial breakthrough having been achieved, it would be misguided for the king,
Pun and the rest of the cabinet to believe that the peace
process can proceed far without the political parties.
The Maoists have demanded an all-party round-
table conference, and a period of interim government,
leading up to the election of a constituent assembly that
will reformulate the constitution. This is the Maoists at
their most flexible; the long-held demand for a republic, which had so far precluded the possibility of reconciliation, is no longer a precondition to or even a condition in the talks. There arc even some indications now
that the leadership may be willing to concede to constitutional monarchy. In talking with what is essentially
the king's cabinet, the Maoist leadership has tacitly recognised the political authority of the palace.
Through the last 14 months, the Maoists claimed
that they were preparing for a constituent assembly,
and that their military activities and attacks were aimed
at achieving this objective. However, a constituent assembly, burdened as it is with the flavour of bourgeois
rhetoric, cannot be the aim of a movement that initiated
a bloody and long war in the name of the dictatorship
of the proletariat. One assumes therefore that having
amassed power through the gun, the Maoist leadership now wants a place within the power structure at
the centre. Even as it has decided on its compromise,
one that will keep the Maoists ahead even as talks proceed, the challenge will be to take along the rank and
file, with whose blood its battles were fuelled.
Why now?
In the four months that this government has been in
power, the rebels conducted fierce and successful attacks on security force positions and on district headquarters, having divided the country into 'east' and
'west' for strategic purposes, with Kathmandu as the
centre. In the Nepali month of Mangsir (mid-November
to mid-December) last year, the Maoists announced a
shift from the position of 'strategic balance' with the
state forces to that of 'strategic offence'. .A.s their supreme
commander, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Comrade Prachanda), said in an interview, the Maobaadi sought to learn
from the mistakes of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru,
where "thev took too long to move from the strategic
balance stage to the final offensive". What was it then
that broke their resolve and had them seeking accommodation with the state, when they are seemingly not
weakened in any way?
A clear clue to why the Maoists decided to come to
the negotiating table lies in the timing. With the political parties out, the Maoists have to deal with a monolithic power centre ungoverned by the exigencies of electoral politics. Also, the international wave of sympathy
for all states that are battling insurgencies has meant
that the Maoists were faced with a might larger than
just the .Nepali state. The steadfast support for the state
and army from the US, the UK and most importantly
Tndia, and oft-repeated reminders from China that it
has no support for what it calls 'anti-government forces', must have made their impression on the Maoists.
With the dilution of ideological principle on the hard
road of reality, a show of strength and/or lasting power on the part of the state seem to ha ve brought the Maoists to the negotiating table.
In particular, it is the position of the Indian government, expressed in the repatriation of Maoists captured
in India and the logistical and training support being
provided to the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) that would
have determined Maoist calculations. Besides the advantage they take of the open border for refuge, logistics and communications, and the assistance they
derive from the Maoist groups in India, the action and
inaction of the Indian government has enormous influence on the strength of the Maoists in Nepal. That the
Maoists realise this is clear from the velvet glove treat-
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
ment that they have reserved for the Indian state of late
even though the foundation of the Maoists' extreme
nationalism rests on opposition to the Indian state. This
softness obviously has to do with the need to seek refuge in India, particularly after the Nepali army was
deployed, knowing that the India had the ability to provide decisive support to the Nepali government. But,
when the time came for India to reveal its hand, it
showed that it had no inclination to oblige the Maoists.
The former foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, described
the Maoists as "terrorists" even before the Nepali government did so. The Indian stance would in no small
measure have affected the decision to enter into talks,
and any evolution in the Indian position will similarly
continue to direct the Maoist position in the course of
the negotiations.
Having come to the table in the 'strategic offence'
phase of a trajectory that started with 'strategic defence'
against the state, moving to 'strategic balance' during
the 2001 talks, it will be interesting to see how the Maoists manage the many contradictions in their ceasefire
initiative. One can presume that the larger proportion
of activists and fighters, having been fed on propaganda of all-out war and having achieved success in the
field, is against talks, as is the mercurial support group
known as the Revolutionary International Movement
(RIM). (RIM has taken as much energy from the Nepali
Maoists as have the Maoists promoted themselves on
the basis of 'international' support provided by RIM.)
Now that the Maoists have made their compromise with
the state, their ideological purity will be questioned by
international supporters who had bandwagonned with
them. KIM will now have to scramble together a justification for the sudden lack of revolutionary fervour in
the Nepali comrades, who had thus far done them
proud. But the Maobaadis would be more concerned
with Nepali realpolitik than faraway friends.
The fact that the insurgents are now willing to talk
to the palace and its representatives has to be seen in
context. The same Maoists who bad criticised the dismissal of the Deuba government as "reactionary", who
a year and half ago pronounced that kingship had effectively ended in Nepal with the death of King Birendra and forecast a natural progression towards a
republican state, today seem willing to confabulate with
King Gyanendra. The political parties, who must be
criticised for their lack of enthusiasm for the ceasefire,
do then have some bases for their suspicion of this 'unnatural' meeting. They are also worried that between
the two'unrepresentative parties, the insurgents and
the palace, the former may be able to extract concessions that will be to the disadvantage of the parliamentary players who are expected to be included in the
talks at some point.
The confidence visible in the palace's dealings of
the past weeks comes from its assurance of the public's
scepticism of the political parties. It also comes from
the current US-led international campaign against
'terrorism', as much as it does from the established resilience of the Nepali nation-state. Undoubtedly, the
immediate beneficiary of the ceasefire is King Gyanendra, who started his reign under the cloud of the royal
massacre in June 2001, and who has been roundly criticised by the political parties for having bypassed them
in appointing the Chand government.
With the ceasefire, the king has greatly gained in
credibility for the immediate term. But the monarchy
needs to think for the long term, and it will have to
work with all the forces that have a stake or interest in
the evolving scenario. None should feel excluded, and
most importantly not the mainstream political parties,
including the (currently divided) Nepali Congress and
the (recently reunited) Communist Pa rty of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).
Significantly, in the ceasefire statement, Prachanda
calls on the Maoist cadre to engage in "peaceful mobilisation". In all earlier instances, including in the statement that was issued for the 2001 ceasefire, he had called
for the more ambiguous "effective defence". A party
that is given to war, directing its cadre towards peaceful mobilisation, must be seen as having appreciably
changed tracks.
Factors for talks
As insurgencies go in South Asia, the Nepali Maoist
war is relatively young. It may have been on for seven
years, but it really got going countrywide only in the
last three or four. And yet the toll that it has taken - on
the psychology of the populace, in the debilitation of
the economy and the diversion of political energy in a
nascent democracy - has been massive. While the political parties have certainly a lot to answer for in bringing the country to such a pass in the 12 years of democracy, the Maoists arc culpable for exploiting the inchoate politics and taking the country down a spiral.
The road ahead is mined with difficulties. To begin
with, the Maoists have to convince all above-ground
players that the are not going to use the ceasefire period
only to regroup, which is a suspicion in some quarters.
Meanwhile, the government - the king, Pun and the
rest of the Chand cabinet - will have to take the political
parties along if they are seeking a long-term resolution.
There is much to be disentangled if the talks are to
commence towards negotiations on an agreed goal,
including on the actual mechanics of electing a
constituent assembly if that is what it is to be. For the
moment, the ceasefire is built on government concessions of lifting the 'terrorist' label, the international
'red corner' warrants and the price on the heads of the
Maoist leaders. The Maoist gamble seems to be that they
will have a significant presence in the constituent
assembly and therefore will be able to land safely into
power in a future central dispensation. If at some point
that objective begins to look unachievable, they may
restart the fight on the basis of the demand for a
constituent assembly. It is indeed not impossible that
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 the rebels have called for a ceasefire mainly to
consolidate their rapid growth. Their record certainly
does not militate against this line of argument.
Narayan S Pun told the press, "In many areas there
has already been an understanding between the Maoists and the government". If indeed such an understanding exists on matters of principle, it will likely create a
real problem at the proposed roundtable conference.
The political parties, civil society groups and human
rights organisations may well find that their propositions and demands are being overridden because they
are outside the pale of the understanding reached between the current negotiating parties.
But before the talks arrive at that stage, there are
several other issues to be addressed. To begin with, the
king who has preferred to go it alone thus far for reasons of principle and practicality must find a way of
accommodating the political parties. The political parties must get over their initial suspicion of the process
and play a constructive part in it, and say something
other than the various mantras they have been uttering, depending on tbe party - the reinstatement of parliament, the restoration of the earlier government, and
so on. The Maoists will have to deal with the question
of weaponry in their hands, the rehabilitation of
fighters, and human rights abuse and killing of political
workers. The government will have to answer for extra
judicial killings and the death of innocents at the hands
of the security forces. It will also need to address the
displacement of tens of thousands of citizens. One of
the main points of discussion will likely be the RNA,
which not only the Maoists but also the major political
parties - the Congress and the CPN (UML) - would like
to bring under the control of an elected government
rather than the palace. Who will participate in the
roundtable conference, and as important, who will be
in the interim government, will be contentious issues,
especially if the Maoists are looking to dominate the
interim dispensation.
The announcement of ceasefire is the first glimmer
of hope in a long time, and Nepal's spiral into an economic, social and political abyss has been momentarily arrested. It is now time for sober reflection and
participation from all sides. If the Maoists could give
up on points of principle out of practical considerations,
surely tbe other parties too can reciprocate the flexibility. It may yet be that Nepal will arise out of these years
of violence just as quickly as it entered them. Once we
get over the shock of the Maoist leadership and (what
is effectively) the king talking to each other, we will
begin to truly appreciate that in Nepal anything is possible. And that may not be a bad thing. ,':,
Agricultural Services Programme Adviser
HMC Nepal Agricultural Perspectives Plan
At DFID, our central focus is on an international commitment to halving the
proportion of people in extreme poverty by 2015 - through sustainable
development, education, and better management of natural and physical
environments. So we are looking lor individuals who can bring skills,
understanding and patience to even the most complex development activities.
DFID has recently agreed a new programme of assistance to support the
implementation of the Government of Nepal's Agricultural Perspectives
Plan (APP). Under the overall goai of improving livelihoods for the rural poor,
the main purpose of this support is to deliver more effective, equitable
and accountable agricultural services to socially and economically
excluded rural communities.
Facilitating the strategic development ofthe programme in partnership with
Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives (MOAC) and other stakeholders,
you will provide strategic advice to partners in APP-placing particular emphasis
on the institutional and policy changes required to strengthen and sustain
prr>poor rural services. In dose collaboration with the National Program
Director, you will devise transparent systems for managing the use of technical
co-operation funds - and establishing a performance review system, you will
enhance the capacity of MOAC centre and district staff, support the planning,
management and co-ordination of programme activities, and create effective
communication, monitoring and accountability strategies at all levels. You
will also provide specific strategic direction to set up and institutionalise APP
district funds, and fund governance, quality assurance and standards compliance.
With at least 5 years1 experience of managing change in rural services within
developing countries - and ideally with significant experience in South
Asia and/or Nepal - you will have a Masters degree in a development related
subject. You will have a proven track record in facilitating demand-driven
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with the ability to engage in and influence the policy environment that
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language, written and oral communication skills. You will have the ability
to work in complex team environments and the resilience to persist
in difficult policy, institutional and practical settings.
This is a pensionable, 3 year fixed term post and is subject to a Six month
probationary period.  The salary offered for this post is £36,411 -£48,783
(UK taxable, and candidates should be aware that we expect people
to be placed on the first point on this scale with salary increments e.u 'i
year).It includes a generous benefits package.
DFID is an equal opportunities employer. Applications are welcomed from
all parts of the community and we actively encourage interest from womtv,
ethnic minority groups and those with a disability. Selection is on merit,
To work for us, you must be a national of a member state of the European
Economic Area, a citizen of the British Commonwealth or have been granted
refugee status (as defined by the 1 9S1 UN Convention on Refugees}
by the UK authorities.
For more information on this vacancy, DFID in general, and an electronic
application form, visit our website. Alternatively, call 01 355 843 i*>2
or e-mail group5c2@dfid, to request an application pack -
quoting Ref. AH375/5/JK
Closing date - 21 February 200).
Working to eliminate global poverty and promote
sustainable development
LKpjrtmenl for
Mechanisms of power sharing
The ceasefire in Sri Lanka must be consolidated further over the next year to
allow the government and the Tigers the breathing space to distance
themselves from earlier entrenched positions. And the ultimate answer
lies in federalism - a proposed structure that was once seen as
a harbinger of national break-up but now is seen as a stepping stone
to unity within a divided country.
           by Jehan Perera	
When Sri Lanka surfaces in the international
media it is almost invariably in connection
with ethnic violence. Such stories have been
grim and arresting in the last two decades. There have
been mob riots in which the government has been com-
plicitous. There have been dramatic military encounters where on a single day major army bases have fallen and 1000 soldiers have been killed.
There have been devastations in the
heart of the capital, Colombo, including
an attack on the airport that destroyed
the country's fleet of international carriers.
The bulk, though not all, of the violence of
the last 20 years is an outcome of the
long war between the Sri Lankan
government and the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), fighting for an
independent Tamil homeland. In these
two decades, the LTTE has emerged as
a powerful, internationally active organisation claiming to be the sole
representative of the Tamil people
of Sri Lanka. Its leader has cult status and commands an army of over
10,000 soldiers, each of whom has
sworn to commit suicide by swallowing cyanide rather than surrender.
However, things are beginning to
change after the dramatic ceasefire
agreement between the Sri Lankan
government and the LTTE in February
2002 that followed nearly three months
of unofficial ceasefire. Increasingly, media coverage has focused on Sri Lanka
as a possible model for peace-making in
a conflict-ridden region. South Asia, with
its nuclear arsenals, geopolitical rivalries,
ethnic conflicts and insurgencies, is regarded as being among the most unstable
*Sf-'I:   ■:'■-.■:,'■
regions in the world. Consequently, there are many who
see the recent developments in Sri Lanka as a possible
indication that textbook approaches to peace-making,
with third party mediation, can be successful.
All this optimism notwithstanding, it will be premature to regard the Sri Lankan conflict as a closed
chapter. The question still remains whether a stable,
negotiated peace that entails mutual compromise is possible in Sri Lanka. There are several reasons why this
must be treated as an open question despite the peace
talks progressing to the fourth round. On the one
hand, the LTTE's highly military character, the
deep division in the Sinhala polity on several crucial issues, and the presence of vested economic
interests who profit from conflict are serious
obstacles to political reforms and compromise that induce a sense of prudent pessimism. On the other hand, a general weariness with war among the public at
large, economic debilitation, financial
exhaustion on both sides and the
threat of the US-led war against terrorism inviting itself over to the
island, puts pressure on the conflicting parties to compromise
and resolve their disputes
through political negotiations. Given these two conflicting sets of forces at
work, the February 2002
ceasefire agreement, brokered under Norwegian
diplomatic auspices, must
be seen as a pragmatic response to one set of realities
on the ground and in the environment, which has to contend
with another set of realities that militate against peace. The negotiations, there-
 fore, still hang in delicate balance, and there are good
reasons to avoid the belief that peace will be the necessary outcome of the process.
At different points in the last year there have been
occasions when the durability of the ceasefire looked
to be in some doubt. Demonstrating the fragility of the
ceasefire at the initial and hence critical stage, the US
embassy in Sri Lanka circulated a statement by its ambassador, Ashley Wills, just a month after hostilities
had been officially and mutually called to a halt. Issued on 11 March 2002 the statement said,
We have heard credible reports that the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are engaged in activities that could jeopardize the recent indefinite ceasefire accord reached with the Sri Lankan government.
These reports recount increased LTTE recruitment
in Sri Lanka's north and east, including of children,
as well as kidnapping and extortion, especially of
Muslims. To be fair, we understand that incidents
of recruitment, kidnapping and extortion have apparently decreased in recent days, a trend that we
hope will continue. There also have been credible
reports of LTTE resupply operations since the ceasefire. Continued smuggling of weapons by the LTTE
could undermine the trust needed to move from a
cessation of hostilities to a lasting peace.
While Tamil politicians and media reacted negatively to the US statement, it is likely that sections among
the Tamil community felt otherwise. There is no doubt
that the offences identified by the US ambassador have
been taking place, with even independent human rights
organisations like Amnesty International calling on the
LTTE to refrain from such activities. It is not only the
Muslims who have been feeling the burden of the
LTTE's heavy taxation, but also Tamils in areas newly
accessible to the LTTE on account of the ceasefire agreement. Despite the hostile reaction of a section of the
mainstream Tamil public, the LTTE itself was very moderate in its immediate response. The LTTE's chief negotiator, Dr Anton Balasingham, pledged that the LTTE
was committed to the peace process. Subsequently, it
was reported that the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran was himself very concerned about the allegations
and would take action against any LTTE violations of
the ceasefire agreement. These are promising signs that
the LTTE is making the transition to a political organisation that is prepared to deal with the rest of the world
on the basia of give and take and accountability in accordance with international norms of human rights.
But setting aside such grounds for a cautious optimism, there are still pending issues that provoke concern. The reference in the US statement to the Muslims
brings to the fore a submerged aspect of Sri Lanka's
ethnic conflict, which represents just one of the many
unresolved issues that will entail a great deal of effort
in ensuring a dispensation that not only satisfies the
Tamil children in the Wanni.
Sinhala and the Tamil leaderships, but at the same time
does not compromise the interests of other minorities in
the country. The Muslims, despite being mainly Tamil
speaking, nevertheless consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic community. Although they constitute a significant portion of the Sri Lankan population, they are
thinly dispersed throughout the country, which has
weakened their bargaining strength for regional autonomy, unlike the Tamils who are regionally concentrated in the north and east. But the Muslims are a majority
in significant pockets of the east. Along with the Tamils,
they have been victims of government-sponsored land
settlement schemes that brought in Sinhala into areas
of the east where they once dominated.
However, they have also suffered grievously at the
hands of the LTTE, the most striking occasion being when
nearly 100,000 Muslims were expelled from Jaffna and
other parts of the north in 1990 with just two hours'
notice. They were forced to leave without time to pick
up their belongings, even jewellery. During the period
of armed conflict they were reluctant to voice their sentiments, but now with the advent of the ceasefire and
increased international attention, they have been demanding the same rights and privileges that are to be
accorded to the Tamils. To what extent the peace process succeeds will depend on its capacity to withstand
and substantively accommodate such entirely justified
demands that deviate from the original disputes at stake.
Clearly, there is more to the solution than just the
interests of the two parties who are negotiating. Therefore, the negotiating parties will actually need to address issues much wider in scope than merely a Sinha-
la-Tamil agreement. Since the issue will ultimately be
multipartite and the negotiations are for all practical
purposes bipartite, the credibility of the peace process
presupposes the need to forge a minimum consensual
agreement between the constituencies whose interests
are explicitly or by default being represented and bargained at the negotiations. This is manifestly not the
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
case on either side of the negotiating fence and this
puts pressure on the negotiators from the respective
ethnic constituencies that they claim to represent.
Part of the problem of working out a 'clean' ethnic
solution is that the ethnic constituencies are themselves
not always tidily demarcated. To compound matters,
there have been changes in the pattern of ethnic demographics during the period of conflict. In terms of aggregative statistics, Sri Lanka's ethnic plurality has the
appearance of a neat configuration into which the country's 18 million people are arranged. The Sinhala form
the main ethnic group with 74 percent of the population. The majority of the Sinhala are Buddhists by religion and mainly concentrated in the south, west and
central parts of the country. .'U the start of the conflict,
the Sri Lankan Tamils at 12 percent of the population
made up the second largest ethnic group. They are in a
majority in the northeast of the country. The
Muslims form the third major ethnic group
with eight percent of the population and a
relative concentration in the east. The Up
Country Tamils, who are of recent Indian origins, form the fourth major community with
about five percent of the population. They live
in the central hills of the country and have
not been involved in the separatist conflict.
Most of the Tamils are Hindu by religion.
While a minority of both Sinhala and Tamils,
together making up about seven percent of
the population are Christians, they are not
considered to be a separate ethnic group.
Externalities of war
No census was conducted for a 20-year period, owing to the conflict in the country. The
census count that was eventually carried out
in 2001 did not cover most of the northeast province,
which is contested territory and claimed by Tamil nationalists as the "traditional Tamil homeland". The newr
census and estimates for the northeast suggest that spatially the ethnic distribution is more complex than often presumed. For one, the estimates indicate that the
Tamil population has dropped to a little under 11 percent of the population in the intervening period since
the last census in 1981. But, by far the most striking
point highlighted by the census is the ethnic intermingling that has been going on among the Sri Lankan
population. Colombo city, located in the southwest,
registered a Sinhala population of only 41 percent in
the 2001 -census. In the country's capital, Tamil speakers constitute the ethnic majority.
It is not difficult to see how a long drawn-out conflict can bring about significant changes in ethnic demographics, both over time and across regions. The
war that began in 1983 has caused around 65,000
deaths and major damage to personal and public property with the total economic loss between 1983-98 estimated at 1.27 times the GDP as at 1998. Destruction on
such a scale inevitably sparks off major changes in population patterns. Over the last two decades, a total of
some one million persons have been uprooted and displaced internally. In the corresponding period, another half a million people have left the country to claim
refugee status abroad. The resultant demographic variation represents one of the paradoxes of ethnic conflict.
War introduces externalities over the long run that
change some of the objective coordinates of the original
Such changes in the demographic coordinates pose
two related problems. On the one hand, they scramble
the issue of ethnic homelands based on demographic
majorities. On the other hand, they unleash renewed
disputes between sections on both sides about the relative changes in ethnic compositions and the presumed
causes thereof. That the demographic issue continues
to fester in the political sphere is evident from
the four-party Tamil Alliance manifesto of late
2001. The manifesto made a reference to the
discrepancies in the "natural increase of Sinhala population country-wide" and in the
eastern province, which attracted a forceful
response by commentators in the Sri Lankan
media. Disputes on the politics of ethnic profiles and data could provide ammunition to
conflict enthusiasts to'erode support for a
peace process that is ultimately hostage to the
ethnic question.
Ethnic war based on foundational objectives and counter-objectives has its own self-
driven logic, and once it has begun it can
scarcely be arrested by citing changing population statistics that can undermine at least
some of the original rationale of the conflict.
Because such conflicts are almost entirely absorbed in a contested history of ethnic rights and
wrongs, evolving census figures are not particularly
relevant to the war. But they could become extremely
important in peace. When the guns go silent, unstated
and disregarded premises of ethnic pluralism usually
come to the surface to demand their share of attention.
As a result, if the question of a durable peace is to be
addressed an environment of accommodation will be
necessary in order to resolve the ethnic anomalies to
general satisfaction.
It is unfortunate that such an environment does not
seem to be emerging. If anything, a persistence of the
historical attitudes that gave rise to the original problem can be detected among crucial segments of the body
politic, even as a demonstrably growing sentiment for
a just peace is becoming evident in civil society. A comparison between the political attitudes prevalent before the war began and those that are also being voiced
todav shows just how the persistence of unyielding ethnic nationalism poses a threat to peace.
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 Packaged devolution
Sri Lanka has had a relatively long tradition of the
modern system of political participation, going back to
the British colonial period. The country was one of the
first in the world to enjoy universal suffrage in 1931.
But the inability of the political elites belonging to the
different ethnic groups to share power equitably among
themselves led to a series of broken agreements and to
acute mistrust between leaders of these communities.
The difficulty of protecting minority interests in a parliamentary system in which majority-minority relations
are strained is exemplified by Sri Lanka's modern political history.
In Sri Lanka, the centralised state inherited by the
newly independent country in 1948 effectively transferred political power into the hands of the Sinhala
majority. This power was immediately used to restrict
the membership of the polity by denying citizenship
rights to the 'Indian Tamil' or Up Country Tamil population and by seeking to correct "historical wrongs"
done to the majority. This followed a pattern in which
the politicisation of ethnicity has occurred in
contemporary plural societies, and the claims
to group entitlements
in current mass politics provide the initial
basis for collective identity, mobilisation and
The skewed distribution of political power in parliament also led to the emergence and accentuation of
economic disparities between the Sinhala- and Tamil-
majority parts of the country. While social welfare benefits such as health and education were relatively equitably distributed throughout the country, the same did
not hold true for large-scale economic investments. With
few exceptions, these prized projects, which provided
opportunities for political patronage and development,
were located in the Sinhala majority parts of the country. Ruling party politicians were in constant tussle to
secure these projects for their own electorates. As the
Tamils from the north in particular were rarely represented in the higher rungs of the government, their case
was lost by default. The deprivation of the Tamil-majority areas has continued in aggravated form due to
the war of the past two decades. A recent National Peace
Council study shows that the output of the north-east
is a mere 60* percent of what it used to be in 1983, when
the war commenced.
Several serious efforts made by government to work
out a solution with the Tamil political leaderships
failed due to the inability to obtain the support of the
ruling party let alone the opposition. The most
outstanding instance was the agreement reached in
1957 between the prime minister at that time, SWRD
Bandaranaike, and the leader to the largest Tamil par-
Bandaranaike, Senanayake, Kumaratunga, Wickremesinghe
ty, SJV Chelvanayakan. The prime minister unilaterally
abrogated the agreement when it proved generally unpopular among the Sinhala. Buddhist monks even demonstrated in large numbers against the agreement,
which offered autonomy to the Tamil areas. A similar
agreement arrived at in 1965 by Prime Minister Dudley
Senanayake suffered the same fate, this time due to
strong internal divisions within the ruling party itself.
The salient feature of both these agreements was the
provision of a degree of autonomy to the northern and
eastern provinces and to permit them to merge or work
together if they so desired. The issue of self-rule, regional autonomy and merger of the two provinces remain
the key issues dividing Sinhala and Tamil sentiment to
this day.
Efforts to arrive at a constitutional solution after the
civil war commenced proved to be ineffective precisely
because they were formulated without adequate heed
to the roots of the problem. The 13th amendment to the
constitution, which gave effect to the devolution provisions of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of July 1987,
sought to devolve power to provincial councils throughout Sri Lanka. It contained three
lists, which enumerated
areas of power devolved to the provinces, retained at the centre, and
those concurrently exercised but which were
ultimately controlled by parliament at the centre. However, continued centralisation of power was represented by the executive presidency. According to the commentator, Rohan Edrisinghe,
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to practical devolution was the first phrase of the Reserved List, which
provided for 'National Policy on all Subjects and
Functions' to be determined by Parliament. This
phrase completely undermined powers apparently
devolved to the provinces. Since the inauguration
of the 13th Amendment, Parliament has used this
rubric often to encroach into the provincial sphere.
So far the most radical proposals for ending the
ethnic conflict through a constitutional arrangement
has been the "Devolution Package" of August 1995,
proposed by the government as a draft document. This
sought to redefine "the constitutional foundation of a
plural society". The draft proposed that the provincial
councils of the 13"' Amendment be renamed as regional
councils with added powers. According to Edrisinghe,
...the deletion of Articles 2 and 76 of the constitution, which entrenched the unitary character of Sri
Lanka, removed an unnecessary obstacle to substantial devolution. The abolition of the Concurrent List
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
was another positive feature, as were other attempts
to remove ambiguity in the division of powers. These
included the clarification of the role of provincial
governors and the awarding of greater revenue raising powers to the regional council.
However, a major weakness in the proposed regional councils was the power of the executive president to
dissolve a council in case of emergency. Further, its fram-
ers failed to respond to the larger issues, such as those
of self-determination and nationhood, and in obtaining the concurrence of the LTTE, which predictably rejected the devolution package as being insufficient.
People and parties
The unwillingness to part with the surplus of power at
the centre continues to be a problem. Consequently,
despite the progress in the negotiations since the election of a new government, in December 2001, there remain concerns about the sustainability of the peace
process. Sections of the opposition are vigorously opposing the ceasefire agreement on various grounds.
Among others, it is seen as an unconstitutional measure, as a "sell-out" by the government and as the prelude to a renewed LTTE military campaign for separation. Spearheading the opposition to the ceasefire agreement is the Janata Vimukthi Peramunna (]\'T), a Marxist-oriented political party that attempted to violently
overthrow the government in 1971 and again in 1988-
89. On both occasions, the )VP was militarily suppressed
at the cost of enormous loss of lives, estimated at around
15,000 and 30,000 respectively.
