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Himal Southasian Volume 18, Number 5, March-April 2006 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2006-04

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eignty for the king, no arms for the Maobaadi
 ->r   skytrax
Taking you more personally
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Himal Southasian magazine happens to be based in Kathmandu,
from where with increasing horror we have watched the
evolution of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal - and in the latest
instance, the palace activism in particular following the royal
takeover of 1 February 2005. Looking out over the Southasian
landscape, we realise that a country that had made relatively
good progress as a democracy following the People's Movement
of 1990 is being forced backwards in time, by rebel and royadty
alike. In the cover feature of this issue, we have charted the
course of both of these forms of extremism, scrutinising the
continuing warfare and sudden democratic deficit in the
country where we happen to be based. We also believe that
editors and reporters must stand up as citizens when a society's
most basic values are under threat.
Affirmative action for a shared India
Back to 2002
Chandra Bhan Prasad
No, Mr President
Violence, structural and otherwise
The Yar Express of Thar
Flashpoint Balochistan
"Sita forgiving Ravana"
Suhas Chakma
Cold feet in the atoll
Cover Feature
Carey L Biron
Two chairmen and a people
A quick jab
Kanak Mani Dixit
Louise Russell
Interview with Girija Prasad Koirala
Joymoti: The first radical film of India
An international pariah
Altaf Mazid
Irene Khan
The rise and fall of the Maobaadi
Puskar Gautam
The age of entanglements
Nepal's two wars
Samina Mishra
«         Sam Cowan
Imagining Darjeeling and Sikkim
The 'Royal' Nepal Army
Tanka B Subba
Dhruba Kumar
The ambivalence about Gandhi
Negotiating Peace
Ashis Nandy
Liz Phiiipson
Time and a Place
Photo Feature
The pain of Dardpora
Jana Andolan 2062
Peerzada Arshad Hamid
The imaginary orient of Richard Wagner  60
Ted Riccardi
Gandhi in the grip of violence 78
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Hindi cinema, Indian cinema
Utpal Borpujari
The political economy of scavenging
Vijay Prashad
Sacrifice of the pipeline
The Pakistani Dalit
Sukumar Muralidharan
Yoginder Sikand
In the name of security
Political is personal
Kaushiki Rao
Ira Singh
Seeking the tribe
Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin
An intriguing absence of outrage
The primacy of politics
Andrew Nash
Remittance Economy
Pranab M Singh
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Vol 18 No 5
Mar-Apr 2006 I
Kanak Mani Dixit
Assistant Editor
Prashant Jha
Web Editor
Veneeta Singha
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Editorial Assistance
Nayan Pokhrel
Kabita Parajuli
Contributing  Editors
Calcutta        Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo      Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu   Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Kiran Maharjan
Bhusan Shilpakar
Sunita Silwal
Sambhu Guragain
Vishal Rana
Subhas K Das
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +9771 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: QualiTech Scan
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors    to   this    issue
Altaf Mazid is a Guwahati-based critic turned filmmaker.
Andrew Nash recently earned a Masters in modern history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and
is presently a law student at Washington University, USA.
Ashis Nandy is a renowned psychologist and writer. He lives in Delhi.
Chandra Bhan Prasad is a columnist with The Pioneer and author of works including DALIT DIARY 1999-
2003: Reflections on Apartheid in India.
C K Lai is a Kathmandu-based columnist for this magazine and the Nepali Times.
Dhruba Kumar is a political scientist at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu.
Ira Singh teaches English at Miranda House, University of Delhi.
Irene Khan is the secretary general of Amnesty International, based in London.
Kaushlki Rao works on issues of social justice and human rights. She is currently based in Delhi.
Liz Phiiipson is at the London School of Economics and has been studying the conflicts in Sri Lanka and
Louise Russell is a journalist based in Dhaka.
Mark Turin is a linguistic anthropologist and director of the Digital Himalaya Project. He is currently a
Visiting Scientist at ICIMOD.
Peerzada Arshad Hamid is a Srinagar-based journalist.
Pranab M Singh is a Kathmandu-based writer and researcher.
Puskar Gautam is a former Maoist commander. He is currently a political analyst who has just started
further studies in the UK.
Rinku Dutta is an educator who travels between Lahore and Delhi.
Sam Cowan is a retired British general who knows Nepal well.
Samlna Mishra is a documentary filmmaker and media practitioner based in New Delhi.
Sara Shneiderman is conducting her doctoral research in Nepal, Darjeeling and the Tibetan
Autonomous Region of China through Cornell University's Department of Anthropology.
Suhas Chakma is the director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi.
Sukumar Muralidharan is a visiting professor at the Nehru Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.
Tanka B Subba is professor of anthropology and dean of the School of Human and Environmental
Sciences, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. His area of research is the eastern Himalayan region.
Ted Riccardi is professor emeritus at Columbia University, and author of a novel on Sherlock Holmes. He
is currently affiliated with the Social Science Baha in Kathmandu.
Utpal Borpujari is a Delhi-based film critic, and a journalist with the Deccan Herald.
Venantius J Pinto is an artist who moves between Bombay and New York.
Vijay Prashad published Untouchable Freedom: A Social History of the Dalit Community in 1999. He has
since written ten books, most recently Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World.
Yoginder Sikand writes mainly on issues related to Islam in Southasia, and edits the web magazine
vmw.islaminterfaith. org.
Cover Image: "A thousand whirlwinds craving attention", by Venantius J Pinto
j Address
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March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Sri Lanka
Back to 2002
February 2002 was the month of a miracle. A war
that had seemed unstoppable was suddenly
halted with the signing of the Norwegian-
facilitated Ceasefire Agreement by the government
and LTTE. The security checkpoints covering the
country, particularly the northeast, were dismantled.
Thousands of sightseers from the south flocked into
previously out-of-bound regions, and thousands
more flooded southwards to transact business in
Colombo. But by January 2006, the situation had
threatened to reverse itself completely, as violence
again turned the northeast into a virtual
battleground. This was the context in which the
Geneva talks of 22-23 February 2006 took place.
When the media conference at
the conclusion of the two-day
Geneva session was delayed for
three hours, speculation was rife
that the government and LTTE
had been unable to reach an
agreement. Norwegian facilitator
Erik Solheim had already warned
of the need not to ratchet up
expectations, because trust was
low between the new team of
government negotiators and the LTTE.
Indeed, the odds were clearly stacked against
success. Government and LTTE representatives had
not met in direct talks for three years. The Colombo
delegation was new to peace talks; in the run-up to
Geneva, its ministerial component had undergone a
crash-course in negotiations. The lack of trust was
not simply that of strangers, but of two sides who
had directly or indirectly contributed to the loss of
over 150 lives in the previous two months. Both
showed up to the talks with extremely large support
teams, attempting to bolster their individual
But when the two delegations, accompanied by
the Norwegian facilitators, eventually arrived at the
media session, the delay turned out to have been for
a positive reason: to secure agreement. Best of all,
they had agreed to meet again within two months,
with the aim of reviewing and progressing the peace
process at that time. In addition, the two sides had
agreed to respect and uphold the February 2002
Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), and to ensure a cessation
of the violence that had continuously eroded its
credibility over the previous four years.
Tough talks
Those who participated in the talks  say the
negotiations were full of tough - but usefully honest
- talk from both sides. This was particularly
beneficial to a government delegation that spanned
the spectrum of Sinhalese opinion, from those who
had previously taken up nationalist Sinhalese
positions, to those of more liberal disposition. The
government's opening statement clearly reflected the
nationalist Sinhalese view, arguing that the CFA was
unconstitutional. The LTTE delegation responded
that the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, in its verdict on
the joint-tsunami mechanism that allowed
international aid groups into rebel-held areas, had
already accepted the CFA's legality.
In the end, both the government and the LTTE
agreed to uphold the Ceasefire Agreement. The liberal
element within the government
delegation clearly would have
pushed this decision; but it is to
the credit of the nationalist
contingent that they chose
continuity in the peace process,
rather than risk a sharp break that
might have left the country
without a ceasefire at all. This
resulted in the removal of a major
stumbling block to peace -
President Mahinda Rajapakse's electoral pacts with
the Sinhalese nationalist JVP and JHU, which had
called for the abrogation of the CFA.
Both sides gained as a result of the two-day meet,
albeit a very short time to address the problems that
have cropped up over three years without talks. Both
the government and LTTE were able to present their
list of grievances against the other, as well as to put
forward their own concerns. Each was able to achieve
agreement on the two most important issues that had
separated them, as well as to score other minor face-
saving victories.
Mutual victory
In Geneva, the LTTE's position was that the
government needed first to commit itself to the 2002
CFA. While that stance appears to have prevailed,
the government's acceptance of it does not mean that
the agreement cannot be amended as per the
government's insistence. Indeed, the CFA contains
provisions for its own amendment. Should the
government wish to seek such changes, it would be
allowed to do so only within the procedures laid
down in the agreement.
But the biggest victory for the government was not
only that it was able to bring the LTTE back to the
negotiating table for the first time since March 2003,
but that it has now kept them there until at least the
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 next round of talks, in April. The government was
also successful in convincing the LTTE to back down
from its insistence that the break-away rebel group
of former LTTE commander 'Karuna' be described
as a 'paramilitadry' organisation. Instead, there was
reference made to restrictions that would be placed
on "armed groups".
What will count to the country and its people,
however, is not who gained a face-saving victory or
suffered a verbal defeat. What will matter is that the
Ceasefire Agreement is respected and upheld in both
word and deed, and that the violence that has
threatened to plunge the country back into war is
ended forever. This will be the acid test of the success
of the Geneva talks. The agreement reached puts the
responsibility for the continued peace on the
shoulders of both the government and the LTTE.
In their opening statement, the Swiss government
hosts had urged that human rights be a basic part of
the new peace process, and that Sri Lanka find its
political solution as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural
and multi-religious country. The integration of these
values has been necessary since February 2002, but
that has not taken place; this time around, it must. In
addition, civil-society groups that have been overly
concerned with preserving the relations between the
government and LTTE need to give more attention to
the interests of the people. All involved can learn
from past mistakes and experiences. The new
beginning was positive in Geneva, but now it must
be monitored carefully and seen through to a
conclusion that will work for all Sri Lankans.
-Jehan Perera
No, Mr President
As George W Bush embarks on a state visit to
India and Pakistan, it would be instructive to
analyse the evolving role of the US in Southasia.
Washington DC has always been an active political
participant in the region - supporting India against
China in 1962, sponsoring military regimes in
Pakistan, fighting wars in Afghanistan, having
interventionist ambassadors in Nepal, castigating
the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and pushing for specific
economic policies in all of these countries. The 'war
on terror' has ensured that the US not only has a
diplomatic presence in the region, but a powerful
military force, placed in Afghanistan and Pakistan,
to back it up as well.
Considering that the US is the
global hegemon, this active role in
the Subcontinent is hardly
surprising. But it is clearly
undesirable. The United States has
ignited intra- and inter-state
conflicts, supported dictatorships,
and directly and indirectly
engineered anti-people policies.
Such actions overwhelm the well-intentioned
activities of the past, including support of
scholarships, assistance through USAID, and
placement of Peace Corps volunteers. In recent days,
Washington has sought to actively project its power
in a manner that will be extremely detrimental for
the people of the region.
The darkest manifestation of this power occurred
in Damadola in Bajaur Agency, a federally
administered tribal area in Pakistan, in January. US
missile attacks killed 18 villagers, including women
and children, in an operation that was later claimed
to have been designed to attack al-Qaeda leaders.
The 'war on terror' is illegitimate and immoral, and
the killing of innocent civilians, conveniently
brushed aside as 'collateral damage', absolutely
unacceptable. The compliant military regime in
Pakistan should have stood up to that heinous crime,
and President Bush, during his visit, must render an
unqualified apology for the killings. A country that
brags about its moral standing before the world must
be held accountable for the innocent people its pushbutton warfare victimises.
Even as the US military kills people in Pakistan
long-distance, Ambassador David Mulford in Delhi
has been behaving as if India is just another state
under the US federal government. In
January and February, the diplomat
publicly declared that Delhi must
vote against Iran in the International
Atomic Energy Agency; he also
launched a sermon on how India
should open its retail sector to
foreign direct investment, and wrote
a letter of remonstration to a chief
minister of a province, seemingly
violating diplomatic norms. The clear message sent
by the liberal and left Indian political classes asking
the ambassador to quiet down was important, for
the entire Westphalian system of international
politics is based on the principle of state sovereignty.
While there are large areas where state sovereignty
can now be challenged by others, in suggesting how
India should go about framing its internal economic
or strategic policies, Ambassador Mulford seems to
have crossed the limits.
Another ambassador who seems to miss all-
important nuances of local politics is James Moriarty
in Kathmandu. His statements instructing veteran
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 political leaders - Girija Prasad Koirala was a
politician when the US was still engaged in the second
world war - on how to deal with Maoists is not only
unwarranted, but could also potentially wreck
prospects of peace in Nepal. The Maoists, for all the
bravado indicated in several media interviews by their
supremo lately, are seeking a 'safe landing', for they
realise that capturing the Nepali state militarily is a
pipedream. At a time when the mainstream parties
and activists are seeking to assist the rebel leadership
in this difficult task, albeit with due caution,
Ambassador Moriarty has been like a bull in a china
shop - raising fears of Maoist takeovers, and causing
some distress to politicians being hounded by the
king, who are bound to show some grace to an
American ambassador. While caution with regard to
Maoist intentions is warranted, the diplomat's
excessively loud alarm bells serve to help continue
the terrible domestic conflict in Nepal.
Its overwhelming power may allow the US to
intervene in the domestic political processes of other
countries, but this assertive intervention flouts
established norms of inter-state relations, and
creates a political divide between the world's
superpower and the people of Southasia. President
Bush would do well to reconsider his administration's
policy and actions, if he wants this relationship back
on track. k
Violence, structural
and otherwise
*  -   f ? a
. ■   V      ■        -   -   -   ■■ < " **•>•
Manipur protest against AFSPA
State structures must be based on popular will,
and must work for the greatest good of the
greatest number. This seemingly simple
principle could provide a solution to some of the most
intractable problems of the day. Unfortunately, it is a
principle that has been observed more in breach than
in practice, and nowhere more than in Southasia.
The country that pats itself on the back for being
the largest democracy in the world suffers from
selective amnesia when it comes to recollecting some
of the actions of its 'democratic' state structure. On 2
January, tribal people were protesting in Kalinga
Nagar village in Orissa against the government
decision to forcibly acquire their land at throwaway
prices and set up a factory complex that would only
benefit the corporate-bureaucrat-political elite. The
people were engaged in what was their constitutional
right - to protest peacefully. The police clearly
thought otherwise, and had a simple mechanism to
deal with the problem. They opened fire, and shot
dead 12 of the protestors.
Dissent is not the only way by which a citizen
runs the risk of earning the wrath of the Indian
republic, nor that of other states in Southasia (see
"The deserving and the undeserving", in this issue of
Himal). The establishment seems to have a particular
fondness for killing apolitical, innocent people. The
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the
Northeast empowers the army to 'shoot to kill' on
the basis of mere suspicion. Last year, in Manipur,
Manorama Devi - by all accounts, an innocent
woman not associated with any militant outfit - was
picked up by soldiers in the middle of the night, raped
and killed. Despite the outrage that followed -
middle-aged women stood naked in front of the army
headquarters in Imphal to protest against the Act
that allowed such violations - the government refused
to budge. 47 years after it was first introduced,
AFSPA, giving the state the license to kill, continues
to operate in democratic India, in principle and in
practice. Manorama Devi is a symbol for the many
that are killed every year, all over the republic, by
state violence.
It is not only in politically-troubled spots, be it the
Northeast or Kashmir, that the Indian state shows
its darkest manifestation. The economic policies
pursued by successive governments, especially after
the opening of the economy in 1991, is responsible
for massive structural violence against the poor. The
state establishment, with its reduced spending in
rural areas and policy of leaving agriculture to the
whims of global trade organisations, has
manufactured an agrarian crisis in India. This has
resulted in a sharp drop in the per capita food intake
of the rural poor. The police brutality against workers
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 of an MNC who dared to strike last year in Gurgaon,
in Delhi's outskirts, is yet another example of how
vulnerable hard-earned labour rights are in 'socialist'
The liberal democratic set up in India at least
provides some space for dissent, and opens up
possibilities of reform, which is more than what can
be said about some other places in the region. Under
King Gyanendra's rule, the Nepali state has been
completely militarised, and makes no pretence of
being governed by the rule of law or respect for human
rights. The list of abuses is long - killing peaceful
protestors, arresting political leaders and civil-society
activists, torturing innocent civilians merely on
grounds of suspicion, and attacking the freedom of
the press. In the decade-long conflict, which has seen
its share of Maoist atrocities, the security forces have
been responsible for more than 8000 of the 13,000
The problem is not merely the feudal regime in
place in Kathmandu. The exclusivist and
discriminatory nature of the Nepali national
establishment, over the five decades of the modern
era, has inflicted immense violence, seen and unseen,
against marginalised groups, systematically keeping
them out of the mainstream. And it is this structural
violence that can partially explain why Nepal is in
the throes of a political tsunami today.
One state that leaves all others behind in terms of
structural discrimination is Bhutan. The Druk Yul
has the dubious honour of expelling one-seventh of
its population from the country. The Nepali-speaking
Lhotshampas continue to languish in refugee camps,
while the autocratic Bhutanese state seeks to disown
the very people it considered its own till the late 1980s.
Meanwhile, not enough is known or written about
the Lhotshampa who remain behind in Bhutan.
The Punjabi, and feudal, domination of the
government in Pakistan has not helped in building
an inclusive polity either. The suppression of basic
democratic rights, the devastating impact of economic
policies dictated by the IMF, the state's willing
complicity in US air strikes that kill civilians, the
patriarchal mindset of the establishment (amply
demonstrated by General Musharraf's statement last
year about women fabricating rape cases), and the
discrimination against religious minorities - all of
these have combined to create a state that cares little
about its people. Pakistan is a state where even the
faint light of dawn is not as visible as it is in some
other places. Democracy is what is needed, after all,
to seep into the nooks and crannies of society to
prevent violence against innocent civilians.
Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century political
philosopher, described life in the anarchic state of
nature as "nasty, brutish, and short". It was then
that people entered into a 'social contract', and
surrendered their liberty to an all-powerful state in
exchange for security. The nature of the state, as well
as theories of its origin, has evolved over the centuries.
The lives of countless people, however, continue to
remain the same. And that may have something to
do with the fact that states themselves have become
nasty and brutal.
This, in turn, stems from the willingness of the
political power elite in each of our countries to ride
roughshod over democratic processes, and their
refusal to engage with diverse and dissenting voices.
Bureaucratic impediments, discriminatory policies,
police inhumanity, and military ruthlessness are not
unconnected dots, but a clear effort by establishments
to force citizens to remain disengaged. For they know,
the first step of a politically aware and assertive
citizenry will be to question the state's actions. But
that is exactly what is needed everywhere in
Southasia today - an active, non-violent movement
that challenges the brutality of the state. That will be
enough to humanise it.
The Yar Express of Thar
There are many railway links
from British days that
crisscross the present frontier
between India and Pakistan, and
India and Bangladesh. For
decades, these have been dead-end
lines on each side, and the hope
has been that some day these
lifelines of yesteryear would be
revived to generate people-to-
people contact among common folks. Air travel
clearly does not contribute so much to building
confidence, as evident from
stagnating relationships despite the
decades-long existence of air links
between Karachi, Bombay, Lahore
and Delhi.
A train link has three benefits: the
I common people get the opportunity
to travel into the other country; it
revives the contiguous crossborder
contact, which is all-important for
building inter-country empathy; and lastly, the
volume of travelers will be at a quantum level higher
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 with rail rather than with air (visa regimes permitting).
And so we were happy.that on 17 February, the
Thar Express began service between Munabao, in
Rajasthan's Barmer District, and Khokrapar in Sindh.
The master of ceremonies suggested that the service
be called the 'Yar Express', which is a good idea
because train services build friendships. The service
had been halted with the 1965 war.
The existing Atari-Wagah rail crossing at the
Punjab-Punjab point has always been seen as the
minimalist contact point kept open by the two
countries, grudgingly. The militaristic daily ritual at
Atari-Wagah, with stomping boots and scowling
sergeants, gives ample indication of this. Also, Atari-
Wagah has always been seen as a nation-to-nation
meeting point, whereas what the Munabao-
Khokrapar line does is link up two secondary regions,
away from the bilateral limelight. The fact that this
line connects Sindh and Rajasthan shows the levels
of confidence in New Delhi and Islamabad to allow
linkages and contacts outside their strict control. This
is extremely positive.
Hindu Singh Sodha is President of the Jodhpur-
based Seemant Lok Sangathan (Border Peoples'
Organisation). What he told a colleague at the train
inaugural, we could not agree with more. He
suggested that visas should be available locally rather
than in New Delhi or Islamabad. He also emphasised
the need to raise the frequency from the current once-
a-week service (which is a travesty), and the starting
of a maalgaadi (goods train) to promote trade between
Sindh and Rajasthan.
The understandably enthusiastic employees of the
North-Western Railways staged a Rajasthani dance
drama in Munabao to mark the opening. They
depicted a local folk hero, venerated by Hindus as
Ramdev and by Muslims as Ram Shah Pir, which
was followed by a recital of verses composed by
Sindh's best-known Sufi bard, Shah Abdul Latif.
The vibes were good on the Munabao-Khokrapar
line last month, and the trend towards upgrading
this link through more trains, goods trains, more visas,
more truncated lines opened - all this must happen.
This is the least that can be done to undermine the
undercurrents of distrust - which must, if possible,
be kept stifled while the people make good. fa
Sita forgiving Ravana"
by | Venantius J Pinto
Mixed-media print (drypoint, aquatint and iris
ink-jet, with hand-colouring)
Editors' comment:
In the story of the Ramayan, Ravan is generally
presented as the villain of the piece. The act of
forgiveness depicted by artist Venantius Pinto follows
this traditional reading, for Ravan would have
committed misdeeds to an extent requiring absolution
from the hands of Sita. These transgressions would
have been, at the instigation of his sister Surpanakha,
Ravan's abduction of Sita by taking on the guise of a
chital deer, the transport to southern climes, and the
holding incommunicado. But even amidst
wickedness, some amount of decency, self-respect, a
sense of valour, and an unwillingness to molest
would have remained. The standard narrative has
Ram as 'supreme human' Maryada Purushottam
forgiving the demonic Ravan. We think perhaps Sita
acted on her own, out of her innate sense of fair play
and empathy. In those long days of captivity in the
Garden of Lanka, there must have been some mind
contact with Ravan - as Ram seems to have suspected
- and Sita surely saw enough in Ravan to forgive
him. Her forgiveness was based on empathy rather
than compassion. Not only did Sita forgive Ravan -
we suspect this was done before Ram forgave Ravan,
and without Ram knowing anything about it.        fa.
This is the first in a regular series of Himal commentary
on artwork by Venantius Pinto.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
Flashpoint Balochistan
Pakistan's long line of dictatorships lias left lite country with little
democracy and even less federalism, which is the cause of
the troubles today in Balochistan.
by | Suhas Chakma
Nawab A
Balochistan comprises 347,188 sq km, larger
than the combined areas of Punjab and Sindh
provinces, and constituting about 44 percent
of Pakistan's total landmass. For many passive news-
followers, Balochistan is a place were Pakistani
security forces have been conducting operations
against al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalist forces.
The war in Pakistan's western province, however, is
not simply another arena in the 'war on terror'.
In Southasia, it is common practice to blame the
neighbours to hide the failures at home. In late
December, President Pervez Musharraf placed some
of the blame for the deteriorating Balochistan
situation on foreign powers, for allegedly providing
funds for arms and mercenaries in the province. On
9 January 2006, a Pakistan Foreign Office
spokesperson claimed that Islamabad had evidence
of Indian involvement in the Baloch insurgency.
The current flare-up predates the Musharraf
regime, with successive national governments often
neglecting Balochistan and its problems. Upon
becoming president in October 1999, Musharraf
promised, among other things, to work towards
"strengthening the federation, removing inter-
provincial disharmony and restoring national
cohesion". Six years later, his promises unfulfilled,
Musharraf is following the example of his
predecessors by seeking only a military solution in
Balochistan. The ongoing military operation that
started on 17 December 2005 is the fifth since 1947
and the second since Musharraf became president.
Baloch anger against the federal government has
been brewing for some time. Initial signs of trouble
in the present crisis arose when Islamabad
unilaterally decided to launch several mega-projects
and to build new army cantonments in the regions
of Sui, Gwadar and Kohlu - all of which have been
announced over Baloch protests. With one
paramilitary post for every 500 people, Balochistan
already has the highest military concentration in the
country. Out of the three areas under consideration,
the government has already acquired 400 acres of
land in Sui Tehsil and started construction.
The crux of the problem in Balochistan is threefold:
a lack of political autonomy, underdevelopment, and
the exploitation of natural resources without
benefiting the.province's people. On 29 September
2004, a parliamentary committee headed by Pakistan
Muslim League President Chaudhry Shujaat
Hussain was formed "to examine the current
situation in Balochistan and make recommendations
thereon" and divided into two subcommittees. One,
headed by former-President Wasim Sajjad, was
mandated to address the question of provincial
autonomy. The second, headed by Senator Mushahid
Hussein Sayed, was to address the immediate crisis
in the province. Recommendations made by both
subcommittees after six months of study remain
almost completely unfulfilled one year later.
Autonomy and development
The denial of autonomy has been a major cause of
the ongoing conflict. Pakistan's 1973 Constitution
stipulated that the determination of the quantum of
autonomy given to provinces would be revised every
decade.  This  has  never been  done.  Despite
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Musharraf's election promises,
the deployment of thousands of
regular troops and paramilitary
forces in parts of Balochistan and
South and North Waziristan,
adjacent to the Pakistan-
Afghanistan border, flies in the
face of efforts towards
"strengthening the federation".
Article 142 of the 1973
Constitution provides for the
powers held by the national
government, included in what
are known as the Federal and
Concurrent lists. The subsequent
national supremacy held over
the provinces has been a cause
of significant resentment
amongst the provinces,
including Balochistan, with
federal grant distribution being
decided solely on provincial
population numbers. Although Balochistan
constitutes almost half of the country's total
landmass, it is also the least populated province.
Revenue awarded by the National Finance
Commission to Balochistan is thus the lowest in the
country, a fact that has long angered Baloehs.
In March 2005, Wasim Sajjad's subcommittee
recommended a complete revision of the Concurrent
List; announcement of the National Finance
Commission award before budget; and activation of
a Council of Common Interests, a constitutional body
for implementing provincial autonomy and
distribution of federal resources on
the basis of provincial poverty,
backwardness, unemployment and
development levels, rather than just
on population size. That these
recommendations have yet to
be implemented compounds the
impression that Islamabad is not serious
about politically accommodating the
Baloch people.
Balochistan faces the twin problems
of high illiteracy and high poverty. The
average literacy rate of those over 10-
years-old is only 36 percent. Its drought-
stricken pastoral economy cannot
provide enough food for even the small
provincial population. This has been the situation
since Independence, and the neglect has by now
strengthened nationalist ranks. While Balochistan
reportedly produces more than half of Pakistan's
natural gas, which is a mainstay of the national
economy, the province's people have benefited little
from their land's reserves. It is said that the reserve
will last no more than ten more years, which would
Sim years after
president, his
Musharraf is
predecessors by
seeking only a
military solution. that the Baloch people would have lost out on
the possibilities of developing through their natural
gas, which is transported through pipelines to the
far corners of Pakistan.
In a March 2005 report, the Mushahid Hussain
subcommittee's recommendations included:
increasing gas royalties and surcharges; maximising
provincial representation on the boards of oil and
gas companies operating in the province;
implementing job quotas; shifting the Gwadar Port
Authority head office to Balochistan and funnelling
seven percent of the port's revenue to the province;
holding in abeyance the construction of
cantonments at Gwadar, Dera Bugti and
Kohlu; and a host of infrastructure-
development and confidence-building
strategies. A powerful committee formed
to implement these recommendations
was to meet monthly, but has done so
just twice in its first eight months. Further
complicating the process was the
appointment of Major General
Farooq Ahmed, a member of the
implementation committee, as federal
relief commissioner after the 8 October
2005 Kashmir Earthquake.
There are those who claim that
Balochistan's leaders have used their
region's backwardness opportunistically. President
Musharraf recently stated that the government has
pledged development projects worth PKR 130 billion
for Balochistan, but blamed miscreants in the
province for blocking Baloch progress. But is the
package actually meant for the Baloehs themselves?
The suspicion is that the money is used simply to
entrench the national government and security forces
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 further in the province. In 2004, the Federal Interior
Ministry reportedly finalised a PKR 9.6 billion
security plan to convert Federal 'B' Areas - where
police do not have any control - into 'A' Areas,
through the recruitment of almost 9900 additional
personnel. The process of militarisation
subsequently began in earnest with the proposal to
establish cantonments at Gwadar, Dera Bugti
and Kohlu.
Despite the government's claims of these large
expenditures in the province, there has not been
much change for the Baloch people, who remain the
most backward in the country. Baloehs complain
that three-quarters of the land for the Gwadar seaport
was acquired by serving military officers at
throwaway prices, and that the proceeds from these
projects will be siphoned off by Punjab, in any case.
Most jobs at Gwadar and Saindak seaports have
already been given to non-Balochs. The fear has
grown in the province that if the number of non-
Balochs - mainly Punjabis - continues to grow as a
result of government mega-projects, Punjabi-
speakers may soon outnumber and dominate
the Baloehs.
State of no-war
The latest turbulence began on 14 December 2005,
when eight rockets were fired at a paramilitary base
on the outskirts of the town of Kohlu, a stronghold
of the Marri tribe. President Musharraf was visiting
Kohlu at the time. The local leader, Sardar
Khairbaksh Marri, is regarded as a close ally of the
Baloch nationalist chief Nawab Akbar Bugti.
Military authorities blamed tribal leaders for the
attacks and launched a massive military operation
three days later.
Over 200 Baloehs have reportedly been killed since
the operation began, while Akbar Bugti has alleged
that up to 85 percent of those either killed or injured
were women and children. The Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan reported that as many as
53 people were killed and 132 injured in military
operations in Dera Bugti from just the last week of
December through 8 January. A Commission team
visited the areas of Dera Bugti and reported that the
fighting had caused widespread damage to
buildings, and that 85 percent of the town's
25,000 people had been forced to flee. The
town of Kohlu, meanwhile, has been under
a state of siege. Entry to the area has been
prohibited and the town's 12,000 or so
residents have remained virtually cut off
since the middle of December, with
complaints of food shortages and an
inability to deal with injured and sick
Yet for the past months, Islamabad has
consistently denied even the existence of
Yet for the past
Islamabad has
denied even the
existence of
any military
any military operation. "There is no collateral
damage" in Balochistan, President Musharraf
thundered in early February, blaming the crisis
instead on the local tribal chiefs. "I am telling you,
the public pulse, the Marris are happy with the
operation against their chiefs," Musharraf declared
earlier, while criticising Akbar Bugti, Khairbaksh
Marri and Sardar Ataullah Mengal, founder of the
Balochistan National Party. On 18 January, Jamhoori
Watan Party Secretary-General Agha Shahid Hasan
Bugti retorted, "if the three tribal chiefs decided to
allow looting of Balochistan resources, then they
would become as pious as other pro-establishment
chieftains". As the situation continues to deteriorate,
Musharraf has found fewer tribal chiefs left
for politicking.
The present conflict in Balochistan is not a law-
and-order problem, but one of autonomy and sharing
of resources. Pakistan's long line of one-man military
dictators has left the country with little democracy
and even less federalism. While the 1973 Constitution
stipulated the re-evaluation of provincial autonomy
every decade, it was Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto, the Constitution's architect, who dismissed
Balochistan's popular coalition government formed
by the now-defunct National Awami Party and
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. With the arrest of NaAP leaders,
the seeds of dissent were planted. The 1973
Constitution was buried with Bhutto in 1979, after
he was hanged by General Zia Ul-Haq.
In the wake of the attacks in the US of 11 September
2001, Islamabad has had greater latitude
internationally to use indiscriminate force against
the Baloehs; but Balochistan cannot be roped together
with the search for al-Qaeda, for its problems with
the centre- state were long pre-existing. Besides,
Balochistan is not another East Pakistan. Nor is it
another Mohajir Quami movement. 95 percent of
Balochistan is designated Federal 'B' Areas, where
the Pakistani government's writ does not run.
President Musharraf recently stated that the
government would move for a political solution only
if the local sardars were to give up arms and stop
hampering hydrocarbon exploration activities and
development projects in the province.
Apart from the inherent gun culture in Balochistan
and South and North Waziristan, the
experience of Southasia generally is that
no major armed group has ever given up
arms before sitting down for talks to find
political solutions. Despite the stated
plan of converting 14 of 28 districts into
Federal 'A' Areas, President Musharraf
must realise that there is no military
solution to the crisis; he must descend
from his pulpit and engage in dialogue
with the Baloehs before the situation in
Balochistan gets out of hand. fab
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Sacrifice of the pipeline
The myth that India needs a stronger nuclear deterrent fuels the search
for a nuclear deal with the US, which kills the Iran gas pipeline project.
by | Sukumar Muralidharan
Ignoring serious political discord at home, the
Indian government on 4 February chose to vote
along with the United States in the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), referring the Iranian
nuclear research programme to the UN Security
Council. Two weeks later, policymakers in New Delhi
had no definite information on the status of an
ambitious deal concluded early in 2005 for the import
of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Iran. Media
reports had appeared of an Iranian intent to negotiate
the deal afresh, but the Indian government had not
received any official indication to this effect, said a
senior official at the Ministry of Petroleum and
Natural Gas.
