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Himal South Asian Volume 16, Number 5, May 2003 Dixit, Kanak Mani May 31, 2003

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ft. I
Tamils in Switzerland
Uncle Sam & South Asia
Notional anthems
 oking for a nice, clean three-star facility that's quiet
and peaceful with authentic Tibetan decor and within ten minutes'
walking distance from the tourist shopping area of Thamel?
Vol 16 No 5
May 2003
Pakisian: Legal Framework Order
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Sri Lanka: Peace talks on pause
by Jehan Perera
Tigers in the Alps
by Ramachandra Guha
Singing the nation
by Nasreen Rehman
In search of shonar Bangla
by Dina M Siddiqi
"A war to promote terrorism" j
Tariq Ali talks to David Barsamian
Special editions and rubber barons
by Mohammed Yasir
The US capacity for conquest
by Varan Sahni
Pakistan's road to democracy
by Shafqat Munir
SARS: Microbes unite!
Dakshinachitra: museum of houses:
by Syed Ali Mujtaba
The slumming of Indian metros
by Harini Narayanan
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas 3 Mathew
Assistant Editor
Shruti Debi
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Manikde Silva
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ffilash Rai (Graphics)
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Contributors to this issue
Cover photo by
Min Bajracrtarya.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
CK Lai is a Kathmandu engineer and Nepali Times columnist.
David Barsamian is the director of Alternative Radio in Boulder, Colorado.
Dina M Siddiqi is a cultural anthropologist based in Dhaka, working with a legal
aid organisation.
Harini Narayanan is an urban geographer currently based in Delhi.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist based in Colombo, writes a weekly column
Mohammed Yasir is an anthropologist and writer based in Pottassery, north
Nasreen Rehman is working on a biography of the singer Noor Jehan to be
published by the British Film Institute. She lives in England.
Ramachandra Guha is a social scientist based in Bangalore. His latest book is
A Comer of a Foreign Field: The Indian history of a British sport.
Shafqat Munir is an Islamabad-based development researcher, and editor,
Research Publications, Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a broadcast journalist based in Madras.
Varun Sahni teaches international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Cover design by Suresh Neupane
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Hampered vision
SHRUTI DEBI (Himal, March 2003) explores an unnoticed but very important
environmental issue - fog and its implications for the Subcontinent. However,
while the study is informative, a few
points have not been highlighted.
First, the article has failed to indicate the causes of
changing climatic conditions on the Subcontinent, particularly those that may have a bearing on the fog, such
as the 'brown haze' over South Asia. The United Nations Environment Programme study of the brown haze
reveals that it is mostly caused by the burning of biom-
ass (refuse, firewood) and forest fires, and has a significant impact in reducing solar radiation to the earth.
Second, the writer says there is no scientific proof
yet linking surface moisture (due to irrigation) and fog.
Maybe irrigation has a role to play in the formation of
fog in the region, but there is a proven role for air pollution - not only urban air pollution but also rural. While
there are many initiatives to curb urban air pollution,
rural air pollution remains forgotten. But this is a serious threat to human health, manifest immediately in
indoor air pollution, and in the long run, in the accumulation of the pollutants in the air, even at the upper
levels. It is important to remember that even if air polht-
tion is low in Delhi, the weather in the city might still be
influenced by air pollution in a nearby rural area.
Overall, I agree with the writer on many points, especially that the phenomenon warrants extensive scientific study.
Anil K Raut, Lalitpur
Tainted journalism
IT WOULD be an error to suggest that
everyone previously viewed the American media as the "exemplar of journalistic accomplishment". One need only
recall the writings of Noam Chomsky,
Edward Herman, Robert W McChesney
and Edward Said, among others, to make the point that
for a long time, several analysts of the American media
have demonstrated its complicity in narrowly policing
the parameters of democratic freedom at home while
furthering American foreign policy interests abroad,
both on behalf of the military-industrial complex. These
criticisms have certainly been available to discerning
media practitioners in the South for some time. But they
were unsuccessful in and of themselves in dispensing
with the popular 'examplar' myth. While the coverage
of the Iraqi invasion has made such criticism available
to a larger population of viewers and readers, it is too
early to write an obituary of this myth, given its ability
to regenerate itself through various means.
As for "setting our own standards" suggested by
the writer, we have to inquire how possible this is in
countries such as Nepal under conditions of globalisation. If compulsions of the market and the state have
exposed the erstwhile exemplar, then those forces are
also certainly at work in Nepal and in other countries
of the South. Unless we can claim to design the wheel
differently, our so-called independent {aka private)
media, increasingly dominant in our own mediascapes,
is similarly susceptible to market- and state-led diktats.
Hence, the political economy of media practice does
not provide us with too many degrees of freedom to
make our own standards.
Notching up our own standards is yet more difficult in a country such as aNepal because of its significant donor dependency. 'Nepali standards' are good
to think of for the Nepali media, but in a situation where
even the best journalists are implicated in patronage
networks arising from the clout of donor-led dollars,
setting our own independent standards is simply not
easy. Northern countries - the ones whose media has
been found wanting - routinely provide help (both in
terms of money and training) to the media sector in
Nepal in the name of enhancing the capacity of native
media persons and institutions. Nepal's best media
training institutions and production houses are shot
through with donor imperatives and can refuse standards tied to the support they get only at their own peril.
Finally, the media's ability, independence and investigative zeal are linked not only to a set of journalistic skills but also to the recognition of diversity and
respect for dissent within its own institutions. In Nepal and other countries of the global South, I have seen
little evidence of mainstream media making even a
modest attempt to make its news and analysis staff reflective of the demographic profiles of the societies in
which it operates. And respect for dissenting imaginations is conspicuous by its absence in Nepal's private
media. Media practitioners often refer to themselves as
the last bastion of democracy in our societies, but they
and the institutions in which they work are hardly democratic. In other words, they are steeped in contradictions similar to those embedded in the 'exemplar' myth.
Yes, we need to make our own standards, but our
debates on this subject should start with a focus on the
above details, among others.
Pratyoush Onta, Kathmandu
Excerpts from other responses to 'Where are the war correspondents?', Mediafile, Himal, April 2003:
I DO not think US reporters 'cowered' before the elite
out of fear of seeming unpatriotic. But I do think the
'herd' mentality that kind of drives newsrooms anyway completely got the better of the dailies. In general,
they let the competitiveness of it stupefy them into agreeing to a bad arrangement in which they were too dependent on the military. I would guess that if you go
immerse yourself in someone else's world, and take
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
notes, you can write a novel. But if you are writing news, j
you need to stand apart somehow, even if it is just a I
little, from the people you are writing about (and take
notes). And the Iraqi missile in Kuwait did get more
coverage than Iraqi casualties.
DK, Bangalore
HAVING VISITED America virtually every year since
1981,1 have actually come to have a rather low opinion
of American journalists, with just a handful of honourable exceptions. What was a far greater shock for me
personally was to see how British journalists behaved.
I had always considered them to be fair-minded and
balanced but the BBC, on the whole, really behaved like
handmaidens of the Americans.
TS, Delhi
YOU START with a wrong premise. US media has always been very biased in the way it has covered US
wars and US foreign policy. It has largely rallied around
the flag. Watergate and instances like that are quite
different - they represent exposes of domestic corruption, and the targeting of one elite group (Democratic
party leadership) by another. I think even the South
Asian media is quite capable of doing that - witness
for example the way they went after the Bofors scandal.
Where I think there is an enormous difference is in the
way the US media is able to present propaganda as
objective news and be seen as credible at that.
MR, Princeton, USA
LOOK AT the assumption behind the whole article...
"When the time came for American editors, reporters,
studio anchors and producers to stand up to the establishment and the mass expectation of the public, their
feet turned to clay". Why assume that the 'establishment' and the 'government' are always misguided/
wrong/corrupt /criminal?
Indeed, one of the great leftist narratives of the Cold
War was of an America corrupted, willing to do anything to defeat the Soviets, even cast aside its own ideals.
So I do not really buy the crocodile tears this writer
sheds for American journalism. And I am troubled by
the article's nostalgic looks back at the halcyon days of
the past, when America was supposedly loved by all.
And just watch a White House or Pentagon briefing to
see some pretty tough questioning... Or listen to National Public Radio and read The Neiv York Times. There
is more of a debate inside the US than the rest of the
world would like to acknowledge. The first Gulf war
resolution barely passed the Congress, and the press
certainly painted out worst-case scenarios. Afghanistan was promptly labelled a "quagmire" by The New
York Times, right before the Taliban broke in two. Indeed, this piece is not much for analysis, just the moral
equivalency that is the now banal excuse for the failures of the rest of the world.
CV, Washington, USA
More than mothers
I READ the essay by T Mathew (Himal,
April 2003) with interest. The writer has
set himself the unenviable task of resurrecting a discourse that the world of
project-running funding agencies and
governments are more than keen to bury.
To have to argue, in the 25th anniversary year of the
Alma Ata declaration of comprehensive and integrated health care for all people, the basic and logical position that vertical health programmes fail to address the
holistic needs of people's health is yet another bitter
reflection on the times we live in. Mathew has engaged
with the task comprehensively and one can only sigh
and agree. However, as a paediatrician and health activist, I wish to add a few dimensions to his argument.
Whether from the point of view of women's empowerment or their health, neither is served by a focus on
'maternity' at the expense of the general situation of
basic and fundamental rights. In a sense, to speak in
terms of 'maternal health' is itself the problem. Women
live complex lives trying to balance a multitude of roles,
of which 'worker' and 'mother' often seem to be primary. These roles are sometimes complementary, sometimes in conflict. Given the fact that women face the
entire gamut of socio-economic and political discrimination in addition to a strangulating gender bias, it is a
gross and insensitive oversimplification of women's
lives to focus on 'motherhood' and hope to tackle even
maternal mortality, leave alone women's empowerment
or health. (Incidentally, it is also worth recognising that
as many if not more women die of diseases such as
malaria and tuberculosis in the reproductive age group
as of 'maternity'.) Healthy women wTill have healthy
'maternity'. Therefore, the overbearing focus and concern for women in the situation of maternity wThile shying away from basic services for food security, social
security, health and education, must be fuelled by concerns other than the 'empowerment of women' or their
Mathew correctly identifies this situation as it relates to population growth and, more recently, the
spread of AIDS couched in terms of 'reproductive health'.
However, even if the agenda were to be openly acknowledged as a 'civilised' way of conducting and ensuring
population control, the strategy is faulty. Providing for
basic needs, especially health care and education, child-
care and the lowering of infant mortality rates are the
best contraceptive pills, as facts prove again and again.
It is no accident that Kerala with its low fertility rate
has never had a population policy. Yet, if budgets are
analysed, 'family welfare', another euphemism for population control, gets the lion's share while primary
health centres languish without proper staff, labs,
drugs, ambulances, drivers, physical infrastructure and
referral systems.
Another connection that must be made in this con-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
text is the potential risk of combining the insidious policy of the 'two child norm' or 'one child norm' with the
falling (or still unequal) sex ratios in the region. Since it
is no longer possible to openly practice disincentives
for larger family sizes thanks to international covenants,
these policies are being introduced through sendee rules
such as not giving maternity leave for the third child,
suggestions to disallow housing loans or even access
to public distribution systems of food through state
population policies and through laws debarring persons with more than two children from standing for
panchayat elections in India. Not only is this a potential for further unsafe and sex selective abortions lead
ing to further maternal mortality and a skewing of sex
ratios, it is also a gross violation of the rights of the
child (to care and breast feeding) on the basis of birth
One wonders then, why strategies that are not only
useless but downright harmful to women, to children
and to populations (even in terms of stabilisation!) are
being followed at such tremendous costs to the exchequer. The answers are perhaps to be found in the organisational plans of the agencies touting and funding
vertical programmes and the textbooks of economics
and political history rather than those of public health.
Vandana Prasad, NOIDA
Vacancy Announcement
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development was established in 1983 in Kathmandu, Nepal,
serving eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas and the global mountain community. As
a mountain learning and knowledge Centre, ICIMOD seeks to develop and provide innovative solutions, in
cooperation with over 300 regional and international partners, which foster action and change for overcoming
mountain people's economic, social and physical vulnerability. This mission is carried out through acting as a
multidisciplinary documentation Centre, a focal point for training and applied research activities and a consultative
Centre in scientific and technical matters for the countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region at their request.
In 2003 ICIMOD embarked on a new five-year strategic plan to address: Natural Resources Management;
Agriculture and Rural Income Diversification; Water Resources and Hazard Management; Culture, Equity and
Governance; Knowledge Management; and Policy and Partnership Development.
ICIMOD is seeking to recruit qualified persons for the following vacant international positions for which applications are now invited.
D    Senior Knowledge Management Specialist
PhD. or post graduate degree with minimum 8 years' experience in information and knowledge management, of which part preferably has been gained in the HKH region
D    Policy Development Specialist
PhD. or post graduate degree with minimum 6 years' experience in agriculture, natural resources, environmental economics or related fields, of which part preferably has been gained in the HKH region
Further information on the vacancies, including Terms of Reference for the positions, can be
found at or can be requested from the address below. Applications with complete
curriculum vitae together with the names and addresses of three referees should be sent to the following
address by 31 May 2003.
Personnel Officer, ICIMOD, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: (00977-1) 5525313;   Fax: (00977-1) 5524509 / 5536747
e-mail: admin ©
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Just the basics: Ayub
Khan meets the people.
THE NIGHTLY broadcasts of Pakistan's
public network television channel, Pakistan
Television (PTV), towards the end of April
were dedicated to the standoff between the
government and the opposition parties in
parliament. The issue of contention was the
controversial constitutional amendments
package - the Legal Framework Order (LFO)
- supported by Pervez Musharraf, which,
among other things, combines in his person
the offices of head of state and army chief.
In particular, PTV was keen to point out that
the six-month-old parliament is paralysed
by the dispute, that billions of rupees of
public money have already been wasted on
sustaining a dysfunctional parliament, and
that the prospects of reconciliation seem
remote. The stage now appears to be set for
dissolution of parliament by Musharraf.
A year after its genesis, the LFO continues to be a source of serious political
instability in Pakistan. While described by
Musharraf as a tame addition to the constitution of the country, in actuality the LFO
has wide-ranging political, social and
economic implications. Debates over it have
taken centre stage in the country over the
past few months since the reinstitution of
As is known to observers of Pakistani
politics, the role of the military has been
central in the affairs of
the state virtually since
1947. This has been the
case despite the fact
that, for all intents and
purposes, the new Pakistani state did not have an
active army when it came
into being. However, a
combination of internal
and external factors, including elite composition of the state structure
and the geostrategic needs of the United
States, ensured that the army soon came to
be the main powerbroker in the country's
Musharraf is third in a line of Pakistani
military rulers who tried to cement their grip
on power through the manipulation of legal
and political institutions. His devolution
plan greatly resembles the Basic Democracy
of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in the 1960s.
His insistence on holding a presidential
referendum to consolidate his arbitrary
presidency mirrored the shenanigans of
General Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s. The LFO is
the icing on the cake.
Before dwelling on the peculiarities of
the current situation, it is important to
understand where General Musharraf came
from and how he quickly came to be the
western world's favourite liberal military
dictator. The coup of October 1999 that
toppled the elected government of Nawaz
Sharif was greeted with widespread disapproval from the international community.
The world was still cautiously warming to
the good general when September 2001
rolled around.
Within weeks of 11 September, Pakistan
was once again a frontline state, and an
indispensable ally to gallant beacons of
justice in a historic 'war on terror'. The rest
of the story is predictable - it mimics all
other stories of an imperialist power manipulating countries of the periphery to serve
its own interests. The political 'legitimacy'
offered to the Musharraf regime by the US
and its allies translated into significant new
deals with international financial institutions (IFIs) and systematic attempts to
reintegrate the Pakistani economy into the
global financial fold.
Since the presidential referendum of
April 2002, Musharraf has harped on the
need for continuity in the economic policies
that his government initiated. His commitments to bilateral and multilateral donors
have garnered reciprocal support for the
regime. The IFIs and the US have been more
than willing to overlook what even the
European Union's independent election
monitoring mission termed a "seriously
flawed" election process last winter. And
so the LFO, basically a heist, has been
accorded legitimacy by the true powers of
this world,
Khaki politics
This leaves the people of Pakistan to bear
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
the consequences of whatever the LFO
brings. The re-emergence of the rhetoric
about the ineptitude of corrupt politicians,
the dominant motif whenever the military
is running the government, illuminates the
glaring shortcomings of mainstream politics in the country. Given the acute economic
strain suffered by most people over the past
few years due to policies intensified during
Musharraf's tenure, and the clear support
that the military has offered to the US in its
wars on Afghanistan and Iraq (in defiance
of popular sentiment), it would seem
unlikely that the military could get away
with imposing an order such as the LFO and
still blame politicians for the country's
woes. Yet it does, as it has done in the past,
and as it can be expected to do in the future.
This flagrant disregard for the popular
will is possible because of the manner in
which society has suffered fragmentation
over the past few decades. The failure of the
popular will to find political expression is
no more evident than at the present time.
While the opposition has maintained a
reasonably principled stand on the LFO over
the past six months, there has been limited
effort to leverage mass support on the issue.
It would not have been difficult to link
political manipulations by the military to
the economic difficulties facing ordinary
Pakistanis, or for that matter to the military
extremism of the United States.
The inability of the opposition to engage
in mass agitation reflects two important
facts. First, the religious parties, who
dominate the current parliament, for all of
the hue and cry over the years are not
seriously interested in rocking the boat. If
they were, their relatively large mobilisations would go beyond just sloganeering
against the evil US empire. Second, the
mainstream secular parties, including the
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N),
are so discredited after years of politicking
with the military that they are simply not
able to mobilise the general public, as has
been proven on the few occasions that they
have tried.
This being the case, it is the religious
parties that would profit if the assemblies
were dissolved. After all, were there to be
elections again, the religious parties would
benefit most from the anger of the general
public against the secular parties. Such a
situation would suit the military establishment as well, since the religious parties are
unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them.
An outcome of the national security
paradigm of the state, and the oppression
and deprivation that have come along with
it, is the development of a typically reactionary brand of nationalist politics. In the
debate over the LFO, nationalist politics does
not necessarily come to the fore. However,
there should be no doubt in anyone's mind
that there are deep divisions in the country's
politics, which are a function of the gradual
fragmentation of society and the deep
cultural divisions that such fragmentation
Politics for people
This is the dismal state of affairs facing the
Pakistani people. The chances are that the
assemblies will survive for now, and that
the opposition will slowly but surely
succumb to the LFO after all. It may succeed
in opposing one or two parts of the package,
but rest assured that the powers of
the president, and the overall chain of
command that the LFO establishes, will be retained.
It is difficult to imagine a way
out of this dysfunctional situation. Nevertheless, the first thing
that must be emphasised is the
sanctity of the democratic process. So long as the military is
able to dictate the affairs of the
state, the situation cannot improve. While it should not be expected that
the US would not also manipulate a
military-free political sphere, there can be
no question about the fact that a consistently
functioning electoral process would, at the
very least, temper the ability of the US to
hold Pakistan hostage to its own interests.
That being said, there should be no
doubt that mainstream politics in this day
and age offers very little to the losers of the
system - and ordinary Pakistanis are
definitely losers in the global capitalist order.
Liberal democratic parties such as the PPP
or the PML-N would likely toe the neoliberal
line, even if the functional democratic
process compelled them to be more careful
than the military about public interest. All
said and done, however, the first priority
must still be to get rid of the military
government, because until this happens,
moving from a neoliberal order to a
genuinely democratic order is difficult to
How will this happen? It must be hoped
Mainstream politics
offers very little
to ordinary
Pakistanis, the
losers in the global
capitalist order
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Soldier patrolling
. . ..*?n a*
that the counter-cultural current that has
received impetus from the resurgent global
anti-capitalist movement finds a stream here
in Pakistan. It may take a while, but there is
every reason to believe that Pakistanis will
eventually catch the bug. b
-Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
THE REASONS why the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suspended peace
talks with the Sri Lankan government on
21 April were the focus of a late April
meeting between LTTE political head SP
Tamilchelvan and civil society representatives from the north and south of the
country. The meeting, in the northern town
of Kilinochchi, was arranged by the Association of War Affected Women, which has
been lobbying for information concerning
the fate of missing-m-action service personnel. The meeting transpired in the air-
conditioned political headquarters of the
LTTE around a long conference table no
different from those found in ministerial
offices in Colombo.
At the meeting, Tamilchelvan took pains
to emphasise that the LTTE's decision to
suspend the peace talks was neither a
withdrawal from the peace process nor a
hastily implemented action. According to
him, the exclusion of the LTTE from a recent
international donor meeting in Washington
DC attended by the Sri Lankan government
was only one among several reasons that
had prompted the LTTE's move. The primary motivating factor, he said, was the
absence of significant progress in alleviating
the hardships of the people caused by
the war.
This view is in contrast to the general belief
that the LTTF's decision
was motivated only by
disappointment at being
excluded from the Washington aid conference
held on 14 and 15 April.
Indeed, the LTTE may
have been hoping that
by honouring the cease
fire agreement for 14 months it deserved a
place at that conference. Colombo has been
a successful fundraiser of late, securing USD
800 million from the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund. The LTTF's
exclusion from the Washington meeting has
demonstrated that the path to international
legitimacy in a US-dominated world in
which terrorism is anathema is going to be
a difficult task.
With its refusal as yet to renounce
violence, as the Irish Republican Army has
in Northern Ireland, and its continuing
practices of child recruitment and targeted
assassinations of Tamil political opponents,
the LTTE was destined to fail the US test.
But the LTTE's position is not irredeemable,
and there is much that it and the government can do together in partnership to
ensure that the LTTE gains the legitimacy it
At present, however, the problem is that
the LTTE's withdrawal is unlikely to be
viewed favourably by the international
community. Already the United States and
France have urged the LTTE to return to the
negotiating table. The Indian government
has also expressed its wish that the peace
process continue without delay. Despite its
protestations that its decision to suspend
participation resulted from deliberations
over a long period of time, the LITE'S abrupt
withdrawal has cost it international
credibility. The imperative must therefore
be for the LTTE to re-engage with the peace
talks. If solving people's hardships is the
goal, there is no alternative to the negotiating table.
Persisting pain
The visitors from the south could see for
themselves the truth of Tamilchelvan's
statement, however. Large parts of Jaffna
remain in a state of devastation. The
reconstructed Jaffna library stands alone in
desolation amidst the ruins of other large
buildings. Muslims who are trying to return
to Jaffna took us to see their former homes.
The walls of these houses remain for the
most part, but the houses have been stripped
of virtually everything of value, including
their roofs. The leader of this once dynamic
community, who has formed an organisation called the Displaced North Muslims
Organisation, said that they were finding it
difficult to return. For people to return they
need a place to stay, something most
returnees lack.
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
Night lamps could be seen flickering
inside the wrecks of some dwellings. Those
who inhabit such 'houses' are not categorised as living in refugee camps, though they
live a bare and pathetic existence. There are
also people living in refugee camps euphemistically known as welfare centres. These
people number only about 10,000, but they
live in very poor conditions. One camp we
went to did not have toilet facilities for men,
and only recently had women been provided with them.
The most visible sign of material change
in Jaffna after 14 months of ceasefire is in
the number of guesthouses and lodges that
cater to visitors from outside. Some of these
are reasonably well furnished, with air
conditioners and other modern amenities.
Small businessmen cater to the high-end
tourist traffic in part because both of Jaffna's
big hotels have been taken over by the Sri
Lankan army.
It is therefore not surprising that Tamilchelvan should have cited the lack of visible
progress in improving people's living
conditions as the main reason for the LTTE's
unhappiness with the current progress of
the peace process. As an organisation
seeking to play a political role, and one that
will one day have to face elections to retain
legitimacy, the LTTE has to ensure that it
delivers material benefits to the people. To
the extent that it fails to do so, its support
base will shrink. This is no different from
the government trying to provide a peace
dividend to the people to ensure its own
political stability.
Returning to the table
In his meeting with civil society leaders,
Tamilchelvan referred to three types of
broken promises. The first concerned the
resettlement of displaced persons and the
constraints that the army's presence in
inhabited areas posed to such resettlement.
The second was the lack of financial
support for resettlement and reconstruction.
The third was the undermining of the
partnership between the government and
LTTE due to the one-sided participation at
the Washington aid conference.
Tamilchelvan reminded his audience
that Tamil militancy grew in strength
following repeated non-implementation of
promises to the elected leaders of the Tamil
people by successive governments in
Colombo. These include the abortive
Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957
and the District Development Council law
of 1981, both of which held devolutionary
potential. The LTTE emerged from a context
in which falling victim to unfulfilled
promises is a sign of failure. While politicians might be flexible about promises,
guerrilla organisations are typically not.
Getting the LTTE back to the negotiating
table soon would help maintain the sustainability of the peace process in the long term.
It would also serve the national interest to
have both the government and LTTE present
at the Tokyo donor conference scheduled to
begin 9 June, though the LTTE has said that
it will not be going to Japan. The government
will need to pay special attention to the
LTTF's concerns about the lack of progress
in improving living conditions. This will
require a more speedy disbursement of
funds for resettlement and reconstruction.
The government also needs to take action to
reduce the overwhelming presence of the
Sri Lankan army in the highly populated
parts of Jaffna city and its environs.
At one of the earlier rounds of peace
talks, the government promised
to withdraw the army from one
of the two hotels it currently
occupies in Jaffna. There has
been some movement on this
matter, and now the army is
making plans to shift from both
hotels. But the area that the army
has chosen to relocate to has
given rise to further controversy.
The demilitarisation of Jaffna,
and indeed of the entire north and
east, is a prerequisite for a return of normalcy to the country, ft is a difficult
challenge and requires a unity of purpose
within the government and between Colombo and the LTTE. As commander-in-chief of
the armed forces, President Chandrika
Kumaratunga's cooperation is essential to
this aspect of the peace process. b
-Jehan Perera
A new library in Jaffna
is not enough.	
The most visible
sign of change
in Jaffna is the
number of
guesthouses and
lodges that cater to
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
The. revolutionary who succeeds underground is not the
one who hides like a mouse under the floorboards, shunning the
light of day and social involvement. The successful and resourceful underground worker takes a most active part in the
everyday life of those around him, he shares their weaknesses
and their passions, he is in the public eye, in the hurly-burly,
with an occupation which everyone understands... The wisest
way is also the simplest: to combine your secret and your overt
activity easily and naturally.
-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Lenin in Zurich
On the outskirts of the ancient Swiss town of Bern
lies an open space traditionally used as an all-
mend, or collective pasture. The southern part
of the field has been converted into an exhibition hall,
used off and on to display and sell agricultural machines. The open ground is still large enough to be
known as the grosse alhnend. However, no cows graze
there anymore. Empty during the week, on Sundays
the field is home to groups of little boys playing football, or frisbee, or flying kites, or simply walking with
their fathers and their dogs.
Every year, in August, this Swiss field is colonised
for a weekend by a crowd of Tamils. Some are resident
in Bern, others come from Zurich and Luzern, still others from Netherlands and Germany and England. But
they all came, originally, from the northern districts of
Sri Lanka, and many still hope one day to return there.
That the civil war in their island does not yet permit;
hence this annual get-together in Bern, where four or
five thousand Tamils gather to underline and affirm
their spirit of community.
When 1 went to the Bern allmend this past August,
the weather was wet, but the celebrations were unaffected. The ostensible focus of attention, all the while,
was a series of sporting contests between teams of
Tamils representing different parts of Europe. The
games played included cricket, volleyball, football and
a traditional sport called kiltitata, a hybrid that mixes
running with wrestling. The football took pride of place,
with six different cups at stake: separate championships for males under 10, under 13, under 15, under 18,
and over 35, as well as one for girls.
The ambience was Tamil but the referees were Swiss
and the style of the game German. The boys played the
focused, physical football of the Bundesliga, short passes and bold body checks, rather than the long, hopeful
balls up front that mark the game in South Asia. Their
heading was first class and their spirit ferociously competitive. It had to be, with teams bearing names such as
Super-Eagles, Germany, and Tamil Eelam, Poland. In
the under-18 final, I watched Young Royal Sports Club,
Zurich, play the Tamil Football Club of Denmark. The
coach of the Young Royals kept up a continual stream
of advice and (it has to be said) abuse: "apdi ille" ("not
like that"), "Ramesh ku kudu, paithiyo" ("pass to Ramesh,
you imbecile"), and such like. The object of his ire, a
boy with streaked hair, was at length substituted. He
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
came out swearing - in Swiss German.
In the centre of the allmend flew the red-and-yellow
flag of the putative homeland, Tamil Eelam. Under the
flag, on a table shielded from the rain by a red canopy,
rested the prizes of the competition: a row of large silver cups, all looking alike, with 'TAMIL EELAM CUP'
inscribed at their base and a portrait of a man holding
a flag on the side, his face pencilled inside a map of the
island, the Tamil homeland's borders marked.
Towards the northern end of the allmend, the cricket tournament was being held. This was altogether more
genteel, played with a soft tennis ball, by men almost
all the wrong side of 35. There was one young boys
club: Eela Stars CC, Bern, formed by 18-year-old Mahesh in memory of his dead father. But they lost early,
to men who had learnt to play cricket under English-
trained coaches back in Sri Lanka. The cricket final was
played between two German teams. After the match,
the winners and losers joined in an impromptu singsong featuring hits from movies made in Madras.
As foreign as the shouts across the allmend were
the smells. The food was superb: those Tamil staples,
rice and sambaar and dosai for lunch, as well as snacks
such as shundal (spiced chick pea) and bida (betel nut
leaf with grated coconuts and other condiments
wrapped inside). Other shops were selling saris and
salwar kameezes, bangles and other jewellery, videos
and cassettes of film songs, and medallions of the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velu-
pillai Prabhakaran, cradling a leopard cub.
Hiere was one shop selling books. The titles on display included a compendious edition of the Kural, the
1000-page text on life and good conduct by the Tamil
sage, Thiruvalluvar. Tamil-French and Tamil-Deutsch
dictionaries were also on offer, as were some computer
manuals. But, right in front, on the desk that first caught
the casual shopper's eye, were the recommended political texts. These were the Tamil translation of Lapierre
and Collins' Freedom at Midnight, a biography of Che
Guevara and the newly printed memoir of Adele Balasingham, the Australian wife of the Tiger theoretician
Anton Balasingham. There were also two books about
Balasingham's boss, Prabhakaran. The cover of one
book showed the Tiger supremo in a forest clearing,
wearing fatigues, surrounded by a bunch of adoring
boy cadres. The second book's cover had a large portrait of Prabhakaran in the foreground, with that other
successful freedom fighter, Sheikh Mujib of Bangladesh,
looking on indulgently from atop.
I do not read Tamil, and had to judge the contents of
the books by the photographs on their jackets. I turned
for help to the bookshop attendant, a sweet, smiling 20-
year-old from Holland, named by his father after the
great Indian cricketer of the 1970s, Sunil Gavaskar. I
pointed to a book whose cover featured a man in khaki
drill, wearing a khaki cap and dark glasses. "Who is
this?" I asked Gavaskar Mahendran. "Nehru?" he replied, uncertainly. After I had left 1 realised who it actu
ally was: Subhas Chandra Bose, the Bengali leader who
had allied with the Axis powers during the second
world war, and formed an 'Indian National Army' composed chiefly of prisoners of war.
A father who named his son after Gavaskar would
be the kind of man who admired Jawaharlal Nehru.
But, of course, the moderate Nehru would scarcely appeal to the Tigers. Bose, on the other hand, would: his
story, made suitably heroic, sat well with stories of
Guevara and Mujib and, of course, Prabhakaran. The
bookshop was a manifest display of the real intentions
of this sports festival, but there were other signs, too.