The JVP's position draws upon a perception shared
by many Sinhala that the devolution of power is a means
of dividing the country along ethnic lines. The fears of
the division of the country in the minds of a sizeable
proportion of the Sinhala constitute a major obstacle to
a negotiated solution with the LTTE. Clearly, the preferred option for this section
of the population is a military solution
that will completely eliminate the LTTE
and thereby end the threat to the country's
If the fear of ethnic erosion of national
unity is an ideological impediment to a solution, the use of ethnic conflict as an element in political competition between
mainstream political parties constitutes a
more myopic instrumental obstacle to
peace. As a result the country has witnessed constant rivalry between the government and opposition parties on the issue of ethnic concessions. As the commentator Godfrey Goonatilleke points out,
A clear lesson emerging from past failures
is that no effort at resolving the conflict
will succeed unless there is a broad-based
consensus within each community, Sinhala and
Tamil, around a solution that is perceived by both
as equitable. The internal power struggles within
both the communities - Sinhala and Tamil - have
continuously thwarted such a process of consensus building. The negotiations took place in a changing configuration of political power with the constant prospect of changes of government, in which
the ethnic issue was perceived as being a crucial
factor. The history of negotiations up to 1990 shows
that each of the two major Sinhala-dominated political parties, SLFP and UNP, have endeavoured to
reach a political settlement when they have been in
power and have opposed or thwarted a settlement
when they are in opposition. The party in power
then opts for an easy way out of the dilemma by
withdrawing its proposal. It justifies its action on
the ground that they cannot obtain the support of
the people. (Negotiations for the Resolution of the Ethnic Conflict)
Gunatilleke continues, "The other feature in the Sin-
hala-Tamil relations was the incapacity or unwillingness of the Sinhala leadership to resist the well organised, highly vocal pressure groups within their own
constituency. This became a recurring characteristic of
Sinhala-Tamil negotiations". Commenting on SWRD
Bandaranaike's early and aborted attempt at reconciliation, the same author observes,
...his convictions were not deep enough to oppose
the Sinhala leaders who would not concede that the
Tamils had genuine grievances or that their
aspirations for a share of power were reasonable.
Above all, the Tamil issue seemed to be at the
periphery of the political agenda, and largely for
demographic reasons the dissatisfaction of the
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
Tamils seemed manageable. What pre-occupied
Bandaranaike and other Sinhala leaders was the
socio-economic socialist agenda and its impact upon
the population as a wmole.
For many years now, community leaders and political analysts have been calling for a consensus between
the two major political parties for a solution to the long
ethnic conflict to emerge. But in doing so, they may have
glossed over the political realities that have kept the
two dominant parties apart on the issue. The hard fact
is that the Sinhala community, which by far forms the
largest segment of the electorate, is still more or less
evenly divided on the question of political reforms that
could lead to a political settlement of the ethnic conflict. It is a justifiable surmise that the perceived sentiment of a significant section of the electorate enables
parties to adopt it as a platform for mutual recrimination and political jostling. Conversely, the hardline rhetoric of party politics reproduces and
crvstalises ethnic antipathies and di- «^^^^^^""""
lutes the national capacity for conceding regional autonomy by creating
sharply divided opinion among the
Sinhala majority.
A public opinion poll commissioned by the National Peace Council in 1999 and carried out by Research International showed that up
to 48 percent of the Sinhala polled did
not favour using the government's
devolution package in negotiations
with the LTTE, with only 41 percent
in favour. Although 48 percent of Sinhala were in favour of government-
LTTE negotiations, an equal number
were not in favour. As many as 37    	
percent favoured an outright military
solution. (National Peace Council, What the People think
about the Ethnic Conflict-Results of Opinion Polls, Colombo, 2000). Some changes in favour of peace are discernible at the popular level. More recent opinion polls carried out show that upwards of 80 percent of those surveyed approve of the present ceasefire and believe that
peace talks are the way to resolve the conflict (Social
Indicator, 2002). However, there does not seem to be a
corresponding change of attitude among the parliamentary opposition in the country. To the extent that they
have the capacity to influence the general public, particularly at difficult points that inevitably must arise in
the negotiation process, not all of those who support
the ceasefire need necessarily remain loyal to the ideals
of a negotiated settlement involving significant concessions. In fact, a sizeable proportion of those polled have
also expressed their disquiet about the concessions being made on the ground, a^t the present moment, those
who are willing to accept a political solution and compromise enjoy the upper hand. And this only demon-
Because such
conflicts are almost
entirely absorbed in a
contested history of
ethnic rights and
wrongs, evolving
census figures are not
particularly relevant to
the war. But they could
become extremely
important in peace.
strates that the hard reality of a Sinhala population
that is not united in meeting Tamil negotiating positions cannot be glossed over.
Against this uncertain and contingent nature of
popular support for negotiations, there has been one
heartening trend. It has long been believed that at
various levels the defence establishment has been a
beneficiary of the ethnic conflict and the associated war.
A very noticeable aspect of the present situation is that
these vested interests have not been able to pose any
sort of open challenge to the ongoing ceasefire
agreement. The military appears, for the present, to be
cooperating with the government in an arrangement
that could partially undermine the expanded role it had
come to acquire in national life. This would suggest
that the strength of its vested interest in the continuation of the war has been overestimated. Certainly the
conditions of war have permitted rent-seeking behaviour at all levels of the military, such as at checkpoints
where an unofficial tax can be ex-
^^^^^ tracted from traders and civilians.
Massive military procurements have
led to allegations of the role of commissions in determining the type
and quantum of such purchases. The
potential for economically profiting
from the war will be affected by a return to normalcy. Yet, the military has
been cooperating with the new government. It would appear that it is
unable to resist the political will and
determination on the part of the government to engage in non-violent
conflict resolution.
But if the military's conduct so
far has been a positive factor, there
remain other problems, particularly
on the other side of the battlefield.
From its inception the LTTE has had an ideological commitment to an independent state of Tamil Eelam. .'Vs the
organisation's letterhead unequivocally asserts, "The
thirst of the Tigers is Tamil Eelam". Motivated by this
vision of independence, several thousand Tamil youths
have joined the LTTE cadre and have died in combat or
as suicide bombers participating in assassination attempts. Every LTrE cadre has a cyanide capsule around
his or her neck, which he or she is expected to swallow
if captured. The LTTE has killed the leadership of every
other Tamil political party, including other guerilla
groups, and many leading members of the Sri Lankan
government. For such an autocratic, ruthless and committed organisation to join the democratic mainstream
within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, in which
there is a Sinhala majority, and be subjected to the checks
and balances of democracy is difficult to envisage at
this time.
The LTTE has had only one leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, who has achieved cult status within the or-
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
ganisation and is believed by many to be a virtual superman. Since its inception in the early 1970s, the LTTE
has been a highly centralised and militarised organisation without an effective political wing. There are fears
about the capacity of the LTTE to demobilise itself and
of the difficulties that its cadres are likely to encounter
in adjusting to a non-military lifestyle in conformity
with democratic practices. At present, due to the Norwegian-facilitated peace process, an LTTE political wing
appears to be emerging, but unlike the Sinn Fein-IRA
arrangement in Northern Ireland, the LTTE's political
wing is completely under the domination of the military leadership, and its undisputed leader is Velupillai
Prabakaran. Further, the LTTE leader has an Indian arrest warrant against him due to the Indian judiciary's
ruling that his organisation was responsible for the
assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi in 1991. These circumstances will make it more
difficult for the LTTE to enter the mainstream of civil
and political life.
No knockout
Despite such daunting obstacles, the two parties to the
negotiations have gone ahead with the peace agenda,
establishing new precedents and introducing new
principles of conflict resolution compared to what the
island has witnessed in the past. The current government's strategy is a complete shift from that of the previous government's stance, which was to confront the
LTTE at every level. The Wickremesinghe administration's strategy appears to be based on an assessment of
the Chandrika Kumaratunga government's failure to
make any headway through confrontation. After the
collapse of the peace talks with the LTTE at the very
beginning of its term of office in April 1995, Kumaratunga declared a full scale war for peace. The two-
pronged military and political strategy was intended
to weaken and sideline the LTTE. But both types of confrontation failed, as the military and political stalemate
continued, broken by occasional advances and reverses, even as the government's financial position reached
critical levels.
Initially, the retaking of Jaffna by the Sri Lanka Army
through Operation Riviresa in November 1995 seemed
to indicate that the military strategy of fullscale
confrontation would succeed. But thereafter poorly
executed military campaigns, such as the two-and-a-
half-year Operation Jayasikuru to retake the A9 main
road to Jaffna, failed at very high cost. Instead of being
militarily weakened, the LTTE emerged militarily
energised from these major confrontations. The former
government's political initiative against the LTTE in the
form of the devolution package, which offered much
hope in its initial manifestation of August 1995, could
also not be sustained. The government had to confront
continuous political opposition to its devolution
package, even incurring the wrath of religious prelates.
Ultimately, the government's bid to transmute the dev
olution package into constitutional law proved unsuccessful. In a replay of the partisan politics that have
dogged all political efforts down the decades to end the
ethnic conflict through negotiations, the opposition led
by Ranil Wickremesinghe simply refused to cooperate.
The pattern reversed when Wickremesinghe assumed prime ministerial office, with the difference that
his government has gone further down the road of negotiations and concessions than all previous governments. It would appear that his government has absorbed two important lessons from the failure of the
former government's methods. The first is that high
profile head-on confrontation will not bring a solution
to the ethnic conflict. There is not much going for this
strategy since the LTTE thrives on such confrontation.
The rebel group is astute enough to ensure that the costs
of any confrontational situation are piled onto the Tamil
civilian population, thereby reinforcing in them the
already deep-seated alienation from the Sri Lankan
government, which is made to appear to be the source
of their problems. The government has now evolved
new methods of political and conflict management.
Thus, the government has decided that political and
structural reforms might have to be ushered in de facto
rather than de jure, to be acquiesced in by the general
population with whom as little information as possible
is shared. The alternative of explaining everything in
detail to the people in order to get them to vote in favour
of the settlement is likely to be muddied in too much
controversy. There is deep-rooted resistance in the Sinhala community to fundamental constitutional reform
that would lead to power-sharing across the ethnic and
regional lines.
The second lesson evidently learnt by the Wickremesinghe government is that all outstanding problems
cannot be resolved in one go, but require a stage by
stage approach. The two-pronged approach of the
former government aimed at knock-out victories, such
as the military reconquest of Jaffna, and the devolution
package aimed at winning over the Tamil constituency. But even when the government made limited military advances, the LTTE's resilience ensured that the
government could not convert its military advances, as
in Jaffna, into comprehensive victory. It is likely that
even if the devolution package had been passed with
the bipartisan support of the opposition, its implementation would have been impossible due to LTTE resistance. The successful introduction, let alone implementation of the political package, required as a precondition the military defeat of the organisation. Having witnessed, and contributed to, the failure of the former government's confrontational strategy, the new government appears to have opted for a non-confrontational
strategy for the time being at least.
Another year of ceasefire
The inability of the Sri Lankan state to wrest back control
over considerable areas of the country over the past 15
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 years is a key feature of the current situation. A viable
strategy for the government would be to accept the
situation of dual military power, so long as there is no
major fighting between the two armies. However,
recognising the fact that the LTTE is unlikely to be content with having its political power restricted to the
areas currently under its direct military control, the
organisation will have to be given a greater scope for
such power in northeast areas under government
control as well.
It is likely that both the government and the LTTE
will see this arrangement as one that can be extended
indefinitely. In such a situation, major military contests
between the two sides will come to an end. With the
onset of peace there is likely to be enhanced economic
growth and activity leading to incremental political
changes that introduce more democratic practices as
business prospers. But such an arrangement, however
pragmatic it might seem at present, rais- m^m^^^^—
es its own set of problems. One question
is whether the LTTE will be satisfied with
ruling the northeast by proxy. The other
is the uncertainty about how long the
Sri Lankan government will wish to continue a dispensation in which it effectively cedes sovereignty over a part of
its territory.
The alternative course of straightforward political negotiations between the
government and LTTE leading to a new
constitutional order and permanent political settlement is superficially more attractive, but is unlikely to be feasible for    	
some key reasons. The first is the dim
likelihood of the government being able to obtain the
unified support of the opposition for this purpose. The
Sri Lankan constitution requires a parliamentary majority of two-thirds for any constitutional amendment
to be passed. This must then be followed by a referendum in which the people have to give their consent to
changes in any entrenched constitutional provision.
Changes in the political structure that satisfy the
LTTE and Tamil aspirations will undoubtedly require
the abrogation of Article 2 of the constitution, which
specifies that the state shall be unitary. This automatically implies that, constitutionally at least, far-reaching devolution of powers is not possible so long as this
provision is in existence. Article 2, being an entrenched
provision, requires mandatory popular ratification
through a referendum for it to be removed. However,
the unvarying pattern of the past is that the political
parties in opposition do not lend their support to the
parties in government when it comes to addressing the
ethnic conflict, Instead, they use the platform of anticipated political reform to oppose the government on the
grounds that the country's unity is being endangered.
For its part, the LTTE at present appears to be satisfied with the government's willingness not to push it
The pattern is that
the political parties
in opposition do
not lend their
support to
the parties in
government when
it comes to
the ethnic conflict
too soon into discussing the political issues and appears to be cooperating with the government. However, the danger exists of the government permitting the
ceasefire to continue indefinitely without addressing
the hard political issues that underlie the ethnic conflict. The government must be prepared to acknowledge
these hard issues and make a commitment that it is
prepared to deal with them after a stable ceasefire has
been reached. Clearly, what is appropriate at this time
is not a full-fledged negotiation on political issues. The
time is still premature for such a political solution. What
the LTTE wants, and will ask for, at this time is too much
for the government to concede. These would include an
autonomous arrangement that includes the Thimphu
principles of Tamil nationhood, self-determination and
homelands. Likewise, what the government will want
of the LTTE is too much for the LTTE to concede at this
time, particularly the decommissioning of arms.
^mmmmm While the gap between the govern
ment and the LTTE on the political issues is too wide to be bridged in the immediate time frame, there is a likelihood
that a successful ceasefire that lasts a
further year, and is accompanied by rapid economic growth, would serve as a
confidence-building measure. It could
make the gap between the government's
position and that of the LTTE more bridge-
able in the years ahead. The prospect of
resolving the hard political issues by negotiating a durable and just political solution could also become the motivation
      to maintain the ceasefire.
The building blocks of a negotiated
solution would be certain non-negotiables of the two
sides. On the government side, it would be the unity
and territorial integrity of the country. On the LTTE side,
it would be the Thimphu principles, which lay claim to
the Tamils being a nation, with a homeland and the
right of self-determination. The LTTE would also wish
to keep its arms for the foreseeable future. The constitutional and political arrangements suggested by these
determinants would be a variant of federalism and con-
federalism. Asymmetric federalism, which provides the
Tamil-dominated region more powers than are given
to other regions of the country, was suggested by Ranil
Wickremesinghe when he was leader of the opposition. It is likely that the devolution of powers to the
Tamil-dominated region would be more substantial in
areas that have been contested ones. These include education, land, industry and security. Provision will also
have to be made for the protection of the rights of the
Tamil-speaking Muslim minority and Sinhala in the
north and east that will come under Tamil-majority rule.
Further, given the ethnic mix outside of the north-east,
and the large numbers of Tamils and Muslims outside
of the north and east, mechanisms to ensure power-
sharing at the centre and the rights of ethnic minorities
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
countrywide would also need to be evolved and put in
Where questions of political power and constitutional reform are concerned, there is likely to be a high
degree of divergence and dispute regarding the way
forward to a mutually acceptable solution. There will
undoubtedly be differences between the government,
the opposition and the LTTE. These differences pertaining to issues of governance will be reflected among the
people at large. A more democratic and consultative
type of decision-making will be required at this later
stage than the new government currently appears to be
contemplating. Civil society organisations need to be
preparing the people for the restructuring of the polity
in the longer term. The international community will
have to play an important and effective role. The past
experience with the LTTE has been one of disengagement once discussions reach substantive issues. This
is on account of the wide gap between the LTTE demands and what Sri Lankan governments have hitherto been prepared to mmt^^^mmmmm
offer. The success of the peace talks
will depend largely on international
pressure to keep the government and
the Lite at the negotiating table, and
compel them towards compromise.
The breakthrough in Oslo in November 2002 was in keeping with the
record set by the government and the
LTTE following the general election of
December 2001. The statement issued
by the Norwegian facilitators at the
close of the third session of peace talks
in Oslo said,
Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the
LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in
areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking
people based on a federal structure within a united
Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution has to be acceptable to all communities.
Just as the lifting of the security barriers in Colombo
in February caught most people by surprise, so did the
latest announcement regarding the acceptability of a
federal model of government by the two parties. Until
that announcement the LTTE had never categorically
stated what type of concrete political solution it would
be prepared to accept.
Same side of the table
For the past several years, the LTTE had been saying it
was prepared to accept a viable alternative to Tamil
Eelam. However, the precise nature of the alternative
was left unstated. The furthest it would go was to say
that this viable alternative should be in accordance with
the principles worked out jointly by all Tamil parties
The peace process
has exposed the
Tamil nationalist
movement to the
mainstream currents
of international thinking on governance in
multi-ethnic societies
participating at the Thimphu peace talks in 1985. Since
the relevant principles pertained to nationhood, self-
determination and traditional homelands, successive
governments and Sinhala nationalists in general construed it to mean nothing short of independence. However, in the context of the mutual inability of the government and the LTTE to militarily defeat each other in
the territory demarcated as the traditional homeland,
some analysts believed that the LTTE would settle for
nothing less than confederation. In broad terms, a confederation is a political system in which two or more
separate states, with their own prime ministers, parliaments and armies, are loosely tied to each other for specific purposes. The Commonwealth of Independent
States, which was formed in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, would be one example.
During the years of war, sections of Tamil opinion
held fast to the confederal model. This may have included the LTTE as well, to the extent that those who
were fighting a war could think in
■■■■»—mmmm terms of constitutional concepts. But
inasmuch as the present peace process has opened the closed roads of
the north and east, so has it opened
the Tamil nationalist movement to the
mainstream currents of international
thinking on governance in multi-ethnic societies. It is likely that in the engagement and dialogue taking place
due to the peace process, the reality of
federalism as the only viable alternative made its presence felt. However,
the difficulties likely to be faced by the
LTTE leadership in accepting a federal model need to be appreciated. After all, federalism
was the slogan of half a century ago. In a sense, the
acceptance of a federal model is to go back in order to
go forward to the future. Sections of Tamil nationalist
opinion residing abroad and in Colombo, away from
the battlegrounds of the northeast, may prefer a harder
bargaining position. This is in addition to the fact the
LTTE military cadre, inculcated with a deep yearning
for an independent state of Tamil Eelam, will have to
reorient themselves to accept the lesser objective of federalism.
In such circumstances, it is possible that the LTTE
negotiators will be charged with not bargaining hard
enough in much the same way that the government
negotiators are being criticised by sections of the political opposition. In effect, both sides may end up being
accused, by their respective constituencies, of conceding too much. The answer to the charge is that the two
sides are not negotiating in a spirit of bargaining. Those
who pride themselves on being hard bargainers are often too insensitive to realise that their so-called success
is at the cost of long-term relationship building. They
might get themselves a good bargain on one occasion,
but the relationship is unlikely to survive. Usually hard
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 bargaining is most effective in a one-off negotiation,
such as when bargaining on the street with a pavement
hawker. However, when it comes to long-term reiterative relationships, those who engage in hard bargaining are likely to fail. Sustaining durable relationships
requires a different type of negotiations in which the
interests of each side are met in a fair and reasonable
manner, lt seems that the government and the LTTE negotiators have engaged in such interest-based negotiations with one another. They have not tried to defeat
each other at the negotiating table, but have instead
sought to engage in joint problem solving. In short, they
appear to have sat together on the same side of the table
to solve a common problem that was ruining the country and its entire people.
Federalism is a standard constitutional system that
exists in many countries of the world, lt is particularly
effective in permitting power sharing between ethnic
communities in multi-ethnic societies. Federalism permits national minorities who are regional majorities to
enjoy the right of self-determination and thereby wield
political power at the regional level. But 50 years ago,
when the Tamil-dominated Federal Party launched its
campaign for a federal state in the north and east of Sri
Lanka, Sinhala nationalists opposed it as a stepping
stone to a separate state.
Federalism was so bitterly opposed by Sinhala nationalists that it became a pejorative term in mainstream
politics. But after two decades of war, the reality of virtual separation has dawned upon many people. Federalism has now become a stepping stone to reuniting a
divided country and opening up the possibility of bringing long-term peace to all. Shortly before the Oslo peace
talks in October 2002, the Presidential Secretariat issued a statement in which President Chandrika Kumaratunga said that "the PA was the only political party
to spell out its devolution of power proposal as a draft
constitution in 1997 and still upheld the devolution of
power along a federalist or Indian model within a united Sri Lanka". (Daily Mirror, 30 October 2002). If this
statement is to be taken at face value, it points to a welcome departure from the past, since the three major
political formations connected with the Sri Lankan conflict are all agreed on the issue. What is more important, the term 'federalism' will have lost its derogatory
meaning in the heart of the Sinhala political mainstream. But if this is to be more than a fond delusion,
political parties will need to set aside their personal
and programmatic rivalries on this issue and find a
means to collaborate to make a permanent and just
peace a reality for all communities of Sri Lanka. /:
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2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
Dateline Jaffna
Sri Lanka's 14 months of ceasefire have brought monumental changes in the
lives of Tamils in the north and east. Challenges remain - both at the political
level as well as at ground-level reality - but the foundation for a sustainable
peace on the island has been laid. Some impressions of what
Jaffna's people want and what the future is likely to hold.
text and photos by Frances Bulathasinghala
25-year-old Selva joined the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seven years ago after her par
ents were shot dead in front of her eyes in Jaffna.
She is taking me to an LTTE 'girls hostel' through darkness punctuated by only the feeble rays of a kerosene
lamp. The hostel is located in the LTTE economic centre
at Vatakatchy in the Killinochchi region in Wanni. This
is territory where the LTTE has run a de facto army for
19 years.
The walk through the centre to the girls hostel is a
winding journey through demolished buildings standing deathly white in the dark. On reaching the hostel, a
worn building with peeling walls and a thatched roof,
Selva arranges some meagre bedding on a hard wooden bed. There are three rooms in the hostel
in which they sleep on mats on the floor.
The beds have apparently been brought in
specifically to accommodate the four female
journalists, myself included, who are visiting the premises.
The war in Sri Lanka, which began in
1983, was brought to a truce at the close of
2001. Since that time, both the government
and the LTTE have been preparing themselves, and 'their' people, for life on a    	
peaceful island. When asked if she has any
plans for the future if ongoing peace talks succeed, Selva
laughs. "I'll be with the movement, it is good this way",
she says with steel in her voice.
The LTTE's armed struggle - along with political
developments on the island and the forced changes in
life - have fundamentally altered many aspects of Tamil
society, not the least of which being a radical transformation of many Tamil women. While upper-class Sinhala women in southern Sri Lanka were largely emancipated along Western lines during the colonial era,
traditional social expectations and obligations bound
female Tamils. Fighting the war, which claimed an estimated 65,000 civilian lives, female LTTE cadres were
instructed to embrace androgyny and develop a stoic
disposition. Undoubtedly, the inscription of women into
the LTTE's fighting force has had an impact on tradi-
There is hope
that 'normalcy'
and 'Jaffna' will
soon cease to
be mutually
tional gender roles in Tamil society. There have also
developed two defining ideals of womanhood - the
militant mother and the armed virgin. The question now
is how these transformed women, and the millions of
other lives shaped by the island's strife in myriad ways,
will react to and participate in a revived body politic.
With the holding of the ceasefire for more than one year
now, a return to 'normalcy' in the island's northern
and eastern Tamil-majority areas seems to be on the
The politics around Jaffna, Sri Lanka's second largest city, and the hub of its northern peninsula of the
same name, have changed impressively over the past
14 months. The cessation of hostilities from 24 December 2001, the lifting of the embargo in January 2002, the formalising of the ceasefire
in February, the prime minister's visit in
.March and the establishment of LTTE political offices in the north and east have
been the bases for the present sustained
rapprochement after two decades of war.
Still, much remains to be seen. Economically, the peninsula received a sorely
missed lifeline when the government re-
 ...     opened the A9 highway to the south. And,
negotiations between the LTTE and Prime
Minister Rami Wickremestnghe's government have
progressed beyond initial meetings. There is hope in
the air that the ceasefire may evolve into a lasting peace,
and Jaffna's people will have to reconcile their personal histories of suffering with their hopes for a better
future. For the moment, however, the area is waking
from its years of violence-inflicted isolation and slowly
engaging with the rest of the island and the outside
Opening doors
Of all the changes of the last year, perhaps the most
widely appreciated on the peninsula was the opening
of the Jaffna-Kandy A9 highway to civilian traffic last
March. It brought new opportunities for farmers in the
north, hitherto burdened with tonnes of produce, too
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 Home of the LTTE: A martyr's shrine, a signboard, and a receipt.
much for the limited home market. The lack of a land
link and sparse opportunity for sea transport had prevented the sale of Jaffna's produce to the south.
To Srinan, who earns his living off grapes, a lucrative crop, the peace talks have meant that he may one
day earn enough money to live as comfortably as his
brother in Wellawatte, a Colombo suburb where many
Tamils live. "In Jaffna, I sell a kilo for 50 rupees; that is
the market price here. In Colombo, 1 know that I could
get a higher rate", he says.
Ganeshan Lingam, a 40-year-old father of three sons
and resident of Manipai, Jaffna, shares Snnan's enthusiasm. Working at a grocery store, Ganeshan barely
manages on his monthly wages of 1500 rupees (USD
15.5). "In the past, I always thought that my dream of
sending my children to a Colombo school, to make them
doctors or lawyers, would be a dream. Today, I know
that there is a chance that I could do this. Peace talks
mean big shots from Colombo will want to set up business here and recruit us for better salaries".
That sentiment appears to be shared by many. Commercial links are now being established at the institutional level between Colombo and Jaffna with a focus
on employment-generation. Projects in agro-based industries, hotels, fisheries, information technology, education, tyre-retreading and automobile maintenance,
among others, are on the drawing board. Indeed, for
the first time in 20 years, there is hope that 'normalcy'
and 'Jaffna' will soon cease to be mutually exclusive.
The prices of most items in Jaffna, especially of fuel
- once the rarest of commodities - have come down
from wartime highs, and the flow of goods to the north
is now much smoother. But movement remains difficult. There are reports of travellers facing impediments
to crossing any substantial distance in the north and
east since the LTTE does not allow state-run buses into
the territories it controls. There are also reports of the
LTTE continuing to 'tax' goods coming into Jaffna,
whether for commercial or personal use. This appears
also to be the case with commercial fishing, which has
nonetheless made a partial comeback in the last year,
even with government naval patrol boats ploughing
the coastal waters.
But there is little doubt that Jaffna is healing. The
government, which controls most of the peninsula, has
provided access to most of it, barring 'high security
zones', to LTTE cadre, provided that they enter without
arms. The LTTE has approved an NGO proposal to bring
southern university students north to teach the Sinhala
language to Tamil youngsters, even guaranteeing the
safety of the visitors, who are to be based in Jaffna for a
periods of six months. The Jaffna Teaching Hospital for
the first time in 10 years has incubators, a windfall born
of the peace talks when, in March 2002, the US government donated three incubators, neonatal resuscitators,
electronic patient monitors, a diathermy machine and
an operating theatre lamp.
The LTTE is also keen on using the cessation of hostilities to develop the Wanni region. Computers and
other technological items are at the top of the shopping
list, which includes typewriters, generators and sewing machines. "We will begin with the purchase of
around five computers, which we hope to buy with
funds from the Tamil rehabilitation organisation", says
Ramu Smnappa, an ex-schoolmaster known as 'Sin-
nappa master' in the LTTE fraternity. According to him,
the computers are for a youth institute in Killinochchi,
which will have a vocational training programme.
The mood in Jaffna is that there is only one way
ahead. "The failing of talks is something that we do not
even dare to think. It is we who have had to live with
the bomber jets over us", says S Sabarathnam, the secretary of the Thenmarachchi Welfare Association, a community development organisation financially sustained
by expatriate Tamils through the Tamil Rehabilitation
and Resettlement Organisation.
Fleeing the gunfire in Jaffna in 1995, the only possession 50-year-old Murugesu took with him was his old
coal iron. Today, having restarted his laundry business
in a small cadjan room in Yogapuram in the Malawi
area of Wanni, he earns over 150 rupees on a good day.
Wielding his 10-kiio iron over the clothes of those fortunate enough to have attire worth ironing in war-plagued
Wanni, Murugesu narrates the story of how he and his
family struggled to survive after gunfire rained down
on them on 30 December 1995 when thev fled Vatta-
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
kotte, their hometown, and took refuge in the nearest
shelter - the camp for displaced people in Cha-
vakachcheri, Thenmarachchi division.