The minister who had concluded the deal for
India, meanwhile, found himself rather abruptly
supplanted. Since the Congress-led government
assumed office in May 2004, Mani Shankar Aiyar
had devoted himself for the most part to his
assignment as Minister for Petroleum and Natural
Gas, which was merely a temporary charge. On 29
January, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after
months of barely-concealed discomfort with Aiyar's
visionary enthusiasm, replaced him with Murli
Deora, a Bombay politician known for his pro-US
inclinations. It was termed a "routine reshuffle" of
the union cabinet, but it left Aiyar with a badly
shrunken profile, as minister for local self-
government and youth affairs.
Most analysts believe that the IAEA vote and the
ministry reshuffle have dealt a double blow to the
energy security strategy that Aiyar had
energy supplies to India, it was thought, would act
as a great confidence-building measure between the
two antagonistic Southasian countries.
Slow burial
Manmohan Singh's first public display of disquiet
came in Washington DC on 18 July 2005, shortly
after he had clinched a deal - that remains
contentious to this day - on civilian nuclear
cooperation with the US. Asked specifically about
the pipeline from Iran, he admitted rather casually
that it might prove an impossible dream. Since
finance for the project could well be impossible to
organise, he indicated, he was not inclined to invest
too much hope in the gas pipeline from Iran.
This debunking by the prime minister
mapped out with great foresight during  H SOSCiSi ItiCitB °^ a ProJect ^at ^is colleague in the union
his tenure in the Ministry. The LNG import
deal was the first major breakthrough
achieved under his stewardship. Yet even
this mammoth 25-year deal was dwarfed
in every respect by the other project that
Aiyar lent his considerable authority and
enthusiasm to. It was an enterprise that
many thought could "redirect the history
of Southasia" - a gas pipeline that would
bring the abundant energy resources of the
world's largest natural gas fields just
offshore of Iran, to the energy-hungry
towns and villages of India (See Himal
cover story, Jul-Aug 2005). The necessity of
securing transit through Pakistan for vital
has been
fashioned for
India in the
global nuclear
state with
cabinet had worked tirelessly to bring
within the realm of possibility clearly took
many aback - not merely diplomats and
activists, but also officials in India's
petroleum exploration and extraction
industries. It was pointed out that the
constraints on finance for the project were
specific to the US and its rather
whimsically defined notion of 'terrorism'.
India had no reason to play by the same
rules, since it has a different set of interests
to pursue in its near neighbourhood.
Aware that he had seriously ruffled
political sensibilities at home, Manmohan
Singh sought to simulate at least a degree
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 of enthusiasm for the pipeline project, specifically
mentioning it during his Independence Dav address
to the nation on 15 .August 2005.
Despite this, it was clear that the Manmohan
Singh government was unwilling to risk any of its
newly earned political capital with the US. The
collapse of interest in a project of potentially historic
significance was inextricably tied to the new phase
of the 'strategic partnership' that India has embarked
on with the US.
The deal with the US in July 2005 revived long-
dormant dreams of imperial glory within the Indian
establishment. To have won the assent of the overlord
of the global atomic imperium was a significant
achievement, which put India's strategic nuclear
deterrent on more stable foundations. And in
opening up the prospect of civilian nuclear
cooperation with other world powers - for the minor
reciprocal concession of fencing off military facilities
from the civilian sector - it seemed also to have
opened up the pathway to energy security.
There have since been a number of reservations
voiced in India about the agreement, all of them from
the wrong side. Some have argued that the US is
being unfair in insisting that India should
immediately segregate civilian and
military nuclear facilities, since that
would confine India to an
unacceptably small nuclear-deterrent
force. Others have grumbled about the
civilian nuclear sector being opened
up to an unreasonable degree of
scrutiny, rendering valuable
intellectual property resources
vulnerable to theft. On occasion, these
two arguments have converged to
create a climate of opinion for
classifying research programmes on
nuclear power - such as the fast
breeder and the advanced heavy-water
reactor - as military programmes.
Underlying the entire process has been the old
game of 'threat inflation' - so familiar from the Cold
War, when the US kept conjuring up dark visions of
a Soviet empire that was rapidly outstripping it in
nuclear capabilities and deployments. Sober
analysts then showed, and have now confirmed,
that all of this was self-serving fiction manufactured
by the US nuclear establishment and the defence
forces, eager to see sufficient lethal toys around to
satisfy everybody's greed. India's Department of
Atomic Energy (DAE) today has embarked upon the
same path. Nobody from within its ranks - or for
that matter, from the New Delhi strategic
establishment - has come forward with a reasonable
explanation of what would be a 'minimum credible
deterrent' in terms of India's nuclear doctrine. But
loyalists within India's fourth estate have started
putting out the obvious fabrication that India has
already yielded strategic pre-eminence to Pakistan,
Ii fit m aetss si!
seeiiiiin? rmtmn
the mm i§
nuclea? energy,
India seems
resigned to the
need so shut
including the gas
pipeline friiii Irai
and will tall further behind unless a sufficiently large
part of its nuclear R&D programme is placed within
the military fence.
Toeing the line
The same alliance of the nuclear and strategic
communities has driven India's policy on Iran since
the US began ratcheting up the pressure on that front.
Last September, India voted in favour of an IAEA
resolution that noted that Iran's nuclear programme,
as a threat to world peace, rightlv belonged within
the domain of the UN Security Council. This was
followed by the February reference to the Security
Council and the quite extraordinary demand placed
on Iran that it should go beyond the formal
stipulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) and all agreements concluded under its aegis,
to adopt "transparency and confidence-building
measures" that may at regular intervals be demanded
of it.
The NPT, as it has existed until now, recognised
two kinds of states - those with nuclear weapons
and those without. India stayed out of the bargain
because it viewed the NPT as a flawed and
discriminatory treaty. But now a special niche has
been fashioned for India in the global
nuclear imperium, as a "responsible
state with advanced nuclear
technology". At the same time, another
niche of a very different sort is being
created for Iran; as a signatory to the
NPT and a state without nuclear
weapons, it would still be obliged to
submit to greater rigours than the
treaty dictates.
Partly because of the gross
inconsistency in this approach, non-
proliferation strategists in the US have
begun mobilising Congressional
opinion against the deal with India.
This in turn has created a situation in
which India is compelled to prove itself a loyal ally
and acquiesce to all US demands. In case the message
was not adequately clear, US Ambassador David
Mulford, much to the outrage of the Indian
intelligentsia and the embarrassment of the
government, declared that the nuclear deal would
"die" if India did not vote against Iran at the IAEA
meeting in February.
Demands that Mu!ford's diplomatic credentials
be cancelled have been rebuffed by Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh for the moment, but his
government has had a hard time seeking to justify its
new accommodation with the US. In the bargain, two
issues of vital importance for India's energy security
have drifted back into the public limelight: the very
real benefits that the gas pipeline from Iran could
bring, and the consistent failure of the country's
atomic-energy establishment to fulfil promises of an
energy plenitude to come through nuclear fission.
1 .....**> ■, .d
I  ■:, -\ .
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Opening doors, shutting doors
Shortly after Independence, when nuclear fission
seemed to promise a virtually inexhaustible
abundance of energy, India committed itself to a three-
stage programme. This went all the way from the first
generation of reactors based on a moderated nuclear
reaction, to 'fast reactors' that would breed fuel even
as it generated heat, and then towards a design that
would transform available deposits of a rare mineral
into an unlimited source of energy.
The nuclear dream soon meandered into a
succession of dead-ends. Grand plans to meet a fifth
or even a fourth of the country's commercial electricity
needs through the nuclear route failed to fructify. But
it was only five decades after its three-stage
perspective plan for nuclear energy was written, that
India's atomic-energy establishment conceded that it
did not have the resources to even establish the first
stage on a sound basis. Uranium, the DAE admitted,
was severely limited as an accessible resource for
India. And to provide the necessary impetus to the
nuclear-energy perspective plan, the doors needed to
be opened to the import of uranium from
overseas sources.
This was in the prevailing international regime of
oversight and control, a forbidding prospect. India
chose not to accede to the NPT when it was put up for
signature in 1970, and as such, was dependent on
contingent acts of goodwill by the overlords of the
global nuclear trade for access to resources and
technology. With the first of India's nuclear tests in
1974, and more so with the succession of explosions
that followed almost a quarter-century afterwards,
the doors were firmly closed on this source. In the
, process of seeking to reopen the door to nuclear energy,
India seems resigned to the need to shut several
others, including the gas pipeline from Iran.
Politics of energy
The clue to unravelling this policy muddle in India
lies in understanding the complex geopolitics of
energy. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan once
merited the patronage of the US, because it held the
key to tapping the oil and gas reserves of Central Asia
for transportation to the warm waters of the Indian
Ocean. For Washington, the geopolitical compulsions
behind the unseemly embrace of the Taliban remain
unchanged. Central Asia and the Caspian Sea are
believed potentially to be an enormously productive
energy-exporting region, And every possibility must
be found of avoiding the natural routes of egress for
these resources - south through Iran or north through
the Russian Republic. That would be contrary to the
geopolitics of energy as the US conceives it.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, the 1800
km-long crude-oil conduit - ten years in the making
and inaugurated last September - is now the most
visible symbol of this geopolitical intent. Beginning
on the Caspian Sea coast just south of Azerbaijan's
capital city of Baku, the pipeline snakes west until
well after the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. It then
plunges south, carefully skirting a secessionist
province of Georgia on the Black Sea coast, before
entering Turkey and delicately working its way
through regions of Kurdish unrest towards the
Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. For a project that had
to traverse such politically volatile terrain, the
economics of the BTC pipeline remain uncertain.
Azerbaijan lacks the oil to feed it, and the US
has had to pressure Kazakhstan, on the other
shore of the Caspian, to start pumping oil through
the Baku terminal.
Again in its effort to cut Iran out of India's energy
matrix, the US has energetically pursued the
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline,
which would bring some benefits at its tail-end to
India. The Asian Development Bank has since long
been the principal consultant for the project, but
India's interest is limited by the perception that the
gas fields of Turkmenistan do not have the
abundance of Iran's. And curiously, all the problems
cited as potentially fatal for the Iran pipeline - such
as the secessionist movement in Balochistan - are
applicable with greater force to both the BTC and
TAP projects. The Iran project, however, has an
advantage that the other two lack: its yield is not
in question.
India's reticence to play the game the way it should
be coincides with a series of aggressive moves by
other majors in the trade, all intended in the years to
come, to establish a dispersed locus of control in the
global energy grid. Just last December, Russia
concluded a deal with Germany to build a submarine
pipeline under the Baltic, making landfall on the
German coast and, in the process, bypassing the
Ukraine and Poland. Signalling a new intent to use
energy resources for maximum economic and
political leverage, Russia also unilaterally terminated
gas-supply deals with Ukraine and Georgia,
indicating to them that their newfound political
chumminess with the US was not without an
economic price.
Viewed in this context, India's steadfast vigil over
ancient nuclear shibboleths looks rather pathetic,
designed to propel the country ever more rapidly into
a state of chronic energy deficit. Apart from the
economic calculus, energy options also exercise an
influence on the moral and political climate. Nuclear
energy, with its ever-intimate interface with weapons
technology, feeds a mood of national chauvinism and
hysteria. A natural-gas pipeline that connects
neighbours, on the other hand, gives every country a
vested interest in the security and stability of the
other, in turn creating an atmosphere for deepening
economic cooperation. After two successive votes in
the IAEA that have rightly been perceived by Iran as
hostile acts, India will now have to engage in serious
damage-control if it wants to get back to the energy-
security scenario that Mani Shankar Aiyar had so
carefully crafted. >
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 |Cover Story
The journey through the labyrinth of Nepali
politics is complicated by a three-way tussle
that makes difficult the search for a way out.
The first challenge is to force the royal regime
in Kathmandu to capitulate; the seconM is to
put a government of political parties in place;
the third is to engage the Maoists in dialogue;
and the fourth is to start the march to
rehabilitation, reconstruction and economic
revitalisation, writing a new constitution along
the way. The irony of it is that restoring peace
and reinstating pluralism in Nepal requires
nothing less than having faith in the leaders of
a vicious rebellion and defeating the agenda of
an autocratic ruler.
by | Kanak Mani Dixit
It has not rained in Nepal for five months and the
ground this spring is parched, the haze thicker
for the dryness all around. Electricity production
is so low that even the privileged of Kathmandu
Valley are seeing 17 hours of load-shedding per week,
and this has also affected drinking water distribution.
The tourists have disappeared with the Maoist
blockades and government curfews, and the five
casinos of Kathmandu meant to trap them are filled
instead with Nepalis betting their fortunes. Petroleum
prices are suddenly up, and double-digit inflation is
on its way. The political confusion on several fronts,
however, is as yet preventing the accumulated
frustrations from boiling over in a rash of
spontaneous violence.
Everywhere in Nepal today there is listlessness, a
waiting for something to happen. Potholes are not
repaired, nor are buildings painted; and in the
districts, the people have nearly forgotten the
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
ubiquitous term of four decades' standing,
'development project'. There is a hope that the vortex
of violence that has Nepal in its grip will be broken
by the end of spring, before the monsoon sets in.
Spring is historically the season of political change
in Kathmandu, and something must give, or so people
hope. That 'give' must come from the direction of the
Narayanhiti royal palace, stuck in its militarist,
undemocratic ways. As for the Maoist rebels in the
jungle, they have already indicated in a variety of
ways their desire - indeed their desperation - for a
way to open, aboveground politics.
The polity is today at a stalemate awaiting release,
either planned or forced, so that the 26 million people
of this sizeable country can once again breathe the
air of peace and freedom. That peace was wrested by
the violence of the Maoist insurgency of ten years'
standing, and the state security's response that has
placed the country towards the top of the charts in
numbers of tortured and 'disappeared'. The freedom
was first stolen in the villages by the gun-toting
rebels, who even today like to claim they have public
support; and in the last three years by a newly
crowned king-turned-despot, who shows contempt
for the people at every turn and speaks in Orwellian
doublespeak of democracy and constitutionalism
while proceeding to demolish both.
Both of the chairmen - the Maoists' Pushpa Kamal
Dahal and the royalty of Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah
Dev - hold the belief that the Nepali public is a
peasantry more than willing to submit to their
individual feudal dictates. They do not seem to
recognise, or care to concede, that the citizens have
developed a taste for democracy, and for what a
modern-day pluralistic state can deliver in social and
economic progress. They know that that future lies
neither with king nor rebel - not in right-wing
dictatorship, nor with ultra-left totalitarianism.
Over the autumn and winter, the insurgents have
given ample indication of their desire to submit to
fhe people's will. The Maoists must perforce be tested
in their announced willingness to join multiparty
politics, but today it is the royal chairman who is the
stumbling block to peace and democracy: by not
responding to the Maoist ceasefire of four months'
standing last autumn, by continuing to snub the very
parliament-abiding political parties who could save
his throne and his dynasty, and - the unkindest cut
of all - by militarising the Nepali state.
The entire national superstructure is crumbling
around Chairman Gyanendra, and yet there is no
indication that he understands the gravity of the
situation. The destruction of the state structure and
economy over a single year leads to the inescapable
conclusion that Chairman Gyanendra has neither
the aptitude nor acumen to be a head of government,
which he has been since he appointed himself
chairman of the Council of Ministers following the
royal coup d'etat of 1 February 2005. It could even be
that, having got himself into a jam, the chairman's
arrogance does allow him to extricate himself. He
has not reached for the lines that have been thrown
to him in the past year.
The frustration with the head of government is
exemplified by the anger of a soldier shouting into a
phone at a public call booth in Nawalparasi District
last month, after a devastating attack on an army
convoy. Here is how he was overheard: "Sir, how
many more of my boys have to die because of the
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Prachanda in The
Hindu interview of
8 February 2006
arrogance (hath) of one man?!" There is
disillusionment in the police force with a king who
insists on moving about in army combat attire, and
increasing disquiet among the army officer corps who
are unable to pass the message up the ranks. The
police these days surrender at the first instance of
attack, and the soldiers are fatigued without having
really taken on the rebels - socially isolated and
without inspiring leadership. They might well have
put up a good fight for the sake of the citizenry, but
not for the 'supreme commander-in-chief.
A time for sanctions
If the knot lies in the obduracy of Chairman
Gyanendra, then the question would be how to force
his hand. International condemnation has not
worked for someone who seems willing to operate
under the isolationist junta model perfected by the
generals of Rangoon. Neither is the chairman
bothered that his failures are paraded before
the people, with fiascos in governance,
diplomacy, development, economic management,
administration and warfare. The public, finally, got
a flavour of what some diplomats had known earlier
about the royal ability to misrepresent, with the
televised address on the anniversary of the takeover.
Looking straight to the camera, on the morning of 1
February 2006, Chairman Gyanendra claimed that
the Maobaadi were reduced to indulging in "isolated
incidents of petty crime", even while, at the moment
of the taping, the guerrillas were destroying the
Rana-era administrative centre of Palpa. He
proposed that the national image and pride had been
restored, when in fact the chairman cannot extract a
single invitation for a state visit overseas, and foreign
dignitaries shun the country like the bird flu.
Chairman Gyanendra also, with a straight face,
claimed that democracy had been strengthened
during his year of royal rule.
Nor was that it. Having squandered numerous
opportunities to build bridges to the political parties,
in a Democracy Day message on 19 February,
Chairman Gyanendra called on those "interested"
parties to approach the royal person for discussions.
He did this while scores of political leaders -
including the topmost, such as Madhav Kumar
Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United
Marxist-Leninist) and Ram Chandra Poudel of the
Nepali Congress - were in detention at his command.
This was yet another exhibition of the chairman's
contempt for the Nepali public, by now too numerous
to list. It is part-and-parcel of a mindset that thinks
the international community will believe his
democratic credentials if he repeats the term
'democracy' several times in a speech.
Given the recalcitrance of Chairman Gyanendra
and his royalist cohort, and the unwillingness of the
Royal Nepal Army (RNA) leadership to caution the
chairman from this destructive path, the time has
come for targeted international sanctions to check
the anti-democratic, militarist royal agenda for the
sake of the people of Nepal. As called for by several
international human rights organisations, and
increasingly by bold activists speaking out within
Nepal, the sanctions would apply to the individuals
of the royal regime - freezing the international bank
accounts of members of the royal family including a
nefarious son-in-law, and denial of visas for
international travel by both that family and by the
topmost handful of military generals and all the
members of the royal Council of Ministers. The
international community must also demand
information from the RNA on officers implicated in
violations of international humanitarian law, so
that they can be prevented from going on the
highly-regarded United Nations peacekeeping
assignments. Ii the army does not supply those names
to the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights, as it is currently refusing to do, then
the individual battalions implicated must be refused
peacekeeping stints.
It is important to go for targeted, individualised
sanctions because the Narayanhiti regime does not
respond - as even minimally democratic
governments would - to the kind of sanctions that
directly and indirectly hurt the people at large, such
as reduced or cancelled foreign assistance to
development projects and the government budget. A
personal targeting and shaming, on the other hand,
might yield results. It would spread immediate panic
among the royalists ranks and serve as a potent
'feudalist' pressure on the chairman to back down.
Chairman in fatigues
The deadlock of the moment is not of the Maobaadi's
making, but of Chairman Gyanendra's, and an army
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 brass that was a willing accessory to the coup d'etat.
Narayanhiti has rapidly converted Nepal into a
militarised state, where military officers have
sidelined the civilian administrators and police
throughout the 75 districts. Every one of Chairman
Gyanendra's actions over the past year of absolute
rule must be overturned if Nepal is to return to a
pluralistic state, including prejudicial appointments,
illegal ordinances and numerous royal fiats. But most
urgent is to undo the damage done to society by the
politicisation and deployment of the RNA as de facto
administrators. This illegitimate, unworkable
diversion must be abandoned if social progress and
economic advancement are to be guaranteed through
an inclusive, democratic society. The people's
future must not be compromised because one man,
who happened to get to sit on the throne at age 56,
did not care enough for what 'militarisation' could
do to society.
The RNA must return to its professional position
as a national army rather than serve as the master-
monarch's bodyguard, and the professional officers
who value their profession must make themselves
heard by the generals currently locked in a feudal
embrace with the royal palace. For now, the haughty
generals have no humility to show for their force's
lack of fighting spirit since it was deployed four full
years ago, even though the number of soldiers has
nearly doubled in that period. Are they proud to be
part of an army that refuses to go on the offensive,
which today mostly guards only the barrack's
perimeter fence even as neighbouring police posts or
district headquarters are razed to the ground? Can
they take satisfaction in a force that carries out 'air
offensives' by throwing mortars out of helicopter
windows onto populated terrain? What will happen
when human rights organisations investigate the
reported large-scale executions at the Bhairabnath
Battalion in downtown Kathmandu? And how is it
that the officers guilty of the 2003 point-blank
massacre of 19 people -17 unarmed Maoist activists,
and two innocent civilians - at Doramba village in
Ramechhap District, during a ceasefire period, did
not receive their deserved punishment?
And how does one defend an army that has so
little self-respect that, when challenged about human
rights abuse, its topmost generals invariably reply,
"Why do you not challenge the Maoists when they
do the same thing?" This willingness to be judged at
the same level as the renegade insurgents speaks of
the quality of leadership with which the RNA is
saddled - the same leadership that accepted
Chairman Gyanendra's call to arms, not to fight the
Maoists in the jungles, but to battle politicians,
lawyers, journalists and human rights activists.
The supreme commander-in-chief is bent on
destroying the Maoists militarily, even though the
RNA has shown itself incapable of going on the
offensive, which had been the hope of many at the
time of the royal takeover. There is also even' reason
to believe that Narayanhiti seeks a continuation of
the conflict. It provides the chairman with the excuse
to continue to rule, and to distort the political process
in such a manner over the next year or two that he
will have created an irreversible process through a
sham parliamentary election - a constitutional coup
on the shoulders of a military coup - that leaves him
with a quantum of power he would be satisfied with,
but which was not sanctioned for the constitutional
monarch by the 1990 Constitution of Nepal.
It is difficult today to imagine Chairman
Gyanendra reverting to being a 'constitutional' or
'ceremonial' king, so prejudiced are his views on
pluralism and democracy, so public his contempt
for the politicians and political parties, and so
blatant and self-serving his agenda. It is not just the
political activist that is reacting negatively -
Narayanhiti would perhaps be taken aback by how
the royalty has fallen in the public esteem. It is a
surprise to find village elders scornful of Chairman
Gyanendra, and the ability of the mainstream press
to print 'full frontal' cartoons of the chairman is
another indication of what has become acceptable.
There is even a stirring of discontent palpable among
Kathmandu Valley's urban middle class, who has
given Narayanhiti the benefit of the doubt for this
long. The destruction of the monarchy's image is not
the Maoist's doing, it is the chairman's own.
And yet, it does not do to simply wish away
monarchy in the arena of one's mind. Responsible
politicians are required to seek out ways in which to
pressure Narayanhiti to backtrack, 'because it is
there', and with an army backing it. They also need
to consider that the Maoists are not disarmed, even if
their call has suddenly turned syrupy. Indeed, the
need of the hour in Nepal is to find ways to force the
chairman-king to back down, and to take it from there
if he does not. While there are things that the
international community can do (condemning the
royal takeover, suspending arms assistance and
contemplating 'smart sanctions'), the pressure on the
palace must come from the Nepali people and their
representatives - whatever it takes to get the palace
with its back to the wall, and preferably in the form
of an effective, well-organised, mass-based people's
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
movement. On the other hand, nobody need ever plan
an anarchical revolution, after which it would be a
question of picking up the pieces.
Even at this precarious and penultimate hour, it
would be possible for Chairman Gyanendra to
backtrack. He could still rescue his dynasty, if not
his own rule, by surrendering to the public. This
would happen through direct admission that
sovereignty lies with the people and not in the crown,
and in accordance with the Constitution of 1990.
Following the royal climbdown, there must be
guarantees of unquestioned control of the RNA by
the civilian government; a rollback on all ordinances,
orders and appointments of at least the last one year;
an all-party government either by reinstatement of
the Third Parliament (disbanded in 2002) or through
an understanding among the political players; and
the all-party government calling for a constituent
assembly to draft a new constitution. This last is
required to bring the Maoists in from the cold, given
their process of reformation and given the past year's
proof of Chairman Gyanendra's naked ambitions.
Even to do away with the monarchy, the citizenry
would have to be given a choice through a constituent
To believe or not to
And the Maoists do, very much, want to come in
from the cold. The rebel change of heart is based on
cool pragmatism or sheer desperation, depending
on how you read it, but their recent pronouncements
are credible enough to take them up on their offer. As
the country is already at war, there is really nothing
to lose in doing this. If the rebels are being
manipulative and are found out, the state would
simply be expected to return to war. To the plaintive
question, "But can we believe the Maobaadi?" the
answer is simple - there are reasons to believe that
their resolve is genuine, and not because they are
'nice' people.
In August 2005, the Maoists held a plenum in their
'home district' of Rolpa and debated a resolution
that was finally passed unanimously: the rebels
would take a 180-degree turn (not announced as
such), turn their ideology on its head, and enter
'competitive multiparty polities'. This was the
untying of the most important and troublesome knot,
for in one stroke the Maoists put behind them the
rhetoric and agenda of 'people's war', on the basis
of which, for ten long years, they have motivated
their fighters and propagandised them on the
takeover of Kathmandu Valley. There remains the
challenge of how to tackle the rebels' gun-in-hand,
which no longer has even the sanction of a 'people's
war'. The violent inertia among the Maobaadi must
be allowed to dissipate without further violence,
which is why responsible politicians, society leaders
and foreign diplomats should promote an
engagement with the rebels, rather than go into naive
or self-serving denial.
It was after the Maoist plenum, on the basis of
their willingness to move towards non-violent
politics and on the rebound from Chairman
Gyanendra's constant rebuffs, that the mainstream
political parties decided to engage with the rebel
chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ('Prachanda'). The
leaders of the alliance of the seven parliamentary
parties agitating against 'royal regression' flew to
Delhi and met with jMt Dahal and his ideologue-in-
chief, Baburam Bhattarai. They emerged on 22
November with a 12-point understanding, the goal
of which was to challenge the royal move and
prepare for a constituent assembly as a way to
address the Maoist bottom line. In early February,
the Maoist leadership suddenly unleashed
their leader, Chairman Dahal, on the national
and international media with unrehearsed on-
camera interviews.
In the interviews, the Maoists supremo was
playing to diverse national, Subcontinental and
world audiences, as well as to his own cadre; and
so, while disarming, his statements contained
their share of contradictions. At times full of
uncompromising bluster, at other times sounding
conciliatory, Chairman Dahal sought to convince of
the Maoist decision to come into multiparty politics,
laying it out as a magnanimous act of great
proletarian wisdom. The chairman presented several
scenarios of possible resolutions on a 'pick one'
basis; but most importantly, he conceded that the
Maoists' descent to 'multiparty politics' was dictated
by the regional geopolitics, and the US and Indian
support for the RNA that had made the fight difficult.
The Maoist conclusion, he said, was that
adjustments were required to Mao-Lenin's 20th
century communism for implementation in the 21st
century. The Maoists of Nepal were the vanguard
for this, from whom even the Indian Naxalites could
take a lesson or two, he said, such as the importance
of parliamentary politics!
Sitting in a New Delhi safe-house during the
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 interviews the Maoist chieftain then proposed, with
his chief ideologue and one-time rival Mr Bhattarai
by his side, the specific 'nikas' or wav out of the
quagmire. He suggested that the Maoists should stay
out of the fight for democracy in the beginning,
recognising perhaps the domestic and international
difficulties if armed rebels were part of a democratic
movement. At one point, Chairman Dahal suggested
that the most practical nikas is a revival of the Third
Parliament. This reinstatement was not to be through
royal initiative, but something to be wrested from
Narayanhiti through an energetic movement that
would unilaterally announce the revival. The
Parliament would garner international recognition,
and appoint an all-party government that would
negotiate with the Maoists and pave the way for a
constituent assembly.
At several points in the interviews, given to Nepali
and Indian dailies and the BBC World Service radio,
the Maoist chief even indicated his willingness to
accept a 'ceremonial' kingship if the constituent
assembly outcome so warranted. On the run-up to
the assembly elections, the rebels would need
international supervision of the RNA and the rebel
fighters. This is seen by their leadership both as a
means to protect the cadre in the process of weapons
decommissioning, as well as a sop to prove
'international recognition'. The greatest difficulty for
the rebel commandants will be to convince battle-
hardened fighters that the ten-year fight had been
worth it, Besides the fact that Chairman Gyanendra
will not hear of UN involvement, there is a problem
in the Maoist projection here: all-powerful New Delhi
too rejects the suggestion, for reasons of geopolitics
quite different from the chairman's.
How does one believe the Maobaadi leadership,
given their history of manipulative manoeuvring?
Would they not take the political parties for a ride?
Fortunately, the credibility of the insurgents' desire
to jettison the 'people's war' and enter the world of
competitive parliamentary politics does not depend
on the 'Prachanda interviews', which are but
attempts to make the act of climbdown convincing to
the Kathmandu middle class, the Indian
intelligentsia, and the world at large - not to forget
their own cadre, who are all listening in on their FM
and short-wave receivers. There are several reasons
why Mr Dahal and Mr Bhattarai are
convincing on this one, this time around. . ,:   '■■••■  .,
To begin with, the change of policv was
the result of a unanimous decision of the '■■ ■>■■■
rebels'  expanded  central  committee •;-".""      ;
meeting - called a plenum - which „.— , ,,. ( ...
makes this reversal more than what is ** ' *'' * *•
contained in polemical press releases »'.*f; ''~Tr<
that get faxed and emailed to k'»•■,,-•',-.
Kathmandu. The fact that Chairman
Dahal was openly on television and **'.':-*»
allowed himself to be photographed for the press
indicates a desire to end underground life at age 52.
Also significant is the fact that the chairman was
committing himself before the Indian government
and public opinion, which would have New Delhi
breathing down his neck if there were to be a blatant
Non-Maoist Maoists
Why did the August plenum take the decision it did?
Obviously the Maoists had grown too big too quickly
and were having to make adjustments to save their
'revolution' from internal corruption, this last being
something Chairman Dahal has admitted. Having
gotten to within fighting reach of political power-
sharing in Kathmandu - which was never, perhaps,
really expected - the leadership realised the need for
a change in strategy. This is because no government
in the world, including India's, would recognise
Maoists as 'Maoists' in the seat of power in
Kathmandu. There was only one way out: renounce
the 'people's war' even if one did not say it out loud,
and put your best face forward.
The violent politics of the Maobaadi had properly
incensed the international community, and the post-
9/1 1 'war on terror' was a set-back for a group that
has used terrorist methods. American, British and
Indian assistance began to flow in large volume to
the RNA, and was suspended only as a result of
Chairman Gyanendra's coup. But it was when India
began to sense a danger to its own internal security
from copycat insurgencies in its hinterland - due to
the high-profile Nepali Maobaadi - that the ground
shifted for the insurgents. It did not help that, during
their rise and spread, the Maoists had made liberal
use of anti-Indian rhetoric, based on an ultra-
nationalist ideology actually devised by
Gyanendra's father, Mahendra, back in the
Panchayat era.
The Maoist vitriol against India, the bans on Indian
vehicles  and  cinema,  the  targeting  of Indian
multinational property in the Nepal Tarai, and in
the last instance, the whimsical preparation for an
Indian attack through  a campaign of digging
trenches all over - none of this endeared  the
Maobaadi to the Indian state. When India decided it
had had enough - and its foreign minister had
termed them 'terrorist' even before
a        ,       Kathmandu did - it deployed its SSB
". paramilitary force along the open Nepal-
India border to monitor movement. It
;■■!::    r-i nabbed  two  central  Maoist leaders
in Madras and Guwahati and set them
''-'■■'■ on trial, and it prevented wounded
',;,;.; *.'■ .;       Maoist  fighters  from being  treated
....-.■;.        in nursing homes in towns like Luck-
/ "7 now or Gorakhpur. Proactive Indian
displeasure, as well as the realisation
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 that New Delhi would never 'allow' a Maoist
government in place in Kathmandu, have been
possibly the most important factors for the rebels to
want to come aboveground - it is a requirement of
their very success that they abandon the 'people's
war' that has brought them thus far. In addition, the
role of the Indian left parties, particularly the
Communist Party of India (Marxist), seems to
have been important in influencing the Nepali
Maoists to see sense.
No less important, perhaps, is the domestic
challenge faced by the Maoists. Here, too, the rebels
realised that they could spread thus far and no further
in their goal of state takeover. While they have been
able to make spectacular hit-and-run attacks in the
hinterland, they never came close to taking over any
of the 75 district headquarters, let alone Kathmandu
Valley. The militia and guerrillas were thus
confronted with the prospects of a never-ending fight,
whereas joining aboveground politics would require
laying down the gun and joining multiparty politics.
In the early years, the rebels were able to motivate
fighters with their run of assaults on police and army
posts, and the promise of the prize of Kathmandu.
Successful mass attacks on barracks and the looting
of weapons also served to keep up morale. As the
army acquired Belgian Minimi belt-driven guns, as
well as more-efficient American M-l 6s in place of
aging India-donated SLR rifles, and with the RNA
learning to defend its barracks with mines and
concertina wire, the insurgents had to turn to the
'lowly' task of destroying administrative offices,
government infrastructure and poorly-armed police
With the army refusing to engage them in the field,
the Maoists could not hope for firelights and battles
to show their fighting mettle. All in all, for the last
few years the rebel fighters have been reduced to
clandestine ambushes of security forces, laying down
improvised explosive devices on public roads, as well
as blockades and highway closures. Even as it was
getting harder to motivate the cadre, the instances of
banditry and wayward violence not sanctioned by
the high ^command indicated disintegration of the
fighting spirit. A sudden, deep and open ideological
split between Chairman Dahal and Mr Bhattarai in
the spring of 2005 divided the rank-and-file all the
way down to the district level. It is not yet clear how
that rift was patched up, but the leadership seems to
have decided to seek a surakshit abataran (safe landing)
while the movement was still united. The Maoists
could continue to make the country ungovernable,
and that was even easier with Chairman Gyanendra
leading an unmotivated security force, but the goal
of capturing Kathmandu was receding.