One was the dress code of the organisers: black trousers, white shirt, and a black jacket with 'WTCC' on the
back (standing for World Tamil Co-ordination Committee) and the logo of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam in front. There were perhaps some two dozen
such men, all dressed alike, spread out across the allmend, coordinating the various games and acting as
ports of authority and call.
The black and white outfit somehow seemed appropriate, given the uncomplicated ideology of the Tamil
Tigers and the unforgiving nature of their political practice. A slight variation on this dress code was permitted to Parthiban, the man assigned by the WTCC to
escort and direct visitors such as myself. Parthiban
was short, dapper, and - for a Sri Lankan Tamil - unusually fair and conspicuously clean-shaven. He also
had a better-than-average facility with the international language of spin, English. He wore dark grey trousers on both days, with a light cream bush-shirt on the
Saturday and a light green shirt on the Sunday - shirts
that were almost, but not quite, white. He had his lines
well prepared: he was a 'development consultant' working in Geneva, specialising on issues of 'sustainable
development'. The aim of this festival he glossed as
"telling our youth about their culture and traditions".
As we passed the various games, he would repeat: "culture and tradition", "culture and tradition". Only once
did the guard drop, when, in answer to a question as to
why girls were playing football, he answered that the
uplift of women in all respects, including the physical,
was part of the "agenda of the revolution".
On instructions from above, Parthiban stuck close
to me. Clearly it would not do to let an 'Indian journalist from Bangalore' go about on his own. Fortunately,
though, early on Sunday he was taken away by his
girlfriend to meet her parents, his prospective in-laws,
and I never saw him again. Parthiban's exit allowed
me to make the acquaintance of Astrid, a large-boned
and genial Swiss woman who had married a Tamil
and adopted both his culture and his football team.
Now 29, Astrid had met her husband, Jeyakumar,
10 years earlier while playing volleyball: he, a refugee,
had been assigned by the Swiss authorities to a village
near her own. She w'as doing a PhD in geography at the
University of Zurich; her topic, the impact of Sinhala
colonisation on the civil war. In her free time, Astrid
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
helped her husband run his soccer team. She spoke
Tamil adequately, had learnt the complex script, and
had visited the island six times - though not yet, she
said sadly, the northern city of Jaffna, the heart of Tamil
pride and rebelliousness. She seemed quite starry-eyed
about the LTTE. "Every Tamil here supports the Tigers",
she told me: "They have to, if they want to support the
struggle back home. Only the Tigers run the schools,
and take care of the orphans". I reminded her that the
Tigers were still a banned organisation in many countries. "Not here in Switzerland", she replied, with uncharacteristic sharpness.
The Tamil boys on the field all called Astrid akka, or
elder sister. Seeing this big, blonde lady with her arms
around little black boys in football dress, my companion that day, the film-maker Sabine Geisiger, exclaimed:
"She is the Mother Teresa of the Tamils!" Astrid's acceptance was aided by precedent: like Adele, the wife
of Anton Balasingham, here was a
white lady devoted to their language
and their cause.
Astrid Jeyakumar is a Swiss woman who wants to become a Tamil. Then
there was Tommy, the Tamil boy who
would much rather be Swiss. A slim      	
and athletic 17-year-old, with glowing
skin and large earrings, Tommy was actually named
Karthik Sambasivan. He looked askance at his native
culture: the Tamils, he said, were disorganised, un-
punctual, hierarchical and - in their attitude to women
and children - authoritarian. His sister was not allowed
to go out alone or date Swiss boys. He would go out
with Swiss girls, but was still too scared to tell his
parents. He had come to the festival hoping to run in
the short sprints, but, to his disgust, the events had
been cancelled. There was a consolation: his athletic
skills had already put him on the fast track to a Swiss
The motto of this annual festival on the Bern allmend might very well be: 'No more Tommys'. Its chief
public purpose was to allow the exiles, spread in small
numbers across Europe, to congregate as Tamils, to play
their games, eat their food, listen to their music, meet
old friends and make new ones, and make or break
matrimonial alliances. But behind this social bonding
was an aim rather more sinister - for to consolidate the
Tamils as a community was also to remind them of the
unfinished struggle back home, thus to forcefully direct their attention to the needs and claims of the LTTE.
Each team had to pay an entrance fee; each shop had to
pay a cash deposit; and other collections for the Tigers
were undoubtedly being solicited on the side. The skill
with which the whole show was organised left one in
no doubt as to who was in command.
There are 45, 000 Tamils in Switzerland, a number larger
than it might at first appear, for, there are less than 3.5
One in every 80
Sri Lankan Tamils
lives in Switzerland
million Tamils back in Sri Lanka. And there are only
about six million Swiss people. Thus, one in every SO
Sri Lankan Tamils lives in Switzerland. In parts of
Zurich and Bern one in every 20 residents is Tamil.
How did so many Tamils get so far? They came, in the
first instance, fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka. In the
20 years that the war has been on, an estimated 70,000
people have lost their lives. Perhaps five times that number have fled, seeking refuge in India, Australia, Canada and the countries of western Europe.
From the early 1980s, as the civil war in Sri Lanka
became more bloody, Tamils in the north began looking for ways of escape. Typically, each family wanted
one of its younger male members to seek refuge abroad.
This was a classic peasant strategy: the spreading of
risk. Those who stayed back pooled their resources and
bought a one-way ticket for their young man. In the
early 1990s, the Oxford anthropologist, Christopher
McDowell, interviewed Tamil refugees
in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland. Among the testimonies he
collected was this representative
one from a refugee named Jeyakumara
I left Colombo in May 1984 on an
Aeroflot flight to Abu Dhabi and then on to Moscow. From Moscow I went straight to East Berlin.
I travelled alone because my friends had decided not to come at the last minute. My father paid
15,000 [Sri Lankan] rupees for the journey and I
carried USD 300 in cash.
I arrived in East Berlin at 9 o'clock in the
morning, and I purchased a 24-hour visa for USD
3 at the airport. Then I took a train to West Berlin:
1 had no problems because of the visa. At about
midday 1 arrived in West Berlin where I was approached by a Pakistani man. I told him I wanted to travel to Switzerland and he said he would
show me the way. The Pakistani bought me a
train ticket to Neuss and gave me the photograph
of another Pakistani who would meet me there.
Later in the afternoon I took the train to
Neuss. For the whole journey I hid myself under
a bench in the carriage. I had left my passport
with the Pakistani man in Berlin. He said I could
have it later. 1 met the other man in Neuss and he
let me stay at his house for a few days. There had
been other boys there a few days before. I didn't
like the house. Others said that Tamil boys had
gone to work in hotels as roomboys. Two days
later the Pakistani put me on a train to Switzerland. He said it went all the way to Zurich, but I
should get off at Bern.
Again I hid myself under a bench. There
were four people in the carriage. I did not notice
the border... then there were four more people in
the carriage... they may have been guards. I ar-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
rived late in Bern and spent the night in the station. The next day I went to the Aliens Police and
asked for asylum. They asked me where my passport was... I told them it had been stolen.
An alternative route was to flee to India from the
Jaffna peninsula, across the Gulf of Mannar. From Delhi one could take a flight to Belgrade, which like Moscow did not, in those Cold War days, require an Asian
to have a visa. Sometimes schleppers, or agents, were
paid money to ensure safe passage across the Iron Curtain to Italy or Germany and, finally, to Switzerland.
As McDowell found, most refugees did not, to begin
with, have firm political affiliations. It was just that the
civil war had made life intolerable for the ordinary civilian, and the asylum seeker had been chosen by his
family as being the most likely to make some kind of life
The Tamils came to Switzerland alone or in small
groups. They were interrogated by the police, before
being assigned to hostels with refugees from other countries. They received a living allowance of four francs a
day. After a few months they were assigned to cantons
willing to receive them, and also allowed to work. Slowly,
the Tamils from the remoter valleys somehow found a
way to the city, where jobs paid less poorly, where there
were less clearly marked out by their colour, and where
they might find some more of their fellows. Now, two
decades after the first lot arrived, the bulk of the Tamils
in Switzerland are to be found in the German-speaking
cities of Zurich, Basle, Luzern and Bern.
The Tamils who made it to Switzerland in the early
1980s were mostly men. Later, they were joined by
young girls coming to make an arranged marriage. The
Swiss Tamils are, overwhelmingly, from the vellala or
kariayar castes, that is, from farming or fishing backgrounds. Very few could speak a language other than
their mother tongue. Those Tamils who spoke English
generally found their way to the United Kingdom or
As it turned out, most of the Tamils in Switzerland
ended up not, as Jeyakumara Sinnathamby had feared,
as roomboys in hotels, but as something very adjacent:
cooks and cleaners in restaurants. The pizza-olo of the
Italian restaurant I patronised in Zurich was a Sri Lankan Tamil, as were several of the waiters. Indeed, almost all the Tamil men I met in Switzerland worked in
the catering business. That was where, when they first
came, they got work most easily; and that was where,
for want of other options, they stayed. The authorities
encouraged this, for native-born Swiss did not take
readily to these dreary and comparatively low-paying
occupations. The other trade where there were openings was construction, but the Tamils were deemed too
slight to drive cranes or help build offices in the cold.
To these jobs were directed refugees from Eastern Europe instead.
How do the Swiss view the Tamils? Emblematic here
Tamils march in Geneva.
are the shifting views of the popular tabloid, Blick. In
the early 1980s, Blick vigorously denounced the incoming refugees as different and strange, and wanted them
deported. But by the mid-1990s Blick and its readers
had started seeing the Tamils almost as a 'model minority', as hardworking and docile, and doing essential jobs that no one else would, at any rate not for those
wages. The ordinary Swiss liked to contrast the Tamils
with Yugoslavs and Balkan peoples more generally.
These other immigrants had also come in the 1980s,
but were regarded as a perfect nuisance: as loud, aggressive, involved in drugs and excessively covetous of
Swiss women.
Back in 1843, Jacob Burckhardt complained of his
native Basel that it was in danger of silting up "without stimulating life-giving elements from outside. There
are learned people here but they have turned to stone
against everything foreign". Writing a century and a
half later, another fine historian, Jonathan Steinberg,
commented that "if Swiss democracy has some ugly
features, it shows them to its foreigners". But the ordinary Swiss, I found, has really no interest in Tamil culture whatsoever. He did not know of, and would not
care about, the richness of their classical literature or
the subtle beauties of their classical music.
Still, of overt racism towards the Tamils there are
few signs. In retrospect, the Tamils were certainly lucky
that the Kosavars and the Yugoslavs came at the same
time as they did. I asked a Zurich anthropologist what
the future held. Would there develop an influential far-
right party on the French or Austrian models? The anthropologist pointed out that there was already a party
whose one-point programme was: 'out with the foreigners'. But, he added, their support base wTas trifling, and
unlikely to grow. Was this because their tradition of
humanitarian work made the Swiss more tolerant of
difference, or because Switzerland had never been a
colonising power? The anthropologist felt that more
important by far was the fact that this was the most
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Tamil women in a Swiss street rally.
prosperous country in Europe. The Swiss, he said, were
simply too rich to be racist.
In Zurich I stayed in the Industriequartier, a district
located a mile down river from the main railway station. Its four-storeyed stone apartments were built in
the 19"' century, but the workers who once lived in them
had long since departed. What remained was a large
(and now empty) church named for Josef, and the original street names: Heinrichstrasse, Fabrikstrasse and
Quellenstrasse. This was now perhaps the most racially mixed of Zurich's districts, with a fair representation of Italians, Turks, Yugoslavs, Bangladeshis and,
not least, Tamils.
On my first night in the city I had dinner at the Santa Lucia restaurant, with its Tamil-speaking pizza-olo.
1 sat at a table outside and observed the street. A Tamil
man with an umbrella, aged about 50, parked himself
on a cylindrical pillar meant to mark off the road from
the pedestrian area. He bobbed his umbrella up and
down, and chatted up the passing Tamils: three boys
carrying videos (of Bollywood movies, perhaps), a couple out on a date. Two men in their 20s came and joined
him, sitting likewise on the parking pillars. A car
stopped for 10 minutes, on the road, the driver leaning
out to speak to his fellows. This was so Tamil (or South
Asian) and so un-Swiss: the use of public space to 'take
the air' (hawa khana, in Hindustani), to stand on the
road or a street corner in anticipation of other members
of the community - whether rich or poor, young or old,
men, women, or children.
Another evening I was walking along Josef Park, in
front of the old working-class residences. 1 came across
a group of Tamil teenage boys, walking and playing
with a football. They must have spoken Swiss German
at school, but among themselves they conversed in
Tamil: surely, 1 thought, a unique form of bilingualism.
They seemed to ltnow the locality intimately, and appeared very comfortable on the street, gossiping in their
own tongue as they kicked the ball off the parapets and
dust-bins. Their attention was momentarily diverted
when four (white) Swiss girls came and sat on a bench
in the plaza. The Tamils cast shy and sly glances in
their direction, but made no move to talk or flirt. They
could have been a group of loitering boys in any South
Asian town, out on the road between six and eight in
the evening, after school but before dinner, homework
and bed. As in South Asia, this group was strictly male.
For the girls had returned home directly from school.
They had to help with the cooking and housework, and
in any case it was not deemed safe or proper for them to
wander about in the streets.
Exiles everywhere tend to stick together, at least in
the first generation. But in this case, the natural desire
to hang out with one's (likewise vulnerable) fellows is
strengthened by conscious and directed social organisation. In the heart of this immigrant ghetto of Zurich is
an office which runs no less than 73 Tamil schools in
Switzerland. These schools hold classes twice a week:
on Wednesday afternoons, when the regular Swiss
schools close early, and on Saturdays. The children
come in after they turn five, and sometimes stay until
the age of 20. The kids start with Tamil songs and stories, before moving on to the alphabet and the construction of sentences. They use well designed and lavishly
illustrated textbooks, printed in Bielefeld in Germany,
but with their content supervised by a committee of
Tamil professors from Jaffna, Colombo, Thanjavur and
The association that runs the schools calls itself the
'World Tamil Education Service', its office, on the corner of Josefstrasse and Langstrasse, is equipped with
computers and a photocopier, and even an airy and
well-lit conference room. One afternoon I met the two
main office-bearers: Mahindran, a well-built man about
five-feet nine-inches tall, and Sudhaharan, who was
much shorter, balding and with glasses. Both wore
moustaches, both said they were 33, and both had come
in the late 1980s from Jaffna, abandoning their college
degrees half-way. And both had worked as cooks in
Zurich: Sudhaharan, who helped out part-time at the
education service, still does.
In the early 1990s, a few Tamil schools were started
in Switzerland on an individual and uncoordinated
basis. In 1995, Mahindran took the initiative to hold a
Tamil language exam in which 315 students took part.
The next year he held a meeting of Tamil teachers from
across the country, which decided to formalise the curriculum and seek proper textbooks. By 1998, there were
35 Tamil schools in Switzerland and about 1400 students. Now there are 73 schools with 4000 students
enrolled in them. The teachers work mostly for free, but
a few are paid from a grant given by the aid agency,
I asked Mahindran and Sudfuiharan whether their
schools taught history and politics. No, they said, we
want only to focus on language and culture. When
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
pressed, they admitted that the boys and girls did get a
political education at home from their parents, who
naturally had ideas of their own about the civil war. I
then asked about the recent ceasefire on the island. Both
of them, mild-mannered and gentle as they appeared to
be, were firm and decisive in their political views. They
were for the Tigers, completely. When I asked about
Tamils who might have reasons for not supporting the
Tigers, Sudhaharan answered: "In the early 1980s,
there were other armed groups, but these were agents
of the Sri Lankan or Indian governments. 15 years of
struggle have shown that only the Tigers are trusted by
the Tamil people. Of course, thieves and crooked businessmen do not like the LTTE. But all others do". Then
he added, as an afterthought: "Of course, they [the Tigers] are strict".
I asked whether the Sri Lankan situation could be
compared to that of Palestine. At one level the parallel
held: both the Tamils and the Palestinians faced dispossession and a colonising army. But Sudhaharan,
small and slight as he was, insisted that the Tamils
were far superior. "Look at the Palestinians", he said,
"they are fighting among themselves - one for Hamas,
another for Arafat. And some of them are still throwing
stones at the Israelis! They must build a
united military force". The contrast ^~mmm*~~m
could not be clearer: on one side the disunited Palestinians, on the other the Tigers, sole spokesmen for their people and
ferocious fighters to boot. 	
At one point, nervous about the turn
of our conversation, Mahindran and Sudhaharan clarified: "These are our personal views. We do not teach
them in our schools - no politics there, only language
and culture". Whether they seeped into the schools or
not, their own views were pretty direct. Almost my last
question related to the aim of the peace talks now being
overseen by the Norwegians. I asked whether they
would be satisfied with autonomy within a united Sri
Lanka, or whether they would still insist on independence. The answer, from Mahindran, was immediate
and resonant with feeling. "We have lost everything -
homes, lands, forests and families. What for? In 1985,
we might have accepted autonomy. But now, after all
this struggle and sacrifice, what can we accept? Only
An abiding memory of my time in Zurich is of church
bells pealing. I lived across the street from a Protestant
church, but elsewhere, too, conversations were interrupted by the sound of bells rung faithfully every quarter of an hour. Who was listening, or answering the
call? Here, as elsewhere in western Europe, few people
under 50 were practising Christians. The indication of
this was not merely falling attendance in church. It lay
also, for instance, in the divorce rate, which was more
than 60 percent.
The Swiss are too
rich to be racist'
In this city of the great theologian Zwingli, the community that seemed to most seriously follow their faith
was the Tamils. One day I called on a temple priest in
the suburb of Adliswil. Dedicated to Shiva's second
son, Subramaniam, the temple is on the banks of a gentle and green river, which was nice, and the priest was
short and with a pronounced paunch, which was reassuring. When I had visited Sri Lanka earlier in the year,
an experienced political journalist told me that malnutrition was rife in the north: "The only well fed people
there", he said, "are LTTE cadres, traders, and Hindu
Priests in Indian temples are also always overfed.
But the story of Sharma vadhyar of Adliswil was anything but typical. Although from a family of priests, he
had rejected the trade and worked in a firm in Colombo
for 14 years. He was at the same time an activist with a
group affiliated to the Fourth International. When the
going got hot in Sri Lanka, fellow Trotskyists in Germany helped him seek asylum there. He found his way to
Zurich, where the Tamils urged him to resume the family calling. He taught himself the scriptures, and started naming the odd baby. He graduated to marriages
and deaths, and eventually was able to persuade the
Swiss authorities to allot him space for
^^^^fmmmm       a temple.
Fat, affable, wearing a dhoti but with
his upper body bare, Sharma was a bit
of an operator, but a charming one, and
      also highly successful. He wore large
gold-and-diamond earrings, obviously
a post-Trotskyist accretion. We spoke in his office, drinking orange juice in plastic cups, amidst a pile of Tamil
books. Among them was a new edition of the Ramayan
as retold by the legendary poet Kamban, which Sharma said had been gifted to him by the chief minister of
Pondicherry, India.
"Communism is service. What we are doing here is
also service". Saying this, Sharma took us to his temple. Here, dozens of young men were cutting vegetables and cleaning idols, in preparation for a prayer to
be held later in the day, for which 400 people were expected. We could not stay, so Sharma asked that we
come instead for the opening of a 10-day festival, to
begin the next Friday.
When I got there the following week, the place had
been transformed. The entrance now had a 20-foot-high
tower made of cardboard affixed to it, mimicking the
traditional gopuram of the south Indian temple. The
cardboard was coloured and painted over with deities.
On either side flew a flag: the red-and-white Swiss flag
to the right, the yellow-and-blue Adliswil cantonal flag
to the left. It was nine o'clock when I reached, but the
ceremonies had begun. Inside, musicians specially flown
in from Sri Lanka were playing their clarinets. Sharma
was anointing the idols behind an orange curtain. The
devotees patiently waited: women and kids sitting on
the floor, the men standing to a side, separately.
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
After half an hour the curtain was lifted, to reveal
both lord Subramaniam and his attendant. Sharma
wore a richly embroidered gold dhoti and a red-and-
gold sash on his head. Half-a-dozen assistants began
chanting. A young pig-tailed priest with a fine tenor
voice did a solo number, reading from a book in which
Sanskrit had been rendered in the Tamil script. Altogether, the priestly functions seemed rather ad hoc, learnt
from books and improvised rather than traditionally
learnt. Yet there was no mistaking the devotion. One of
the poems read out was a long invocation to the rivers
of the Indian heartland, the waters that had given birth
both to the language of Sanskrit and to classical Hindu
civilisation. "Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada!"
chanted the tenor, "Godavari, Mahanadi, Tungab-
hadra!" The action was moving southwards, to rivers
added on (I suspect) by a medieval Tamil saint. We
finally reached as close to Eelam as Tambaraparant, a
river that runs in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu.
Worshippers were streaming in all the time, making their way from the outlying cantons. Little boys in
handsome kurta-pyjamas, girls in shimmering salwar
kameezes - the preferred colours red-and-silver or bright
green - women bedecked in jewellery, as if for their own weddings.    "■"^m^tm
They came in twos and threes, unobtrusively and spread out in time,
then suddenly revealing themselves
to be a consolidated and surprisingly large force. By 11 o'clock, there
were at least 800 people present. It
was at this hour, as Sharma had previously told us, that a Swiss Christian priest of the vicinity was expected to come and
hoist the temple flag.
The churchman did not come ("caught in a traffic
jam", was one rumour we heard) so, at 11.15, Sharma
came out of the temple, accompanied by young men
carrying the deity under an umbrella embroidered
in scarlet. The priest hoisted the temple flag, between
those of Adliswil and the Swiss Federation, broke a
coconut, and formally announced the inauguration of
the festival.
Tlie Tiger presence at the temple was muted. There was
no Eelam flag anywhere. 1 did see some teenage boys
wearing black-and-white, but their fathers were dressed
in gayer colours. Still, the Tigers must on the whole
approve of a devotionalism that brings the Tamils together, that endorses their unity as well as their sepa-
rateness from the Swiss mainstream.
In Adliswil, just 15 minutes walk from the temple,
lives a man who is both a devout Hindu and a committed Tiger. His name is Mathialakan, and he is the prime
mover behind the annual sports festival of the Tamil
diaspora. The chief chef in a Swiss restaurant, Mathi
has the sleek and trim body of an athlete. His eyes are
The Palestinians are
divided - the Tigers are
the sole spokesmen for
the Tamil people'
soft, almost dreamy, his hair thick, his manner quiet
but utterly self-assured. We spoke in his house, amidst
a clutter of papers and files from the recently concluded Bern meeting. Mathi's English was as dodgy as my
Tamil. So, for the most part, he spoke in Swiss German,
his words translated by Yumi, a Swiss student of Japanese extraction who had come with me. Also in the
room were his wife and their 16-month-old-son. On the
wall hung photographs of his parents, a red LTTE poster with a growling yellow tiger on it, and a Tamil calendar dominated by a portrait of Prabhakaran.
Mathi had studied in Mahajana College near Jaffna, a place which was, as he put it, "famous in Sri Lanka for its football team". They had won the district championship eight years in a row. He himself played at
that pivotal position, centre-forward. In 1987, he was
doing his ATevels in Jaffna, and hoped to become an
accountant. But, like so many others, his studies were
interrupted by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).
The oppressions of the IPKF, remembered Mathi, "had
united all the previously quarrelling Tamil groups
against them". A fellow student, Thileepan, went on a
fast-unto-death in protest against the alliance of the Sri
Lankan army and the IPKF, "Even
■""■"■—"■"■""■ Mahatma Gandhi drank water during his fasts", said Mathi, meaningfully, "but not Thileepan". After Thileepan died, the students exploded
in support of the Tigers. With hundreds of others, Mathi was also put
in jail. His mother would come to see
     him everyday, till, taking pity, an
Indian Tamil soldier called Naraya-
naswami allowed him to escape. He made his way to
Colombo and, in 1990, to Switzerland.
As an exile in Zurich, Mathi was struck by the divide between parents and children. The problem was
that parents simply gave orders - eat this, dress like
that, etc - without explaining what the culture was. So,
thought Mathi, we need to more systematically teach
our children about the homeland. "500 years ago, we
Tamils had our own country, our own government, our
own state. Colonisation by the Europeans and oppression by the Sinhalese destroyed it. Now we are struggling for the reclamation of our land. Even while we are
here, we must prepare to go back to Eelam. Eventually
that will be our home, not Switzerland. Here we can
never escape being foreign".
In 1996, Mathi started an association called Tamilar Illam, or the Tamil House. He focused on sport, a
medium that would best bring parents and kids together. He enforced a 'Tamil only' rule on the football field.
In 1998, he held his first tournament, for the under-15s,
with seven participating teams from five cantons. Slowly, the scope expanded to include other age groups -
under 10, under 13 and under 18. There was no need,
in his mind, for a 18 to 35 category, since those who fell
within it were, like him, already Tamil in spirit and
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
sentiment. There was, however, an over-35 group for
the parents, who would take their kids to the club and
end up playing themselves.
The first transnational sports festival was held in
1999. It was a master-stroke: bonding the old with the
young, pleasing those parents whose boys played, spurring the ambition to participate in the parents of those
who did not. "How does this link to the struggle for
Eelam?" I asked. "Our war is not only for the separation of territory", said Mathi. "It is for the maintenance
of language, culture and religion - all together (alles
zusammen). The festival brings parents and children
together, renews cultural ties, and promotes a unity of
outlook among exiles in different countries. I had my
own dreams destroyed", he added, "my own life is effectively finished. But these boys can still, with our help,
realise their dreams". I suppose he meant that he had
now to live out his days as a chef in Adliswil, when he
hoped to have been an accountant in Sri Lanka. This
was said with such finality that it unnerved Yumi, with
her own life ahead of her. "It is astonishing, the casual
way in which he said 'my life is destroyed'", she told
me later, "That was almost like kicking me off the sofa".
I asked Mathi who he had supported in the recently
concluded soccer World Cup. "Brazil, naturally", he
said. It appeared that he was a fan of the game of cricket, too. "I support the Indian cricket team", he told me:
"even when they play Sri Lanka, and despite the doings of the Indian Peace Keeping Force". The memory
of Thileepan's martydom could not completely efface
the attachment to India, the mother lode of his language
and religion. He hoped next year to take his son to
the sacred shrine of Tirupathi in south India, to make
the traditional offering of his first-born's lovely crop of
black hair.
On that planned visit, Mathi would be accompanied by a bunch of boy footballers from Zurich. "Here
we can only teach them so much about our culture", he
said, "they have to go to Jaffna to experience it". Another (and larger) ambition was the creation of a full-fledged
Tamil football team, entered under its own colours in
the Swiss National League. Did not, I asked, this dream
clash with the other dream of return? In his eyes this
was not a contradiction. "All 1 hope", he said, "is that
our boys should be proud of our culture and history.
They can be Swiss by nationality, but they must still be
Tamil in spirit". A Tamil team in the Swiss league would
also be consistent with what was still a possible, if worst
case, scenario. "If the war gets worse, and there are no
Tamils left in Sri Lanka, they will at least be here, with
their culture intact".
Mathi, like others of his fellows, refused to admit of
any reason for a Tamil not to support the Tigers. "Without the Tamil Tigers there would be no Tamils", he remarked, implying that they would all have been killed
by the Sri Lankan army. After I had finished interrogating him, Mathi said, "Can I now ask you a question?
Why is The Hindu (the Madras newspaper he was told
I wrote for) so against the Tigers?" I answered, weakly,
"I do not know - I only write on cricket, for the magazine section, not on politics". "Surely", he went on archly, "you read the rest of the paper? Why is The Hindu so
hostile to the Tigers?"
I now decided that I must be at least half-way honest. "Perhaps because they have more sympathy with
the Tamil moderates, such as the leaders of the TULF".
"Then", continued Mathi, "let me ask you another question. What do you think of the Tigers?" "I share their
dream of a just solution for the Tamils", I began, "I admire their courage. But why did they have to kill Tamils
who might have differed from them? The assassination
of Sinhala prime ministers and ministers - even that
can be understood in the context of army atrocities. But
why kill Amirthalingam and Tiruchelvam?"
Mathi turned to his wife, sitting discreetly behind
him, and asked her to refresh his memory. She recalled
for him who the two men were, and then he proceeded:
"Amirthalingam - he was elected on a platform of
Tamil Eelam in 1977. But he forgot about it - started
looking out for his own interests instead. Tiruchelvam
- he might have been of Tamil blood, but he lived in
Colombo and could not speak Tamil. And he was working with the Sinhala and the Americans and against
the Tamils". This was crude propaganda, but he seemed
to believe it completely. I thought I had to protest, for
Tiruchelvam was a scholar of learning and integrity. I
had been to his house in Colombo, and had many
friends who admired and even worshipped him. A brilliant legal scholar who had trained and also taught at
Harvard, he was drafting a devolution package for the
north when he was murdered by the Tigers. Ironically,
in his last public lecture, Tiruchelvam had spoken out
against what he called the "absurd contradiction of
imposing a mono-ethnic state on a multi-ethnic polity". "No, no", I said now to Mathi, "he was working for
autonomy. Maybe not independence, but surely that
was not enough reason to kill him?" I tried to explain
what 'autonomy' meant, but Mathi either did not understand, or chose not to.
Not in 20 years - since I lived with Marxists in Calcutta - could 1 remember having had political discussions of such intensity. Still, Mathi was not, in the formal sense, a 'party man'. His admiration for the Tigers
was born out of his experiences as a student under the
IPKF, and it deepened in exile, as alternatives to their
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
path were crushed or faded away. Even more intense
was a talk I had with the leading Tiger ideologue of
Switzerland, Anton Ponnarajah. He called himself a
human rights activist', a now almost ubiquitous pose
adopted by sympathisers of revolutionary groups
across the globe.
I met Anton in the restaurant of the Luzern railway
station, as he waited to catch a train to Geneva. The one
hour he had allowed me was extended to two, and then
to three. aAnton was stocky, with puffy cheeks and the
obligatory moustache of the Tamil male. His air was
well oiled and combed backwards. Like Mathi and
Mahindran, he was full of charm. He laughed and
smiled easily, and refused to allow me to pay for the
drinks. Of all the Tamils I met he was the most articulate and well-read. He had studied in a top Jesuit school
in Jaffna where, I guess, he had leamt how to state and
defend a case.
Anton left Sri Lanka in 1985. At the time he was in
the middle of a degree course in mechanical engineering. But, he insisted, "by profession I am an actor". He
had trained at a once vibrant theatre school run by AC
Tarsesius in Jaffna. (The school was a casualty of the
civil war, and Tarsesius himself was in exile in London.) After coming to Switzerland, he founded a mixed
theatre group, acting with Arabs and Africans in plays
with inter-cultural themes. Now he had shifted over to
human rights work, but still managed to supervise a
theatre school for the Tamils diaspora. He had designed
a one-year course, with 500 hours of contact time, funded by the exiles, and with a dozen full-time students,
This past year, his students had put on two plays for
their commencement, one dealing with the Sri Lankan
conflict, the other with the position of foreigners in
Twice a year, in April and August, Anton went to
Geneva to meet delegates to the UN Commission on
Human Rights. 1 asked him whether, in addition to the
violations of the Sri Lankan army, he also mentioned
violations by the Tigers. "No", he said, "because the
Tigers arc reacting to their actions". "What if reaction
becomes over-reaction", I asked. "We are not promoting human rights abuse by the Tigers", answered Anton, "but you have to understand it as a response to
army excesses. You can call it over-reaction, but others
will view it differently".
Anton liked to tell Swiss friends who criticised their
country, "For me your political system is heaven. I came
from hell". In this land's past lay, perhaps, a lesson for
his own. "Look at Swiss history", he told me, "these
cantons hated each other, they massacred each other.