"For one year I did not get to make any money. We
survived on the charity of our friends and relations,
also displaced and living with us at the Chavakachcheri
school, but who had salvaged enough material possessions and finances to provide us with sporadic assistance. One year later we came to the Wanni region with
the thousands of displaced people who left their own
camps to make new lives for themselves in LTTE-con-
trolled areas".
Murugesu's story is that of a man who had learned
to survive hunger while retaining enough will and desire to live. "I managed to find 800 rupees to buy cadjan
leaves to construct a makeshift laundry with extreme
difficulty. Even after I constructed the place, I did not
get any business for a long period, as the area was flooded with displaced people who kept arriving from refugee camps in Jaffna with barely anything other than
the clothes on their bodies. Any ironing I was lucky
enough to get, I had to price very low". Murugesu says
that the most notable numbers of IDPs in the Wanni
region are from Mulativu, Killinochchi and Madhu.
Adds Murugesu, "The entire Wanni area is a refugee
camp. There is a population of just above 400,000 and
all of them are categorised as internally displaced and
forced to move from area to area, blowing with the winds
of war".
"Today I am just one of the few here that has been
lucky enough to get back on his feet. I keep my laundry
open from 7 am to 6 pm and, sometimes if there is work,
I extend my hours. Thanks to the fact that most of the
displaced people who have made the area their surrogate home, are now stable, I earn a sufficient amount of
money. My children go to the Yogapuram Maha
Vidyalaya nearby. We who have suffered the brunt of
the war, have great hopes of the peace process", says
Murugesu as his puts the last piece of charcoal and
coconut shell into the iron, readying himself to labour
over another lot of crumpled cottons.
Also in LTTE-controlled territory is an area called
Yogapuram. In a cadjan-built eight-by-eight hut, a replica of thousands of others clustered throughout the
region hidden in the Wanni wilderness, 35-year-old
Sivaneswari, who arrived with her family seven years
ago from Jaffna, is cooking a meagre meal for her two
sons and her husband, a bicycle repairman. Although
the attention of an outsider is immediately caught by
the extremely large gaps in the cadjan and palmyra
roof of her house, to her it is obviously a way of life to
have the rain pour in and the sun blaze through, having
lived under such a roof for a large part of the seven
years that she has been living as a refugee. Sivaneswari
says she hopes for peace mainly so that her children
get a chance to study beyond class seven, which is the
upper limit of their present school.
For the 90 percent of Jaffna's population displaced
from homes and eking out survival in hundreds of
camps around the peninsula, the developments of the
last year mean one thing - that they will be able to go
back to their towns and make homes again. Some will
be building anew amidst rubble. But for others, such as
those whose houses in Mirusuvil the Sri Lankan military will be restituting to the owners, it will be easier for
at least the shell of the structure will be intact.
Jaffna blushes
Resettlement is among the most urgent concerns of the
peace process. According to the United States Committee for Refugees, at the end of 2001, there were 800,000
internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka, and
144,000 Sri Lankan refugees in neighbouring India. Efforts to diffuse this crisis that only deepened as the war
progressed have now gathered momentum. The emphasis given to rehabilitation in the recent talks between
the government and the LTTE have encouraged the ♦
hopes of thousands of war destitute. The two parties
have presented a united front at international fund-
raising efforts, and Japan, Sri Lanka's biggest aid donor, has committed 35 million rupees (USD 360,000) for
the joint government-LTTE secretariat at Killinochchi,
formally called the Secretariat of the Sub-Committee on
Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in
the North and East.
"Now we can sleep in peace. We do not hear the
war rockets anymore. All these years no one knew the
suffering that we underwent. Since the war began no
government minister has come into this territory until
now. Within the past two months so many ministers
have visited the peninsula", says the elated Bishop of
Jaffna, Rev Thomas Saundranayagam. The reverend,
highly influential in Jaffna and a well-known sympathiser of the LTTE cause, is a trusted confidante of the
minister of rehabilitation and refugees, Dr Jayalath
Jayawardena, the foremost peace advocate in the Ranil
Wickremesinghe government. Once hounded by the
People's Alliance (PA) regime, now in opposition, for
being an alleged supporter of the Tigers, Jayawardena
visited LTTE areas regularly over the past 10 years. Today he enjoys the gratitude of the Tamil masses, both in A
the LTTE-controlled Wanni and government-controlled
Jaffna, who see him as the key instrument of peace in
the United National Front (UNF) government. "I am the
happiest man today. Peace was my dream and today it
is a reality. I was once accused, harassed and humiliated", says Jayawardena, who returned to the country on
26 January 2003 after a tour of Europe studying federal
systems, the proposed political structure on which
current negotiations rest.
While Jaffna blushes with attention from the mass
media and politicians, its populace sees the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Sri Lankan
government and the LTTE, which has now held together longer than any previous accord, as a document of
hope for a future without war. The overall opinion in
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 Jaffna seems to be, at least on the surface, that the LTTE
is its representative. However, it is now slowly becoming discernible that almost a year after the LTTE set up
its political offices in Jaffna and other areas of the north
and east, many are becoming weary of its manner of
controlling the Tamil populace. At present though, the
five major Tamil parties in parliament, including the
Tamil United Liberation Front (one of the oldest Tamil
parties), back the UNF coalition and are largely disinclined to oppose the LTTE.
Democratic deficit
The Norwegian-facilitated peace talks have received
wide praise from the international community. Even in
Sri Lanka, while people realise that there is a long way
to go yet, the talks have been welcomed with enthusiasm in most quarters. The steps taken over the year
have enforced the impression that both sides are now
willing to go further on the road to peace than ever
before. The LTTE gave up its
demand for independence,
settling instead for autonomy,
and the UNF government has
visibly committed itself to
help the LTTE become a
'mainstream' civilian entity.
The Norwegians, meanwhile,
have gone out of their way to
assist the LTTE - the task being to turn an organisation
geared for war into one peacefully engaged in democracy.
Still, many outstanding issues persist, including the
LTTE's reported continuing recruitment of children, suppression of Tamil Muslims,
lack of respect for civil rights and the democratic deficit
in the north and east. The Eelam People's Democratic
Party (EPDP), in electoral alliance with the PA in the
2001 elections, has consistently asserted that it is facing LTTE-backed intimidation in the north and east.
Meanwhile, the Muslim community has made some
headway in moving beyond the violence unleashed
against it in Jaffna in 1990. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader, Rauf Hakeem, who met Vellupillai Prabakaran last year and who has been a regular participant at the four rounds of peace talks, has appealed to
Tamil Muslims to consider resettling in the north and
east. The Muslim community is concerned though that
one of its foremost spokespersons, Dr SHM Hasbullah,
who was to have taken part in a recent meeting at Killinochchi on the resettlement issue, was prevented from
doing so by the LTTE, which has allegedly also rejected
a Japanese proposal that Dr Hasbullah be allowed to
formulate a plan for the resettlement of Muslims.
From several quarters then, the pressure is mounting on the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, at
the head of a United National Party (UNP)-led UNF gov
ernment, to bring to book alleged ceasefire violations
by the LTTE. Wickremesinghe, who entered office on 9
December 2001, is seen as the man who brought peace,
but he is in an unenviable position given that the government, battling economic crisis, cannot afford to rub
the rather sensitive coat of the Tigers the wrong way.
The Norwegians, for their part, have invoked the wrath
of Sinhala parties such as the Jana Vimukti Peramuna
(JVP) for alleged overindulgence of the LTTE. The furore
over the shipment of radio equipment to Wanni by the
Norwegian embassy in December 2002 led to calls for
the expulsion of the ambassador. There are also some
Sinhala who see a de jure federal structure as an attempt
at a de facto division of the state.
For its part, the UNF government views reconciliation with the LTTE as possible, and has stated that "the
LTTE will have to go along with the law of the country".
Wickremesinghe has attempted to buoy the peace efforts by making sure that the Sri Lankan military is
fully aware of its obligations
under the ceasefire, and that
is does not provoke discord
by passing along adverse reports of LTTE behaviour to the
media. In specific, the prime
minister is reported to have
cautioned members of the
armed forces against drawing attention to the LTTE's recruitment of child soldiers.
Apparently concerned about
divided loyalties, the prime
minister has also called on
servicemen to resign if they
cannot reconcile their commitments to the government with personal support for
the JVP or PA.
Just as the government in Colombo faces challenges
in adjusting to the new situation, so too must Tamil
leaders re-evaluate strategies and the way of life. The
LTTE, for instance, will at some point have to reconcile
its hybrid system of justice - a legal code blending Sri
Lankan and Thesawalame Tamil law - with that of the
Sri Lankan government. The LTTE legal system is interesting in its own right, given that it jettisons those parts
of Thesawalame law that it sees as oppressive of women or promoting the caste system, and blended in are
modifications of Sri Lankan law. Of note, the LTTE has
made sex outside marriage illegal.
The 'court of Thamileelam', as the hall of justice at
Killinochchi is called, is announced by the fang-bared
Tiger, the omnipresent emblem on all prominent buildings in LTTE-controlled areas. The Wanni-based judicial
arm of the LTTE is founded on a firm belief in discipline
and order. "It is through capital punishment that we
maintain such discipline", the LTTE administrative head
of the Wanni region, V Puvanhan, once declared in a
press interview. In the Wanni, it is well known that the
■:'«■» > if .n % ...'ft ft _ .    :.:: : rr
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
law does not spare the guilty, even those in high positions, especially in the crime of rape. The LTTE says its
laws, taught at the LTTE 'law college' in Malawi, are in
accordance with international humanitarian standards. Interestingly, none of its 150 lawyers charge clients - they draw a monthly salary of 3000 rupees from
the LTTE.
Reconciling the judicial systems of the LTTE and that
of the rest of Sri Lanka will be tricky. "The aspect of the
judiciary is the most intricate and the most important
with relation to the working out of modalities for political responsibility to be thrust upon the LTTE through
the interim administration. This responsibility will
clearly have to begin with the LTTE accepting the constitution of the government", says Mr Wicknarajah, the
former chief justice of Jaffna. He adds that integration
of the legal systems will have to follow the initial rounds
of peace talks and eventually conform to a model protecting Sri Lanka's territorial integrity.
The complexities regarding the legal system, to be
worked out for the new dispensation, are only an example of the many challenges that will have to be negotiated on a one-on-one basis. These challenges faced by
the government in Colombo and the LTTE's leadership
are not insurmountable. But neither is sustained peace
a guarantee. Rather, leaders on both sides - as well as
their respective constituencies - will have to adapt to
the evolving situation as necessary and steer it in a
mutually beneficial direction.
"The MoU is not peace. One year has passed and
the cessation of hostilities has lasted. Yet there are so
many things to be discussed. The hope that we have,
that both parties will not resort to war, rests on the fact
that the international community has become strongly
involved in the peace process", says Saroja Sivachan-
dran, a human rights activist providing legal aid to
women through her organisation - the Centre for Women and Development in Jaffna. While the debate with
regard to the process rages on, Jaffna hopes that this
reconciliation will be final.
The pathology of military democracy
Manufacturing a government in Sindh
The recent formation of a government in Sindh involved hectic
manipulations by Islamabad and low connivance at the provincial level.
Out of the ensuing muddle of volatile and unstable alliances emerged
a 31-year-old chief minister with little clout, a 38-year-old governor who
just returned to Pakistan after a decade-long absence, and a political
house of cards that could collapse at any moment.
  by Hasan Mansoor
President General Pervez Musharraf's military-ted
regime had to go to extraordinary lengths before
and after the 10 October 2002 elections to place
Sindh under its control. With the help of top leaders
from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-
Azam) (PML-Q) in Islamabad, including Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and senior intelligence officials,
the difficulties were surmounted and a provincial setup extremely favourable to Musharraf eventually
emerged. Even after taking 67 of the provincial assembly's 168 seats, the Pakistan People's Party (Parliamentarians) (PPP-P), the single largest group in the house,
had to be content with sitting on the opposition benches in the company of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an
alliance of six religious parties.
Well before the general elections, the military regime
had initiated the process of forming client parties and
coalitions in Sindh. Some of these are the provincial
offspring of national parties that were born with military assistance. Others were manufactured locally by
Islamabad's factotums and their underlings. The PML-
Q is an instance of the former species. The PML-Q, otherwise known as the 'king's party', emerged in the wake
of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's exile to Saudi Arabia in 2000 through a deal that is yet to be made
public. The majority of PML (Nawaz) politicos left the
party and formed the Quaid-e-Azam league, which
openly supported the bloodless military coup of General Musharraf and received political largesse in return. This national symbiosis naturally extends to the
provinces as well and therefore Sindh has its own
branch of the king's party.
Since the PML(Q) could not on its own deliver Sindh
to the military regime, special arrangements had to be
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
PPP defectors and
Sindh government formed under Ali
Mohammed Mehr, chief minister
■ National Alliance
Grand National Alliance.
Pakistan Muslim League
Muttahida Qaumi Movement
Sindh Democratic Alliance
National Peoples Party
Millat Party
Sindh National Front
made at the provincial level. As a first step, Islamabad
helped to orchestrate the rise of political parties to
counter the influence of the Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People's Party, (whose parliamentary wing is
called Pakistan People's Party - Parliamentarians) in
its stronghold. The most significant of these creations
was the Sindh Democratic Alliance (SD.<\). Bureaucrat-
turned-politician Imtiaz Shaikh formed the SDA in mid-
2001 after resigning from a senior government post. In
launching the party, he secured the support of a clique
of feudal lords and bureaucrats on a
common anti-PPP stance. The group ■™™™"™
initially called itself an alliance of politicians and included the National People's Party (NPP) led by Ghulam Mustafa jatoi, a feudal baron and veteran
politician. Imtiaz Shaikh, who in the
early 1990s was the right-hand man of
the late chief minister, Jam Sadiq Ali,
whose tenure was characterised by political victimisation and fiscal misappropriation, undertook a massive propaganda campaign to prepare the
ground for transforming this loose alliance into a political party, frfanullah Marwat - the son-in-law of
former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, an advisor to
the Jam Sadiq government, and an accused in the alleged rape of two PPP workers - also joined the SDA.
Ironically, one of the two PPP workers who accused
Marwat of rape, Raheela Tiwana, subsequently shifted political allegiance and eventually joined the SDA
before going on to gain a ministerial post in the provincial government. Such are the dynamics of military-
inspired party formation in Sindh.
The SDA, which had been consolidating its base for
more than a year prior to the October election, was recognised as a political party only three months before
the general elections. Among other reasons, this ensured that the party was held on a tight leash through
the period that it was taking shape. In the meantime,
the SDA and five 'mini' political parties - the NPP, the
Millat Party (led by former president, Farooq Leghari,
who had dismissed Benazir Bhutto's government in
The Sindh
campaign was
generally agreed to
be among the most
unimpressive in the
history of elections
in Pakistan
to's estranged uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto), the Balochistan
National Movement (BNM) and Pakistan Awami Te-
hrik of Allama Tahirul Qadri - came together to contest
the elections under the banner of the National Alliance
(NA). (The BNM and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik subsequently broke away and contested the elections separately.) NPP president Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, despite
being in London after practically retiring from politics,
became its chairman. Former cricketer, Imran Khan -
now heading his own party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-In-
saf - had been a vocal supporter of General Musharraf. Though he then went
on to part ways with Musharraf over
the President-General's dubious 30
April referendum, he was nevertheless
thought to be a part of the NA,
Given that it was made up of small
parties with no grassroots networks to
speak of, Islamabad felt that the NA
would not be strong enough on its own
to serve the centre's agenda. Hence, the
NA was expanded into the Grand Na-
tional Alliance (GNA) with the inclusion
of the PML-Q. The difference between the two alliances
is that the NA was an electoral alliance like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), but the GNA is a looser arrangement in which the PML-Q could still contest elections on its own and later draw in partners on its own
Even after this consolidation Sindh still remained a
riddle, since without the support of the Muttahida
Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party of the Urdu-speakers
dominant in Sindh's urban centres, it would be difficult to gain electoral control of the province. The military regime had already established a working relationship with the London-based, self-exiled MQM leader, Altaf Hussain, who had supported Musharraf during the April referendum, though many MQM cadre
abstained from the voting after two former MQM parliamentarians, Nishat Mallick and Mustapha Kamal Rizvi, were murdered in Karachi. The final element of the
military's electoral strategy was to clinch the support
of the MQM. Hussain was promised the lion's share in
November 1996), the Sindh National Front (led by Bhut-      a future provincial set-up, including a Sindhi governor
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
Sindh's new government
Ishratul Ibad, governor (MQM)
AH Mohammed Mehr, chief minister (PML-Q)
Syed Sardar Ahmad (MQM)
Shoaib Bokhari (MQM)
Raouf Siddiqui (MQM)
Muhammad Adil Shaikh (MQM)
Yaqub Ilyas Maseeh (MQM)
Shabbir Ahmad Qaimkhani (MQM)
Muhammad Hussain (MQM)
Altaf Unnar (PML-Q)
Saeeda Malik (PML-Q)
Syed Sadruddin Shah Rashdi (PML-Q)
Chaudhry Iftikhar Malik (PML-Q)
Arbab Rahim (NA)
Irfan Marwat (NA)
Arif Mustafa Jatoi (NA)
Manzoor Panhwar (PPP-Patriot)
Aftab Ahmad Shaikh (MQM)
Aijaz Shah Shirazi (PML-Q)
of his choice. The MQM - tired of struggling with its
own militant cadre for many years - decided not to
miss the train. With this, Islamabad's strategy fell into
Thwarting the PPP
In late June 2002, four SDA leaders were inducted into
the provincial cabinet under former governor, Moham-
madmian Soomro. The SDA had achieved an almost
ideal atmosphere in which to contest the 10 October
general elections - four of its leaders held posts in the
provincial cabinet and KB Rind, brother of leading SDA
figure Asghar Rind, had been appointed chief secretary of Sindh. "The chief secretary's appointment and
large scale transfers and postings of bureaucrats in various government departments were a part of the regime's
game plan to provide a congenial atmosphere to help
the newly-surfaced party give a tough time to the PPP",
explains a senior bureaucrat. This hypothesis seems to
be confirmed by the activities of the SDA ministers soon
after assuming office. They ensured the transfer of
many District Coordination Officers (DCOs) and other
senior officials, particularly from places where PPP
leaders were mayors. A virtual war started between the
minister and the nazims (mayors) that lasted until the
The military government introduced a controversial
Legal Framework Order (LFO) and Benazir Bhutto-specific election laws that prevented her from contesting
elections. Interestingly, Maulana Azam Tariq of the
banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, despite facing more
serious charges and several convictions, was allowed
to contest election from inside prison. Further, the MQM
and pro-government parties were allowed to conduct
election rallies, while the PPP was forbidden from holding large public meetings. The campaign was generally agreed to be among the most unimpressive in Pakistan's electoral history. During the polling, many opposition parties' polling agents were ejected from polling stations. In Sindh's Khairpur and Thatta districts,
there were some polling stations where turnout exceeded the total number of registered voters. Independent
newspapers published photographs showing workers
from pro-government parties and election staff stuffing
ballot boxes with fake votes.
In Karachi, the MMA shocked the MQM in many constituencies in the early phase of polling with impressive turnouts. But the MQM approached the powers-
that-be and got polling times extended by three to four
hours and 'saved' most of its seats. "We had swept
Karachi in the night, but when we woke up next day
we saw that the losers had defeated us overnight",
Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Syed Munawwar
Hasan said. This pattern of ad hoc extension of deadlines was to be repeated later during the period that the
government was being formed.
Election results put the PPP out in front with 67 seats
in the provincial house. The MQM bagged 41, the PML-Q
15, the National Alliance 14, the PML (Functional or
Pagaro faction) 13, the MMA 12, the Mohajir Qaumi
Movement 1, while independents garnered five seats.
With 10 seats, the relative strength of the MMA has increased, marking the first time a religious party has
been represented in the provincial house since 1985.
The PML(F) or Functional Muslim League (FML), led by
Pir Pagaro, spiritual leader of Hurs, was able to build
on its base in Sanghar and Khairpur districts to finish
near the middle of the pack.
In the wake of the 10 October elections, no party,
including the PPP(P), was in a position to form a government on its own. However, the PPP(P) had almost
cobbled together a working coalition on the eve of the
provincial assembly's scheduled opening on 28 November. Pir Pagaro rejected the NA's candidate and
early front-runner for chief minister, Arbab Ghulam
Rahim, and announced his support for the PPP on 27
November. That same day, the MMA's leadership also
intimated its support for a ppp-led government. However, also on 27 November, Arbab Rahim, after receiving a call from Islamabad, held a press conference at
his residence and "requested" the president to postpone the opening session indefinitely because there was
a "deadlock" in Sindh. Only an hour after that 'request'
the session was postponed for an indefinite period.
"This was the cruelest example of how to deprive people of their mandate", lamented PPP Sindh president
Nisar Khuhro.
The 'rescue mission' arrives
Perhaps in an attempt to break the 'deadlock', the pres-
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 ident called for the Sindh Assembly to open on 12 December. At that time, a dozen aspirants drawn from the
PPP, the NA, the PML(Q), the FML and the MQM were in
the running to become chief minister. At first, the GNA -
the partnership between the PML-Q and the NA - nominated Arbab Rahim, but Ghous Bux Mehr and Liaquat
Jatoi of the PML-Q, who had been appointed as federal
ministers, rejected Arbab's nomination by the GNA.
Ghous preferred Ali Mohammad Mehr, the eventual
winner, while Liaquat supported his own younger
brother, Sadaqat Jatoi. Former president Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi then secured NA backing for the nomination
of his son, Arif Jatoi, as an alternative to Arbab. However, Arbab's supporters within the SDA and PML-Q rejected all three proposed replacement candidates and
wanted either Nadir Akmal Khan Leghari of the Millat
Party or Ali Bux (alias Pappu Shah) of the PML-Q as the
candidate if Arbab was dropped. Pir Pagaro proposed
Muzaffar Hussain Shah as his candidate and rejected
Arbab, though he indicated he would consider withdrawing Shah if the PML(F) formed a government with
the PPP(P). The MQM, in turn, proposed to the GNA that
its nominee, Syed Sardar Ahmed, a former bureaucrat,
be fielded as joint candidate for the top slot. Pir Pagaro
agreed but other possible coalition partners refused.
Dozens of meetings among various political parties
to sort out the alliances failed to produce an agreement,
and Islamabad stepped in to settle arrangements. The
'rescue mission' started with the arrival of PML(Q) leader, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and the principal secretary to President Musharraf, Tariq Aziz, on 10 December in Karachi. They contacted the MQM leadership
and Pir Pagaro, PML(F) leader. Shujaat Hussain told
journalists after his arrival that he had come "to perform his party obligations". His intervention came at
the moment when the GNA local leadership had failed
to convince the MQM to withdraw its demand for the
chief minister's post. The situation was serious for the
PML(Q) leadership because Pagaro, whose party holds
13 seats in the provincial assembly, had supported the
MQM candidate as well.
Political circles buzzed with gossip of Tariq Aziz's
meetings with Pagaro and the MQM. The MQM leadership stated several times that it had supported the Jamali government in Islamabad on assurances from
General Musharraf that some MQM demands, in particular allowing the opening of party offices in the so-
called 'no-go' areas (localities of Karachi's eastern and
central districts dominated by the MQM's breakaway
militant faction, known as the Mohajir Qaumi Movement or Haqiqi). After a two-hour-long meeting, Shujaat Hussain got the MQM to withdraw its candidate
from the list of chief ministerial aspirants and promised to give a governor of its choice in the province.
Accordingly, Ibad, proclaimed offender with a
reward of three million rupees on his head, was offered
the governorship, overruling the objections of the intelligence agencies.
Governor Ishratul Ibad, Chief Minister Ali Mohammed Mehr
A youthful line-up
SINDH IS now headed by a 38-year-old MQM governor, Ishratul Ibad, and a 31-year-old PML-Q chief
minister, Ali Mohammed Mehr. Ibad was in self-
exile for over a decade after being driven out in an
anti-militant campaign launched on 19 June 1992.
Like MQM party chief Altaf Hussain, Ibad faced dozens of charges for serious crimes that the state withdrew before he returned the country and took oath
as its youngest governor on 27 December. Interestingly, a case of extortion against him was still in
court after he became the governor. The state withdrew it after a court served him summons. (Prosecutors say the government was not aware of the case.)
He has pledged to abide by the MQM agenda of securing relief for suspected militants.
Ali Mohammed Mehr, Sindh's youthful new
chief minister, comes from a well-established Sindhi political family. Mehr's relatives include the late
Ghulam Mohammed Mehr, who earned a reputation for switching loyalties to curry favour with Ayub
Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia-ul Haq and Nawaz
Sharif, and the late Sardar Ghulam Mohammed
Mehr, a tribal chief and powerful political figure.
The Mehrs are reported to be extremely wealthy, and
Ali is said to have flirted with the idea of an alliance
with the PPP(P) just days before the October election.
Despite his youth, Ali has a decade of political
experience, having been elected on a PPP ticket in
1993 to the national assembly and re-elected four
years later.
But the MQM's withdrawal from the fray further
highlighted differences within the GNA, and Arbab
Ghulam Rahim was anxious to exploit them and come
out on top. He was considered a close friend of Tariq
Aziz and political circles speculated the Aziz might
offer his support to an Arbab candidacy. The struggle
took on a new dimension on 11 December with the arrival in Karachi of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali.
Despite persistently denying that he was involved in
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
the province's political negotiations, he openly assisted his party leader and the president's top aide to form
a dispensation in Sindh favourable to Islamabad. Jamali held a meeting with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain
at the state guesthouse on the day of his arrival, just 24
hours before the first assembly session was set to begin.
NA leader Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi made contact with
the PPP(P) the same day hoping to advance his son's
A meeting among GNA parties and the PME(F) lasted
until the early hours of 12 December and produced a
seemingly miraculous outcome. During the meeting, all
aspirants were successfully 'tamed' and 31-year-old
Ali Mohammad Mehr of the PML(Q) emerged as the consensus candidate. After settling that, the rescue team,
now assisted by two senior officials of the country's
premier intelligence agency, the ISI, turned its attention
to the PPP(P). The first parliamentarian in this party of
Parliamentarians who "decided according to his conscience" to strengthen the pro-regime PML(Q) setup in
Sindh was Razzaq Mehr, who announced his support
on 12 December. The next day, a MMA female member,
Sakina Bano, and the PPP(P)'s Manzoor Panhwar, Me-
hboob Bijarani and Naseer Khoso defected
to the PML(Q) after a meeting with the federal
interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, himself a well-known defector from the PPP. The
MMA leadership said Sakina Bano defected
because her husband, an engineer in the Pakistan Telecommunication Company, had
been threatened. The MMA's Abid Sundera-
ni and the PPP(p)'s Manzoor Shah were the
final targets of Islamabad's political fabricators. With
that settled, the finishing touch was administered with
the offer of 12 portfolios to the MQM, including that of
home, which is typically held by the chief minister. Additionally, the MQM received assurances that one of its
ministers would be the senior minister, and the departments of finance, excise and taxation, local government,
industries and planning and development were promised to the MQM.
The distribution of power
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Tariq Aziz and Jamali had
also developed a formula, obviously without consulting the future chief minister, in which the NA would
get three ministerial posts and one advisor's post, the
PML(F) would take two ministerial posts, and the
PML(Q) would keep four ministerial and one advisory
posts. Under the plan, the PML(F) and the NA were given the posts of speaker and deputy speaker, respectively. After the plan was finalised, the NA not only refrained from nominating a candidate for the deputy
speaker's post but also did not inform the treasury
benches of this until the deadline for the filing of nominations. Since the ruling alliance was not in a position
to field a candidate at that late stage, the way was clear
for the joint nominee of the PPP(P) and MMA to capture
"The MQM
is virtually
running the
the post unopposed. It was at this stage that old tricks
were pulled out of the bag. The governor intervened on
the request of the treasury benches and extended the
deadline for filing nominations, thereby enabling an
SDA member, Raheela Tiwana, to occupy the post. For
the Patriots, the formal self-designation of defectors from
the PPP(P), the deal they struck did not turn out to be as
lucrative as it had been in Islamabad when Jamali was
cobbling together a ruling coalition at the national level. They were promised three departments. So far only
one of the three has been awarded. For the moment,
they will have to be content with administering the
livestock portfolio.