Due to domestic, regional and international
considerations, therefore, the Maoist decision to come
to a 'safe landing' is convincing to all players. All
players, that is, other than some diehard members of
Kathmandu's royalist elite and the American
ambassador, who in mid-February conducted a
frenzy of meetings, speeches and letters-to-the-editor
trying to convince whoever would listen of an
impending Maoist takeover of Kathmandu, and of
the need to reject the Maoist siren calls that the 12-
point understanding and the Maoist interviews
represented. Lacking a nuanced understanding of
the fast-changing Nepali political discourse, and
obviously running to the dictates of his own
administration's 'fight against terror', the
ambassador managed - it is hoped momentarily - to
deflect the debate and the search for peace. Whereas
a civil cautionary note to alert the political class of
the dangers of Maoist doubletalk would not have
been untoward, the ambassador was acting very
much the American cowboy in a Nepali china shop.
As the royal regime's detainee, civil-society leader
Devendra Raj Pandey said from jail on a mobile
phone, "The ambassador's statements are designed
to take the country back to civil war, more bloodshed,
and away from a political solution."
Closure of the 'people's war'
If the Maobaadi are to be believed in their desire to
bring the 'people's war' to a close, then it is Chairman
Gyanendra, leading the RNA by the nose-ring, who
is the obstacle for a return to both peace and
democracy. And so, once again the question: how to
bring Narayanhiti to heel? Today the regime seems
to stands tall, but its bones are brittle. The king has
with him no supporters, other than the quislings and
opportunists who have joined the cabinet and leaders
of mini-parties who want to make good under royal
patronage. His plan is to ride it out through the spring
of 2006 in the hope that the monsoon will defuse the
political agitation, and a year from now he can
organise a sham parliamentary election to gain sham
legitimacy. But this is a plan concocted in a royal
vacuum, by a man who believes in his ability to stay
in power with the help of a dispirited RNA. In the
towns and villages, there are very few opinion-
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 parties never have.
It must be added that Chairman Gyanendra over
the past few years has done more than the Maobaadi
to destroy the image of monarchy, and likewise he
has done more to give energy to 'democratic republic'
than the rebels in the jungle. It has become difficult
to conceive of the man with the crown functioning
as a monarch, bound to a ceremonial
throne, without residuary powers
Building democratic steam
It is adreadv very late in the day to wrest democracy
back from the grip of Narayanhiti. ,\nd it is the
political parties - assisted by various branches of
civil society, including the bar, the journalists,
academia, human rights activists and independent
citizens - who must rise to the occasion. What are
they to do? Why, thev must build steam in the
movement to force the regime against the wall, for
the sake of democracy and for peace through
dialogue with the Maobaadi.
But what to do if the chairman refuses to budge?
Many political players are reduced to waiting for a
spark, some accident, which would act to release all
the public's pent-up anger in a flood that would
wash away the monarchy. But that would be to invite
anarchy, which in this country can be savage, and
the political actors as yet have no mechanism in place
to manage such a destructive bout. A planned
roadmap would have to be a mix of what is practical
and desirable, given that the situation is complicated
by the three-way tussle between the rebels, the royal
regime and the political parties /civil society. The goal
is a return to representative government, for which
the rebels have to be brought into a safe landing,
while the monarchy has at the very least to be
The great advance of the last half-year has been
the convincing presentation of the Maoists that they
do indeed want to come to a Landing. The four-month-
long ceasefire allowed the Maoists to recoup a large
ii man m mm mat ISM ^IZtTX
Ohalnnaii Syilliilra    heightened militarism of the past few
years. The Maoists took back their
ceasefire when it became difficult to
sustain under the RNA's 'non-
COOperation', and now they have
gone back to attacking state security
and destroying government
property, and have announced an
onerous period of nationwide
closures in the coming two months.
makers today who feel for the monarchy, and
especially the current incumbent. Internationally, it
is not likely that the players important to Nepal -
Indui, the UK, China, Japan, the European Union,
the UN Secretary General or the US (despite one
odd plenipotentiary) - will come around to seeing
things the way Chairman Gyanendra would like
them to do.
But while the international community should
stand ready to provide support in addition to what it
has already done, peace and democracy are goals
that Nepalis themselves must fight tor. With the
plethora of 'donors' willing to invest money in all
kinds of conflict-resolution exercises, it will be the
death of the 'fight for freedom' if the politicians too
start accepting foreign assistance under the line-item
restoration of peace and democracy'. There is no
doubt, however, of the need for the politicians to
ratchet up the battle, and their lethargy thus tar is no
proof of the lack of urgency in the situation. It is just
that the rage against the roval takeover has not been
translated into effective mass action.
Obviously, the contradictions between the political
parties, the power centralisation within the parties -
particularly around the person of Girija Prasad
Koirala of the Nepali Congress - and the copious
lack of imagination and planning in the leadership
ranks generally, have all been contributing factors to
the inability to defeat the royal action more than a
vear after the takeover, even though the militarisation
.mderway should have energised the political class.
out it is also important to note that politicians better
understand the challenges, particularly those who
have held national office. This is something the
firebrand members of civil society or impatient
diplomats do not appreciate enough.
To take one example, the seniormost politicians
are circumspect when it comes to the slogan for
'democratic republic', even though sections of civil
society have already run with it. The goal of a
democratic republic is not only compatible, but goes
to the heart of the demand :or a
pluralistic state; but until recently, it
was the battle cry of the Maoist
rebels. Indeed, 'democratic republic
as   a   slogan   to   fight   the   roval
agenda   is   compromised   unless
simultaneous!)' the matter of the
Maoist   gun   is   addressed.   The
political parties have today come
around to accepting the constituent
assembly as the departure point for
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Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 „■:-—"• —
Members of the Third Parliament hold a street
Their continuing violence strengthens no one but
Narayanhiti and the RNA, and makes the already-
sceptical international community nervous.
The Maobaadi must unilaterally call for a cessation
of hostility and do their bit, even if the state security
fails to respond as before. They must do this to allow
politics to revive in a country where it has almost
died, and to give peace a chance. Meanwhile, the
political parties do not have a choice of building a
people's movement. At the moment, they are waiting
for international pressure, the public shaming, and
desires for continuity of dynasty to force Chairman
Gyanendra to backtrack. His record thus far points
against such a possibility. There is no alternative to
an energetic political movement.
The mainstream political parties are united today
on the political fight for a constituent assembly,
which would also carry along those who seek a
democratic republic. The constituent assembly is thus
a widely recognised roadmap to peace in Nepal today
- it has the intelligentsia and the political class
united, the international community on board.
Ironically, in one of his interviews, Chairman Dahal
has even spelt out how this is to be done: as
mentioned previously, this would be through the
revival of the Third Parliament, followed by the
formation of an all-party government, which would
hold dialogue with the rebels and organise the
elections for the assembly.
The brave new world that would suddenly unfold
with the revival of Parliament - or another way in
which an all-party government could be formed, if
that were possible - is tantalising for anyone with
some political imagination. The all-party government
would start a dialogue with the Maoists.
Simultaneously, the army would come under the
Parliament and the all-party government of the day,
for which the existing National Security Council,
which ensures civilian control of the military, would
be activated. The nature of the constituent assembly
would have to be worked out.
This is how the ground has shifted in Nepal -
before the August plenum, it would have been
premature to propose the constituent assembly as
the roadmap, because the Maoists were steadfast in
their violence agenda and the 'people's war'. With
the rebels having made a credible departure, the
constituent assembly, as a means of giving the people
their ultimate right to choose their system of
government, suddenly comes onto the centre stage.
This, then, would be the slogan with which to
challenge Narayanhiti. Chairman Gyanendra is by
now the only powerful player opposed to the
constituent assembly, and he would certainly try and
sabotage every move to restore democracy through a
revived Parliament.
It would be a welcome thing if Parliament were to
be revived through a Supreme Court verdict on a long-
pending case, as some politicians seem to be hoping
for, so they can be saved the trouble of organising a
movement. It is even possible that the concerted show
of national and international solidarity might shake
the moorings of Narayanhiti, its cohort and the
military leadership, forcing them to capitulate
without further fight. That seems unlikely to happen,
however. Besides, almost by definition, a democracy
that has not been fought for is bound to have within
it elements of anti-people compromise. There is no
way around it: a people's agitation is required to
push back the autocratic agenda of Narayanhiti,
supported by an international community willing to
place individualised sanctions against the royalty,
the military top brass and the ministers.
It is just possible that the Spring of 2006 will bring
such a political tsunami of sheer people power. But
it is also possible that the chairman-king will
continue to bleed the people, making it into the
monsoon period and getting himself a respite. If that
happens, there are no alternatives but to continue
the non-violent fight for peace and democracy -
through the next monsoon, .and the next and the next.
But the best will be if the Spring of 2006 yields a
people's movement that vanquishes Chairman
Gyanendra, at which point Nepal can then start on
the long-delayed process of reconstruction and
rehabilitation - and the revival of a democracy better
than that experienced between 1990 and 2002. There
are too many young widows, too many orphans, too
many displaced, too many young fighters in the land.
The long haul will begin once Chairman
Gyanendra's agenda is defeated, and the Maoists
are taken along on the march of peaceful,
aboveground, multiparty parliamentary politics. The
last time democracy was ushered in was the people's
movement in fhe Spring of 1990 - the Jana Andolan
2046, according to the Nepali calendar year. What
the people await this spring is Jana Andolan
2062, not expecting the chairman-king to give up
without a fight. fa
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
"They are keen to leave violent politics
Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress party and
Madhav Kumar Nepal ofthe Communist Party of Nepal (United
Marxist-Leninist) are the two pre-eminent leaders challenging
the royal takeover of 1 February 2005. Himal Southasian
spoke to Koirala, 80, as he was recuperating from an extended
illness. Mr Nepal, meanwhile, has been in house arrest under
orders from King Gyanendra since 20 January 2006.
What is the fate of the 12-point understanding of the parties
with the Maoists?
Our stand remains firm on tlie understanding. We
will not deviate despite pressurefrom some quarters
because it holds out the hope for peace and
What about the Democracy Day invitation
by the palace for'interested' parties to come
for dialogue?
That only added insult to injury at a time when so
Nepal Ji ofthe UML.
What about the international community?
The king is completely isolated. Everyone opposes
his takeover, even those he thought would support
The American ambassador expresses
alarm over the parties-Maoist relationship.
His pronouncements are like a safety line thrown to the king. We shall
see if the king uses it to retreat or to reinforce his autocratic grip. I have
my doubts and am watching this closely.
You know the Maoists are continuing with their violence.
They do have a problem with controlling theirfar-flung cadre. Plus, the
security forces have been instigating a return to warfare, like during the
ceasefire period.
The rebels give contradictory statements and interviews.
These things will happen, because they also have their activists to
consider. I have met them, and I will rely on what they have said to me
in person. MaobaacSkolmmmalaichodcSnusiLsas/e the Maoist matter
tome). It is our responsibility to bring them in-no one else can do that
These are the same Maoists who regarded you as the archenemy as prime minister.
They are keen to leave violent politics at long last. We are working for
a political solution, which is possible now because the Maobaadi no
longer believe they can achieve a militaiy victory.
On the political front, what should the palace do?
The king must issue a proclamation conceding that state sovereignty
(rajakiya satta) lies with the people. He has to do that
The Parliament must be reinstated. Everything else will flow from
there. I have been steadfast on reinstatement because it remains the
proper as well as practical way out. This has not changed, even though
fhe political scenario has changed so much.
What will the Parliament do?
You will be surprised at how many layers of problems will be solved the
day Parliament is restored. First and foremost it will guarantee peace
with the Maoists. We will also have democracy. The restoration of
Parliament will be decisive.
The Maoist chairman says he will not agree to restoration
done by the palace.
There are several waystodotHs, and we can proceed without sidelining
Maoist interests.
Does this mean you are committed to a
constituent assembly, which the Maoists
Absolutely, this will happen afterthe Parliament is
Why have the parties been so weak in
opposing the royal takeover?
In the beginning, we did have problems within
ourselves, and alsosomelack of clarity. This prevented
us from going to the people. Remember also that we
have been harassed continuously, detentions, house
arrests. Even today, our most effective organisers
are being picked up one by one.
How strong is the seven-party alliance in
resisting the palace?
Forever Ihey said we could not unite against the royal
agenda, but we have held together all this while, the
roadmap for peace and democracy is there in the seven-point all-party
programme, which has now been strengthened by the 12-point
agreement That agreement too, was not an end in itself, but a building
How will the movement play itself out do you think?
We have to energise our agitation in the next two months. We must
finish it off before the monsoon.
Would you take the position of prime minister if offered?
I am at that stage in life where I want to see peace and democracy
restored beforelleave the scene. Iknowthedock is ticking. Fortunately
my health has improved somewhat; I will now be traveling to energise
What if the collapse of the royalist state led to anarchy?
I do not think we have come close to that stage. And if the palace
relents, we may not be faced with such a situation. However, if it does
arise, the political parties will be able to rise to the occasion and take
Have you been in touch with the Narayanhiti royal palace?
It has been fourteen months, I have not had any contact.
What should the king do?
I am one who believes in giving continuity to history as much as
possible, because that will help achieve permanent peace. This is the
reasonforthe goodwill towards the monarchy as an institution, but the
king must understand how precarious the situation has become now. If
he reaches out, of course we can help. If he does not, who can take
responsibilityforwhathappens next?
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 ICover Story
An international pariah
by | Irene Khan
The human rights catastrophe in
Nepal has been a decade in the
maldng. Thousands of people have
been killed. Hundreds of thousands
have been uprooted. Women have been
attacked and raped. Farmers walking
home from their fields face bombs and
ambushes. Children are abducted and
forced to join the fighting. A population
already living in dire poverty has been
further impoverished by conflict,
insecurity and bandhs. Critics of the
regime have been locked up or killed
or 'disappeared'. Over 1000 activists,
lawyers, journalists and politicians
were arrested for taking part in peaceful
protests in January and February
alone. Despite these draconian
measures, the vitality and dynamism
of Nepal's civil society and media have
not been blunted.
A year ago, shortly after King
Gyanendra imposed a state of
emergency and cracked down on
political activists, I visited Nepal to
assess the situation in the country. I
met with the king, who assured me that
he would uphold human rights and
address impunity. He has patently
failed to do either.
At the end of the visit, Amnesty
International called on all
governments to stop arms sales to Nepal, and for the
UN to deploy human rights observers urgently.
India, the United Kingdom and the United States
suspended military aid to the Nepal army. In my
recent meetings with senior Indian government
officials, they reiterated their intention to continue
the ban. However, the impact of the suspension has
been marred by the fact that the Nepal government
The king assured
me that he would
uphold human
rights and
impunity. He has
patently failed to
do either.
has been able to purchase weapons
from China and elsewhere.
The UN Commission for Human
Rights adopted a tough resolution on
Nepal in April 2005, which was
followed by the deployment of UN
human rights monitors in Nepal. The
first report of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights
indicated that, despite these measures,
the situation continues to deteriorate.
King Gyanendra's government
seems impervious to the suffering of
the people, and defiant in the face of
international disapproval. The failed
elections, the ending of the unilateral
ceasefire by the Maoists, and the
recent escalation of violence bode ill
for the future.
Ratchet up pressure
The time has come for the international
community to ratchet up the pressure
so that the government in Kathmandu
is forced to open political dialogue, and
end human rights violations. Three
key measures are now urgent.
First, the United Nations must take
a tough stand against the deployment
of the RNA to UN peacekeeping
operations abroad. The RNA has
committed flagrant violations of
human rights - killing civilians, torturing detainees
and 'disappearing' people. The UN cannot, on the
one hand, deploy human rights observers to monitor
the violations by Nepali troops and, on the other
hand, allow the same soldiers who have been
perpetrators in their own country to become
protectors and peacekeepers in other parts of the
world. The UN Peacekeeping Department must
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 screen Nepali troops and refuse to deploy
those who are alleged to have been
implicated in human rights violations.
Such action will hurt the army, as
participation in UN peace operations is
considered to be prestigious and
financially rewarding.
Secondly, the time has come for the UN
to consider targeted sanctions against the
government of Nepal. The sanctions must
be 'smart' enough to target those who are
in power and responsible for the human
rights violations, but leave untouched humanitarian
aid and economic activities of the population at large
that is already suffering from the harsh consequences
of conflict and insecurity. Measures such as travel
restrictions on government officials and the seizure
of assets overseas would help bring home
the message that the regime is an international
pariah, and will not be allowed to continue its
business as usual.
Thirdly, there is widespread feeling that the
presence of the UN human rights monitors has been
beneficial. The mandate of the monitoring mission
must be extended and its capacity expanded. The
monitors should establish their presence outside
Kathmandu, in the provinces where the population
is most vulnerable. The international community
The time has
come for the
OH to consider
against the
should make sure that they have the
necessary support and resources to do
so, and that the government and Maoists
give them full, free and safe access. It is
in the interests of all parties to the
conflict that international monitoring
takes place to build confidence and curb
the worst abuses.
The Maoists too have been
responsible for widespread human
rights abuses, including civilian killings,
abductions, and recruitment of child
soldiers. With the end of the ceasefire, there are
dangers of an escalation of abuses. If the Maoists
want to be taken as a serious player in the political
process, they must make a clear, public commitment
to respect human rights and humanitarian
obligations. All those who have influence on the
Maoists - including Nepalis, and other opinion-
formers and politicians who may be seeking to
negotiate with them - must send them this message.
The real solution to the human rights crisis in
Nepal lies in the ending of conflict and fhe opening
of political dialogue. However, without a real
commitment on all sides to respect human rights,
the space for political dialogue will be limited.
Concerted and intensified international pressure can
help build that commitment to human rights.
Applications are invited for the Sixth South Asian Orientation Course in Human Rights and Peace Studies. The last date for
receiving applications is 25 March 2006. Application form can be downloaded from -
and The course will have three components: A three months long distance learning
beginning 1 May 2006; field work in August; and, a three-week long Direct Orientation in September 2006. The distance-learning
will be conducted on SAFHR's secure e-leaming platform. Participants will also receive the course material on CDs. However,
familiarity with e-learning skills and proficiency in the English language are essential. Six compulsory modules of the course are:
1. Basic Concepts of Human Rights; 2. Constitution, laws and justice; 3. Conflicts and the Politics of Peace; 4. 'The Global War on
Terror"; 5. Globalization, politics of technology and environmental justice, and 6. Media and Conflict. Between thirty to thirty-five
participants, preferably between 25 and 40, will be selected on the basis of the nature and the quality of their involvement with the
issues of human rights, peace, democracy and development in the region. Each applicant has to send a filled in application form,
mentioning where he or she has seen the course advertisement, with two references, and a 1000-word essay explaining the
relation of the applicant's work to human rights and peace studies and reasons for applying for the course. The selection will be
guided by the necessity to have a balanced representation of participants from all the countries in the region, women activists,
refugee activists, media practioners, members of minority groups, researchers, academics, policy makers, leaders of nongovernmental organizations and government officials. A maximum of four participants from outside South Asia will be selected. For
the direct orientation, the participants will have to find their own funding to travel. SAFHR will provide boarding and lodging. The
selected participants from South Asia will have to deposit a registration fee of US $ 100 the latest by 15 April 2006. Participants from
outside South Asia have to pay US $ 400. The enrollment of the participants will be confirmed only after that. For further information
on the course structure, content and methodologies, read the fifth course report at
Peace%20studies%20report5.pdf Electronic, facsimile and postal submissions are acceptable. Those sending the applications by
post or courier should do so to the HRPS secretariat at the following address:
South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR)
HRPS Secretariat
T-26, Green Park Main, New Delhi-110016
Tel: +91 11 51682841/ 42, Fax: +91 11 51682840 I Email:,
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 |Cover Story
The rise and fall
of the Maobaadi
Regional geopolitics and international balance of power have forced
the rebels to a crossroads - compromise or he defeated.
by | Puskar Gautam
In its tenth year, the Maoist rebellion in Nepal
has not become any less complex. Its analysis
requires not just an understanding of the
historical evolution of conflict in Nepal, the nature
of conflict in Southasia and, in particular, the
southern watershed of the Himalaya. All of this must
also be done against the backdrop of Maoist rebellion
in other countries and continents. On the political
side, there are three layers that must be analysed: the
left-democratic movement of Nepal, the Maobaadi
activities in the context of international and
Southasian politics, and the international communist
movement. Neither can we study the Maoist
phenomenon in the absence of an understanding of
caste-ethnic inter-linkages in the Himalayan
midhills, the specificities of the Nepali economy, and
the attempts of Nepali feudalism to countenance
globalisation. Finally, the respective national
security preoccupations of Maha-Bharat and Maha-
Chin to the south and north also have a bearing on
the rise and fall of the 10-year-old Maoist war.
War and the Maobaadi
The Nepali state was bom of the political, strategic
and diplomatic experiences gained during the 75
years that started in the 1760s with the victorious
unification process. This was followed by the
expansionary war that subjugated the territory
between the Teesta and Sutlej rivers, and the phase
of defeat that concluded with the humbling Treaty of
Sugauli with the Company Bahadur in 1816.
The strategy of the conquering chieftain of the
principality of Gorkha, Prithvinarayan, was to bring
the various principalities of the Himalayan midhills
consecutively into his axis, even while seeking to
stop the spread of the British Empire. Many of his
tactics resemble those of the Nepali Maoists of today
- keeping at bay the foreigners who wished to help
the Valley's kings, building their fighting force from
among the people, and waging an efficient guerrilla
war. It took King Prithvinarayan 15 years of fighting
to take Kathmandu Valley after leaving Gorkha, and
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
he succeeded only after imposing an economic
blockade and takeover of a fortress to the south.
The Maoists, for their part, have on occasion
sought to block the highways into Kathmandu
according to their 'surround and conquer' slogan.
Prithvinarayan had found it easier to conquer the
territories of the west, and for the east he had to use a
combination of pacts and deceit. Today's insurgents
have similarly found it easier to spread in western
Nepal, which has become their stronghold, while
they remain weaker in the east.
The Sugauli Treaty denoted the end of Nepal's
feudo-nationalist interregnum, marking the
capitulation of the state and relinquishing of large
parts of territory. Decades of court intrigues followed,
ending with a massacre of the Kathmandu nobility
that left Jang Bahadur as the ruler. He
became a puppet of the British, going
to their aid during the Sepoy Mutiny
in fate 1857. Years later, that
submission before imperial Britain
was followed by the deployment of
Nepali troops, in the service of the
overseas Crown, into Waziristan and
the two world wars. Indian experts
subsequently helped to organise the
Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and
provided it support in its
development and expansion. As
such, the RNA has been little more than a unit set
up with imperialist support to prop up feudal
Revising strategies
The Maoist rebellion that developed to challenge the
Katlimandu state evolved as a carbon copy of Mao
Tse-Tung's own war. The rebels managed to achieve
extensive success by following Mao's dictates and
turning the Nepali terrain to their advantage.
Perhaps their very success was the beginning of their
downfall, however, as geopolitical and national
factors would not let them expand further. As a result,
putting a brave face to their turnaround, the Maoists
who started on the road to building a communist
state have been reduced to saying that all they want
now is a 'competitive janabadb Thus, even an
ideology as strong as Maobaad was not able to stand
up to geopolitical ground-reality.
The abandonment of the earlier strategy of
'surrounding the cities' to what is today called
'linking the villages to fhe cities', is also the result of
newfound geopolitical pragmatism. The Maoist
leadership has not yet been able to decide whether it
should respond to the 1 February takeover by King
Gyanendra through a peaceful movement, a
combination of armed and unarmed action, or an
all-out military assault on the state. The reason
behind this is the slow understanding that the
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
The respective
national security
preoccupations of
Maha-fflin have a
hearing on the rise
and fall of the 10-
year-old Maoist war.
'people's war' is not practical against the prism of
Southasian geopolitics and international balance of
power. The fact that the Maoists have swung from
one extreme to the other with regard to their
positions on India and the monarchy stems from
this geopolitical situation.
The rebels started their movement in 1996 with a
boycott of Indian movies, and until not long ago were
urging their cadre to build bunkers to resist an
impending Indian invasion. Today, those same
rebels are wise to New Delhi's geopolitical weight
in their affairs, and have gone suddenly quiet. They
have made extended stays in the Indian capital to
meet with the Nepali political party leadership,
where they also signed the 12-point understanding
and gave interviews to Nepali, Indian and
international media. They have even
persuaded themselves to delete the
line 'Indian expansionism' from the
document of their central committee
'plenum', which met in August 2005.
The very Maoists who claimed that the
republic was at hand at the time of the
royal palace massacre of June 2001
today seem willing to allow a
ceremonial king to stay on, if need be.
The 12-point agreement'outlines a
situation wherein only 'authoritarian
kingship' is eliminated.
What becomes clear is that, while the Maoists may
have amassed military might over the last decade,
their political capital is very small. The future Maoist
road can now lead in one of two directions:
compromise or defeat.
Southasia and the Maobaadi
The continuous collaboration of the Rana and Shah
clans in Nepal was supported by the national
security interests of China and India, both of which
sought a stable kingdom in the central Himalaya,
no matter the ruling feudocracy. While both New
Delhi and Beijing have now come to realise that
stability in Nepal must come from a post-feudal setup, the Maoists seem to have missed this significant
shift in regional geopolitics. Indeed, at the end of the
feudal and colonial eras, it is difficult for an armed
rebellion to gain legitimacy, internally or externally.
The Maoists also failed to include in their
calculations that a rebellion within Nepal would
surely make the neighbours nervous in this age of
The Indian victory against colonialism was the
result of a struggle that was linked to the
Subcontinent's civilisational values, including its
philosophical, religious and cultural traditions. To
this day, the Communist Party of India (CPI),
established in 1920, has not been able to evolve as a
national party due to its inability to understand
 Indian specificities and evolve a relevant ideology.
Even the Naxalite movement, which began in the
1970s, failed to learn from the experience of the CPI.
Likewise, the Maobaadi of Nepal failed to connect
with the cultural diversity and belief systems of the
central Himalayan region.
Wars can be just and unjust - and one can term all
Maoist 'people's wars' as just wars, the same as
national liberation movements. But it becomes a
matter of concern whether the rebellion puts the gun
or the people at the forefront of its strategy. The
Maobaadi forgot Mao's dictum that while guns are
important, it is the people who are decisive. Instead,
the Maobaadi put the gun before the people,
militarism before politics.
Having thus conducted a 'people's war' while
seeking to understand neither the civilisational
values of the Subcontinent of which Nepal is part,
nor the economic realities and rules of social
interrelationships, the Maoists were seeking nothing
less than magic in attempting a proletarian
revolution. Today, their only possibilities are
capitalist democratisation, or the rapid
destruction of their amassed energy.
There can be no other end.
Other wars
The end of India's Naxalite movement
of the 1970s, as well as that of the
Maoists of Peru and Colombia in the
1990s, were considered major setbacks
for the global Maoist movement. Mao's
Great Leap Forward had failed while
he was still alive, and the Cultural
Revolution ended with his departure.
In the 1990s, when the communists of
the world were happy just to maintain
their existence, Nepal's Maoists proceeded to make
'revolution', giving renewed hope to many
revolutionary brothers and sisters across the globe.
Much to the distress of those who had applauded
the distant revolution without realising its inner
philosophical weaknesses, after a decade of military
victories and exciting propaganda, the Maobaadi
suddenly seem willing to push Lenin and Mao into
the dustbin. They are calling for 'competitive polities',
promising to give up the gun under international
supervision, and even saying that Nepal is not yet
ready for total revolution. Incidentally, the
'competitive communism' of Prachanda has not been
explained in terms of economic policy, nor how this
novel ideology will survive amidst globalisation.
This failure to specifically outline differences
between Prachanda's newfound political stand and
the multiparty people's democracy envisaged by
mainstream communists in 1990 has produced a
severe ideological, political and strategic crisis
among the rebels. Clearly, the Maoist leaders are in a
During their rise,
all political
movements in
Nepal have used
the gun, hut thev
have also always
heen transformed
difficult spot today, having to sound placatory
internationally even while maintaining the standard
rhetoric for internal use among the cadre.
Though one does not have to designate the failures
of contemporary communism as indicating 'the end
of history', the fact is that the Russian Revolution of
1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1948 have come
full circle in the hills and plains of Nepal, with the
Maoists going back on their promise of 'people's
war'. And so, here we have the Maoist leader willing
to attach Maoism to capitalist democracy, which
previously he himself had ridiculed as a 'transvestite
multiparty system'. At a time when the legacies of
Mao and Lenin are being questioned and the
followers of Peru's revolutionary leader Gonzalo
have been abandoned, the hope has been belied that
Comrade Prachanda may be keeping the flame
burning in the hills of Nepal.
Prachanda and his chief ideologue, Baburam
Bhattarai, took their organisational model from Stalin
and their slogans from Mao's Cultural Revolution.
The about-face that the two and their plenum have
taken in seeking an entry into multiparty politics will
hardly help the proletariat they claim
to champion, but will instead aid the
forces of imperialism. Even if the anti-
imperialist models applied in Cuba,
Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and to
some extent Brazil are not able to
provide complete 'liberation' to their
respective peoples, at least they are
providing some comfort. Nevertheless,
such fighters are derided by Maoists
like Prachanda and Baburam as
revisionists and reactionaries.
Perhaps the very nature of
intercommunity relationships in Nepal
promotes the resolution of conflicts in a peaceful
manner. Whether of the left or centre, during their
rise, all political movements in Nepal have used the
gun, but they have also always been transformed
into peaceful movements. This is perhaps a Nepali
speciality, as seen in the past movements started by
the Prachanda Gurkha, the Praja Parishad, the
Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal
(United Marxist-Leninist). All eventually gave up
their guns and entered unarmed politics, and none
continued the fight underground. Compared to the
others, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) may
have conducted the most vehement and extended
military action, but it looks as if they too are ready to
emulate this legacy of Nepal's modern era, which
began with the fall of the Ranas in 1950. After ten
years of insurgency, the Maoists are intent on
jettisoning their ultra-traditionalist communist
values and coming to the mainstream, in order to
keep their identity alive. This is a good move, and it
should be supported.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
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the Government of Nepal and others to reduce poverty. To do this effectively we require
experienced and able professional staff to join our team.
DFID gives priority to support for economic opportunities and essential services to poor
and disadvantaged communities, including those currently affected by conflict, and to social
justice and governance reforms.We are committed to delivering assistance transparently
and with full accountability locally.
The DFID Programme in Nepal is designed and supervised by a team of advisers including
specialists in infrastructure,governance, rural livelihoods, social development, economics,
health and conflict studies.
We want to further diversify our team to include Nepalese expertise covering Health.
Applicants should be able to demonstrate they have the expertise in these fields and who
have a successful record of achievement working as a professional in a national or
nternational development agency. Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong
competencies in relation to working with others; leading and managing; forward thinking;
communicating and influencing; and analytical thinking and judgement (more details will
be provided with the application form). Applicants must have a relevant post-graduate
degree or equivalent and be fluent in both English and Nepali.
Located in the DFID office in Kathmandu, the positions are based in a fast paced
multi-cultural environment that places a high premium on inclusive team working. You will
have opportunities to work closely with all levels of Government and non-governmental
agencies, and interact with Nepali's from all works of life and from all over the country.
The position offers significant opportunities for professional and career growth. Though
based in  Kathmandu, some  in-country and  international travel will  be required.
There will be an attractive and competitive local salary and benefits package.The successful
candidate will be awarded a permanent contract.
DFID is an Equal Opportunities employer and appoints on merit by open competition.
Nepalese citizens and women are encouraged to apply. For an application form and more
information,  including Terms   of  Reference,  please   e-mail
Closing date for applications is 3 I st March 2006.
 Cover Story
Nepal's two
There is strategic stalemate anil ne
possibility ot military victory for either side
in Nepal's domestic conflict Sot only tlie
Maoists have publicly acknowledge*! that
they accept this reality.
by | Sam Cowan
MSB hat is war? This short, profound question is
VwM posed by Clausewitz, the 18th century
STmf Prussian military philosopher, at the start
of his monumental book On War. Later, he concludes
a brief analysis of warfare through the ages by saying
that all warring parties "conducted war in their own
particular way, using different methods and
pursuing different aims".
Despite this conclusion, Clausewitz's great work
is to some extent time-bound due to his obvious belief
that Napoleon and revolutionary France had
succeeded in bringing warfare to its ultimate level;
they had "liberated war, due to the people's new share
in these great affairs of state". Bringing in "the people"
was novel for his day, and prescient about the
conditions of modern conflict. But the quote indicates
his unquestioning acceptance of the prevailing
concept of his day: that war is the exclusive province
of states; that only the state has the legitimate right to
use force; and that warfare consists of the uniformed
soldiers of states clashing on a battlefield to determine
whose interests should prevail. For Clausewitz,
"everything is governed by a supreme law, a decision
by force of arms."
Even in Europe, however, this concept only made
sense as an explanation of war after the Treaty of
Westphalia in 1648, which concluded the chaos of
the Thirty Years War. It is a concept that makes even
less sense now. Today the armed forces of states are
being challenged, in many cases successfully, by the
fighters of non-state forces, who are bound by none
of the norms of conventional war and who operate in
a way that neutralises a large percentage of the
expensive and sophisticated equipment and
armaments of state forces. This may not be the
'people's war', as Nepal's Maoists designate their
struggle, but it is certainly war about the people,
amongst them, and against them. There is no specific
battlefield; military engagements can take
place anywhere. This new style of warfare also
starkly reveals the limitation of military force to
achieve desired political outcomes, even for the most
powerful of states.
All of this is well exemplified by what is happening
in Nepal. The Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and the
Maoists' self-styled People's Liberation Army (PLA)
are fighting two very different wars, where even such
basic concepts as combat success and faihire are at
variance, as are their respective estimates of what
constitutes military strength and weakness.