But finally they have learnt to live with and respect one
another". For all his partisanship, .Triton seemed hopeful of a political solution. As we spoke, the warring
parties were preparing to talk in Fhailand. "Are the Sri
Lankan politicians more sincere than in the past?" I
asked. "No", said Anton, "but their military is now
certain that they cannot win the war". He did not think
the independence versus autonomy issue would pose
a problem. "If the two parties are willing, a solution
can be found: federal, confederal, two countries, or
This political realism towards the future was, however, markedly absent in Anton's understanding of the
past. I asked whether he felt the Tigers should apologise for having killed Tamils such as .<\mirthalingam.
"He gave a clean shit to the IPKF", Anton answered,
immediately. He then compared the TULF leader to Vichy
collaborators who were later hanged. "Whoever is a
betrayer will be punished by the masses".
But what about Tiruchelvam? Why murder a fine
and internationally respected scholar? "Because he was
working against the interests of the Tamils", came the
very quick reply. "Tiruchelvam said he was against the
LTTE, but it is the Tigers who represent the whole community, the whole of the Tamil people. He talked against
human rights violations of the Tigers, but never about
the army". He reminded me again of what the French
and the British had done to their 'betrayers' after the
second world war: "If you are willing to be used by the
enemy's propaganda machinery, you should be prepared for the consequences". aAnton added, spitefully,
"Tiruchelvam did not know Tamil, did not even know
where Jaffna was". (At least one of these statements 1
knew to be a lie. When I visited Tiruchelvam's house in
Colombo, his still intact study was lined with rows
upon rows of Tamil books.) Later in the conversation,
Anton told me of a speech at which Prabhakaran had
apparently said: "If 1 betray the Tamil people, I too will
be killed". This was a chilling justification of political
murder, here being quoted with pride.
I insisted on seeking some admission of Tiger frailty. In parts of Mannar and in the eastern region around
Batticaloa, the LTTE had mounted savage attacks on
Tamil-speaking Muslims who had resisted being taxed.
Independent reports suggested that whole villages had
been ethnically cleansed. "What about the Tigers' treatment of the Muslims?" I asked. Pat came the answer,
patiently prepared over years, and articulated many
times before: "There was never any conflict in the past.
It has been created by the government. .\s Lenin says,
the oppressors always try to create clashes between sections of the oppressed. But as Tamils we know what it
means to be subjugated by a majority. Give us the chance
to decide our own future. Wait for the political solution. Then the Tiger leadership will never allow oppression of another minority".
The only time Anton stumbled, very slightly, was
when I raised the question of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. He first blamed it on the IPKF (original action
causing a justifiable over-reaction). In any case, if the
Sri Lankan prime minister was now willing to talk to
the Tigers after all the killings of Sinhala politicians,
why could not the Indians do likewise? But this was
different, I answered. One could not so easily justify the
murder of a leading foreign politician in his own land.
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
J I,
This single act had wiped out all sympathy for the Tigers among the 60 million Tamils of India. Besides, Prabhakaran himself was an accused in the Rajiv Gandhi
murder case, and the Indian government had demanded his extradition. Rajiv's widow, Sonia, was leader of
the opposition in the Indian parliament, and likely a
prime minister-in-waiting. Would not this be a problem for the peace talks? Would not those talks require,
for their success, the benign approval of the regional
big brother?
Anton sought refuge in his leader's choice of words.
"In his press conference [of April 2002], Mr Prabhakaran referred to the killing of Rajiv as a 'tragic event'", he
said. "Not, mind you, as a successful suicide operation". Then, like a good Leninist, he insisted that these
questions were at bottom political, not personal or emotional. "Sonia Gandhi or even Mr Prabhakaran will
not live forever. A way will be found to resolve this".
As Anton prepared to pick up his things to catch
the train to Geneva, I asked him some questions in quick
Q: Are you a Christian?
A: A Catholic by birth, but I do not follow any
religious observances or go to church, although
my wife does.
Q: Are you a Marxist? (this provoked by the several references to Lenin).
A: No, because what Marx and Lenin did or said
were appropriate to their context. We have to design solutions relevant to our context.
Q: Are you a Tiger?
A: I am a Tamil, and all Tamils are Tigers.
Q: Really? (this said quizically).
A: Let me explain. 1 see myself first and last as a
Tamil. I will always be a Tamil, even if I live 50
years in Switzerland. In my homeland the Tamil
people are being oppressed, and only the Tigers
are fighting this oppression. So I am a Tiger.
Anton Ponnarajah had abandoned his baptismal faith
for another. Still in the church, and a priest no less, was
Father Peppi, who had been sent by his bishop to minister to the 4000 Tamil Catholics in Switzerland. A
round-faced and ever-smiling man, Father Peppi had
studied in a seminary in Jaffna during the bloody days
of the 1980s. The students, he recalled, had read their
texts by candlelight, sometimes with the sound of shelling in the background. The father seemed to view the
IPKF much like any Tiger did. He was himself picked
up one morning by Indian soldiers - at 6.30 am, while
he was praying, and released only late at night.
After his ordination, Father Peppi was asked to look
after a refugee camp in Vavuniya. There were 30,000
inmates: Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Each family lived in a tiny room, 10 feet by 10 feet, and with no
education or health facilities. He remembered a cholera
Cardboard cut-out Prabhakaran towers over Geneva marchers.
epidemic in which 30 babies died in a month. "Always
panic, that time", as he put it. One of his fellow priests
had estimated that there were 30,000 war widows in
the north. But, Father Peppi added at once, "Other side
also there are many widows in the south".
The father was proud of the efforts of his church
towards reconciliation. His own patriarch, the bishop
of Mannar, had collected money for the Sinhala poor.
The bishop of Colombo had collected blood for Tamil
victims of the war. The Catholics were a minority on
both sides, but in the vanguard of the moves for peace.
Father Peppi's present job was to hold Tamil language services for the exiles. The first and third Sundays of the month he took mass in Zurich, the second
Sunday in Luzern or Bern, the fourth Sunday in Geneva or Lausanne. The Swiss church had given him a flat
- which is where we spoke - but their flock was completely segregated from his own. They met only once a
year, on the second Sunday in November, observed as
a 'foreigners day' in Zurich, when the Tamil Catholics,
along with the Albanians, Serbians and others, were
granted 10 minutes of a multi-lingual service that ran
for a whole morning. Once this was over, the Tamils
retreated to their ghetto.
In Switzerland, Father Peppi stayed awTay from the
Tigers. He did not attend their functions, and they left
him alone, assured that he had no political axe to grind.
When 1 asked why they had such a following, he said it
was because they were the only organisation now fighting for the Tamils. "They are the only redemption for
their sufffering. My bishop recognised this, hence he
urged the government to talk to them". But, I asked,
were there problems back home with the Tigers? "Yes,
for in their own areas they are like a government. They
control everything. They want obedience to their rules.
Their pass system proved difficult for us. Our people
would sometimes complain about the taxes they levied". Are they taxing refugees, too, I asked. Father Peppi said he did not know.
How much money do the Tigers in fact get from the
exiles? One published account said they collected 50
Swiss francs per month per family. This, accumulated
over the community, would amount to five million
francs annually. A university professor in Zurich knew
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
someone who paid, he said, as much as 200 francs a
month. A Swiss journalist said that a great deal of money was also collected on events like Heroes Day, observed annually on 27 November, when thousands of
Tamils would meet to hear patriotic speeches and to
commemorate their dead. A male nurse in Basel told
me simply that the "Tigers ask many, many money.
They ask a lot if you have or if you do not have". Fie
claimed to know a family who had made a one-time
payment of 10,000 francs. Two or three years later, the
Tigers came back to ask for more.
The nurse was a Muslim, originally from Mannar.
Between 1989 and 1991, he was a medical student in
Jaffna. It was hard for him to go home on vacations,
travelling to and fro between areas controlled by the
Tigers and the army. Then, suddenly, there was no
home anymore. His father's thriving fish business was
destroyed by the Tigers, as part of a wider attack on
Muslims. The family fled to Colombo and the boy, on
his parents' advice, escaped to Europe. Helped by an
agent, he finally reached Switzerland, via Italy, Yugoslavia and Austria.
I spoke to this Tamil Muslim - let us call him Arif -
in a Movenpick cafe outside the railway station. Here,
in Basel, he could more easily become a nurse than a
doctor. The authorities encouraged educated Tamils to
move into this profession, since the Swiss could not
decently look after their own elderly. Arif did a four-
year course in nursing school, helped by loans from
friends, Hindus as well as Muslims. "Among us there
is no problem", he said. "The Tigers are the problem.
They profit from a conflict. They incite Hindu-Muslim
clashes in the Eastern Province, so that they can gain
control". He now stayed clear of the Tigers, but said he
knew other exiles who paid money regularly. This was
to prevent harm coming to their families back home.
"They pay as otherwise they are worried the Tigers will
take away everything - land, jewellery, houses. No one
talks about these things because they are afraid. I am
also afraid".
I asked Arif whether he welcomed the ceasefire. "No,
not really. 1 never believe these things. This is to allow
Tigers to plan for the next stage of the war. Now they
can move freely, bring in weapons and money into the
north". He told me pointedly, "If they really wanted
peace, why were they still collecting money? After the
ceasefire, Swiss Tamils visited Jaffna and Mannar but
came back to tell us: 'do not go home; the Tigers will
take your money'". Arif said he did not believe that the
Tigers were for the Tamils, since they had made so many
of them suffer. Then he added, "The other side [the Sri
Lankan Army] is also not good".
The cafe where we met was crowded. Arif looked
worried whenever I spoke loudly, as I have a tendency
to do. He himself spoke in a low voice, but with deliberation and an absolute clarity. Arif was reflective and
philosophical, wise beyond his years, the wisdom borne
out of his own, and his people's, experience. I should
say the same for his almost exact contemporary, Mathi
of Adliswil. Yet, how different were their perceptions of
the Tigers. One hesitates to ascribe this difference simply to their respective religions. Leonard Woolf, who
worked as a civil servant among the Jaffna Tamils in
the first decade of the 20th century, wrote of "their
strange mixture of tortuosity and directness, of cunning
and stupidity, of cruelty and kindness". Thus the people, and thus also their leaders. The Tamil Tigers are
both liberators and oppressors, heroic fighters for freedom as well as authoritarians brutally intolerant of dissent. How one judges them depends on which side you
happen to see first, or see longest.
Sometimes, walking the streets of Zurich in between
appointments, I would compare the Tamil predicament
to others 1 knew or had read about. The Tamils were
certainly not like the Indian professionals in the United
States, who come from elite backgrounds and mostly
choose to turn their backs on the problems of their country. In some respects they were like the Jews of early 20*
century Brooklyn: labouring away in low-paying jobs,
but determined to educate their kids, to make them doctors and lawyers when they had themselves been cooks
or bricklayers. At other times I thought the Tamils were
akin to the Tibetans in India: likewise fleeing persecution, likewise committed to maintaining their language
and culture in exile, as preparation for .an eventual return. But there was one essential difference: here there
was no Dalai Lama. Nor could the Tibetans claim a
continuing opposition within their homeland. Their
leader preached non-violence from an Indian hill town,
whereas the Tiger chief was based in the jungles of Sri
Lanka, directing a violent and (it seemed) not unsuccessful battle for survival.
Where would that struggle finally lead? 1 put the
question to Martin Sturzinger, a journalist who is probably the foremost Swiss authority on the Tamils. Now
45, Sturzinger has been following the Sri Lankan conflict since 1983. He had made more than 20 trips to the
island. He had never met Prabhakaran, but knew Anton Balasingham very well. Back in 1989, when the Tigers prepared to talk to President Premadasa, he had
presented Balasingham with a book in English on the
Swiss Constitution. "I do not know whether he read it",
commented Sturzinger, "but he did not look too happy
with the gift!" On another occasion, he told the Tiger
ideologue, "You are socialists, so why do you not also
take up the cause of the poor among the Sinhala and
the Muslim?" Balasingham replied, "We are first nationalists, only then socialists". Sturzinger thought to
himself: "Nationalists, then socialists, does that equal
Martin Sturzinger described himself as "very sympathetic to the Tamil cause". He had seen that they had
no equal status within Sri Lanka. But to the question,
"Do all Tamils in fact support the Tigers?", he replied,
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
"There are now half-a-million Tamils in Colombo.
Many of them are migrants from the Jaffna or Batticaloa
areas. Would they be in Colombo if life was so good in
territories controlled by the Tigers?" Here, in Switzerland, Sturzinger worked as an adviser on Tamil affairs
to the Refugee Council. "Sometimes the Swiss people
are so naive", he remarked. A Swiss NGO, wishing to
show its interest in 'refugee culture', invited a group of
Tamils to put on a dance show. They came, and staged
a drama with girls in fatigues, singing while brandishing sticks. The audience did not understand the language or the context, viewing it merely as a pleasing
display of immigrant culture.
Sturzinger had spent the better part of a lifetime educating his countrymen about the plight of the foreigners in their midst. About his understanding or empathy there could be no question. Yet he said, "I have
reservations about their leadership". In May 2002, Balasingham visited Switzerland to speak to the exiles
about why the Tigers had decided to sue for peace. There
was a large rally in Freiburg, organised by .Anton Pon-
narajah, and attended by more than 3000 Tamils. As in
:he Bern allmend, there were LTTE __,^^^^^^^^_
cadres placed strategically among
the crowd, wearing black trousers
and white shirts. "It was almost
fascist", said Sturzinger.
If we settle for less than Eelam,
remarked Balasingham back in
1989, our own people will kill us.
But now it increasingly seems that
autonomy on the Swiss model, ~
rather than independence, is the most feasible option.
Would the exiles accept this? Would their dreams of
sovereignty and freedom be satisfied with a solution
that had been on the table from before the Tigers were
born? An answer was on offer in the place where Sturzinger and I met, the Thamillar Restaurant, off Aemtler-
strasse in central Zurich. Here, one wall had a large
photograph of Prabhakaran, captioned: "Tamil Eelam
National Leader". He was wearing a bush-shirt and
was smiling. It seemed to be a studio photograph. As I
stepped up to have a closer look, a waiter commented:
"There are thousands of such photos in Sri Lanka".
More revealing still was what met the eye as one
first entered the restaurant. This was a board along
whose top ran the legend, "Eelam". Below was a map
of the homeland, coloured green. The borders were
marked by a row of blinking lights. The territory claimed
extended to at least 150 miles south of the eastern port,
Trincomalee. On the western seaboard, too, it extended
well below the town of Puttalam, way beyond what
any Sinhala would concede. The major settlements were
well marked on the map: Killinochi, Mannar, Batticaloa,
and Jallappanam (Jaffna). Just south of Trinco, a little
red dot identified the proposed new 'capital'. Why, I
wondered, had they chosen this place and not the old
historic cultural centre, Jaffna? Was this to keep peace
The Tigers are both
liberators and oppressors
heroic freedom fighters,
as well as authoritarians
intolerant of dissent
with the Muslims, or because of its proximity to the key
port of Trinco? Or did it merely reflect the ambition of a
new state to build a new capital?
While the territory of Eelam was painted over in
green, the rest of the island was coloured a dull brown.
On the southern part of Sri Lanka was painted the logo
of the LTTE, a fierce yellow tiger against a deep red background. The tiger's eyes were a pair of orange lights.
jAnd what was the symbolism of this? The LTTE logo sat
atop, or rather squashed, where Colombo would be on
the map. The snarling tiger, with its eyes flashing,
seemed to act simultaneously as the watchdog and guarantor of the territory placed above it.
What I had read about the Tigers before I came to
Switzerland did not endear them to me. What some
Tigers told me in Zurich and Luzern dismayed and
even chilled me. And yet, with the exception of the oily
spin doctor Parthiban, I hardly met an exile who did
not charm me. Despite their profound ambivalence towards India and Indians, I was always treated with
respect and courtesy. My sometimes impolite questions
were always answered with an equal directness.
^^^^^^_^^_ An Indian brought up to ad
mire Gandhi and Nehru cannot
easily warm to the LTTE. My experiences in Switzerland did not
quell my reservations; to the contrary, as when faced with the inflexible ideology of the cadres, it
only confirmed them. But perhaps
I might still be allowed to separate
the person from his faith, thus to
remember with affection the cook-cum-sports organiser Mathialakan, the actor-cum-activist Anton Ponnara-
jah, the school-and-curriculum builder Mahindran.
One memory, above all others, shall stay with me.
On the second evening of the Bern festival I witnessed
the final round of that famous Tamil game, 'musical
chairs'. Its organiser was a little man named Manoha-
ran, clad in black trousers, white shirt and Tiger jacket.
With me was a Swiss television crew who wished to
film the event. Manoharan ran to call us from the food
stall, placing us strategically in the middle of the ring.
We stayed there for 45 minutes, watching a field of 25
women dwindle to two. Also watching were hundreds
of Tamils, standing four rows deep, with individual
voices alerting wife, mother or daughter to a vacant
chair when the music stopped. All the while Manoharan busily supervised the game, signalling to the music
with a code of his own, chastising participants who
tried to cheat by walking too slowly. He executed his
responsibilities with an appealing mixture of charm
and authority, and with an absolute and seemingly
natural fairness. I cannot speak for his leader in the
forest, or of how that man might come to run his Tamil
state, but little Manoharan's conduct of his modest
musical chairs did not seem inconsistent with the path
of dharma or righteousness. b
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Giggling over
A lawyer negotiates the many twists
and turns in determining Ram's birthplace.
IN A significant development, the
Jhumri Talaiya bccench of the
Ram Rajya High Court rejecting
the preliminary objections as to jurisdiction, requisitioned the papers and took the Babri Masjid disputed land title suit on board.
The hon'ble court declared that
everyone except pseudo-secularists knew that Ram rajya extended
to the four corners of the round
world and the great beyond.
Therefore, the high court had not
only the power and jurisdiction
but a duty to deal with any squabbles, not only among mortals but
even among gods, who have been
known to have been arrayed
against each other in the past. It
observed that interstate disputes
between prithvilok, patal-lok and
yamlok could also be dealt with by
the court.
Deepening and extending the
scope of the Lucknow bench order
directing excavation at the disputed site and determination of the presence or absence of a temple, the court
observed that Ram was very much
in favour of modem technologies, as
evidenced by his arrival in the vertical take-off pushpak viman at Ayodhya. Noting that since the matter
before the court was not one of contempt, wherein truth was not a
defence, no technology should be
left unturned to aid and abet the
court in its pursuit of truth in the
pending case.
Praising Dr Abdul Kalam Azad
for his role in the development
of nuclear missiles, the court directed the Referral Institute of Nuclear
Research .and Warfare to make available the latest remote sensing ultrasonic devices attached to the nuclear
warheads to ascertain whether indeed the echoes of the specific
frequency waves characteristic of
new-born babes could be detected at
the site of the demolished Babri
Masjid. It decided that while efforts
were on to get to the root of the matter, one may as well dig in to the heart
of the matter and see whether indeed
a babe was born there in the epic age.
Appreciating the step-by-step
approach of the court, on behalf of
the centre the attorney general submitted that the provisions of the
Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques
(Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, would come in the
way of further progress in ascertaining the sex of the baby bom at
the disputed site.
The court observed that laws are
made by parliament for the people,
and in appropriate cases, it is the
duty of the judiciary to see wherein
national interest lies. Exercising the
wide powers inhered by the constitution, the court deemed the legislation inapplicable to the present
proceedings. Allaying fears of
tampering by the executive and vested interests, the court directed the
formation of an independent three-
member panel of doctors from three
premier institutions to conduct the
sex-determination test and directed
that the results thereof, with particular regard to details of the sex of the
child, be put in a sealed cover and
submitted to the custody ofthe court.
Tallying war
insights into how different publications covered the war. A 'point' in a
MUCH HAS been written about the column represents one article of any
war on Iraq, and nearly as much kind (opinion, reportage, editorial,
about that coverage. But there have etc) on that subject,
been few (if any) attempts as yet to As shown in the chart, London's
systematically analyse the coverage
in the print media.
In the table, compiled by Himal
intern Jui Shrestha, war coverage
in five weekly publications -
The   Economist,    Newsweek     AZ7
(Asia edition), Outlook, Holi        ' '"'
day and ATAhram - is clas-
sifed into 62 categories.
Surveying five weeks of
The Economist wrote the most about
reconstruction (10 articles), while
Newsweek focused more on the
make-up of Iraq's post-war leadership (10). The most popular issue
with Delhi's Outlook, which was relatively critical of the US-UK war effort, was Pentagon media policy (8).
coverage (19 March-28      /> .5"" <#" <? £>' <? ■£>' $ c"
April), the data offer      M^J$J£££$/$£££&■& $ f£/^\W^^^<
aP"    .P    £    aP      V
/? c? e? /? *> •
The Economist (London)
Newsweek (Asian edition)
Outlook   (Delhi)
Holiday (Dhaka)1
1    -
Al-Ahram (Cairo)2
- j -
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
The senior counsel for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad pleaded that
as per the latest amendments in
the 'evidence act', electronic recordings and images could be used
as evidence and the DNA of Ram
from the serial Ramayan could be
used to establish the identity of the
baby. The counsel prayed for directions to to produce
the original tapes duly attested to
by Mr Ramanand Sagar.
Brushing aside doubts that a
stalemate may be reached about the
identity of the baby, the
court observed that nothing is ever destroyed or
created in the cosmos.
Adjourning the matter
for three weeks, the court
held that at the appropriate stage, if necessary,
the help of NASA, for
whom Kaipana Chawla,
a brave daughter of the
nation laid down her
life, could be requisitioned to take
the matter further after the preliminary determination of the age and
sex of the baby allegedly bom at the
disputed site.
Dhaka's Holiday proved the most
critical of the invasion among the
periodicals surveyed, carrying 13
pieces on global criticism of the US
and 10 pieces on the suffering of Iraqis. Finally, Al-Ahram, a Cairo-based
weekly newspaper, was more con-
The counsel for the Communist Party of India, Mr Tippal Ka-
mbal, submitted that akin to the
use of natural science, Marxism as
a social science should also be
used to assist the court in arriving
at the truth. Handing across the
bar the ultra-topography maps
made by the Leningrad-based Cuban company Castro Ine, Mr Ka-
mbal pointed out the fact that the
disputed area fell squarely within
the red highlighted working class
area. The counsel argued that Mr
Ram s/o Dasrath, nonresident of Ayodhya for
14 years, came from
the monarchical class
and even if a purported baby was found to
be bom at the disputed
working class site, the
said baby could not be
him as there was an inherent contradiction
between the proletariat
and the monarchy, as irrefutably
established by events in the
neighbouring Himalayan Hindu
kingdom. A
Rakesh Shukla, Delhi
cerned with impacts in West Asia,
devoting significant attention to discussions of possible future US military targets (14), the desire of Iraqis
to defend their country (11), and the
loss of heritage caused by US-UK
bombardment and invasion.
In 1877, amidst the worst famine of
the 19th century, India's colonial
masters hosted a self-congratulatory extravaganza in Delhi to mark the
ascension of England's Queen Victoria as empress of India. A curious
detail of the 'Delhi Durbar' was the
incredible effort made by the state
machinery to make sure the merrymaking went off in style, with the
state assisting in the transport of
84,000 official attendees. Meanwhile, centred primarily in the Dec-
can, the famine of 1877-78 claimed
at least 5.5 million lives, though the
actual number may have been twice
as high; colonial administrators'
lack of interest in compiling accurate statistics of those who perished
makes it difficult to say. While people were dying, the colonial government stoically refused to provide
relief, advancing the well-worn rhetoric that has resurfaced today in the
slogan 'relief creates dependency',
or that welfare is not the job of the
state. This laissez faire attitude
stemmed from a strong connection
between Thomas Malthus and India. Malthus was chair of political
economy at Haileybury College,
England, where many colonial
administrators were trained.
The humanitarian disaster of
the late 1870s is unfortunately not a
fading scar of colonial mismanagement that independent India can
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
happily point to as a contrast to
enlightened self-rule since 1947.
Rather, dearth, drought and famine
continue, as do the self-laudatory
exercises of governing authorities
amidst scenes of great tragedy. Today in aAndhra Pradesh, a state cutting into the heart of the Deccan, a
drought-related famine again stalks
the land. This is not the day-to-day
malnutrition that afflicts so many
lives across South Asia, but an actual famine in which thousands of
people are going without food. But,
as has happened so many times before, the concerned authorities, in
this case the technocratic functionaries of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, are not very concerned
about people starving, preferring
instead to direct their attention and
the state's budget to self-promotional exertions. Taking into account the
starvation deaths in Mahbubnagar
district, among others, a columnist
.. 3   ;.. .   :;;. : i«      j?---
JH ARKHAND, THE resource-rich
eastern-Indian state that came into
being in 2001, is home to some of
India's largest industrial sites,
though its people are among the
poorest in the country. In addition
to boasting of several major Tata
plants, Jharkhand has large deposits of bauxite,, coal, copper, iron,
manganese and mica, as well as
India's three productive uranium
sites, all near the city of Jadugoda.
Uranium in its natural form is a
mixture of elemental Uranium 235
and 238, the first of which is used
in nuclear weapons. Uranium 238,
which is leftover, or 'depleted', in
235-extraction processes, is used
in anti-tank munitions of US and
UK armed forces, and while not
particularly radioactive is still very
The opening of the US-led war
against Iraq on 20 March provided activists in Jharkhand with a
unique opportunity to tie their under-publicised concerns about
uranium mining in their state,
which began in 1967, to the headline-making hostilities in West
Naidu and Malthus: Brothers-in-arms.
in the Deccan Herald captured the in-
sensitivity of the Naidu government
by observing, "The Government is
spending a few thousand crores to
make the State a tourist destination
in co-operation with various international airlines and the hospitali-
Asia;:With the partnership of a Japanese anti-nuclear group based in
Hiroshima, a local NGO named Kri- .
tika organised public meetings in
Tata Nagar, Jadugoda, Turamdigh;:
and Ranchi during the opening;
week of the war to discuss uranium
mining and th^ use of uranium
products in war. Kritika's intention
; W.3S to draw attention to the humanitarian and ecological effects of uranium miniiigin, Jharkhan d, which
is overseen by the Uranium Corporation of India, Ltd (UCIL),' and also
to highlight the effects of residual
depleted uranium {DU) on Iraqis
since the end of the first Gulf war in
During the 1991 Gulf war, US air
force A-10 ''tank-buster" planes
unleashed 940,000 DU shells on Iraqi targets, leaving 270 tonnes of DU
in Iraq and Kuwait at the war's end.
Eight years later, during the Kosovo campaign; US airplanes dropped
31,000 DU munitions. A 2001 United Nations Environmental Pro-:
gramme (TJNEP) study said thai residual DU in the former Yugoslavia
was an "insignificant" environmental risk, though the IMEP report
was. quiet about the health conse-
ty industry. Clearly, the priority
of the Government is not the
weak and hungry, as mandated by
the Constitution, but the rich and
Many development agencies
and government administrators
quences of long-term DU exposure. «
hi 1998, the government of Iraq de- '. ', -
manded that the UK compensate it ":o,i
for costs associated with health cUm- * 7
: ages suffered by Iraqi civilians as a ft
■ result of DU contanurtation, which it ,0.
said included foetal and bone defor- 'bbZ
mihes. Nevertheless; US and UK fore- :;
es used DU shells in the recently- 7
concluded war in Iraq, though some -*
older DU munitions lines have been - 7"}
di scontinued by private mahufactur- . -: |
ers amid concerns of litigation by US .:•-.
and UK servicemen citing DU expo- ; *\
sure as a cause of illness.
In 1999, before the creation "7
of Jharkhand, a report by Bihar's
legislative council said that people     •
living within 15 Idlometres qf Jadug-    v
oda were1 disproportionately stride- o.b
en by cancer, leukaemia in: particn-   ;■;
lar, as well as by: deformities and  *;j
impotency. It also cited the deaths  «.
of more than 100 mine workers from
cancer during ihe previous decade,
and the afflicting of 90 percent of   :;
mine camp residents with arthritis, *
as evidence of toxic exposure. An- .ob
other group, the Jharkhand Orga^ni-;,:*■.
sation Against Radiation, says that
47 percent of adult women living
near the uranium mines have suf-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
have imbibed tbe Tvea-MakkusiaW.
doctrine oi starvation and iarrane.
While this ideology holds sway on
a global scale, in particular concerning relations between the donors of
the global North and their supplicants in the South, it is also the case
inside modern day nation-states
such as India. This doctrine is
founded on the rather vulgar assertion that famines are a natural
consequence of uncontrolled population growth and, sad as they may
be, they are nature's way of keeping
a check on unsupportable numbers.
Hence it is an act of misplaced charity, not an obligation of state authorities, to provide relief. This doctrine,
misanthropic in its twisted logic,
helps to explain why the government of Andhra Pradesh has not
rushed in relief for the starving people. It also suggests why the IT elite
in Hyderabad receives truckloads of
state patronage - after all, are not
tet\\-TMig.wA'aVr\s advanted, posi-
Malthusian exetnp\a.is7
Fortunately, the state does not
exercise monopolistic privileges
over the distribution of food; otherwise these doctrinal principles
would be irreversible in practice. As
it is, private citizens and civil society can mobilise some support for
the starving. Since the fact of famine became undeniable last winter,
efforts have been made to set up
citizens' 'gruel kitchens' in the
worst affected areas. While humanitarian relief can hardly be considered to be a political activity per se,
politics has entered the fray, with
Naidu being charged by critics of
maladministration, hi order to demonstrate the supposed insubstanti-
ality of these charges, his government merely publicises its latest acts
of technocratic wizardry, which in
themselves are taken as evidence of
sound administrative practice.
How famine is viewed by the
eYiie, in particular by ihe ruVmg
classes, is not merely a theoretical
issue confined to debates among
economists in Western universities and SUV-driving development workers. Food scarcity amidst
overfull state granaries and a well-
functioning transport system, in a
certain sense, represents the empirical consequences of policies that
.are faulty in design and inhuman
in practice. While we expect donors
to avoid involving themselves in
'charity work' that falls outside
their development matrices, it is a
compulsion of the state to provide
relief for its citizens at moments of
great peril. When the state abandons its responsibility, it is laudable that such citizens' collectives
are able to challenge tire legacy of
Malthus in the Subcontinent to save
some lives. A
Bela Malik, Kathmandu
Left to right: DU cores being handled in the US; Iraqi child suffering from suspected DU
side-by-side; DU shells piled up in Sarajevo. :
fered disruptions of their menstrual
cycles, and that 18 percent have either had miscarriages or given birth
to stillborn babies. One ominous indication of the effects of uranium on
humans comes from the fact that
many leemlu fruits grown in the vicinity of the mines no longer contain
seeds. Defenders of UCIL say that most
health problems arising in mine
camps are related to alcoholism.
.Another indication of the potency of exposure to DU comes from the
substance's unique military-use
properties. At 2.5 times the density
Of steel, and more than 1.5 times the
density of lead, a five-kilogram shell
tipped with DU is dense enough to
penetrate heavy armour tanks. Once
inside, the uranium disintegrates,
contamination; old and new kendu fruit
and, because of the heat generated
in the explosion, its particles start
to burn. Tlie effect of this on people
inside a tank is "devastating" according to The Guardian. "Aside
from the shards of metal flying
around, there is a danger of being
burned or suffocating as the oxygeh
inside the vehicle is used up".
Some of the Japanese participants at the Jharkhand meetings
who travelled to Iraqbefore the war
saw firsthand the effects: of DU exposure. According to one delegate,
Haruko Moritaki, Geiger counter
readings along the border with Kuwait are 300-700 times above normal levels,: underscoring the large
presence of spent DU cartridges,
which individually are not consid
ered to be highly radioactive. The
Japanese delegation's trip, which
included visits to children's hospitals, found confirmation of the
grave humanitarian situation tit
Iraq which has been well documented by many international-
agencies. The testimony of the Japanese delegates, in particular those
from Hiroshima, added weight
to Kritika's efforts to mobilise public awareness and resistance in"
Jharkhand against uranium
mining and weapons production.