During the entire process of putting a government
together, the role of the chief minister, Mehr, appears to
have been minimal. "Consulting the chief minister on
the formation of that Sindh cabinet is not an issue",
said a close aide of Shujaat Hussain in Karachi. He
added, "The formula according to which parties have
been promised portfolios had already been decided at
a meeting held before the inaugural session of the Sindh
Assembly". With or without the chief minister's influence, differences of opinion on the formula continued
to make headlines throughout December. The
NA demanded the finance department but
the MQM refused to hand it over. The NA's
demand for the revenue department also
proved to be futile, as it had been promised
to the PML(Q)'s parliamentary leader, Altaf
Unnar, in accordance with the formula.
Frustrated, the NA requested the speaker
to allocate separate seat arrangements for it
in the provincial assembly and threatened to quit the
coalition. Against that backdrop, Musharraf, who was
in the provincial capital at the time, held meetings with
the governor and the chief minister. On the following
day, 2 January, the provincial information department
received notice at 2.30 pm that the provincial cabinet
would be sworn in after one hour. After the swearing-
in ceremony, the chief minister did not hesitate to say
that President Musharraf had "guided" him and his
party to form and run the government. But, during the
introductory meeting of the ministers with the governor and the chief minister, held at the governor's house,
NA leaders quickly demonstrated their displeasure
with the distribution of portfolios. They demanded control of the education and revenue departments, threatening to withdraw support to the government if their
claims were not met. At several NA parliamentary meetings, discussions centred on whether to follow through
on the threat and join the opposition PPP and MMA
As a result, on 3 Januarv, Tariq Aziz again arrived
from Islamahad, held meetings with all the coalition
partners at the chief minister's house and decided to
adjust the formula. The education department, which
the SDA, as a part of the NA, had wanted entrusted to
its president, Imtiaz Shaikh, was given to the SDA's
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
lrfanullah Marwat. By that point, Marwat and the rest
of the SDA party leadership had virtually parted ways.
Shaikh became an advisor without a portfolio while
the revenue department was given to the PML(Q)'s Altaf Unnar. During these negotiations, the chief minister
was present in meetings but apparently played no role
in decision-making. "He [Mehr] said to me that he was
bound to follow what his party leadership and top people in Islamabad had devised in a formula before the
formation of his government", said a PML(Q) leader
speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Winners and losers
Most analysts agree that the MQM, as a party, and lrfanullah Marwat, as an individual, played the government-
formation game well. But many believe that the nerve-
shattering, prolonged power game in Sindh is not over
yet. Despite being the single largest party in the provincial assembly, the PPP has definitely lost out by failing
to make it to power. Inside the multi-party coalition, the
NA - and the SDA, in particular - consider themselves
to have fallen short. In the elections, SDA president Imtiaz Shaikh, who was being projected as the frontrun-
ner for the chief minister's post, lost in Shikarpur district to the PPP(P)'s Agha Tariq, thanks to Shaikh's 'ally',
PML(Q) provincial president, Ghous Bux Mehr, who
openly backed the PPP(P) candidate. That was the first
shock for the SDA. The SDA's Arbab Ghulam Rahim
was then briefly promoted as a prospective chief minister until Pir Pagaro dismissed that idea by leveling a
racist barb at Arbab, allegedly referring to him as a
"black crow". He went on to say that he would even
prefer to support his bete noire, the PPP(P), in order to
defeat Arbab. This came as the second shock for the
SDA. The party then promoted Jatoi's son, Arif Mustafa, as the NA nominee for the top slot, only to be out-
maneuvered again, this time by Ghous Bux Mehr when
the MQM announced its backing for the tribal lord Ali
Mohammad Mehr.
All this stung the leadership of the NA, especially
the SDA members. Nonetheless, an uneasy calm between the NA and its coalition partners has held thus
far, though SDA minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, immediately upon taking oath, said that the NA had not given up its request to the speaker to be allotted separate
seats. "We are National Alliance ministers and that
significance we will maintain at all forums", Arbab
said. After the distribution of portfolios, the SDA, in practical terms, has lost its position of power. Excluding
Marwat, who broke with the SDA leadership, it has one
minister and one advisor. There is general consensus
that the MQM has had the last laugh. In addition to
placing its convener, 38-year-old Ishratul Ibad, as the
provincial governor, it acquired control over many
plush ministries and, best of all, served up a chief minister with no political profile. "The MQM has bargained
better than in it has in the past", a PML(Q) leader admitted. "It is virtually running the government".
Sindhi speakers lose out
FOR THE first time ever, the representation of Sindhi speakers in the provincial cabinet falls short of
a majority. None of the seven MQM ministers, including Shabbir Kaimi, who won on a Mirpurkhas
seat, speaks Sindhi. One MQM minister, Yaqoob II-
yas Masih, who holds the portfolio of culture and
minorities, is a Punjabi speaker. Aftab Shaikh, the
adviser for finance and the MQM's deputy convener, speaks Urdu. Three of the eight PML(Q)-NA-
PML(F) ministers are non-Sindhi-speaking - lrfanullah Marwat from Karachi (Pushto-speaking), and
Chaudhry Iftekhar from Sanghar and Saeeda Malik from Karachi (Punjabi-speaking). The Sindhi-
speaking ministers from PML(Q)-National Alliance-
PML(F) are Arbab Ghulam Rahim (Thar), Sadruddin Rashdi (Khairpur), Arif Jatoi (Nausherofeioze),
Manzoor Panhwar (Jacobabad) and Altaf Unnar
(Larkana). Two advisers, Aijaz Shirazi of Thatta
and Imtiaz Shaikh, also speak Sindhi.
Democracy, Sindh style
In the by-election held on 15 January, Ali Nawaz Khan
Mehr, the youngest brother of chief minister Ali Mohammad Mehr, contested from Ghotki district seat and
won more than 176,000 votes out of 285,000 cast -
swamping his PPP(P) opponent, Abdul Latif Shah, who
polled 3000 votes. During the election, all union councils had been asked to use their resources generously to
mobilise voters, prompting Abdul Latif Shah to practically withdraw from the contest in protest. A similarly
ludicrous situation involved Imtiaz Shaikh, who
bagged a surprising 93,000 votes. Shaikh had secured
little over 16,000 votes in October from his native district Shikarpur, in his loss to the PPP(P)'s Tariq Pathan,
who got 19,000 votes. "This over-enthusiasm by those
more loyal than the king has exposed how the manipulations were designed", Benazir Bhutto spokesman Far-
hatullah Babar says. "This has really helped us to show
how our people are cheated".
Similar reports of massive landslide results were
reported in other contests involving PPP(P) candidates.
In Khairpur district, where three of the party's workers
were killed in a clash, reports suggest that the PPP(P)
candidate was prevented from running an open campaign. Here the PML(F)'s Syed Javed Ali Shah secured
more than 128,000 votes and defeated the PPP(P) candidate by a margin of 100,000 votes. Other accounts along
these lines have also surfaced in some PML(Q) and NA
victories over PPP(P) candidates. The by-elections results
have raised many eyebrows since all government-
backed candidates won with thumping majorities and
the turnout far surpassed that witnessed during the
general elections. PPP(P) spokesman Taj Haider commented on the results with unconcealed scepticism,
saying, "Again, the people of Sindh were robbed of their
chance to get their representatives to the assembly",  b
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
Celluloid combustion
At half past noon on 8 January, the originals of
Raja Harishchandra, Battleship Potemkin and Achhut Kanya
were lost in a nitrate oxide-fuelled inferno in Pune.
by Binitesh Baruri
If you were to take a tour of the Film and Television
Institute of India (FTII) campus in Pune, this was
the building you would most likely have missed. In
the heart of the campus, nestled among the eucalypti, it
seemed to be abandoned, seemingly forgotten. Well, not
anymore after it literally exploded into the news in early January this year. Now, that building cannot be found
even if you went looking for it.
On 8 January, students were milling about just near
this unassuming building, busy with year-end project
submissions. The production department was taking
its usual early lunch. All seemed to be as usual when
suddenly smoke and strange orange
fumes began emanating from the building. Everybody guessed what was up,
and people started running away from
the structure, warning others on the
way. lt was only a matter of moments
before the orange fumes, all of a sudden, combusted. The ground shook
with the explosion. A cloud of smoke
and dust rose from the building and
angry flames leapt out of its two ventilator shafts. The gases trapped inside
the structure under extreme pressure
started to billow out of the shafts and the blaze looked
like it was coming from a flamethrower, reaching out
as far as 20 metres. The trees on the north side and the
production department protected Studio 1 to some extent. But within a few minutes the production department was charred, as were four scooters parked in the
vicinity. On the south side, the flames reached the TV
building, crossing a lawn and a fountain that now have
ceased to exist. All the trees around the structure are
gone too. Had it not been for the trees, the damage would
have been even more extensive. The fire tenders, seven
in all, arrived within 10 minutes and actually did a
good job of containing the fire. But by then, a heritage
had been lost.
No one really jknows what caused the fire. Did the
cooling system malfunction, was it poor maintenance,
of was it an electrical short circuit as the authorities
claim? A maintenance crew had actually been sighted
coming out of the building that very morning. Now that
Destroyed originals
include India's first
indigenous silent
feature film, first
Marathi talkie, and
1942 speeches by
Gandhi and Nehru
the damage has been done, the speculation is merely
academic and technical. What we can say for sure, however, is that about 3000 cans of film were destroyed,
and of these at least 250 films were original prints. The
originals included such masterpieces as Eisenstein's
1925 classic, Battleship Potemkin; Raja Harishchandra
(1913), India's first indigenous silent feature film; Ay-
odhyecha Raja (1932), the first Marathi talkie; Ballet
Mechanique (1924) by the French Dadaist painter,
Fernand Leger; the speeches by Gandhi and Nehru at
the 1942 session of the All India Congress Committee;
and footage from the last world war. Among other
prominent losses were some of the great
films produced under the Bombay Talkies banner: Achhut Kanya, Bhabhi, Dur-
ga, Kangan, Izzat, Navjeevan and Kismet;
and films such as Amrit Manthan, Stmt
Tukaram, Dada Saheb Phalke's Kali a
Mardan and Sohrab Modi's Pukar. Also
lost was original film footage from the
freedom struggle - of Gandhi in Delhi,
Jinnah with C Rajagopalachari, Vallab-
hbhai Patel, and Subhas Bose.
The building, a nameless nonde-
script structure in the heart of India's
premier film training institute, was where the National
Film Archives of fndia {NFAI) housed some of its collection, the rest of which is across the road from FTII, on
the NFAI premises. FTII occupies grounds that once belonged to Prabhat Studios where many regional language movies were filmed. It is therefore ironic that most
of the films lost that afternoon were regional films, which
had been archived on the FTII campus.
Bureaucratic negligence
Back in May 1897, two years after the motion picture
era was famously born in the darkened basement of a
cafe with the screening of the Lumiere train sequence,
in Paris, nitrate film passing through a projector caught
alight and 180 people died in the ensuing fire. Most of
the prints that were lost in the fire at FTII were from the
pre-1930 silent era, when filmmaking was still in its
infancy and cellulose nitrate film of the kind that caught
fire in Paris was the order of the day, popular among
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
professional filmmakers due to its high silver content
that created very luminous black and white images and
also because it wore well, making it suitable for repeated theatrical screenings.
However, nitrate is chemically unstable and highly
flammable. What happens is that due to cellulose nitrate decomposition, the film shrinks, and breaks down,
giving off nitric oxide, yellow and soft gelatine, nitrogen dioxide and other gases that yellow the film base.
The silver image oxidises and the film base cockles,
becoming brittle and rather sticky, and finally, disintegrates completely. In conditions of heightened temperatures and humidity, the process speeds up considerably, and as it deteriorates, the sealed can containing
the film converts into a pressure cooker. The captive
gases start heating up, proceeding towards combustion and even explosion. Nitrate bums over 20 times as
fast as wood, can reach burning temperatures of up to
1700 degrees Celsius, and contains enough oxygen to
keep burning even under water.
Cellulose nitrate film retired from film cameras in
the early 1950s, when cellulose diacetate and triacetate
films replaced it all over the world. Yet, each nation
with a history of filmmaking over 50 years old has its
own share of nitrate base films. Many of these have
already ceased to exist due to their relatively easy combustibility and high instability.
But the chemical propensities of nitrate do not
necessarily mean the films from another era will end
up creating a conflagaration of the kind that happened
at the FTII. Kept in the correct conditions, and handled
with expertise, nitrate films can survive. The NFAI has
had in its possession a 'nitrate vault' for some time
now - which is, or at least should be, several vaults
since heaping too many films together creates pressure
that would trigger decomposition. Due to bureaucratic
tangles though, the vault has yet not been pressed into
service and some of India's oldest films have paid the
penalty for one of India's oldest problems. The destruction of films that need not have perished should be a
warning to those to whose care they have been entrusted that there is an immediate need not only to preserve
old films in their original through appropriate methods but also to ensure that copies are duplicated and
kept at different locations, so that entire archives are
not wiped out.
It may be true, and a consolation to many, that copies had been made of about 80 percent of the films lost
to the fire, though exactly which have been lost for good
is yet to be discovered. It is also fact that these films
were just one segment of the NFAI collection of over
10,000 films from India and abroad. Nevertheless, copies are but copies and definitely poorer than the original in quality despite our best technological resources
and efforts. Therefore, while it is imperative that copying proceeds on a systematic basis, it is also necessary
to keep in mind the need to preserve the original prints
as heritage artifacts.
Clockwise from bottom
left: Battleship Potemkin,
Achhut Kanya,
Ayodhyecha Raja, Raja
Each original lost is like losing a treasure house of
information and knowledge for film buffs and film students alike. One could go on citing names of classics
lost, and counting the number of films now forever gone;
however, name or number is hardly the pofnt. The point
is that even one insignificant seeming original lost is a
reference point lost. For a film student, one of the greatest learning experiences lies in viewing old masterpieces. Besides, an art that cannot inspect its own internal
history is severely handicapped.
It has been a little over a century since the art of the
motion picture came into existence. In that century, cinema has risen to a position of unchallenged preeminence as an aid to memory that besides being a novel
form of self-expression also provides a form of representation to collective ideals. And no matter how much
one undermines the status of the medium among the
arts, it remains true that it is the single largest influence
on people m the world today through the instrument of
the television or the theatre. In such circumstances,
when so much care is taken to preserve many other
forms of exclusive art, the one medium that directly communicates to the mass of people ought to be getting
more archival attention than it has been given.
Since film is the newest form of aesthetic expression, it is also the only art form whose historical lineage can be studied from its very beginnings and whose
internal development can be more or less comprehensively recovered. And yet, a large number of films that
are important aesthetically as well as historically from
the first days of filmmaking, seem to be fast disappearing from the world due to either negligence or poor
maintenance or indifference. The fire at FTII is only the
latest such occurrence. Film is a fragile medium, and
not just metaphorically. It needs preservation. But can
a Subcontinent that is notorious for letting the sources
of its own history fall into disrepair at least now wake
up to the urgency of the task? b
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
Uttar Pradesh,
the state of polio
THE INDIAN state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) accounts for 68 percent
of polio cases reported worldwide.
According to data from the National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP),
India - accurate, it claims, till 25 January 2003 - 1218 of the 1556 cases
of polio in India are located in UP.
A very distant second is Bihar,
which has 119 cases. The numbers
are alarming, and there is danger
that if things continue the way they
are in UP, India's polio eradication
programme will end up as yet another shamefully unfulfilled five-
year plan.
Despite a whopping USD 96 million donated annually by various
international organisations and
multinational corporations for
New Delhi's polio eradication programme, and the union health minister, CP Thakur's vow to make the
nation polio-free by 2005 (the previous minister, Shatrughan Sinha,
Homeward bound
THE KHYBER Pass, the mountainous gateway linking Peshawar, Pakistan, and Jalalabad, Afghanistan,
is a portal through which millions
of migrants and soldiers have
passed for thousands of years. In the
past few decades, it has principally
had an eastbound flow, with Afghan refugees pouring into Pakistan's North West Frontier Province
to wait out the violence and upheaval across the border. The past year,
however, has witnessed a massive
reversal, with Afghans representing
the largest resettlement of humans
since 1971 when two million people moved to Pakistan after the
Bangladesh war.
Afghans began leaving their
country in droves after the 1979 Soviet invasion, and lingering instability and conflict through the 1990s
provoked even more emigration. In
the autumn of 2001, during the demise of the T.diban, American bombing led thousands more to seek ref-
Reported polio cases
in India as of 25
}   ■ JtvJ"^4^1^
January 2003
(1556 total)
^v' A a' * ;^^*^.
Uttar Pradesh, 1218; Bihar,
I^^T^J-fc,    a    ft--a|.,IP*W_
»       119; West Bengal, 45;
*-^.  Haryana, 34; Rajasthan, 30;
_j^         §              V* "
"^  Delhi, 25; Gujarat, 24;
jA        X~    A*      *tL/*s^
h       Madhya Pradesh, 20;
V. J ***^                 t:
JtWaaaT^                                                                             . _-f^     '           1
Uttaranchal, 14; Jharkhand,
X-^jJi   _?
\      12; Maharashtra, 6; Orissa,
i      4; Punjab, 2; Chandigarh, 1;
r   •       *                          J
Chhattisgarh, 1; Jammu &
S^>> ^
1    ^  ~s
Kashmir, 1.
wanted to attack the virus "on a war
footing"), India is one of only 20
countries still afflicted by the virus;
the others are either in South Asia
(Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal
and Pakistan) or Africa.
In UP, where over 66 percent of
the reported cases are Muslims,
polio survives to afflict another
generation due to suspicion, illiteracy and misinformation. In Ram-
pur, western UP, 26-year-old Rus-
tam Suleimani pedals a rickshaw
uge in neighbouring countries. At
the close of 2001, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted 4.1 million
Afghan refugees in Pakistan and
Iran (Islamabad and Teheran put
the number at 5.6 million), in addition to a combined 50,000 in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But the actual refugee population is considerably higher, given
that many Afghans have migrated
through extra-legal channels to
overseas destinations. The EU, for
instance, estimates that it is home
to 400,000 Afghan refugees, many
of whom are there illegally. The enormity of the Afghan refugee community can be seen in the fact that while
Pakistan and Iran are home to millions of Afghan refugees, only three
other countries - Germ«any, Tanzania and the US - host refugee populations in excess of 500,000.
But the human flow has begun
to reverse. Since the fall of the Taliban and the cessation of (most)
American bombing, an estimated
in spite of polio, with whatever
strength his only good leg affords
him so as to earn the month's 1000
rupees necessary to feed his wife
and infant child. He will probably
take his child to the pulse-polio programme but his neighbours are unmotivated by his state.
The mistrust towards the ruling
Hindu nationalist BJP government
and the follies of the Congress before it have meant that many members ofthe minority Muslim commu-
two million Afghans have returned
to their country, principally from
Pakistan. Returns from Iran have
been significantly lower, in large
part because Afghans there tend to
be settled in urban areas and enjoy
a greater degree of independence,
unlike in Pakistan where most refugees live in camps. Nonetheless, UNHCR, in cooperation with the Iranian government, is keen to return
Afghans and launched a repatriation programme in April 2002. As
of last October, about 300,000 Afghans had departed from Iran for
their homeland.
The human rights community is
concerned about the wisdom of so
many repatriations so soon. Last
summer, after more than 1 million
Afghans had already returned, Human Rights Watch cast doubt on
official encouragement of repatriation, citing persisting instability in
the home country. Amnesty International has criticised a EU plan
to repatriate 1500 Afghans every
month, possibly even through forc-
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
nity of UP believe that the drugs will
render their children sterile. This
fear comes from memories of Sanjay
Gandhi's sterilisation drive during
the emergency of the late 1970s and
the vicious 'hum paanch humaare
pachchees' ('we five, our 25') rhetoric of the Hindu right, the mathematically flawed logic of which insinuates that a highly procreant
Muslim population will swamp
Hindu India.
Suspicion of the government has
remained embedded in the rural
Muslim psyche, and they have been
reluctant to participate in the 'pulse
polio immunisation programme'
despite the encouragement of Imam
Bukhari of the Delhi Jama Masjid.
The people are often so frightened
and unwilling to trust that they answer social workers from behind
closed doors saying they will not,
at any cost, allow their children to
be given the vaccines.
India has nine polio laboratories
and 8500 reporting units, according
to the NPSP. Yet, this large network
has not been able to check the resur-
ed repatriation, on the grounds that
the plan "does not include appropriate safeguards regarding the security of returnees".
Irrespective of concerns about
legal protection and security in Afghanistan, the massive wave of repatriation is already a reality. What
is also a fact is the continuing climate of uncertainty in the country.
Among other problems, returnees
cite sporadic warfare, the absence
of institutionalised human rights,
unemployment and a dearth of af-
gence of poliovirus in India's north.
Health officials are 'hopeful' that
there will be a dip in the number of
polio cases among children - below-
fives are most prone to infection -
despite the lack of medication, as
a result of immunity developed
through mild exposure. But mass
vaccination remains, as always, essential for eradicating the virus.
In a state with a population of
116 million where most homes do
not have electricity, and most people neither proper housing nor sanitation (which facilitates faecal-oral
transmission), one wonders exactly what hope there is that the state
(leave alone the country!) will be rid
of the virus come 2005. Misinformation and nonchalance are as rampant in offices of government as on
the street. The spirit is flagging. Says
OP Vaish, chairman of Rotary International's National Polioplus
Committee in India: "The union
health minister knows next to nothing about the programme - my
blood boils at the indifference".     A
fordable housing.
In late January, reports surfaced
that Padsha Khan Zadran, a pro-
American, anti-Hamid Karzai local
military commander in Paktia and
Khost, might be willing to reach a
power-sharing arrangement with
the Kabul government, paving the
way for the extension of a unified
political structure into parts of eastern Afghanistan. But the operational authority of Karzai's interim government throughout Afghanistan
remains wanting, and Kabul complains that it has received little of the
USD 4.5 billion thus
far promised for
development and
reconstruction. Just
as they fled without
help during times of
conflict and crisis, it
seems the returning
Afghans will have to
make do by relying
principally on themselves, b
Talking at the border
Michael Shank is a theatre artist who
served as a conference facilitator at Focus on South Asia, a 'youth peace conference' organised by the Youth Initiative for Peace in Lahore in mid-December 2002. The conference was attended
by 35 girls and boys from all the member countries of SAARC except India, because of visa complications. Here, Shank
describes a visit to the Wagah-Attari
border from the Pakistani side:
WE VISITED the border between
Pakistan and India on the last day
of the conference; a border heavily
guarded by each country. In fact,
every day at 1600 hours the Pakistan and Indian military 'face-off
in a show of bravado, might and resistance. Thousands of people apparently flock to the border each day
to chant, cheer, yell, hold candles,
weep and wave as the military
stomps, frowns and celebrates the
divisiveness the border has created.
We were advised to keep a low
profile at the border. Our conference
hosts (the human rights commission
of Pakistan and two powerful women's rights organisations in Lahore)
had asked us to refrain from singing, performing street theatre or
chanting freedom poetry because
they were already banned from the
border due to similar expression and
were fearful that if we became loud
and unruly, our association with
them might provoke more restrictive
action from the government against
We agreed to this request. Oddly
though, after we arrived at the border and witnessed the angry nationalistic chants and slogans we were
overwhelmed with silence and
tears. Our willingness to keep a low
profile aptly suited our quieter, visceral reaction to the militaristic fervour so pervasive at the border. The
contrast was almost too much to
bear. The entire week leading up to
the border visit had been spent with
passionate and dedicated peace
workers (including organisers and
participants) and now we were surrounded by the hatred of government
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
propaganda that was dividing people with a shared history; people
that enjoyed similar music, savoured similar food, delighted in similar dance and paraded on similar
Approaching the white line that
divided the two countries I stopped
to wave at the Indians
standing far on the other
side. Pakistan officials
quickly ushered me down
the path, not wanting me
to offer such  friendli-
3 ness during their show of
1 guarded nationalism.
™ A reporter from Geo, a ■■—
new private TV channel,
showed up at the border to broadcast our visit. They asked if I would
be willing to speak. What was I to
say? There I stood, donning the local Punjabi clothing of a salwar kameez, at the border between Pakistan
and India where nationalism and
machismo run high. "What do you
suggest we do about this border conflict?"
I thought awhile. I thought about
the food I had eaten that week - remarkably similar to my experiences
with Indian food-1 remembered the
music of the tabla player and the
singer and the dancing that reminded me of Indian friends. Such seemingly common interests were divided by a barbed-wire fence, a fence
that had thoughtlessly cut through
houses and property 55 years ago
dividing relatives and families. 55
years later relatives are still not permitted to speak with each other at
the border. And, as I found out, even
waving is discouraged.
I answered the reporter with the
only suggestion I could muster —that
amidst this militaristic zeal we
should take the risk of conversing
with each other Here At The Border. Why not provide Indians and
Pakistanis the opportunity to communicate at the border? I was not
suggesting that the governments lift
the travel ban between the countries,
nor was I suggesting that Pakistanis
be able to cross over to Indian land
or that the government allow Indians to traverse the big white line to
enter Pakistan's territory. (Though
I think all of us believe these desperately need to happen.) I was
merely suggesting that we take a
small risk and transcend boundaries
by talking across borders and hopefully, in the communicating of a
common and shared love for music,
dance and food, a better place and a
better way could exist.
I realised that a handshake, a
Calling all poets
(in A'mrica)
OVERSEAS SOUTH Asian novelists are numerous and well known.
But can you name a South Asian
poet residing on foreign shores?
That formidable task might become
a little easier after the release of Writing the Lines of Our Hands, an anthology of South Asian-American poetry scheduled to be published in early 2004. Three South Asian expat litterateurs - Neela Banerjee, Summi
Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam
- have teamed up with a California
publisher to bring out the work.
Subcontinental poets permanently
resident in the United States are encouraged to send in their work, be it
"slam, sonnet, limerick or lyric poetry", before the 15 March deadline.
The publisher. Creative Arts
Book Company, has a history of
bringing out the work of distinguished poets, including Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg and
Gertrude Stein. So perhaps this is
the big break that will allow poets
to challenge the dominance of the
Salman Rushdies and Michael
Ondaatjes of the South Asian expat
literary universe. The editors specifically encourage writers from the
Subcon's smaller states to submit
smile or 'Assalaamu aleikum, turn kai-
se hoi' was not dealing with the issue of nuclear weapons, terrorism
or, in this case, the controversial issue of Kashmir. But good communication does imply that both sides
are speaking truthfully and respectfully while (hopefully) attempting
to understand the other
side's perspective. No longer is the simple recommendation that we Talk With
Each Other an easy task but
it is still a necessary and a
very accomplishable one.
.Allowing Indians and Pakistanis to talk across the
border at Attari/Wagah
would definitely be something that
could be done for peace. b
Michael Shank, Seattle, USA
pieces, perhaps paving the way for
distinctive Maldivian-, Bhutanese-
and Nepali-American genres.
A hint of what is to come might
be found in the work of Kaipa, who
also edits Interlope, a journal of
Asian-American poetics. At the moment living "among the minor rock
stars of San Francisco on Albion
Street, currently known for its
sweet, ever-wafting aroma of piss",
Kaipa has already published several collections of poetry, including
The Epics, a reflection on ancient
Hindu texts as seen through contemporary eyes. As Kaipa describes
her work:
The epic begins in small proportions but quickly escalates. All
this is written with witness -
time pretends to reside over this,
or our narrator, Vyasa, says he
does. Nearing the end of the
world, we are looking at an upcoming conflagration that may
arrive as a computer virus.
Please excuse my gratuitous
anachronism. As in Hinduism,
when the eight planets align, the
apocalypse is said to arrive but
doesn't. Someone purposefully
avoids me because of the intelligent company I keep, or Barbarel-
la is the greatest movie ever
made. The leading antagonist in
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
Behind closed doors
THE VILLAGE of Kalyani Koppal
in Kamataka's Mandya district is
well known for two reasons. It is
located in the home district of the
state's chief minister, SM Krishna.
And it has no adolescent girls.
The village, one of the poorest in
the district, lacks basic facilities
such as health care, roads or buses.
This is why it banishes its teenaged
girls to big cities to work as domestic labourers, or worse, as prostitutes. "At least she will get three
meals instead of eating fried mud
in the village", is how Raje Gowde
justifies sending his 14-year-old
daughter Rajamma to Bangalore to
work as a domestic servant in a doctor's household.
Banerjee. Kaipa, Sundaralingam
the story is Duryodhana, who is
envious of Krishna's kinship to
his cousins. Most of us can sympathize with blood relations. My
brother, Sami, is looking for a
high-paying job in the computer
industry and my cousins are in
medical school. Am I concerned
that I will be rich? No. Someone's
child, unborn, is already burping the alphabet. These are auspicious times - the Pandavas
and the Kauravas and their epic
pettiness will destroy our Bharat petticoats. All this is new to
me and all this has occurred before in 88,000 lines of metered
verse. Brahmin lineages continue as reminders of the reincar-
native possibilities while saris
are the Indian way of preserving
a curvaceous figure. Our instinctual language, Sanskrit, though
dead, will go on. We Indians are
old souls. I am a journalist.