The RNA's war
The RNA is fighting a conventional war of attrition,
in which the emphasis is on the control of key territory,
and tire engagement of the enemy to inflict casualties,
thereby weakening his will to resist. Clausewitz
would recognise the approach. For him, "wearing
down the enemy means using the duration of the
war to bring about a gradual exhaustion of his
physical and moral resistance" - an idea that well
describes the RNA's current intent, though it is
publicly expressed differently. In a February
interview, King Gyanendra explained his views on
the possibilities of winning the current war. "Ifs not
a question of winning or not winning," the king said.
"It's a question of taming." The government
studiously ignored a recent four-month Maoist
unilateral ceasefire; this, coupled widr recent official
statements that there will be no talks until the Maoists
disarm, indicates that the government is firmly
committed to seeking a solution by arms.
So can the RNA achieve this mission? Can it
"tame" the Maoists? More conventionally, can the
RNA wear down insurgents to the point that their
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 morale collapses, they hand over their weapons and
abandon all military efforts to achieve their stated
objectives? All recent countennsurgencv experience
indicates that the way they are going ahout the task
makes it almost certain that they cannot do so.
Military textbooks state that the key to success is
gaining the support of the people, and the way to do
this is to treat the people with respect, give them
security, and integrate military efforts with
development projects, social programmes and
reforms aimed at tackling the underlying sources
of discontent.
Such an approach is rooted in the strategy
recommended by Sun Tsu, who 2500 years ago drew
on an existing corpus of Chinese war experience to
write what is generally regarded as the other great
book on war, The Art of War. "What is ot supreme
importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy,"
he wrote, "next best is to attack his alliances; next
best is to attack his army." In other words, if the
enemy's strategy is to gain control over the people,
denial of this must be the main thrust of any response.
But the RNA's task in this battle for hearts and minds
is the more difficult one, because ultimately the
Maoists do not need the support of the people to stop
effective governance in rural areas. All thev need is
for the people not actively to support the state. It is
the state that needs the people's support, and
numerous intelligence failures, manifest in
the number of times the RNA has been surprised bv
large-scale Maoist attacks, indicate a deficiency in
this key area.
There are various factors that contribute to this.
For example, apart from the moral and legal
imperatives, there is a human rights link to military
effectiveness. The most committed Maoists - those
seething with resentment against the state - can
invariably relate stories of family members killed in
cold blood by the army and police. Intimidation from
the Maoists is also a factor, as is the RNA's inability
to provide continuous security to villagers. Here the
RNA is faced with the oldest tactical dilemma of all:
how much effort should be applied to hitting the
enemy, and how much to stopping him from landing
his blows? Doubling in just the past five years, RNA
strength is now nearing 100,000, but a very large
proportion of this number is devoted to protecting
major towns, the 75 far-flung district headquarters
and other vital static locations, particularly the
Kathmandu Valley. Even an additional doubling of
troops to 200,000, as has been discussed, would not
enable the army to provide a permanent presence
across countryside that is ideal for guerrilla warfare,
and such wide deployment would open up another
range of targets for Maoist attacks, The recent rapid
expansion in RNA strength also inevitably leaves a
leadership vacuum at senior levels. The significant
issue of how this huge expansion is being funded, as
well as its impact on other parts of the Nepali
economy, both merit separate study.
The RNA reaction to this challenge is to ignore
the Maoist strategy, as well as much of what is found
in military textbooks. Their concept of operations is
based on the third-best of Sun Tsu's options. All effort
is focused on attacking the PLA - including those
perceived as giving them succour and support - to
inflict the maximum number oi casualties and thus
wear them down until their morale collapses. But
there is limited operational capacity to pursue this
objective, and absolutely no guarantee that a greater
capacity would greatly increase the chances of
success. Periodic 'sweeps' do take place in areas
designated as Maoist heartlands, with predictable
results - the Maoists who appear to fade away, return
when the soldiers leave a couple of weeks later.
Undercover operations are also clearly being carried
out by Special Forces and related units, with results
manifest from time to time by the killing of alleged
Maoists in isolated locations, usually publicly
designated as 'encounters', Many of these incidents
have given rise to allegations of human rights abuse,
which are invariably denied. The main RNA
offensive capability - greatly feared by the .Maoists
when they concentrate in a particular area for any
purpose - is the use of helicopters, from which
mounted machine guns are tired or 81mm mortar
bombs are thrown out, two techniques that have
given rise to many civilian casualties.
To date, the RNA militarv effort has led to the
death of manv thousands of Maoists, as well as many
more civilians. Whatever the numbers, there is little
evidence of any collapse of Maoist motivation. To
understand why it is holding up so well, it is
necessary to examine what morale is and what
contributes to it, both in general and in specific
relation to the Maoists.
Maoist morale
British military doctrine usefully defines 'fighting
power' or 'military effectiveness' as having two
components. One is the physical component - the
means to fight, consisting of manpower, equipment
and logistics. The other is the moral component, the
ability to get people to fight, and this is fundamentally
about leadership and motivation. This neatlv reflects
Clausewitz's description of war as both a trial of
strength and a clash of wills, "two factors that can
never be separated". His emphasis on the crucial
nature of the moral component, however, is clear:
"the physical factors seem little more that the wooden
hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal,
the real weapon, the tinelv-honed blade."
The simple point is that, in assessing military
strength, full weight must be given to that which
cannot be measured - the unquantifiablc but eternal
martial qualities of leadership, discipline, courage,
tenacity, endurance, and willingness to sacrifice
one's life. Without these, numbers and equipment
mean little; and, whatever their other failings, Nepal's
Maoists have shown that they are not short on the
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 qualities or the motivation needed to fight.
To appreciate the basis of the high morale in this
poorly armed force, it is necessary first to understand
the war that the Maoists are fighting, which is guided
by a fundamentally different concept of conflict, as
set down in the writings of Mao Tse-Tung. Mao's
basic ideas about tactics are well known: "Ours are
guerrilla tactics. Divide our forces to arouse the
masses, concentrate our forces to deal with the enemv.
The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps,
we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy
retreats, we pursue."
At the strategic level, Mao's concept of 'protracted
war' is his most enduring legacy, tie stressed that at
all times the revolutionary army must stay unified
with the people among which it fights. The people
can thus supply the recruits, supplies and
information that the army needs, and can be
politicised at the same time. In this way, the cultural
and political structure of society can be transformed
step-by»step with military success. Revolution thus
comes about not after and as a result of victory, but
through the process of war itself. Hence, Mao's best-
known slogan, with its very distinct but often-
misunderstood meaning: "Power flows out of the
barrel of a gun."
This is the strategy being followed by the Maoists
in Nepal. For an armed force that probably has only
between 4000 and 5000 effective personal weapons,
including about 1500 fifty-year-old .303 rifles of
limited utility, it has brought them remarkable
success. Such a deficiency in the physical component
of military effectiveness indicates that there must be
a very strong moral component to compensate. The
factors that contribute to this have been inadequately
assessed in military terms.
One example of this is the little-understood
sociology of the Nepali Maoist movement, aspects of
which contribute powerfully to the qualities needed
to get people to fight and to sustain their commitment
whatever the hardship and danger. Marie Lecomte-
Tilouine wrote in the February 2004 Anthropology
Today: "The movement offers to its members a new
ideology which provides an understanding of reality
for those who have not succeeded educationally or
economically as much as they may have wished: in
particular it offers them the possibility of fighting
against their situation, and a new understanding of
their oppression and exploitation. The Maoists have
been able to develop a genuine mystique ... which
combines violence and the bonds of brotherhood; this
produces a very high degree of cohesion inside the
movement and terror outside it."
Call to sacrifice
Perhaps the most complex aspect of Maoist morale
strength to grasp, particularly for Westerners, is the
cult of sacrifice. Anne de Sales, in the European Bulletin
of Human Research (EBHR, v24), discusses this aspect
in a way that brilliantly conveys its strength and
centrality as a motivating force for Maoist fighters. In
1997, writing about preparations for launching the
'people's war', Prachanda noted that, "New
definitions of life and death were brought forward.
The physical death for the sake ot people and
revolution was accepted as the great revolutionary
ideal for oneself as it gave true meaning to life."
Revolutionary songs are an important part of
Maoist culture, with cassettes and song-sheets widely
distributed. The melodies are based on evocative
Nepali folk songs and have an immediate appeal.
The first part of the lyrics depicts the struggle for
existence and the pain of exploitation and poverty,
instantly relatable sentiments. During the second
part, however, the tone changes, conveying the
challenge: "The night is gone: this is the morning of a
new day. The bugle of freedom is blowing ... The
oppressor can be crushed." The message to the
listener is that you are required to fight, shed your
blood, sacrifice your life, "so that the people can be
made one, and triumph".
Anne de Sales points out that this is not the
conventional Hindu view of the sacrifice of a
substitute for personal gain. Rather, this is "the self-
sacrifice of the martyr who gives his life so that he
can benefit bv living on, if only in the memory of the
people of which he is part, and for whose better future
he sheds his blood." Given the high number of woman
combatants, she and her can be freely substituted.
This belief of what 'death in action for the cause'
means is clearly an extraordinarily powerful
motivating force when facing extreme danger. It must
be fully integrated with the other factors contributing
to Maoist morale in any assessment of the likelihood
of RNA success through its current approach of
simply killing as many Maoists as possible. For the
RNA, such a policy carries with it the clear danger of
measuring operational success and campaign
progress bv that most misleading of yardsticks - the
body count.
The attack of Beni
A brief look at the largest-ever aMaoist military
operation offers a good insight into their military
capabilities. This was an attack on the evening of 20
March 2004 against the headquarters of Myagdi
District, a western Nepali town called Beni. The aim
was to overrun all security forces in the town and
hold it for the night. After an all-night battle, one RNA
battalion continued to hold their barracks on the edge
of town. But the Maoists captured the town itself
before withdrawing the following morning, having
destroyed all government buildings and taking with
them some 40 prisoners, including the chief of police
and the Chief District Officer. Weeks later, all were
released to the International Committee of the Red
Cross. While the operation was not a complete
success tactically, it was a major psychological blow
to both the government and the RNA, who, not for
the   last  time,   had   been  proclaiming  that  the
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
■ Hi:
 Maoists were finished.
A Kathmandu-based Japanese journalist, Kiyoko
Ogura, has published some exhaustive research on
the attack in EBHR (v27). Altogether, 3800 fighters
and 2000 unarmed Maoist volunteers marched for
about twenty days to an assembly area around two
days away by foot. While there, they were able to
advance the attack by 48 hours due to worries that
their intention had leaked to the RNA. Equally
impressive was the security they imposed on such a
large-scale operation and the total surprise they
achieved. Their medical support and evacuation
arrangements were detailed, and indeed textbook, in
both planning and execution. The local people of Beni
commented specifically on the very young age of the
fighters, the bravery of the wounded, that one-third
of the fighters were women, and their particular
agility and commitment in the attack.
Since Beni, the Maoists have been sparing with
such large-scale attacks against defended RNA
positions. They have carried out some, however,
including a large assault on 1 February 2006, the one-
year anniversary of King Gyanendra's royal coup.
During that attack, on the district headquarters of
Palpa District, every government installation except
the army barracks was destroyed, 130 prisoners from
the local jail were set free, and millions of rupees were
looted from the local banks. As at Beni, both the CDO
and the chief of police were taken
prisoner and later released. Again, it was
clearly an impressively planned and
well-conducted operation, having
achieved total surprise despite the large
numbers involved. The Maoists risk
heavy casualties with such attacks, but
they have an acute awareness of the
psychological and political impacts of
military action. In Palpa, they received
an unexpected bonus when, a few hours
later, in an address to the nation to mark
the first anniversary of his takeover, King Gyanendra
claimed that "acts of terrorism are now limited to
petty crimes".
No military solution
Although in conventional military terms the Maoists
appear a pathetic armed force, when the vital morale
component of military strength is taken into account,
they are by no means weak. They have a proven
strategy, favourable terrain, immense dedication, and
an absolute willingness to sacrifice their lives for the
cause. All of this gives them the capacity to make
large areas of Nepal ungovernable in any meaningful
sense for many years.
Their critical deficiency is the inadequacy of their
means to fight. However strong Maoist will and
motivation might be, the vast superiority the RNA
enjoy in weapons and equipment have forced the
Maoists to acknowledge publicly that they cannot
seize and hold anything in the face of RNA action.
How much effort
should he applied
to hitting the
enemy, and how
much to stopping
him from landing
his blows?
That the military path they had originally set to their
objectives is doomed has been particularly
acknowledged through statements in late 2005 and
early 2006. It is also manifest in the 12-point agreement
signed with the agitating political parties in
November 2005, which signals their willingness to
shift (given certain vague conditions) to a multiparty
political track.
In this conflict of 'two wars' there is no possibility
of a solution by arms. Each side can demonstrate that
it is making progress according to its own criteria of
success. By the same logic, however, notwithstanding
tactical gains, neither will be able to deliver a decisive
strategic result that will end in the capitulation of the
other. Thus, there is strategic stalemate, in both the
general and literal meanings of the term. Claims about
the Maoists that "their back is broken" are both
misleading and meaningless. War is not metaphor.
War is death, destruction, ruined lives, communities
torn apart, children orphaned, women widowed and
much, much more. All decisions and discussions
about its utility should be guided solely by awareness
of these harsh consequences, not by mind-sets inured
from reality by soft words and platitudes.
The history of the last fifty years of
counterinsurgency operations the world over is
littered with optimistic predictions about imminent
victory that have proved consistently and hopelessly
illusory. Similarly, in Nepal before the
end of the last ceasefire, there were claims
that "the RNA can finish them off in six
months". The country is now into its fifth
or sixth such 'six-month' period; while
the Maoists have been weakened, they
are a very long way from being finished.
Unless there is a ceasefire and the start
of a peace process to which both sides
are committed - not just to the cessation
of hostilities, but to finding, through
negotiations and compromise, a political
solution - Nepal faces the prospect of war without
end. The key lesson from other conflicts is that the
start of such a process, and indeed the precondition
for any hope of success, is when both sides come to
the conclusion and publicly acknowledge that they
cannot achieve their aims by military means. The
Maoists have already done so. Recent statements by
officials, however, indicate that the government is still
firmly committed to seeking a solution by force.
Finally, and most obviously, both of Nepal's wars
are having a devastating impact on the lives of its
rural people. Caught in the no-man's land of a nasty
and brutish conflict, they yearn desperately for peace.
This can only be achieved by following the well-
established pattern of people sitting around a table
and negotiating a political way out. In Nepal, as
elsewhere, all will have to compromise. The
only questions are: When? and, how many young
Nepalis will die in the interim? Far too many
have died already.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Cover Story
The 'Royal' Nepal Army
by | Dhruba Kumar
The basic principles of state administration
include gathering power and developing the
ability to utilise that power. Correct use of power
adds to the state's strength, but misuse can lead to its
failure. The Nepal of today is a burning example of
the misuse of power - a situation made all the more
grievous by the use of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA)
as a political weapon. The deployment of the
military took place when the Maoist rebellion was
already in full swing; with the RNA's failures, the
numbers of those who kill and are killed have
increased relentlessly.
The country today is caught in an unimaginably
complex web due to the misuse of state authority.
Even while the society is mired in violence, however,
the state establishment remains unconcerned.
Consider the fact that in extending its land battle to
airborne attacks, the RNA has little reluctance to lob
mortar shells out of helicopters in the direction of the
enemy, destroying dwellings and killing innocents.
After having sat out the initial six years of the
insurgency watching the under-equipped civilian
Nepal police system bear the brunt, the army was
forced to deploy in 2001 only after its barracks in
Dang were destroyed in a surprise rebel attack. The
democratic government of the day originally called
for the deployment in order to control the violence,
but killings actually escalated thereafter, a trend that
continued during the subsequent four years.
The army, which is efficient in providing statistics,
lists 14,000 citizens as having died as a result of the
'people's war'. In the first six months of 2005, the
RNA says that the Maoists abducted 10,725
individuals, killed 72, and carried out 65 destructive
explosions. The report also suggests that over the
course of the insurgency, 1825 village administration
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 buildings have been destroyed, as well as 35
telecommunication transmission towers, 420 post
offices, 297 police posts and six hydropower stations.
After the second ceasefire period ended on 27 August
2003, the toll has been 5361 Maoists and 581 army
men killed until 29 January 2006.
Meanwhile, even as the army has been unable to
succeed in subduing the insurgents, it has been used
to crush the democratic movement. As a result of the
past four years' of army deployment and the last year
of its use against democratic forces, today it is not the
kingship but the RNA that is the country's most
powerful institution. The kingship currently
functions neither under the support of the people,
nor is it backed by the Constitution - rather, it stands
solely on the army's support. It is subsequently
appropriate to ask: Does the king lead the army, or
does the army lead the king?
The Royal Nepal Army has always stood behind
the traditional establishment, and following the fall
of the Ranas it shifted its allegiance to the Shah
dynasty. One reason the RNA has never
been people-oriented is because its
leadership has historically been the
monopoly of the elite clans, a situation that
remains incongruously true to this day. In
the democratic period after 1990, both the
generals and politicians failed in building
a relationship between the RNA and the
civilian government. The 1990 Constitution
did provide for a National Security Council
through which the government would direct the
military, but it was hastily activated only towards
the end of the democratic period as a means to deploy
the army. The politicians never made the effort to
bring the officers into their advisory circles, and the
RNA was rarely discussed in the Parliament. The
politicians were wary of the army because the senior-
most generals made no secret of their distrust for the
political parties, nor their anxiousness to remain
within the royal umbrella.
Even as the RNA has evolved as the most powerful
institution in the country, its image has been
drastically weakened. Today, the army's actions are
criticised nationally and internationally, with its war-
fighting capabilities and morals questioned; even its
right to go on UN peacekeeping operations has been
challenged. The reasons for this loss of image are
twofold: weaknesses in command and control, and
the fact that it is propping up an illegitimate regime.
.Armed impunity
In order to understand its present failure, one has to
study the nature of the RNA's attitudes towards
democratic governments of the past, for they show
the generals to be regularly out of step with modern-
day thinking about the role of the military. There were
two incidents of insubordination by the then-
Does the king
lead the
army, or does
the army
commander-in-chief (with the support of the king as
'supreme commander-in-chief) when the
government of the day sought to deploy the RNA.
There was the forced resignation of a home minister
after the Maoist attack on the district headquarters of
Dunai in 2000, and the resignation of a prime minister
when the top brass imposed conditions for its
deployment in Holeri. Then-PM Girija Prasad Koirala
was checkmated when the army demanded an all-
party consensus as a precondition to deployment, as
well as an announcement of a state of emergency and
enactment of an anti-terrorism law.
The required legislation was passed as per the
army's demands, and Article 20 of the Terrorism and
Destructive Activities (TADA) act provided the RNA
with extensive freedom in its anti-terrorist activities.
Under this article, the government tacitly granted
impunity to all the security forces. Not only was the
RNA placed outside the rule of law, it was also taken
outside the purview of the 1959 Military Act, which
defines the military's organisational and deployment
parameters. This might have been the
reason why a brigadier, who headed the
RNA's Legal Department, was reported as
stating categorically that without the
TADA provisions, the army could never
have been deployed.
The retired generals who, five years ago,
would claim that the Maoists would be
decimated within a few weeks of the army's
deployment have been proven wrong. This
itself exemplifies the type of leadership the RNA has
been saddled with in the past, and which has brought
the force to its present situation. The inability of the
army to mount effective counterinsurgency
operations is now confirmed, even though its entire
training over the decades has concentrated on
mountain guerrilla warfare and conducting hit-and-
run counteroffensives. RNA soldiers have not been
able to show their fighting ability at the ground level
against the Maoists rebels, nor has the army
headquarters in Kathmandu shown an ability to
introspect on how it has arrived at this stage.
Unified command
There is also the failure of the concept of 'unified
command', which is an American idea foisted on
Nepal's security forces. Under it, the anti-Maoist
activities of both the civilian Nepal Police and the
new armed police are conducted under RNA
leadership. A complex chain of command has been
created that gives the soldiers authority while
depriving the other forces of morale. The RNA has
little to show for its new powers. Not only does it
command the entire security apparatus; it also has
an unfettered ability to use all of the government's
administrative, economic, political and diplomatic
capital,   as   well   as   access   to   governmental
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 information and communication facilities.
A .Mpablf army would be one that Carefully
prepares for a possible conflict, has intelligence
capabilities at the ready, and learns from its mistakes
once the fighting has started. The RNA has been
incapable on all three of these fronts. As such, what
should have been the government's anti-rebellion
trump card - deployment of soldiers - has ended up
a damp squib. The army gives every indication of
having been caught unawares when it was forced to
the field in 2001, even though it had been watching
from the sidelines for six years as the civilian police,
with its antiquated weaponry, had responded to the
'people's war'. Nor do we get a sense the soldiers
studied the other conflicts in the neighbourhood,
including in Kashmir, Northeast India and the
Naxalite rebellions in the contiguous regions of Bihar
and West Bengal, Lately, RNA troops have preferred
to stay secure within the barbed wire and landmined
perimeter of their barracks; when nearby government
offices or police posts are attacked, they protect
themselves until it is safe to emerge.
As far as the 'unified command' concept is
concerned, the RNA should have realised that just
because the Americans used this method in Vietnam,
Afghanistan or Iraq, does not mean that it would
work in Nepal. To begin with, the Nepali army and
police have historically worked in completely
different spheres and with some amount of hostility.
The armed police force, meanwhile, is as vet an infant
organisation, without a history of its own It is also
interesting that the US Army has evolved into the
main training supporters of the Nepali military: lately,
alter all, the US military has concentrated on pushbutton warfare in which more innocent civilians die actual rebels - not that the American generals
or administration seem overly worried about that
While taking advice from the US Pacific Command,
the RNA seems to have failed to keep in mind that it
was lighting in its own country, in highly populated
territory, against a well-motivated rebel army in
overwhelmingly guerrilla-friendly terrain. Focused
on annihilating the rebels, the American instruction
is not practical, which is why there are questions
about the abilities of the US-supported fast-action
Ranger Battalion that has been set up as an elite force
within the RNA.
In recent days, perhaps following American
prescription, the RNIA has become increasingly
reliant on air attacks - shooting from helicopters and
heaving mortars from hovering aircraft. This has
resulted in appalling and indiscriminate destruction
of life and property. The level of panic on the ground
during air attacks is also something about which
RNA commanders seem to worry little. In principle,
the RNA entered the villages to win the 'hearts and
minds' of the populace, but in reality it has not been
able to mix with the people. Soldiers have always
remained wary of civilians, and have been unable
to provide protection lor them in the face of
Maoist harshness.
The effectiveness of counterinsurgency operations
is judged not from the bullets expended, but from the
ability to generate public support for actions in the
field. The RNA has failed to understand that treating
the public like the enemy rebounds on its own
effectiveness in the field. The trust required between
the populace and the security forces in tackling a
rural-based insurgency is just not present in Nepal
today. Perhaps the RNA's greatest weakness in this
sense is its complete failure in gathering human
intelligence. Often the RNA either does nol have the
required intelligence, or is not able to act on available
intelligence. The failure in intelligence is one more
example that, despite the army command's
willingness to talk big, it retains a predilection to
make critical mistakes with its eyes wide open.
The army's insensitivitv can also be seen in the
numerous killings of innocent civilians throughout
the country, as well as the torture of detainees and
the large number of disappearances. Meanwhile,
human rights activists have been termed
'communists' and 'Maoists', while journalists are
harassed and politicians treated with contempt.
There is a conviction within the RNA that covering
up mistakes is better than coming clean, based on a
misplaced fear that a full airing would weaken troop
morale. Meanwhile, the Maoists' ability to conduct
war continues apace - now overwhelmingly reliant
on arms looted from the police and army, as one
retired general has admitted. Tlie army has confessed
to being unable to repossess more than 15 percent of
those arms captured by Maoist forces.
Strategic charade
Overall, the political and military objectives of the
RNA's deployment have become confused.
Previously, the goal of deployment had been
political, to the extent that it was meant to force the
rebel leadership to come to talks. It was the army
itself, however, that then carried out the Doramba
massacre in August 2003, destroying the talks that
had been progressing between the civilian
government and the Maoists. The subsequent policy
driving the RNA seems to be one of subjugation, but
this has not been successful due to soldiers operating
defensively rather than offensively. Even while
claiming over 9000 rebels dead so far in the rebellion,
the RNa^ has not been able to control insurgents'
abilities to attack.
Since 1 February 2005, the army's deployment has
become both more confusing and more thoroughly
politicised, as the top brass have agreed to use the
RNA rank-and-file to support the royal coup d'etat.
Thus, the army bee ame part of the conspiracy to wrest
away the citizens' fundamental rights, on the excuse
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
of battling terrorism. Soldiers have been used to jail
the intelligentsia, political and civil-society leaders,
as well as journalists and members of the general
public, Rather than conducting search operations
against Maoists, soldiers have been deployed in
editorial rooms and radio studios.
RNA brass thus made a conscious decision to fight
on two fronts: one against the rebels, the other against
those unarmed politicians, activists and members of
civil society who were fighting for democracy. In
essence, the military today is fronting for an
authoritarian kingship that does not have public
approval and seems to find the peaceful democratic
movement more intolerable than the Maoist war. The
RNA has been swayed from its mission. Together with
the army, the security force as a whole is increasingly
perceived as the enemy of the people, which bodes
poorly for the nation's prospects as a whole.
The result 4>f unquestioninglv serving as King
Gyanendra's 'sepoys' against democratic lorces has
meant that countries both friendly and supportive of
Nepal have not only condemned the roval takeover,
but have turned against the army. In the three years
of its deployment leading up to 1 February 2005, the
RNA had received more than NRS 8 billion in
international assistance. Now that support has
completely dried up.
All in all, the blame for the RNA's loss of strategic
direction, its inability to fight an effective
counterinsurgency, and its deployment against the
peaceful movement for democracy must be put in two
places: the doors of the royal palace, and with the top
brass at the RNA headquarters at Bhadrakali. The
elite clans who have defined the RNA's functioning
from the past to the present - and who themselves
feel significantly more loyal to the crown than to the
people - have allowed the officers and rank-and-file
to show neither their sensitivity to modern-day
demands, nor their fighting acumen.
Today, the RNA is a force that has been diverted
from its mission of evolving into a professional army
due to a misguided leadership that wants to maintain
it as an appendage to the feudal monarchy. It is
because of this prejudiced position that military
leaders not only failed to reciprocate the four-month
unilateral Maoist ceasefire of autumn 2005, but
actively forced the rebels to return to hostilities by
carrying out actions in the mid-western hills. Most
ironic of ail, today the army is more eager to engage
unarmed pro-democracy protestors than to fight the
Maoists, which means that it has already lost the
moral battle and the people's trust. By not being
able to engage the Maoists militarily, for having
willingly been used as a royal tool, it can be said that,
thus far, the Royal Nepal Army has failed the people
of Nepal. &
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Himal Southasian I March-April 2006
 Cover Story
Negotiating Peace
Now is the time to decide on how Nepal's eventual negotiations can be
structured, to maximise both effectiveness - and the hope of success.
by | Liz Phiiipson
n April, Nepal will once again be debated at the
United Nations Human Rights Commission in
Geneva. The Nepal Office of the High
Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) has
made its report to the Commission public in mid-
February and it gives indications of the increasing
misery in the rural areas of the country. This is
matched by an increasing political impatience in the
urban areas, as well as among the political players
nationally and internationally. However, any armed
conflict that continues as long as the Nepali Maoist
conflict will demonstrate the complexities of
intractability. Intractable conflicts require patience
and collaboration in the search for a solution.
Since the start of the conflict, there have been
changes in power relationships within and between
the major political forces in Nepal. For instance, at
the start of the conflict, the Maoists were ignored and
dismissed - something that could not be
contemplated now. The actions taken by the king on
1 February 2005 appear to have pushed the political
parties and the Maoists closer and catalysed greater
coordination between important donors and
diplomats. However, for the people of Nepal there
have been new problems. The issues of structured
social alienation, economic inequality and regional,
disparity, which have contributed to the success of
the Maoist revolution in rural Nepal, still persist. But
those who have become more powerful or wealthy
through the use of the gun are not about to meekly
return to serfdom or penury. In addition, there are
new problems  associated  with  displacement.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Economically active people have left the country;
seasonal workers have not returned from India; and
there are sharp increases in female-headed
households and bereaved dependents. People are
moving to the urban areas, either to the district
headquarters or, when they can, to Kathmandu.
political parties have reached with the Maoists is a
recognition of that. A more comprehensive peace
process will require a concentration on political
processes, not decisive moments or endgames.
Processes are the 'how' rather than the 'what' or
'who' of negotiations. According to Henry Kissinger
Those with more money and opportunity are leaving in 1969, "the way negotiations are carried out is
the country altogether. The loss of social capital from almost as important as what is negotiated. The
war-torn areas is always much harder to replace than choreography of how one enters negotiations, what
the infrastructure. is settled first and in what manner, is inseparable
None of these problems will be addressed bv a from the substance of the issues."
simple 'power agreement' in Kathmandu, but such 'Process' encompasses a wide range of activities
an agreement is necessary for this to take place. A by various actors that form a web of support for
complex negotiations process is needed but, sadly, negotiations, as well as the interactions through
even a simple political deal remains elusive, The path which the protagonists approach and maintain talks,
to an agreement requires political will on the part of This includes initiatives in the public domain bv civil
all the parties - the will to come to the negotiating society. Good process is critical for the direct
table and the will to remain there despite the interactions between the parties, where it creates a
inevitable obstacles. Political will was singularly learning environment and builds confidence through
missing from previous negotiations in Nepal, inclusivity, predictability and reliability. It should
Although it was the Maoists that broke both the 2001 be iterative and have shared ownership. It is initially
and 2003 ceasefires, the king never
directly put his political weight behind
those negotiating on his behalf. This
weakened the process. The parties to
the conflict have gone to the negotiating
table on their own terms, whereas they
have to be prepared to consider the
positions of others. As of today, the
government remains committed to King
Gyanendra's three-year roadmap,
which he announced at the time of the
royal takeover on 1 February 2005, and
it has not publicly shown any
inclination for a negotiation of that
A more
peace process wift
reipwg a
concentration ok
processes, not
decisive moment
easier to build trust in the processes and
procedures of negotiation than between
the warring parties themselves. They
build confidence with each other over
time within the support of a strong
process. This is the ideal; the reality is
usually rather more based on the art of
the possible, but attention to process
makes negotiations possible and helps
to sustain them.
In order to build confidence between
parties in negotiations, it is important
to incorporate a 360-degree sweep of
perceptions, so that the points-of-view
plan, The other two sides to the conflict, the political of all parties are included. There are times when it
parties and the Maoists, while they may have does not matter if something is true. If a powerful
indicated non-negotiable bottom lines, have recently force believes it to be so and will act upon it, it is
indicated some flexibility. relevant. Above all, analysis that feeds negotiations
The November 2005 12-point understanding must be timely, because the position of the parties
between the rebels and the political parties indicated will be constantly changing and affecting the trends
a step in this direction, even though both remain in the conflict. Only through thorough analysis can
fundamentally distrustful of each other. The people one determine whether the 'conflict glass' is half-
of Nepal understood that the four-month-long empty or half-full - in other words, Are the parties
unilateral ceasefire called by the Maoists last autumn intent upon war or genuinely seeking a position to
was a demonstration of a willingness to negotiate, negotiate? In 1998, P Saravanamuttu, a Sri Lankan
Both the 12-point understanding and the ceasefire analyst commenting on his own country, stated: "We
were popular. are in a surrealist situation, the rumour of war and
about war has greater credence than the reporting of
AW8iting the decisive mOmeilt war. We are blundering, vainly hopeful, whilst the
The political parties are focused on a re-enactment of other side has a better grip on its agenda."
the Jana Andolan of 1990, a people's movement that The previous negotiations in Nepal have tended
will mark the decisive moment. However, the to revolve around zero-sum negotiating tactics, rather
democratic struggle in which they are engaged today than process-oriented dialogue. There have also been
against the palace is taking place in somewhat reports about the lack of preparation and lack of
different conditions, as this democratic struggle professionalism    in    the    approach    to    those
cannot be settled in isolation from the ten-year-old negotiations. An inadequate analytical approach and
Maoist armed rebellion. The understanding the the lack of an information strategy - both inward
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 and outward - should also be added to the critique.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that nothing
substitutes for political will, as stated earlier.
Ceasefires and negotiations
Ceasefires are often seen as a signal that the parties
are ready to negotiate. They provide a humanitarian
pause and clear the political space to enable
negotiations to take place. However, this is not always
true - talking or even full-blown negotiations may
precede a ceasefire and a ceasefire can be maintained
after negotiations stall. Nevertheless, what we saw
in Nepal in both 2001 and 2003 was the pattern of
ceasefire, followed by negotiations, followed by a
concurrent breaking of negotiations and then the
ceasefire. Obviously, that a ceasefire was declared
indicated some prior interaction between the parties;
but for the future in Nepal, it may be useful to engage
in rather jnore substantive talks about
talks, combined with de-escalation.
This would give some space for some
principles and parameters to be
discussed, and perhaps agreed upon,
before the pressure and public spotlight
of a ceasefire added its own tensions
for the parties.
Ceasefires and negotiations are
intimately connected but very different
activities and agreements. Ceasefires
based on agreements between the
armed parties will include separation-
of-forces agreements, pre-agreed monitoring
mandates, investigation and adjudication
mechanisms. Negotiations, on the other hand, are
about finding a new political compact for the country.
It is entirely suitable, indeed desirable, that ceasefires
should not be seen as inclusive processes, but rather
should be based on technical agreements with a
narrow focus.
It is essential that peace negotiations be politically
and socially inclusive. This is not simply a liberal
aspiration. Those who are excluded almost invariably
turn into peace-spoilers - Sri Lanka offers several
examples of this, which has contributed to the
undermining of the stalled process there.