Kritika, which does not accept
largetmoriey foreign donations,
is now organising villagers in
Andhra Pradesh and Orissa aga-;
Inst proposed mine sites in their:
states. A;
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Free talk in Lanka
IN 2002, a year of considerable importance in the recent history of Sri
Lanka, the government in Colombo matched progress on the peace
front by setting out to improve regulations governing the country's
media. Along with other measures,
this included efforts to professionalise the press corps, promote
women's advancement into media
management positions and reduce
legal restrictions on journalists'
Politics being what it is, however, by year's end the government
had partially slipped into the established habit of using state media as a megaphone for its own
views. Some journalists who are
considered supporters of the main
opposition People's Alli^mce (PA)
received 'punishment transfers'.
But while government media
leaned toward Prime Minister Ranil Wkkremesinghe's positions,
private media proved to be lively
and buoyantly conharian. Numerous Sinhala tabloids - including
Lakmina, Lanka, Lakjana, Dinakara
and Nijabima - were founded to articulate the positions of the various
Sinhala parties in opposition to
Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga.
Wiclcremesinghe's government.
Scheduled for public release on
3 May, Media Freedom in Sri Lanka:
Some Critical Issues, a report by Sri
Lanka's Free Media Movement and
the human rights NGO INFORM, explores the condition of press freedom in the country today. The report provides an overview of the
major issues of journalism in Sri
Lanka since the signing of the government-Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LITE) ceasefire agreement in
February 2002.
One of the most important of
these issues, and one that will have
particular significance in a future
dispensation of Colombo-LTTE partnership, is the circulation of news
and views evenly among all citizens of the country. In September
2002, after a 15-year hiatus, the Sri
Lankan government restarted a
Tamil language television channel
which can reach viewers in the
north and east. Correspondingly,
the LTTE has looked southward with
a Sinhala language magazine, De-
dunu (Rainbow), and opened up areas under its control to print media
from the outside. Controversy, however, has not been totally avoided
in media matters surrounding the
ethnic conflict, as is demonstrated
by the fallout from assistance pro- ^
vided to the LTTE in acquiring high-      Q
Harsola's evicted
HARYANA, IN India, has been the
site of some of the worst social atrocities in the recent and not so recent
past. The persistence of highly oppressive patriarchal institutions,
reflected in the shameful sex ratio
of 861 women to 1000 men, is well
documented. What is less well
known is the firm hold of upper
caste interests on institutions, and
the violent subjugation of dalits,
who comprise almost a fifth of the
state's 21 million-strong population.
What further casts a shadow on
the way democracy has evolved in
Haryana is that dalits, though numerically significant, are neither
politically assertive nor socially visible. So much so that according to
the 2001 report of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes (SC)
and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (yet to be
officially tabled in parliament), no
special courts have been established
to deal with cases of dalit atrocities,
as is mandatory for every state by
the SCST Act. The extent of the state's
Murdered dalits, 2001.
neglect may be gauged by the fact
that only INR 14,500 was spent on
government legal aid work in 2001
on cases such as dalit oppression.
While particularly horrific
events like the gruesome killings of
dalits at Dulina, Jhajjar, in October
2002, help draw the attention of the
outside world to the situation, there
seems to be no consistent effort to
monitor and check the growing violation of dalit human rights in the
state. The recent killing of a dalit boy
who had dared to marry a jat girl or
the forced eviction of dalits (belonging to the chamar - leatherworker -
caste) from their ancestral village
Harsola in Kaithal district, for example, went largely ignored by the
national media.
In March, more than 200 dalit
families in Harsola, a small village
in Kaithal district, were forced to
leave their homes. Their problems
began on 6 February. During the
preparations for Ravidas Jayanti, a
festival that honours the 15lh century saint, Guru Ravidas, who was
born into a family of cobblers, a minor scuffle broke out between dalit
and inebriated jat youths. Insulted
that dalits had dared to fight back,
the jats, the main landowning
group in the village, beat up a dalit
boy the next day.
To forestall further confrontation, dalit elders contacted the village panchayat to defuse the situation but were met with refusal. Instead, the police intervened and
called a meeting of both parties. At
the meeting, as reported by regional
newspapers (Dainik Bhaskar, Amar
Lljala, 12 February), a planned attack was launched on the dalits in
the presence of the police, in which
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
powered broadcasting and transmission equipment in December
Media Freedom notes that while
there is currently no de jure censorship in Sri Lanka, many journalists
practice self-censorship. "A political culture of violence and impunity has led to the creation of an
environment in which expression of
dissent in itself can constitute a life-
threatening activity", the authors
write. Further, a "repressive" Prevention of Terrorism Act is still in
effect and continuing attacks on
journalists have restricted the
media's space. Also, in its own
way, the media can contribute to
ethnic-based hostilities by playing
off suspicions of readers and distorting views expressed in other
Events during the past 14
months have lent weight to concerns about the practice of free
speech in Sri Lanka. Accusations
have been made against the govern
ment, the opposition, the LTTE and
allied groups of
all three concerning the intimidation of journalists
and acts of violence against media personnel. On
7 February 2003,
for instance, police in Jaffna manhandled a group
of Tamil journalists, injuring one.
Political parties
have also been
troublesome at points; speaking at
an opposition rally on 10 March, a
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
party secretary warned that "biased" media institutions would be
surrounded by thousands of JVP activists, a statement interpreted by
some as an incitement to violence.
And in April, Sinhala opposition
newspapers reported that President
JVP rally, 2003.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, leader
of the PA, would wrest control of
state media from Wickremesing-
he's government to ensure more
coverage of opposition activities,
underscoring the politicisation of
the media. To receive a copy of Media Freedom, write to fmm@dia- b
scores of dalits were injured. Subsequently, all the dalits left their village and marched to the Divisional
Commissioner's office in Kaithal
to agitate for the restoration of
their human rights. The action
committee formed to
spearhead the agitation made clear that ft;:V
they would remain : ,:
in front of the office
until the more than
80 people involved
in the attack were
The administration ultimately intervened, a few arrests
were made and the
dalits returned to the
village when the local legislator promised to guarantee their safety from a jat backlash.
In keeping with the promise, a temporary police post was set up in the
village. The administration also
promised the dalits that after a proper survey, they would be compensated for their injuries.
What will CM Chautala do?
On 20 March, however, the uneasy calm in Harsola broke down
when the accused, belonging to the
upper caste jat community, were released on bail. That night the dalits
came under attack once again. This
time, fearing for their
lives and realising
that the police must
be complicit in the attack, the dalits left
the village without
even contacting the
police post.
Today, the 800-
year-old dalit basti in
Harsola looks like a
haunted place. Empty houses and lanes
tell of the sufferings
of dalits, who are
now scattered in different parts of
Kaithal district. Having learned the
extent of administrative and police
callousness, they have decided never to return. Meanwhile, the charges against the guilty framed under
the SCST Act have been skilfully
withdrawn and instead, a fictitious
case under the same act has been
lodged against a local journalist
who reported on the injustice.
A team of activists from Dalit
Mukti Sangathan, Karnal, which
met victims and visited the empty
lanes of the dalit basti, expressed
surprise that despite repeated reminders to the National SCST Commission and the state level commission, and a memorandum to the
chief minister, no action has been
taken. Whether Chief Minister
Chautala, a jat, will do anything
about this latest atrocity remains to
be seen. For now, as far as the administration is concerned, the matter seems closed.
A telling element of this episode
is that whereas the killings in Jhajjar caught the attention of the national media and polity, the forced
'expulsion' of more than 1500 dalits from their ancestral homes has
till date remained confined to local
editions of newspapers. Dalits are
news in death, but while alive, they
may only exist. /\
Subhash Gatade, Delhi
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Singing the nation
by Nasreen Rehman
Singing the
concept of
an akhand
Bharat or of a
sultanat or of
a shonar
Bangla when
part of Bengal is in India
is unreal
'm> ;■.:*'      :; ?■-*■
(,<-K If  i   !i I i t :  n
fd-.'l. j :i.    . j .  ;-.;...
The old imperial tune:
God Save the Queen.
Literature and music have long been a
means of celebrating the cults of gods,
kings and nations. In South Asia, the
Bhagavnd Gita, the Mahabharat and the
Ramayan are early examples of this, from
the Sanskrit tradition. There are of course,
variations upon the general themes in
different regional languages, and also local
songs of praise and adulation for kings and
deities. When the Turks, Persians and
Afghans came to settle in India, they brought
with them their own traditions of glorifying the king, such as, Firdausi's Shahnama
(1010 CE). Additionally, they too, had
carried with them traditions from Arabic of
singing, hamd and na't and tarana in praise
of their God, Prophet and saints, respectively.
Through the ages, there is ample textual,
pictorial and iconographic evidence of
thriving traditions of courtiers, painters,
musicians and poets retained by rajas and
badshahs. Their mam purpose was to entertain their patrons, by eulogising them whilst
heralding births, celebrating marriages and
proclaiming victories. This often had little
bearing on reality, as the artist would exaggerate the king's good looks, valour and
generosity, no matter that the monarch was
no looker, busy losing battles and taxing
his subjects into penury; the painter would
paint a picture of exaggerated grandeur and
beauty and the poet would write in similar,
inflated language.
Anyone who has attended an official
function in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh
will confirm the resilience of this tradition
of sycophancy, as long speeches are
delivered praising prime ministers and
presidents, ministers, governors, petty functionaries and sundry dignitaries, while
much of the state infrastructure crumbles,
or extolling the virtues of artists, authors
and celebrities or some literary work,
painting or musical performance, regardless of the artistic or literary merit of the
works in question.
The national anthems of India, Pakistan
and, to a much lesser extent, that of
Bangladesh are rooted in this tradition of
eulogising and mythologising. However,
they have to be viewed in the context of the
late 19th and the early 20"' centuries, which
saw the emergence of Indian nationalism
and Hindu and Muslim nationalisms in
British India, culminating in 1947, with
independence and partition, resulting in the
creation of Pakistan; and just 24 years later,
another partition and the creation of
South Asian nationalisms in the 20th century draw on the experiences of more than
a century and a half of earlier models of
nationalism. Early Indian nationalism had
modelled itself on the European nationalisms of the 19lh century. Beginning with the
1848 revolutions, the end of the 19lh century
saw the nation-state emerge in Europe. It
was a time when much of the current map
of Europe was conjured. Writing about
this time, the left historian Eric Hobsbawm
tells us,
It is clear that plenty of political institutions, ideological movements
and groups - not least in nationalism - were so unprecedented that
even historic continuity had to be invented, for example by creating an
ancient past beyond effective historical continuity either by semi-fiction
(Boadicea, Vecingetorix, Arminius the
Cheruscan) or by forgery (Ossian, the
Czech medieval manuscripts). It is
also clear that entirely new symbols
and devices come into existence...
such as the national anthem... the
national flag... or the personification
of 'the nation' in symbol or image.
The idea that nations are imagined finds a
place in Hobsbawm's The invention of Tradition. Anybody who has seen the prescribed history text books in India, Pakistan
and Bangladesh can see the manner in
which nationhood, history and truth are
constructed and contested: the national
anthems are important manifestations of
the construction of 'nationhood', simultaneously the perpetuators and reinforcements of feverish nationalism.
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
 Prototype sentiment
The institutional uses of the fictions and
myths of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,
and their anthems, have to be seen in two
stages. First, the anti-colonial struggle
and later the nation-centeredness of the
postcolonial world in which hegemonic
ideas of nationhood were packaged and
offered as the authentic version of being. In
the late 19lh and the early 20th centuries, these
concepts had a great impact at a time when
there were already large populations living
in cities where concepts of mass culture and
the packaging of ideas had taken root. The
association between productive relations
and the technology of communication was
an important factor in the propagation of
these ideas - print languages created unified fields of communication. Newspapers,
periodicals and novels all contributed to
creating mass and nationalist trends.
When the Indian National Congress
adopted Vande Mataram as its anthem in
1896, there were several models that were
before it. Perhaps, the first song celebrating
a nation-state was Marseillaise (1792).
Composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de
Lisle, the French national anthem asks the
sons of France to awake to the glory of the
fatherland. The obvious gendered nature of
the song notwithstanding, the general
theme of the anthem is to fight for liberty, to
use freedom as a sword and shield.
The British national anthem, God save
the Queen (tune credited to Englishman
Henry Carey, contentiously to Frenchman
Jean-Baptiste Lully, and left 'anonymous'
as preferred by Buckingham, adopted 1800),
was also the national anthem of India for a
time, as it was part of the British empire.
Today, it sounds utterly ridiculous in a
democratic country, for citizens to pray that
Cod bestow riches on the monarch, while
entrusting everything to him or her. However, there is a redeeming clause, at the end:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice, God save
the queen!
Tliere could be a positive construction that
singing the praise of the monarch is contingent upon her or him being subservient to
the rule of law.
The other anthem that would have been
accessible to the Indians because it was
in English was The Star Spangled Banner
(lyrics by Francis Scott Key 1814, adopted
1831), a paean to the American flag. In the
current state of the world, where the United
States seems poised to be the sole world
power, it sends a chilling message. And so,
as bombs dropped on Baghdad:
And the rockets' red glare, the bomb
bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our
flag was still there
And the sinister significance in the context
ofthe Rumsfeld-Bush worldview, where the
US is quite openly comfortable with bombing other nations of:
Then conquer we must, for our cause it
is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our
And the star-spangled banner forever
shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of
the brave!
Both the United Kingdom and the United
States of America are avowedly secular
countries. However, in singing their nation,
God is invoked time and again, for protection, justification and glorification of the
country. But these were not the only models
available to the Indians. The Internationale,
written by Eugene Pother at the fall of the
Paris Commune, in 1871, translated into
hundreds of languages, was the rallying cry
for the oppressed and exploited of the world
to rise and overthrow their masters. It has
offered inspiration to social and political
activists for over a century now. Sung at the
First International in 1864, where Marx
and Engels were prominent participants, it
was sung by anti-fascist groups during the
Spanish civil war; conducted by Arturo
Toscanini at the La Scala at the end of the
second world war to celebrate the fall of the
fascists in Italy. In 1989, it was sung by
Chinese students at Tienanmen Square
before the massacre.
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation,
Arise, ye wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation,
A better world's in birth
No more tradition's chain shall bind us,
Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundation,
We have been none, we shall be all
ju-V ' *'
* l" ■% .'« * '   «1
'**!,'     V     a,
*'    «I"    »
Nehru making the
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
inside the
Congress or
pointed out
that Hindus
and Muslims
were not two
Top: Sheikh Mujib at
March 1971 rally;
Jinnah relaxing.
Calling upon the wretched of the earth
to unite against oppression, this anthem
subverts the idea of the nation-state; yet, it
was adopted by the Soviet Union as its
national anthem. It was also available to
the Communist Party of India, in its English
and Hindustani translations.
However, the first anthem that the
Indian nationalists chose to sing in praise
of their nation, came from the tradition
of mythologising a fictive imagined nation
personified as a goddess, was Vande
Mataram, which appears in Bankim
Chandra Chatterjee's 1882 novel, Anand
Math. It was recited at the 1896 session of
the Indian National Congress. The fact that
the novel and the context of the anthem were
overtly anti-Muslim and treated them as a
separate nation, and that the invocation of
the deities, Durga, Kali and Lakshmi ran
counter to the secular credentials of Congress obviously did not bother the leaders
who selected it.
Thou art Durga
Lady and Queen,
With her hands that strike and her
Swords of sheen...
Vande Mataram or 'hail motherland'
became the rallying call of freedom fighters
through the freedom struggle. Many chose
to either forget or overlook the fact that the
first song celebrating the cult of the Indian
nation was rooted in suspicion and hatred
by one imagined Indian community of Hindus against another imagined community
of Muslims that it viewed as outsiders. The
writer Nirad C Choudhuri described the
atmosphere of the times in which the song
was written.
The historical romances of Bankim
Chatterjee and Ramesh Chandra Dutt
glorified Hindu rebellion against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in
correspondingly poor light. Chatterjee
was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim.
We were eager readers of these romances
and we readily absorbed their spirit.
Muslims and Hindus in the Congress,
as well as the Muslim League, reacted
sharply to the choice; within the Congress,
in a cosmetic move, it was decided that only
the first two stanzas of the poem would be
sung (the stanza quoted above was
excluded). Surprisingly, however, nobody
inside the Congress or outside pointed out
that Hindus and Muslims were not two
separate nations. There was no significant
debate on 'nationhood'; in the discussions,
there seemed to be an acceptance that
Hindus and Muslims were two distinct
Anthem DNA
In 1911, jana Gana Mana was used for the
first time at the Calcutta session of the Indian
National Congress, where much of the
activity was geared to preparations for the
visit of the British monarch. Caressing the
terrain of the 'nation's' geography, this
ballad, which was adopted as the Indian
anthem, marks its narrative with references
to nine regions and two rivers - Punjab,
Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravida, Utkal,
Banga, Vindhya, Himachal, Yamuna,
Ganga. It was written by Rabindranath
Tagore, for the 1911 visit of King George V,
who is described reverentially as Bharat
bhagya vidhata or 'the lord of India's fate'.
(A controversy brews over the composer of
jana Gana Mana, with most believing that
Tagore was the composer while Captain
Ram Singh, a Gurkha in the Indian National
army and close associate of Subhas Bose, is
also credited.)
After partition, there was some controversy about the choice of a national anthem
for India. Finally, after a parliamentary
debate, it was settled that jana Gana Mana
would be the national anthem and that
Vande Mataram would have "equal status".
On 25 August 1948, in a statement to the
Constituent Assembly, Jawaharlal Nehru
described his position on the national
The question of having a national
anthem tune, to be played by orchestras and bands, became an urgent one
for us immediately after 15 August
1947. lt was as important as that of
having a national flag. The jana Gana
Mana tune, slightly varied had been
adopted as a national anthem by the
Indian National Army in South East
Asia and had subsequently a degree
of popularity in India also. 1 wrote to
all the provincial governors and
asked their views about adopting
jana Gana Mana or any other song as
the national anthem. I asked them to
consult their Premiers...
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
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gtci "n^ci asg -
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oS8 fa ireieffi aga ai© n
®*5P & aam -
& oBssa Ansae aifti tjfn,
a res g«ra a^ft ocra aes
E<3 SI, 3B rs -
a otb ^fs *ift t^Sfci wa,
a a otfS sroa am atfst n
/ana G««a Mana was retained, ironically,
even though half of Punjab and all of Sindh
went to Pakistan, while currently, more than
half of Bengal is the independent country
of Bangladesh. In highly Sanskritised
Bengali, the national anthem is in a language that is largely incomprehensible to
the majority of the population of northern
India and completely incomprehensible to
the people of southern India. But it has the
advantage of being very short and largely a
litany of names of various regions. India is
called Bharat in it - does this in anyway
inform the Indian right wing's dreams of
the mythical "akhand (undivided) Bharat"?
Another very popular anthem in India,
which is almost as popular if not more than
the national anthem is the tarana by Iqbal,
Sure jahan se accha Hindositan hamara, hum
bulbulein hain iski, yeh gulsitan hamara. Set to
music by Pandit Ravi Shankar, it became
the anthem for the Indian People's Theatre
Association (IPTA) in the mid-1940s. All the
professionals associated with IPTA were
progressive, radical and anti-communal.
Ironically, Iqbal, who wrote in this poem,
"mazhab nahin sikhata apas mein bair rakhna"
(religion does not teach us to fight amongst
ourselves) in 1930, dreamt of a separate
homeland for Indian Muslims. Iqbal died
in 1935, after conceiving the idea of
Pakistan but before he could see its creation.
No doubt, if he had been alive, he would
have written the national anthem for
As it was, the choice of language and
poet for 'singing Pakistan' was in itself an
indication of how the country would
develop. A majority of the population lived
in East Pakistan with Bangla as its mother
tongue; in the provinces of West Pakistan,
Pashto, Balochi, Punjabi and Sindhi were
first languages. Urdu had been prominent
in the Punjab, and the British had used it
for administrative purposes. It was also the
tongue of the mohajirs from present day
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Quite arbitrarily,
Urdu was declared the national language
of Pakistan and became the language of the
national song. Tragically, a beautiful, rich
and lyrical language came to be associated
with a repressive state, out of touch with
itself and its people.
At a time when Faiz Ahmed Faiz was
already acclaimed as the greatest living
Urdu poet, lyricist and litterateur Hafeez
Jullandhri was given the task of writing the
song. Not surprising, since Faiz, a revolutionary poet, had written a lament after
independence, mourning the bitter dawn of
bloodshed and partition. The new state of
Pakistan saw itself free, not just from the
fetters of imperial Britain, but free from the
feared domination of 'Hindu India'. In
defining the nation, Hafeez looked to the
Persian tradition for inspiration. This, when
the great masters of Urdu poetry, such as
Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Miraji, had already
altered the Urdu canon by departing from
the traditional usage of classical Persian to
explicitly local and indigenous imagery and
language. There are no more than two
indigenous words in the song, and one of
them is 'ka' - the preposition 'of.
Hafeez could be congratulated for the
phrase, "Pak sarzameen ka nizaam, auaat-e-
axuat-e-awam", which asserts that the
primary concern in the pure land should be
the strength and benefit of the populace. But
he digs a deep hole with "qaum, mulk,
The anthem of the
Hindu right wing:
Vande Mataram
India's national anthem
is largely
incomprehensible to
most people
in northern
India and
incomprehensible to
the people of
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
The national
anthems of
India and
have no
bearing on
the reality
existence of
the majority
of their
Faiz Ahmed Faiz: zard
patton ka ban jo mera
des hai, dard ki
anjuman jo mera des hat
sultannt, painda tabinda bad, shadbad manzil-
e-murad". Which 'qaum' or nation is he
referring to? In using the word 'sultanat', is
he harkening back to the days of empires,
falsely represented as Muslim empires in
India? Quaat-e-axuat-e-awam - the order
of this sacred land is the might of the brotherhood of the people - says the anthem of a
country where, almost as if defying those
words, Muslims have bled and killed each
other since its creation.
While the Pakistani anthem ceded a lot
of linguistic ground, Bangladesh seceded
from (West) Pakistan largely on the grounds
of language. In Pakistan, people still
wonder why a Tagore song was chosen for
Bangladesh, yet to come to terms with the
fact that Bangladesh was about language
and not about religion. Language was at
the core of the resentment that East
Pakistanis felt against West Pakistan. The
partition of Pakistan into the independent
state of Bangladesh gave a lie to the belief
that South Asia had two nations: the
Hindus and the Muslims. The Bangladeshis
chose their anthem in the light of their
struggle, therefore, Rabindranath Tagore, a
Hindu Bengali, was chosen, when in fact
they could have chosen the more revolutionary Nazrul Islam. The Bangladeshis chose
to highlight the Bengali aspect of their identity. Tagore is therefore the creator of two
national anthems in the region. Amar Shonar
Bangla, ami tamaye bhalo bhashi - was written in 1906, in the context of the partition of
Bengal. Its words and tune, based on a Baul
song by Gagan Horkora, in their simplicity
are immediately accessible to any Bangla
speaker. Invoking the mother goddess and
mother earth, Tagore praises the rivers, the
breeze and the seasons: it seems that his
Bengal has eternal autumn and spring.
There is, of course, no mention of the
cyclones and storms that wreak havoc in
the lives of millions annually. [See 'In
search of shonar Bangla', page 33]
False notes
The Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi
national anthems are very much in the
tradition of their Western counterparts,
glorifying a make-believe land where the
landmass becomes an end in itself - a way
of identifying the individual citizen, who is
bound and defined by unreal geography
and who sings the praise of an unreal
nation. Singing the concept of an akhand
Bharat in  the Indian anthem or of a
Persianised sultanat in the Pakistani or of a
shonar Bangla when part of Bengal is in
India takes these three countries right into
Saadat Hasan Manto's imagination.
In Manto's 1948 play, someone asks
about the fictional Punjabi village, Toba Tek
Singh. In reply, he is told, "If it was in India
yesterday and is in Pakistan today, how do
I know where it will be tomorrow?" If, many
years later, the question had been about
Dhaka, he could have been told that Dhaka
had been in India, then it was in Pakistan
and now it is in Bangladesh. Who knows
where it will be years from now. There is a
need to explode the myths of akhand Bharat,
Pakistan, the pure land of the Muslim
ummah or the exotic beautiful Bengal of
sweet breezes.
The nation, hiding behind terms such
as authenticity, tradition, folklore, community, obscuring its origins in what Benedict
Anderson has called "the most universally
legitimate value in the political life of our
time", uses its national anthem to perpetrate its myth. The singing of national
anthems at school assemblies and after the
screening of films is no longer mandatory.
However, who can overlook the hypocrisy
inherent in a moment of glory at some international sporting event - the flag is hoisted,
and people weep as the national anthem is
played for the victorious country, and members of marginalised and victimised
communities go forward to collect accolades
for their nations?
Where there are common threads of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, filth
and squalor, here is a suggestion for the
peoples of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh:
zard patton ka ban jo mera des hai, dard ki
anjuman jo mera des hai by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
The majority of our populations live in
appalling conditions of deprivation - somebody could add a few lines for the communal and ethnic strife that tears us apart.
Perhaps, this will remind us more of our
realities and might actually shame us into
some action instead of standing and singing and celebrating non-existent nations.
Like most other national anthems, the
national anthems of Bangladesh, India and
Pakistan have no bearing on the reality and
existence of the majority of their populations. The national anthems are as false as
the nations they celebrate. b
The June issue of Himal will carry
perspectives on the Nepal and Sri Lanka
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
 In search of shonar Bangla
by Dina M Siddiqi
In December 2000, a professor of political science at Dhaka University (DU)
proclaimed at a public gathering that the
Bangladeshi national anthem should be
changed. The remark caused an instant
furor nationwide. Mass condemnation and
calls to censure Aftab Ahmed, the professor, came from students, leading cultural
activists and other prominent members of
civil society. He was roundly denounced
for making a comment that was, among
other things, "derogatory, objectionable,
anti-Independence, anti-state and deeply
hurtful to the sentiments of the people".
Three days later, an emergency meeting
of the University Syndicate placed Ahmed
on forced leave for three months. Angry
students rampaged through the campus
and set fire to his room in the political
science department. The influential Ghatok
Dalal Nirmul Jatiya Sammanya Committee
(National Coordinating Committee to Resist
Wartime Criminals and Collaborators)
demanded that the university authorities
expel Ahmed. Some student organisations
demanded his expulsion because "he had
lost every ground to be a teacher of Dhaka
University, the birthplace of all progressive
movements in the country", The following
week, the Dhaka University Teachers'
Association (DUTA) adopted a resolution to
terminate immediately the membership of
this 'errant' faculty member. The DUTA also
called for Ahmed's expulsion from the DU
These events followed on the heels of
another controversy over the national anthem. In November 2000, the Awami League
government charged the editor, publisher
and director of the Inquilab group of publications, along with a writer, with sedition
under the draconian Special Powers Act.
The Bengali daily Inquilab, a major vehicle
of right-wing Islamist political parties, had
earlier published a parody of the anthem,
Amar Shonar Bangla. As it happened, the
piece also used the anthem to mock the
alleged corrupt practices of the Awami
League regime and its leader, Sheikh
Hasina. Among other things, the writer was
critiquing the Awami Leagues's self-professed hegemony as keepers of the authen
tic nationalist spirit.
As with so many other issues in
contemporary Bangladesh, debates on
either side rapidly descended into partisan
jingoism. This is not surprising, for as
historian Willem van Schendel notes,
"Hyperbole and accusations of betrayal of
the national interest have formed the core
of the political discourse of the country for
so long that they seem almost natural". He
goes on to say, however, that the question
does not end there. To the external observer,
the explosive sentiments and state
responses triggered by tampering with the
national anthem might seem extreme. Such
an observation begs other questions: who
can speak for the nation and under what
circumstances? Exactly what was at stake,
and for whom, in the defence or denouncement of the Bangladeshi national anthem?
Why would a professor lose the 'right to
teach' at Dhaka University for simply
expressing his/her opinion on the subject?
What kinds of vulnerabilities were revealed
by the overwhelmingly emotional and legal
responses that were elicited? In the rest of
this essay, I attempt to outline some of the
answers to these questions.
Tagore nationalism
The national anthem of Bangladesh is extracted from a longer version of Amar Shonar
Bangla written by Rabindranath Tagore in
1906. Reproduced below is the official
English translation of the anthem by the
eminent academic Syed Ali Ahsan:
My Golden Bengal
My Bengal of gold, I love you
Forever your skies, your air set my heart
in tune
as if it were a flute.
In Spring, Oh mother mine, the fragrance
your mango-groves makes me wild with
Ah, what a thrill!
In Autumn, Oh mother mine,
in the full-blossomed paddy fields,
I have seen spread all over sweet smiles!
Ah, what a beauty, what shades, what
constitution of
directs the
first 10 lines
of Amar
Bangla to be
sung as the
Tagore self-portraits
The Amar
Bangla is a
song that
asserts the
integrity of
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Controversies around
the anthem
mirror the
fissures and
of national
and reciting
And what tenderness!
What a quiet have you spread at the feet of
banyan trees and along the banks of rivers!
Oh mother mine, words from your lips
are like
Nectar to my ears!
Ah, what a thrill!
If sadness, Oh mother mine, casts a
gloom on your face
my eyes are filled with tears!
The shonar Bangla (golden Bengal) of
Bangladesh's national anthem is a place of
endless abundance and captivating natural beauty, an idyllic rural landscape where
'man' is in harmony with nature. In overtly
masculinist language, the poet pictures Bengal as a fertile and nurturing mother to
whom its (male) inhabitants cannot help
but offer their devotion and protection. Tlie
tranquil imagery and placid strains of the
musical score notwithstanding, heated
discussions have raged intermittently
over Amar Shonar Bangla's suitability as
Bangladesh's national anthem. Not unexpectedly, controversies around the anthem
mirror the many fissures and instabilities
of national identity.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote Amar Shonar
Bangla as a protest against the partition of
Bengal Province by the British administration in 1905. A romantic rallying cry for the
integrity of undivided Bengal, the song
remained in vogue throughout the first two
decades of the 20th century. According to
the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh's forthcoming Banglapaedia, swadeshi activists,
revolutionaries and those who opposed the
partition of Bengal used it to evoke "the
spirit of patriotism among the Bangali
masses". The entry attributes the song's
diminishing popularity to the decline in
regional nationalism in the 1920s, and
traces its revival to the eve of Bangladesh's
liberation war.
Whatever the reason, between the
1920s and the 1960s, Tagore's popularity
declined somewhat in East Bengal/East
Pakistan. But music increasingly occupied
centre stage in the cultural practices of the
autonomy movement in East Pakistan and
cultural activists came to embrace the poet's
work unequivocally. The centenary of
Tagore's birth in 1961 provided an initial
impetus for rallying around the poet as a
symbol of secular Bengali cultural identity.
In 1967, the Pakistani information minister
galvanised the movement by banning the
performance of Rabindra shongeet, the songs
of Tagore, from state-run radio on the
grounds that Tagore's ideas were not consistent with Pakistani national feeling. Days
after the ban, a group of prominent Bengali
intellectuals declared in an open statement
that Tagore's songs and poems belonged to
the soul of the Bengalis of Pakistan. Subsequently, performing Rabindra shongeet and
reciting Tagore poetry became dangerous
and subversive practices.
From 1969 onwards, the leading institute for the performing arts in East Pakistan,
Chaayanaut, proceeded to transform Amar
Shonar Bangla into a major emblem of the
struggle for Bengali cultural autonomy. I
was told that Chaayanaut had briefly considered a different piece, written by a
Calcutta-based composer Dwijendranath
Lai Roy; it was rejected because Roy's outlook was deemed to be too narrow, that is,
too grounded in Calcutta. In contrast, the
scope of Tagore's work and vision was held
to be representative of all of Bengal.