For more information on the project,
But Rajamma's story is a chilling account of physical abuse and
mental anguish at the hands of insensitive employers who burdened
her with all manner of physical
chores and exploited her services as
an ayah (nursemaid) to their one-
year-old child. "I found the work
physically impossible to cope with
and my employers, fearing I would
run away, locked me up whenever
they went out", she explains. On
one such occasion, Rajamma's
clothes caught on fire but her
screams went unanswered. "I had
to quell the fire on my own. The incident shook me up completely",
she recalls.
One day after her desperate
hopes of escape had faded, her
mother and uncle came to visit.
Shocked at Rajamma's stories, her
mother informed the employers that
the girl would be coming home. In
response, the doctor called the police and accused Rajamma of theft.
"Terrified by the turn of events, my
mother and uncle agreed to the demand of the couple to leave them
only after they agreed not to come
and see me ever again", Rajamma
Overwork, lack of proper
food and inhuman treatment
transformed the girl into a
ghost-like figure. But fortunately her plight caught the attention of a Mysore-based NGO,
Odanadi Seva Satnsthe, which assists
commercial sex workers and children in distressed circumstances.
Tragically, however, despite being
rescued from the doctor's home, Rajamma could not return to her village. When Odanadi activists visited Kalyani Koppal a week after her
release, they discovered that she
was employed as a maid in a different household in Bangalore.
"When we questioned Rajamma's father, he confessed that dire
poverty had forced him to send his
minor daughter for housework to a
stranger's house", says Odanadi
co-founder Stanly. According to
him, false charges of theft cases
often keep girls bonded to their
Exploitative conditions in cities
are compounded by poverty in Kalyani Koppal. Due to its aridity and
lack of irrigation, the village's agricultural output is negligible. Villagers complain that government officials never visit the village and that
the postman is probably the only
outsider who comes twice a week.
In a village of 800-odd residents,
over 60 percent of the children have
migrated to Bangalore; the residual
female population a mix of old women, widows and infant girls, says
One girl who has returned to the
village is Nethra, aged 16, who came
home to Kalyani Koppal after suffering sexual abuse. Sent at the age
of 10 to work as a domestic labourer
in Bangalore, Nethra remained
there for four years, drawing an annua! salary of INR 2000 and a pair
of old dresses. At age 15, her employers sent her home when they
learned of the sexual abuse committed by their adult son.
"He was forcing me to have sex
with him, and when his parents realised what was happening they
threw me out", she recalls. Nethra
returned to her village, but stark
poverty compelled her to return
once more to the city in search
of work. "I foolishly believed
that I could make a decent living in the city, but I soon discovered that sexual harassment
was part and parcel of every job I
took", she says bitterly. Lonely and
helpless, people assumed her to be
a prostitute, and she gradually became one.
In response to these cases and
others like them, Odanadi activists
want the state government to take a
proactive role in the rescue and rehabilitation of girls forced into domestic labour or prostitution. Development in the village of Kalyani
Koppal and others like it must be
taken up on a priority basis, they
stress. ib
Nitin Jugran Bahuguna, Mysore
(First published in Grassroots)
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
The sustainability of hunger
Talk of a government out of touch with people's needs. India is following
Argentina's example in promoting food exports even as its millions go
hungry. While the masses in both countries face dire poverty, the
rulers remain unconnected and unmoved.
by Devinder Sharma      	
On 4 December 2002, India's finance minister,
Jaswant Singh, presented his government's
mid-term review in parliament, emphasising a
need to boost private investment in agriculture to thereby encourage commodity exports. What he forgot to
mention was that by taking this path India had decided to follow Argentina's model of economic growth,
which in reality expands the profits of a few agribusiness enterprises at the cost of growing hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
Argentina, the world's fourth largest exporter of
food, faces an unprecedented socio-economic crisis. As
the vast, fertile country continues to increase exports of
meat, wheat, corn and soya, a catastrophe has hit the
underprivileged in the countryside. Hunger multiplies
and images of stunted, emaciated children scandalise
Argentines, whose country was long known as the
grain store of the world.
Hunger also continues to grow in India, which has
one-third of the world's estimated 860 million people
who go to bed hungry, and that too in times of plenty.
In fact, hunger and poverty have proved to be robustly
sustainable. Amidst reports of gnawing hunger and
starvation deaths in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and
Orissa, India continues to make room for exporting surplus foodgrain. That an estimated 320 million people
desperately need food despite the more than 60 million
tonnes stocked in the open has failed to evoke any kind
of political response.
Once perceived by neo-classical pundits as representing a glorious model of economic growth, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis now confronts Argentina. In India too, with the increased domination of
market forces in the food sector, and reduced public
policy intervention for food security, food prices have
increased to impact on the mass population. Meanwhile, Jaswant Singh has promised to further cut subsidies and reduce the government's intervention in
foodgrain procurement.
On the external front, Indian foodgrain exports have
increased by 10 percent every year since 1991. Between
April and August 2002, the export of wheat grew by 32
percent and that of rice by 75 percent, as compared to
corresponding months in the previous year. Agriculture and allied products grew by an impressive 8.2 percent in the same period. However, other traditional exports such as plantation crops (tea and spices) and
edible oils face international competition as imports
grow with the lowering of import duties and the removal of quantitative restrictions. Instead of imposing
duties that minimise the impact of cheap imports, the
government has provided INR five billion to bail out the
plantation sector. In other words, while small producers are driven out by cheaper imports, major producers
have their losses written-off.
Full of hunger
While people die of hunger, the government sits atop a
mountain of foodgrains. In 2001, starvation deaths were
reported in over 13 states, even while the storage facilities of the Food Corporation of India were full of grain,
some of it rotting and rat-infested. When export markets could not be found for this surplus, a proposal
was even made to dump it into the sea to create storage
space for the next crop. In 2002, reports of hunger and
starvation deaths regularly poured in from Andhra
Pradesh and Kamataka, two of the country's progressive and economically fast-growing states.
A November 2002 report that appeared in The Guardian quotes the Centre for Child Nutrition Studies, which
advises the World Health Organisation, as saying that
20 percent of children in Argentina are suffering from
malnutrition. Dr Oscar Hillal, the deputy director of
the children's hospital in the province of Tucuman,
said, "This is not Africa, this is Argentina, where there
are 50 million cattle and 39 million people - but where
we have a government which is totally out of touch
with the people's needs".
Reports filed from Argentina tell of widespread
malnutrition throughout the country. The national
charity Red Solidaria reported that in 2002 an average
of 60 children a month were being taken to hospitals
with severe malnutrition, and 400 were being treated
as outpatients. Five non-governmental organisations
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
from Tucuman province recently filed a legal suit
against Tucuman's governor, Julio Miranda, for "wilful neglect" of the children who have died of malnutrition in his province, where 64 percent of people live in
extreme poverty. They accused him of diverting national funding for social programmes into "clientelism and
In April 2001, public interest litigation was initiated by NGOs in the Supreme Court of India asking that
the state be made responsible for preventing scarcity
and to immediately provide relief when scarcity arises:
in essence, the petition focuses on every citizen's fundamental right to food. A bench comprising Justice BN
Kripal and KG Balakrishnan directed the government
to "devise a scheme where no person goes hungry when
the granaries are full and lots [is] being wasted due to
non-availability of storage space". In response to the
attorney general's plea that devising such a scheme
would require at least two weeks, the court allocated
an appropriate timeframe. It has also sought affidavits
from the state governments of
Orissa, Rajasthan, Chattis-
garh, Maharashtra, Gujarat
and Himachal Pradesh detailing their response to the situation of scarcity amidst plenty.
A year and a half later,
starvation deaths were reported from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh ?ven while
exports of wheat and rice
had grown. Malnutrition continues to multiply, more so
among children and women.
And a day after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's mid-November announcement that 1.3 million tonnes of foodgrain costing INR
15 billion had been distributed in the country under
various drought relief programmes, a damning survey-
conducted in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, found
6785 children in 43 blocks of Shivpuri district severely
malnourished - an average of 160 per block. Yet, all
that the prime minister did was to call an all-party
meeting to discuss the drought and hunger crisis.
Elsewhere, it is the same story of desperation and
apathy, of people left to fend for themselves in the face
of drought and desperate to get out in search of menial
jobs. Recently, when the Puri-Okha Express to Gujarat
stopped in the Berhampur railway station, Orissa, The
Indian Express reported that the platform erupted in
chaos. More than a thousand young people, fighting to
clamber on to leave Berhampur for Surat, Gujarat, were
ready to kill or be killed for space in the two general
compartments of the train. Many were ready to travel
all the way to Surat or Bombay - across the breadth the
country - hanging on the doorway. Those who could
not board broke the train's windowpanes in frustration. This is not an atypical scenario, and many Indian
Look familiar? Argentine children in search of a meal.
railway stations present similarly desperate situations.
A sick society
Far away in Argentina, some 450,000 jobs have been
lost since October 2001, leaving one in every five persons unemployed, one in four destitute, and one in two
living in poverty. Salaries have lost 70 percent of their
value and the economy is shrinking at a rate of 14 percent, while inflation is running at 40 percent. While the
prices of non-essential goods, such as clothes, have held
steady, the price of wheat climbed bv 166 percent in the
first six months of 2002 alone.
The country's crisis has devastated its people. In
April 2002, Norma Gonzalez, a desperate 59-year-old
middle-class woman, tried to immolate herself in front
of a bank teller. In Misiones province, which borders
Tucuman in the north, nearly 50 child starvation deaths
were reported in 2002. Media reports from throughout
the country tell off the gruesome and the desperate: overturned trucks of cattle being slaughtered by mobs of
slum-dwellers, infant starvation because mothers' breasts
have gone dry, the descent into
poverty of another 11,000 people each day, according to the
government's own numbers.
For the political masters of
both the countries, aided and
abetted by a chosen breed of
economists, agricultural exports remain the only path to
speedy growth. Tonnes of paper have already been wasted
on theories, reports and studies detailing the virtues of export-oriented growth that can help eradicate poverty
and hunger. It is not therefore unusual to find economists like Jagdish Bhagwati and Meghnad Desai, living in liberalised economies and singing in chorus to
the tunes of free trade. What they propose is withdrawing state support to agriculture as quickly as possible,
leaving farmers at the mercy of market forces.
In an astonishingly honest admission, Argentina's
production minister, Anibal Fernandez, attributed the
starvation-related child deaths to "a sick society and a
ruling class that are sons of bitches, all of them, myself
included. If not, this would not be happening. It is a
chronic and cumulative problem. It has been going
on for many years and everyone has been turning a
blind eye".
One wonders, how many of the heads of state of
WTO-member countries will stand up to measure Argentina's Anibal Fernandez. Accepting the fault is the
first step toward rectifying the policy blunders. Hoping
against hope is what optimism is all about in the days
of corporate control and market economy where the poor
and hungry are nothing more than an unfortunate statistic that comes in the way of development. b
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
AIDS and India
Funding its way to the forefront
by Rajeshwari Menon
Not very long back, a strange controversy engulfed the Indian health ministry prior to and
during the Microsoft magnate's visit to the Subcontinent. The subject was HIV/AIDS and apparently
Gates had alluded to a CIA report in one of his widely
circulated write-ups on the magnitude and the trajectory of the infection. Two reports, one of the National
Intelligence Council (NIC), a United States government
organisation, and the other by a private institution,
partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had predicted a large number of HIV/AIDS cases
in some developing countries, including India and China. Gates had extensively quoted from the former report,
which was titled 'The next wave of HIV/AIDS; Nigeria,
Ethiopia, Russia, India and China'. The next wave
countries, the report noted, were likely to seek greater
technical assistance from the US in tracking and
combating the disease. For many it did not seem an
irony that despite being a self-sufficient democracy and
a sovereign state, India had in the new millennium to
take counsel from corporate heads on how to manage
and prioritise its health sector.
The NIC report also suggested that if an effective
vaccine were to be developed in the coming years, Western governments and pharmaceutical companies would
come under intense pressure to make it widely available. The two reports projected India as one of the biggest pockets of the infection by the year 2010; the NIC
report put the number at 20 to 25 million HIV cases, the
highest estimate for any country. The Bharatiya Janata
Part}' (BJP)-led government, which otherwise goes completely ballistic with jingoistic fervour on issues of cultural nationalism, found nothing amiss in these prognostications as long as they had not entered the public
domain of discussion. Once they became known (much
credit for this goes to a non-governmental organisation
called the Joint Action Council), it became difficult to
obfuscate the implications of such intelligence reports
for any sovereign state. The union health ministry, under the charismatic Bollywood actor Shatrughan Sinha (who was recently relieved from his cabinet responsibility), issued a denial regarding the 2010 projections.
But interestingly, the prognosis of the NIC and similar such reports have been taken very seriously by the
Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a
multilateral public-private partnership, and coincident-
ly, the United States recently assumed the chair of the
Global Fund board. This fund has committed USD 866
million over the next two years in the form of grants to
60 countries, India included, and a major part of the
funding will go to non-government organisations, leaving elected governments very much without control.
The Indian government has of course welcomed this largesse - national pride can be set aside - and is willing
to play second fiddle, or what is called in sanitised
terms - a complementary role. Currently, India spends
USD 300 million on the National AIDS Control Programme,
with help from a World Bank loan of USD 191 million.
Multilateral and bilateral development agencies support
the HIV/AIDS response at state and central levels.
Threats from the second wave
But what is left unsaid is that even if the Indian cases
constitute 10 percent of the global HIV burden and are
deemed to merit global sympathy and largesse, the government's national health policy recognises a totally
different list of priorities for the health sector. And AIDS
is only one of those concerns, though most of the time it
seems to be getting all the attention. If tuberculosis (TB)
has attracted attention, it is mostly because of its association with AIDS. Another aspect is that since there
has been a resurgence of communicable diseases even
in the developed world, the global concern should reflect as much. The developing countries are after all
seen as pockets of disease. Therefore, if HIV/AIDS has
become a national security threat to the US, as per a
paper (jointly funded by the Gates' foundation and the
Catherine Marron Foundation) prepared by a Task
Force of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies - a Washington, DC-based organisation - then it
becomes a global threat. The paper is called 'The Destabilizing Impacts of HIV/AIDS - First wave hits eastern
and southern Africa, Second wave threatens India,
China, Russia, Ethiopia, Nigeria'.
But as the developed world, and in particular the
US should know, HIV/AIDS is not India's only priority.
In GDP terms, health expenditure in the country (already one of the lowest in the world) has declined from
1.3 percent in 1990 to 0.9 percent in 1999. While central
budgetary allocation has remained stagnant at 1.3 percent of total outlay, the budgetary allocation to health
in state budgets (which account for over 70 percent of
total health care expenditure of the country) has fallen
in this period from 7.0 percent to 5.5 percent. This is a
direct consequence of the squeeze imposed on the finances of the states by the economic liberalisation policies. In reaction to this, desperate state governments
are queuing up in front of the World Bank to receive
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
bank-aided projects. This is proving even more disastrous as these projects impose strict conditionalities
such as cost recovery.
The National Health Policy (NHP), drawn last year,
admits that the morbidity and mortality levels in the
country are still unacceptably high. But unfortunately,
it pins the blame on the public health sector. "These
unsatisfactory health indices are, in turn, an indication of the limited success of the public health system
in meeting the preventive and curative requirements of
the general population", it notes.
Out of the communicable diseases which have persisted over time, the incidence of malaria staged a
resurgence in the 1980s before stabilising at a fairly
high prevalence level during the 1990s. Over the
years, an increasing level of insecticide-resistance
has developed in the malarial vectors in many parts
of the country, while the incidence of the more deadly
P-Falciparum malaria has risen to about 50 percent
in the country as a whole. In respect of TB, the public health scenario has not shown any significant
decline in the pool of infection amongst the community, and there has been a distressing trend in the
increase of drug resistance to the type of infection
prevailing in the country. A new and extremely virulent communicable disease - HIV/AIDS - has
emerged on the health scene since the declaration of
the NHP-1983. As there is no existing therapeutic
cure or vaccine for this infection, the disease constitutes a serious threat, not merely to public health
but to economic development in the country. The
common water-borne infections - Gastroenteritis,
Cholera, and some forms of Hepatitis - continue to
contribute to a high level of morbidity in the population, even though the mortality rate may have been
somewhat moderated (NHP - 2002).
While HIV/AIDS is seen as a threat to economic development, it is incomprehensible as to why the other communicable diseases, which have claimed many
more lives till date, do not seem to be a threat to economic growth. The current annual per capita public
health expenditure m the country is no more than INR
200. Given these statistics, it is no surprise that the reach
and quality of public health services has been below
the desirable standard. In the constitutional structure,
public health is the responsibility of the states. In such
a framework, it has been the expectation that the principal contribution for the funding of public health services will be from the resources of the states, with some
supplementary input from the centre.
Budgeting cares
Against this backdrop, the contribution of central resources to the overall public health funding has been
limited to about 15 percent. The fiscal resources of the
state governments are known to be very inelastic. This
is reflected in the declining percentage of state resources allocated to the health sector out of the state budget.
If the decentralised public health services in the country are to improve significantly, there is a need for the
injection of substantial resources into the health sector
from the central government budget. This approach is
a necessity - despite the formal constitutional provision with regard to public health - if the state public
health services, which are a major component of the
initiatives in the social sector, are not to become entirely moribund, states the NHP 2002.
The technical network available in the country for
disease surveillance is extremely rudimentary and to
the extent that the system exists, it extends only up to
the district level. The NHP admits that disease statistics
do not flow through an integrated network from the
decentralised public health facilities to the state/central government health administration. Such an arrangement only provides belated information, which,
at best, serves a limited statistical purpose. The absence
of an efficient disease surveillance network is a major
handicap in providing a prompt and cost-effective
health care system.
Evidently, public health infrastructure and preventive care as a whole need to get a big boost in terms of
investment. But if there is any disease prevention mechanism visible, it is in the arena of HIV/AIDS. Last year,
the then union minister for health and family welfare,
CP Thakur, stated that the government had given
priority to National AIDS Control Programme, as is evident from the fact that it receives the highest budgetary
allocation of all health programmes. This has been done
to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS infection which undermines social and economic development throughout the world and affects all levels of society, said the
minister. Addressing a consultative committee meeting of the ministry, Thakur said that the sentinel surveillance data clearly indicates that even though the
number of AIDS patients are still growing, the rate at
which the infection is spreading was showing a declining trend in the last three years. There was a gradual decrease in the new infections. The minister also
added that another major thrust during the 10th plan
period would be on the elimination of kala-azar and
filariasis. However, no generous budgetary allocation
was made similar to that of AIDS.
The 1983 NHP had envisaged health for all by 2000.
That has not happened obviously. In fact, more than
1000 people have died this winter of poverty in the cold
wave; several mysterious deaths occurred in Saharan-
pur late last year - viral encephalitis was suspected
though, for several weeks, doctors remained clueless;
and plague broke out in parts of Himachal Pradesh in
March 2002 triggering widespread panic. Undoubtedly, the public health priorities have to be decided by
governments alone. And there are no global takers for
these diseases - the disease of hunger and consequent
ill health. b
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
THE REPRESSED South Asian libido's
love affair with the female form (especially the leggy athletic variety) has long
been an open secret. But for some reason, the game of tennis has assumed a
preeminent role in this ongoing psychological drama. A highly unscientific and
notably arbitrary survey of major Indian
dailies reveals that Anna Kournikova,
the Russian starlet who is also reported
to play tennis on occasion, receives more
photo slots in daily papers than, well,
anyone else. Even Sonia Gandhi. Unfortunately for Miss Anna and the Subcontinent's super-continental size visual appetite, the Russian vixen, who
has never won a major tournament, was
knocked out of the recently concluded
Australian Open in just the second
round. This obsession with Miss .Anna
looks especially strange when one considers that almost no one in our penurious land actually plays the country club
sport of tennis. Now badminton, that's
another racquet sport and it is quite popular in the
Subcon: Perhaps the best way to promote it is to insist
on short skirts without bloomers to show - you said it
not I-legs...
PAKISTAN RECENTLY got its first all-news television channel, Geo, which has pulled in viewers thus
far by, among other things, covering a shoot-out in
Karachi live and offering critical analysis of Islamabad
government policies. Geo is building on the success of
other private channels in Pakistan, such as jARY and
Indus Vision, the second of which was the first entertainment channel to successfully challenge the domination of India-based tele-
v^HHk. vision giants such as Zee
H and Sony. Geo has assembled, an impressive
lineup of reporters and
analysts and secured major advertisers for its most
popular slots. The long-
term impact of Geo - and
other news channels in
the works - remains to be
seen, though Pakistanis
can look forw-ard to more
lively debates and a competitive television news
environment. As one
Dawn columnist summed
it up, "Pakistanis have
been desperate for TV news and are enjoying watching
politicians squirm on live TV. Years of exposing wrongdoings in print seem inconsequential when pitted
against half-an-hour of grilling on TV". (For
more on Geo, see Himal, September 2002.)
ANYONE IN search of back problems or a
blunt object should immediately consult the
recently published Eleventh SAARC Summit
report. With 1069 pages of glossy paper, the
three^kilogram tome is chockfull with photos of South Asian heads of state with famous global personalities and less-than-
light reading on country leaders. To gain a
glimpse of how each of SAARC's seven members sees itself, browse the lengthy country
profiles. First comes Bangladesh, "your investment destination", where bureaucrats
never smile though a few philosophically
hold pens; in the following section on
Bhutan, a few smirks appear, though we
mostly find very serious people dutifully
working for Gross National Happiness. Next
comes India, where Atalji's lips hint at some
combination of pleasure and discomfort,
and 16 pages are devoted to promoting
sparsely populated Arunachal Pradesh
while north India fails to receive mention. One cannot
be sure what to make of the Maldives, given that it ap-
Musharraf enthralls
one of his many
visitors (top); Deuba
strikes out with
(middle); 'Maldivians'
suit up for another
day on the atoll.
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
pears to be a land filled
entirely with bikini-clad
blonde women, though that
is still better than the fol-
ptfr:    lowing section on Nepal,
|fe which includes a picture
B     of former PM Deuba ap-
W pearing to be getting turned
down for a date by an unamused
Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri
Lanka. Given a certain person's
importance to the Pakistani polity, it is not surprising
that the president-General's photo gallery is the most
extensive, though nothing can compare to the 86-page
Sri Lankan section, where a minimum of nine different
people are seen smiling, a formidable grin-to-page ratio. Place your orders now for the indefinitely postponed
12th summit report...
IN MID-January, hundreds of NRIs congregated in
New Delhi for Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to rekindle their
on-again, off-again affair with India and hear nice
things said about themselves by senior politicians and
media outlets. Atal Behari
Vajpayee set the ball rolling
by offering dual-citizenship
to former Indians living in
the West (their miserly cousins in Asia and Africa did
not get the offer), but India Today took the cake for bowing
down to the all-mighty overseas lobby by devoting a 62-
page section to 'The Global
Indian: Doing Us Proud'.
One cannot be sure, though
the presence of a US flag on
the magazine's cover and the
opening of the 'Global Indian' section with a shot of a
glimmering north Atlantic
begs the question of whether
"us" referred to India or the
US. Either way, there does
not seem to be much pride in
Indians in India, especially
when an article inside informs that NMs "have come to represent so much that
India is not but would aspire to be: confident, audacious, go-getting - and successful". Gee, thanks, retorts
the muffled chorus of a billion-plus.
A HEALTHY self-esteem is one thing, but self-promotion has a tendency to get out of hand in the region from
Balochistan to Assam, and the 'proprietors' of non-governmental organisations are more prone to this than
others. For instance, take the 20'h anniversary profile of
the Pakistani labour rights group, FILER. Contained in
■Ptiyijii     §
its 29 pages of glossy
artpaper are a grand total of
six photos of the PILER campus versus 17 of the executive director, Karamat Ali -
one picture of PILER's boss
for nearly every year of the
organisation's existence.
Now, Chhetria Patrakar
could stand maybe a dozen
photos of someone greeting
guests, giving speeches and
marching at rallies. But why
would anyone want to see
Mr Ali checking the time on
his watch?
HINDUISM TODAY, a publication with which many Himal readers may be unfamiliar, is a Hawaii-based quarterly magazine that provides news on Hinduism and the global Hindu community. It tries desperately to be everything to everyone, trying to present Hinduism (as if such a thing were
possible) to getting-along-in-age motel owners in Arkansas and Ivy Leaguers in Boston. But in its very
Newsweek-inspired design format, the publication has
happily managed to steer clear of the Hindutva agenda.
Its current issue names the peaceable Dada JP Vaswani,
leader of Pune's Sadhu Vaswani Mission, as its 'Hindu
of the Year 2002'. What a relief to see a Subcon religious
figure celebrated for following the path of peace rather
than making headlines for behaviour less than divine.
— Chhetria Patrakar
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
Indian feminism
and the patriarchy of caste
Indian feminism has tended to represent the interests and concerns
of upper-caste women rather than reflect the experiences of Indian
women en masse. By recognising this fact, and by fostering alternative
ideas of femininity and caste relations, Indian feminism can more
effectively challenge historically-entrenched and varied patriarchies.
  by Anupama Rao
There are many Castes which allow inter-dining. But it
is a common experience that inter-dining has not succeeded in killing the spirit of Caste and the consciousness of
Caste. I am convinced that the real remedy is inter-marriage. Fusion of blood alone can create the feeling of being
kith and km and unless this feeling of kinship, of being
kindred, becomes paramount the separatist feeling - the
feeling of being aliens - created by Caste will not vanish.
Among the Hindus inter-marriage must necessarily be a
factor of greater force in social life than it need be in the
life of the non-Hindus. Where society is already well-knit
by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But
where society [is] cut asunder, marriage as a binding force
becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real remedy for
breaking Caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will serve as the
solvent of Caste, [emphasis in the original]
BR Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste
Recent critiques of Indian feminism have highlighted the fact that feminism tends not to embrace all women, but is exclusionary. Generated
in the main by dalit feminists' critiques of how practices of caste respectability and caste privilege produce
significant inequalities amongst women, such debates
have exploded the concept of gender upon which feminist analysis rests and have brought to the surface internal tensions in feminist practice. For instance, in
writing about the formation of the National Federation
of Dalit Women, the political scientist Gopal Guru argued that dalit women experience two distinct forms of
patriarchal control: a dominant form of brahminical
patriarchy that rests on conceptions of caste purity, as
well as patriarchal control within the dalit community
by men who see 'their' women as sexual property. Thus,
feminist critiques of gender domination and sexual control were themselves criticised as both casteist and
monolithic. It is crucial for Indian feminism to engage
with debates on caste. Both caste and gender are in
volved in formations of intimacy and desire, among
other things, and indicate how the political life of a
citizen depends on deeply personal issues of the body
and its expression. Furthermore, arguments that gender is regulated by caste - that gender is in fact unthinkable without addressing questions of caste exploitation
and upper-caste privilege - point to the political possibilities of bringing radical anti-caste struggles together
with feminist critiques of gender oppression. This is a
significant opportunity for understanding brahminical male privilege as a thoroughly 'modern' form of
power through which the postcolonial Indian state operates, and for bringing together powerful critiques of
caste and gender that have historically been separated
and disconnected from each other.
The formation of the All India Dalit Women's Forum in 1994, the National Federation of Dalit Women
and Dalit Solidarity in 1995, the emergence of various
regional dalit women's groups, and the All India Democratic Women's Association's Convention Against
Untouchability and Dalit Women's Oppression held
in December 1998, all illustrate critiques of Indian feminism by seeking to link caste relations to gender exploitation. More recently the dalit carried a special issue on 'Dalit Feminisms' (March-.'X.pril 2002) where the
contributors explored caste-specific patriarchal arrangements in order to test standard assumptions about
gender and sexuality. African-American feminists have
delved into the reliance of racial regimes on the sexual
violation of women as being critically important for reproducing white supremacy. Similarly, dalit feminists
too have focused on sexual violence as important to the
reproduction of the brahminiarl order. Rape, the stripping and parading of women, and other gendered forms
of humiliation by upper-caste men are significant because they are gendered practices of violence through
which untouchability is perpetuated. In fact sexual violence and the hyper-exploitation of dalit women's la-
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
bour are two of the most important issues around which
feminists' awareness of caste has been mobilised.