Nevertheless, once the channels of communication
are established between armed parties for the
purposes of agreeing to a ceasefire, it is not unusual
for those channels to continue in the same manner in
respect to peace negotiations; thus, utilising the trust
and environment already created, and limiting the
interaction to those who held the weapons, as has
previously happened in Nepal.
A negotiation that purports to deliver a democratic
peace requires a democratic process. The parties that
have fuelled the war should not be left alone in charge
of the peace. In Nepal, the diversity of population
and history of exclusion make an inclusive peace
For the future in
Nepal, it may be
useful to engage in
substantive talks
combined with de
process even more important than it might be
elsewhere. This does not necessarily mean that there
should be a plethora of organisations and parties at
the main negotiating table. Peace processes take
many forms and each is unique. A Nepali design
that is suitable for Nepali conditions needs to be
created, and there are many examples for reference.
Peace processes are of necessity complex. They will
feature layers of consultation and layered decisionmaking and recommendations. At different stages,
there may be public 'validation' of decisions, or
elections to decision-making bodies. Due to the
nature of Nepali society, inclusivity must be designed
into the process. As the making of a new Constitution
seems likely to be required, the manner in which it is
made would be an outcome of the negotiations process
and not necessarily a precondition of negotiations. It
would be decided at the negotiating table whether a
new Constitution would be created by
a newly-elected Parliament or by a
different assembly. If it is the latter, then
who would it consist of, and in what
numbers? Would they all be elected, or
would some be appointed - if so, by
whom? What would be the limits of the
remit of the assembly or the Parliament
in this respect? Would all aspects be
entirely within their control? Or would
they be required to consult interest
groups - for instance caste groups - on
particular aspects? Would there be
preconditions? Negotiations need to set clear
parameters for all of these questions and many others
in order to ensure a stable basis for the Constitution-
making process. Public information and education
would also be an essential part of preparations for
Constitution-making and all other aspects of the
negotiation process.
Third-party assistance
Is there a Nepali solution? Most emphatically, yes.
The complex conflicts of Nepal can only be ended by
a political agreement among Nepalis. Whether Nepal
can find solutions without assistance is doubtful,
however. At the moment, there appears to be
polarisation between the Nepalis who unrealistically
seek the 'white charger' upon which the international
community will save them, and other Nepalis who
see only the Trojan Horse of India, trying to sneak
into Nepal in the guise of tliird-party assistance. The
negative 'big brother' image of India inhibits support
for any international intervention, lest India be part
of it or influence the process.
In fact, India's influence has increased since 1
February 2005. Both the US and UK have recognised
that it is India alone who can directly pressurise the
monarchy; and since all three support a democratic
outcome in Nepal, they have largely followed India's
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 lead over the last 12 months. Many
Nepalis point to the safe haven
enjoyed by Nepali Maoist leaders as
being evidence of duplicity and a
desire to foment the conflict.
Realistically, however, given India's
own Naxalite problems, this is
unlikely. A stable Nepal must be more
attractive to India.
Nevertheless, the evidence of
previous Nepali experience is that
there is a need for greater expertise and
advice to any negotiation process.
This could include mediation or
facilitation and ceasefire monitoring.
No intractable war has reached a negotiated end
without assistance, including in South Africa. For,
though there was no formal external mediation in
South Africa, they received immense technical
assistance and training before, during and after the
negotiations. South Africa was able to cope without
direct mediation because the parties were able to
agree on senior judges, acceptable to all, to chair the
negotiations. That, combined with the quality of
leadership of both the African National Congress
and the National Party, led to a successful
conclusion. Peace processes in every continent,
including those in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka
and East Timor, have benefited from third-party
Both the Maoists and the political parties are
currently seeking external third-party mediation.
Their motivation is driven by the need for a witness
and possibly a moral guarantor but, for all the
reasons demonstrated by the 2001 and 2003
negotiations processes, external assistance is also
needed at both a technical and 'process' level for
It is essential that
peace negotiations
be politically and
socially inclusive.
This is not simply a
liberal aspiration.
Those who are
excluded almost
invariably turn into
ceasefire monitoring and negotiations.
However, this does not mean that the
solution should be external. The object
of the negotiations must be a political
agreement between Nepalis, and
Nepalis should also be intimately
involved with the facilitation or
mediation of the process.
The United Nations has been
mentioned as a possible mediator,
and it has the experience to
provide comprehensive and complex
negotiation support. Secretary General
Kofi Annan has taken interest in Nepal,
and the UN's understanding of the
situation is deepened by the presence of the OHCHR
mission in Kathmandu. The Indian government and
the current government of King Gyanendra are
opposed to any external assistance. Given relations
with Western diplomats since the 1 February 2005
takeover, the reluctance of the royal government is
perhaps understandable. India certainly has its
own regional and geopolitical concerns, but
continuing to block external facilitation may
backfire with an increasingly unstable Nepal on
India's border.
Even the most perfect and perfectly facilitated
process, however, cannot overcome an absence of
political will. In Nepal, the political parties (the only
unarmed political force) desperately need and want
a peace process. The Maoists have given strong
indications that they want to negotiate entry into
the political mainstream in order to end their
violence. The Royal Palace alone appears to be
unenlightened as to the damage this war is
inflicting on the Nepali people and, indeed, the
country itself. fa
"jlSpaiHasaai ^community
'    ill J JMQf
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
Photo Feature
There is a political movement underway in Nepal today that has
not yet become a People's Movement, such as the one that
overthrew the Panchayati Raj in the spring of 1990 (Nepali
calendar 2046). The fight against the royal regime, backed by the Royal
Nepal aArmy, has not been easy. As one political leader of the Nepali
Congress put it, "We have been used to fighting the police, whereas
here we are confronted with the soldiers and their M-16s." The ultra-
left rebels, with their guns at the ready, have not helped the cause of a
non-violent struggle for democracy either. The ebb and flow of the
movement coincides with the public's conviction of the parties' ability
to deliver peace. This is the season for political change in Nepal, and
there must be a transformation. As one leader of the Communist Party
of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) argues, if we get into the monsoon,
it might just be too late.
Presented here are pictures of a movement that seeks to be a People's
Movement - Jana Andolan 2062.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 .W       P.*
March-April 2006 | Himal .Southasian
 Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
The age of entanglements
by | Samina Mishra
I suppose the first signs of my
awareness of being Muslim
must lie in a story my parents
often repeat at family gatherings. I
must have been three or four and
was at a children's birthday party,
the table loaded with goodies.
aAnd then a plate of sausages came
around and I loudly proclaimed
that I did not eat "piggy-wiggy"!
Being Muslim then was about
food. That, and my name.
What does identity really mean?
.And how do we get a sense of it?
When I think of my childhood, I
do remember a very strong sense
of being Indian. The kind of
nationalistic feeling bred at
schools through Sara jahan Se
Achcha. I knew Iqbal had written it, and I remember
feeling sort of sorry that he ended up on what we
thought of as the wrong side of the border. This sense
of being Indian also came from the fact that my greatgrandfather had been President of India, Dr Zakir
Husain. But feeling Indian is not the only thing I
remember. I also remember feeling not too rich or too
poor - because we didn't own an air conditioner but
did own a car. I remember feeling
smarter than many in my class -
because I could speak better English. I
remember feeling like a girl - because I
wore skirts and wanted to prove that I
could do anything I wanted to. In my
everyday life, these feelings were much
more frequent and so, much more
important to me. For strangers that I
encountered, though, these strands of
my identity were not as important as
my name. That was what the first
question was almost always about.
Samina is so obviously a Muslim name,
and Mishra a Hindu caste name. It is
rare for this to be treated casually
in India.
Sly mother was
with the idea of
growing up as
my father was
comfortable with
the idea of his
children growing
I grew up as a Muslim but my
father came from a Maithil
Brahmin family from Bihar. It was
a fairly orthodox family, but not
orthodox enough to have
transmitted a sense of brahminical
legacy to him. And so, when my
father fell in love with my mother,
he wasn't about to stop himself
because she wasn't Hindu. His
background was upper-class
landed feudal, but he had been to a
residential missionary school in
Patna. In the 1960s, what mattered
most to people like my father were
Western liberal principles.
My mother came from a feudal
landed family as well. She had also
studied in English-medium public and convent
schools. The everyday landscape of my father's life
was not unfamiliar to her. But her belief in Islam made
it impossible for her to consider a marriage that was
not Islamic. Intertwined with that, perhaps, was also
the assumption that it was the woman's place to
subsume her identity. Since most women take on their
husband's surname and most children carry only
their father's surname, it is assumed
that children of mixed marriages will
also be identified with the father's
religion. But my mother was
uncomfortable with the idea of her
children growing up as non-Muslims.
And my father was comfortable with
the idea of his children growing up as
Muslims. So, he converted to Islam to
marry my mother and to bring up their
children as Muslims.
For my father, the choice was less
about religion and more about familial
relationships. My father's family,
perhaps, felt that rejection of Hinduism
much more than he did. But they did
not allow their grief to overwhelm
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 them. They exhibited grace and
restraint, and after a period of time,
those relationships were recovered.
Changed in form, perhaps, but strong
enough to sustain my father through his
life. And so, as a child, I remember mv
father's eldest brother making sure that
we visited him, my grandmother, and
my cousins. 1 remember feeling a sense
of family not just because my uncle
individual, a citizen,
wasn't always seen
a bovfriend. They were also the years
in which I began to be critical of
religious identities. I remember being
very determined about not using Hindu
or Muslim as descriptive terms, as if
those terms would obliterate all the
other descriptions of identity.
In 1991, we moved to the old house
that mv great-grandfather had built,
in   Delhi's   Jamia   Millia   Islamia
looked so much like my father, but £.C, fe;$|f|f§|8 ffgigl §1181   University. I was captivated bv the
because he also smelt like him when we ... ,„.* 1(-„        " exoticness of heritage. I had already
hugged    him,    and    because    mv t>.llck#l«, formed some kind of a connection with
grandmother also told us the same the neighbourhood in my two years of
stories of my father's childhood that we'd heard from    being an MA student at jamia. Living there made it
my father.
And yet, I knew there was a difference. When my
sister and 1 went to celebrate Diwali at mv uncle's
possible to be both liberal-progressive and exotic. 1
was privileged enough to not feel oppressed by the
comparative lack of civic amenities or the profusion
and arrived while the Laxmi puja was still being done, of burkha-clad women in the neighbourhood. And
we did not become part of the puja. 1 didn't know if it then in 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished and
Wais because (ve were Muslim and couldn't worship suddenly, a part of mv identity that I wasn't sure
idols or because they were Brahmins and couldn't meant anything to me, often became the defining part.
have Muslims in the puja. That was sensitive territory In a confusing sort of way. I wanted to condemn the
to tread on and no one ventured there. After the puja, demolition as an individual, a citizen. But that
however, we were all one big family. condemnation  wasn't  always  seen   as  coming
We followed my older cousins in much of what from just a citizen. It was a package deal and being
they did, including going to the same colleges, reading Muslim was part of the package, whether 1 practised
the same books and watching the same movies. Those Islam or not.
shared experiences defined us in similar ways, even While I was still unsure about all this, I decided to
as not sharing the puja separated us. But while we get married to Kunal who was not Muslim and we
could speak of what brought us together, we couldn't decided to not have a religious ceremony. It made
speak of what separated us. Regardless of India's perfect sense to us, since neither of us were religious.
constitutional longing for 'Unity in Diversity', But it was rare for even this to be treated casually,
somehow difference is always seen as a threat Suddenly, ihis act of marrying a non-Muslim was to
to belonging. become the defining marker of my identity. To be
interpreted variously as a rejection of Islam or an
TneDOIUei embracing   of  Hinduism   or  a   sign   of  India's
In the mid-1980s, I moved with my parents to an 'composite culture', f was uncomfortable with all of
apartment building complex called Zakir Bagh. these perceptions. But it was difficult to find the
Named after my great-grandfather, Zakir Bagh is words to explain why. And I think I muddled through
located in an area sometimes referred to as the it all - getting married, having a son, giving him a
"border". The border between South Delhi's Friends 'Muslim' name.
Colony and Okhla. Between houses that mostly
display names like Singh and Sehgal and those that DOCUmeiltaryflint
mostly display names like Zaidi and Kham. The growing polarisation in India, the Gujarat riots,
Zakir Bagh had come up as a cooperative housing my personal life and the discomfort with these
society and its members were mostly - but not wholly essentialised understandings - all of these led me to
- Muslim. It was the first time that 1 was living with make a documentary film, The House on Gulmohar
so many Muslim families as neighbours. 1 remember Avenue. The film was intended to be a personal
when friends came over and gushed over the flat or exploration of what Home and Identity can mean in
the building, it would always be followed with a the context of being Muslim in India today. Making
question about it being a "Mohammedan colony", the film was a struggle, not just because it was about
That was always a little dissonant for me because 1 my life, but because those terms continued to elude
didn't think I was like most of my neighbours. My me. The descriptions that were available seemed self-
years in Zakir Bagh saw me finish school, join an conscious, limiting and antiseptic. Culturally
elite college like St Stephens and finish my Muslim, non-practising Muslim, hybrid Muslim. The
professional training. They saw me try on make up, qualifications seemed necessary as if Muslim (or
argue with my parents about party deadlines, acquire Hindu) was a bad word to own as an identity. Yes, I
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 was not the stereotype of a Muslim woman. But
neither was I the stereotype of India's 'composite
culture'? Stereotypes are singular in nature and I did
not want to choose a singular identity.
In the last few months, I have been showing my
film to different kinds of audiences. The responses
have been vast and varied. In the old city of
Hyderabad, a teacher at a college attended mostly by
young women in burkha claimed that by showing
that I'd married a non-Muslim, the film said that it
was possible to maintain communal harmony only
by giving up a Muslim identity. For him, I was not
Muslim enough, and the film posed a threat to
preserving what he thought was Muslim identity. A
woman in a more diverse audience felt that the film
did not show enough of multiple identities. For her, I
think I was too Muslim and the film a rejection of
what she thought was multiplicity.
Then there are those in the audience who have had
close contact with neighbourhoods that are inhabited
by poor Muslims in North India. Some of them have
felt that the experiences that the film recounts are not
the 'real' experiences of 'real' Muslims. For them,
perhaps, my voice is not disempowered enough to
speak of being Muslim in India. At a college in Delhi,
one young man felt that I was "Othering the Other"
by, for example, choosing to name my son Imran
instead of a name that was culturally more ambiguous,
like Aftab. For him, perhaps, the film threatened an
amorphous notion of India's composite culture.
Again and again, I encounter the desire to fit people
into categories, whether it's a category defined by
religion or whether it's one defined by secularism.
We all own many words as our identities. I am:
woman, Indian, upper middle-class, parent, book-
lover, filmmaker. I am also: Muslim. The lines between
these words are not rigid and straight. They crisscross,
overlap, fade or grow bolder, as we move throuigh our
lives. Our identities are complex and entangled. Who
is to decide which strand is more definitive? Who is
to choose that one defining act to mark our identities?
My history may be an obviously entangled one, but is
there a history in which religion isn't entangled with
class, or political ideology entangled with personal
politics, or caste with language politics? Is there a
history that is simple?
I   "HiitH imiihiii i
»S*{ f
(j IrtEI .Wf
■  I 1
ailftftll                  t
iiia- ttl
A centrally located hotel «•
Offering traditional tibetan
hospitality. Weli-appointed--
§uest rooms with multi channel
TV, telephsne and the only
rooftop restaurant in the valley.
Come feel the warmth of
TIBETAN hospitality.       "-~j.
PO Box: 101, Lake Side. Pardi, Pokhara, Nepal Tel: 977-1-61-20853,24553, 25153, Fax: 97
Email:,np | |
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
In the name of security
Hew security Saws categorise eitiiens in India Nepal Pakistan
and Sri lanka. Ever heard of AFSPA, PTA, TAB©, ATA?
by | Kaushiki Rao
Are security laws inherently undemocratic?
Such laws violate fundamental rights as
enshrined in both national and international
statutes, including those as significant as right to life
and bodily safety, representation before the law, and
the prevention of arbitrary detention. Yet democracies
continue to support and endorse security legislation,
which in Southasia functions by dividing each
country's citizens into the deserving and the
undeserving. Those in the former category merit the
trust and protection of the state, while those in the
latter do not. It is this systematic segregation of
citizens that allows for the targeting of particular
groups, curtails civil liberties and infringes on
individual rights.
In a democracy, an elected
government is supposed to be
representative of its citizens'
interests, and everything done
by a democratic government is
done in the name of the
electorate. Correspondingly,
any law that a democratic
government legislates in its
own interest is in fact
legislated in the interest of the
state's citizens. Security laws
promulgated within a
democratic state are no
exception to this rule;
governments explicitly declare
that such laws are necessary
for the safety of citizens.
Nonetheless, security laws
often go against citizen
interests, and are problematic
in two ways. First, they give
immunity, to the arbitrary
actions of the police and armed
forces, contravening basic
legal principles. Second, they
are selectively applicable, either in particular areas
or to particular groups of citizens. It is these citizens
who face the arbitrary abrogation of their human
rights and civil liberties.
How these citizen categories are created can be
explored through security laws from four Southasian
countries - India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It
is important to note that each of these laws was
initially enacted in democratic situations, although
they continue to be applied in the currently
undemocratic states of Pakistan and Nepal.
Moreover, these laws have been widely used in each
country, even while domestic and international
human  rights   organisations   denounce   them
as contributing to human
rights abuses.
ontinucs to affirm that men
institutions   remain   fret;   only  wJ"
founded upon respect for the Rule of Law
en   freedom
•Where the Minister has reason to believe that any person
is connected with any unlawful activity, the Minister may
order that such .person tbe detained for a period not:;
exceeding three months tn the first instance, in such place!
;d subject to such conditions as may be determined by
Minister, and any such -order may be extended from;,
.time to tunc for a period not exceeding three months at a::
o The Minister may by notice in writing vary, cancel or^f
: add to any prohibitions or restrictions imposed by such.7
o An order made shall be final and shall not be called
Four laws
One of Southasia's earliest
security laws, India's Armed
Forces (Special Powers) Act
(AFSPA) was legislated in
1958 in order to protect
citizens against separatist
militants in Assam and
Manipur. Applicable to
those areas that the central
government declares
'disturbed', it is currently
operational in several areas
in Northeast India. No
emergency needs to be
declared for this law to be in
force, which contravenes
provisions of the
International Convent on
Civil and Political Rights
empowers the armed forces
- including the navy and the
air force - to arrest, detain
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 and search any "suspicious person". Security forces
are not obliged to explain the grounds of the detention
to anyone, nor is there an advisory board in place to
review such arrests. Moreover, the AFSPA empowers
the armed forces to shoot-to-kiil "suspicious"
persons, Finally, without permission from the
central government, no legal proceedings can be
initiated against anyone in the armed forces acting
under AFSPA.
Sri Lanka's Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was
legislated in July 1979 to empower the security forces
to combat anti-state forces. In 1984, the International
Commission of Jurists had said, "No legislation
conferring even remotely comparable powers is in
force in any other free democracy operating under
the Rule of Law." The law, however, continues to be
in force. Applicable throughout the country, the
Ministry of Defence has the power to declare specific
regions as security areas. The PTA is in direct
contravention of the ICCPR, as it can be instituted
outside pf a state of emergency and applied
retrospectively. It was also deliberated at the Sri
Lankan Supreme Court, which declared that while
fundamental rights may be restricted
through security laws, they cannot be
completely denied. : "■'/■■i- .
The PTA empowers the police to search -,.
or arrest reasonably suspicious persons
without a warrant, who can then be
detained by the Ministry of Defence in ..,   ,
three-month increments for up to 18
months without access to lawyers or relatives.
Moreover, the process docs not need to involve the
judiciary at all, and detainees are not allowed to
petition any court. The Defence Secretary can issue a
Rehabilitation Order, by which a person can be
detained indefinitely. The PTA also guarantees state
officials immunity from prosecution for any actions
taken under the Act.
Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) was
legislated in 1997 by the Nawaz Sharif government,
despite strong protests from opposition parties, It has
been amended several times,, most recently in 2004.
The legislation has often been used to act against
opposition party members. The AT.'V authorises the
government to declare any group or association of
people unlawful, and overrides all other protective
legal provisions. Based upon their own judgment,
both police and army officials are empowered to use
"necessary force" and "shoot to kill" to prevent anti-
state activities, which include threatening actions,
use of arms or explosives, disruption of mass services
like electricity, as well as rape and trespassing.
Pakistan is not a signatory to the ICCPR.
Only anti-terrorism courts - specially established
by the government - can try people indicted under
the ATA. Such trials must be conducted within seven
days, while appeals must be filed and heard within
additional seven-day periods. Judges are enjoined to
serve the maximum sentence - if a shorter sentence is
passed, thev aw required to explain the rationale for
the judgement. Anyone suspected of conducting anti-
state activities must sign a bond allowing the police
to search not just the suspect's property, but also that
of his family. Under the ATA, both police and army
are immune to prosecution, so long as they have
conducted their acts in  "good faith".
In Nepal, several similar laws were in place before
the Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Control and
Punishment) Ordinance (TADO) was promulgated
in 2001. The ordinance ran for six months before being
extended   into  a  two-year  act   (TADA) by  the
Parliament. Since then, TADO has been reintroduced
in Nepal everv half-year. TADO is tube applied either
to select groups or to select areas by government
declaration. Although both the police and army are
empowered to act under this ordinance, it is only the
police who are allowed to hold detainees in custody.
TADO allows for six months of preventive detention
without trial, which can be extended for another six
months with the approval of the Home Ministry,
rather lhan from the judiciary. TADO
cases are tried by special courts set up by
'7"'..' I'       the government, and there is no statute of
limitations for such cases. The police and
army are again given immunity for any
actions   carried   out   under   this   law.
Moreover, security personnel injured in
anv  way  while  enforcing TADO arc-
entitled to government compensation.
State selectivity
In general, security laws are legislated in order to
address aggression against the state, such as by
separatists in Northeast India, the LTTE in Sri Lanka
or the Maoists in Nepal. Pakistan's security laws are
commonly believed to have been created and used in
order to consolidate political power. While
governments justify security laws as essential for the
protection of the state, they also claim that the laws
are meant to protect the citizens. But the fact is that
security legislation pits the state against its own
citizens. Both nationally and internationally, the
laws of the four countries listed above are considered
excessive, not only because they abrogate human
rights and civil liberties, but also because they go
against national constitutions and international
treaties. Moreover, the vague wording generally
found in security legislation poses a further threat to
civil liberties, with Amnesty International
maintaining that such laws are "broadly formulated,
and extend beyond legitimate security concerns."
The selective application of security laws opens
up the space for discrimination. The .AFSPA in India,
for example, applies only to the Northeast; the PTA
in Sri Lanka is applicable only to the north and east
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 of the country. Although not all citizens in these areas
experience preventive detention or search without
warrant, they do experience the law's threat to a much
greater extent than do citizens elsewhere. During
legislative debates in India, the AFSPA was justified
as a means of maintaining the territorial and cultural
unity of the country. Those who opposed the act, on
the other hand, argued that the means by which it
attempts national integration is a violent one.
Citizen distrust
Security legislation also discriminates between
particular groups of citizens - pitting those who act
to maintain the status quo against those who push
for change. Citizens who are categorised by the state
as a possible threat to security are obviously more
likely to have their civil liberties curtailed by these
laws. There are two ways in which security laws
discriminate between groups of citizens.
First, securijy laws allow police and armed forces
to act with impunity. That such personnel cannot be
brought before the court for their actions indicates
that the state encourages and protects them at the
expense of other citizens. Vague words such as
appropriate grounds, reasonable suspicion, reasonable
apprehension, convinced, suspicious persons,
due warning, appropriate force and the like
are rife in security legislation and have
the effect of allowing security forces
excessive discretion. Moreover, the
motives of the armed forces or police are
rarely questioned. Acts done in good faith
cannot be judicially investigated - even
while human rights organisations claim
that such powers are regularly abused,
with immunity clauses (which breach UN
recommendations) often used to detain
and torture suspects. In Sri Lanka, for
example, those detained under the PTA are often kept
beyond the maximum period through a Rehabilitation
Order; many who have been detained in this manner
have made allegations of police torture. When the
Indian army soldiers raped and killed a woman in
Manipur last year, they took shelter under the .AFSPA.
Despite widespread protests, the Act remains in force.
State agents subsequently enjoy not just the state's
full tirust, but are essentially treated as citizens more
equal than others.
The second way in which security laws
discriminate between groups of people is by
questioning the reasons, motives and actions of
selected segments of the citizenry. Through the
provision of preventive detention, authorities can
detain and search some citizens without warrant;
refuse them access to courts, lawyers or family; and
can even shoot to kill. Moreover, preventive detention
means that these citizens are always assumed to be
guilty until proven innocent, contravening the
As greatly as
its security
personnel so
little Hoes it
trust or protect
the rest of its
ICCPR. As greatly as the state trusts its security
personnel, so little does it trust or protect the rest of
its citizens.
It is important to note that the degree to which
each citizen is questioned depends on his social
position with respect to the state. This leads to a
systematic segregation of those citizens who deserve
the protection of the state and those who need less of
it. For example, a Tamil in Sri Lanka will more easily
acquire a 'suspicious' status in the eyes of the
government than will a Sinhalese. In Nepal, a person
from a Maoist-influenced district such as Rolpa or
Rukum will be more 'suspect' than one from
elsewhere. In Pakistan, a person who sympathises
with a particular political party would have been
more likely to be considered 'suspicious' when an
opposing party was in power; and now under the
military regime, all members of independent political
parties are more suspect.
India's AFSPA bill, for instance, appears to have
been introduced not just to give authority to and to
protect the army, but also to protect the people of
Assam and Manipur. During the AFSPA debates in
the Indian Parliament, MP Rungsung Suisa said: "In
order to save the Nagas themselves from the hostile
and ruinous actions of their own brethren,
it becomes necessary for the government
to arm themselves with powers." Such a
statement groups the citizens of Assam
and Manipur into two types - compliant
civilians who require the protection of the
Indian government, and non-compliant
militants who deserve punishment from
the Indian government. This dichotomy
helps New Delhi legitimise the act of
taking unconstitutional action against
those citizens they term militants; since
such groups are understood to endanger
other citizens, the state can claim to have the
responsibility to quell them. Moreover, throughout
the parliamentary debates around AFSPA, militants
were described with the use of infantilising adjectives
such as mischievous, irresponsible, unreasonable and
wanton. Such rhetoric serves to give the state
patrimonial authority over those who are considered
militants, and continues to differentiate between
those citizens who are deserving of protection and
those who are not.
Security laws, then, only ostensibly protect
citizens. Those citizens deemed 'trusted' are given
impunity for their actions or are unlikely to be
affected by security laws. The 'untrustworthy', on
the other hand, are affected to varying degrees by
security legislation. The injustice in these laws lies
not only in the arbitrary and excessive derogation
of human rights and civil liberties, but also in
this systematic segregation of a democratic state's
own citizens. fa.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
Seeking the tribe
Ethno-politics in Darjeeling and Sikkim
by | Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin
e must learn how to be tribal. This is
difficult for us, but very, very
important," said Mr Mukhia in his
lilting boarding-school English. Wearing thick hornrimmed glasses, a neatly starched handkerchief
folded into the breast pocket of his tweed jacket, and
a bowler hat cocked rakishly to one side, the 70-year-
old leader of Darjeeling's Mukhia/Sunuwar Rai
ethno-political organisation looked more like a
colonial caricature than a radical indigenous activist
agitating for his people's place as one of India's
Scheduled Tribes. While Mukhia cut an amusing
figure, the fight for tribal status in which his group is
currently engaged - alongside other ethnic
organisations representing Indian citizens of Nepali
origin in Darjeeling and Sikkim - is no laughing
matter. The struggle for recognition as a distinct tribal
entity, a classification that can entitle a community
to educational and economic benefits from the state
on the basis of their unique cultural history and
language, is one of the most critical political issues
in this region today.
In the early 19th century, the British Raj encouraged
migrant labourers from Nepal to cultivate the fertile
hills that now make up the state of Sikkim and the
Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Besides working
on tea plantations, the migrants also toiled on road-
building projects, in holiday resorts and as menial
staff supporting the colonial administration and its
military. Although some of these labourers quickly
returned home satisfied with cash in hand - in waves
of seasonal migration that continue to this day -
others chose to settle permanently in this booming
region, where a level of economic success and social
mobility appeared within reach that would be
unimaginable in Nepal's caste-constrained midhills.
Most of the permanent settlers in Darjeeling and
Sikkim were members of Nepal's ethnic groups, now
commonly referred to as janajati, such as the Gurung,
Limbu, Magar, Rai, Tamang or Thami. As is often the
case in diaspora situations, these discrete ethnic
identities were initially subsumed under a broader
'national' identity. Beginning in the immediate
aftermath of Indian Independence, the unifying
struggle for recognition as Indian citizens of Nepali
origin, with full linguistic and cultural rights, reached
its apex in the 1980s with the violent Darjeeling-based
Gorkhaland movement, which agitated for a separate
state. Led by Subhas Ghising, a Tamang, one of the
movement's demands was that 'Gorkhaland' be
recognised as a tribal state under the Sixth Schedule
of the Indian Constitution. Such a move would have
ensured tribal benefits for all of Darjeeling's people
of Nepali origin, regardless of their specific caste or
ethnicity. As it was, Gorkhaland never became a state,
and in 1989, Ghising settled for chairmanship of the
Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), which
remains under Calcutta's jurisdiction as part of
West Bengal.
At around the same time, thanks largely to pressure
from the Mandal Commission, the Indian government
set about revamping the country's stagnant
reservation policy. Released in 1980, B P Mandal's
report revitalised the practice of setting aside a certain
percentage of government jobs and seats in public
Thami Welfare Association members perform for
the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs in Gangtok
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Himal Stylebook: Nenali or Nepalese
What to call a person from Nepal, or whose origins reach
back to Nepal? The term 'Nepalese', with the anglicised -
ese, has found favour since colonial times and remains in
extensive use, including in the official titles accepted by the
government of Nepal. However, there is also an increasing
trend towards 'Nepali' while writing in English, which is also
part of Himal Southasian's style. We would be willing to go
along wiih 'Nepalese' if there was a hard-and-fast rule of
English grammar that insisted on -ese to be added to the
name of a country or region ending with -/. But a person from
Bengal is not 'Bengalese', nor is a citizen of Israel 'Israelese'.
We believe that, where possible, the local-language
'adjectification' must be preferred when English grammar
rules are not clear-cut. Such is the case with 'Nepali', which
is also the proper term used in the parent language to refer to
any person or thing from or of Nepal. There have been attempts
to categorise 'Nepalese' as denoting the people of Nepal, to
distinguish this from 'Nepali' as a broader descriptive term.
But that would be usage limited to discourse in the English
language, and hence inadequate.
There is some genuine confusion when one leaves the
borders of Nepal, because Indian citizens of Nepali origin
face a political problem by being identified as 'Nepali'. Given
that the term 'Nepali' is not about to change in its reference to
the citizens of Nepal, however, the Nepali-speaking Indian
citizens of the Indian Northeast, as well as Darjeeling/Sikkim,
have tried to come up with alternative formulations by which
they would prefer to be called. These include the term 'Gorkha',
propagated by Subhas Ghising of Darjeeling, which has not
found significant acceptance elsewhere in India; as well as
the more recent 'Bharpali' and 'Nepamul'. The experiment
universities for disadvantaged communities. Even
though such a system had existed since 1950, only
when the government introduced a new benefit
schedule in the 1990s did concrete benefits begin to
trickle down to those classified as Scheduled Tribes
(ST), Scheduled Castes (SC) or Other Backwards
Classes (OBC).
For the first time, being a member of a Scheduled
Tribe or Caste could actually alter one's educational
or professional chances for the better. The race had
begun. For many Darjeeling residents of Nepali
ancestry, disillusioned with the
failure of the Gorkhaland movement
to gain any special status for the
Nepali language and its speakers,
the search for classification as a
Scheduled Tribe presented an
alternative option for demanding
benefits from New Delhi. But this also
meant dismantling the sacred cow of
pan-Nepali identity in favour of
many discrete 'tribal' identities, and
this presented an obstacle. Most
Darjeeling citizens who had grown up
in the post-Independence era had little
idea of how to be culturally Tamang
or to speak Limbu, for example, much
less how such identities might be 'marketed'.
With the exception of more substantial Bhutia and
Lepcha communities, Sikkim's demography is almost
identical to that of Darjeeling. However, the state's
unique political history has led to a great
prioritisation of tribal issues at the policy level. Sikkim
remained a sovereign kingdom until 1975, after which
it was incorporated into India as a separate state.
Darjeeling, however, is only a provincial district of
the state of West Bengal. This means that important
decisions that are made in Gangtok for Sikkim by its
local political leadership are made in Calcutta for
Darjeeling by largely Bengali politicians. The
sensitive geopolitical location of Sikkim has meant
that it wields a political clout at the national level
disproportionate to its size and population. For
example, it was only after concerted political
pressure from Sikkim that the Nepali language, also
known as Gorkhali in India, was admitted as an
official language to the Eighth Schedule of the
Constitution of India.
For the first time,
toeing a member of a
Scheduled Tribe or
Gaste could actually
alter one's
educational or
ebances for tbe
better. The race had
Homeland to performance hall
The homogenising influence of
Nepali diasporic life over two
centuries in Darjeeling meant that
specific ethnic, linguistic and
regional identities were jettisoned in
favour of a common sense of
Nepaliness (based primarily on use
of the Nepali language). As the
cultural capital of tribal
distinctiveness increased in the
1990-s, however, members of
Darjeeling- and Sikkim-based groups
of Nepali origin sought to reconnect
with a largely alien ancestral identity.
And where better to turn than to
Nepal itself, the very place that their oppressed
forefathers had abandoned to try their luck with the
Raj? Scouting parties from Darjeeling made forays
into Nepal's midhills, retracing the steps of their
migrant ancestors, in the hope of collecting the
necessary cultural ammunition to launch successful
campaigns for tribal status in India.