Moreover, Amar Shonar Bangla had
quintessentially 'Bengali' origins. The story
goes that the original score was written by
Gagan Horkora, a disciple of Lalon Shah
who worked as town crier in Shilaidah,
Kushtia (now in Bangladesh). Tagore, while
he was based in Shilaidah supervising his
family's zamindari estates, apparently took
a liking to Horkora's composition and set it
to music with his own lyrics in 1906. Tagore
is credited, more generally, with recovering
Baul music from obscurity and popularising
it for the consumption of the Bengali middle
For Bengali middle class intellectuals
and activists, the emotive appeal and uses
of Tagore's music increased in proportion
to the increase in Pakistani repression.
Indeed, Amar Shonar Bangla became an
informal anthem long before any official
declaration of independence. By March
1971, critical political meetings convened
by students and workers, as well as by
Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman, to discuss the possibility of
declaring independence from Pakistan,
opened with performances of Amar Shonar
Bangla. Less than a month after the war
started, the Bangladesh government in exile
adopted the song as the national anthem.
Clearly, Chaayanaut was tremendously
successful in its mission. Meanwhile, music
of other kinds continued to be a primary
means of mobilising popular support and
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
 sentiment for the independence movement
that followed the brutal army occupation
of East Pakistan on 25 March 1971. Almost
overnight, songs depicting the heroic and
bloody nature of the freedom movement
flooded the airwaves of the underground
Bangladeshi radio station, Swadhin Bangla
Betar Kendra.
The formal decision to adopt Rabindra-
nath's composition as the national anthem
in 1972 appears to have been uncontested.
The song was a 'natural' choice, for the very
emergence of Bangladesh seemed to redeem
Tagore's vision of Bengali harmony and
solidarity - just as it appeared to refute the
'communal' underpinnings of the 1905
partition of Bengal.
Amar Shonar Bangla also expressed what
the historian Paul Greenough has called
"the fervent attachment" of Bengalis - both
in Bangladesh and the adjacent Indian state
of West Bengal - to the distinctive landscape of the region. This landscape, as it
happens, was distinctly rural and deltaic;
by implication, it was in the villages that
authentic Bengali culture was located. The
song was a poetic celebration of the archetypal Bengali mentality.
That Tagore would become the major
icon of cultural nationalism was by no
means obvious or inevitable. As is well
known, the cultural identity of Bengali
speakers who are also Muslim has been
contested at least ever since the 1871
census 'discovered' the size of the Muslim
population of Bengal. The putative opposition between Muslim and Bengali has an
equally long history. Exactly what constitutes the shared legacy of Hindu and
Muslim speakers of Bangla continues to be
a point of contention in Bangladesh. Bengali
Muslim intellectuals have been grappling
with the issue from the turn of the 20th
An archetypal lament of the secular
Muslim intelligentsia has been the invisibility of Muslim Bengal (that is, Muslim
peasant culture) in the works of the great
literary figures of Bengal. Tagore's vast
corpus was a case in point, for no Muslims
of significance were to be found in his
creations. Among Bengali Muslims, it was
the writer and politician Abul Mansur
/\hmed who most eloquently depicted the
effects of this invisibility on the evolution
of his political ideology. Ahmed recalls how
in his school days the only significant
Muslim characters he came across in the
Bengali literary corpus were those portrayed in a negative light in the writings of
Bankim Chandra and Ramesh Chandra
Dutt. Over time, his benign disappointment
at this cultural exclusion took a different
direction so that he ended up calling for the
production of a separate Bengali Muslim
literature. As he saw it, the high culture of
Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattapadhyay
was golami shahitto or servile literature that
did not reflect the life of the predominantly
Muslim Bengali masses.
Tagore was not automatically rehabilitated by the creation of Pakistan and the
problems that came with it. In 1948, noted
Bengali playwright and communist activist Munir Chowdhury denounced Tagore
as a reactionary figure. Yet, just three years
later, he proclaimed that Tagore's legacy
was for all of Bengal. Not incidentally,
Munir Chowdhury was foremost among
those who embraced Tagore as "the soul of
the Bengalis of Pakistan". Evidently, the
meaning of Tagore's place in defining
Bengali cultural identity underwent a dramatic transformation during the Pakistani
domination of Bengalis of East Pakistan.
That this meaning was never stable is a critical aspect of understanding the parameters
of the national anthem debate.
Dangerous speech
So why choose to interrogate this particular symbol of national unity, so many years
after independence? And why is this considered to be so dangerous to the national
interest? It is safe to say that the contents of
the anthem - the first 10 lines of Tagore's
longer composition - are not at issue. The
romantic celebration of the villages of Bengal, their natural beauty and bounty, were
inescapably 'Bengali', a part of the fervent
attachment of (mostly) bourgeois nationalists to the rural landscape referred to earlier.
In 1972, Amar Shonar Bangla represented
a collective symbol of national solidarity
and promise; yet its fall from innocence was
never far away. The fissures of nationalism
- the pressures to produce a coherent
history and timeline for the nation - soon
began to emerge. The process of enclosing
memory within fixed boundaries - the
territorialisation of memory - proved to
be impossible without confronting the
ambiguities and slippages between the
categories Bengali and Bangladeshi. If
Bangladesh was a nation for Bengalis, then
what was to be its relationship to the
The shared
legacy of
Hindu and
speakers of
Bangla continues to be a
point of
place in
underwent a
transformation during
of Bengalis
of East
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
was a nation
for Bengalis,
then what
was to be its
to the
Indian state
of West
divide were
never too far
from the
neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal?
If nationalism demands reaching into the
past to produce a narrative that justifies the
present, which past should it invoke? Most
critically, what was the place of the two
partitions of Bengal and of the two-nation
theory (or religion) in this history?
To pose the question differently, just
where was shonar Bangla located? It was
not the united Bengal of which Tagore spoke;
Bengal Presidency was much larger and
included many non-Bengali speaking
territories. Its boundaries had shifted in the
past. The territory that became Bangladesh
referred to a different (and, for many people,
a dismembered) shonar Bangla, the borders
of which were demarcated during the partition of British India in 1947. Without 1947,
there would not have been a Bangladesh.
Did such a conclusion redeem the two-
nation theory? What then of the secularist
claims on which Bangladesh was born?
These are awkward questions that cannot
be answered easily without dismantling the
very framework of nationalist thought.
The nationalists of East Pakistan accommodated or skirted these questions by redefining what it meant to be a Bengali in or of
East Pakistan. At the time of independence,
then, locating shonar Bangla was an
unproblematic proposition. Once national
sovereignty had been attained, how to
distinguish the citizens of Bangladesh from
Bengalis in India emerged as an unavoidable concern. The Muslim/Bengali
dichotomy was central to the debate.
Successive political regimes promoted
the idea of a Bangladesh for Bengali Muslims. The two main political parties have
appropriated the Bangladeshi/Bengali
split ever since: the Awami League capitalised on its political genealogy, positioning
itself as the legitimate voice of 'the spirit of
1971' and of Bengali secularism. The
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNF) championed Bangladeshi (Muslim) nationalism.
Indian hegemony - real and imagined -
stoked the fires of the Bengali/Bangladeshi
The communal undertones of the
Bangladeshi/Bengali divide were never too
far from the surface. At the same time, the
failure of the state to create a more just and
equitable society led to a general disaffection with Bengali nationalism as it had been
articulated earlier. From the mid-1970s
onward, increasing militarisation and
Islamisation also provided perfect fodder
for the highly emotive debates that ensued.
It was during the military regime of
President Ziaur Rahman that the first
controversies over the national anthem
emerged. The main architect of a
Bangladeshi (Bengali and Muslim) identity
and the founder of the BNP, Zia is said to
have found Amar Shonar Bangla lacking
because it made no direct reference to either
the liberation war or to local Muslim culture.
Apparently, Zia also felt that the pastoral
tones of Tagore's song did not do justice to
the Bangladeshi spirit - a martial song
would reflect better the character of
Bangladeshis. An allusion to colonial stereotypes of warlike Muslims and effeminate
Hindus is unmistakable.
It is within the increasingly narrow and
parochial discursive space of such debates
that the national anthem controversy
unfolded at the end of 2000. Ahmed is
reported to have asked if a song written to
protest the 1905 anti-partition movement
could be appropriate as an anthem for
independent Bangladesh. Furthermore, he
apparently suggested that the anthem
should be changed because it was written
by an Indian Hindu poet. In other words,
could an 'Indian' and a 'Hindu' who
promoted the idea of an undivided Bengal
speak for the Bangladeshi nation? At one
level, it is simple to dismiss such claims.
National identities in South Asia as we
know them today do not have fin especially
long lineage; 'we' were all 'British Indians'
when Tagore wrote Amar Shonar Bangla.
Moreover, Tagore's attitude towards the
swadeshi movement and Bengali nationalists shifted dramatically between 1906 and
1917. His 1917 novel, Ghore Baire, powerfully depicted the destructive effects of the
movement and demonstrated a keen sensitivity to the communal issues attending
nationalism. This consciousness was
absent in his earlier work. Equally important, Muslims cannot have exclusive claims
to speak for the territory that has come to be
called Bangladesh - unless the terms
Hindu/Indian/Bengali/secular are collapsed into one another.
As it happened, public support for calls
to change the national anthem was muted
at best. The BNP leadership, perhaps sensing the mood of the public, immediately
distanced itself from Ahmed. An optimistic
reading of the popular response would suggest that the communalisation of nationalism had not succeeded on this score at least.
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
 Genealogical 'impurities'
For some nationalists, the main measure of
the appropriateness of Amar Shonar Bangla
as an icon of Bangladeshi nationalism is
the original context of its composition, that
is, the awkward relationship of the national
narrative to the 1905 partition (which, as it
happened, was repealed in 1911). By this
logic, the song's genealogical 'impurity' -
its original purpose in opposing the 1905
partition - provides an irrevocable condemnation. As it happens, the Bangladesh
constitution of 1972 (Article 4.1) directs the
first 10 lines of Amar Shonar Bangla to be
sung as the national anthem. The anthem
is not the whole original song composed by
Rabindranath but an extract from it. The
sentiments attached to the whole are not
automatically transposed to the excised
The longer version appears to function
as both paean and pledge of allegiance to
an embattled motherland that is also the
mother goddess. In line with other contemporary nationalist productions, it is explicitly 'Hindu' in tone and imagery. The last
two lines of the final stanza, reproduced
below, refer directly to the boycott of British
goods during the swadeshi movement,
which arose in the wake of large-scale anti-
partition agitation.
Oh mother, I offer at your feet this my
lowered head;
give me, O mother the dust of your feet,
to be the jewel upon my head.
0 mother, whatever wealth this poor
man has, I place before your feet,
Ah, I die,
1 shall no more buy in the houses of
others, O mother, this so-called finery of
a noose around my neck.
Such nationalist overtones, overlaid
with Hindu religious imagery, undoubtedly
explain the song's popularity during the
anti-partition agitation. (It does not, however, explain why some Muslims did not
support the partition.) The Bangladeshi
national anthem eliminates these 'awkward' passages. Indeed, it could be argued
that the only Islamic influence on the text is
that which is invisible; what makes this text
'appropriate' for Bangladesh is the erasure
of those parts that are potentially offensive
by their explicit Hindu tone. The remainder
of the song is perfectly consistent with a
strong nationalist movement - the glorification of the land and the sadness at domination by externa) forces are standard
sentiments, and not especially controversial.
The reference to the nation as mother is
also stripped of its religious character. It is
only when Tagore, India and Hindu are
conflated that problems emerge. But this
collapsing of categories is a post-independence phenomenon, albeit with roots in the
The virulence of right-wing nationalism
notwithstanding, questions opened up by
the national anthem debate expose basic
ambiguities in national identity formation.
Within the existing framework of nationalist thought, they raise profoundly uncomfortable questions about the genealogical
purity of the nation and all that it stands
for. To argue within the terms of this debate
is to capitulate to its basic premise - that
historically, essentialised religious and ethnic identities form the basis of all struggles.
This is a deeply flawed argument, and one
that is singularly counterproductive.
Writing this, one cannot help but be
filled with a degree of anxiety about how
such a reading might be misunderstood and
misappropriated in Bangladesh. The issues
are so fraught and the debates so polarised
that it would be easy to be labelled anti-state
or anti-secularist, depending on the ideological outlook of the reader. Neither is my
intention. In the relentless debates over what
constitutes national integrity, some very
important questions are glossed over or
suppressed. The issue of redistributivc
justice, for one, falls through the cracks.
How to accommodate non-Bengali speakers
and their social and economic marginalisation are other questions that are lost. It
is time to move on to 'post-nationalist'
histories that tackle equally awkward but
much more urgent questions for the people
of Bangladesh. b
Author's note: I would like to make clear
that this essay is not based on a reading of the
original text of Aftab Ahmed's speech, to
which I did not have access at the time of
writing. The analysis is based on numerous
conversations, and on newspaper reports. My
concern is not so much with what luas actually
said on the occasion but with how the reported
remarks were received and appropriated
opened up
by the
expose basic
in national
;.. .-J=,
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
AFTER THE disappointing showing by the Western
press in its coverage of the war in Iraq (see Mediafile,
April 2003), it should perhaps come as no surprise that
its coverage of events in other parts similarly possesses
an air of unreality. Take the Wall Street journal, which
has carried exactly two articles on a newly peaceful
Nepal in the last two months. But lack of quantity is
hardly made up for in Pulitzer-winning quality. Write
Dana Dillion and Ha Nguyen in a 26 March journal
opinion piece:
At first sight, it might
not seem to matter
very much who runs a
mountainous, seldom-heard-of country tucked between India and China, far from the
battle lines of the war on terrorism. But a victory by
communists in Nepal would send a signal to other
insurgents in Asia that violence pays and that the
world has more important things to do than foil their
advances. Worse still, once in power, the communists could make Nepal a safe haven for terrorists in
the same way as the Taliban allowed al
Qaeda to shelter in Afghanistan.
Chhetria Patrakar, who has spent a bit
of time in a certain mountainous, seldom-
heard-of country, is sorry to inform the
journal that the words 'Communist' and
'Maoist' ^re not interchangeable, there being about a dozen above-ground Communist parties in Nepal, including, at the moment, the Maoists. Moreover, the citizens of
the country in question may be disinclined to serve as
stage actor-foot soldiers in the ongoing 'war on terror'
theatre. CP had thought that reports and op-eds are
supposed to have some informed connection with the
subject being covered. And might peace and stability in
Nepal be first and foremost a concern for the people of
Nepal, rather than for neo-con strategists of the American right?
THE GOVERNMENT of Pakistan, never shy of a challenge, has taken upon itself the unenviable task of
'cleansing' the Internet, that eclectic realm of news, gossip and fornication, at least insofar as the good citizens
of the 'land of the pure' are concerned. Beginning in
late March, Pakistani Telecommunications Co, under
government order, began blocking user-access to well-
trafficked domains of lasciviousness. On 6 April, it announced that it had blocked more than 1800 sites,
though sceptics pointed out that porn-providers and
viewers are a crafty bunch who will eternally stay a
step ahead of even the most vigilant authorities. As
stated by the Associated Press, the government's action may even lead to a curious form of citizens' initiative: "Some Internet users seemed undeterred by the
blocked sites, and said they were ready for the chal
lenge of finding new ones". Meanwhile, those of us in
the neighbourhood inundated with pornographic spam
(and, regardless of the recipient's sex, suggestions to
enlarge the male member) would be mighty pleased if
Pakistani Telecom would also get active in lending us
some blocks.
DURING BRITAIN'S occupation of Iraq in the early
part of the previous century, London used Indian civil
servants to staff its imperial administration. With the
Brits back in Baghdad (Basra, actually), Indian service
in Iraqi civil administration may just witness a renaissance of sorts. In March, reports the Dawn of Karachi,
the US military placed ads in Indian newspapers for
recruiting Indians for clerical and semi-skilled positions in West Asia. Applicant guidelines: fluency in
English, age less than 35 and non-Muslim. The last
requirement, needless to say, raised more than a few
eyebrows. "If US bases now cannot recruit Muslims for
fear that they may be subversives, what will happen
when Americans recruit for a 'colonial' administration
in Iraq?" rightlv pondered The Statesman of Calcutta.
SOME NEWS about Maldivian news to
report. On 4 March, Male cancelled 22
publication licenses and altered press
laws to curtail "irregular publishing
schedules". According to the government,
the move was an attempt to "regularise
production"; the new law authorises the
revocation of a publication license if at
least three issues of a publication are not
brought out at regular intervals. The press
freedom watchdog group Reporters sans Frontieres,
however, termed the new measures less than innocuous, saying they "increased the government's ability to
stifle criticism" and noted that "a tougher government
line" towards the media is expected in tbe run-up to
2004 national elections. It is already a bit tough for non-
atoll residents to read up on the latest in the beach-
ringed islands, though daily mainstay Haveeru
is happily still in production and online at We would all, of course, be well
served by more news, not less, on SAARC's oceanmost
journalists 'embedded'
with American and British troops in Iraq, broadcast journalist Barkha
Dutt got a close look at the
fighting around Kargil by
accompanying Indian
soldiers to the frontline.
The vexed question of
embedded journalists -
are thev military mouth-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
pieces or independent analysts, neutral bystanders or
national witnesses? - is only now being approached
by analysts of the Iraq war. Writing in Himal, July 2001,
two years after coming back from Kashmir, Dutt
reviewed her own performance in Kargil and weighed
the compulsions acting on journalists travelling with
soldiers in times of war. Her insights are especially
relevant today:
...whether we like ourselves for it or not, our emotional perceptions of these conflicts are shaped by
how our histories have been handed down to us.
Whatever textbook journalism may preach, 1 think
the time has come to accept that every story we do is
shaped by our own set of perceptions, and thus prejudices as well. National identity is one of the many
factors that add up to make the sum total of who we
are and what we write or report. It sneaks up on us
and weaves its way into our subconscious, often
mangled and confused, but still there, determining
what we see and how we see it. And, when I speak
of national identity I do not mean chest-thumping,
flag-waving nationalism. I mean years of accumulated baggage, what we read in school, the villains
and heroes in our popular cinema - in fact the entire process of socialisation.
THE BUREAUCRATIC hostilities and judicial jousts
surrounding Anand Patwardhan's anti-nuke documentary War and Peace appeared to arrive at a peaceful conclusion on 24 April, with
the Bombay high court
directing the film censor
board to approve the
film without cuts. The
censor board had initially requested that five
deletions be made in
the film, which a subsequent   review   panel
raised to 15. This was
later revised down to
two cuts and an addition, which the Bombay
court rejected on the grounds that it would amount to a
"stifling of free speech". Now, if only it were possible
for a judicial ruling to expunge nuclear weapons from
the arsenals of India and Pakistan...
FOLLOWING IN his monarch's footsteps, former
Nepal PM and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) leader
Surya Bahadur Thapa headed south in April for meetings with New Delhi's top politicos. Upon return at
Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on 27
April, he told reporters that he had met Atal Behari
Vajpayee, LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Sonia Gandhi
and more than one former prime minister. According to
the Kathmandu Post, 28 April, "Thapa ruled out any
political significance of his visit". Oh? Thapa believes
so, and the Post sees it fit to report thus without tongue
in cheek, unless Chhetria Patrakar missed it.
ONE ANCILLARY benefit of the Western media's
hyperactive response to
the war in Iraq was the opportunity presented to
outgoing, curious journalists to report on non-war
topics in the regions they
were posted in to gauge
the war's fallout. A New
York Times reporter, Erik
Eckholm, in peacetime stationed in Beijing, landed
on the other side of the
Himalaya in Pakistan to wait out the war. Eckholm, an
environmental reporter and author of a groundbreaking
work on land erosion in Nepal, Losing Ground (1976),
made use of his visit to expand on the one-dimensional
view of Pakistan by many Western outlets as a hotbed
of sectarian violence and gun-toting renegades. While
other journos were searching for the latest Al Qaeda
gossip, Eckholm filed on water (and its scarcity) as a
source of current and future dispute in Pakistan. One
article he filed was on the Sindh-Punjab water dispute
related to the flow of the Indus, and the other was on
the ecological and humanitarian consequences of the
sea intrusion affecting 1.2 million acres of farmland in
southern Pakistan. For directing attention to an under-
reported issue in a much-caricatured country, a thumbs-
up to Eckholm.
THE DALIT, as suggested by its name, is a
bimonthly publication
taking on a range of issues facing those on the
receiving end of Hindu
orthodoxy. The periodical focuses on culture,
history and politics, but
it had to deal with an
unexpected issue a few
months back - denial of
office space by a landlord unhappy with
'untouchables' moving
in. To its credit, the publication is now back on
track, secure in an office
in Madras, and scheduled to release a new issue
culture. To subscribe to the
the dalit
Aaifr fehimui
on 10 May examining dalit
dalit, contact its editor   at
—Chhetria Patrakar
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
"A war to promote terrorism
Tariq Ali, born in Lahore, based in London, an
internationally renowned writer, an editor of the
New Left Review and author of the recent
bestseller The Clash of Fundamentalisms:
Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, has been a
consistent critic of global imperialism since the
1960s. In conversation with David Barsamian at
Porto Alegre, Brazil, he elaborated on the nature
of contemporary imperialism, the complicity of
the US media, the erosion of national sovereignty
through the creation of dictatorial client regimes,
and the nature of the Anglo-American imperial
alliance and the war in Iraq.
David Barsamian: Imperialism is not a word that is
often used in polite discourse in the United States.
Tariq Ali: It is a word they do not like, though it is a
word they used a lot when the British empire was dominant. Liberal magazines were constantly attacking the
British empire. On the eve of the second world war, a
series of articles in The New Republic argued that there
was very little to choose between the British empire and
Hitler. They always had this hostility to the British empire because of the origins of the American state itself,
and therefore they were very reluctant to accept the fact
that they themselves had all the makings of an empire
from very early on. They assumed that an empire consisted of colonies abroad which were ruled and staffed
by people sent from the imperial country. And they said,
"Well, we don't do it like that".
It is true that the United States did not do it like that.
Look at its internal expansion. First, it conquered and
destroyed the indigenous population. Then it fought a
big civil war to unite its own country. Then it gobbled
up bits of Mexico and incorporated them into the United
States. It did something very similar to what czarist
Russia did in the old days of the Russian empire.
Then they found a different way of moving forward.
The American empire and American imperialism
moved very quickly, through the Monroe Doctrine in
the 19lh century and the early 20th century, to take over
Latin America. Look at the number of military interventions that were carried out first in the Central American
republics, then throughout Latin .America. Why were
these carried out? Long before there was a revolution in
Russia, these were carried out to defend American corporate interests. Hence, the term "banana republics"
came into being. It was because American companies
were going in there, backed by the Marines, securing
these countries for the corporations, for American capitalism to grow and triumph.
But for a long period the US kept to its own sphere.
What caused it to move out was not so much the need
for colonies, which it did not need in that sense, given
the size and scale of the United States itself and the
natural resources it possesses, plus the fact that it dominated South America. What forced it to move out was
not even the first world war. What compelled it to move
out was the Russian revolution. There is a very interesting parallel. At the same time as the Russian revolution was taking place, Woodrow Wilson decided that it
was time for a major US intervention, because they were
nervous that the threat to capitalist interests in Europe
could actually threaten them in the long term. That is
when they decided they had to go international.
D: To what extent is imperialism connected to or is an
outcome of capitalism? You mentioned that Russia expanded. One could add that the Soviet Union had quasi-
dependent states.
T: Soviet expansion after the second world war, far
from being economically exploitative, was something
they needed geographically and militarily, to create a
network of states which were part of their sphere of
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
influence, part of their social and economic system, in
order to hold the United States at bay. There was a deal
agreed to with the Americans and the British at Yalta
in 1945 for the creation of spheres of influence. By that
agreement the world was divided up into strategic areas of operation - you can have Poland, Hungary,
Czechoslovakia; Yugoslavia should be 50-50; Greece is
ours, so if there is a revolutionary movement there, we
will crush it, and you stay out of it. That is how the
whole deal was done.
But leaving that aside, all the early empires were
founded by the need for capital to expand. For a while
this got disguised, because while the Soviet bloc existed, by and large people in the West
saw it as essentially a war against
an evil empire. Now the slate is clean
once again. We have the world before us naked. We see exactly what is
going on. The 20 September 2002
strategy doctrine put out by the Bush
administration makes it crystal clear
what this is all about.
The difference between the American empire and the previous empires
is that the United States usually prefers to work through local compradors, local rulers who are on their
side. They do not like ruling directly,
because they know it is an enormous
expense. Why send your own people
out to run a country when you can
find locals to do it? That is how they
have always operated. They occupied
Japan after the second world war,
they created a constitution, and
MacArthur was like a viceroy. But
they pulled out of that after a few
years and let their local relays in Japan carry on, as they still do. The
Japanese Liberal Democratic Party
was created by the United States to
do the job for them. Even in the latest
case, Afghanistan, they did not want
to have their own people there pending a general election. They put a
puppet, a former employee of the CIA    	
and the Unocal oil company, Hamid
Karzai, in power in Kabul. And he does the work for
them, even though they cannot leave him undefended,
which they could in other cases.
The real intentions of US policy are not even concealed by most of the supporters of Bush writing in the
American press. They are no longer even trying to conceal their real aims. They are saying, "we are the world's
mightiest power, these are our economic interests, these
are our strategic interests, these are our geopolitical interests, and we are going to defend them". This is imperialism, different from the past, in a new situation. And
Islamists were used
in 1965 to kill reds.
Go and wipe them out.
They are atheists, they
are communists.
Kill, kill, kill, kill. That
is how collaborators
are created.
in Iraq they will assert new, raw imperial power in a
wav they have not done before.
D: Walter Rodney, the important political thinker and
writer from Guyana, talked about what he called "the
local lackeys" of imperialism, something you have just
touched upon. Tell me more about this class of collaborators who serve the metropolitan centre.
T: This has been a systematic pattern throughout
the 20th century. The period in the middle of the 20th
century saw the rise of nationalism and liberation movements against the old empires. But already standing
behind the old empires was the
shadow of the United States of
America. And as the old empires
were going down, they were being
replaced by the power of the United
States of America.
In the middle of the last century
there was the Korean war, a three-
year war fought by the United States
under the banner of the United Nations, in the course of which the industrially strong part of Korea, which
was the north, was completely devastated. Not a single building was
left standing. Its entire infrastructure
was destroyed. And then they
agreed to a ceasefire.
Then there was Vietnam. First, the
French were defeated in Vietnam.
The United States was not prepared
to see that defeat and stepped in. And
for the first time, American leaders
thought of using nuclear weapons.
John Foster Dulles, the secretary of
state, suggested to Western allies
and the French that perhaps, in order to stop these ants crawling up
the hills around Dien Bien Phu, the
big battle where the French were defeated, they should be destroyed.
Without understanding the national movements and the role they
  played, we cannot understand properly the role of collaborators. The aim
of the American empire was, by hook or by crook, to get
rid of these governments somehow; to maintain a nationalist pretense and to get in a different group of
people who could pretend to be anti-colonial nationalists but actually serving the needs of the great metropolitan empire.
How did they do this? They failed in Vietnam. They
succeeded in dividing Korea. But they could not rule
South Korea democratically, because no lackeys could
be found who could be elected. So they put the army in
power. They did exactly the same in Pakistan. When a
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
general election was planned for April 1959, which
would have returned a government that would have
withdrawn from the security pacts into which Pakistan was tied, a coup d'etat was organised and the the
military came to power in October 1958 to preempt a
general election.
The country which worried them the most in the
middle of the last century was Indonesia, because it
had the world's largest communist party outside China
and Russia, a party with a million members, and an additional two million
people in front organisations. It had a
big influence on the government and
within the armed forces. So what do they
do? They initiated one of the most dastardly actions since the second world
war, a military coup, where they put
Suharto in power. Suharto proceeded
to kill a million people and wiped out
the most powerful social movement in
the country. The killings in the rural
areas, where the communists had
organised the peasants, were on a very
high pitch. They killed a million people.
And as Time magazine put it, quite
bluntly, it was the best news the West
had had from Asia in a long time. It was
a big victory for them. In Suharto, they
found a local collaborator, who stayed
in power until the end of the 20lh century. A dictator much more vicious than
anything we have seen in Iraq came to
power on a mountain of corpses. In
1975, he invaded East Timor, killed several hundred thousand people there,
and wiped out all the secular, radical
opposition in the country. And then
people are surprised how come the Islamists are so powerful. Beca; Islamists were used in 1965 to kill reds. "Go
and wipe them out. They are atheists,
they are communists. Kill, kill, kill, kill".
That is how collaborators are created.
And then you have a new phase, "
which is the post-Cold War phase, where basically the
triumph of the United States and world capitalism totally disarmed even semi-nationalist politicians who
felt there was nothing else to do. Just work with them,
serve them. It has been very difficult now for the last 20
years to get elected leaders who are prepared to fight
for their own people and the rights of their own state.
Interestingly enough, Latin America is a continent
which has been in revolt now for some time. You have
seen the election of Chavez. You have seen the failure
to topple Fidel Castro after 40 years of blockade. You
have seen the phenomenal victory of Lula in Brazil.
You have seen the victory of Gutierrez in Ecuador. Evo
Morales in Bolivia came very close to defeating the cor-
ln Suharto, the
US found a local
A dictator much
more vicious than
anything we
have seen in Iraq
came to power
on a mountain of
porations' candidate. So we are seeing the beginnings
of a new wave of, let us call it, subnationalism or
protonationalism, which wants to resist and does not
know how to resist. So maybe we are now reaching a
period where this model could spread elsewhere. But
by and large, in Asia and Africa they have, so far, pliable regimes.
I do not think this can last indefinitely. Curiously
enough, the war in Iraq, the occupation of Iraq and the
substitution of Saddam with a US puppet government so the oil can be shared
out as war trophy, is bound to create a
resistance sooner or later. It may take
years but it will happen. In that sense,
the American empire is no different
from other empires. It is slowly sowing
the seeds of the forces that will one day
confront it.
But the confrontation, in the case of
the United States, has also to come from
within America itself. It is very interesting that Seattle was where the anti-
globalisation movement was born. The
first Anti-Imperialist League ever created was in Chicago in 1898 by Mark
Twain and by other Americans, who
identified imperialism as the major
problem. Marie Twain was reacting to
the American occupation of the Philippines, where they did a deal with the
Spanish, as they did later with the
French in Vietnam. Within a year, the
league had a quarter of a million members in 30 different cities. And that was
a time when there was no communism,
no social enemies like that on a world
scale, but imperialism still existed. And
intelligent American citizens could see
that it existed.
The time has come again for the
heirs of Mark Twain and the other pioneers of that Anti-Imperialist League to
get together and create such a body-
once again. This organisation can fight
the empire morally from within its own heart.
D: Clearly, 19th century European imperialism was predicated on racism. What factor does racism play in imperialism now?
T: Racism was the basis of the old empires. There is
a similarity between the old and new, but the racist
motif has declined.They do not use it much now. In
fact, they are trying to bend over backwards to avoid
using it, because they know it is quite explosive. But
you cannot deny the underlying feeling of white superiority in all this. When lots of civilians were killed in
New York and some in Washington on 11 September,
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
the whole world was expected to weep for them in
public. Why? Because they were citizens of the United
States of America. When Afghan citizens are killed by
indiscriminate bombings, by so-called accidental bombings, no one will ever build a monument for them. Why
not? Because underlying all this is still the belief
that the US is a superior nation a superior race and a
superior people.
Look at the cavalier way in which casualties are
discussed in the case of Iraq. There wras
a conference, organised by the State Department and its favourite Iraqis. An
Iraqi friend who attended told me, they
were discussing casualties: how many
civilian deaths would be acceptable?
According to him the figure the Iraqis
and the Americans were talking about
amongst themselves was 250,000. It
should not go above that. A quarter of
a million civilian deaths acceptable?