Both forms of exploitation rely on the ways in which
the caste order legitimates intimate access to dalit women. Dalit women's performance of defiling labour is legitimated by ideas of pollution and stigma that reproduce the inhuman conditions under which struggles
for survival take place. The issue of sexual access has
become symbolically volatile in at least two ways. One
is the struggle by dalit women to publicise their experiences of sexual violence before national and international fora. Thus, the 'Public Hearing on Atrocities
Against Dalits with Specific Reference to Dalit Women' organised in March 1994 by Women's Voice and
the Asian Women's Human Rights Council, the 'National Public Hearing on Atrocities Against Dalits in
India' held in Madurai in 1999, Human Rights Watch's
report Broken People, documents of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, as well as the National
Federation of Dalit Women's NGO Declaration on Gender and Racism, have all
testified to dalit women's experience of
sexual violence as a critical aspect of
caste hegemony. Meanwhile, there is
long-standing evidence of brutal violence against dalit men who transgress
caste codes to show their desire for upper-caste women. Incidents that drew
national attention, such as the massacre of dalits in Karamchedu (Andhra
Pradesh) in August 1991, which was attributed to the alleged eve-teasing of a
Reddy girl by a dalit boy, or the accounts
of the lynching of men and women who
engage in inter-caste marriage or relationships reveal how integral politically volatile issues of sexual violence and
sexual access are to protecting the caste order. Alternatively, acts such as the eve-teasing of upper-caste women by dalit men as an assertion of masculinity and upward mobility partake of the broader consolidation of
caste masculinities. Such consolidations are premised
on enactments of sexual violence that legitimate claims
to women as sexual property. The consolidation of caste
hegemony - especially political and economic dominance - through the policing of intimate sexual relationships between castes shows how fundamental sexual control and desire are to the caste order. Gender
relationships within and between caste communities
function as a nodal point through which caste supremacy is contested and reproduced.
Political presents
Clearly such issues have gained visibility in the post-
Mandal context where both caste and feminist politics
have changed. Growing tensions between dalits, backward castes and other backward castes (OBCs), debates
within feminist groups about the focus on legal reform
The lynching of
in inter-caste
shows how
integral volatile
issues of sexual
violence and
access are to
protecting the
caste order
and the state, and the growing evidence of women's
active participation in Hindutva-sponsored violence are
just a few indicators of the broader political transformations underway since the late 1980s.
The 1980s saw an unprecedented assault on key
institutions and ideologies of the modernising Nehruvian state, including constitutional secularism, reservations and welfare measures. Mainly, the transformations in political culture over the past two decades have
involved a shift in the relationship between the Indian
state and its minorities. If earlier, the postcolonial state
simultaneously promoted 'tolerance' between religious
communities and tried to reform caste from within Hinduism in a Gandhian fashion, the last two decades have
seen some of the crises that resulted from this contradictory set of strategies. These include the Shah Bano
case, the mandir-masjid controversy, and the debates
over the 'uniform civil code' that challenged constitutionally-defined secularism to expose the unavailability of older models of tolerance. The rhetoric of tolerance is by itself inadequate
for maintaining civic relations between
majority and minority communities, as
advocates of constitutional secularism
are increasingly dubbed internal enemies of the Indian (Hindu) nation, while
Hindutva claims to speak on behalf of an
unrecognised demographic majority.
While this has clear implications for
religious minorities (chiefly Muslims,
and now increasingly, Christians), who
have experienced organised violence by
the Hindu majority, the Mandal-masjid
years have also seen renewed attempts
by the Hindu right to woo OBCs, as well
dalits and adivasis, as part of a reconstituted Hindu public. Arguments about the
violent and masculinist character of Hindutva seldom
notice the simultaneous political assertion of dalitbahujans. Both of these events have been enabled by a
new and distinct phase in the career of Indian democracy. The rise of Hindutva and a post-Mandal caste
politics are shaped by the distinct character of neolib-
eralism in India, where the state must continue to assert a protective relationship to its largely poor population while withdrawing from its welfare role in practice. These changes are marked by a renewed focus on
identity, whether it be the question 'who is a Hindu'
that has occupied social and political reformers from
the late 19th century, or the recent attempts by scholars
such as Kancha Ilaiah to make use of the category of the
dalit-bahujan to designate a political community united by histories of suffering and exploitation as well as
a culture of protest against brahminism. Much as Joti-
ba Phule made use of the term shudratishudra in his
writings to include all those who did not belong to the
exploitative communities of shetjis and bhatjis, the category of the dalit-bahujan indicates a demographic ma-
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
jority, a stigmatised community that has borne the brunt
of the pernicious ideologies of caste. Ironically, the consolidation of a Hindu community with the rise of Hindu nationalism is paralleled by aggressive demands
for equality and social justice by historically downtrodden castes.
Caste assertion both within the domain of parliamentary politics and struggles for recognition without
illustrate how central caste is to India's political modernity. Historians have suggested that caste, like religious identity, constituted a peculiarly modern form of
'difference'. Caste came to be reified during the colonial period as an essential characteristic of Indian society, as an indicator of the importance of 'hierarchy' (rather than inequality) in India's social and political life.
Arguments about the 'colonial construction' of caste
have shown that caste has a history, that caste
has always been related to political power
and to the frameworks through which the
British colonial state understood native society. But such critiques have also been criticised for missing the radical critiques of Hinduism and caste relations (eg by Phule,
Ambedkar or Periyar) which asserted that
colonialism had provided new avenues for
the expression of brahminical power; that the
brahminical order and colonial rule were in
fact complicit in further entrenching the caste
order, instead, radical thinkers such as
Ambedkar, Periyar and Phule held caste Hindus responsible for the ritual stigmatisation
and political disenfranchisement that characterised caste exploitation. In the Ambedkarite vision, for example, such critiques of
caste demanded that caste exploitation be recognised as a form of civic and political inequality requiring redress. The demand that
historic discrimination be redressed, that the
state engage in a politics of restitution, meant that practices of equalisation were significant.
Historically, the postcolonial state has addressed
this demand by understanding caste as a form of socioeconomic 'backwardness' to be addressed by reservations. But Ambedkar's demands were of much more
revolutionary import. He demanded that caste disabilities which were largely social or religio-ritual in nature
be regarded as the perpetration of political inequality.
Ambedkar's ceaseless struggle to politicise everyday
caste relations inaugurated the birth of the dalit citizen
as a rights-bearing subject. It is the urgency of this political demand that we must distinguish from standard
arguments by political scientists who argue that caste's
post-colonial transformations have involved its further
politicisation through vote bank politics. Such arguments
about caste's essential destructiveness for the conduct
of modern politics renders 'caste politics' the preserve
and practice of the lower castes, allowing the upper castes
freedom from the burdens of caste identity.
Early critics of
caste and
patriarchy: Phule
and Periyar.
The political compromise of the Nehruvian years
saw caste as a social evil, one slated to wither away
through a process of modernisation. However, the post-
Mandal conjuncture suggested that caste itself had
mutated and changed, that it was integral to conceptions of citizenship and personhood. Broadly, postal
Mandal assertions about historic discrimination and
struggles for social justice have focused on: a) the demand for recognising caste as a critical component of
studies of political modernity, and reservations as a
mechanism of social justice rather than a further stigmatisation of lower-castes beneficiaries, as occurred
during the Mandal debates; b) the more recent demand
for reservation for women and for dalit-bahujan women, politicising differences amongst women; and c) a
turn towards transnational discourses of human rights
that increasingly equate caste discrimination
with broader histories of racism as happened
at Durban during the World Conference
Against Racism. Thus, broadly speaking, we
might say that debates about caste and gender are addressed to two audiences. One is a
global public where issues of caste and gender discrimination have allowed a comparison of pernicious cultural practices. Within
the nation-state, the demand has been to expand the presence of previously marginalised
or unrecognised groups in existing forms of
political participation. In both spheres, dalit-
bahujan feminists halve struggled to connect
the intimate experience of sexual violation
and vulnerability with more public forms of
caste exploitation and domination.
If these critiques of gender and sexuality
have not typically found a place in Indian feminism's self-representation until quite recently, might it be that mainstream feminism is
another face of brahminism that replicates
upper-caste privilege while claiming to represent women as a political constituency? By contrast, caste critiques from the late 19lh century and early 20th century,
for instance, show a sustained engagement with the
centrality of caste in regulating sexual behavior. Contemporary feminist politics can thus be clarified
through a critical understanding of the history of caste
narratives and caste struggle. What might such histories tell us about the limits of both mainstream feminism and dalit (male) activism?
Brahminical feminism
Indian feminism's history can be traced through a movement-centric analysis of struggles against sexual violence within and without the home, legal rights and
protection for women as a particularly vulnerable political community, and a broader struggle to redefine
matters of intimacy as public issues of political import,
ie, the personal as political. This history has been the
target of critique, especially by dalit feminists who have
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
criticised the narrow conception of sexual violence and
of rights, since they do not address fon-ns of caste privilege that allow upper-caste men to claim sexual access
to dalit women, or the conditions of labouring women
who are not restricted to the domestic sphere.
It is also possible to explore debates about social
reform during the 19th century as attempts to modernise
gender relations within the upper-caste family. Historically, social reform in colonial India modernised gendered relations in the upper-caste family while often
dispossessing lower-caste women of their rights to property and inheritance in attempts to homogenise caste
and community-specific laws regarding such practices. This made forms of modernity available to upper-
caste women while allowing them to claim that caste
was the burden of other struggles for rights and recognition. Nationalism served to further occlude the extent to which the 'woman's question' had been the upper-caste woman's question.
Beginning with the debates about the ^^^^^^™
abolition of sati in 1829, the reformers'
attention to practices such as widow remarriage and the age of consent focused
solely on upper-caste women and their
lives. This was accompanied by the quieter transformation of the domestic sphere
through women's education and the percolation of a new sensibility about women's duty and responsibility within the
home. A broader historical perspective on
the ambivalent effects of colonial modernity on women's lives is useful because     	
it suggests that the refusal to include caste
as a critical aspect of gender relations has a longer history than might be imagined.
Colonised elites experienced colonial modernity as
both profoundly empowering and disabling in its demand that the 'traditional' past be jettisoned in toto in
favour of a global(ising) language of modernity. Colonial modernity produced 'the new woman' as critical
to a reformulated patriarchy. This was a patriarchy that,
as the historian Tanika Sarkar has argued, was premised on a discourse of rights and the juridical language of 'consent' that was unavailable even to the colonised elites. Yet this language of gendered intimacy
as a realm of the consensual rather than the coercive,
laid claim to a political imagination far removed from
the racialised structures of rule Indians experienced in
their daily lives.
Or we find in Partha Chatterjee's justly famous essay, 'Nationalist Resolution of the Woman's Question'
that gender (and the domain of the intimate) offered a
means for working through the contradictions of colonial modernity. Women (especially women from the
middle-classes) came to be embodied with a set of 'traditional' expectations about good behavior, respectability and comportment that they carried within them,
Upper-caste ideas
of sexual purity
kept caste-Hindu
widows within their
homes and offered them questionable forms
of 'protection'
of the public world. This 'compact' between the nation
and its men about the role of women in public life
achieved during the early 20lh century, came at the cost
of excluding a whole set of issues from the agenda of
social reform, and it allowed some women to be modern at the expense of others. The ambiguous legacy of
colonial modernity was that it came to be restricted to
upper-caste women. Caste and gender were the two
issues internal to Hindu custom and society that had
to be reformed in order for upper-caste male reformers
and nationalists to claim a moral-ethical space for anti-
colonial nationalism. Though the 'woman's question'
as articulated by upper-caste reformers consistently elided issues of caste, radical assaults on caste ideology
consistently focused on how caste regulations governed
women's behavior.
Rosalind O'Hanlon, whose work has focused on
the emergence of radical low-caste critiques of caste exploitation, has argued that an emergent
^^^^^^™*" colonial public sphere in fact produced
new kinds of caste domination during
the last two decades of the 19* century.
This political critique of the 'modernity' of brahminism is especially evident
in Phule's writings. Phule's awareness
of the debilitating codes of conduct that
disciplined upper-caste women was
integral to his critique of caste relations
in colonial society. He opened a school
for untouchable girls in 1848 and a
home for upper-caste widows pun-
      ished for illicit sexual relations. His
challenge to upper-caste men through
a critique of their treatment of women, as well as his
empathetic identification with oppressed brahmin and
upper-caste women, are important. The description of
his home is significant, "The enclosed copy of printed
notices were [sic] then pasted on the walls of the corners
of streets, where the Brahmins reside. From its commencement up to the present time, thirty-five pregnant
widows came to this house...". In fact, Phule argued
that upper-caste women faced the impossible burden
of maintaining caste purity in their person. Thus 'softer' forms of gendered domination that upper-caste
women faced were no less oppressive than the expropriation of manual and sexual labour experienced by
lower-caste women.
A female activist of Phule's organisation, the Sat-
yashodak Samaj, Tarabai Shinde, in 1882 wrote the revolutionary Stri-Purush Tulana (A Comparison Between
Women and Men). This tract was written after an upper-
caste widow, Vijayalakshmi, had been convicted of infanticide. As with Phule's attention to his widows' home,
unfortunate incidents of widows being impregnated by
relatives within the family either by force or through consensual relations, were frequent and drew attention to
the demand that upper-caste widows not remarry. Stri-
which allowed them to negotiate the tortuous thickets     Punish Tulana was a critique of gender relations as well
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
as of caste, both of which disempowered women. This
serves to mark Shinde's polemic as one of the first feminist critiques of caste. Nevertheless, it was one that anti-
colonial nationalists ignored.
It is no coincidence that descriptions of upper-caste
restrictions on widow remarriage and the ensuing torment of widows within families inaugurate Shinde's
account of the effects of caste and gender ideologies.
Widows were at once the target of lower caste satire
against the upper-caste family sphere, visible symbols
of the necessity of social reform for upper-caste reformers, and proof of the correctness of religious strictures
against remarriage for conservatives. The enforcement
of widowhood showed how caste morality was regulated through gender. Widows became the object of
upper- and lower-caste reformers' concern over the
course of the 19lh century because widows' maintenance
of caste purity was really at issue.
The maintenance of caste boundaries was the crucial factor in the ideology of widowiiood. Though the
widow might be rendered socially and sexually 'dead'
- tonsuring her head, forcing her to wear a white or red
sari, depriving her of jewellery, demanding that she
restrict her passions by controlling her intake of food
and spice - she still generated anxiety because she was
sexually knowledgeable. Such anxiety supported attempts to restrict the freedom of widows within the joint-
family household, and sanctioned the drudgery of widows whose work, though it was essential to the household, was consistently marginalised. The historian
lima Chakravarty writes, "The widow's institutionalised marginality, a liminal state between being physically alive and being socially dead, was the ultimate
cultural outcome of the deprivation of her sexuality as
well as her personhood". As well, the extraction of the
labour of widows by the families who maintained them
enabled other women's freedom from toil within the family. Though widows were outside the ideologies of marriage and domesticity, they served as a reminder that
coercive conceptions of protection and affection were
only ever episodically available to women - that these
were contingent on the husband's physical presence.
Thus, upper-caste ideologies of sexual purity kept caste-
Hindu widows within their homes and offered them
questionable forms of 'protection' whose other face was
the violence of upper-caste ideologies of respectability.
The centrality of caste ideology in regulating sexual
behavior was also commented upon by BR Ambedkar
and EV Ramaswamy Naicker (Periyar), both of whom
spoke from outside Indian nationalism's discursive frame.
In the heyday of dalit mobilisation during the 1920s
and 1930s, Ambedkar wrote that intermarriage was the
most important way of annihilating caste, since it alone
acknowledged the relationship between the maintenance of caste purity and the control of women's sexuality. This emphasis on the sexual underpinnings of
caste society is important, but what is more significant
is Ambedkar's acknowledgment of desire between
castes. For him, breaking the caste rules of kinship alone
wrould undo untouchability. If inter-caste marriages
were to take place as acts of choice - which they would
have to, since caste ideologies did not permit them (the
suggestion was that such unions went against nature)
- such choice raised the possibility that men and women of different castes might desire each other. For
Ambedkar, inter-caste marriage was to be differentiated from the prevalent forms of illicit union (sexual violation, really) that dalit activists had virulently campaigned against. For example, Ambedkar included in-
tercaste marriage in the Hindu Code Bill as Hindu marriage rather than as civil marriage registered under the
Special Marriages Act.
The woman's question was also central to Periyar's
Self-Respect Movement, begun in 1925. Periyar had been
a staxinch Congressite and a supporter of the Congress
until 1925 when he broke away to launch the Self-Respect Movement (SRM), or Swjamariyadai lyakkam. The
very term 'self respect' indicates the Utopian vision of a
casteless and perhaps atheist society based on human
dignity and self worth.
Much as Phule had done 50 years earlier, Periyar
focused on the regulation of sexuality through caste
codes. Periyar institutionalised the self-respect marriage, one where activists married across castes, did
away with all rituals (in fact Periyar often had couples
marry at times that were supposed to be inauspicious
according to the Hindu almanac), and treated their
marriages as an occasion for political speech-making
and caste critique. S Anandhi and V Geetha's work
shows that these were attempts to critique the gender
hierarchies inherent in the structure of the Hmdu marriage, thereby politicising marriage. The SRM's attempts
to reduce the financial burden of weddings was connected to the attempts to rethink marriage itself as a
partnership of two political comrades who had decided to marry, relieving families of any part in the performance of the marriage. The use of Self-Respect slogans
and banners to adorn cinemas and other public places
where Self-Respect marriages took place, and the exchange of 'vows' that sought to respect the public and
political lives of Self-Respect activists as much as it
sought to re-imagine their private lives as one of mutual desire, challenged caste orthodoxy. Periyar's attempts
to integrate caste and gender issues politically through
the form of the Self-Respect marriage lead to imaginings of a different futnre, one where issues of caste,
gender and sexuality could be reconfigured and rearranged for the mutual respect and pleasure of men and
These brief examples show that gender ideology was
critical in controlling caste boundaries, an issue that
comes through clearly in critiques by dalit and lower-
caste thinkers. Caste ideologies draw on biological
metaphors of stigma and defilement to enable differentiated conceptions of personhood. However, such prescriptions are also routinely violated by the intimacy
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
that such hierarchies enable, as radical attempts to annihilate caste noted. Because caste distinctions legitimate forms of socio-political control through the regulation of kinship, upper-caste men had access to dalit
women, for instance, while they demanded that 'their'
women preserve caste purity through the purity of lineage. Dalit and non-brahmin critiques of caste recognised the hypocrisy of caste's sexual economy. (This is
not to suggest that such critiques went unopposed, or
that they were successful. For example, there were members ofthe non-brahmin movement in Maharashtra who
were interested in emulating upper-caste standards of
sexual behaviour and respectable conduct as a form of
upward mobility.) As with the organisation of sexuality and race in the American south or South Africa under apartheid, the regulation of sexual access across
caste and race by law distinguished this state of affairs.
Compromised as feminism has been by its caste and
class coordinates, this historical memory is considered
the province of those interested in caste politics, ie dalitbahujans. In the process, a profound analysis of how
caste, gender, and sexuality work together has remained
unacknowledged. What would it mean for contemporary feminist politics to acknowledge a critique of caste
and gender that has emerged outside of an identifiably
'feminist' framework?
Excavating an alternative history of gender and sex
uality, one that complicates basic feminist preconceptions about how patriarchy operates or where to locate
gender oppression, provides evidence of long-standing Indian debates about gender inequality. Such genealogies are powerful for countering chauvinistic Hindutva arguments .about feminism as a Western import.
At the same time, such radical political critiques of the
caste/gender order necessarily complicate the search
for authentic sexual practices and pleasures unsullied
by the perversions of the West - what we might call the
'Kamasutra syndrome'. In fact, if such critiques were to
become central to the Indian feminist canon, it would
be the responsibility of feminists - dalit-bahujan and
otherwise - to craft a critique of gender and sexuality
that addresses caste as critical to the ways in which
gender relations become visible in social space. This is
a form of responsibility that neither privileges dalit-
bahujan experience as extraordinary, nor one that practices a form of caste amnesia as the precondition of being secular and modern. Rather, it is a means of acknowledging entangled and shared histories through
which women often exploit other women as the precondition of their own freedoms, where men are engaged in complicated negotiations of masculinity, and
where men's claims to women as sexual property has
to be understood through the lens of both caste privilege and gender domination. b
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Dual citizenship
Of what and for whom?
The 'Pravasi Bharatiya Divas' held in honour of the Indian diaspora at
Delhi in early January 2003, and the announcement of a 'national day'
commemorating the return of Gandhi to India from South Africa mark a
new moment in the government of India's relationship with its expatriates.
But the question still remains, 'who is an Indian'.
  by Itty Abraham 	
The long history of Indian migration to places far
from India has led to a situation where Indians
are now found in most parts of the world, in various states of being. In a few places, such as Indonesia
and Thailand, they have been assimilated to the point
of near-indistinguishability. In others they have become
an integral if contested element of the host country because of the size of the community (East Indians in
Trinidad, Guyana, Fiji). In East Africa, they are longstanding communities without a great deal of assimilation. In still other places, such as the gulf, the white
commonwealth and the United States, they represent
economic migrants of various social and economic
classes. There are other categories; these examples are
intended solely as illustration of the great variety of
what can be called NRIs and PIOs ('non-resident Indian' and 'people of Indian origin' respectively).
The modern story of Indian emigration overseas begins with the colonial period and the demand for labour following the abolition of slavery in 1833. Indenture, a system of labour-contracting that came close to
slavery but retained the fiction of free labour, sent thousands of Indian men and women to the West Indies,
Mauritius, Fiji, Malaysia and other plantation states in
the British empire. Many of those
who went abroad were low-caste
agricultural workers from contemporary Bihar and Tamil Nadu.
They would not have thought of
themselves as 'Indian' but rather
as Maithili speakers or members
of particular castes as they left
the shores of India. When they
reached their destination, they had
received any number of epithets,
'hindoos' and 'coolies' being only
To this well known form of mi-
Overseas NRI/POI
Southeast Asia
4.6 million
Persian gulf region
3.4 million
United States
1.7 million
United Kingdom
1.2 million
South Africa
1 million
Europe (excl UK)
Africa (excl SA)
Trinidad & Tobago
gration has to be added the travels of merchants and
their families, especially from the west coast of India,
sailors and shippers, civil servants, religious figures
and pilgrims, who could be found from the Caribbean
to South Africa to Malacca. The British empire initiated
a new form of movement in its use of the Indian army as
an imperial counterinsurgency and military police
force, from Africa to Europe, where Indians distinguished themselves in two world wars. These groups
were not necessarily migrants, though some did stay
behind in the places they visited, but their travels and
presence helped establish the idea of Indians as a transnational category, roughly similar to, though on a
smaller scale, the idea of the overseas Chinese. Even
before the idea of 'India' was fully established in the
territorial domain of the country, the idea of the Indian
overseas was a meaningful category that included Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Muslims, Christians and others.
The importance of overseas Indian populations in
the national anti-colonial struggle has not received its
full due in historical literature. After all, the most distinguished Indian leader of the struggle for political
independence owed no small part of his rise to political awareness to his experiences as a diasporic lawyer
in pre-apartheid South Africa. On
his return to India, among the first
mass actions Gandhi undertook, in
1921-22, to try and mobilise the
Muslim community was around an
event far removed from Indian soil,
namely, the fall of the caliphate after the rise of the young Turks.
Working in a climate that was quite
internationalised, and not yet territorially determined, it was possible
to raise passions that could be
called anti-colonial around this
seemingly confessional issue.
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
Awareness and interest in the Indian
overseas population, or diaspora, does not
end with the arrival of Gandhi. From the
1920s onwards, the Congress party - even
more than the Communist Party of India -
raised the issue of the condition of labour
and political rights of overseas indentured
labour and emigrants at every annual meeting. The colonial Indian government did respond, and these pressures often led to trouble in London with (British) representatives
of the Indian government facing off against
the representatives of the dominions of Canada and South Africa in particular. Whether via popular reactions to the recommendations of Ceylon's Donoughmore Commission, whose implementation resulted in the
Tamil minority being completely swamped
by the majority Sinhala in the 1931 state council elections, or the state executions of labour leaders in Malaya, Indians overseas were part of the larger imagination of a nation still coming into its own.
That is why it came as quite a shock following independence when the Congress, in pow- ^^^^^^^^
er, made it quite clear to its overseas diaspora that it could not expect to call
on a right to return'. The emigrants
were informed that they should make
their peace with their local communities and seek to settle down in Ceylon,
Malaya or anywhere else. Indian nationalism was being exclusively defined around territory. The difficulties
with this definition were at once visible with Indians in Ceylon. Negotiations between an increasingly chauvinist Ceylonese government and its Indi-     	
an counterpart dragged on for years; the compromise
forged by the Sirimavo-Shastri agreement of 1964 finally forced one million 'estate Tamils' (Tamils of relatively recent migration who were primarily employed as
plantation labour) to be repatriated, as long as it was
understood that this created no precedent for a 'right to
Bypassing the queue
The turbulent economic climate of the 1970s and 1980s
helped to establish the idea that the non-resident Indian population was an economic resource of considerable potential. From the 1970s onward, the growing
importance of remittances from the Persian gulf states
forced the Indian state to recognise the potential value
of overseas Indians, even if they were often uneducated, largely Muslim, and primarily from the labouring
classes. Yet, notwithstanding the importance of these
funds, and precisely because of the social background
of the gulf migrants, the policy of the state did not
change substantially. It was only with the emergence
The NRI is the
Indian equivalent of
the overseas
Chinese: a
potential source of
foreign direct
investment and
technology transfer
US-based NRIs like Pepsi Chief Financial Officer Indra Nooy (left) got the
dual citizenship nod. Others, in countries like Trinidad, did not.	
of middle class success stories in the West, such as Sam
Pitroda who came back to India with the telecom revolution up his sleeve, and Swraj Paul (now knighted),
that the idea of the NRI began to take root. The NRI was
seen as the Indian equivalent of the overseas Chinese: a
^^^^^^^      potential source of foreign direct investment and technology transfer.
With the growing wealth of overseas
engineers, scientists and doctors, a
group of individuals whose skills had
been largely provided by subsidies from
the Indian taxpayer, it was felt that the
motherland had a reasonable expectation of some return on investment. Little, however, was forthcoming from
these middle class, upper caste migrants in the US and Europe until the
information technology boom of the
        1990s when a new class of computer
specialist, often hailing from urban lowrer middle class
and agrarian India, began to take up residence in the
West. While gulf remittances continue to matter enormously, the recognition given to those migrants falls
far short of the overwhelming attention paid to the US-
based NRI, whose primary interest in India, to the extent it exists, appears to be in building temples and
supporting cultural ventures.
Until the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, nothing really changed. However, the rise of the BJP
was intimately related to overseas populations in a
number of ways. Apart from overseas financial support, the Hindu revivalist message of the BJP and its
'family' was sharpened and strengthened through its
overseas connections. For instance, many scholars have
remarked upon a contradiction inherent in Hindutva -
a majority population that represents itself as a beleaguered minority in order to increase its strength against
those who are objectively weaker than it. This message
bears particular force overseas, where Hindus are a minority, and where cultural anxiety about the reproduc-
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
tion of religious or traditional values acquires new force.
While earlier generations of migrants and contemporary gulf residents might have wanted the Indian
state to offer them greater protection of their human
rights, NRI populations in the West do not seek the same
guarantees. Rather, the primary motivation behind their
political efforts in aid of the Indian state seems to be the
desire to hold dual citizenship. While the government
made an early and poorly managed effort to respond to
this desire via its PIO scheme, few were willing to pay
the exorbitant fee for uncertain benefits, which included separate lines at immigration counters in Indian airports. Queues in India being what they are, this was
still hardly compensation for shelling out USD 1000
per family member. The relatively well-off middle class
NRI, who is the most articulate pro-    	
ponent of dual citizenship, seeks a
means to protect his property rights
in India, to repatriate his foreign currency, and to be recognised as Indian
provided he can hold onto the foreign
visa-free passport acquired with no
small difficulty. This is, by the same
token, a desire of the newly landed
immigrant rather than succeeding
generations, no matter how Indian
they may feel themselves. It has not
been recognised that the particular urgency with which dual citizenship is
now being called for will pass, to be
replaced with a more pragmatic conception of a passport as a means to
move, not unlike the maritime flag of convenience -
buy the flag of another country, escape taxation and
Now that we have heard that the government will
award dual citizenship only to Indians from seven countries, the question of who is being excluded acquires
great force. Earlier generations of migrants to the Asia-
Pacific region and to the Caribbean are not included in
this dispensation, but Indians living in the white commonwealth and the US are. The gulf migrants - still the
single largest source of remittances - are excluded. Although the Dr LM Singhvi High Level Committee on
the Indian Diaspora makes clear that economic nationalism rules its report - increasing the flow of hard currency funds to India and improving the image of India
abroad - the most obvious source of funds, and the
overseas Indians most in need of protection, are excluded from dual citizenship. It is difficult not to see a class-
caste-religion hierarchy at work here, buttressed by the
latest 'security threats'.