At the same time, members of ethnic organisations
in Darjeeling and Sikkim began connecting with
seasonal labourers from their own communities who
still traveled back and forth to Nepal. At times, these
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 "...w./    ,  ■ juaa
interactions can be almost farcical, C,H•>N *
with cash-strapped janajati men
and women from Nepal's hills
taking   time   out   from   their -fp>~^~^-
portering or dish-washing duties      -JP
to perform songs and dances, _
which their Indian cousins then
record on video for eventual
presentation to the Ministry of K";~
Tribal Affairs in New Delhi.
At one such event in Gangtok
in November 2005, members of
ethnic    organisations    in   the
process of applying for tribal status
performed 'traditional' dances in
honour of Shri P R Kyndiah, the
Tribal   Affairs  minister.   In   a
rehearsal   before   the   official
event, the director of Sikkim's
Department of Culture instructed the performing
troupes Jo smile nicely and  exaggerate their
movements to mimic a Bollywood act, as this would
increase their chance of a positive reaction from the
audience. His advice was not misguided: the Magar
association's presentation of a subtle and slow-
moving traditional dance, performed by two old men
to the beat of a single madal was booed, while the hip-
gyrating antics of Rai and Thami youths set to Hindi-
inflected   'indigenous'   pop   tunes   generated
thunderous applause. From such stage-managed
productions, it becomes clear that the battle for tribal
status rests as much on a group's ability to recast
cultural practices appropriated from the homeland
in crowd-pleasing Indian performative styles as it
does on any alleged indigeneity.
Tribal competition
Why did this event in honour of the Minister of Tribal
a^ffairs take place in Sikkim and not in Darjeeling? In
terms of tribal policy, not to mention central-
government subsidies, Sikkim is the envy of its
neighbours. According to official statistics from the
2001 Census of India, of a total population of little
more than five lakh, 20 percent of Sikkim's residents
have secured Scheduled Tribe status. The Lepchas,
Sikkim's indigenous ethnic community, and the
Bhutias, descendants of eastern
Tibetans who settled in Sikkim
beginning  in  the  13th  century,
together form a fairly unified tribal
political unit. Popularly known as
the 'B-L Block', they continue to
exercise a disproportionate level of
economic and political power, even
as their population share drops. The
reservation of 12 seats in the State
Legislative Assembly for Lepchas
and Bhutias is but one example of
the implementation of Sikkim's
tribal policy.
The battle for tribal
status rests as much
on a group's ability to
recast cultural
practices in crowd-
pleasing Indian
performative styles as
A symbiotic, if sometimes tense,
relationship exists between
Sikkimese and Darjeeling-based
ethno-political organisations. In
Sikkim, such groups have easier
access to sympathetic politicians
at the state level, but they represent
much smaller populations than
do the Darjeeling associations,
and so have less manpower
for organising large-scale
conventions and demonstrations.
In short, while Darjeeling
organisations are eager to pursue
their agendas through the
apparatus of the Sikkimese state -
where they have an ally in Chief
Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling
- Sikkimese organisations need
the resources and hard-won cultural knowledge
of their Darjeeling counterparts to make a
compelling case.
As much as the 'pro-tribal' policy advanced by
Chamling in Sikkim pleases those who are included,
it can frustrate those who remain on the outside. With
the accession of the Tamang and Limbu communities
of Sikkim to the much-coveted level of Scheduled
Tribe in 2002, the remaining numerically dominant
and politically active citizens of Nepali ancestry were
deprived of two of their most prominent allies in the
struggle for ethnic recognition. But such is the
currency of tribalism in India: once a group penetrates
the glass ceiling, it rarely looks back.
From the diverse nature of the campaigns mounted
by ethnic communities for recognition as Scheduled
Tribes over the past decade, it has become clear that
no standardised checklist exists for a successful
application. Every state has its own criteria, and New
Delhi appears to judge each case on its own merits.
Groups must first be recognised at the state level, with
the state government then forwarding a
recommendation to the Centre. Tribal recognition in
one state does not guarantee it in other states, nor at
the national level. The Tamang and Limbu, for
example, are still waiting to hear about their
accession to nationwide tribal status, despite having
already received it within Sikkim
and West Bengal.
While aspiring tribes hope for tips
from the recently recognised, the
leadership of the groups who have
already attained tribal status are
reluctant to divulge their hard-won
strategies, for fear of further
weakening an already much-
diluted tribal stew. In some cases,
members of competing communities
have even come to blows over access
to political connections and
selection criteria. After all, the scant
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 pickings of reserved seats in
governmental and educational
institutions will only be subject to
more-intense competition as the
number of Scheduled Tribes grows.
There are several ways of
potentially minimising these nascent
rivalries, and preventing the
Balkanisation that many fear. In
Sikkim, there is a movement to avoid
inter-tribal competition by allocating
a specific set of reservations to each
tribal group, rather than pooling them
all together. In Darjeeling, a recently
established group calling itself Bharatiya Gorkha
Janajati Manyata Samiti has revived the old
Gorkhaland platform, but in the new tribal idiom:
they argue that all people of Nepali origin should be
recognised by the central government as a Scheduled
Tribe en masse, rather than as individual groups.
Some ethnic activists scoff that this Bahun-led
organisation is simply an attempt by those excluded
by the definition oi janajati current in Nepal - namely,
Bahuns (hill Brahmins) and Chhetris - to cash in on
the benefits of tribal identification in India. Yet thanks
to generations of intermarriage, there is some validity
to the argument that no Indian group of Nepali
ancestry is more 'tribal' than any other, and that the
uneven recognition of individual groups may
eventually lead to a social dissonance far more violent
than the Gorkhaland agitation.
Sacred scripts
A curious feature of the tribal discourse in Darjeeling
and Sikkim is that aspiring communities are
convinced that their language needs a unique script
in order to be taken seriously. Anthropological
evidence from around the world points rather to an
inverse correlation between tribe and script: small-
scale, kin-based ethnic communities - or 'tribes' in
the most traditional sense - are more likely to be
groups without a distinct written tradition. In fact, it
is precisely their distance from centres of state
learning and 'civilisation', and their concomitant
reliance on oral cultural transmission, which
historically has marked these communities as
'tribes'. Why, then, are the upwardly
mobile ethnic organisations of
Darjeeling and Sikkim so eager
to rediscover their 'lost' scripts?
The answer lies in a clearer
understanding of the term 'tribal'
in the political context of modern
India. In Darjeeling and Sikkim,
the claim for a tribal identity has
less to do with primitivism,
indigeneity and autochthony
than it does with ethnic
discreteness and cultural
distinctiveness.   A   tribe,   in
The groups who have
already attained
tribal status are
reluctant to divulge
their hard-won
strategies, for fear of
further weakening
an already much-
diluted fribalstew.
its politically-charged modern
incarnation as used in India, is a
bounded ethnic community held
together by a tidy catalogue of
cultural, dietary, linguistic and
religious habits distinct from those
held by its neighbours.
Dictionaries of endangered
languages have become valuable
commodities for the ethnic
communities of Darjeeling and
Sikkim, and are frequently used as
political tools. One of the writers of
this article, for example, recently
published a word list of Thami, a Tibeto-Burman
language indigenous to the Himalaya, together with
a member of the community from the Nepali
homeland area. Since the aim was to document the
endangered native lexicon of this mother tongue, loan
words from Nepali and other languages were
excluded, resulting in a thin, pocket-sized volume.
While the book is in circulation in Thami villages in
Nepal, it did not serve the purposes of the expatriate
ethnic community in India, who found it too small
to help their claims for Scheduled Tribe status. The
same year, in fact, a more substantial Thami-English
dictionary was published by a member of the Indian
Thami community, bolstered by a high number of
Nepali loan words. This served the ethno-political
agenda far better: the more words that could be
included, the heavier the book, and therefore a more
appropriate component of a tribal portfolio (see photo).
While a unique language is a must, a distinct
script is a valuable bonus. A peculiar consequence
of such scriptophilia, compounded by the
recognition of tribal tongues as official languages of
state communication, is that the Sikkim Herald - the
Sikkimese government weekly - is published in
thirteen official state languages, each in their own
script (see photo). Whether members of tribal groups
can, and actually do, read the newspaper in their
ancestral mother tongue rather than in English or
Nepali is largely beside the point. Even though many
'tribal scripts' are of dubious antiquity and
unmistakeably derived from Nagari
characters also used by
Nepali, this is no hindrance
to the ethno-activist agenda,
since their importance is
more symbolic than practical.
For the leadership of most
ethnic organisations in
Darjeeling and Sikkim, then,
the primary value of a
unique script is its emblematic
distinctiveness; use in schools
and administration, and
widespread adoption by
community members, are only
Little and large, two Thami
dictionaries published in 2004        secondary concerns
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Issues of the Sikkim Herald in 11
different languages - and scripts!
On 29 January 2005, the State
Cabinet of Sikkim approved a
proposal recognising the Lepcha
community as Sikkim's 'Most
Primitive Tribe' (MPT). In this
anti-caste hierarchy, in which
the    degree    of    a    group's
connection to the earth raises
rather than lowers its standing,
the  previously  unassailable
category of Scheduled Tribe had
just been upstaged with the new category of Most
Primitive Tribe.
Yet even the most disadvantaged Lepcha
settlements in Sikkim maintain a relatively high
standard of living. Dzongu, an officially demarcated
Lepcha reservation in north Sikkim, is remote by
Indian standards, but still boasts electrified villages,
well-run schools, and Community Information
Centres with battery-powered computers and
broadband satellite connections. Rather fittingly, the
Indian reservation system has indeed created a
'reservation' - a discrete homeland territory where
only members of Sikkim's Most Primitive Tribe may
settle and own land. Indeed, the Lepcha reservation
of Dzongu appears to offer a fairly sustainable
livelihood for its inhabitants.
What, then, are the benefits of the existing
Scheduled Tribe category, and why has it been
deemed necessary to create yet another grouping, the
MPT? Economically, members of Scheduled Tribes
and Castes stand to gain through low-interest loan
schemes and reserved posts in government agencies.
Educationally, they benefit from a lowering in the
marks required to pass their board exams and
exclusive access to reserved positions in universities
and vocational schools. Members of Other
Backwards Classes have access to a smaller number
of reserved seats, but do not qualify for the direct
financial support available to ST and SC individuals.
This has created a situation where those groups
currently classified as OBC - such as the Magar, Rai
and Thami - see their position as only a temporary
stepping-stone to the more desirable category of ST.
Summing up their frustrations, OBC ethno-activists
commonly use the Nepali phrase: na jat, na bhat - no
tribe, no rice. Similarly, as more groups penetrate the
ST category, its benefits are perceived
to diminish. In turn, Scheduled Tribe
may become just another stepping-
stone on the way to the new pinnacle
of Most Primitive Tribe.
Purity paradox
Still, for a sizeable number of people
the benefits of the reservation system
remain conceptual, since regardless
of whether their ethnicity is currently
classified as OBC, ST or MPT, each
The previously
category of
category of Most
Primitive Tribe.
individual must apply for a
personal certificate in order to
qualify for special treatment.
This process entails presenting
one's credentials to the district
magistrate or block officer, and
then appearing for a one-on-one
hearing in front of a judge who
assesses the application's
validity. Aspiring individuals
must present an official letter
from the appropriate ethnic
organisation, attesting to their status as a 'genuine'
member of the group in question, as well as reference
letters from two male relatives of the same group
who have already obtained the certificate.
Depending on the case, school transcripts,
employment records or proof of residence may also
be requested. This lengthy and complicated process
means that only a small percentage of the population
who are in theory eligible for ST, SC or OBC
classifications have actually applied for and
subsequently received their certificate.
One of the primary problems with the current
certification procedure is its reliance on patriarchal
definitions of descent and ethnic identity. A person
can only claim membership of a given ethnicity
through his or her father. There is no legal way to
claim ethnicity through the mother, nor are female
relatives accepted as legitimate references. Given the
high rates of inter-group marriage in Darjeeling and
Sikkim - approximately 75 percent of couples come
from mixed ethnic backgrounds, according to an
informal survey conducted by the authors - this
creates problems for people who have been raised
with their mother's cultural identity and wish to
claim OBC or ST status through maternal ancestry.
Furthermore, the policy of requiring references from
two male relatives of tlie same group means that only
paternal relatives can be called upon. For those
people who happen to have no uncles or male
cousins on their father's side, or who are not in touch
with their father's family, it is particularly difficult
to enter the system. Ultimately, only around half of
the people with genetic ties to an ethnic group are
actually eligible for legal membership in it.
More than anything else, such archaic rules of
reckoning membership demonstrate the
impossibility of claiming ethnic purity
in India's melting pot. For the moment,
this paradox is overshadowed by the
thrill of cultural performances and
mass meetings that dominate the
region's day-to-day ethno-political
life. But the more complicated
realities of mixed cultural identities
will continue to pose personal and
political challenges for the descendants
of those now desperately seeking
tribal status. fa
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Darjeeling and Sikkim
IWo populations who prefer to look the other way when they pass on
the street, because they are really the same people.
by | Tanka B Subba
Any visitor to Sikkim's capital Gangtok, with
some idea about the area through which he
passes, would wonder why Sikkim and
Darjeeling are separate territories. That is not a
politically correct issue to raise at any forum, however,
not even in academic ones. If a Sikkimi raises this
issue, he is identified as an ideologue pushing
'Greater Sikkim' and if a Darjeelinge does it, he will
be very unwelcome in Sikkim indeed. The
psychological cleavage between Darjeeling and
Sikkim is deeper than the rivers that flow between
them, forcing them to accept the political boundaries
of 'Smaller Sikkim'. It will not be surprising if, at some
point in the future, the Nepali-speakers of Darjeeling
call themselves 'Gorkhas' and the Gorkhas in Sikkim
call themselves 'Nepalis', just to differentiate
between themselves.
What is most striking when one thinks about
Darjeeling and Sikkim is the physical, social and
cultural contiguity of these two regions. If someone
wants to know why Darjeeling is in West Bengal and
not in Sikkim, there is no clear answer available in
the history of the region. One always thought that
Darjeeling was a 'gift' of the Sikkim Maharaja to the
British so that they could build a sanatorium for their
ailing soldiers. That was until Fred Pinn published
his Road to Destiny. Kalimpong, the old hub of spies
and spooks working in and around the Himalaya,
was too a part of Sikkim, like the rest of the district of
Darjeeling, but it had to go under Bhutani rule for
almost a century-and-a-half. The way it all ended,
the people of Sikkim today need to cross a subdivision
of Darjeeling before they can ford the Malli Bridge to
go to west Sikkim, or travel along the banks of the
Teesta until they arrive at Rangpo, the brewery
headquarters of Sikkim.
In an arena where politics has assumed the centre
stage above everything else, all that should have
served to bind the people and administrations of
Darjeeling and Sikkim. Instead, the kinship ties,
matrimonial alliances, literary ventures, religious
congregations, and the shared predicaments of the
peasantry amount to little. The people of Darjeeling
and Sikkim share the same mythologies, rituals,
festivals, dances and other cultural events, and yet
for a region that relies heavily on tourism, there is
nothing collaborative. They share the waters of the
Teesta and Rangit, but they cannot develop river-
rafting together. They commercially grow the same
flowers, like gladioli and orchids, but they do not
market them together.
There is no difference between Darjeeling and
Sikkim except in the mind-sets of the contemporary
population. They are divided by two different kinds
of fixations: the people of Darjeeling have an
economic and political complex vis-a-vis the
Sikkimese, while the latter have a cultural and
demographic complex vis-a-vis the former. aAnd they
are unwilling to discuss any of these. They are ready
to sink separately, but unwilling to swim together.
They meet at the Teesta and Rangit to perform their
annual rites or to participate in the annual fairs, but
do not welcome those from across the river to their
homes. Obviously, this is because they do not want
to be confronted by the fact of how similar they
really are.
While thinking about the region, I must rest briefly
on its once-sprawling tea gardens. At one point, they
were the single largest employment avenue for the
illiterate and semi-literate people of these hills. But
today, the tea bushes are old and the pickings are
decreasing by the year. Together with the yield, the
number of tea gardens has also been decreasing. The
abandoned gardens have been plundered in both
Darjeeling and Sikkim, and overtaken by rampant
construction on slide-prone hillsides.
I hope that from the debris of destruction, a new
people will be born - one who will not differentiate
between Darjeeling and Sikkim, whose hearts are as
pure as the glaciers on their northern horizon, and
whose priorities are different from those of the people
in the region today. Men.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
The imaginary orient of Richard Wagner
Patan and the European understanding of Buddhism
by | Ted Riccardi
On a rain- and snow-filled night in early
November 1868, a young student of classical
philology named Friedrich Nietzsche, wrapped
in an old coat that barely kept him warm, walked to
the Theatre Cafe in Leipzig. There
he met his friend Ernst Windisch,
a fellow student at the university
who was studying classical
Indology, the science of ancient
Indian texts. The two proceeded to
the home of Windisch's teacher,
Hermann Brockhaus, a professor of
Oriental Languages at the
University of Leipzig and one of the
most celebrated Sanskritists in
Europe. The most important family
member, the one whom Nietzsche
had come expressly to meet, was
the composer Richard Wagner,
who was visiting his sister, Frau
Ottilie Brockhaus, the wife of
Hermann Brockhaus.
Wagner, then 56, was captivated
by the young Nietzsche's brilliance
and flattered by his knowledge of
his work. The friendship that
began that evening was to last
many years, finally ending with the
creation of Parsifal, Wagner's last
work. But all that really mattered
to them in the world of civilisation
was there that evening: India,
Greece and Germany -joined, interconnected, and even (to them)
identified by the science of
philology, the study of ancient texts
and languages.
Nietzsche was to become one of
the most influential European
philosophers of the 19th century
and Wagner one of its most
celebrated composers. Unlike
Nietzsche, however, Wagner was also a political
revolutionary and ideologue - one who saw in the
Orient, particularly India, the roots of German
civilisation and culture. He was subsequently
Behindthe oriental
pseudo-profundities of
a dramatically distorted
redemption-lay the
banalities of Wagners
racism, nurtured from
childhood and fed
intellectually by the
philological thought of
the day.
instrumental in bringing these ideas into wider
circulation in Germany and Europe.
Wagner's concepts of the Orient and his use of
them were not merely ornamental spiritual exotica,
as some have supposed. Rather,
they were crucial elements of his
ideology - one that was articulated
as he developed as an artist and
was later echoed by some of the
20th century's most controversial
figures, including Adolf Hitler.
Behind the oriental pseudo-
profundities of a dramatically
distorted Buddhism - suffering,
renunciation and redemption - lay
the banalities of Wagner's racism,
nurtured from childhood and fed
intellectually by the philological
thought of the day.
On the face of it, it is hard to see
what one might mean by Wagner's
'Orient' or his Orientalism. There
is no Lakme, no Madama Butterfly,
no Turandot in his completed
works. Rather, they are based on
Shakespeare, Italian, and
Germanic material. Where is the
Orient? Simply put, there are three
orients in Wagner's life and work,
all textual and all imagined. The
first is the Biblical, or, as he
probably would have called it, the
Jewish Orient. The second is the
Islamic Orient, the near horizon for
many of his music dramas, the
orient of the Crusades, against
which the medieval Germanic
knights waged holy war. Finally,
there is the Orient of ancient Iran
and India, the far horizon for
his works, the birthplace of
Brahmanism and Buddhism.
According to Wagner, the latter were the two highest
forms of human thought and their geography was
the site of his utopic, imaginary land of beginnings.
For Wagner, there was also an orient from which
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
he borrowed a conceptual vocabulary. This was
primarily India, with whose philosophy and
literature he had fair familiarity. The concepts were
Sanskrit - ideas such as samsara, nirvana, karma,
ahimsa. These ideas occurred frequently in his
conversations and writings and were part of the
everyday talk of his inner circle. Throughout his life
and artistic success, ideas for two Oriental operatic
works remained particularly important for Wagner:
one entitled jesus of Nazareth, the other called Die Sieger
(The Victors), a Buddhist opera, It is these two
uncompleted works that obsessed his later years.
Indian beginnings
Much of the eastern fascination on the part of Wagner
and his circle arose from some odd points of
identification between Germany and India, the
supposed similarities between the systems of thought
of Germany and ancient India, These were
specifically the major tenets of Brahmanism and
Buddhism, as well as a convoluted reading of the
linguistic terms Indo-Germanic or Indo-Aryan. Through
these, early Indian thought came to be seen as the
first manifestation of German thought - its ancestor
and earliest statement. However bizarre such an idea
might appear today, it was taken by people like
Richard Wagner as certain.
Wagner's views were not dependent on his
artitrary interpretation, but were based upon what
he considered to be the real historical link between
the early Indian thinkers and their descendants, the
medieval and modern Germans. From the sages of
the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, through Martin
Luther, Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer, this history
and development of German thought was believed
to be found. Wagner saw the ideas enunciated by
these thinkers as outwardly different but conceptually
identical. This identity was reached through a process
of uprooting and decontextualising major tenets of
both the German and Indian traditions. For Wagner
himself, the ideas of karma and rebirth were not only
true on the individual level, but were the operative
theories of history: German thought and civilisation
had been reborn in different stages of history,
beginning with the Indian, then Greco-Roman, and
finally German, medieval and modern. Each stage
surpassed the previous, in a kind of Hegelian-
Karmic-Hindu dialectic.
The rebirth relationship between these three
cultures leaves unanswered questions. But for
Wagner, the main question was that of Christianity.
While Christianity had its first appearance during
the Greco-Roman period, it was also a religion that
had been, in Wagner's judgement, perverted by its
association with Judaism. In a letter to the composer
Franz Liszt, he proffered that "uncontaminated
Christianity is ... a branch of that venerable Buddhist
religion   which,   following   Alexander's   Indian
campaign, found its way, among other places, to the
shores of the Mediterranean." Christianity, in short,
has nothing to do with Judaism in terms of its
teachings or origins. It is Buddhist in origin, Hellenic
in its manifestation of jesus, and German in its
medieval and modern appearances.
While Wagner found the identification of the
Buddha and Jesus free of difficulty, his writings
allude to some of the problems he was having with
this intellectual progression. In attempting to reconcile
the Buddha's "gentle, pure renunciation" with
Luther's "monkish impossibility", Wagner notes that
in cold Germany, "our life is so plagued, that without
'Wine, Women, and Song' we could not possibly hold
out, or serve the old God himself." Accompanying
these ponderings is the sketch of the Buddhist work
that Wagner had entitled Die Sieger. The composer
found this story of "the Buddha on his last journey"
in Eugene Burnout's Introduction a VHistoire du
Bouddhisme Indien. The story occupied Wagner's mind
possibly longer than any of his other sketches - until
his death, in fact, at which time his wife writes of the
composer telling her from his bed, "If you look after
me well, clothe me well, feed me well, then I shall still
compose Die Sieger."
Despite his attraction to the text, Wagner did not
complete Die Sieger. Instead, he took much of the
conceptual material for that opera and incorporated
it into Parsifal - his final work, his "last card", as he
called it. This was his ultimate attempt to Aryanise
and 'Buddhicise' Christianity, transforming it into a
truly German religion. What was the source that
enabled him to do this?
Wagner's source
The scene is now 22 May 1873, Richard Wagner's
60th birthday. His wife Cosima, together with their
children, has prepared a surprise party for him. She
records some of the presents in her diaries:
... Danielle carried in the Laurana Gallery etchings of
Raphael, drawings which R. had once seen and admired at
the home of the painter Hubner; Blandine, l'Histoire du
Bouddhisme, by Bumouf; and the two little girls Le
Roman de Douze Pairs from R.'s former library ...
Something curious occurred early in the day: R. dreamed
about bookbindings and that he had told the bookbinder
that it would look well if the titles were printed in black on
a light background instead of gold. Now it so happened
that, when 1 sent Bunwuf's book to be bound, I had the idea
of getting the author's name and the date ofthe work done
in black. This little coincidence gives us much delight.
Much is made bv the couple of this book by the
French Orientalist Eugene Bumouf, now bound in
leather with black lettering. Since Wagner first
discovered it, the book had been an almost sacred
scripture for him, made even more so by the
coincidence of his dream with Cosima's decision.
What is this book? Wagner and Cosima constantly
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 refer to it as the Introduction a I'Histoire du Bouddhisme,
but the complete title contains one more word, always
left out: the word indien, or Indian. Burnouf, in his
own introduction to the work, makes it very clear
that the materials used in his magnum opus were
not from India, even as it was generally understood
at the time to encompass the Subcontinent. Rather,
Burnouf emphasises that the material came from
Nepal - 88 manuscripts in all, some older ones written
on palm leaf. Here is the juxtaposition of two terms
relating to the kind of Buddhism under discussion:
indien and nepalais. Does the distinction matter? Does
the place of origin affect the nature of the Buddhism
Burnouf's source materials were mostly paper
manuscripts, and relatively recent. Some were copies
of unobtainable originals. Their language was
Sanskrit, with some translations and commentaries
in the local language of the Nepal Valley, Newark
The Sanskrit was difficult in places, quite opaque in
others. Most importantly, however, almost all of them
were acquired through just one particular source - a
Newar priest, whom Burnouf described as "un
bouddhiste nepalais". Who is this unnamed Nepali
Buddhist? What kind of Nepali priest is he?
Burnouf spent ten years of his life on the I'Histoire
du Bouddhisme project - reading, analysing, and
presenting these manuscripts. The young Burnouf
had also been one of a handful of students to sit at
the feet of the English Sanskritist H H Wilson, while
in London. At the time that he undertook the
Buddhism project, Burnouf was already known for
his decipherment of the Persian cuneiform
inscriptions at Perseopolis.
He had given up other opportunities for the
Bouddhisme project, including the editing of the Rig
Veda itself, which he turned over to Max Mueller.
The Nepali manuscripts were fraught with
difficulties, but he persevered in their examination.
Within the mass of manuscripts was one entitled the
Divyavadana, a work that relates the various rebirths
of the Buddha. Within these folios were themes that
were later elevated into immortality in Wagner's
Parsifal, through which he redefined the origins
of Christianity.
Burnouf s source
Burnouf published his great work in 1844. For all of
the manuscripts, he is indebted to one man, the one
who collected them and sent them to France. 'Brian
Hodgson' is a name still well known in Orientalist
circles as a scholar and facilitator of Orientalist
research. So cognisant was Burnouf of his obligation
to Hodgson that he proposed his name to the French
government for the awarding of the Legion of Honour.
Brian Hodgson was the British Resident at the
Court of Nepal, in Kathmandu as the direct result of
war. The victory of the East India Company over the
Nepali army and the signing of the subsequent Treaty
of Sugauli in 1816 had carried behind its diplomatic
language the Company's clear command: you must
accept permanently our agent in your territory. The
Nepalis acquiesced with ill-disguised loathing. To
them the British were phirangi buwasa, or 'foreign
hyenas'; the permanent presence of one of them in
the sacred Valley was anathema to the ultra-orthodox
Hindus who ruled it.
Hodgson was not a scholar, but one of the young
Englishmen who decided in the early 19th century to
seek his fortune as an employee of the East India
Company. .Arriving in Calcutta in his early twenties,
he fell ill almost immediately and was sent to the
mountain town of .Almora to recover. Because of his
delicate health, the Company decided that he should
remain in the high country. Hodgson arrived in
Kathmandu in 1821 and remained there until 1843,
during which time he was the official representative
of the Company to the Court of Nepal.
But there was little business to transact between
the Company and the Nepali government, so
Hodgson had little official work. He was not allowed
to roam the country at will, but was confined to the
Valley. He subsequently redirected his waking hours
to scholarly investigations. Nepal the Unknown
needed to become known: flora, fauna, geography,
commerce, languages, religions, ethnicity, caste - a
spate of articles flowed from his pen into the learned
journals of Europe. Hodgson's investigations were
those of a novice, of one who knows no other language
and who obviously must rely on others. But he wrote
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Portrait of Brian
Hodgson at Kaiser
Mahal, Kathmandu
seamlessly, objectively, scientifically, as if he were the
sole source, only occasionally referring to the system
of pundits and scouts that he had developed.
Hodgson's source
At some point, Hodgson realised that despite the
Hindu orthodoxy of Nepal's rulers, he was also in a
country of Buddhists. Buddhism subsequently became
the focus of much of his research, in particular its texts.
The towns of the Valley bulged with
libraries of manuscripts and Hodgson
began not only to acquire information,
but the books themselves. He located a
Buddhist priest who, unlike his
experience with much of the rest of the
populace, proved both friendly and
immensely helpful. Hodgson's "old
Buddhist friend" helped him to locate,
copy, trade, buy and record as many
manuscripts as he desired. In 1837,
Hodgson began shipping these artefacts
to London, Paris and Calcutta. Here
began the wholesale transference of
Buddhist texts out of Nepal. Here, also,
the manufacture of European Buddhism
was given its first large shipment of
raw materials.
Hodgson's old Buddhist friend is
Burnouf's bouddhiste nepalais, a man
whose identity was rarely recorded by
Hodgson, but often enough. His name
was Amritananda, a Newar priest,
famous in his country during his lifetime
for having completed the last cantos of
Asvaghosa's Buddhacarita, one of the
earliest and most famous accounts of the
life of the Buddha. He was also the
author of a Buddhist history of the Nepal
Valley. He lived in the city of Patan, in
an area known as Mahabauddha; it was
. out of the countless almyrahs of this city
that Burnouf's manuscripts came.
Amritananda and the Newars were a conquered
people, oppressed by a Hindu military population
from Gorkha. The Newars had nothing in common
with the rude soldiers, and their suffering was largely
unknown and unrelieved. Amritananda's acts of
friendship and help to Hodgson may have in fact been
a subversive plea for recognition - a silent cry of a
people in torment. Either way, they were barely
understood by the Englishman, if at all.
The parts played in this process by Amritananda,
Hodgson and Burnouf embody a transformative ritual
that later made Richard Wagner's ideology possible.
It is not that Wagner misused or even misunderstood
the Buddhism that resulted from these
transformations. Richard Wagner sought to define
himself and his culture. For him, Buddhism was a
way of answering his three most fundamental
questions: What does it mean to be German? What
does it mean to be Christian? What is art?
Parsifal, Wagner's final work, is his answer to these
three questions. The answers are inextricably linked,
for in this work his revolutionary and political
ambitions come together with his art. Parsifal is a
ritual meant to define the German community as
racially pure; to redefine Christianity through the
transformation of the Mass into the
celebration of the Holy Grail, thereby
redeeming the blood of the Redeemer
himself from its negative moment; and
to make these changes real through his
art at Bayreuth, the German city that
houses the Wagner Theatre. The work is
his transformation of all values and his
eternal recurrence of the same - a
transformation that had begun many
years before in the atelier of Pundit
Amritananda Shakya.
Here began the
transference of
Buddhist texts
out of Nepal.
Here, also, the
manufacture of
Buddhism was
given its first
large shipment
of raw materials
A final note on ritual. On the afternoon
of 13 February 1883, in his study in the
Palazzo Vendramin in Venice, Richard
Wagner felt a stab of pain in his chest
and pulled the cord that was there for
such occasions. Cosima rushed to his
side, but a few minutes later, he died in
his wife's arms.
The cult of Wagner spread over
Europe and America in the years after
his death. Some years later, a novelist
writing at the beginning of the next
century recalled the funeral:
The body was tliere, shut in its crystal
coffin, and standing beside it was the woman
with the face of snow. The second coffin of
burnished metal shone open on the
pavement. All were gazing fixedly at the
chosen one of Life and Death; an infinite
smile illuminated the face ofthe prostrate hero - a smile as
distant and infinite as the rainbow of a glacier, as the gleam
ofthe sea, as the halo of a star. They could not bear to see it,
but their hearts, with a wondering fear that made them
religious, felt as if they were receiving the revelation of a
divine secret...
The great silence was worthy of Him who had
transformed the forces ofthe Universe for man's worship
into infinite song.
The words are those of one of the annunciatory
angels of the new century, Gabriele d'Annunzio, one
of the prophets of the new fascism. Cosima,
the woman with the face of snow, was to live for many
years after her husband's death, and was
to hear 'the infinite song' that was to nearly
destroy Europe.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Time and a Place
A village near the line of control in Kashmir epitomises the violence the
people of the region have suffered in silence all these years.
by | Peerzada Arshad Hamid
The widows of Dardpora are a grim reminder of
the brutal violence that has characterised the
Kashmir conflict. Located 120 kilometres from
Srinagar in Kupwara District, life in this village lives
up to its name, for dard means pain, and pora, a
hamlet. Out of 1000 households in Dardpora, as many
as 300 families have lost their bread-earners in the
ongoing turmoil. While the majority of them were
militants killed in encounters with the Indian Army,
the remaining were killed by militants, either in inter-
group clashes or after being branded as informants
for the Indian Army.
The 8 October Kashmir Earthquake ruined much
of what death had left untouched. "After Uri and
Tangdhar on this side of Kashmir, Dardpora is worst
affected," says Ghulam Nabi Mir, the village sarpanch.
"120 houses have been completely destroyed and the
remaining 800 are partially damaged. It is risky to go
inside a cracked house." While some people have
erected makeshift hutments in the premises of their
houses, those who cannot afford to do so share space
with other neighbourhood families. But it is the
women of the village, particularly the widows, who
have had to bear the brunt of this twin tragedy.
State's gun
37-year-old Haseena has been a widow for the last
13 years, since her husband, a militant with the
Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter with
the Indian Army. With three sons and one daughter,
Haseena struggles to make ends meet. "To feed my
family, I first took a loan for buying a cow; then I
borrowed money to educate my children; and finally
a loan for agricultural purposes," she sighs. "Being
a defaulter, bank officials do come to my house, but
where will I bring the money to repay their loan?"
Unfortunately, the tragedies have continues to pile
up. Two of her children suffer from chronic illness -
14-year-old Zahid suffers from epilepsy and 17-year-
old Saima is a cancer patient. Last year, Haseena sold
her family's land in order to treat them. The
earthquake devastated them further - the family's
house was rendered uninhabitable, and she and
her children now sleep at the house of Begum Jan,
another widow.