When 3000 deaths are not acceptable
in the United States of America, but a
quarter of a million Iraqi lives are acceptable, what is that if not the most
grotesque demonstration that the lives
of these poor Arabs do not matter a
damn. The form racism takes is different from the old days, but it is still there.
In 1996, when Madeleine Albright
was the US. ambassador to the United
Nations, she was asked about the
impact of sanctions on Iraq, and
specifically, the deaths of 500,000
Iraqi children. She was asked, "Do
you think the price is worth it? And
she answered, "We think the price is
worth it".
That is one of the most shocking
statements made by a senior American
politician or leader since the second
world war. If that statement had been
made by Lyndon Johnson in 1968, or
Nixon in 1970-71, that killing two million Vietnamese is worth it, there would have been absolute pandemonium. The fact that Madeleine Albright
said this on CBS and was not reprimanded for it by her
president is just deeply shocking.
This is where we see this empire at its worst. Remember the worst atrocities of the British empire in India, for instance the Jallianwala Bagh episode in 1919,
where they killed several hundred people. Several hundred people and what outcry there was in the world.
When Belgium's King Leopold started killing Congolese people, a massive outcry ensued. Arthur Conan
Doyle wrote a book called Atrocities in the Congo, which
sold 200,000 copies in two months. There were massive worldwide campaigns against these atrocities. Now
it is almost as if the world has gone to sleep, that they
The first Anti-
Imperialist League
ever created was in
Chicago in 1898,
by Mark Twain
and other Americans, who identified
imperialism as the
major problem
are so comfortable and secure in Europe and North
America that killing people and the deaths of ordinary
civilians do not matter a damn. They are all deemed to
serve some cause, and I put it to you that the cause they
serve is the cause of the American empire.
D; What is the role of the media in shaping and forming
public opinion. For example, the media constantly repeat that Saddam Hussein represents a grave threat to
the United States. And also, contrast the
media in Britain with the United States.
T: Yes, there is a difference. In the
United States, television coverage of the
rest of the world is hardly ever there.
And it is almost as if the only way they
can teach people geography is by going and bombing countries. Oh, you
don't know where Afghanistan is? It's
here. Look, we're bombing it. You don't
know where Iraq is? It's here. We're
going to bomb it, then you will know
where it is. So you have a population
which is not informed or educated by
the media except when it is time for
war, and when they suddenly find a
country, pick it out and attack it. It is a
process which can only be described
as propaganda of the most disgusting
sort. You do not allow people to think
for themselves. You frighten them.
This notion of Saddam Hussein being a threat to the United States makes
everyone in Europe laugh, including
European politicians. Recently, I was
at a public debate in Berlin.I was debating Professor Ruth Wedgewood, an
advisor to Donald Rumsfeld. To my
amazement she suddenly turned to the
Germans and said, "I know the reason
you are opposed to this war. It's because you're scared of Saddam". Afterwards, people came and told me, "We
were really taken aback by that. What does she mean?"
I said, "This is what they say in the United States all the
time. They frighten the people that Saddam represents
a real threat. And I am staggered that they have begun
to believe their own rhetoric". And one of the members
of the audience said to me, "For us this was not so much
a political experience as an anthropological experience". There you see the big difference.
The media in the United States has degenerated.
And that even applies to large numbers of television
networks in Europe. The funny thing is that these so-
called journalists travel all over the world, and sometimes they miss out on the most important struggles
taking place because their eyes are just concentrated on
what they need to report in their papers. The American
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
media's coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine
is so one-sided, it is almost as if the Palestinians were
occupying Jewish lands and the Israelis were resisting
a big force of Palestinians.
The reporting in the American media is part and
parcel of what is happening. And it is essentially the
need to use the media to create an institutional
depoliticisation. Do not write anything which might
make people think, because if you do it, they might think
things we do not want them to think, and then
where would we be? This is what neoliberal economics, globalisation has done to the functioning of democracy. It is beginning to damage it
very seriously.
In Europe, the situation is
slightly different. You still have
newspapers which will publish
critical articles. It gets bad when a
country is actually involved in a
war. But on Iraq, for instance, and
Palestine you have had coverage in
the British, French and Italian
newspapers of which you will find
no equivalent in the United States,
with the partial, occasional exception of the LA Times,
which sometimes publishes very critical stuff. The European press allows far more space and far more news
reportage of events which are taking place more objectively than anything in the United States itself.
D: What about such US magazines as The Nation,
In These Times, The Progressive, or Z, and all these
new websites, such as, common-, or They are providing alternative information.
T: This has been one of the most important developments in challenging the weight of the media, the alternative information networks, which have sprung up
everywhere following Seattle. It means that a small
group of politically aware citizens anywhere in the
world can access this material. But the mistake we
should not make is to imagine that this can somehow
compete with the powers that be. That is a serious mistake. And sometimes we get carried away and excited.
But always be aware that cyberspace and the web can
They are so comfortable
and secure in Europe and
North America that killing
people and the deaths of
ordinary civilians does not
matter a damn
be very deceptive. Because it is on the web does not
mean that everyone gets it. And where we have not been
able to compete with them at all is in the television coverage. In Genoa, the Italian police went into the Alternative Information Centre and smashed it to bits. They
were scared because activists had television cameras
and were filming what was going on when Carlo
Giuliani, one of the protestors, was killed. But it is still
very important, because it breaks the complete monopoly
these people have.
In some countries, there are progressive daily newspapers that have managed to keep going. It is quite
remarkable. In Norway, for example, there is Klassekampfen (class
struggle). In Italy, there is // Manifesto. It is interesting, when you talk
to the Manifesto editors, they say,
"During times of crisis, our circulation just shoots up. That is when
people need alternatives". The combination of all this and websites
can work, but it is only a drop in
the ocean.
D: Wliy is Tony Blair such an enthusiastic partner of
George Bush in his war on terrorism?
T: The problem with Tony Blair is t.hat he actually
believes in it. He is a deeply conservative man. I have
absolutely no doubt about it. He would have been a
good leader of the British Conservative Party. He is probably too right wing for some conservatives, but he would
have been perfectly at home there. Underlying Blair,
which very few people talk about, there is a streak of
Christian fundamentalism in him which goes very
deep. And there is around him a Christian mafia, which
is quite authoritarian in its social attitudes and beliefs.
In terms of foreign policy, I think Blair decided very
early on after he came to office that he was going to
continue the deals Thatcher had done with Reagan.
What these deals have done, basically, especially after
the Malvinas/Falklands conflict, is that they have
docked the British Ministry of Defence totally into the
Pentagon, to the extent that when the latter upgrades,
the former, which does not need to do it, has to because
it is part of the same system.
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
And now, the British political class,
labour and conservative, is totally committed to this alliance. It reminds you of
what Charles De Gaulle used to say
when he kept Britain out of the common market, when he kept on vetoing
British entry into the common market.
He used to say that Britain will always
be an American Trojan horse in the European Union. How right he was. Blair
likes to go and tell the Europeans, I am
close to Bush. I can influence him. And
he tells Bush, it is important I am in the
European Union because I can make
.sure that your views there are properly
defended. That is the role this guy plays.
Underlying Blair's servility to the
United States is how he sees the country. Britain is a medium-sized, northern European country. It no longer has an empire. The country has quite
an exploitative deregulated system which attracts foreign capital because wages and taxes are low. This is
what Thatcher achieved. Blair believes this has to be
maintained, because he does not have any other vision.
And one of the ways it can be maintained is by totally hanging alongside the United States, sharing part
of the proceeds and being seen by
Washington as a loyal ally. Satraps
used to do it in the days of the
Roman empire, more loyal to the
empire than many people inside
the empire itself, who could see the realities of
what they were doing. And that is what Blair has consciously decided he wants to be, a loyal satrap of the
American empire.
1 mentioned his faith in Christianity and the US. In
addition, he is also a very greedy man. He is obsessed
with money. He is always telling people at private dinner parties how being prime minister of Britain has
meant that he is not earning as much money ashe
should be. When politicians combine piety and greed
and then are prepared to justify wars, you get a very
internally mixed-up politician.
D: Noam Chomsky, among others, has suggested that
the United States, since the collapse ofthe Soviet Union,
has been fervently looking for an oppositional force to
replace it. They tried Noriega in Panama, Qaddafi in
Libya, and the Cali and Medellin drug cartels. Now they
have zoomed in on Islam, a certain variant of it, fundamentalist and militant, as the new archenemy.
T: They have indeed. The one thing on which they
have got support from a large numbers of other countries is that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is a bad
thing and this is an enemy which has to be wiped out
and destroyed. But where do you go from there? Be-
Oh, you don't know where
Afghanistan is? It's here.
Look, we're bombing it.
cause unless you understand what
causes young people to decide to sacrifice their own lives, how do you stop
that process? So in order to justify infinite war, they have invented this enemy, which they created themselves at
the height of the Cold War to service
their needs in Indonesia, Afghanistan
and in the Arab world. They supported
the people they now call their main enemies in order to destroy radical nationalist regimes which threatened
their interests. Now these people have
broken loose because the Americans
dumped them. That is essentially what
is going on.
It is crazy to make Islam into a monolith. It is just as divided as any other
part of the world. How is it a big enemy? The maximum
number of people Al Qaeda has, is 3000, maybe 4000.
They are ensconsed in different parts of the world, including Europe and the USA. So how come they cannot
be destroyed? The problem is not Al Qaeda. The problem is the conditions which create this mood which
drives young people to despair.
You cannot get away from that. It
will not stop unless the central
problems in West Asia, Palestine,
Israel, and what is being done to
Iraq, are solved.
That is one reason why the war
in Iraq, far from being a war against
terrorism, should be called a war to promote terrorism,
because people will feel their governments have let this
happen. There is nothing they can do. What are we
going to do? How are we going to respond when
Baghdad, the historic city of Islamic civilisation, the
city of the caliphs and 1001 Nights, is once again occupied by crusaders. That is what they will see. It is seen
in the Arab world as a crusade for oil. And the reason
they have made Islam the big enemy now is because oil
is underneath Islamic lands, which is an accident of
geography and history. The richest deposits of oil lie
underneath Muslim lands. There is oil in Brunei, a Muslim country in Southeast Asia, Iraq has the second largest deposits of oil, Iran has oil, the Arabian peninsula
has oil. If there was no oil underneath the Islamic world,
it was somewhere else - let us suppose all the oil or the
bulk of the oil was in Africa - that would be the enemy.
The rhetoric would be different. They would be saying,
"They are not proper Christians, they have never
learned proper Christianity", or whatever else suits
them. The reason Islam is the enemy is tied very closely
to oil and the needs of the West in controlling this region and making sure it never goes out of that control
as long as the globe exists. That is the plan. b
(The unabridged transcript of this conversation is
available at
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
Special editions and rubber barons
How the Malayalam press reported the war in Iraq
by Mohammed Yasir
The state of Kerala, a lightning
streak on the map between the
Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, is home to 32 million
people, most of whom speak Malayalam. The Malayalam press has a
rich heritage dating back to the colonial era, boasting such prominent
figures as the late journalist 'Swa-
deshabhimani' Ramakrishna Pillai,
who the British exiled from Kerala
because of his much-publicised opposition to colonial rule. Another
old-time Malayali press icon is
Muhammad Abdurahman Sahib,
the late publisher of Kozhikode's Al
Ameen, who according to local lore
was offered valuable jewellery by
one his anonymous admirers on the
street to restart the paper after it
closed. (Sahib declined.)
One of the most vibrant regional
language presses in India, the
Malayalam press is heavily influenced by European thought and
exerts an influence beyond the
confines of Kerala. The older generation colours its conversations
with quotes from Marx, Fannon and
Sartre; for young people, Derrida,
Chomsky and Che Guevera hold
sway. The Malayali may have to
depend on imports from neighbouring states for staples such as
rice and vegetables, but not in the
case of periodicals - Malayalam
newspapers are available in many
news-stands across India, and
some even publish editions outside
the state.
In part because of a Malayali
disapora dotting the Indian Ocean
rim and populating many major
Western cities, it has a worldview
that mixes local tradition with a
strong sense of global events. With
a sea-faring connection to West
Asia going back centuries, it is
hardly surprising that Malayalis
and the Malayalam press took a
strong interest in the war in Iraq.
Generally speaking, Malayalam
Catching up on the day's news with Madhyamam.
newspapers adopted an anti-invasion stance during the United
States-led war. But there were variations in war coverage, owing partly
to the orientation of newspapers
and their controlling interests. The
mainstream Malayalam daily papers Mathrubhoomi, Malayala Mano-
rama and Madhyamam covered the
war independently, though each
tailored coverage to the perceptions
of their audiences. Taken as a whole,
the Malayalam press' coverage of
war was on par with that provided
by the English-language papers in
Kerala, and in some cases better.
The standard-bearer
In the familial universe of Malayalam journalism, Mathrubhoomi
(Motherland) is the grandparent
who avoids extreme stances, forever
trying to please all who matter.
A Gandhian, KP Kesava Menon,
founded the paper during the independence struggle, after the success
of which Mathrubhoomi fell into the
hands of business interests who
subverted many of its earlier ideals,
at times even turning it into a soft
communal tool. Thanks to the efforts
of liberal staff members, the paper
retains a secular tone, and today
Mathrubhoomi is the standard-bearer of the 'middle elite'.
During the 'war month', measured here as 19 March-19 April, the
paper, as expected, provided extensive coverage of the hostilities, even
producing extra sheets devoted
wholly to the happenings in Iraq.
Mathrubhoomi published eight
standard-sized anti-war editorials
during the month, at times with
a doomsday tone; usually these
focussed on war-related problems
faced by Indians, in particular Gulf
Malayalis. Of the 55 op-ed pieces
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
published by the paper during this
period, 37 were war-related, mostly
in the oil politics vein, though the
paper's managing editor, MP Vi-
rendra Kumar, was acerbic in his
lambasting of American motives. A
consistent theme of Mathrubhoomi's
coverage involved the concern that
the war would spur terrorist responses, in particular those of the
Islamist variety. The paper's coverage, as a whole, was not particularly
unique or incisive.
During the war month, Mathrubhoomi, which has a claimed circulation of 700,000, carried an average of four and a half pages of daily
war coverage. In most instances, the
anchor stories were war-related,
though the paper, which had sent a
reporter to cover the cricket World
Cup in Africa, did not send a correspondent to Iraq, instead relying on
news and features from wire agencies. Judging that the popular
Malayali sentiment was against the
war, the paper translated the
columns of the well-known war correspondent and Pentagon critic
Robert Fisk. At the war's conclusion,
after the fall of Baghdad, Mathrubhoomi changed its tack slightly,
moving from its earlier usage of
'war' (yuddham) to describe the conflict to a more qualified 'attack'
Soft-pulp Malayalam
Malaysia Manorama, often referred to
as just Manorama, is a market-fo-
cussed newspaper now in its 115lh
year of publication. It epitomises the
tension between runaway commerce and principled stands. Often,
the paper shocks its readers by following a quaint editorial policy. For
instance, it is still remembered that
on 7 December 1992, a day after the
demolition of the Babri Masjid, the
paper's editorial was concerned
with a fall in the price of rubber. Most
people attribute that particular editorial and the paper's more general
journalistic style to its owners, who
also run the Madras Rubber Factory
(MRF), a leading tyre manufacturer.
The more conspiracy-minded of
Manorama's critics claim that the pa
per is on the payroll of the Mossad,
the Israeli intelligence agency (the
supposed evidence being the presence of the paper's managing director, Mammen Mathew, as the lone
Indian representative at a Tel Aviv
media conference). The biggest contribution made by Manorama to
Malayalam journalism is the professionalism it has introduced to the
industry. For many Malayalis,
'newspaper' is still synonymous
with Malayala Manorama.
Manorama covered the war
against Iraq in truly market-obsessed fashion - in fact, hours before the US and Britain even fired
their first missiles into Iraq, the paper published an edition announcing that the war had begun. During
the war month, Manorama pub-
The Malayalam press
coverage was at par
with Kerala's English
papers - and sometimes surpassed it
lished two daily editions, the second being a war supplement under
the paper's standard masthead. Including reports and photo features,
there were four pages of war coverage on average. The paper's 22 war-
related editorials during this period
were not completely anti-war, but
were instead attempts at striking a
balance between the pro- and antiwar positions. Photographs played
a major role in Manorama's coverage, very effectively helping to
convey the pathos of the Iraqi situation. The paper gave much space
to rumours surrounding Saddam
Hussein and mysterious stories
about the Republican Guard. The
paper's reports, at one le\rel, were a
Malayalified version of 'embedded'
journalism, though the paper did
not send a correspondent to West
Asia, a break with its usual practice
of often sending a Manorama
reporter as Kerala's sole media representative to outside venues. In
total, the paper's war coverage
may be characterised as soft-pulp
The anti-warrior
Madhyamam is a struggling competitor of Mathrubhoomi and Manorama. Run by a Muslim reformist
organisation, the paper, despite its
limited resources, sent a correspondent, MCA Nazir, to Iraq. The paper
was careful to avoid prejudiced reportage from American and British
wire services, and focused in great
measure on the condition of the
besieged Iraqis. As an editorial
policy, Madhyamam refrained from
using the term 'coalition forces', instead employing 'American-British
forces'. The paper did not, however,
increase its page length to accommodate war news.
During the war month, Madhyamam carried 16 anti-war editorials
under such titles as "Boycott US, UK
Products", "Not War, but Barbarism" and "The UN is Dead". The
day after Baghdad fell, the title of
the paper's editorial was "Not Victors, but Exploiters". Between 19
March and 19 April, the 12-page
paper gave an average of five-and-
half pages to war coverage, and its
Sunday supplement was full of horror stories from the conflict. Madhyamam published 64 op-ed pieces
during this period, many of them
translations of hard-hitting pieces
from internationally known writers.
Taking the Malayalam press as a
whole, Madhyamam clearly stood at
the forefront of the peace movement
in Kerala, calling on its readers to
protest in the streets against the invasion. Before the war even started,
Madhyamam was carrying translated columns of Robert Fisk and
Noam Chomsky on the dangers of
American global ambitions. Fisk,
and later the Australia-based freelance writer John Pilger, received
prominent placement in the paper
during the war, and continued to
do so even at the end of April.
Madhyamam made ample use of the
resources at its disposal to offer a
distinctive viewpoint on the war.   b
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
The capacity for conquest
The strategic impact of US victory in Iraq on South Asia
by Varun Sahni
On 20 April this year, as the United States military forces in Iraq changed gears from "war
fighting" to "state building", two cartoons appeared in The Washington Post. The first has George W
Bush asserting, "Syria isn't 'next on the list'. We don't
even have 'a list'... It's more of a wheel". The adjoining
caricature shows Bush next to a "wheel of fortune"; the
arrow is pointing at Iraq, but Syria, Iran and North Korea
are also on the wheel, wondering when it will turn
against them.
The second cartoon in the Post was even more explicit. An official spokesman in an Uncle Sam hat
stands at a lectern saying, "Iraq, then Syria, down
through Jordan, then Saudi Arabia to Iran, Afghanistan again, for old times' sake, clean up Pakistan and
India, through China to North Korea, back across Russia, straighten out Old Europe....". At this point someone in the audience asks, "What about the Mideast
Peace Road Map?" Answers the official spokesman,
"That's what I'm looking at". He holds in his hands a
map of "the scenic route".
So is this what world politics has boiled down to in
2003? Are these cartoons accurate in their portrayal of
the spirit and aspirations of Washington DC? What
does it mean to live in an international system in which
military capabilities are acutely concentrated in the
hands of a single state? Are the rest of us truly at the
mercy of the whims and fancies of the Americans? And
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what is the strategic significance of this state of affairs
for South Asia and for its cardinal security dilemma,
the India-Pakistan conflict? These questions, uppermost in many minds after the victory of the US (and
UK) in Iraq, warrant an analysis of American power
and policy, particularly as it relates to South Asia.
US on top
It is important to understand, right at the outset, the
overwhelming superiority of American capabilities today. Both logically and causally, everything else flows
out of this military dominance, which is both absolute
and relative. In absolute terms, the US today has military capabilities that can reach any point on the planet
accurately, lethally and in real time, thereby crippling
the adversary while its own forces are sheltered to the
maximum extent possible from the inherent dangers of
war. The Iraq war demonstrated this absolute capability of the US beyond a shadow of doubt.
But even more awesome than the absolute capabilities of the US is the fact that no other power on Earth
today can remotely match them. Depending on how
you count and what you look out for, the US today
spends more on its military than the next 10 powers
combined. Historian Paul Kennedy in a recent article
goes even further in asserting that the Pentagon budget
is "equal now to the combined defense spending of the
next 14 or 15 powers". This overwhelming military preponderance is overkill dominance, if there ever was.
But, in fact, this quantitative perspective understates
US military dominance, for two reasons. First, many of
the powers trailing behind the US on the military spending list are its own allies. Second, unlike most of the
other powers on the list, a large chunk of the Pentagon's budget goes into military research and development, or in other words, technology. Thus, the military
dominance of the US is not just based on higher
military spending, but on a qualitative gap, a technological chasm that no other power can at present conceivably span.
However, it would be a mistake to attribute US military dominance to technology alone. Going hand in
hand with its lead in technology are its vastly superior
systems of military organisation and strategic planning.
As the Iraq war demonstrates, strategic control of the
war by the theatre commander did not stand in the way
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
of tactical innovativeness on the battlefield itself.
The clearest example of this would be the surprisingly rapid fall of Baghdad. In the history of war, there
have been only two ways to "take cities" that are in
hostile hands: through siege (surrounding a city until
it surrenders through starvation, exhaustion and attrition) or by urban warfare (fighting it out street by street,
zone by zone). Instead, the American forces devised
the novel tactic of "reconnaissance in force" that
involved a small but highly mobile mechanised force
penetrating deep into the city, occupying critical road
junctions, and then staying put to fight a static infantry
battle until reinforcements arrived.
The American tactics in Baghdad can be contrasted
with the fiasco of Mogadishu a decade earlier when, in
much less intimidating circumstances, the US suffered
one of its most humiliating military defeats. Nothing
demonstrates better the capacity of the US military to
learn from the lessons of war and to improve its performance in 'the next round'.
Thus, the first imperial war of 'Pax Americana'
clearly demonstrates the US lead in all things military
- money, technology, planning and
training - and begets the question: is ^^^^^^^™
there any way in which American power can be moderated or balanced? In the
long term, of course another great power will rise to challenge and balance
American power. This is the lesson of
history and, the logic of politics, as international studies scholar Christopher
Layne has shown so convincingly. In
1660, France under Louis XIV was unchallenged; by 1713, England, Hab-
sburg Austria and Russia were contesting French power. In 1860, the high
noon of the Victorian period, Pax Bri-
tannica looked secure forever. By 1910, it was clear that
Germany, Japan and the US had emerged as contenders to British power. Who can doubt that 25 years from
now, another great power, most probably China, will
be giving the US a serious run for its money?
The problem for the rest of the world is that 25 years
is a long way off. What happens in the interim? Do
we just grin (or grimace) and bear it? Put in these
terms, it is clear that today there is only one body
that could moderate the exercise of American muscularity, and that is the Atlantic alliance itself. As the
member of a security community, the US has an enormous interest in keeping the alliance of liberal market
democracies alive.
This is what makes Jacques Chirac's miscalculation such a terribly damaging one, not just for France
but indeed for all of us. Instead of grandstanding in the
UN Security Council and taking on the Americans so
publicly, French diplomacy ought to have been working within the confines of the North Atlantic Treaty
DC pays any attention to South Asia
only because
of the dangerous
instabilities that
persist in the
nuclear scene
tilateral route to disarming Iraq was the only one worth
taking. That was a role that France, with ambitions of
greatness, could have played to perfection. At this moment of world history, to have expected multipolarity
to alchemically emerge from an overt confrontation with
the US was at best wishful thinking, at worst, a blunder
of historic proportions.
Realpolitik school
In the top military school in America, where I am on a
short visiting stint, basic American strategy and interests are debated and analysed and future American
generals and admirals are trained to see the larger picture. If there is one place where one would expect to
find an exuberant triumphalism about the scale of the
US victory in Iraq, this is it.
Incredible though it may seem, I can honestly say
that I have detected none of that. Instead, what one senses are a quiet satisfaction and a steely resolve. On 11
September, America was attacked. Now, the US will
attack whomsoever it feels is threatening its security. It
all seems to be as simple as that. The point, then, is that
the US not only has the capabilities but
^^^^^^^" also the conviction and commitment to
use the overwhelming force that it commands to protect its security.
But is the American definition of security threats not unduly expansive?
Even many of those who sympathised
with and supported the US after 11 September felt that Iraq did not pose a security threat to the American homeland.
That, in effect, was at least one of the
criticisms of American policy leading up
to the Iraq intervention.
The US, obviously, viewed the situation differently. Its consideration was
not just the possibility of Iraq passing on weapons of
mass destruction to terrorist groups, which the US government made so much of in the days before the war.
The very fact that the US faced a terrorist threat in the
first place was placed at the door of Saddam Hussein.
The argument went something like this: terrorists (Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda) targeted America due to
the presence of US forces near the holy sites of Islam in
Saudi Arabia. US forces were deployed in Saudi Arabia
due to the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to Iraq's
neighbours. Thus, regime change in Iraq was in the vital security interest of the US. As can be seen, one of the
first decisions the Bush administration took after the
Iraq war was to deploy American forces from Saudi
Arabia to Qatar.
The intention here is not to revisit the question of
whether US intervention in Iraq that led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was justified or not. Replaying both sides of that argument would serve little purpose, given that both positions are well known and firm-
Organisation to convince the United States that the mul-      ly held. The idea here is to discern the pattern of US
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
intervention in recent years to ascertain under what
circumstances the US feels free to militarily intervene
in other states. That is obviously a matter of significant
import for South Asia.
Thus, if Iraq suggests that the US is predisposed to
intervene militarily in other states, North Korea presents a completely different reading of its propensity
toward intervention. In the latter case, the US has made
it clear that what it is most concerned about is not Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions per se, but rather its nuclear commerce. It is North Korea's threat that it would
sell nuclear and missile technology that most worries
Washington DC.
Given China's security guarantee to North Korea,
and given the latter's conventional capability to obliterate the city of Seoul, a US military intervention in
North Korea is highly unlikely- But the litmus test for
Washington DC appears to be the extent to which its
own security is threatened, not its broader interests.
Protection of its immediate security, rather than the promotion of its long-term interests, will determine the likelihood and timing of US military intervention. Thus,
along with power and purpose, both of which Washington has in abundance, we need to add a third factor,
protection (critics of the US would be tempted to use the
word "paranoia" instead), as a test of when the US will
intervene and when it will not.
It does not appear that the military capabilities that
the US currently commands, and its commitment to use
that capability when it feels it needs to, will make 'Pax
Americana' a period of crusades and conquests. The
US still seems to view the world in classic realpolitik, or
even machtpolitik (power politics), terms. If there is a
desire to crusade and conquer, it comes not from Washington but from London. In recent years, it is the British
who would appear to be articulating and promoting a
moralpolitik understanding of what they undoubtedly
regard as "Anglo-American" dominance. Robert Cooper, a key foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Tony
Blair, has even suggested the need for "a new kind of
imperialism" that actively intervenes in cases of state
failure and humanitarian crises. But as long as the realists rule the roost in Washington DC, crusades and
wars of conquests are unlikely. Wars of prevention and
retribution should remain the name of the game.
Dialogue of the deaf
Given this scenario where the US will pursue war only
in response to security threats of an immediate nature,
what does all of the above mean for Sotith Asia? Immediately after 11 September, South Asia became for a brief
moment the cockpit of world politics. The "global" war
on terror was located in South Asia because of the widespread and deep-rooted perception in the US that
it is primarily from there that the terrorist threat emanated. The Iraq intervention has changed all that.
South Asia has been safely returned to the periphery of
world politics.
The only reason that Washington DC pays any attention to South Asia is because of the dangerous instabilities that persist in the India-Pakistan nuclear scene
(it can hardly be dignified with the term "equilibrium").
As the crisis of May-June 2002 clearly revealed, in the
India-Pakistan context the gap between asymmetric
warfare and a nuclear exchange remains uncomfortably small.
The reason for this is obvious enough: in order to
counter Pakistan's asymmetric warfare ("cross-border
terrorism"), the temptation for India to initiate a sub-
conventional war (small special forces operations
against terrorist targets) remains strong. The problem
is that sub-conventional war, which the Indian policy
community has labelled as "limited war under nuclear
conditions" (not to be confused with "limited nuclear
war"), has the distinct potential of escalating into a
full-fledged conventional war. If that were to happen,
Pakistan's avowed (albeit unwritten) doctrine of first
use/early use could lead to nuclear weapon use by Pakistan, followed by a nuclear second strike by India.
In doctrinal terms, it would appear that the basic
problem is that the need for credibility imposes very
different requirements on Pakistani and Indian nuclear doctrines. With their nuclear first use/early use doctrine to compensate for Indian conventional superiority, Pakistani planners have to grapple with the issue of
nuclear thresholds, ie the point beyond which Pakistan would have no option but to use its nuclear weapons. For India, in sharp contrast, the entire issue of credibility revolves around the question of avoiding nuclear war, ie waging limited conventional war under nuclear conditions.
As Pakistani statements from General Musharraf
downward would indicate, a number of different
thresholds are being signalled by Pakistan - geographic, military, political and even economic. How political
or economic instability in Pakistan would translate into
nuclear weapon use against India is far from clear. In
effect, Pakistan seems to be laying down not one but
multiple tripwires for India, some of which are all but
invisible to New Delhi.
Pakistan's Kashmir policy makes it a revisionist
state in the bilateral and regional context. Nuclear weapons, which by their very nature buttress the status quo,
thus pose a buge dilemma for Pakistan. As the weaker
state, nuclear weapons are good news for Pakistan,
since they guarantee its security in perpetuity. On the
flip side, however, nuclear weapons spell finis for Pakistan's Kashmir policy. This explains why Pakistan, to
get around the status quo, is now deliberately shortening its nuclear fuse vis-a-vis India by enunciating a
host of nuclear thresholds. Given its lack of conventional superiority, nuclear first use in the case of Pakistan is
also likely to involve early use, which is precisely the
signal that Pakistan wishes to get out to its adversary.
India's nuclear doctrine, in contrast to Pakistan's,
is based on a completely different understanding of the
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
role of nuclear weapons. If India "went nuclear" because of the belief that only nuclear weapons can deter
nuclear weapons, then it would appear that Indian
policy makers now also subscribe to the converse proposition: when both sides have them, nuclear weapons
deter only nuclear weapons. The intent, clearly, is to
establish a deterrence relationship with Pakistan that
leaves some space open for limited conventional war.
Communication with the adversary is the sine qua
non of limited war inasmuch as it signals that no core
interest is at stake in the engagement. Kashmir, however, is a core interest for both states. For this reason, the
hope of some that the Kargil conflict of 1999 would become the Cuban IVIissile Crisis of South Asia and make
both nuclear sides stand down has been stillborn.
The crisis of summer 2002 would indicate that both
India and Pakistan are on a steep learning curve when
it comes to building a robust deterrence relationship,
which must necessarily be based on the notion of partnership with the adversary to prevent and manage
conflict. This would suggest that as long as Pakistani
policy is predicated on nuclear compellence (leveraging its nuclear capability to "internationalise" Kashmir in order to force a settlement upon India), a stable
deterrence relationship is unlikely to emerge between
the two states.
Given the nature of the security dilemma in South
Asia, the fear that the summer of 2003 would be an
action replay of 2002 - snows melt, terrorism increases,
India warns, Pakistan responds, standoff ensues, the
world wonders - is therefore totally realistic. The problem with an annual India-Pakistan standoff is that, in
the absence of a stable deterrence relationship, there is
absolutely no guarantee that the situation will not suddenly escalate out of control.