There is much to be commended in the committee
report, in particular its effort to map globally the scale
of the Indian diaspora. However, in spite of its official
remit, the report dares not ask the most basic and necessary question - 'who is an Indian' - yet provides
answers to the question both in the decision to selec-
Nepalis, denizens of
the 'only Hindu kingdom', are given free
reign to wander all
over India, while the
Bangladeshi Muslim
migrant is a dangerous
infiltrator, potential
terrorist and overall
tively award dual citizenship and in its almost comical
invocation of national security concerns. The dangers
associated with dual citizenship are well reflected in
the report, where this recommendation is the only one
in the 30-page executive summary printed in bold type.
Most of the relevant paragraphs are dedicated to a discussion of how the dangers of dual citizenship may be
avoided, including the dangers of terrorism. To quote:
"The Committee made detailed recommendations [with
regard to dual citizenship], being deeply conscious of
the heightened security concerns following the series
of terrorist attacks, especially the attack on India's Parliament on December 13, 2001". Dual citizenship is, in
this sense, all about weighing possible economic benefits against the fear of letting in a terrorist.
^^^^^^^^^ lt is barely worth mentioning that
terrorists seeking to infiltrate India's
territorial space rarely do so via the
mechanisms of international flights,
immigration lines and dual passports. They sneak across borders after paying off border patrols, they get
onto boats carrying drugs and gold
across the seas, they walk across
tracts of land that have no sign that
any country might lay claim to them;
worse still, they may be produced
within the body politic. What is the
real security threat being invoked
here? The only answer appears to be
a problem of Indian political and
constitutional history that has yet to
be resolved: how to legitimately exclude Pakistanis and
Bangladeshis - Muslims — from requesting Indian citizenship when they fulfil all other requirements for being Indians without invoking the rule of religion. It is
no surprise that Nepalis, denizens of the 'only Hindu
kingdom', are given free reign to wander all over India,
while the Bangladeshi migrant, usually Muslim, is a
dangerous infiltrator, potential terrorist and overall
subversive, even though s/he may be engaged in extremely hard and poorly rewarded work that an Indian
will not choose to do. The dual citizenship debate helps
brings to the fore long-standing biases in Indian foreign relations and seeks to impose the latest artificial
resolution to the unresolved question at the heart of the
republic: who is an Indian? b
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HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
A society on pyre
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun—
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood:
For nothing now can ever come to any good
- WH Auden, Funeral Blues
DESPITE THE tall claims of saffronite pseudo-historians, the history of Tndia that is Bharat' begins only with
the British conquests of the Indo-Ganga plains after the
battle of Plassey in 1757. Earlier, it was the gods who
peopled Asoka's Jambudwipa while all contemporaneous foreigners were yavanas. One would have been
hard put to find either brahmanas or sramanas. Neither
did the boundary of Manu's Aryabrata extend beyond
today's north India.
After the sepoy mutiny of 1857, later recorded as the
first war of independence in the nationalist literature
of free India, the British transformed the Mughal's fluid expression of Hindustan into something concrete:
the concept of India as a unitary colony of the crown in
South Asia. Lord Curzon elaborated the place of India
in the empire in an eponymous book published in 1909,
and it was with its publication that the seeds of the
future hegemon in the Subcon were sown. And even
more than Guru Golwalker, the Sangh Parivar owes a
debt of gratitude to Lord Canning (1812-1862), the first
viceroy of India, for providing it with the imagination
of akhand Bharat.
A competing imagining began with the arrival of
Mohandas K Gandhi from South Africa. Gandhi's
swaraj was different from earlier anti-colonial movements for self-rule. Even though cloaked in the vocabulary of tradition, swaraj was a radically modern concept - it dared to fashion an inclusive Indian identity
based on universal values of equality in polity, equity
in economy and justice in society. For a backward colony mired in poverty and hopelessness, these concepts
were revolutionary.
Jawaharlal Nehru continued with the Gandhian
project of imagining a new India and added two dimensions of his own to it - state secularism and Fabian
socialism. It is this process after which Sunil Khilnani
has titled his book on the subject: The Idea of India.
Nehru's daughter used such an idea of India as a
resource. A demagogue par excellence, Indira Gandhi
coined catchy slogans such as 'garibi hatao' (calling for
an end to poverty), abolished the privy purse, nationalised banks, created war hysteria against Pakistan, and
declared a state of emergency in the country when faced
with the prospect of an adverse court decision. She did
all this in the name of defending her late father's idea of
India. The fiasco that was the Janata Party government
excused her sins of omission and commission. When
Madam Gandhi was killed by her bodyguards, the pogrom of Sikhs that followed elevated her memory to
that of a divinity of Hindu wrath.
Jawaharlal's grandson chose to ignore the Nehruvian idea of India and rode to power by cashing in on
the communal divide created by his mother's killing.
The Rajiv Gandhi regime brought in the Doon-goons of
free-market fundamentalism and religious obscurantism. The Nike shoes and Ray-Ban Aviators of a
former commercial pilot did not come in the way of
realpolitic, and the Shah Bano episode demonstrated
to the saffron brigade that the state was no longer wedded to the (flawed but nonetheless earnest) secularism
of Gandhi and Nehru.
The Ram shila and the rathyatra culminated in the
destruction of the historic Babri Masjid, and Guru Gol-
walkar's ideological children entrenched themselves
in New Delhi through Pokharan II, Kargil and the devoted worship of their new deity - George Bush II. It is
easier to curse the Narendra Modis and Pravin Togadi-
as - they go to ridiculous lengths to invite the scorn of
the secular elite upon themselves - but they are merely
symptoms of a deeper malaise that afflicts Indian society. The concept of the state as a protector of all faiths,
dating back to Asoka and Akbar, is long dead, and the
Nehruvian idea of India too is taking its last gasp. Since
no credible alternative has yet emerged, the consuming
classes are deserting the republic for the illusion of an
India Incorporated.
Funeral feasts
The resurgence of religious fundamentalism and economic conservatism is not unique to India. Post-11 September, to submit meekly to the global hegemon seems
to be the common fate of all humanity. What really rankles is the lack of willingness on the part of the Indian
elite to realise the gravity of the looming crisis. For the
few hundred thousand super-elite PLUs ('people like
us') of the ABCD-type in metropolitan cities (Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Delhi), the fate of the other 1.4
billion simply does not matter (one billion in India and
0.4 billion in the rest of the Subcontinent). Corporate
India has not even realised that its free ride cannot last
if the 'other' India is not taken on board as well.
Even though the event was billed to be of continental scale, participants from the Subcontinent dominated the Asia Social Forum (2-7 January 2003) at Hyderabad. It was a meeting of activists, scholars and others
agitated by the spectre of economic globalisation and
global one-man-rule. The mood at the venue, the Nizam
College grounds was festive, but every participant
seemed to understand the enormity of the challenge
presented by profiteering multinationals and weak
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
national governments hoodwinked into thinking that
the market provides alt the answers.
The so-called national media of India ignored the
event completely even as it went gaga over the Confederation of Indian Industry's 'partnership summit' hosted bv Hyderabad, aimed partly at attracting foreign
investment into Andhra Pradesh. The chief minister,
Chandrababu Naidu, may be a charming host but it is
quite unlikely that any of his prospective suitors felt
safe in a state where abject poverty and superficial prosperity live cheek-by-jowl in the capital itself. The visiting business bigwigs must have had a ball in Hyderabad at public expense and then gone home to do what
they know best - sell some more of their products and
services to the remittance economy of a city that takes
pride in providing virgin brides to the oil sheikhs of
Even as Hyderabad was occupied with the social
forum and the business meet, there was a fiesta on in
New Delhi. The central government laid out the red
carpet for its prodigal sons and some daughters. The
purist regime of New Delhi revealed its true colours by
creating a hierarchy for Non-resident Indians (NRIs)
and people of Indian origin (PIOs) based on which country they belonged to - while residents of countries with
freely convertible currencies will be entitled for dual
nationality, their poorer cousins will have to fend for
themselves. This then has happened to the 'idea of India' in the age of multinationals.
Hazy future
The town of Saharsa in the Kosi floodplains of Bihar is
a long, long way from Hyderabad- On the fourth Republic Day of the 21s' century, the town was shrouded
in haze as hundreds of limp tricolour flags braved one
of the bitterest winters in living memory. Electricity supply in Saharsa district is erratic, its roads are in a shambles, the water supply is unreliable, municipal services
are nonexistent, and all that the policemen do is extort
small-change from famished riksaa-puileis.
The bare bottoms along railway tracks that so revolted VS Naipaul in An Area of Darkness are a poor joke
in comparison to the overflowing sewers of almost every town in Bihar. If the sanitary practices of a society
indicate the level of its culture, then municipalities of
the Ganga plains have regressed to a stage earlier than
that of the Indus, valley in the second millennium BCE.
But in Saharsa too, islands of private affluence thrive
in the sea of public misery. Along the market strip, hundreds of portable generator sets light up the lives of
impulse buyers and creative shopkeepers. A plethora
of private 'boarding English convent academy' schools
compete for custom while government schools wither
away in neglect.
Whether staffed by a trained doctor or a quack is a
different question altogether; almost every medical shop
is a private clinic and only those go to government hospitals who have nowhere else to turn to. Laloo Prasad
Yadav may be guilty of various ills, including having
made off with the fodder, but should he alone take the
rap for the mismanagement of public services in Bihar?
No privatisation drive can succeed in treating the
deep-rooted ills of political economy, created by various historical forces that hit and hurt the poor in a
town like Saharsa. In the name of state socialism, government policies have pushed people into the embrace
of the business classes. Those without purchasing power have nothing while the rich call for lesser government still rather than rally for better government. The
need, however, is for more government in such societies, not less; and authority has to be established in a
lawless land before government can be substituted even
in part.
Globalisation has no meaning in this region of Bihar where all business revolves around rites of passage: a feast for the male newborn, dowry for the daughter, funerals for the old and annual shraddha ceremonies for the dead. These generate more business for the
retailers in the small towrns of north India than other,
more productive, pursuits. In settlements such as Saharsa, the living envy the dead, especially under the
shroud of the winter fog or sect lahar.
More worrisome than the abject condition of the
breathing poor are the loss of hope in the middle class
and the lack of self-confidence among the social elite.
Almost everyone who has the capacity to change the
status quo wants to opt out. Information technology -
the El Dorado of the Indian bourgeoisie - is a useful
tool to fool the waiting-to-be-rich middle class, but it
has no meaning for the masses for whom even the kerosene lantern (the electoral symbol of Laloo's Rastriya
Janata Dal) is an object of desire.
One may say that Bihar is an extreme example that
diverts attention from the technological strides being
taken bv a country that boasts a scientist as head of
state. But that is ignoring the obvious - it is the worst
case that tests the mettle of an ideology or a leader.
Maharastra has its mafiosi, Karnataka-Tamil Nadu
have not been able to handle the lone warrior Veerappan, Andhra is fighting its Naxalites, Bihar and Jharkhand have been tackling their individual Maoist insurgencies for decades. None of these challenges is
going to disappear even if every corporate Indian begins to drink colas (red, blue or of whichever hue) by
the gallon.
There is no escape in sight from the tyranny of commerce as a concerted attempt to discredit politics gathers momentum. If another world is possible, as the Asia
Social Forum proclaimed, a new socialism must rise
from the ashes of the old one. There is no other way of
tackling the twin monsters of communalism and class
hatred in India. And since the present boundary of India encompasses most of South Asia, the region cannot
hope to rise unless Bharat tackles its internal contradictions, so visible in both Hyderabad and Saharsa.  t
- CK Lai
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
Sikkim on top
"" ' a  '" .' ^Pff
^3^ ^
jr-O:*    O-jfa
A part of India for less than 30 years, Sikkim has nonetheless come to embody the
best of South Asia's largest state: engaged and responsive governance, sustained and
ecologically-sensitive commercial development, and large-scale investment in the state's
people to make it a 21st century development dynamo. Sikkim is unique for its lush
and rugged physical setting and human diversity, but it has also made a name for itself
as one of the best-managed states in India. Led by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling
since 1994, Sikkim has reversed a fiscal slide, taken governance to the people and
balanced resources from New Delhi with intelligent local planning. It now stands at
the top of the heap and has set a course to continue its impressive advancement in
the decades ahead.
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
A land of beauty and extremes
The erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim joined the Indian union in
1975. With a small physical setting, 7096 square kilometres,
and only a half-million people, Sikkim may be among India's
smallest states, but its biodiversity, topographical variation
and ethnic diversity belie its size. The state is divided into
four districts - North, South, East and West - with Gangtok,
the capital, lying in the East district. More than three-
quarters of Sikkim's borders are international, with Nepal,
Tibet (China) and Bhutan bounding this landlocked state
to the west, north and east.
The south of Sikkim rises from north Bengal's rolling
hills while the northern terrain is highly mountainous; the
state's elevation ranges from a mere 300 metres above
mean sea level to over 8000 metres. As a result, the variety
of flora and fauna within this small state is Himalayan in
scale, encompassing the tropical, the temperate and the
alpine. The lower areas have an abundance of ferns and
bamboo, the northern valleys are draped by pines, oak,
chestnut, white magnolia and wild cherries, while in the
upper reaches, rhododendrons and orchids, of which Sikkim
has 600 species, stamp their colourful mark on the
landscape. The third highest peak in the world,
Kanchenjunga or Khangcbendzonga (8598 metres), is on
Sikkim's northwest frontier.
Sikkim is also blessed with a variety of animal life. 35
percent of India's birds are found in Sikkim, and it is the
home of such endangered species as the red panda, the
elusive snow leopard, the clouded leopard, the blue sheep,
the musk deer, the Himalayan tafir, the lammergeyer, the
Impeyan pheasant, the Satyr tragopan and the blood
36 percent of Sikkim is under forest cover, making it
one of the most attractive destinations in South Asia for
nature and wildlife enthusiasts. This, along with its towering
mountains and famous Buddhist monasteries, of which
Rumtek, just outside Gangtok, is only one, have helped
Sikkim raise substantial revenue from tourism to invest in
its people. Given its reputation for being one of the few
places in India, and indeed in the Subcontinent, that has
enjoyed uninterrupted peace in recent times, Sikkim has
emerged as one of Asia's premier tourist destinations.
People and leadership
Lepchas are thought to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim,
and today, they, Bhutias and ethnic Nepalis are the three
predominant communities. Apart from these groups, Sikkim
has attracted many settlers from the plains including, more
recently, migrant workers who have arrived in Sikkim to
assist the many ongoing public works projects such as road
building. At INR 50, Sikkim guarantees the highest daily
wages anywhere in india. The current state government,
led by the chief minister, Pawan Chamling, recently
succeeded in procuring scheduled tribe status for the
Limbus and the Tamangs of Sikkim, thus fulfilling a long-
pending demand to protect the interests of these two
communities. It has also asked New Delhi to accord
constitutional recognition to the languages of the Lepcha,
Bhutia and Limbu peoples.
In 1975, Sikkim went from being an independent
monarchy to becoming the 22ntt state of the Indian union.
It has since been fully absorbed into the Indian polity and
now, under the governance of the Sikkim Democratic Front
(SDF), prides itself on being a leading example of real, people-
based democracy. The SDF has been in power in Sikkim
since 1994, and earned re-election in 1999 on an impressive
slate of successes. To get a clear picture, in 2001, Sikkim
published its Human Development Report, becoming only
Land of unsurpassed natural beauty: Tsomgo lake (3753 metres), a red panda cub, one of Sikkim's rhododendrons.
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
the third state in India to do so. In 2002, the SDF
government successfully completed the first phase of its
government-to-people information exchange programme,
which was innovatively fashioned after traditional fairs.
As part of its development plan for Sikkim, the SDF
government has mapped out a long-term strategy of
accomplishing 100 percent literacy, poverty elimination,
youth empowerment and sustainable fiscal health.
Devolution of power to local communities and previously
marginalised sections of the populace such as women are
viewed as inalienable components in a programme of
bottom-up development. Policy-makers also appreciate that
infrastructure development must advance mindful of the
natural needs of this ecologically diverse and fragile state.
Its unique geo-strategic position makes Sikkim ideally placed
for a day when the WTO regime diffuses nation-state
boundaries, allowing Sikkim to become the focal point of
regional trade between eastern India, Nepal, Tibet (China)
and Bhutan.
When the SDF came to power in 1994, its primary
objective was to rescue the state exchequer. In 1994, Sikkim
had internal revenue generation of INR 40 crore; even
meeting the cost of the salaries of government officials was
a challenge. With its finances in such a precarious state,
contractors and suppliers were loath to work in Sikkim.
The SDF realised that the institutionalisation of certain fiscal
processes was imperative before Sikkim could achieve badly
needed stability in its fiscal regime.
In a bid to invigorate economic growth and social
development, and bring some predictability to the system,
the SDF undertook an intellectual exercise to formulate a
time-bound development strategy, and to determine how
best its objectives could be realised. The government set
up the state planning commission to achieve this and bring
Tibet (China)    r~f   '>
"—7     ■ Gayum
West Bengal (India)
Tourist map
Rumtek monastery
the government's fiscal programmes in line with the
objectives of the centre's 10* five-year plan (2002-2007).
Sikkim's annual internal revenue, now standing at INR 150
crore, attests to the state's careful strategy of nurturing tax
and non-tax revenue.
The wheels for achieving the medium-term goal of
creating an enabling context for economic growth have
also been set in motion. Infrastructure, a key input in
industrial activity and agricultural mobility, is being built in
consultation with various stakeholders in the development
of Sikkim. The Confederation of Indian Industry, international
donor agencies, multilateral financial institutions such as
the World Bank, bureaucrats and leaders from various civil
society groups have been involved in the formulation of a
development agenda such that its fruits reach the people
at the grassroots level. An effort is underway to formulate
public-private partnerships in order to power development
programmes. The airport at Pakyong, near Gangtok, which
is scheduled to be operational by 2005. is expected to do
much for facilitating business in Sikkim. Also in focus are
developing Sikkim's massive potential for power generation
and distribution (Sikkim expects to be a power exporter
by 2007), roads and connectivity, and education. In a state
where almost 60 percent of the population fall below 24
years, it is especially important that the job market grows
at a healthy and sustained rate.v    7
A major achievement for Sikkim was securing the state's
inclusion in the North Eastern Council in December 2002,
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
which gives it access to central funds allocated for incentive
programmes in the region, and allows its youth preferred
access to premier educational institutions such as the Indian
Institute of Technology in Guwahati, Assam. This not only
assists Sikkim in garnering fiscal support for its industrial
and agricultural development programme but also enhances
its human capital.
The development agenda is being fashioned with an
eye on certain long-term goals that Sikkim hopes to achieve
by the year 2015. Among other goals, this includes the
alleviation of all poverty through a vibrant, ecologically-
sensitive economy that is responsive to global economic
developments; achieving a negligible level of unemployment
by grooming a skilled workforce and promoting the
service industry as the key economic sector; reaching
100 percent literacy; facilitating high levels of social
justice; making health care accessible to all while
eliminating HIV infection from the state; stabilising
the population at 5 million by 2050; and facilitating
inclusive democracy. Fiscal planning has also been
geared to achieving the aim of internal revenue
generation of INR 1000 crore by the year 2015, which is a
realistic goal if Sikkim's revenue generation continues to
grow at its current rate of 35 percent per annum.
At the December 2002 meeting of the National
Development Council, the apex planning body in India,
the chief minister announced that Sikkim was targeting an
annual growth rate of 10 percent per annum, two percent
more than the target national average. To help with this
aim, he requested that the centre link Sikkim to the prime
minister's 'golden quadrilateral' highway project that will
join India's east and west. If achieved, this will reduce the
state's dependence on the overburdened 31 A national
highway that currently is its only road link to the rest of
the country. He also petitioned New Delhi for an additional
INR 100 crore in support of the Pakyong airport project.
Making clear that human resource development was at the
heart of Sikkim's development programme, Chamling also
asked for a university to be established in Sikkim,
Janata Mela
Literally, 'public fair', the Janata Mela completed its first
phase in mid-December 2002 with the chief minister
addressing a crowd of thousands in various places in the
state. An exercise in direct contact, the Janata Mela is a
forum for the chief minister to engage the people of Sikkim
on government policies, encourage them to become self-
reliant and empower them to ask for responsibility
in governance by emphasising that it is the people's
money that the government spends. It also provides
a site of interaction between senior bureaucrats,
who may otherwise not need to step out of Gangtok,
and the people of rural Sikkim. At the fair,
government departments such as those of animal
husbandry, agriculture and horticulture, industries,
welfare, health, information technology, forestry, the Sikkim
Industries Development and Investment Corporation
Limited and the State Trading Corporation of Sikkim, among
others, set up stalls to disseminate information to the rural
populace of the state.
This format of government-people interaction facilitates
a two-way exchange allowing people to gather information
on government projects and programmes and how to
optimally utilise them, and provides a medium through which
senior bureaucrats, by appearing in person to meet Sikkim's
communities, get direct feedback on policies from citizen-
° Bustling Gangtok, meeting point of northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet (China).
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
Groundbreaking ceremony at the future Pakyong airport (left), and Pawan Chamling.
At the fairs, held in six constituencies in the first phase,
the government distributed welfare benefits to people below
the poverty line through measures such as Rural Housing
Scheme cheques, GCI sheets for roofing, grants to
panchayats, land for the landless, toilets, greenhouses and
tarpaulin, unveiling food for work programmes, and releasing
cheques for old age pensions. The 200 cooking gas
connections distributed to impoverished people in each
district embody the government's philosophy of balancing
human development with ecological sensitivity by reducing
dependence on limited forest resources while improving
human living standards.
Addressing a thousands-strong gathering in Dentam,
west Sikkim, the chief minister laid out the SDF government's
development plans for the state and called on citizens to
help Sikkim achieve internal revenue generation of INR 1000
crore by the year 2015. Stressing the need for self-reliance
on a household-responsibility basis, Chamling unveiled the
Chief Minister's Self-Employment Scheme (CMSES), which
earmarks INR 18 crore per annum for the next five years
for youth-based business proposals. An individual only needs
to have passed the metric exam to be eligible for seed
capital and technical assistance. Forward-looking
programmes such as this one, with the state playing a catalytic
role in developing youth potential, are geared toward
achieving minimal unemployment by 2015. The chief
minister also demonstrated the efficacy of the public meetings
by discussing Sikkim's inclusion in the AEZ (Agriculture
Export Zone) for ginger, large cardamom, dalle khursani
(pepper) and floriculture. In his public interactions, he stressed
that farmers must switch to organic fertilisers rather than
rely on chemicals to enhance productivity in the short-term.
A state one step ahead
That the present government has a vision of the holistic
development of Sikkim is clear from its people-friendly
attitude, intelligent planning and responsible administration.
The state's income is
distributed in such a way as to
benefit agricultural workers,
rural areas, urbanites and
commercial development.
Politically, the devolution of
power to the panchayats and
the pro-active inclusion of
women are helping the state
to engage all citizens. People's
courts, lok adalat, have been set
up in Gangtok, Gyalshing and
Mangan districts.
At INR 6 a kilo, publicly
distributed rice is cheaper for
ration-card holders in Sikkim
than anywhere else in India.
      Free   land   is   provided   to
landless Sukumbasis, who also receive state assistance in
constructing their houses. The Rural Housing Scheme that
will cover a total of 10,000 beneficiaries every year has
been successfully launched and implemented. 70 percent
of total plan outlay has been earmarked for the development
of the rural areas of the state. Milch cows, piglets and
seedlings are distributed free of cost to poor farmers to
increase their purchasing power and eventually make them
In order to encourage school-enrolment, the
government provides free primary education. It also
distributes school uniforms, textbooks and exercise books
free till class five, and a midday meal programme has been
launched. The groundwork has already been laid for
establishing a medical college in the state.
The results of Sikkim's investments are plain to see in
the 2001 Human Development Report. At 69.7 percent,
Sikkim's literacy stands above India's national average of
65.4 percent, and female literacy, at 61.5 percent, is
considerably higher than the national average of 54.2
percent. Infant and under-five mortality, at 43.9 and 71
per thousand, respectively, are well below the respective
national averages of 67.6 and 94.9.
The SDF's governance is based on the principle that
Sikkim should be a model state in India for others to emulate.
Accelerating economic development in spite of the difficult
terrain, inclement weather, impenetrable interiors and other
factors, it has ensured the prevalence of the rule of law.
An efficient and responsive police force is of course
however only the basic safeguard. And the government
realises that in order to maintain the tranquillity in the
state, economic development that is geared to minimising
unemployment is essential. Above all else, Sikkim has relied
on its slate of resources - both human and physical - to
create a dynamic and well-administered state. With
corruption in check, a growing economy and appropriate
safeguards for the environment, Sikkim is literally and
figuratively near to the top of South Asia. ■
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
When good
help is hard to find
On 17 January 2003, Nepal's
government lifted a five-year-
old ban on Nepali women going to
Persian gulf countries to work following a supreme court ruling that
the ban violated the women's human rights. The ban was imposed
in 1998 to 'safeguard' Nepali women from the perils of domestic work
in Islamic countries, where there
have been some highly publicised
instances of the physical and sexual abuse of foreign maids. This ban
was imposed even though women
were a source of valuable remittances - approximately USD 450 million,
or 50 percent of all foreign exchange
earnings, 13 percent of Nepal's
GDP. The gulf countries were deemed unsafe as women there 'have few
rights anyway', and where Nepali
women, locked behind the high
walls of wealthy Arab households
and speaking no Arabic, have little
recourse to social support networks.
For employment agencies, individual women and activists, the rights
argument was the legal expression
of what is, for most of the millions
of domestic workers in Nepal and
elsewhere, a decision driven fundamentally by economic concerns.
Home and Hegemony: Domestic
Service and Identity Politics in South
and Southeast Asia presents ethnographic sketches of domestic service
in south India, Nepal, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and
Java and Sulawesi in Indonesia.
Although the editors, Kathleen M
Adams and Sara Dickey, accept that
it is impossible to estimate the numbers engaged in domestic service
because of the unorganised nature
of such employment, and because
migrant domestic workers are often
unregistered, they cite studies to
assert that far from decreasing with
the spreading use of time- and labour-saving technologies, as was
widely assumed would happen, the
number of domestic workers and
people who employ them is only
going up.
There are two types of essays in
Home and Hegemony - those that focus on domestic workers employed
in their own country, and those that
deal with migrant domestic workers. Dickey writes about how workers and employers, when talking
about each other in Madurai, Tamil
Home and Hegemony:
Domestic Service and
Identity Politics in South
and Southeast Asia
Kathleen M Adams and Sara Dickey, eds.
The Univereity of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor,
2000. pp 288, ISBN 047211106X
reviewed by Anagha
Nadu, south India, construct different identities with reference to class,
character, and the luxury of choice
as opposed to necessity. Rachel To-
len's essay deals with the rather
fashionable cultural studies subject
of the contestation surrounding the
transfer of class-based knowledge,
such as the ability to speak English,
in the context of the rather cosmopolitan railway colony in Madras
where the servants are close to being government employees, but are
not quite. Saubhagya Shah writes
about the construction of class and
urban-rural identities, focusing on
the fictive kinship and schooling
that children who move from Nepal's hinterland to be live-in servants in Kathmandu experience.
Jean-Paul Dumont also focuses on
language, examining the use of the
terms 'domestic workers', 'helper'
and 'nursemaid' in the Philippines,
the deep meanings they convey and
their transitory nature. GG Weix
also writes about fictive kinship, and
"betwixt and between" identities in
Java where domestics are adopted
into their masters' homes. In particular, she delineates how the logic of
gift-giving regularly and ritually
sabotages the illusions of family
bonds. Editor Adams discusses the
role of humour, especially joking
references to kinship terms, in maintaining and subverting hierarchies
in homes with long-term live-in domestics.
Four essays deal with a different kind of domestic service. Mich-
ele Gamburd analyses how the
contested changes in ideas about
motherhood, gendered divisions of
labour, and personal identity are
played out when Sri Lankan women migrate to be nannies and housemaids in West Asia 'for the sake of
their own children'. Louise Kidder's contribution discusses how
relations between British expatriates in Bangalore and their Indian
domestic workers show that hierarchies of skill, knowledge and dependence can be not quite linear - expats may have the money, but they
cannot function without the skills
and local knowledge of their employees. Nicole Constable presents
the case of domestic workers from
all parts of the Philippines who in
Hong Kong, as much in response to
local stereotypes about them as exhortations from their own government to be 'model workers', start to
articulate a single Filipina identity.