"For me, both India and Pakistan are guilty," she
says. "Being a militant, my husband died an unsung
death. Living in an Indian-controlled state has made
me an untouchable, because no government office
takes responsibility for militant families." While the
government does provide compensation and
employment opportunities to family members of those
killed in militant violence, this is not available to
relatives of killed militants.
40-year-old Begum Jan's story is not very different,
except that she has never received proof of her
husband's death. In 1992, she was told that her
husband, Shamsudin Poswal, had been killed along
the Line of Control during a fierce encounter with
Indian security forces. Poswal's body was never
brought to the village for burial, nor is there any other
record of his death. "Initially, I too was sceptical about
his death," she recalls, "but he has not returned for
years, so I have begun to believe fhe rumours."
In the absence of any aid from the government or
non-government agencies, widows like Haseena and
Begum Jan are completely disillusioned. "People
come, take notes, click photos and go back," Begum
Jan complains. "If you cannot do anything, why do
you make us recall our agonies?"
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Khoja and Imran
Three families
Meet 50-year-old Shaha, whose husband, Abdullah
Bhat, was labelled an informer working with the
Indian Army. She says he was fired upon as he was
coming back from a day's work in the fields. For
Shaha, this was not the end of her sorrows. Her son
Mudasir, whom Shaha sent to Punjab to earn a
livelihood for the sake of his mother and three sisters,
went missing there. Since then, there has been no
news of him.
Fatima, 60, lost her husband Villayat Shah in
crossfire between militants and soldiers while
grazing cattle. His son Maroof, a militant, was killed
a year later, and Fatima now lives with Maroof's
widow, Salema. Both widows are reconciled to a life
of misery and pain. "We were five sisters and among
them only I was married. How can I go back to my
father? I prefer to stay here taking the sufferings as
my destiny," says Salema.
The consequences of these widespread killings are
not limited to surviving female family members. 70-
year-old Rehmatullah Khoja, a former farmer, is now
a destitute beggar. His son Ghulam Qadir Khoja - a
militant killed by the Indian Army - left behind three
small children and a wife. His daughter-in-law
remarried, leaving the children with Rehmatullah
and his wife. Now, he goes door-to-door in Dardpora
begging for alms, at times accompanied by Qadir's
son Imran. Another grandson has been sent to an
orphanage outside of Kashmir. "Whatever I bring
from the day's begging, we cook in the evening," says
Rehmatullah. "I was not a beggar. I too had
expectations from my son, but destiny had all this in
store for me."
Last village
The humanitarian catastrophe is coupled with the
backwardness of the village as a whole, which makes
life extremely difficult for the survivors. Half of
Dardpora is devoid of electricity or drinking water.
Difficult terrain makes the village highly inaccessible.
Agriculture is the main source of income, but the area
almost always remains drought-affected.
Mir Ghulam Rasool, a social worker and retired
teacher in Dardpora, has a sound explanation for
the disproportionate number of widows in the village.
"Dardpora is the last village along LOC," he says.
"Earlier, when Kashmiri youth used to cross the
border for arms training, our village fell on the most-
used track. Locals from this village too got involved,
with some straightaway joining the militant ranks
and others acting as guides to facilitate the crossover. Later, in the gun battles between the Indian
Army and militants, naturally this village was to
suffer, and it did."
On the pathetic condition of the widows, Mir says
that community support has not been feasible because
of the widespread poverty. "When villagers do not
have enough themselves, how can they support or
help anyone else?" he asks. The local MLA, he says,
rarely visits the village and has not ensured support
to violence-affected families.
The actions of higher levels of government have
not been of much greater help. The issue pertaining
to the rehabilitation of widows of militants was
enshrined in the Common Minimum Programme
(CMP) reached by two ruling-coalition partners in
the state government, the Congress and Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP), in 2002. It is yet to be
implemented. On the contrary, during a council
meeting of the Rehabilitation Council in October 2005,
the Ministry of Home Affairs is reported to have
spurned the decision taken by ex-Chief Minister Mufti
Mohammed Sayeed to rehabilitate the dependents of
killed militants.
There is a ray of hope, however, since the activist
NGO Action Aid selected Dardpora for post-
earthquake relief and rehabilitation. "In a survey of
this village, we found hardly any house that was not
damaged," recalls Action Aid project officer Abdul
Jaleel Lone. "We then saw the destitute households
run by widows and the overall backwardness of the
area. There was no question about not running a
project here." The organisation has donated roofing
sheets to the families for making hutments and
distributed food. "We are trying to focus on
the permanent rehabilitation of the families here,"
Lone adds. fa
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 I Analysis
An intriguing
absence of outrage
Why isn't abortion in India the eMplosive social issue it is elsewhere?
by | Andrew Nash
For all the contrasts that might
be drawn between American
and Indian politics, one of the
sharpest could be the differing role
that abortion plays in the two
• systems. The United States is, of
course, famously obsessed with
abortion - leading to perennial
political brawls when it is time to
choose new government officials. In
India, on the other hand, politicians
appear generally indifferent to the
subject. Why is this so?
This Indian apathy or
ambivalence towards abortion
holds true through the pre- and
post-Independence period till the
present day. During the colonial
period, discussions of abortion
appeared occasionally in the
writings of Indian social critics, but
only in order to draw attention to
its perceived relation with a social
'evil'. Tarabai Shinde, the late-19th
century Marathi woman who rallied against gender
norms, cited abortion as evidence of men's
hypocritical sexual moralities. Another Marathi
writer, the iconoclast and educationalist Jotirao
Phule, viewed abortion as an outcome of unjust
gender and caste practices. "These [widower] Arya
brahmans unashamedly make advances on the weak
defenceless widows in their household and greedily
seduce them," he wrote. "When
these widows become pregnant
they are forced to abort. This is
quite a common practice."
Vidyasagar, a contemporary of
Phule's in Bengal, voiced similar
complaints. However, while
identifying abortion with some
social problem, these writers and
other public intellectuals of their
time seem to have done little to
explore the morality concerning
the subject, or whether a foetus
should be considered 'alive'.
Modern Indian law is based on
the colonial Indian Penal Code
(IPC), originally drafted in 1837
and enacted in the early-1860s.
After 1947, IPC sections 312-316
remained in effect, which
detailed criminal penalties and
terms of imprisonment for both
persons who perform and
women who receive abortions.
But in 1971, the Indian Parliament passed the
Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) bill, which
effectively legalised abortion by creating loopholes
in the event of birth control failure or maternal mental
distress. Government records suggest that this shift
in the abortion legal framework came about in
response to legal trends in other countries and, more
importantly, from concerns about overpopulation.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 In any event, comments by several members of
Parliament at the time indicated that there had been
little legal enforcement of abortion penalties for
decades and that the 1971 change in policy was fairly
uncontroversial. One parliamentarian cited the
figure of 6.5 million annual abortions in India in the
years leading up to the law's amendment. A member
of the Rajya Sabha lamented that the bill had "not
received the publicity it deserves." Indeed, although
committees in both houses had mulled the
legislation's provisions since its 1969 introduction,
the Rajya Sabha debated the MTP bill for only two
days and the Lok Sabha for only one.
In the years since 1971, abortion has remained on
the fringe of Indian public awareness - occasionally
popping up in policy debates and discussions of
public morality, but almost always indirectly.
Significant discussion has taken
place, for instance, about the use of
amniocentesis (used to determine a
foetus's gender) in procuring sex-
selective abortions in North India.
While a 2004 census report on skewed
child gender ratios in several
North Indian states provoked the most
recent round of op-ed debates on the
topic, participants again did not
concern themselves with discussions
of the morality of abortion. It is
also noteworthy that Hindutva-
leaning politicians, despite voicing
concerns about the alleged growth of
the Muslim community in India,
have taken no dramatic steps to curtail
Hindu women's access to abortion
facilities. This stands in stark contrast
to 19th century America, for instance,
where Protestant beliefs about
the 'prodigious' reproductive habits of Catholic
immigrants contributed to a tightening of abortion
laws in order to 'preserve' the Anglo-Saxon
The near-absence of rigorous intellectual
exploration of abortion by Indian social thinkers and
politicians is mirrored in contemporary scholarship.
While there are a handful of scholarly articles on the
history of abortion and abortion law in India by
historians such as Supriya Guha and Ranajit Guha,
most writing on the subject is limited to studies of
population policy. Feminist historians in particular
have done important studies on topics at the
intersection of colonial law, gender and social power
- particularly sati, widow remarriage, female
infanticide, and age of consent. But despite the
conviction of hundreds of Indian women in colonial
courts under abortion penal provisions, there has
been little scholarly interest in the topic as a whole.
The Sanskrit scholar Julius Lipner, in an article on
in 1971, the Indian
the Medical
Termination of
Pregnancy (MTP)
bill, which
by creating
event of birth
control failure or
maternal mental
classical Hindu views of abortion, argues that
"issues relating to the moral status of the unborn
and abortion have neither been aired or even
properly identified, in general, in Indian minds
and literature."
Subject for speculation
Based solelv on their respective foundational texts,
it is somewhat ironic that modern-day Hindus are
less concerned with abortion than are many non-
Indian Christians and Muslims. After all, the
Christian Bible contains no references to abortion;
official Christian interest in the practice dates largely
to the 19* century, when the development of modern
medicine allowed for the procedure to be conducted
in the open and made subject to regulation. For its
part, Islamic tradition contains some explicitly
permissive commentary on abortion.
Several hadith attributed to the
Prophet Mohammed state that a
foetus is 'ensouled' - and thus gains
personhood - only after around 120
days of development. In some Islamic
traditions, early-term abortion was
subsequently permitted.
On the other hand, Lipner points
out that Hindu tradition was
relatively clear in its prohibition of
abortion. Based on condemnatory
references to abortion in both shruti
and smriti texts, Lipner writes that
between 600 BC and 600 CE, "the
definitive Hindu view on the moral
status of the unborn in connection
with abortion was developed and
established." Still, while some
classical religious texts may have
condemned the practice, it is nearly
impossible to reconstruct the actual operation of pre-
modern law throughout the Subcontinent -
notwithstanding Jotirao Phule's assertion that there
had been no abortion during the Vedic age.
However, we do know that in the mid-eighteenth
century, when the East India Company displaced
the remnants of the Mughal state in Bengal, abortion,
along with adultery, was punishable as a moral
offence. The Company instituted a new judicial
system in Bengal in 1772, three decades before the
criminalisation of abortion in England. Two legal
principles could have influenced Company attitudes
towards abortion in the 18th century. On the one
hand, the Company initially desired to dissociate
itself from moral regulation; on the other hand, it
wanted to claim the sole legitimate right to take life.
Hence, seeing abortion as a question of sexual
morality would lead to non-regulation, whereas
seeing abortion as a matter of life-taking could lead
to prohibition.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
This distinction, while neat in theoretical terms,
allows for only the most general understanding of
English and Indian attitudes during the era. Initially,
in 1772, the Company decided to do away with the
Mughal system of penalties for offences against
morality, including those for abortion. This would
appear to suggest that, to the English administrative
mind of the early 1770s (at least insofar as it thought
appropriate for eastern India), abortion was more an
issue of morality than of murder. In time, however,
the Company reinstated penalties for abortion,
adultery and other 'moral crimes' - apparently in
response to fears that Indians would see Company
rule as immoral and, hence, undesirable.
More importantly, because the Company initially
condoned sati, and then backed its way into
regulating widow immolation before instituting a
legal ban in 1829, the desire to create a state that
enjoyed a monopoly over the taking of
life was unrealised in the early years of
colonial rule. Regardless, it is largely
impossible to discern 18th century
Indian and English attitudes towards
abortion with any precision. "An
interesting subject of speculation," the
historian Radhika Singha writes, "is
whether abortion and infanticide were
considered heinous in themselves or
investigated in the community for the
proof they gave of the more disgraceful
offence' of prohibited relationships."
Control of reproduction
Indian attitudes towards abortion in
the early modern period can be further
discerned by considering the broader
contexts of reproductive and birth practices and their
interactions with the law. Here, the most obvious
parallel is infanticide. Colonial officials commented
on female infanticide among certain North Indian
caste groups as early as the late 18th century,
although the most concentrated administrative effort
to combat the problem did not come until a century
later. (Colonial officials in South India reported that
sex-selective infanticide did not occur there.) In any
event, the similarity between infanticide and abortion
is only general: How far will public morality and
state power go to protect forms of life that may not be
deemed to possess personhood?
19th century female infanticide can be seen as a
precursor to late 20th century sex-selective abortion.
In places like present-day Haryana, where around
two in five female foetuses are aborted, amniocentesis
has simply taken the place of examining a child's
reproductive organs at birth. If the classical religious
prohibition on abortion identified by Julius Lipner
appears at odds with contemporary popular
morality, a better place to trace modern notions of
foetal life is 19th century North India. It should come
as no surprise that the Indian Penal Code sections
on infanticide follow immediately after those on
abortion, or that some colonial administrators did
not bother to distinguish between the practices in
judicial reports.
The history of sati regulation also provides some
guidance on Indian conceptions of foetal life. At the
insistence of socio-religious reformer Rammohan
Roy, the English banned sati in 1829. Just two
decades earlier, however, the British had issued
circulars calling for the prevention of the burning of
specifically pregnant widows. Thus, at least formally,
regardless of whether the foetus itself was considered
a person, its mere existence could determine the life
or death of its mother during the second decade of
the 19th century. According to this peculiar
bureaucratic logic, the foetus depended on its mother
for survival no less than the mother
depended on the foetus for hers.
While it is difficult to determine how
often pregnancy actually won a
widow respite from the pyre, the
recognition of a pregnant woman's
special     status     signified     the
(potential) human value of the foetus.
More   commonly,   of   course,
abortion was simply another tool to
control reproduction. For a young
woman - widowed at an early age,
dependent on in-laws, not permitted
by law or social custom to remarry —
a pregnancy stemming from either a
consensual    or    non-consensual
sexual encounter could have had
devastating social consequences.
Given the relative lack of freedom of, say, high-caste
women in northern and eastern India, particularly
later in the 19th century, the morality of terminating
foetal life needs to be weighed against the social
consequences of the pregnancy for the woman and
potential child. By aborting the foetus, a mother
could, in a sense, 'undo' the pregnancy - erasing the
evidence of the sexual act that had led to it, and escape
society's vehement disapproval. While recognising
the immense diversity in social practices throughout
India, and hence the impossibility of calibrating with
exactness the tension between the moral value of a
foetus and the social consequences of an unwanted
pregnancy, it seems that moral investment in foetal
life was limited by the oftentimes harsh social
realities of illegitimacy and poverty.
A non-controversy
Even while formal colonialism ended in 1947, the
Indian Penal Code remains the foundation of noted
Indian law. In 1948, the noted sociologist M N
Srinivas spent a year in a small village in modern-
it is also noteworthy
that Hindutva-
leaning politicians,
despite voicing
aiieged growth of the
Muslim community in
india, have taken no
dramatic steps to
curtail Hindu
women's access to
abortion facilities.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 day Kamataka. In his memoir, he narrates a
confrontation between an abandoned pregnant
woman and a village powerbroker, who "advised
her against going to an abortionist but she said she
had no alternative. She left us soon after." Srinivas
writes that the powerbroker "found her story and
her life revolting," but there is no indication that
anyone in the incident knew or cared that abortion
was formally illegal.
Srinivas's research coincided with the holocaust
of Partition, in which thousands of women were
abducted by men from both in and out of their native
religious communities. In 1948, the newly
independent Indian and Pakistani states agreed to
conduct an 'exchange' of women abducted after
March 1947, when the first widespread violence had
been reported in the Punjab.
Recent studies by activist-writers Urvashi Butalia,
Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin show that the Indian
state provided - against its own
laws - abortions to many of the
-.somen 'recovered' from Pakistan.
Administering abortions to women
brought back to India, sometimes
against their will, is probably the
first example of state-led family
planning in India.
By the early 1970s, abortion was
frequently discussed as a procedure
to be carried out in government
hospitals, in part in order to control
population growth. In the 1971
parliamentary debates on the MTP
bill, speakers addressed questions
involving women's autonomy over
their bodies, and, less commonly,
the moral implications of a legal
regime that sanctioned abortion.
Most of the time, however, the legislative debate tied
abortion to symbolic props like 'progress' and
'religion', whose importance would supposedly
either be affirmed or debased by the bill's passage.
"Many other countries in the world have already
passed the Bill legalising abortion," one MP noted
in support of the legislation. .An opponent declared
that it would "destroy the great human values
cherished by this country for the last thousands of
years and also ... will mark the end of all moral
values." Several speakers referred to scenes from
the Mahabharta to demonstrate the alleged moral
damage caused by abortion, but the opponents
primarily chose to denounce abortion as running
counter to a general, undefined Indian tradition.
Regardless, with the Congress party's support, the
bill passed easily.
Why is the moral dilemma over abortion not a
subject of public debate in India? The 1990s
witnessed the swift rise of a socially conservative,
Since the prevailing
attitude largely
strength was
diminished by fear of
reproduction itself.
religiously grounded political formation, which
would seem to have laid the groundwork for a
cultural battle on the issue. Indeed, two decades
earlier, the handful of opponents to the MTP bill
had come from the ranks of the Jan Sangh, the
predecessor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Leaders
of the Hindu right often voice concern over the
alleged proportional decline of Hindus in India,
and the Hindutva movement has demonstrated its
power to control women. Considering these factors,
it would seem logical if abortion were currently a
symbolic issue as important to the Hindu right-wing
as temple construction in Ayodhya - as much of
a flashpoint issue in India as it is in the US
and elsewhere.
But the fact is that the rise of the Hindu right has
not led to any surge towards fighting abortion. The
reasons behind this non-concern could be two-fold.
First, the country's legislation was instituted on a
resoundingly solid basis. India
liberalised its abortion law only two
years before the US did, but the MTP
bill overwhelmingly passed a
Parliament full of Congressmen,
Communists, Socialists and Jan
Sangh politicians. No one could
claim that a court had acted
arbitrarily or against the democratic
consensus, as is still being argued
in the US by opponents hoping to
have the legislation overturned. In
India, the democratic process had
done its work.
But why were so many politicians
willing to support tlie bill in the first
place? The second part of this
explanation involves the special
significance of population anxiety
in Indian politics. Although the 1971 passage of
the MTP bill was a few years before the coercive
family planning policies of Indira Gandhi's
Emergency, it still took place at a time when
controlling population growth had become a central
concern of the Indian state. Because the prevailing
attitude largely associated population growth with
economic weakness and social backwardness, the
desire for Hindu reproductive strength was
diminished by a fear of reproduction itself.
Regardless of ideology, those involved in the 1971
debate argued that population growth should be
reduced - so how could anyone oppose a measure
that would likely lead to exactly such a reduction?
In the realm of private morality, a politician might
resolutely reject the idea that his wife or daughter
would ever exercise their right to abortion.
Simultaneously, however, he could hope that other
women in similar situations would be able to make
exactly that choice.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
Cold feet in the atoll
Even if the Maldives' president has had second thoughts about
democratic reforms, the country's people have not.
by | Carey L Biron
In January 2005, the Maldives President Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom promised his country a new
Constitution by the beginning of the following
year. At that time, President Gayoom had ruled the
Maldives since 1978 - seventy percent of the country's
years of independence - but had been increasingly
pressured into initiating an agenda of democratic
reform. Not only is the new Constitution nowhere to
be seen, but the country now seems more mired in
political stagnation than anytime in recent years. The
impasse comes after 2005 saw a significant swell in
opposition to the president. Observers are warning
that the archipelago could see grave socio-political
crises, if promised democratic reforms are not
delivered immediately.
Last year's momentum initially crested with the
Parliament's unanimous decision to officially register
political parties. Within months of the June vote
green-lighting the move towards multi-party
democracy, however, the government began to
backtrack - particularly with regard to the opposition
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the first to gain
the numbers necessary to register. Incidents from that
period continue to reverberate six months later. On 5
August 2005, the newly-official MDP submitted to
government officials and Commonwealth mediators
a plan on how to move the Maldives towards
democratisation. The MDP memorandum began with
the warning that the country was "on the verge of a
popular uprising that can turn events either way:
violent or peaceful." Among its demands were moves
to increase governmental transparency, and a more
equitable composition of the Parliament and
Constitutional Assembly (the People's Majlis and
People's Special Majlis, respectively), thereby
decreasing President Gayoom's personal power over
these assemblies' machinations and decisions.
The given timeframe was within 30 to 60 days from
12 August.
Just one week later, 12 August was the one-year
anniversary of what has become known as 'Black
Friday', when security forces had confronted a record-
sized public gathering in Male, arresting hundreds
for calling on the president to resign. To
commemorate the date the following year, MDP
Chairman Mohamed Nasheed held a vigil in the
capital; there, he was quickly arrested by riot police,
a move initially explained as being for his own safety.
After hundreds more were imprisoned while
condemning the detention, Nasheed - who had
returned from exile only months earlier - was
eventually charged with sedition and terrorism.
On 30 January 2006, the Criminaal Court again re-
extended Nasheed's detention, as it had done at
regular monthly intervals since his arrest. Along with
the 10-year sentence handed down to fellow MDP
councillor (and daughter of the self-exiled MDP
founder) Jennifer Latheef in mid-October, Nasheed's
name has become a rallying cry for the islands'
masses, and a litmus test for the official opposition.
The court ruled on Nasheed's detention less than a
week after an MDP-scheduled capital demonstration
to call for his release on 24 January reportedly drew
threats of government-sponsored violence. Despite
such security worries, the rally drew an estimated
4000 protesters that day - a large number for Male,
especially considering the tense atmosphere. The
government placed participation numbers at exactly
382, handed the MDP a stiff MVR 50,000 fine for
contravening regulations governing the actions of
political parties, and announced that they would be
charging individuals for participating.
Immediately following the 30 January court ruling,
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 the MDP pulled out of long-awaited all-party talks
scheduled for 5 February. To be held with
Commonwealth mediation, the talks were to have
covered ways to bring about constitutional reforms
in line with Commonwealth conventions. The MDP
explained their refusal to participate by citing that
they had originally agreed to the talks on the
condition that President Gayoom "demonstrates a
commitment to reform by freeing internationally
recognised political prisoners." These included
Nasheed and Latheef, as well as Ahmed Didi, who
ran an anti-government website, and artist Naushad
Waheed, brother of MDP shadow cabinet minister
Mohamed Waheed; both Didi and Waheed were
eventually pardoned on 22 February. This same
demand on the part of the MDP had also stalled
the first round of Commonwealth-mediated
all-party talks, however, originally scheduled for
September 2005.
Despite the pullout by the main opposition,
Commonwealth representatives did receive input
from other political parties. On 9 February, a
government spokesperson confirmed that, given the
"slow pace" of the Special Majlis, Commonwealth
officials would be taking on the responsibility of
drafting the new Constitution, due by April.
Confusion has since arisen as to whether Maldivian
law actually allows for this Commonwealth
intervention. While the Constitutional Assembly is
allowed to use expert advisors, the request legally
needs to come from the newly-elected Research and
Drafting Committee - from within the Special Majlis,
and not from the government.
Reform has been slow in the Maldives,
with the People's Special Majlis (the
Constitutional Assembly created in
2004 to oversee democratic changes
to the Constitution) taking more than
a   year   to   decide   on   its   own
procedural rules, a task that is still
not completely finished. The official
displeasure with the Assembly's
sluggishness is at odds with the
overriding sense by many in the
Maldives     that     President
Gayoom himself, despite his
assurances to the contrary, is
successfully attempting to
slow - or even reverse - the
pace at which his regime is
taking on promised reforms. In
the face of his government's landmark
recognition of the country's political
parties, for instance, President Gayoom
barred candidates from implying party
affiliations     during     Constitutional
Assembly elections held in December. After
Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed went on
state television the day before the 24 January
demonstration and lauded a recent trip abroad by
suggesting that "the international community is very
pleased with the way [the] reform agenda is going",
the European Union issued an unusually sharp
rebuttal, calling for President Gayoom's
administration to speed up the implementation of
overdue reform measures. The statement echoed near-
universal condemnation on the part of the
international community for the lethargy perceived
in Male's governmental corridors.
President Gayoom's response to the criticism was
indirect. Two days after the 27 January EU statement,
the first weekly session of the Special Majlis was
again forced to cancel due to a lack of quorum, when
only two of President Gayoom's unelected appointees
to the Assembly showed up for work. The agenda
item waiting for discussion that day was exactly this
powerful loophole in the Special Majlis composition,
which allows the President himself to appoint 30
percent of the Assembly's members and also gives
him veto power over any legislation the Assembly
passes. Indeed, in a major reform speech in 2004,
President Gayoom himself had originally proposed
that both assemblies be made more equitable,
subsequently including these elements in a list of
reforms that he later presented to the Special Majlis.
Since then, however, the president appears to have
become worried about losing his influence in both
assemblies, and changed his mind. Pending
opposition proposals could now have stripped those
abilities, with the MDP having long argued that only
those who have been democratically elected should
be allowed to debate constitutional changes; the
issue was given more space than any
other in the 5 August memorandum.
The previous day, a petition
signed by 61 of the 113 Special
Majlis members (allegedly
initiated by the President himself)
had called to drop from the
agenda those items dealing with
the amendments relating to the
Special Majlis composition. Even
as the Special Majlis Deputy
Speaker suspended the Assembly
for a week to mull over the matter,
around 200 protestors outside of the
Majlis House reacted animatedly to
the news of the petition, jeering at
officials leaving the grounds. At the
end of that week, on 5 February, the
government indefinitely suspended
the Special Majlis due to security
concerns, in response to the petition-
related demonstrations. Both the
People's Majlis and the People's
Special Majlis would reconvene only
"after strengthening security" in the
" area, a government press release
Himal Southasian | March-Mpru zuuo
 stated, blaming "MDP activists ... in what is widely
believed to be a calculated plan to block the
constitutional reform process." When the Special
Majlis was set to convene on 19 February, the 29
unelected members, along with 16 other presidential
appointees, again failed to show up to a session that
was slated to debate their potential removal from the
Assembly. The lack of quorum cancelled the Special
Majlis for a third session in a row.
Media reform
Until just a few years ago, public demonstrations in
the Maldives were very rare. Even while public
sentiment has moved into the streets, however, the
Maldivian press is still labouring under repressive
conditions. In their 2005 report, the press freedoms
watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers ranked the
Maldives 148th out of 167 countries - the same
position occupied the previous year by Iraq. The past
year saw scores of Maldivian journalists being
arrested, intimidated or violently harassed for being
vocal against the government, which also reportedly
attempted recently to cancel a BBC media-training
course due to worries that it was "too political". In
2005 the government did decide to open electronic
media regulations to potential private broadcasters,
but the single state-owned television and radio
broadcasts still dominate the market. The few
licenses that the government has granted
prohibit broadcasting news other than from the state-
owned stations.
In late December, the government even reached
beyond its borders in an attempt to silence an MDP-
run radio and news organisation based in Colombo.
Acting on false accusations of arms dealing made by
authorities in Male (alleged to have been the
Maldivian chief of police), Sri Lankan police officers
raided the radio and print offices of Minivan, a press
group started in July 2005; finding no evidence
supporting the claims, however, Sri Lankan officials
announced the case closed. Nonetheless, the action
scared two journalists in Sri Lanka enough to leave
the country, and Radio Minivan temporarily ceased
broadcasting. The action was not unprecedented,
however, with Reporters Sans Frontiers accusing
Male of "repeatedly manipulating" the international
policing organisation Interpol, with similar baseless
accusations against critical journalists and activists
in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
A new media reform bill is scheduled to go before
the Majlis in early March. Government officials
emphasise that the new legislation would entrench
press freedoms, standardise access to information,
allow the Ministry of Information no oversight over
media workers, and "ensure nothing stops journalists
as long as they comply with Article 25 of the
Constitution." Article 25 ensures citizens freedoms
of expression, unless prohibited "in the interest of
protecting the sovereignty of the Maldives, of
maintaining public order and of protecting the basic
tenets of Islam." The new bill would also allow for
transgressors to be penalised only through the
judicial system - which critics have attacked as
offering scant comfort, with the courts still under the
thumb of the president.
Fragile economy
As recently as 2004, the Maldives was the fastest-
growing economy in the region. The 26 December 2004
tsunami dealt a huge blow to the economy and
crippled the country's infrastructure, however, with
damage equivalent to more than 60 percent of the
country's GDP. Accounting for a third of total GDP,
the tourism industry was hurt not jusit by the loss of a
quarter of the 87 resorts that dot the archipelago, but
also by the intangible dent in tourist confidence. By
early October, President Gayoom reported that
tourism numbers were down by 600,000 - a nearly
forty percent drop that translated to a loss of more
than USD 40 million. By September the economy was
in a recession, having gone from an 8 percent growth
rate in 2004 to shrinking by 2 percent in 2005, with
government officials ruing the economy's worst
situation in decades.
Rebuilding and attempts to soothe tourist jitters
have been met with some success, with arrival
numbers soaring unexpectedly and reports of resorts
being over-filled. Utilising the recent scare, however,
one Maldivian human rights group is now focusing
specifically on that economic vulnerability. On 10
December 2005, World Human Rights Day, a UK-
based group called for a boycott of 23 of the country's
resorts, which they claimed had links to President
Gayoom or his supporters. Due to the "fragile" nature
of the Maldives' tourism-based economy, the group
emphasises that they are not advocating for tourists
to stay away from the country. Rather, the boycott
"has been developed by Maldivians who feel that
tourism to these specific resorts has enabled President
Gayoom to maintain his power base and stranglehold
over the Maldivian people."
Despite the recent tourism jump, the government
claims that the tsunami set back development in the
Maldives by two decades. With focused international
campaigns targeting the already-weakened economy
and popular sentiment spilling out into the country's
public spaces, the worry now must be that the current
economic fragility and political instability will
continue to build upon one another. In mid-February,
the Maldives .Association of Tourism Industry (MATI)
sent the government a post-tsunami proposal package
aimed at restarting and ensuring continued tourism
revenue. In the communication, MATI urged the
Tourism Ministry to engage in research on why
markets that have long had good relations with the
Maldives are now searching for alternative
destinations. Were such a trend to continue, it would
not only be painful for the citizens of Southasia's
smallest country, but potentially disastrous for
its government.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Remittance Economy
Nepal's evolution towards accepting and incorporating
the labour of its overseas workers.
by | Pranab M Singh
If you ever take an international flight from or to
Nepal, it is nearly impossible to avoid running
into groups of Nepali workers, with light bags
and bewildered looks. With 300-500 Nepali workers
leaving the country every day, this is hardly
surprising. Yet, these hardworking and honest
people are an invaluable resource to Nepal's ailing
economy. Statistics from Nepal Rastra Bank, the
country's central bank, reveal that the Nepali
economy in 2004/05 earned over USD 922 million
in remittances from overseas workers - accounting
for 12.4 percent of national GDP. With 30 to 50
percent of these remittances being transferred
through informal channels, total remittances for that
year could easily top USD 1.5 billion. More
importantly, however, this money is spread
throughout the country, providing significantly
greater security against a potential economic crisis.
In explaining the value of remittances to Nepal, the
representative of the Asian Development Bank,
Sultan Hafeez Rahman, recently noted: "Remittances
are one of the great equalisers in otherwise
inequitable economies. People who go abroad
are randomly and evenly distributed from across
"the country."
Migration for employment has long
played a crucial role in shaping
Southasia. With over 40 percent of the
regional population still living on less
than a dollar a day, migration to meet basic
needs and improve standards of living j
will continue to play an important role in
the region. During the oil boom in the
1970s the labour-surplus economies of mipatiOn tO Iflgit
Southasia were able to supply cheap
labour to meet the growing labour
demands in the Middle East. These labour
markets, including those in East Asia,
proved vital for Southasian economies.
According to the World Bank, by 2004
remittances were injecting USD 3.4 billion
into the Bangladeshi economy, USD 4.1
billion into Pakistan, and a staggering
Ifv; r;,m m
percent of the
a dollar a day,
standards of
living will
continue to plav
an important role.
Leaving Kathmandu for the Gulf
USD 23 billion into India - accounting for over
5 percent of the GDP in all three countries.
Although Nepal was a late entry in taking
advantage of Middle Eastern labour demands, the
country has a long history of job migration. With the
drawing of Nepal's borders in 1816 through the
Sugauli Treaty with British India, the Gorkhali hero
Bai Bhadra Kuwar left Nepal to join the army of the
Punjabi Sikh King Ranjit Singh. Subsequently, an
1839   treaty   allowed   Punjab   to
undertake large-scale recruitment
within Nepal. Although Bai Bhadra
Kuwar was the country's most famous
expat worker, he was not the first. The
British East India Company had
already started recruiting Gorkhali
warriors in 1815 from their Nepali
prisoners   of   war,   while   major
recruitment started following the 1857
Sepoy Mutiny. During the two world
wars, over 300,000 Nepali men fought
for the British, suffering over 45,000
This massive migration of able-
bodied men had a disastrous effect on
the traditional agricultural economy.
Having seen the outside world, most
of those who left did not return.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 According to historian K Mojumdar, only 3838 Nepali
soldiers returned home upon being discharged after
World War I. With little to no economic development
occurring in Nepal under the autocratic Rana regime,
a significant number of Nepali workers proceeded to
migrate to India. With the establishment of the tea
estates in northeastern India, a considerable number
of Nepali workers immigrated and established
communities of their own in the region.