However, as long as the India-Pakis tan standoff
does not threaten the security of the US itself, any possibility that Washington DC would forcibly intervene
in the region can be totally discounted. Neither Pakistan nor India, in that sense, is Iraq. Washington DC,
as a matter of fact, wants good relations with both states,
and both of them in turn are craving good relations
with the US.
The fact that there will be no significant strategic
impact of 'Pax Americana' on South Asia is good news.
It would of course be even better if India and Pakistan
could end their dialogue of the deaf and begin a genuine dialogue. The recent conversation between tire Indian and Pakistani prime ministers may yet signal a
new beginning. £
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 The endless road to democracy
A prognosis of civil-military cooperation
by Shafqat Munir
Pakistan's decades-long, on-again, off-again rela
tionship with democracy has been marred by both
internal and external factors. Over the past three
decades, Pakistan has held six general and a similar
number of local body elections. It is difficult to complain about the number of elections, though the duration between these polls has varied widely. Whenever
the people of Pakistan have been allowed to exercise
their franchise, the levels of participation in the political process, even at the village level, have been fairly
good. In the last three decades, while people have voted for their representatives and governments, they just
have not been given a chance to vote out their representatives and governments. Either the military has stepped
in or presidents have dissolved assemblies to settle disputes with prime ministers.
Civilian presidents dissolved assemblies and dismissed the governments of Benazir Bhutto twice and of
Nawaz Sharif once. But while these prime ministers
were not allowed to complete their terms, presidential
action did not disrupt the democratic process, as new
assemblies were constituted throughout the 1988-1999
period through elections. However, the dismissal of the
governments of Zulfikar M Bhutto (5 July 1977) and
Nawaz Sharif (12 October 1999) came at the hands of
generals who introduced their own visions of civil-military democracy. If General Zia-ul Haq brought in a
conservative agenda, General Pervez Musharraf took
over with a comparatively liberal one. But both introduced democracies of their choice and defined governance on their own terms. And both fabricated would-
be ruling parties overnight to advance their respective
Usurpers: Musharraf and Zia.
During his 11-year rule, Zia literally tried to change
the basic democratic fabric of Pakistani society through
so-called Islamisation, which US policymakers condoned and sanctioned so that they could leverage religious sentiment against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This is the era that brought to Pakistan the culture
of the Taliban, Kalashnikovs, drugs and other extremist trends linked to the US-Osama bin Laden jihad
against Soviet troops. The Zia era successfully fragmented Pakistani society along ethnic, caste, creed and religious lines, and witnessed the creation of a separate
electorate system to justify the general's grip on power
through elected local bodies. Then came the highly
controversial Hudood laws, which, in the name of Islamisation, undermined the position of women and
contributed to the marginalisation of minority communities and citizens in general, making them more vulnerable to social and state violence while concomitantly depriving them of their fundamental rights and democratic traditions.
The military dictatorship of General Zia is solely
responsible for Pakistan's spiralling crises, which combined have blocked progress towards democracy and
stymied the pursuit of tolerance, peace, social justice,
economic growth and institution building. Moreover,
it was Zia's rule that created militant jihadis, the so-
called warrior element, among the people of Pakistan.
Mushy order
In contrast to his predecessors, Musharraf has been
hesitant to drape his government in the garb of martial
law. He is on record as saying that he is not an incarnation of either Field Marshal Ayub Khan or Zia, but is a
different breed. Indeed, Musharraf claims to be a Pakistani visionary in the mould of Singapore's Lee Kuan
Yew and Muhammad Mahathir of Malaysia.
While both Zia and Musliarraf introduced their own
slates of democratic reforms, Musharraf is something
of a humane dictator rather than a military one. He has
allowed the protection of certain liberties. He has introduced a devolution plan aimed at distributing power
to local bodies, thus facilitating transition to democracy at the village level. In contrast to Zia, Musharraf fulfilled his promise of conducting elections within the
period mandated by the supreme court, albeit amid
public accusations of electoral rigging to ensure the victory of his client party, the Pakistan Muslim League
(Quaid-e-a&zam), at the centre and in the provinces of
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
m • >* ■*»! s
"IB if
7?ie deposed: Father and daughter Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif.
Balochistan and Punjab. Politics being what it is, Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party was relegated to
the opposition benches in Sindh despite emerging from
the elections as the single largest party. In North Western Frontier Province, a pro-Taliban religious alliance
wound up in control.
Nonetheless, before restoring even selective parliamentary politics, Musharraf introduced the Legal
Framework Order (LFO), which according to his government's theoreticians, automatically became part of
the constitution without parliamentary endorsement.
Besides introducing electoral reforms such as lowering
the suffrage age from 21 to 18, establishing seat quotas
of 33 percent for women and minorities and other similar progressive provisions, the LFO gave sweeping
powers to the president over the administrative functions of government. It is because of this imbalanced
power formula that Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali is on record as saying that President Musharraf is
his boss. Coming from a prime minister, such an admission runs counter to the spirit of Pakistan's constitution, rules of procedure and tenets of democracy.
The opposition is pursuing this, querying how a
grade-22 officer (chief of army staff) outranks an elected prime minister.
The LFO controversy has marred the newly elected
national assembly, which has convened six times in
short-lived sessions since its inception after the October 2002 general elections. In the sixth session that ended on 30 April, the national assembly counted 15 working days during which it transacted nominal business
in the form of a bill broadening the powers of the government to sack government employees. Out of these 15
working days, the national assembly actually met for
only seven, during which the opposition continuously
voiced its protests against the LFO and the presence of a
uniformed president in the assembly hall. jAfter almost
six months, the tug of war between the opposition and
the JamaU-led, Musharraf-controlled government has
failed to result in the repeal of certain clauses of the LFO
that empower the president over the prime minister and
the parliament and allow him to simultaneously hold
a military rank.
Nevertheless, only recently Prime Minister Jamali
showed some flexibility and started talks with the opposition. A day before the talks were set to start, however, Musharraf met senior journalists, telling them that
he would not give up his uniform, thus implying that
he will continue to hold the reins of power. He categorically stated that he wants to see the reforms introduced
by his government continued, implying a continued
central political role for himself. Musharraf went so far
as to make the interesting argument that his uniformed
political service is required, as it allows him to speak
for both the military and political leaderships. The opposition did not buy this argument, but the situation
ignited a debate on whether democracy can prevail long
without the support of the military and if the military's
role should be constitutionaUy enshrined, as the Westminster model may not suit Pakistan.
On the LFO, the opposition-government joint committee has identified seven controversial clauses that
need to be sorted out before 15 May so that the parliament is in working order before the start of the seventh
session. In the opposition's formulation, the most im?
portant of these issues is the constitutional status of the
LFO, which it says cannot be unilaterally added to the
constitution by the government. The second concerns
the holding of dual military and civilian leadership
posts, and the third calls for the National Security Council to be dismantled. The fourth objection is that presidential power to dissolve parliament under Article
58(2)-B of the constitution is unacceptable in its present
form, which is related to the following point, that of ah
other powers of the president that give him supremacy
over parliament. A demand of Pakistan's legal fraternity for a three-year extension of the retirement age of
judges is the sixth point, followed by the final, the incorporation of several important laws under the sixth
schedule of the constitution, laws under which may
only be repealed or amended with the prior consent of
the president. The committee is scheduled to negotiate
on these points during a series of meetings between 5
and 15 May.
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
It is useful to consider these seven points in the context of Musharraf's candid discussion with senior journalists, where he articulated his defence of the LFO. The
question also arises as to how the committee can resolve this conflict when Musharraf has declared himself indispensable on all political fronts, including the
economic and diplomatic. Given such a situation, and
despite the scheduling of formal talks, it cannot be ruled
out that the opposition will soften its stance, in particular in light of a possible improvement in India-Pakistan relations, which might entail diplomatic and commercial re-engagement. If this were to happen it would
have far-reaching effects on the domestic politics of both
India and Pakistan.
It is likely that the LFO committee will accept some
expanded presidential powers, such as those under
Article 58(2)-B and presidential discretion in the sacking of prime ministers. Similarly, the government for
the time being could scrap the controversial National
Security Council and give up ground on the extension
of judges' retirement ages. On the issue of Musharraf
holding two offices simultaneously, a compromise
could be arrived at by giving a date for him to step down
from his military position if he agrees to stand for
re-election as a president in sherwani instead of in
If the government amicably resolves the LFO controversy, it could then focus its attention on political stability
to reap the fruits of economic growth and a favourable
diplomatic climate. But for the LFO impasse and political upheavals, Prime Minister Jamali's government has
inherited a fairly comfortable economic situation and
the rewards of a calculated foreign policy of putting
Pakistan at the centre of international attention.
On the domestic front, the economy is predicted to
grow 4.5 percent in fiscal year 2003 and by as much as
five percent in 2004 owing to stable macroeconomic
conditions, a narrowed fiscal deficit of 5.1 percent, a 15
percent increase in revenues and stabilisation of the
inflation rate at 3.5 percent. According to a recent Asian
Development Bank report, Pakistan's balance of payments has improved significantly due to a sharp increase in foreign remittances and larger inflows of foreign loans and grants. The balance of payments currently shows a large surplus of USD 2.7 billion in the
current account. External debt and liabilities have also
declined, with Pakistan retiring expensive short-term
loans/debt from USD 37.1 billion to USD 36.5 billion.
GDP growth stood at 3.6 percent in fiscal 2002, up from
2.5 percent in 2001. There are indications that due to
these improvements, GDP growth may exceed the 2003
target rate of 4.5 percent. Additionally, heavy rains in
late winter have improved the prospects of agriculture,
which is the backbone of Pakistan's economy. But while
these positive economic trends suggest an improved
future for Pakistan, rising poverty has had massive
counter-effects, weakening social sector services, among
other impacts. Just as importantly, employment opportunities and livelihood options for many people, particularly the marginalised, are not improving.
Pakistan's economic growth outlook is clouded
when there is political instability, tension at the borders and global economic uncertainty. Though there
are some signs of flexibility on the domestic, regional
and international fronts, Pakistan has to move in a skilful manner. While politics falls beyond the military's
mandate, the generals nonetheless have concrete political power stemming from their control over administrative, intelligence and economic networks, making
them difficult to ignore. Politicians should consider
devising a model of democracy tailored to Pakistan
instead of expecting the Westminster system to suddenly work.
Likewise, the military leadership should recognise
that wThen generals topple elected civilian governments,
sometimes in concert with US strategic calculations,
displaced civilian leaders pull on the military's power.
In this game, which has been repeated several times,
the military manufactures mandates for a newly created group of pro-establishment leaders who lack support on the ground. Those who join military-crafted governments to legitimise the rule of generals receive a clean chit, often in spite of implication in criminality, while opposition figures are branded corrupt
and often driven into exile or imprisoned. Political stability cannot be ensured unless real political parties
and their leaders, in accordance with popular support
from the people of Pakistan, are allowed to function
freely, and the political and military leaderships respect
one another's positions.
On the border conflict, the recent peace initiative
from Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and
the matching response from Islamabad come as good
omens. The Americans, having completed their task in
Iraq, now appear interested in helping to resolve other
regional conflicts such as the tension between India
and Pakistan. In the US-dominated global order, it
appears that there is no purpose to such tension,
and hopefully stability in India-Pakistan relations will
soon emerge.
The third stability factor, the reversal of international uncertainties, has improved with Islamabad's adroit
handling of the Iraq crisis. It neither sided openly with
the US nor with Saddam Hussein. However, Pakistan
has been supportive of the Iraqi people, and it is garnering economic support and enhanced status as an
ally in the war against terrorism and as a country that
repudiates state-sponsored terrorism.
Of the three stability factors, the latter two appear to
be improving, though the country's domestic political
situation still requires progress. This depends purely
on the attitudes and understanding of the two forces in
the country, the political and military leaderships.    A
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
Microbes unite!
THE DEPRESSION hits me on a warm and humid
Bangkok evening. I am just through with dinner in the
city's crowded Sukhumvit business district, my head
full of the war on Iraq, and I spot these people - people
with masks on their faces.
A couple of weeks ago anybody with a cloth covering his or her face in this city would have been branded
a jihadi, a possible Arab/Muslim/dark-skinned/dark-
intentioned 'terrorist'. The city had been on alert well
before the war on Iraq started to prevent 'Arab looking'
people from doing bad things - for eg, looking Arab.
Just around the time of the Anglo-American attack on
Iraq, if an 'Arab' had been seen behind a mask in
Bangkok the entire city would have been evacuated.
Apparently, not anymore. Respectable people wear
masks now in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong
Kong. In fact, they say wearing a mask is mandatory to
save yourself from SARS - the flu-like virus that has
much of Southeast Asia in deep panic. Tourists are cancelling their trips in droves, schools are closing down,
economies plunging, governments in crisis and the Chinese - oh those 'super-contaminating Chinese' - are
being spumed everywhere.
Suddenly, an irrational panic grips me: there is no
escape. If the Apostles of Armageddon running the
White House do not get you, some mysterious, malevolent microbes will. For a fleeting moment, a deep frozen
moment, I lose hope. We are finished. They will get us
one way or the other. This is what the new/old colonial world order is going to be all about - complete
helplessness for us common citizens. Caught between
SARS and their wars the only safe place is soon going to
be - you guessed right - on planet Mars.
Yes, the people I saw wearing those masks
have a right to protect themselves. 1 will not mock
them in any way. To paraphrase Voltaire, I do
not believe these masks medically help
them in any way but I will defend
to the death their right to wear
them. And then there are so many
of them out there who deserve to
have a mask fixed on their faces anyway (so we will not have to 'read their       -.„-
bloody lips').
Yes, there are these microbes and *gj
many of them are dangerous. Yes, people
have died and still continue to do so. And
it is indeed true, we really do not know
which way this pandemic is going to turn out. There
are constant references to the great influenza outbreak
after the first world war, which killed an estimated 20
to 40 million people. Is SARS going to be that big? I am
no kin to any Indian sage and I cannot predict such
things. But I am betting that neither the 'medical experts' nor the 'media' can give us a real idea of what is
going to happen. At this stage, given the sparse information on hand about SARS, it is all idle speculation -
an activity that some people usually make lots of money
out of.
Even assuming the deeply depressing thought that
much of humanity is going to be wiped out by SARS
over the next year (that is what the media is making it
sound like), let us take a step back from this approaching abyss, take a deep breath (go ahead, do it while it is
still safe) and reflect on a few questions about other
aspects of this pandemonium of a pandemic,
First the context: why are we so full of fear only of
these microbes and not of those dozen other ways in
which people die completely avoidable deaths?
To anyone who is not already aware of these facts
let me spell them out:
■ 250,000 to 500,000 people die every year around the
world due to ordinary influenza, the common 'garden variety' flu. In the United States alone, with a
vaccine and medical care available, flu kills 36,000
people every year.
■ Anywhere between one to 2.7 million people die every year due to malaria, a vast majority in Africa,
many of whom are children.
■ Tuberculosis kills two million people every year, 98
percent of whom live in developing countries.
■ Hiv/AIDS claimed 3 million lives in 2002, including
those of an estimated 610,000 children.
■ Traffic accidents kill 300,000 people every year in
Asia alone.
■ The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq killed at least
10-15,000 Iraqi soldiers and over 2300 Iraqi civilians in its first two weeks and perhaps several hundred British and American troops.
And I am not even counting those millions
who die of poverty and malnutrition around
the globe annually. Every year the Indian media attributes hundreds of deaths to the 'cold
wave', 'the heat wave', 'too much
rain' and 'too little rain'. The fact is
these deaths have nothing to do
with the weather - people die every hour, wantonly, in perfectly
good weather. We all know why. 1
say this: if we choose to cover our
faces, let it be in anger and in shame
- not just due to some microbes.
Here are the numbers of SARS
cases worldwide and deaths between when the disease is supposed to have broken
out in southern China around 1 November 2002 and
end-April. In the six months since the outbreak, a total
of 4439 cases of SARS and 'suspected' SARS have been
recorded in 26 countries and 263 people have died. The
mortality rate due to SARS is estimated to be between 3
and 4 percent - just above that of normal influenza -
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
but even this is not confirmed because the total number
of real SARS cases is not yet known. Nor is its exact
method of transmission clearly understood - which
is why wearing masks may not be a useful precaution
at all.
The medical establishment: the SARS alarm bells
started ringing only when the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a global alert in mid-March. A war
of words broke out soon between the WHO and the Chinese health authorities - the latter being accused of 'hiding information' about SARS in its first few months.
The Chinese said something back, which nobody understood (they are never going to be a 'superpower'
this way).
One of the big critiques of bodies such as the WHO
from health activists has been of the way the global
health body has adopted a purely 'vertical' approach
to global health problems at the cost of a sustained,
holistic and long-term approach. So whenever there is
an outbreak, or more usually an outcry, about a particular disease, the WHO and other global health officials organise a 'posse', mobilise some resources and
ride into the wilderness ready to 'lasso' the villain.
Once the 'critter' is temporarily    _________
caught or suppressed the issue is
mostly forgotten.
There is no attempt to even address the underlying causes of new
viruses and diseases emerging for example, due to super-intensive techniques of animal husbandry, recycling of animal offal in animal feed,
the use of a variety of artificial hormones and growth-enhancers and, of course, effects
from biological warfare experiments. Nor is there any
attempt to mitigate the conditions, such as overcrowding, poverty and lack of housing infrastructure, under
which infectious diseases such as SARS spread so rapidly. The WHO has failed to push policies that tackle
other basic social and economic determinants of public
health - such as conflict, environmental pollution and
privatisation of health care.
The media: has anybody really asked how much of
the SARS scare is due to the media's penchant for simplistic, alarmist reporting? One of the first 'big' SARS
cases to make headlines was that of Johnny Cheng, a
Chinese-American businessman who died at a hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, after flying in from Hong Kong.
In late March, Hanoi was one of the 'epicentres' of the
SARS pandemic, going by media reports. No more.
The country seems to have slipped down the hit list
of 'no go' places with just 63 reported SARS cases and
five deaths.
How did this 'super-contagious', 'killer' disease get
contained in a crowded country like Vietnam with a
very average public health system? Nobody in the media is following the Vietnam story anymore because
that is not on the map of the globe-trotting elites. But
How much of the
SARS scare is due to
the media's penchant
for simplistic, alarmist
Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto are on that
map, hence the panic about viruses travelling on
the business class seat next to them. (If nothing else,
maybe there is a great 'success story' out there in
Vietnam, with details of how a poor, third world country has successfully contained this deadly new infectious disease.)
And what happened to the media follow-up to the
various other health scares we have had in the past
decade all around the globe? Bubonic plague in India,
Ebola in Africa, the Mad Cow Disease in the UK (I won't
take a dig at Tony B on this one)? aAnd why was there
virtually no coverage in the 'international media' of
the influenza outbreak in Madagascar in mid-2002,
where more than 27,000 cases were reported within
three months and 800 deaths occurred despite rapid
There is an apocryphal story going around about
how much of a 'media thing' the SARS scare probably
is. The question asked is why this new form of flu is
being called the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?
'Severe' and 'acute' - two synonymous terms together
- why? Apparently the term 'severe' was added (only
____^_____ in early March) to avoid an awkward
acronym resulting from what was
originally dubbed the Acute Respiratory Syndrome? What's the secret here:
cover your face and save your —?
That story is probably just a bad
joke, but let me tell you, I think so is
the way the entire SARS scare is being
reported and played out. I am not saying that the deaths due to SARS are not
a real, serious tragedy or that it could not turn into a
dangerous pandemic. Far from it. There is no moral
mathematics involved here, please. Every human life is
precious - Iraqi or American, Chinese or Singaporean,
A very unique, irreplaceable universe of its own disappears forever with each physical death. All I am pleading for is some more perspective. Why are those dying
of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and poverty in most
developing countries every day not making the headlines? Is it not because those who die unseen, unheard,
untreated are not in the same league as the Gold Card-
holding frequent flyers of our world? Is it not because
there is such a Tow probability' of a TB-infected African child coughing in the same air-conditioned corridors that our elites frequent?
A couple of years ago a senior editor of one of India's
major newspapers, when asked by a women's rights
activist to publish a story about high rates of malnutrition among girl children, is reported to have refused
and said, "The readers of our newspaper do not suffer
from malnutrition". Sure, Mr Let Them Eat Cake, but
are you and your readers not the cause of malnutrition
in India? (Ahem, what I wanted to say was, "Will someone pass me that cutting edge of the French Revolution!") When one hears stories such as these, a ques-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
tion arises in the mind. This is just a nasty, nasty question that I just cannot get out of my head. Could it be
that those who die unseen, unheard, untreated are themselves microbes in the worldview of our masters? Has
the microbe become a metaphor for the unwashed, unwanted millions who do not fit into the corporate
globalisation of our empire-builders?
Good riddance, they suppose, to those teeming,
troublesome microbes - of so little value to the empire.
Microbes, who cannot afford to buy
and have nothing to sell.
And from this high point of moral
clarity it is just a little leap away to identifying those other microbes that need
to be dealt with. The bearded, turbaned,
different, dissident, multi-tongued microbes. To be screened and searched at
every airline check-point, discouraged,
disinfected, disposed off like a dirty
secret. Microbes, whose very existence is a form of biological warfare to some.
No, I really do want to bring this subject up, however depressing the subject is to me and to many of you
reading this. It is important to see what our dear world
is headed towards. A world in which there are perishable, pestilent microbes and there are those human beings moulded in the image of God.
Okay, okay, not all of us are microbes of course.
Many of us are a slightly higher caste - tolerated, employed, paid, domesticated sheep and cattle. And there
is also that special category - well-fed, trained dogs.
God bless the creatures; I really have nothing against
their species. (In fact, some of them are my best friends.)
But I cannot help objecting to the worst of canine
qualities that many of these four-legged ones in our
midst display.
Whining and dining with the masters, biting and
barking at the poor. I know all this is getting a bit too
depressing and I do not like it one bit. I have been reading too much Orwell these days, and
that too, on the front pages of daily
newspapers. So how does one get out
of this 'animal farm' we all seem to be
trapped in? I say let us go back to our
roots and our traditions - the great traditions of the ancient microbes.
Think of it, microbes, the first form
of life on planet earth. Microbes - mating, multiplying, mutating into higher,
more virulent forms of cognitive, combative life. Weathering all storms, resisting all predators and surviving
every sterile environment. Microbes evolving, exploring, exploding till every form of life finds its place under the sun.
I have got it figured now. What this globe really
needs now is a Movement Of All Microbes and the
Mother of All Movements. A million MOAMs to match
the challenges ahead. b
(By Satya Sagar; originally under the title "SARS,
War and the Farce", Zmag, April 2003)
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Phoney knights in showy armour
Successful people
Halve separate shoes
Some for celebrations
Others for grief
—Govinda Mathur, Bache huye shabda
PRESIDENT HAMID Karzai has more faith in his
American guards than in his own people. General
Musharraf refuses to speak to an "uncivilised" parliament but courts even lowly Pentagon officials enthusiastically. King Gyanendra has chosen, since 4 October
2002, to walk the treacherous bylanes of state power al!
alone but he can do nothing about what the US government considers international terrorists. President Chandrika Kumaratunga has very little confidence in the
peacemaking abilities of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe but cannot deny him his moment in the sun
due to the pressure of the Washington Consensus. For
Begum Khalida Zia of Bangladesh, the
motives of anyone opposed to her quixotic politics are suspect, but even she
trembles at the Western charge that her
country is harbouring Al Qaeda fugitives.
In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati and
Mulayam Singh will lob cheap innuendo at each other but will not do anything to oppose American presence in	
the region. The Lalooland of Bihar does
not even make a claim to political civility - its de facto
chief minister graces a political rally to celebrate the
power of the stick, presumably because it is useful in
electoral politics. But in his rally, Laloo at least showed
the courage to stand against American imperialism,
even though his actions have very little significance.
Things are not much better in Maharashtra or Gujarat where since saffronites are in control of public life,
everyone is disturbingly quiet about the crusade against
Muslims in West Asia. A little to the southeast, there is
no love lost between the competing claimants of Anna-
durai's political legacy in Madras. Chandrababu
Naidu's courtesy towards the leadership of the Congress is largely a reflection of the political reality in his
state. His Telugu Desam cannot run the Andhra
administration by antagonising Sonia Gandhi's sympathisers in the Hyderabad secretariat - the keeper of
Telugu pride needs them only to check the powerful
challenge of the Bharatiya Janata Party. But all of them
are keeping mum about the new hegemon in the region
- the United States of America.
Even though democracy survives in some form or
the other in more parts of South Asia now than ever
before, popular governments have failed to transform
For the elite the
best guarantee
against a challenge
is an American
insurance policy
the ruling classes of this region. Not unlike their feudal
predecessors, the elite of even democratic regimes from
Kashmir to Colombo continues to conduct itself with
the arrogance of "since I am the boss around here, I
know best what is best for you all". Despite democracy
and the freedom of press, dissent can still put you at
peril - even a historian of Romila Thapar's standing
has to learn to live with state-inspired public ridicule.
So the masses have learnt to accept the hard reality
of American arrogance simply because the elite has
ignominiously acquiesced.
American eminence
A division in the ranks of the ruling elite has often led
to cataclysmic events. The creation of Pakistan was
largely a result of mutual suspicion between the Muslim and Hindu intelligentsia of the Indian National
Congress, epitomised by a clash of the personalities of
two barristers - Jawaharlal Nehru and
mmm^"™—~*■ Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The birth of
Bangladesh became a foregone conclusion the moment the feudocratic military
establishment of Islamabad refused to
deal with Bengali winners of electoral
politics from East Pakistan on equal
terms. Among other factors, the dema-
goguery of Sinhala politicos ensured the
     rise of Tamil insurgency in Jaffna. The
effects of these conflicts continue to
afflict all South Asians to this day.
In a socially integrated region such South Asia, it is
perhaps natural that intrastate conflicts have interstate
ramifications, but when divided rulers exploit solidarity, the unity of the people often proves to be a curse.
Islamabad cannot keep itself aloof from what is happening inside Kashmir or Kandahar even if it wants to.
Indira Gandhi had to invade East Pakistan to liberate
Bangladesh. But her son's compulsions in Jaffna were
different - Rajiv Gandhi had to dispatch peacekeeping
forces to Sri Lanka to prevent the creation of an independent Tamil state.
Whether it is the fate of Lhotshampas languishing
in the refugee camps of eastern Nepal or the lot of the
Biharis of Bangladesh braving the crossing of India to
make it to Pakistan, the destinies of all South Asians
are inextricably intertwined. Unfortunately, the ruling
elite of Colombo, Dhaka, Islamabad, Kathmandu, New
Delhi and Thimpu does not appreciate this, mainly
because it lives in the gated ghettos of capital cities. And
it has increasingly begun to think that the best guarantee
against any challenge from the people is an American
insurance policy, bought by unquestioning]}' supporting the Bush-Blair duo, even in its own neighbourhood.
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
Politicians take all the blame - much of it well
deserved, no doubt - but other constituents of the
ruling elite cannot be exonerated of wilful failure on all
fronts. It is said that the market integrates, literature
opens the mind, the media liberates and the intelligentsia encourages tolerance. Perhaps. But these 'agents of
change' are doing anything but. They behave more
Bushy than Tony. Then why bemoan the fact that it
takes a bludgeoning from the global bully to make AB
Vajpayee and MZ Jamali talk to each other? Is it not a
fact that were it not for American pressure, the Tamil
Tigers would have withdrawn from the negotiating
table long ago, and the Maoists of Nepal would still be
ransacking and ravaging the countryside at will?
Let us face it: the South Asian elite is too disconnected from the masses to understand their trials and tribulations. Lacking indigenous tools of comprehension, it
needs American prisms to make sense of its own surroundings. And then, inevitably, Pentagon 'persuasion'
to act on contradictions within its own societies.
Blustering bourgeoisie
Farid Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, is a typical American republican who
places personal liberty high in
the order of priority, way above
the need of democratic politics.
Zakaria hails from India, has a
Muslim name, and has no compunction in manufacturing
intellectual apologies for the
aggressive neoliberalism of his
adopted country. American
conservatives could not have
wished for a better poster-boy
for their post-11 September game plan in WTest Asia.
On one of his tours of duty to New Delhi, recalls
Zakaria, "A friend of my father's took me aside and he
said, 'I want you to know how proud we all are of you.'
That's the great thing about India. Success in America
isn't considered selling out. They all think you have
made it!" Zakaria perhaps tried to hide his shame
behind a sign of exclamation. But there is no revelation
in what his father's friend said - most members of the
South Asian elite are so ashamed of being born in this
region that all their energy is wasted in escaping from
here rather than working to bring about meaningful
With such hollow men and empty women in positions of leadership, no South Asian country can hope
to offer even a symbolic resistance if the two 'butchers'
of Baghdad were to decide tomorrow that 'regime
change' in this region is a necessary condition for the
betterment of this region.
In the face of dire warning from invaders, Iraqis, to
their credit, are still refusing to accept Ahmad Chalabi,
a front man for Jay Garner. But if Farid Zakaria were to
follow the warships of victorious Marines into Bom-
Gamer and Chalabi team up in Baghdad.
bay, he would find friends of his father's falling over
each other to garland him at the Gateway of India. They
would not be doing anything new though. South Asians
have greeted all outside victors with much gusto
through the chequered history of this region. The British ruled with the support of native rulers, 'native
informers' and native clerks. The freedom movement
was a challenge to the continuation of their domination, but the partition of British India affected people's
perspectives. The class-war in the Subcontinent lost
before it could begin in right earnest - infantile patriotism ousted it from centre stage.
For the feudal-military elite of Pakistan, hawking
the fear of India is the easiest way of maintaining its
hold on power. Courting America is a logical corollary.
It is not very different in India where 'security risk' has
been elevated to such levels that to question it is tantamount to sacrilege. Ironically, the more India and
Pakistan spend on 'defence', the shriller the call for
even more resources for weapons of mass destruction.
Perhaps because the elite of both countries knows that
their progeny will not face the consequences of their
monumental follies. Children of Pakistani and Indian
bourgeoisie will be waving the
star-spangled banner, just as
their forefathers did the union
Quite clearly, the Nehruvian design of producing indigenous ruling elite by cloning
Oxford, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has failed to deliver the
desired results. All that those
institutions have done is to produce either intellectual coolies for Western capitalism
or to widen the gap between the 'best' and the rest. The
chasm between brown sahibs and ethnic boxwallas on
the one hand and agricultural labour and the coolies
on the other has widened rather than decreased. Feudal lords at least had a vested interest in retaining their
ties to the land; the professional elite would rather
forget that bond.
The stress on 'quality of leadership' has failed to
produce another Mahatma, one more Qaid, or another
ekushe uprising. Meanwhile, Christina Rocca scolds
Vajpayee, Musharraf, Wickremesinghe and Khalida Zia
like so many little children. Islamabad and New Delhi
may resume their relationship without the Marines
barging in, but the Marines may yet come if the South
Asian elite refuses to be assimilated in the society that
has put it in a position of power.
The leaders might do well to remember that the people have very little to lose. Nobody fought for Saddam
Hussein even though the Iraqis lost their country to the
hated Anglo-Americans; it can only be worse if a similar misfortune were to befall South Asia. a
-CK Lai
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
A stroll in the
The Dakshinachitra housing
museum south of Madras takes
one through decades of village
life in the Indian south.
by Syed Ali Mujtaba
Muslim house.
India lives in its villages, so people say, though the
headfirst rush towards urban centres of recent decades has been uprooting the rural landscape. An
ongoing migration to cities continues to cut many people off from village life, negatively affecting local cultures of crafts, festivals, music and folklore. In reaction
to this phenomenon of market-guided mobility, boutique villages have sprung up in many of India's cities.
But a more unique effort at encouraging an appreciation of the rural has borne fruit just 21 kilometres from
Madras, on the road to the ancient port-town of Maha-
balipuram. The Dakshinachitra museum has charged
itself with the duty of celebrating south India's diverse
village housing styles.