Constable illustrates how the official as well as defensive 'Filipina'
identity is regularly complicated by
differences in class and sexuality.
Kathryn Robinson analyses the po-
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
sition of Indonesian women. They
were initially encouraged to work
in Saudi Arabia because it is also
'Islamic', but incidents of abuse led
to a long-drawn debate on whether
it is acceptable for Indonesian
Muslim women to work overseas,
as well as to a diplomatic impasse
between the two countries. Robinson demonstrates that while gender, religion, and the 'new order'
Indonesian rhetoric of the 'family
principle' constructed a national
identity that appeared to provide
opportunity, when these same principles were deployed to manage economic and diplomatic relations, the
results for women were often less
than progressive.
Hegemony at home
As is evident, Home and Hegemony
is mainly concerned with how the
negotiation of the politics of identity is central to maintaining 'hegemony' - the relations of domination
and submission that determine consensus on meanings, values, and
ways of doing things. Guided by
Raymond Williams' assertion that
these constantly interrogated relations, which entail both coercion
and consent, "saturate the whole
process of living", contributors take
as their basic premise that the home
is the preeminent site where hegemony is reproduced, and that domestic service presents a uniquely
powerful and concentrated set of
negotiations, because domestic service is widely understood as more
than just a form of labour where
household duties are performed for
remuneration. Domestic workers
render personal, sometimes intimate services in homes they are not
members of, creating a forced intimacy constantly at odds with the
actual social and economic, if not
always emotional, distance between
them and their employers. The tension between domestics and their
employers throws into sharp relief
the differences between the two
sides, in terms of class or status, gender, ethnicity, nationality or age,
among others. Understanding how
these differences play out is a way
of further understanding larger social processes.
The essays do a fine job of delineating the multiple identities domestic workers can and often need to
take on, 'servant' now, 'domestic
worker' at another time, to outsiders a privileged individual in their
employer's household when entrusted with certain tasks, 'model
worker' sometimes, but 'boisterous'
during time off. Equally well described is how different kinds of
domestic service (eg working at
home or abroad) will influence the
place of an individual in society.
Though few of the essays touch explicitly on gender - the real-life equation of domestic work with women
- this is one of the most illuminating strands through the volume.
You see that domestic work can al-
As many employers are
growing nostalgic for a
more feudal past, for
domestic workers it is
becoming increasingly
acceptable to 'aspire'
low women more opportunities,
whether in going abroad to work
instead of the husband, or being
aware enough of the ways of the
world to demand a raise as women
in Dickey's Madurai can do, in
terms of labour law and unions. The
flipside is exploitation, whether in
another country or their own. For
some Filipinas in Hong Kong sexuality, butch lesbianism in particular, is a position from which they
challenge the docile, feminine identity that the Philippine government
prefers for them.
Such concerns place Home and
Hegemony squarely in the tradition
of the so-called 'cultural turn' in anthropology, the move from class-oriented analysis to interpretive formulations revolving around issues of
identity and subjectivity and told
through representations, meanings,
memory. The quotidian home as the
site of producing and negotiating
hegemony is fertile ground for such
There are dangers in such an
approach, for sure. The concept of
hegemony itself can be obscuring
when used in a purely symptomatic, rather than instrumental sense,
as often happens in 'cultural studies'. Although even the more typically cultural studies essays, such
as Dickey's on the creation and contestation of hegemonic identities
through narrative, and Adam on
small acts of subversion through
humour and the limiting of certain
practices, mercifully stay away from
the twin cliched spectres of Michel
Foucault and Michel de Certeau,
they are not terribly successful in
their attempt at relating the specifics of the circumstances they analyse to larger social and economic
processes. They are self-contained
discursive fields and remain ethnographic snippets, but not much
Cultural anthropologists working on identity and hegemony can
sometimes get too caught up in the
inchoate business that negotiating
identity can be and brush off structural forces in a manner similar to
how classic structuralists sometimes forgot about individual agency. Showing how domestic workers
inhabit multiple subjectivities and
how this can assist in small everyday acts of rebellion makes for interesting ethnographic vignettes,
but when you zoom out from an individual worker and an individual
employer to their respective classes
it becomes clear that the weapons
of the weak are just that, weak, and
that, as anthropologist Judith Rollins says, "The 'inferiority' of the
houseworker justifies paying lower
wages and suggests that entire categories of people can be inferior, and
that a social structure that maintains such people at a disadvantage
may be a justifiable and legitimate
Two essays, however, are notable for their understanding of the
class character of hegemony as
Gramsci described it. Saubhagya
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
 Shah's contribution on young domestic workers in Kathmandu,
while not heavy on ethnographic
description, does a remarkable job
in explaining the specifics of their
world - how their class position is
complicated by displacement, by
being called kam game (worker)
while the possibility of being deemed naukar (servant) lingers, by being
described as 'just like family', and
by being sent to school as compensation for their labour. That, and living in a world far more prosperous
than that of their families, displaces them from one class without placing them entirely in the other. GG
Weix presents a rich ethnographic
description of a large domestic retinue and the woman responsible for
them in a small Javanese town. Like
Shah, she too touches on the euphe-
mising effect of kinship terms and
gifts. Neither essay dwells explicitly on the notion of hegemony, or on
generalities about identity, but the
'thickness' of the descriptions and
a fine-tuned grasp of distinctions of
rank even within the same class
make clear the processes that are
elsewhere described only theoretically or over-analysed and weighed
down by jargon. Shah and Weix
show how the negotiations of hegemony and identity link domestic
workers and their employers with
larger historical, social and economic processes and structures.
Keep it professional
The essays in Home and Hegemony
are ethnographies of change more
than anything else. Robinson writes
how the 'new order' government in
Indonesia redefined women's role
in a modern Islamic context, but
suspended state protection in certain others. In Dickey's unpacking
of narratives, an important trope is
one that many readers will recognise - the employer insisting that
things were better 'in the old days'
when there was an emotional bond
with the servants and that they 'take
care' of their help. "Now all they are
interested in is money". VVeix's employer-informant says more or less
the same thing, and in Constable's
essay, Hong Kong women compare
ruefully the old amahs from mainland China with the 'brash' Filipi-
nas they must now employ-
As many employers are growing
nostalgic for a feudal past, for domestic workers it is becoming increasingly acceptable to 'aspire'.
Domestic work may have been 'lowly', and might still for many be the
only immediate option. But now it
is also being viewed for what it is -
a choice made out of economic necessity, and an exchange of labour
like any other. From 'servant' to 'domestic worker'. Like other professions, this too holds the possibility
of advancement, if not through savings, then through the networks of
patronage that a 'good servant' can
have access to. So people work in a
railway colony in Madras, putting
up with slights about wanting 'the
lifestyle without understanding the
life', because it might help a family
member get a government position.
Young children will be sent from the
far hills to work in a house in distant Kathmandu for the schooling
they will be provided, with the tacit
understanding of the employer that
domestic work does not have to be
forever. Sri Lankan women work in
West Asia not simply to support
their families (usually, their husbands were already doing that), but
to give their children more opportunity. Indonesian nurses and teachers work as housemaids when the
economy collapses. For many Filipi-
nas, also with similar qualifications, the aspiration is sometimes
more than economic, such as a desire to see the world. Domestic workers are thus taken out of the box they
tend to be left in even when studied.
The contributions here acknowledge that they too are creatures
of desire and that their situation
too, like that of their more privileged employers, could conceivably
Change of all manner is more
obviously signposted in the essays
that deal with migrant domestic
workers. In the 1970s, the Philippines was faced with large-scale
unemployment, rising inflation,
massive international debt and little foreign currency with which to
service it. But a way out was found
quite easily. The OPEC oil price increase in 1973 fuelled a construction boom and massive industrial
development in oil-rich countries,
especially in the gulf. The problem
was manpower. The Philippines
may not have had much at that
point, but it did have cheap labour,
and so a labour export policy was
formalised in the mid-1970s. Today
the Philippines is one of the largest
remittance economies in the world,
with overseas workers sending
home USD 6 billion annually. Thailand and Pakistan followed, and
though Indonesia missed out on the
initial boom, by the early 1980s there
was ai new demand for housemaids, which it decided it could fill
in places such as Saudi Arabia. The
OPFC oil price rise and the more recent Asian economic boom and meltdown helped foster new intersections of different locales. Today, labour is exported to all the relatively
prosperous ,<\sian countries, where
residents simplv refuse to take on
work like the so-called 3K jobs in
Japan - kitsui (hard), kitanai (dirty),
kikcu (dangerous).
Enough horror stories have
emerged in recent years from migrant workers from and in many
different parts of Asia, whether
Malaysian maids in Saudi Arabia
or Bangladeshi construction workers in Malaysia, that the phenomenon and its attendant perils have
come to the attention of most who
live in this region. Migrations such
as these eis well as more advantageous ones are different from the
migrations of the early 20"' century
and post-second world war migrations. Collectively termed 'new migration' by sociologists, the phenomenon has certain key features
that set it apart: globalisation
(more countries are involved), acceleration (the volume is constantly
increasing), differentiation (there
are different categories of migrants
from the same country), and feminisation (more and more migrants
are women).
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
Missing some connections
The editors and Karen Hansen
mention that industrialisation and
global movements of capital have
accelerated the expansion of the
domestic worker phenomenon, but
they neglect to see that the kind of
hegemony constituted by domestic
service relationships in these times
allows for the reproduction of labour. Shah points out that a number of middle-class Kathmandu
women explained that employing
domestic help enabled them in turn
to go out and work to provide more
for their families. Constable writes
that the Hong Kong government
encouraged Filipinas to enter the
country as domestic workers to 'lure'
their employers - middle-class
Hong Kong Chinese women - into
the workforce. The remittances that
the Filipina domestic workers send
back home support the local economy, which allows for other exchanges of labour.
Home and Hegemony misses certain other connections too. The editors write that the contributions are
concerned not just with identity
politics and its relation to the maintenance of hegemony, but also with
unpacking who 'masters' and 'servants' are, because once you know
that, you can know who has what
rights and what responsibilities.
The somewhat simplistic statement
is informed by civil society and a
rights understanding of labour, but
it is curious that although the entire
volume is concerned with identity
and hegemony, none of the essays,
bar Robinson's, touches on how
some of the obvious sites where identity is negotiated and authority is
exercised - gender, sexuality, age -
can be not just contested, but deeply fraught with violence. Some of the
most common and wrenching stories that seep into public consciousness about 'servants' concern gross
physical and sexual abuse, and
overwork, especially of children.
Not one makes it into this collection,
even theoretically.
Possibly, it is not the place of
ethnographers to take a moral
stand, but that does not preclude
articulating a moral position on the
language of rights and international and domestic labour law. Or interrogating, rather than simply giving examples of, the place of domestic service in the new international
division of labour; once you accept,
for instance, that domestic work
makes other kinds of labour possible, how does this change the assessment of its actual value? After
all, the reproduction of labour that
domestic service makes possible in
today's context helps reproduce the
very hegemony that calls for greater
help at home in the first place - the
shifts in production and capital
worldwide that, with developments
in communications technology and
The reproduction of
labour that domestic
service makes possible
reproduces the very
hegemony that calls for
greater help at home in
the first place
greater ease of transportation, make
possible the movement of commodities and people and ideas. And,
domestic workers also play a role
in transforming social, economic
and cultural narratives about national and transnational expressions of identity.
The contributors on occasion
draw on notions of domestic workers from the public domain. Only a
couple observe that the images of
domestic workers that circulate in
the media are very contentious politically. The examples are telling -
the beating to death of an Indian
domestic worker by two Kuwaiti
princesses in London, Bill Clinton's
1993 nominee for attorney general,
Zoe Baird, who withdrew when it
came to light that she had employed
in her home illegal Latin American
workers. These instances are interesting because they deal with two
closely related matters: the poor implementation or lack of adequate
legislation protecting domestic
workers in most countries, and the
many ways that immigration laws
are circumvented to serve a market
that wants help in homes but wants
it cheap.
In a way, these examples point
to systemic reasons that allow such
things to keep happening despite
the hue and cry about illegal immigration in the US, and the growing
concern at the government level in
many Asian countries about the safety of migrant domestic workers. It
makes sense to not pay too close attention to manpower agencies that
smuggle in migrant workers or even
to individual employers who violate basic rights. If recipient countries which have a history of encouraging cheap foreign labour were to
keep accurate records and track the
employment history of every foreign
worker, and ensure that they all are
briefed on their status, rights and
duties, there will be far fewer grey
areas and instances of abuse will
come to light. The migrant domestic
worker's complaint will be harder
to dismiss if she is legal and if she
knows the most basic, efficient way
to file a complaint, or at least the few
words in the local language needed
to do so. The recipient government
will be forced to ensure at least to
some degree, even if only on paper,
that migrant workers enjoy internationally acceptable labour and human rights, and have access to legal redress, all of which would
drive up the cost of 'cheap labour'.
If there is an incident abroad,
especially involving the citizen of a
country that relies heavily on remittances, this is of course a matter of
national interest in more ways than
one, and a way for nations to make
a play in the global contestation
of hegemony. More realistically,
though, there is also the distinct
possibility of diplomatic pressure to
back down from the host country,
so its image is not too tarnished in
the eyes of prospective migrant
workers, often the backbone of considerable sectors of the economy.
Recent years have seen some host
countries such as Malaysia and
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
Oman react to concerns voiced by
migrant workers' governments by
signing with them labour agreements that stipulate conditions such
as basic wage, a minimum level of
skill, fluency in language, but most
provisions are aimed at protecting
migrant workers from devious manpower agencies, and implementation on both sides leaves something
to be desired.
It is easier to point to solutions
where migrant domestic workers are
concerned, because the stakes are
perceived differently, and because
this segment of the domestic labour
force is closer to other, less intimate,
kinds of work. At best, it is professionalised, contractual, and dignified; at the very least, it is accepted
that it should or could be so. For
domestic workers who labour in
their own country, there is often
much cultural baggage to do with
class or kinship or rank or rusticity
that goes with the job. There is first
the matter of legislation - Nepal, for
instance, until recently had barely
adequate laws for women, still does
not for children. Labour law has a
strong history in Nepal, although
mostly unions rather than individuals have invoked it. Domestic workers who spend all day in their employers' houses have little opportunity to form pressure groups. Interventions by civil society institutions
dealing with women or children or
both appeal to an assumed morality in employers and society at large,
but there are few rehabilitation facilities for child domestic workers,
for instance, such as there are for
sex workers.
When employers in Madurai or
a small Java town or Kathmandu say
that their servant can have a purely
contractual relationship if they
want, a change that domestic workers tend to frame in terms of profes-
sionalisation, exchanging labour
for wages, they also add ominously
that 'it will not be like before; there
It is a job, and knowing
what a slob the boss is,
or doing his laundry,
does not oblige the
worker to be
emotionally involved
will be no emotional bond'. Which
might be just as well, because once
a servant is elevated to the status of
'like family', she or he cannot go out,
join a union and strike against the
employers whose own need for support in the home has been reified
into an expression of magnanimity
towards an almost-poor relative. As
for the woman who told Dickey,
"This is not an officer-employee relationship. It's something different.
Because that sort of relationship
won't work here [in the house]", she
may find in the near future that good
help really is hard to find.
Karen Hansen writes that "the
problematic of domestic service is
not found where it is most obviously looked for, in the private household, but in the inequalities deeply
embedded in processes of state formation and nationalism in South
and Southeast Asia". And indeed,
the transnational movements of
products, capital and labour that
fuel the demand for migrant domestic workers also have impacts in
countries and on groups that traditionally send out, rather than receive, migrant, domestic labour.
One does not need to buy the
enthusiastic belief that devotees of
globalisation have in the various
kinds of 'progressive' values that
these processes use to justify themselves and to 'manufacture consent'.
But the language of equal opportunity and universal rights is slowly
seeping into common parlance, and
for domestic workers at home and
abroad, that might be a good place
to start, whether to assert the right
to work as recently happened in
Nepal, or to demand the same level
of protection as other workers. First,
though, one thing would have to
change - the mystification of the
home as the domain of employment.
It is a job, and knowing what a slob
the boss can be in private, or doing
his laundry, does not oblige worker
or employer to be emotionally involved.
South     Asian     Classifieds
Call for papers
Language, Consciousness and Culture: East
West Perspectives
Society of Indian Philosophy & Religion
3-6 January 2004
This conference will feature plenary
addresses, volunteered papers, invited
papers and panel discussions on
philosophical, religious and scientific
traditions of world civilisations. Abstract
submission deadline 5 May; proposals can be
sent to
Call for papers
Journal of Food Technology
The Journal of Food Technology, a new
publication, is requesting multi-disciplinary
submissions on issues related to food
technology in South Asia. For more
information, or to submit a paper, write to
Third International Convention of Asia
Scholars (ICAS3)
19-22 August 2003
One of the largest regular gatherings of
scholars of Asian top-ics, especially in the
humanities and social sciences, over 1000
scholars are expected to participate in
ICAS3. Registration deadline 30June. For
more information, access
Annual Meeting
Association for Asian Studies (AAS)
27-30 March, 2003
The .AAS annual meeting will include more
than 200 panel discussions on Asian topics,
with several dozen focusing in particular on
issues related to the Subcontinent.
Preregistration deadline 3 March; for more
information, access
2003 meeti ngnews. htm
To place a classified ad announcing a
conference, write to
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
 Books Received
The Origins and Development of
the Tablighi-Jama'at (1920-2000):
A cross-country comparative study
By Yoginder Sikand
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2002
pp xii+310, INR 595
ISBN 81  250 2298 8
Possibly the most widely followed
Islamic movement in the world, the Tablighi-Jama'at (TJ)
emerged in early 20th century north India as a reformist
movement stressing personal virtue above social or
political mobilisation. With a dedicated membership said
to be active in more than  150 countries around the
globe, its meetings are reported to attract the largest
congregations of Muslims outside Mecca. Yet, with its
emphasis on traditional Sunni jurisprudence and its
disengagement from the modern world, the TJ is poorly
understood by outsiders. In this work, a scholar of
Muslim history traces the TJ's eight-decade rise from a
local reform movement to a global force.
The I
Brick I
and the I
Bull J
The Brick and the Bull:
An account of Handigaun,
the ancient capital of Nepal
By Sudarshan Raj Tiwari
Himal Books, Kathmandu, 2002
pp x+225, NPR  1150
ISBN 99933 43 52 8
-e    Although the Kathmandu valley's
urban settlements are generally viewed as Malla period
(circa  1200 -  1768 CE) creations, organised human
habitation dates back nearly two millennia. In this work,
Tribhuvan University scholar Sudarshan Raj Tiwari
examines archaeological evidence and cultural traditions
specific to Handigaun, the valley's earliest known
settlement, which rides a ridge to the east of the contemporary town of Kathmandu. He attempts to relate those
finds to characteristics of Nepal's Kirat and Lichchhavi
periods, of the first millennium CE and first millennium
BCE respectively.
Bombay London New York
By Amitava Kumar
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2002
pp xxiii+224, INR 250
ISBN 0 14 302896 0
This collection of essays by Amitava
Kumar follows in the footsteps of his
earlier meditation on migration and
personal identity, Passport Photos. Kumar, born in Bihar
and currently a professor of English at Pennsylvania State
University in the US, delves into a wide range of topics
and personalities, engaging with the loneliness of migra
tion, considering colourful figures such as Laloo Prasad
Yadav, and contrasting recollections from his childhood
in India with residence overseas. The concluding essay of
this volume appeared in advance of the book's publication as Tale of the tieketless traveller' in Himal December
Living with the Politics of Floods:
The Mystery of Flood Control
By Dinesh Kumar Mishra
People's Science Institute
Dehradun, 2002
24, INR 360
Translated from a Hindi document
published two years earlier, this book
provides an overview of ecological, historical, economic
and political issues affecting flood management in the
Ganga-Brahmaputra river system. Critical of environment- and people-hostile hydroprojects intended solely
for power generation, the author argues that water
management efforts are determined by politicians who do
not know water and engineers who do not know people.
The result is a control of natural flow in the watercourses
that is sheer environmental foolhardiness. Mishra, an
engineer-activist of the Ganga plains, presents the
technicalities of water management in layman's language,
accompanied by engaging illustrations.
Legal Aspects of
the Kashmir Problem
By HS Gururaja Rao
Minerva Press, New Delhi, 2002
pp 595, INR 1000/USD 32
ISBN 81  7662 197 8
Beginning with an overview of
settlement patterns and historical
contests for power in Kashmir, Indian jurist HS Gururaja
Rao analyses the legal framework of the disputed region
in the context of the Indian legal system and international
agreements. In addition to the author's analysis of the
dispute, the volume includes nearly 200 pages of letters,
official reports, bilateral agreements, UN resolutions and
treaties. This second edition updates a  1967 volume with
deliberations on the 1971 war and the reciprocated
nuclear tests of 1998, in addition to relevant documents
from the past three decades.
Compiled by Deepak Thapa, Social Science Baha, Patan
Note to publishers: new titles can be sent to GPO Box 7251,
Katlimandu, Nepal. Books are mentioned in this section before they
are sent for detailed review.
2003 February 16/2 HIMAL
 fixtures sift, (OiKf*
^outh Asia is a basket with a regionful of problems,
jora region with a basketful of problems, whatever.
But the triumph of and challenge for our land is in the
way in which we deal with human output of the most
material kind. I mean excreta.
Just as we are what we eat, we are also (slightly
circularly) what we digest. It is the spreading of wastes
into the fields and terraces that has so added to the
agricultural fertility of the vast and fruitful plains of the
Intius and Ganga. In these tropics, the sunshine and
humidity helps bacteria to grow. Decay is the order of
the day, which leads to plant productivity. Organic
breakdown adds to the humus, already rich with Himalayan silt and plant detritus.
Agricultural fertility delivers human fertility. High
density of population leads to urban civilisations that
in turn serve up high culture, flowering of the arts, and
great architecture. The finest cities of our pre-colonial
collective past - Lahore, Lucknow, Delhi, Kathmandu
- derived their grandeur from the fertility of the
next door fields.
Talking of density of population, you now
know why South Asia houses a sixth of all
humanity, at last count. Over millennia, human wastes got spread out in a thin layer
over the land. China outstripped us to become more populous simply because the Chinese are more systematic in distributing the sub
stance to the fields. We, on the other hand, mostly
left it to gravity to transfer the slurry unto the eggplant
Sadly, even the age-old custom/wisdom of visiting
the maidaan behind the cloak of the morning mist is
now threatened. The commode, the cistern, the sewer
system and treatment ponds are like a dagger to the
heart of South Asian oneness with nature. No longer is
the organic waste of our metabolism left to rot, dry, dissipate and distribute as goo and dust. We now flush it
down the toilet with a surfeit of precious treated tap
water, with a lot of soaps and detergents added which
retard bacterial activity. If not into the septic tank, the
waste finds itself diverted to aeration ponds. Not good.
Elsewhere, the slurry is dumped directly into streams
and rivers, depriving the soil of the product of our labours. Nature's way right through geological and historical time has been to have soil interact with animal
faeces. But now, we globalised prudes with middle class
morality imported together with cotton from Newcastle
think that gunk is evil, good only to be flushed.
Friends, if we forget how our fields became fertile,
we forget a part of our history! Depriving the Indo-
Gangetic soil of the nourishment it has received for at
least 5000 years of human settlement invites civilisational collapse. There comes a defining moment in the
evolution of modern society when things begin to spiral out of control, and with us in South Asia this wil!
happen about the time that the sewers begin to work.
aArchaeological excavation has shown (if I have not been
told this then I am saying it) that the Harappan civilisa-
tion collapsed when they introduced a sewer system.
And god only knows why Dwarka sank into the aArabi-
an Sea.
Imagine the village of your (or your parents') childhood, and remember the place where the goods ended
up behind the paikhana, and the vigorous growth amidst
swarming flies of the best of fruits, legumes and leafy
vegetables. Our ancestors always knew that the best
grapefruits or lemons came from the trees that grew over
in that corner, by the toilet soakpit. Household heads
happily crunched into their cucumbers knowing but not
asking where it came from. During the reign of the great
emperor Chandragupta Maurya, none of the courtiers
dared tell him the provenance of his much beloved lang-
da mangoes. You had better believe this.
The best national politicians of today are those whose
olfactory senses still subconsciously hanker for the pungency of the open pit toilet, the healthy buzz of
little winged creatures at work, the sense of chlo-
rophyl production at the true grassroots. Such
politicians are the true sons of the soil. They
understand that this pungency - removed
city elites call it 'stench' - is part and parcel
of the evolution of humanity. They also accept that something is lost when we have dry
bathrooms - which should be an oxymoron -
where form certainly does not follow function.
How can it, when the toilet now looks like a futuristic
throne, and why have we South Asians welcomed the
commode into our homes like a cherished bride?
If the modernisation of South Asian society in the 21"
century is not to falter before it has even begun, then we
must find a way to counter the takeover of the commode.
What is the way out? As I have been reminded so many
times in my travels from the corridor of Wakhan to the
cape of Comorin, "No problem to point only, solution
also tell".
So suggestion herewith is. Let us do away with all
sewer lines and septic tanks in this land of our ancestors, now ours. Let the glob in the backlot just grow, and
then let us use it. In the cities, instead of garbage disposal, let there be garbage treatment, where the best portions are dried and sold as Grade One Soil. In the villages, let us go back to oneness with nature.
If you insist, some non-odorous method can be developed for the collection, putrefaction and distribution.
Have faith in South Asian ingenuity, for is it not we who
developed the zero, chess, the aeroplane and the participatory rural appraisal model? But really, we should be
able to stand the smell if civilisationally we grew up
with it. The symbiotic link between what we
eat and what we beget needs to be   , / a    -J—
re-established. Chalo. //      /   MC^i
■ if only you know it
HIMAL 16/2 February 2003
2002 estimates, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
(see inside, page 7)
ii   m    »    £
If   if    f    I
Warheads: Kstimatcd to
number between 24 and 48
Delivery systems:
/ Yircruft
32 US-built 1 -16s
a\ I/SS.'/CS
GhauriT (single-stage missile with a range ot
1100 kilometres, payload up to 700 kilograms,
first tested on 6 April 1998); Ghauri-2 (double-
stage missile, first tested on 14 April 1999, three
d,ivs after the Indian Agni-2 test); Ghauri-3
(under development, unconfirmed range of
2500 - 3001) kilometres, first tested on 15 August
2000); M-11 (Chinese-made missiles acquired
since 1992; Islamabad is estimated to have   "I"   1
acquired at least 30 from Beijing)
Shaheen-1 (reversc-cnginccrct
from the Chinese M-9 missile
and can earn- a 1(100
kilogram pavload up to 700
kilometres, first testcc
April 1999);Shaheen-2
(medium-range missile claimed
to be capable of delivering a
11 ll JO kilogram payload up to
2500 kilometres). _
India is believed to be
developing wo sea-
launched missile systems, the Sagarika and the
Dhanush. While it is not believed to be deployed yet, some foreign
intelligence agencies classify the Sagarika as a submarine-launched ballistic
missile. The Dhanush, a submarincd-launchcd version ofthe Prithvi, may
already be deployed. In January 2002, naval chief Admiral Madhvendra
Singh told a news conference that "we have a triad of weapons tor a
second strike and one of the triad is at sea. The most powerful leg of
the triad is in the navv and is hidden underwater and moving".
Warheads: estimated to
number between 30 and 35
Delivery systems:
G 27 Hogger (Soviet-designed aircraft
anufactured under license by I lindustan
ronautics, range of 800 kilometres, 165
produced); jaguar IS/IB (joint British-
Tench design, India purchased 40 from
British Aerospace anti assembled or
manufactured another 91).
Prithvi I (range of 250 kilometres, first
tested in 1988); various other missile
designs, including a second-generation
Prithvi, medium-range Agni and intercontinental Surva, are said to be in various
stages of development. The Agni, which
has a range of 600-800 kilometres, has
been tested, and a 6 January 2003 announcement said that it, along with the
Prithvi, would be placed under a 'Strategic
forces Command'.
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.1J fr
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Marketing Office:
P.O.Box No.: 1700, Kalimati, Kathmandu
Tel: 274537, 271102, 276274
Plant & Head Office:
Majuwa, Deurali, Gorkha, Nepal
Tel: 065-40079
Fax: 00977-65-40080


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