In most cases, the museum 'exhibits', which may
date as far back as the 17lh century, have been dissembled from their original locations and reassembled inside the museum's grounds. The museum's curators
have collected a representative array of houses from
across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kamataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to showcase the varying houses
that for centuries characterised south Indian villages,
many of which are now being subsumed beneath a
bland modernity.
On visiting Dakshinachitra, one is struck by the
range of artefacts on display, each encapsulating an
aspect of traditional life. Amidst the transplanted homes
of artisans, farmers and merchants, one can stop for a
chat with the village craftsmen employed at the museum, or spend an afternoon trying to match steps to the
tunes of folk musicians. The craftsmen are a foil for the
unique structures in which they work by offering lessons in many forgotten village trades, making the museum a living dynamic unit.
On my visit to Dakshinachitra on a crisp, sunny
afternoon, I first passed through the small crafts bazaar. The century-old teak woodwork and floors of the
house came to the museum, beam by beam, slat by slat.
The house once accommodated four generations of a
Tamil chettiar (merchant family), with each room
around the centre courtyard the property of a son, patriarchal lineage determining housing arrangements.
The house demonstrates dual histories, of a family and
a building style, each complementing the other in their
common presentation at Dakshinachitra.
Behind the chettiar house, a row of smaller dwellings fills out the Tamil Nadu section. The specimens
include a silk weaver's house from Kanchipuram, an
entire Brahmin agraharam, or enclave, an agriculturist's
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
house from Thanjavur, and an early 20th century potter's residence from Tiruvellore. In the Kanchipuram
house, predictably, weavers work at traditional looms
to produce 'Kanjivaram' saris, while in the neighbouring buildings craftsmen offer visitors lessons in traditional practices. Artisans teach the craft of basket weaving, the art of glassware and pottery. A shrine to Ayya-
nar, a guardian deity of villages, an exhibition hall for
textiles from various time periods and a shed housing
a temple chariot complete the Tamil Nadu offering.
In the Kerala section, the second to be assembled by
the museum, the central attraction is an all-wooden
Syrian Christian house from Podapally, Kottayam, built
in the 1850s. The layout of the house is typical, with a
granary attached to the entrance hall, unlike in most
Hindu households. Christian icons in the granary suggest that it may have served a dual purpose as a place
of worship. At Dakshinachitra, another Syrian Christian home, this one dating from 1910, has been attached
to the larger structure. The second house includes a
living room, a separate dining room and kitchen, evidence of British influence on construction styles. The
distinctive materials that went into the two buildings
are jack fnrit and plata wood.
Next to the Syrian Christian homes is a Nair family
homestead. The Nairs are a matrilineal Hindu caste,
and in this example of a middle-class agriculturalist
dwelling, the kitchen is separate from the main house.
A carved wooden ceiling indicates craftsmanship of
the highest quality. Another Hindu home, a Menon
house from Calicut, is constructed of Iaterite and timber, and is representative of many 19* century middle-
class houses in central and northern Kerala.
The Tamil Nadu and Kerala sections opened in
1996, after which it took more than four years for the
sections on Kamataka and Andhra Pradesh to come
up. Today, these remain small, each represented by only
one cluster of homes. The Kamataka section contains a
Likal (weaver) home, and the Telugu Ikat weaving community is represented in the aAndhra section. The construction of both houses is similar, primarily relying on
roughly finished large rocks. In the Kamataka home, a
large workroom extends off the entrance, with tools
spread around the floor and benches. In tlie Andhra
house, the living and working spaces are similar in
size and across one another off the entrance. The residential quarters can be approached from a separate
entrance, .and include a terrace overlooking a courtyard.
Dakshinachitra exposes the visitor to the scale of
India's diversity - not just at the national or regional
levels, but also within villages. Houses of craftsmen,
agriculturists and merchants may share space along a
rural road, but they differ from one another in design
and functionality. Housing evolved such as to match
perfectly the occupation of the residents. At first the
differences appear small or inconsequential, but when
viewed within the context of everyday activity, with
artisans or merchants at work inside them, one can
see how small variations reflect the various needs of
A final consideration on housing styles concerns
the relationship between houses and their physical
environments. In Kerala, canoes are often kept inside
residences dotting the state's backwaters, while the construction of Tamil houses reflects the climatic conditions of altitude, proximity to open water and ecology.
In the 10 acres of Dakshinachitra, the museum captures the spirit of a much larger territory, demonstrating the balance of society and nature. ^
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
At the bottom of
the food chain
The planned slumming of metropolitan India.
What are we waiting for? A
bloody revolution?" Gita
Dewan Verma demands with a
mixture of old-fashioned anger, frustration and impatience in the concluding lines of Slumming India: A
Chronicle of Slums and Their Saviours.
The book is a passionate critique of
the haphazard and insensitive
urban development initiatives that
have converted more than half of
modern India's city spaces into
slums that no society with even a
modicum of sensitivity ought to
consign its citizens to. And her
suggested method for resolving this
appalling chaos is typically simple
and old-fashioned too:
I do not have yet another
'original' theory^ for a new,
improved model for urban
development arising out of
my limited understanding
just to pander to my own desire to be original. I only suggest that since the path we
have taken in the last few
years does not seem to be going anywhere we want to, we
should just get into reverse
gear and reach a better point
to trace a new path...
Accordingly, she reserves her
most bitter criticism for what she
terms Contemporary Urban Development (CUD). Verma's formulation
is simple: over the years, a number
of master plans, programmes and
policies, including the Draft National Slum Policy of the late 1990s,
have been put together at the instance of various arms of government, often with the help of plan
ning professionals and non-governmental organisations (that might or
might not know anything about city
planning). Many of these plans have
provisions built into them that, if
implemented, might actually make
a difference for the better. Then why
is it that nothing is ever done until
some kind of crisis situation is
reached, and even then, instead of
going back to follow the provisions
Slumming India: A Chronicle
of Slums and Their Saviours
hy Gila Dewan Verma
Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2002
MR 200, pp xxiv + 183
ISBNO 14 302875 8
reviewed by
Harini Narayanan
offered by existing policy documents, the first - and often only -
thing that Those in Charge (another of Verma's terms) do is to call for
a fresh set of studies or policies?
Verma believes this is because
such activities sound busy and
exciting, they might just make the
headlines and perhaps even convince a middle-class public with
a short memory that a radical
solution to urban slummification (to
borrow a term favoured by the
author) is in sight, something that
would be impossible to conveys by
simply referring to decades-old
policy documents that everyone has
been convinced were failures. As
Verma explains, the failures have
occurred because policies have
never been properly implemented,
not because they have failed after
they have been fully implemented,
but who is to point out this
fine difference? "Pilot projects,
model projects, best practices,
policy announcements, new policy
announcements, etc... being
continually published, discussed,
debated, celebrated, replicated and
extrapolated... create the illusion of
constant activity with little regard
to impact". Adding later: "It [does]
seem like national policy-making
[hasl been reduced to just a routine
exercise in word-processing, photocopying, spiral-binding, distributing
and discussing at 'consultations' -
fashionable but illusory fabrication
that [makes] tailors look busy but
[leaves] the Emperor naked".
Intensely personal
Through her career as a mainstream
urban planner and later, as an
independent planning researcher,
Verma has made it her business to
point the above facts out to those
concerned at every stage - to be
what she calls a 'whistle-blower' -
but as she says, no one has ever paid
much attention: not the government,
not the international agencies that
hand out awards to the sexiest
policy fabrications without checking to see if they are working, and
certainly not the media. It must have
been this intense moral claustrophobia, this feeling of constantly^
pounding at doors and windows
that will not open to let her ideas in,
that propelled her to pour her anger
out in the form of a book.
This energy makes the work
intensely personal, even self-
conscious. The book is dedicated to
"the little people", "the big people',
"the other people" amid "the whistle-
blowers". Each chapter begins with
a little parable in which the "Lord
of CUD" typicallyr rejects the "default Old-fashioned Urban Develop-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
ment Option" offered by his computer in favour of the CUD option -
a stylish policy approach that has
no bearing on reality. Every chapter
ends with an impassioned piece of
rhetoric. The point, though, is that
by and large, the style works for
Verma - perhaps because it is both
sincere and backed by some very
exhaustive discussions of case studies drawn from different parts of
India, though the most detailed
examples relate to Delhi and Indore.
Also, at every stage, Verma attempts
to link the micro-level tales of
uprooted orboxed-in slum-dwellers
or hawkers with the larger urban
development problematic and the
comprehensive moral bankruptcy of
a state and a society that refuse to
tackle the big question with honesty and perspective.
For instance, even as she recounts the tragic stories of specific
slum-dwellers who are made to pay
by the state for the privilege of being
put through compulsory 'resettling'
or 'upgrading' procedures that are
exercises in treachery that often do
not even offer temporary security of
tenure, Verma steps back to point
out that such exercises are destined
to intensify slummification. "That
development processes have come
to ignore so many so consistently
has serious implications for
planned development, which is
meant to leave equitable room for all.
Anything else directly or indirectly
only abets slumming".
In fact, it is the lack of equity in
the distribution of urban land that
leads most directly to the emergence
of slums, and not in-migration or
urban poverty, the author points
out. As Verma and others have noted, the very first Master Plan for
Delhi (1962) acknowledged that
housing that incorporated very
small plot sizes was extremely likely to deteriorate into slums. Even so,
over time, plot sizes in slum resettlement colonies in Delhi have gone
down from 40 sq metres to 12.5 sq
metres. An estimated 3-3.5 million
slum-dwellers (the estimates have
been made by government departments) - who make up one-fourth
or more of the city's population -
live in five percent or less ofthe city's
land. In other cities, where 'en-
croachable' land is even scarcer,
slum densities are even higher. Such
densities and house sizes are simply not conducive to living spaces
that look like anything other than
slums. No wonder the Municipal
Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi
Development Authority (DDA) continue to include slum resettlement
colonies that they have themselves
created in their list of official 'slums'.
Meanwhile, as the space available for the poor in our cities is systematically reduced and erased,
other forms of land use are as systematically - and often illegally -
privileged. As more and more 'farmhouses', cyber parks, gigantic upper-end shopping malls and office
blocks for the 'new economy' are
"The root cause of
urban slumming seems
to lie not in urban poverty but in urban wealth"
granted sprawling, prime real estate
at 'token' prices, the poor who populate the lower-end service and industrial sectors of the city, the modest neighbourhood retailers who
serve the majority of citizens and the
"small factories needing propinquity to ancillary establishments" will
necessarily all be accommodated in
overcrowded and 'inappropriate'
locations. "The end result", Verma
points out, "will be and is the slumming of our cities. Seen thus, the root
cause of urban slumming seems to
lie not in urban poverty but in urban wealth".
As an example of one single
targe-scale 'slummification' exercise that contravenes all existing
master plan and slum policy provisions, not to mention all codes of
civic decency, Verma details the
massive Narela resettlement project
on the outskirts of Delhi. 60,000
slum-dwellers were evicted from
various parts of Delhi (even from
sites designated for residential use
under the master plan) in the middle of the monsoon in mid-2000 and
summarily deposited at Narela, a
site far away from their jobs and erstwhile homes, a location that had
been planned since the 1962 master
plan to be "a self-contained sub-city
but was yet to be developed as
such". The evictees were offered no
alternative sites, no consideration
on the basis of distance from their
current homes or jobs, no public
transport or other services, no jobs
except those in "non-conforming
industries yet to come up in the industrial area yet to be developed" -
and of course, no explanation for
why they had to move at that particular moment, often from locations
where they had been living from
well before the first plans were even
Subsequently, an explanation
for this relocation was offered, rather obliquely, in a report prepared by
the government for the Istanbul+5
United Nations Centre for Human
Settlements (Habitat) Conference
2001, where it was claimed that
Delhi slum-dwellers were relocated
to Narela "from the most untenable
and disaster prone sites" in the city.
This claim, as Verma points out,
cannot be entirely true, since the area
cleared of slums has since been
found suitable for government housing, office complexes and parks and
green belts.
In an essay published in DELHI
Urban Space and Human Destinies
(2000) on the settling of Welcome
colony, a slum resettlement colony
in East Delhi, the anthropologist
Emma Tarlo also talks of the many
parks, public spaces and pavilions
that have come up in the spaces that
have been vacated by uprooted
slums. By locating on a map several
of the over-80 different locations
spread all over the city that yielded
their populations to Welcome,
Tarlo demonstrates how, far from
being "peripheral to the development of the city as a whole", the
development of Welcome colony is
actually "inextricably bound with
the morphology of the city as a
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
whole". However, neither Tarlo nor
Verma provide a comprehensive
map of all the uses to which land
emptied of slum-dwellers has been
put. Had they done so, one could
have asked a powerful question: in
an ideal situation, the presence of a
large number of parks and other
'lungs' for the city is obviously
desirable, but how valid is the satisfying of the secondary and tertiary
needs of a privileged few when the
cost involves the destruction of
the very basics of existence for
everybody else?
This is certainly not a question
that troubles local administrators
overmuch. In fact, my own study of
annual reports and other documents generated by the DDA has
shown that discussion is hardly
ever directed at the demolition and
resettlement of jhuggis (huts) on the
one hand, and the use to which the
violently cleared land has been put
on the other. Apparently by chance,
sections that list demolition activities are often followed in these documents by sections that detail the
acreage given over to the development of parks, lawns and woods
during the year in question. The
number of acres set aside each year
for these felicitous developments,
created to keep in "tune with [the
DDA's] vision of developing a
healthy city", are uncannily similar to the number of acres listed as
having been cleared through demolition, but an overt link is almost
never made. In the DDA annual
report for 2000-2001, for example,
the only instance in which one is
actually told of the use to which a
particular piece of land is going to
be put after it has been 'freed of
encroachments' appears, of course
without irony, in a section titled
'Rehabilitation of Jhuggi Dwellers
of Motia Khan'. Here, we are told
that "about 2,246 jhuggi dwellers"
are to be uprooted from Motia Khan
to make way for a hotel and that "it
has been proposed" that these evictees be resettled in Sector 4, Rohini.
The freeing up of land for the starred
hotel is clearly an achievement of
which the city development agency
is particularly proud.
Hunger over housing
Perhaps there is, after all, a certain
cold-blooded method to the madness of apparently arbitrary and
repeated eviction, followed by low-
grade resettlement (often with no
meaningful assurance of tenure)
and later, eviction again. Apart from
ensuring that space occupied by the
poor is always available at practically a moment's notice when some
'public' need is felt, this process of
keeping the city's poor forever unsettled also helps to build an enduring picture of them as shiftless, unproductive, shadowy beings who
are forever living off the largesse of
the city administrators who need to
spend precious public money to
evict them. The journalist Kaipana
Sharma, writing in Rediscovering
Dharavi: Stories from Asia's Largest
Slum (2000), discusses the manner
in which this fundamental uncertainty and assumed illegality of
residence that slum-dwellers in
Indian cities have to live with, even
in old and apparently well-settled
slums like Dharavi in Bombay,
cloaks their entire beings - their very
existence - with a mask of illegality
as far as the city's better-off residents are concerned.
In fact, the Supreme Court of
India has repeatedly responded to
public-interest litigation that demands the removal of slums, hawkers, garbage and so on by reinforcing
this negative image of urban slum-
dwellers. In a landmark judgement
on garbage management in Indian
cities quoted by Verma, for instance,
the court observed that "rewarding
an encroacher on public land with
[a] free alternate site is like giving a
reward to a pickpocket". This image
of slum-dwellers makes it easy
to evict them summarily, and
even the most meagre provision
of resettlement can then be projected as public and administrative
Predictably, Verma reserves
some of her fiercest ire for justices
who have repeatedly functioned as
de facto urban development experts,
especially in Delhi, where localised
urban-use squabbles repeatedly
fetch up at the country's premier
court of law. She is also critical
of well-meaning NGOs that often
plunge into the business of making
policy suggestions on this and other subjects without the necessary
background training or knowledge,
and of government agencies that
solicit such efforts. "NGOs must be
involved", she concedes,
but cannot be allowed to call
all the shots. Their strength
is their grassroots ethos,
which makes them great for
monitoring and implementation (including project formulation). To let them take over
policy and planning levels -
to the exclusion of profes-
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
sionals - is justifiable only
after stopping expenditure
on professional education.
At the rate we are going, we
will welcome even open-
heart surgeries by NGOs sim-
p\y because they care.
As an example, she discusses the
drafting of national schemes for the
homeless in early 2001 by a group
of NGOs that based their list of
priorities on the findings of research
conducted in Delhi. Housing was
apparently not included as the
subject of a scheme because the
homeless people surveyed did not
list it as a priority. This sounds an
alarm bell for Verma, who concludes
that a false result must have been
arrived at because of flaws in the
research design. This might well be
so - the complete research questionnaire is not available to this
reviewer at this point, so a more
informed comment cannot, in all
fairness, be made. However, it was
important for Verma to add that
such a result is not unusual in
surveys of those at the very bottom
of the urban human food chain, as
it were.
Pushing the line of questioning
would have probablv yielded the
answer that employment, and with
that, the sating of hunger, are prioritised over housing of any kind.
Anthropologist ]oop W De Wit's
research (and Verma's own) has
shown that slum-dwellers faced
with resettlement protest the move
most bitterly they will be far
removed from their existing jobs -
too far removed to commute back on
expensive or non-existent public-
transport routes - and because they
see no prospects for new jobs in the
wildernesses to which they are
typically banished. This is why
many of them are prepared to sell
off their new homes and return to
live near their old neighbourhoods
in housing quality that is worse
than before - perhaps even on the
But the point is not about whether slum-dwellers prioritise housing
or jobs. The fact that they prioritise
jobs cannot be taken by the state (or
by NGOs) as a reason to sideline the
housing issue. To return once again
to the much-maligned master plans
that Verma repeatedly reminds the
reader of: most such existing plans
actually do envisage the concomitant, all-round development of
decent housing stock, employment
centres and infrastructural facilities
in all the areas that all the residents
of a city are expected to live in, whether they be in 'original' or 'resettled'
areas. All that needs to be done, as
Verma might say, is for the bloody
plans to be implemented faithfully.
In conclusion, one must stress
that a book such as this one is not
easily found in the Indian context.
Given that the growth of slums and
their interface with urban India is
one of the most pressing urban issues of the day, this is strange, to
say the least. But further, a combination of background experience,
meticulous research and passion,
such as can be found in Slumming
India, is even more rare and, therefore, even more special. b
News that matters to people who matter
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 Film South Asia'03
25-28 September
2003. Kathmandu
Keg u laliims/Crite ria
Films made after 1 January 2001 are eligible for entry in the
competitive category. Entries have to be on South Asian
subjects, broadly understood. They can cover any subject in the
range available to filmmakers, from people, culture, lifestyle and
adventure to development, environment, politics, education,
history and so on. The filmmakers need not be South Asian.
The duration ofthe film is not a bar, Preference will he given to
full-length documentaries.
Competitive and non-competitive ealegories
Documentary films completed after I January 2001. if selected,
will be admitted to the competitive category (although entrants
may specify if they do not want to compete). Films made before
the cut-off date will join the non-competitive category.
Entn,- conditions
Entry is free of cost. Entries without the duly filled-in entry
forms will not be considered. All entries must be accompanied
by labeled still photographs from the films for use in the festival
catalogue and promotion.
Submission deadline fur entry
All entries must reach the Festival Secretariat in Kathmandu by
30 June 2003.
Sending procedures
Entries for selection will be accepted only in VHS video format
(PAL/SECAM/NTSC) and have to be sent by courier to the
FSA Secretariat in Kathmandu Valley. The entry package should
be labeled "Only for cultural purpose, no commercial value."
Selection of films
A preview committee for the FSA '03 will meet in the summer in
Kathmandu to select the films. Selection will be complete by 30
July 2003, immediately after which directors/producers ofthe
selected entries will be notified and asked to send either film
prints or professional video format copies for screening at the
festival. Altogether about 30 films will be selected for screening.
Suhmission deadline of final print / tape of selected entries
Selected entrants will be notified by 31 July 2003. The film
prints or professional video format for screening should reach
the Festival Secretariat by 15 August 2003.
Jury and awards
Monetary prizes, along with citations, will he awarded for overall
excellence to the directors of the three best films chosen by a
three-member jury.
For wore information on FSA '03, please visit the Himal
Association website,
For more information please contact: Manesh Shrestha. Festival Director. PO Box 166, Lalitpur. Kathmandu. Nepal. Tel: 977-1-
>42544. Fax: 977-1-5541196. Email: Internet:
Warm up to history with an exercise by ABHAY DONGRF.
that both informs and quizzes.
G. ALOYSIUS guides us through the world of Ivothee
Thass, pioneering turn ofthe century dalk-buddhist
A profile of Gurram Jashua, Telugu poet, who between
1920 and 1970 produced 30 works. By JAN GAM
GAU. OMVLDT on navayana buddhism and whv
a^mbedkar did not believe religion would vanish with the
progression of modernity.
An extract from ARAVINDA MALAGAnTs modern
Kannada classic Government Brahmana.
RAMANARAYAN S. RAWAT reconstructs an
undocumented piece of partition history: bow in 1946-48
the SCF aggressively campaigned against the Congress,
allying sometimes with the Muslim League.
Main Section
R. AZHAGARASAN examines bow K.R. Narayanan in bis
presidential speeches silenced his voice to give voice to our
March-April 2003
the dalit
Gxpi'jririQ alH"'ftiiv'ftS, expanding possibilities
India's nationalist elites are beneficiaries of a systematic
racist ideology, argues J OF HILL, invoking Mcmmi and
Gandhi was anti-black, and iMartin Luther King, Jr.
misunderstood him. G.B. SINGH offers irrefutable
Flow do dalits in tbe LS grapple with identity? K.P.
SINGH seeks some answers.
Kerala's adivasi leader CK.JANU offers an account of ber
life and struggles.
DUN KIN JALKI puts some fresh perspective on the
politics and economics of meat consumption and exposes
the oppressive strategics deployed to exclude pork and
beef from our menus.
For subscription and enquiries write to: or to Dalit Media Network,
403, Fourth Floor, Teyam Block, Chitra Avenue, 9, Cnoolaimedu High Road, Chennai — 600094,
Ph: 044- 23746511/ 44
 Books Received
Third Report:  1997-2002
Committee of Concerned Citizens
Anupama Printers, Hyderabad,
pp xxii+434, no recommended
Founded in  1997 in response to the
People's War and state violence, the
Committee of Concerned Citizens has
investigated abuses in Andhra Pradesh and facilitated
discussions between the Maoists and the government.
This volume, which includes correspondence and reports
between  1997 and 2002, documents abuses committed
by, and the negotiating positions of, the concerned
parties. Convened by SR Sankaran, a retired Indian
Administrative Service officer, che 14-person committee
of senior journalists, academics and lawyers has had
high-level access to leaders of both sides, making this
report a fairly comprehensive overview of the ongoing
search for reconciliation in Andhra Pradesh.
Wan. T»a*faa Jc  [;L^ Daa.,*^
Where There Is No Psychiatrist:
A mental health manual
By Vikram Patel
Gaskell, Glasgow, 2003
pp xxii+266, no recommended
ISBN I 90242 75 7
In the absence of professional
psychiatric services, families and
otherwise trained medical personnel often provide informal mental health counselling. Written in a textbook
format with numerous illustrations, this manual includes
guidelines for diagnosing common mental illnesses such
as depression and retardation, explanations of non-
institutional treatment options, and recommendations for
patients and family members of persons suffering from a
mental illness. Geared for the non-specialist, the book is
intended for distribution among English-readers who lack
access to institutional psychiatric services, principally
those in villages and under-serviced areas. The book
includes usage recommendations, dosage prescriptions
for many common mental health medicines, and contains
charts for tracking a patient's condition.
Tibet, Tibet: A personal history
of a lost land
By Patrick French
HarperCollins India, New Delhi,
pp 333, INR 395
ISBN 81 7223 508 9
Setting out on "a quest for che true, as
opposed to the mythical, Tibet",
British South Asianist Patrick French mixes personal
reflections from his 20-year association with Tibetan
causes, historical vignettes of Tibet and neighbouring
regions, and research conducted inside Tibet. The author of two earlier books on topics drawn from Indian
history, French writes that Tibet is not "the hermetic,
forbidden land of European repute", but instead a dynamic land of travellers, historically engaged with areas
as far-flung as Benaras, Samarkand and Chengdu. Often
ruminating, the book contains curious asides on matters
as variant as the "Clintonian" outlook of many Tibetan
monks on sex, French attempts to weave a narrative of
modern Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora, with frequent
reference to international politics and history.
Legal Pluralism and Unofficial
Law in Social, Economic and
Political Development
edited by Rajendra Pradhan
International Centre for the
Study of Nature, Environment
and Culture (ICNEC), Kathmandu, 2003
pp 457, 495, 417, no recommended price
ISBN 99933 53 21 8
The papers in these three volumes include analyses of
community-based property rights in India, legal pluralism
and community forestry in Nepal, and aboriginal environmental management in Tamil Nadu's Kolli Hills,
among other topics. With contributions from many of
South Asia's leading researchers, published here with
lengthy reference notes, the ICNEC papers offer specialised insight into a range of Asian social, economic and
political issues, often in reference to environmental
Afghanistan: From terror to freedom
by Apratim Mukarji
Sterling, New Delhi, 2003
pp 321, INR 500
ISBNS) 207 2542 5
Surveying the recent history of
Afghanistan as well as the country's
relationship with India and Pakistan,
Delhi-based journalist Apratim Mukarji, currently with the Indian Council of
Social Science Research, assesses the
outcomes of the US-led war in
Note to publishers: new titles can be sent to GPO Box
7251, Kathmandu, Nepal. Books are mentioned in this
section before they are sent for detailed review.
2003 May 16/5 HIMAL
AJ^otie/ (Mid/ howwh
Tf a sensitive long-distance microphone were to be
./.dangled in geostationary orbit somewhere over
Chattisgarh at the centre of the Subcon on a workday
morning, it would pick up one noise from Asansol to
Multan, from Shigatse to Matara. And that is the
grating sound of metal on metal, of steel shutters
being pulled up in a clanging, raspy, bone-shattering
noise that sends the heart racing and leaves the brain
It is a terrible experience that is repeated tens of
millions of times at shopfronts and housefronts, in
markets and residential neighbourhoods, all over.
Onlv South Asian _   ,   .   ,
onomatopoeia can   ■^^•^.-..m. v..*-***..:™*.-;-.
approximate the
downing (or
upping) of a
shutter;it is a
frightful ghatghaf-
dhad-dhyang'. An
uncultured reverberation that is as
remote from modern day sophistication as it is
removed from any arena of South Asia's past.
It is yet to be recognised — the mental trauma
suffered by the hundreds of millions of South Asia's
teeming billion every morning and evening as shutters clang open and bang shut in a continuous line
right along the Grand Trunk Road to Peshawar, up
its innumerable offshoots and feeder roads and their
innumerable offshoots and feeder gullies. How many
of us turn into serial killers and/or corrupt contractors as a result of the upping and downing of shutters
day in and day out?
The chaste, cultured wooden shutter with louvers
or glass panes is a thing of the past in our middle-
class neighbourhoods. Your average metal shutter is
a binding together of strips of steel that ride metal
guides on the two sides. When open, it is rolled up at
the top, bundled over a spring mechanism. The contraption is designed to make noise and ensure security, and it does both with efficiency.
What it lacks in aesthetics, the metal shutter pro
vides in near-total protection. But then a bazaar
lined with metal shutters is more like an industrial
zone, completely bereft of the human touch, as
forbidding as a fortress. The life goes out of a marketplace when all is shuttered up - even the scavenging strays look like woebegone ghosts.
There are, of course, other modern day noises
that we suffer from, that surely inflict massive psychological damage on the populace in cities, towns
and villages. The amplified muezzin's call shatters
the dawn, after an all-night bout with the scratchy
surround-sound of the jagaran brigade. The high-
decibel rendition
:JeL.".fii--i.'^' ?^i-~Jjr?'.l-'-.';i~ hs^— 3s:.l.    0f the qawalli on
the loudspeaker
does injustice to
the wild energy
evident in its
unaided singing.
The nuanced
timbre of the tabla
has lost out to the
whine of the
electric guitar and
other manufac-
'   * tured sound.
The trucks that blast their highway pneumatic
horns in crowded city streets are another way in
which modern day noise has banished old world
sound. The screech of the circular saw at the wood
workshop replaces the soft rasp of the hand-held
plane. The whine of the lathe drowns the tappings
of the blacksmith's hammer. And the sweet cacophony of the DC-3 Dakota's piston engines has been
supplanted by the whining of turbofans. The blast of
the musket was first replaced by the report of the
.303, and now we have 'graduated' to the rat-tat-tat
of magazine-fed SLRs (self-loading rifles).
We are being overtaken by noise, but somehow
we have to find a way to recover sound. Let
the beat not overwhelm the melody.    / /     .ft    "ft—
Let us at least oil the shutters... /     [ f/i^
HIMAL 16/5 May 2003
 !  Krtut,
A n i s r i N
Vf~.^j bSSES**1 J^«rfao»»1g7raa—*JJaa3fr
™«i*«i«/:;:::d:V./1, . ,n»ni™,   >■=.)        „     .- --y ;-
□ Gujarat
□ Central
(nd'al Agency1
□ Boml»r
   finvincc, m jfOf il J! if (fcrodJ), and State*
ago ncics in 1*47, JtJle* in 19S6 and I960
Dintictiand Lairgrr Hates within sialcs
ajtftritiirt 1947; districts in 19S6 and I960
NA.MI&: M t*SlrieiS we named OA all ntjps: sntoeted
Sl*10i a/e named on 1947
AtoftlVIATIONS: A«-AhmwJa&sd_ Am-Amrol*,
Et P M Broach & Faith Mahals
0 . SOMitoj
50 0 M3QK.M
AOHftiad hem $ D« Gupta. "The Changing Map ol
India", Geography*/fiawtw ol Incto, m*oJ. 22, No. 3
Sepiomtw' i960, p. 33
Area* coniiii uied as Pan A or Part 8
I slates priono 1956 or as .portion*
thereof; areas constituted AS Pari C
sijics prior to 1956 merged wiih ftfri
boring Part A ot Part fi states in 1956
Areas constituted » Part CSiaies or
PM D Territories prior to 1956 and
as Union Territories lot some lime
Areas created as autonomous tribal re*
gions after 1956, subsequently attaining statehood
□ Part C States and Part D Territories
pfiOr l01956
□ Tetrilories created after 1956 from
portions ol states
[J former Portuguese possessions
/STATE f1975-J
The political stains of 3)1 areas shown is as ol ihe
|     If     ] Portions of N.WrF, p. former-
I—IE—1 ly constituted as irifaal areas
[\^[   CiiRit Agency
psVI  Atad Kashmir,nominally
r x I independent
Area forming part of Pakistan
until 1971
I     I P~]  Areas held by China the possession
LJLJ orv
I which is disputed by India
•*m%* International, demarcated
■ — — International, undemarcaicd
« GUM -fir<? line
■■^H Zonal Councils, established in 1956
(N,E. Council established in 1972)
-iw" Slate or province
 * Specially administered area
—--  Pre-197S boundaries(undif/crenjiai ed
as to status)
Where no special note appears iot a
former boundary, it ceased lo exist in
October 19SS in Pakistan and Novem-
ber 1956 in India
CAPITALS ® National    O Protectorate
* State or province
P.E,P.S-U- Stale or province which has
ceased to eritt since 1955 in
Pakistan. 1956 in India
C  Zonal council designation: C ETN,
NE* S & W indicate Center, East. Nor th.
North East.SotrthfcWesi respectively
NEW YORK 1992,
 : wtmiiiHimwiiMimuti ■
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ft'       ■    ' ft-':
Uses: Bus/Truck
Size: 9.00-20-1SPR
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