Nepaali migration to India is a topic of significant
importance to both nations, yet has been largely
ignored. The open border and lack of passport
requirements makes the task of keeping tabs on
Nepali workers in India or Indian workers in Nepal
extremely difficult. The Nepali census of 1952-54
recorded more than 157,000 Nepali migrant workers
in India. By 1991 the numbers had almost tripled to
589,000, accounting for more than 90 percent of the
entire migrant work force. However, a mid-1980s
report by P P Karan estimated anywhere from 1.8 to 3
million Nepali workers in India. Remittances from
those working in the public sector in India alone
contributed USD 98 million in 1996. Although
remittances from India have declined from 33 percent
in 1996 to 23 percent in 2004, they
Informal transfers
Hundi (in East or Southasia) or hawala (in the Middle
East) are informal money transfer systems that differ
only in local nomenclature. They are largely based
on trust, and used mainly by expatriate communities
or migrant workers to send money back to family
members in the country of origin. No records are kept
of these transfers, and they lie outside all official
channels. The attractiveness of the hundi system is
both economic and cultural. Economically, these
networks tend to be cheaper than banks or money-
transfer companies. They also are faster, more
versatile, and have a wider reach compared to most
financial institutions. The hundi-wallahs, or
hawaldars, generally make money through a minimal
service-charge or by taking advantage of exchange
rate spreads. These operators are generally members
of the community they serve, with bonds of kinship,
ethnic ties, or personal relations making them appear
worthy of trust.
A hundi system works by developing a credit
between two agents, which is used either in reverse-
hundi transactions or tagged onto import-export
deals. For instance, a USD 10,000 hundi credit is
attached to a USD 100,000 export bill,
still amounted to USD 161 million for He tlifgfffi CUCfPifK saving some import-tax expenses. A
2003/04. IWIIUIWIW-WIIW simp,e transaction works as follows: a
With around 300,000 Nepali youths        3r6 80*1*8 6 H        Nepali labourer working in, for instance,
entering the job market each year and .jfg§]g||lfgg|f Oil ftlS Malaysia' gives his money in Malaysian
■ ■  I   a   .-a    I I^TllJ ,v^.-.r.Ttla L*.  A «* A  1 V * AWAMA   *« W*   ^^ O 1J ^ *1   **V f+H  faf* \Y J^ a-* Ull V*   rt 1 *^ /VC\T^\ AY        1 *^ l\ ^   <d71    I   ^SirCl   ^1
trust of the
labourers and
their families,
they make
efforts to keep
the worker and
the worker's
family happy.
real GDP growth barely averaging 3
percent annually from 1990 to 2005, the
Nepali   economy   cannot   produce
enough jobs. The logical step for the
unemployed lay beyond Nepali borders.
With the advent of democracy in 1990
and the liberalisation of passport
distribution, the Nepali people were able
to obtain passports at their district
headquarters. This opened the door for
job migration beyond India. The higher
wages and ever-increasing demand for
labour in the Middle East soon made it a
popular destination. The progressively
deteriorating economic situation in Nepal has only
encouraged migration, with over 180,000 Nepali
workers departing in 2005, up from 123,000 in
2004 and leading to a 12 percent increase in
remittance flows.
In the past, most Nepali workers who went abroad
beyond India were employed in the armed forces,
stationed in East Asian countries like Hong Kong,
Singapore, Brunei and Macau. This early presence
and need for a quick and effective money transfer
system gave rise to informal hundi systems. However,
job migration to the Middle East and Malaysia are
comparatively new phenomena. The presence of
formal remittance channels and the lack of a tradition
in using informal systems by Nepali workers in these
regions have helped to increase the use of the
formal sector.
Ringgits to a hundi agent in Malaysia.
That agent then informs his counterpart
in Nepal, while the labourer meanwhile
tells his family that he has sent them
money, and may even give them a
remittance code for verification purposes.
The agent in Nepal contacts the
labourer's family and delivers an
equivalent sum of money in
Nepali rupees.
Nepali workers in India and East Asia
use the hundi system extensively due to
its wide reach into rural Nepal. There are
an estimated 26,000 British army
pensioners and over 105,000 Indian Gurkha
pensioners. Until the 1970s, money sent home by the
Gurkhas was Nepal's largest source of foreign
currency. In The New Lahures, a book on foreign
employment and the Nepali remittance economy, the
authors claim that in the mid-1980s, Nepal was
gaining nearly USD 47 million annually in foreign
exchange from the British Gurkhas and over USD
100 million from the Indian armed forces. Of this, an
estimated 90 percent arrived through informal
channels. With an oblivious formal sector, hundi
systems were easy to form and maintain. Further,
illegal Nepali workers in countries like Japan, Hong
Kong and Thailand are entirely dependent on the
informal sector for sending money back home.
Little research has been conducted on issues
dealing   with   Nepali   migrant   workers   and
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 The number of
remittances. Misplaced nationalistic
pride could be at fault, as such workers
are often dismissed for the 'unpatriotic'
act of leaving the country in search of
work. Journalist Rajendra Dahal first
brought the issue of Nepali remittance
into the public eye in 1997, around the ygfj
same time as a British Department for
International  Development  (DFID)-
service. As hundi systems are entirely
dependent on the trust of the labourers
and their families, they make exceptional
efforts to keep the worker and the worker's
family happy. Because a hundi agent that
no one trusts has no business, the
development of personal relations and
bonds are integral to any hundi network.
Users report agents to be personable,
supported project was being conducted 23 tO 53 P-UfCOU! helpful and friendly; those same users
on the effects of remittance in rural Nepal, hafujpcsn tOQR often find the bureaucracy and the
This project was an offshoot of research He*™©**! 1990 institutional depersonalisation of major
done in 1996 on the rural economy of 3Hd 2004. financial institutes to be frightening and
western  Nepal,  which  showed   an . cold. There is a growing awareness
increasing reliance on remittances. Presented in 1998,     within the formal sector about such complaints, while
the preliminary findings of the DFID research
suggested that the actual volume and importance of
remittances to the Nepali economy had been
significantly understated, a finding confirmed by
subsequent research.
The Nepali informal sector developed and
flourished due to an ineffective commercial system.
Recent awareness of the value of remittances have
increased investment and interest in the area, with
major manufacturing houses like Chaudhary Group
and Golchha Organisation entering the money-
transfer business. Recent scandals and reports of
fraud by hundi agents have meanwhile undermined
the levels of trust necessary for these operations. In
one case, a hundi agent reportedly swindled over
NPR 40 million from 70 Gurkhas with whom he had
been working for years. Though rare, stories like
these have severely dented the credibility of the hundi
system, and have encouraged more people to explore
formal options.
Most, however, continue to use the informal
methods with which they are comfortable. According
to Kaipana Shah, whose husband works in Korea,
her family prefers to use hundi versus formal
channels due to the former's economy and efficiency.
She says that to transfer NPR 100,000 through hundi
costs them less than NPR 500, whereas an official
service tike Western Union would charge NPR 2000
for the same amount. Banks have charged her as
much as NPR 3800, and Shah also complains about
the indifferent treatment she has received at large
financial institutions. Hundi-wallahs, she notes, are
friendly and courteous. Sita Vaidya,
whose husband works in the Gulf,
explains that her inability to read and
write disallows her from using the
commercial channels. Rajan Ghimire,
whose son works in Qatar, says that he
stopped using banks when they hassled
him for not having the proper papers,
after he had traveled a significant
distance to Kathmandu to collect
his money.
Hundi networks have three major
advantages: speed, access and personal
ft 1999 World
further suggests
that remittances
more effective
than direct
foreign aid.
a growing realisation of the amount of money involved
has been a source of renewed motivation.
Formal catch-up
The formal sector is comprised of banks, postal
services, and money-transfer companies like Western
Union, MoneyGram and International Money
Exchange (IME). Unlike the informal sector, there is
an actual transfer of currency between nations, and
the amount is recorded by the central banks of both
countries. In order to develop commercial money-
transfer markets and services, Nepal Rastra Bank
official Bhuwanesh Pant explains that the bank had
begun granting licenses to private-sector
organisations in March 2002. According to Pant, as
of 31 January 2006, 29 firms excluding commercial
banks are operating money-transfer businesses, and
that a letter of intent has been granted to 69 other
firms to begin money-transfer businesses.
According to Pradyman Pokharel, the head of
business development at Nabil Bank, a premier
Nepali Bank, financial institutions that were playing
catch up to the Hundi networks have finally levelled
the playing field. Money has traditionally been
transferred between financial institutions through the
Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
Telecommunication (SWIFT) system established in the
early 1970s. SWIFT transactions work through a series
of language-independent data-code messages, piped
through multinational banks like Citibank, Bank of
America and Credit Suisse. Here, a labourer in one
country gives his money to a bank, which then informs
a third-party bank, usually a major US
or European bank. The third-party bank
then transfers an amount equal to the
deposit from the first bank to a second
and informs the second bank of the
deposit. The SWIFT network is
exclusively for established financial
institutes and has a network of 7400 user
banks in 199 countries worldwide. Due
to its extended network and the time
differentials between member banks, the
transaction can take anywhere from one
to four days to process.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Nepali workers at the embassy in Malaysia
The other formal channels used by workers
sending remittances are retail transfer systems like
Western Union, MoneyGram and IME. According to
Pralad Neaupane of Annapurna Travels and Tours
in Kathmandu, a Western Union agent, these
systems offer a match for the hundi networks. All
transactions are conducted digitally, Neaupane says,
allowing these systems to rival the speed and
efficiency of the informal sector. After receiving a
labourer's money in one country, a retail transfer
agent enters the transaction into the network; in a
matter of hours, the money is available at a company
agent in the receiving country. With five principle
agents in Nepal, Western Union is the largest money-
transfer system in the country. Business has been so
lucrative that a Nepali firm, IME, established in May
2000 as a foreign-currency exchanger, decided in
2002 to begin repatriating the income of Nepali
workers in Malaysia.
One of the largest advantages the hundi networks
in Nepal have long held over the formal sector has
been their access and reach into rural areas. In May
2005, Nabil Bank made an agreement with the
Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) to act as sub-
agents for Western Union in rural Nepal. With over
400 branches in rural Nepal, the ADB's extensive
coverage dramatically increases the formal sector's
reach and accessibility. Further, to encourage
migrant workers to use these official channels, Nabil
Bank now allows for special remittance accounts -
available only to those who send or receive
remittance transfers, and which can be opened for
as little as one rupee. According to those working
within the formal sector, the biggest reason that
people are still using informal remittance methods
is simply a lack of awareness. Often, migrant workers
have never dealt with financial institutions; they do
not have accounts in them, and are unaware as to
how they work. Banks believe they are now
succeeding in attracting more workers partially
due to awareness and marketing campaigns,
but also due to the perceived unreliability of the
hundi networks.
Due to the lack of established hundi networks in
the Middle East, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of
remittances are coming through formal channels.
This dynamic has also been increased in Malaysia,
due to the presence and recognition in that country
of Western Union and IME; the latter alone boasts a
customer base of over 120,000 Nepali workers in
Malaysia. Since 1999, up to forty percent more
workers were using the formal sector in 2003/04.
Bhuwanesh Pant emphasises that in order to
encourage local financial institutes to take on the
remittance business, Nepal Rastra Bank provides 15
paisa per US dollar as commission to licensed
private firms, in addition to the prevailing buying
rate. With Western Union taking 50 percent of the
profits in each transaction, keeping this profit in
Nepal is a lucrative deal for both Nepali
businesses and the country's economy. Along with
IME, the Himalayan Bank has also started its own
transfer system.
Larger effect
With a steady increase in Nepali migrant workers
and a corresponding increase in remittances, Nepal
Rastra Bank has come to realise the value of both
remittance and a more liberal monetary policy. Part
of the reason this importance remained hidden for
so long was simply due to the inherent difficulty in
documenting the process. During the 1990s, the
Rastra Bank maintained tight control on foreign
currency circulation; this increased the demand for
foreign currency and led to a rampant black market
for these currencies. As such, both the remitter and
operator stood to gain by carrying out transactions
at a rate higher than the official exchange. In an
attempt to divert more remittance-flow through
official channels, the Rastra Bank loosened its
monetary policy in 2002 by granting manpower
agencies the right to open foreign-currency accounts
in commercial Nepali banks. It also gradually
slackened its grip on foreign currency supplies for
Nepali citizens leaving the country. This has reduced
the importance of the foreign-currency black market
and has had a positive effect in bringing more
remittances through formal channels.
"Remittances can generate a beneficial impact on
the economy through various channels, such as
savings, investment, growth, consumption and
income distribution," Pant explains. "Remittances
have relaxed the foreign-exchange constraints of the
country and strengthened its balance of payments
position." Bringing more remittance money through
formal channels is critical, as there is no actual flow
of currency through informal channels. There is,
however, more money being circulated in the
receiving country, but without any increase in foreign
reserves to balance it out. Depending on the volume,
this increase in cash circulation without an increase
in foreign reserves can cause inflation. Economists
also point out that remittance money can create real-
estate bubbles and tends to prop up overvalued
exchange rates. Furthermore, when the informal
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
sector is utilised, any direct or indirect tax
revenues the government would gain from these
transactions are lost.
The informal sector can never be entirely
eliminated. With the majority of those working in
India using informal channels or coming home
seasonally with their earnings, formalising money
transfers from India will remain extremelv difficult.
However, considerable provisions can be made to
formalise money from other countries; considering
their volume, these would lead to a greater impact.
Although disrupting the informal channels would
have an adverse effect on those who rely on hundi
networks for their income, formalising money
transfers will benefit the country in the long run
through investments and the multiplier effect.
The number of Nepali households receiving
remittances has increased from 23 to 53 percent
between 1995 and 2004. The amount received per
household has also gone up from NPR 15,000 to NPR
35,000 per year. Remittances have been crucial in
reducing poverty levels in rural Nepal, and a
significant amount of this money is invested in
educating the children of the remitter. Shankar
Sharma, vice-chair of Nepal's National Planning
Commission, suggests that the reduction in poverty
in Nepal from 42 to 31 percent between 1995 and
2004 was a direct result of remittance flows to the
poorest sections of society. Experts still argue,
however, that remittance money only supports direct
consumption - that very little is actually diverted to
development-oriented, job-creating investments. But
a study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development
Studies claims that remittances in Bangladesh have
had a multiplier effect of 3.3 on GNP, 2.8 on
consumption, and 0.4 on investments. An
International Labour Organisation (ILO) report in
1999 also suggests that micro-level social
development projects could steer remittances towards
more development-oriented channels, thereby
making their effects even more profound.
informal Integration
The advantage of migrant workers goes beyond the
immediate monetary gains. Some scholars suggest
that returning migrants increase social capital
through exposure to new technology, ideas,
languages and people, and produce intangible but
important benefits to societies. A 1999 World Bank
report further suggests that remittances might
actually be more effective than direct foreign aid. This
is a stance supported by many others: given the
opportunity to earn, a worker will utilise the money
he has in the most beneficial way within his means.
Remittance money represents the most essential of
family values: hard work, thrift, sacrifice and hope
for a better future - values that need to be reinforced
and propounded. However, social mobilisation and
awareness are necessary requisites for effective use
of  remittance   money.   A  2002  ILO   report  on
Maximising Remittances for Development recommended
that governments and international organisations
enhance coordination and implement innovative
micro-credit programs and incentives to increase
migrants' investments in local community-
development projects. Matching funds for migrant
investments and creating migrant investment funds
might be best suited to Nepal.
Stopping migration is neither feasible nor
desirable. The government instead needs to play a
supporting role for those seeking foreign employment
and for those migrants seeking to invest in their
homelands. In a World Bank paper, economist David
Ellerman wrote on what development could mean
for a community receiving remittance: "In a
community now largely dependent on income from
migrant remittances, development would mean
building local enterprises that would not live off
remittances directly or indirectly (via the multiplier)
so that local jobs could be sustained without
continuing migration and remittances." Similarly, in
a 2005 report for the International Peace Research
Institute, researcher Jorgen Carling claims that if most
of today's remittances are spent on consumption,
future consumption will need future remittances. He
outlines a simple model to direct some of today's
remittances into investments and savings to finance
future consumption. In line with the ILO report, he
claims that community development is only possible
through collective investments with the government
and other development-oriented organisations.
The task for Nepal therefore remains two-fold.
First, the government needs to take a more proactive
role in securing the safety and rights of its citizens
who go abroad to find work. Kathmandu needs to
face the economic reality of the country and realise
that it cannot currently produce enough jobs; the
government needs to find and research markets where
Nepali workers can work. Upon finding such
opportune markets, work needs to be done to protect
workers internally from exploitative manpower
agencies, as well ais to take on the burden of
increasing awareness of their rights among the
migrating population. Second, the government must
ensure that the money the workers earn reaches the
right places. A standardised transfer system would
allow workers to directly realise the advantages of
their work, while simultaneously protecting them
from an unreliable informal sector. Once such a
structured system is in place, the government could
turn to ensuring that labourers' monies are being
directed to processes that can stimulate economic
development and growth, instead of being used to
purchase fixed assets, as is currently taking place.
The government could also consider opening a
pension fund for workers using formal transfer
methods, by deducting a small percentage from each
transfer. In wavs, not only can Nepali remittance
revenue be spread throughout the country, but so too
can their benefits.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 I Essay
Gandhi in the grip   violence
by | Gopalkrishna Gandhi
There is almost a practice with us, of putting our
good and great, including our unorthodox
reformers, on a pedestal, enshrining them, and
thereby creating new orthodoxies. In India,
iconoclasts become icons themselves and idol-
breakers become idols. Atheists have temple-like
shrines built to them, non-conformists want
conformism among their followers, dissenters seek
assenters. As a people .we take to praising
when appreciation would do, adulating, deifying
and worshipping when honest, sincere
acknowledgement is all that is needed. Cults are
wrong; they obscure the human being in the aura
of veneration.
Among those who have suffered iconisation is
Gandhi. While he will always be hailed the world
over as 'Mahatma Gandhi', the fact remains that he
was never comfortable with that description. And, in
Bombay in 1921 when he was greeted by crowds
comprising both Hindus and Muslims with 'Mahatma
Gandhi ki jai', he said the word 'Mahatma' grated on
his ears for the very same crowd had been violent,
looting and humiliating the microscopically minority
communities - Parsis, Eurasians - for not joining the
Congress-led boycott of the Prince of Wales and had
even killed some policemen on duty. "I must refuse
to eat or drink anything but water till the Hindus
and Mussalmans of Bombay have made peace with
the Parsis, Christians and Jews," he said. Boycotting
the Prince of Wales was a political duty. But turning
that boycott into violent action aimed at vulnerable
innocents was despicable.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man who felt,
who agonised, who could be angry and enraged, who
could err but never lie, was infinitely more real than
the idolised and logo-ised Mahatma. Infinitely more
than the one we see in statues, on stamps and -
incongruously for an anasakta with a revulsion for
Mammon - imprinted on currency notes. Gandhi is
farthest from the thoughts and deeds of economic
offenders - who personify a kind of aggression - but
he lies in stack upon stack of notes undisclosed in
the vaults of those offenders.
The receiving end
Let me share some instances - in Gandhi's own
in the Ashutosh
Moo keriee Memorial
Oration delivered in
Calcutta on 4 July
2005, the Governor
of West Bengal and
grandson of
Karamchand Gandhi
bureaucrat and
thinker-spoke on
the Manama's
experience at the
giving and receiving
end of violence.
words - when he was at the giving end of physical
force - yes! at the giving end, like any unredeemed
mortal might be.
Sheikh Mehtab was three years older than Gandhi.
This swashbuckling childhood friend from Rajkot
had introduced teenaged Mohandas to smoking, to
meat and even tried taking him to a brothel. Mehtab
was, to put it bluntly, unworthy of the future
Mahatma's friendship but the friendship was
retained. Two years after he arrived in South Africa,
Gandhi invited Mehtab to join him there and stay in
the Gandhi household, an opportunity that was
readily seized by Mehtab until one day...
Durban, 1895
"I saw it all. I knocked at the door. No reply! I knocked
heavily so as to make the very walls shake. The door was
opened. I saw a prostitute inside. 1 asked her to leave the
house, never to return".
MKG (turning to Mehtab): Is this how you reauit my
trust in you? From this moment I cease to have anything
to do with you. I have been thoroughly deceived and have
made a fool of myself. You cannot stay here any more ...
(Reconstructed from Pyarelal's Malmtma Gandhi: Early
Phase, p 492-493.)
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Kasturba and Mohandas were, in his memorable
description, 'a couple out of the ordinary'. But
not because they were similar-minded. Gandhi
has recorded:
Durban, 1898
When 1 was practicing in Durban, my office clerks often
here from the rest of us who have used or do use force
in one form or the other when outraged, disdained or
insubordinated by those we feel we are somehow in
charge of. And it is significant that it is not Mehtab,
or Kasturba, or Schlesin who have complained to the
world about their experience, lt is Gandhi himself
who has recorded the incidents as being part of those
stayed with me ... One ofthe clerks was a Christian, bom of  experiments which made up the sum-total of his
panchama parents.
The house was built after the Western model and the
rooms rightly had no outlets for dirty water. Each room
had therefore chamber-pots. Rather than have these cleaned
by a servant or a sweeper, my wife or 1 attended to them.
Tlie clerks who made themselves completely at home woidd
naturally clean their own pots, but the Christian clerk was
a newcomer, and it was our duty to attend to his bedroom.
My wife managed the pots of the others, but to clean those
used by one who had been a panchama seemed to her to be
the limit, and we fell out. She could not bear
the pots being cleaned by me, neither did she
like doing it herself. Even today I can recall
the picture of her chiding me, her eyes red
with anger, and pearl drops streaming down
her cheeks, as she descended the ladder, pot in
hand...I was far from being satisfied by her
merely carrying the pot. 1 would (also) have her do it
cheerfully. So I said, raising my voice: I will not stand this
nonsense in my house.
The words pierced her like an arrow.
She shouted back: Keep your house to yourself and let
me go. I forgot myself. I caught her by the hand, dragged
the helpless woman to the gate, which was just opposite the
fast irom a
evolving personality.
Gandhi's openness to public scrutiny was unique,
perhaps unprecedented. It was startlingly different
from the concealment we see the world over today.
And his ability to see his errors - as in the episode
with Kasturba - and to own it in writing
was extraordinary.
His use of force on Mehtab was, in my view, not
only justifiable but in fact too lenient; on Kasturba,
totally and self-admittedly misapplied; on Sonja
Schlesin, disproportionate and of the kind
that, today, would attract civil ire. But in
each of these cases, it was used for
stressing a norm - abusing hospitality was
wrong, even by a friend; engendering caste
discrimination was wrong, even by the
person closest to you; smoking was
harmful, and to be curbed, especially in the young.
When Gandhi used the strength of his arms and of
his personality, it was because something affecting
his values was outraged. But lest it be thought that
Gandhi stood for the use of physical force in those or
similar circumstances, let me say that Gandhi, as he
evolved over the years, did not advocate it. He was
ladder, and proceeded to open it with the intention of  constantly making new tools for his satyagrahic
pushing her out. The tears were running down her cheeks
in torrents, and she cried: Have you no sense of shame?
Must you forget yourself? Where am I to go? 1 have no
parents or relatives here to harbour me ...
I put on a brave face, but was really ashamed and shut
the gate. If my wife could not leave me, neither could I
leave her.
(Autobiography, p 168-169)
Sonja Schlesin (1887-1956) joined Gandhi's
Johannesburg office as a steno-typist in 1903, and
served him and the cause of Indian South Africans
with rare zeal. But she was her own person.
Gandhi writes:
Johannesburg, 1903
Miss Schlesin in her folly started smoking a cigarette in
my presence. 1 slapped her and threw away the cigarette ...
(She) wrote to me afterwards saying that she would never
do such a thing again and that she had recognized my love.
(CWMG Vol LXXXIV, p 295)
In all these episodes we see Gandhi employing
force, the personal force of his mind-actuated body.
We see a Gandhi who is putting his hands to a use we
did not quite associate with him. He is no different
intervention, tools which used his sense of outrage
but sublimated it into something other than rage, into
a greater and more potent energy, a capacity to
turn the arrow of hurt into himself, to bear the
resultant pain and use that pain to transform people
and circumstances.
There were also episodes when Gandhi was at the
receiving end, in his own words, of course. The first
of these is celebrated.
31 May 1893
The train reached Maritzburg, the capital of Natal, at about
9 p.m. Beddings used to be provided at this station ... (an)
official came to me and said, 'Come along, you must go to
the van compartment.'
'But I have a first class ticket,' said I.
'That doesn't matter. You must leave this compartment,
or else I shall have to call a police constable to push
you out.'
'Yes, you may. 1 refuse to get out voluntarily.'
The constable came. He took me by the hand and pushed
me out. My luggage was also taken out. I refused to go to
the other compartment and the train steamed away ...
I began to think of my duty. Should I fight for my rights
or go back to India, or should I go on to Pretoria without
minding the insults, and return to India after finishing
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 the ease? It would be cowardice to run back to India without
fulfilling my obligation. The. hardship to which I was
subjected was superficial - only a symptom of the deep
disease of colour prejudice. I should try, if possible, to root
out the disease and suffer hardships in the process. Redress
for wrongs I should seek only to the extent that would be
necessary for the removal of the colour prejudice.
Sn / decided to take the next available tram lo Pretoria.
(Autobiography, p 67)
Let us consider Gandhi's reaction. He was
humiliated. He could have turned resentful,
glowered, vowed vengeance. But no. His thoughts
turned to a larger issue. He must root out the cause of
the disease which led to his experience. Root out the
cause. But the story continues. Let us follow
his journey.
1 June 1893
The train reached Cliarlestown in the morning. There was
no railway, in those days, between Cliarlestown and
Johannesburg, but only a stage-coach ...
At about three o'clock the coach reached Pardekoph.
Now the leader (the white man in charge of the coach)
desired to sit where I was seated, as he wanted to smoke and
possibly to have some fresh air. So he took a piece of dirty
sack-cloth from the driver, spread it on the footboard and,
addressing me, said, 'Sami, you sit on this, I want to sit
near the driver.' The insult was more than I could bear. In
fear and trembling I said to him, 'It was you who seated mc
here, though I should have been accommodated inside. I
put up with the insult. Now that you want to sit outside
and smoke, you would have me sit at your feet. I will not do
so, but I am prepared to sit inside'.
As I was struggling through these sentences, the man
came down upon me and began heavily to box my ears. He
seized ?ne by the arm and tried to drag me down. I clung to
the brass rails of the coachbox and was determined to keep
my hold even at the risk of breaking my wrist bones. The
passengers were witnessing the scene, - the man swearing
at me, dragging and belabouring me, and I remaining still.
He ivas strong and I was weak.
(Autobiography, p 68)
In an interview to Dr John Mott, an American
missionary, Harijan, December 1938, Gandhi said,
"My active non-violence began from that date."
The next episode, too, is known widely.
13 January 1897
Reuters' representative in England had sent a brief
cablegram to South Africa containing an exaggerated
summary of my speeches in India ... When Europeans in
Natal read the distorted summary they were greatly
exasperated against me ... Some youngsters recognized
me and shouted 'Gandhi, Gandhi' ... Then they pelted me
with stones, brickbats and rotten eggs. Someone snatched
away my turban, whilst others began to batter and kick me.
A burly fellow came up to me, slapped me in the face
and then kicked me. I was about to fall down unconscious
when 1 held on to the railings of a house nearby. I took
breath for a while and when the fainting was over, proceeded
on my way. But I remember well that even then my heart
did not arraign my assailants.
(Autobiography, p 117 and Satyagraha in
South Africa, p 54)
The following episode is not that well-known. It
relates to the time when, controversially, Gandhi
asked Indian South Africans to voluntarily register
as Asiatics with the government.
10 February 1908
Wlien at a tptarter to ten on Monday morning I set out
towards the Registration Office ...I did feel that there
might be an attack on me. In fact, I had spotted two of the
assailants near the office. They walked alongside of us. I
then became surer. But I decided that I should not, as I had
declared earlier, mind being assaulted Iry my own brethren.
Some way ahead, one ofthe men asked, "Where are you
all going?" ... "1 am going [to the Registration Office! to
give my finger-impressions. The others, too, will do the
same. If you want to give your thumb-impressions lonlyj,
you can do that." My only recollection of what followed is
that I received very severe blows.
I took severe blows on my left ribs. Even now I find
breathing difficult. My upper lip has a cut on one side. I
have a bruise above the left eye and a wound on the forehead.
In addition, there are minor injuries on my right hand and
left knee. I do not remember the manner of the assault, but
people say that I fell down unconscious with fhe first blow
which was delivered with a stick. Then my assailants struck
me with an iron pipe and a stick, and they also kicked me.
Thinking me dead, they stopped. I only remember having
been beaten up. I have an impression that, as the blows
started, I uttered the words He Rama/ ...
(Indian Opinion, 22.2.1908; CWMG Vot VIII, pp 93-94)
When I regained consciousness, I saw Mr. Doke bending
over me. 'How do you feel?' he asked me.
7 am all right,' J replied, 'but there is pain in the teeth
and the ribs. Where is Mir Alam?'
'He has been arrested along with the rest.'
'They should be released'.
(Satyagraha m South Africa, p 153-154)
And this following episode is hardly known at
all. It deals with a jail experience, the first for Gandhi.
I liad one further unpleasant experience in the Johannesburg
Gaol. In this gaol, there are two different kinds of wards.
One ward is for prisoners sentenced to hard labour. The
other is for prisoners who are called as witnesses and those
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
who have been sentenced to imprisonment in civil
proceedings. Prisoners sentenced to hard labour have no
right to go into this second ward ... I was told by the
warder thai there would be no harm in my using a
lavatory in the second ward. I therefore went to one ofthe
lavatories in this ward. At these lavatories, too, there is
usually a crowd. Moreover, the lavatories have open
access. Tliere are no doors. As soon as I had occupied one
of them, there came along a strong, heavily-built, fearful-
looking African prisoner. He asked me to get out and
started abusing me. I said 1 would leave very soon.
Instantly he lifted me up in his arms and threw me out.
Fortunately, 1 caught hold ofthe door-frame, ami saved
myself from a fall. I was not in the least frightened by
this. I smiled and walked away; but one or two Indian
prisoners who saw what had happened started weeping.
Since they could not offer any help in gaol, they felt
helpless and miserable.
(CWMG Vol IX, p 161)
The Calcutta last
Gandhi, it needs to be noted, was at the receiving
end in South Africa from men of all three
predominant sections - White, Black and - most
lethally - his own, Brown. In the three decades, from
1915 to 1947, during the Mahatma's epic struggle
in India, attempts were made on his life, but he did
not suffer direct bodily injury. But here, in the city of
Kolkata, a fortnight after India became free, violence
came to his very doorstep. Riots had torn the city
apart. A mOb of youths brought on 31 August, 1947,
to his Beliaghata lodgings a bandaged man and
said he had been attacked by some Muslims.
Gandhi writes : This was about 10 p.m. Calcutta
time. They began to shout at the top of their voices. My
sleep was disturbed but I tried to lie quiet, not knowing
what was happening. I heard the window-panes being
smashed. I had on either side of me two very brave girls.
They would not sleep but without my knowledge, for my
eyes were closed, they went among the small crowd and
tried to pacify them. Thank Cod, the crowd did not do
any harm to them. The old Muslim lady in the house
endearingly called Bi Amma and a young Muslim stood
near my matting, I suppose, to protect me from harm.
The noise continued to swell. Some had entered the
central hall, and began to knock open the many doors. I
felt that I must get up and face the angry crowd. I stood at
the threshold of one of the doors. Friendly faces
surrounded me and would not let me move forward. My
vow of silence admitted of my breaking it on many
occasions and I broke it and began to appeal to the angry
young men to be quiet. I asked the Bengali grandniece-
in-law to translate my few words into Bengali. All to no
purpose. Their ears were closed against reason.
1 clasped my hands in the Hindu fashion. Nothing
doing. More window-panes began to crack. The friendly
ones in the crowd tried to pacify the crowd. There were
police officers. Be it said to their credit that they did not
try to exercise authority. They too clasped their hands in
appeal. A lathi blow missed me and everybody round
me. A brick aimed at me hurt a Muslim friend standing
by. The two girls would not leave me and held on to me to
the last. Meanwhile the Police Superintendent and his
officers came in. They too did not use force. Thei/ appealed
to me to retire. Then there was chance of their stilling the
young men. After a time the crowd melted.
This led Gandhi to start his historic Calcutta fast.
He did not call it 'a fast unto death'. He simply said
"I therefore begin fasting from 8.15 p.m. tonight to
end only if and when sanity returns to Calcutta".
How his fast had an electrifying effect on the city,
bringing calm to commotion, sanity to mayhem is
well-known. The fast which began at 8.15 p.m. on 1
September began almost at once to have affect.
Hindus and Muslims met and together took out
marches for peace. Remarkably, about 500 members
of. the North Calcutta police force, including Britons
and Anglo-Indians, themselves went on a 24-hour
sympathy fast while remaining on duty. A Peace
Brigade, or Shanti Sena, came into being, comprising
young men undertaking, at great risk to their lives,
to personally intervene in clashes.
A professor later recalled that university students
came up and said if anybody had to suffer for the
continued killing and betrayal in the city, it was not
Gandhiji. Rammanohar Lohia, the Socialist leader,
brought to the fasting Gandhi a group of Hindu
youths who admitted to complicity in the violence
and proceeded to surrender a small arsenal of arms.
Many, including the then-Governor had said the
riots were the work of goondas and Gandhi should
not fast against goondas. Now a gang of goondas
followed and asked for "whatever penalty you may
impose," only "you should now end your fast."
Gandhi asked them to go "immediately among the
Muslims and assure them full protection."
At 6 pm on 4 September a deputation of Hindu
Mahasabha, Muslim League and Sikh leaders came,
led by Suhrawardy, whose name will ever be linked
with the Great Calcutta Killing of August 1946, to
Beliaghata. Give up your fast, they pleaded. Gandhi
asked them if they would risk their lives to prevent
a recurrence of communal killings. The deputation
fell silent, withdrew to another room, conferred, and
returned to say yes, they would. After reminding
them that "above all, there is God, our witness,"
Gandhi broke his fast, which had lasted 73 hours.
Not forgetting to thank the people of Calcutta and
acknowledge the extraordinary martyrdom of two
young men - Sachin Mitra, killed on 1 September
while defending Muslims, and Smritish Banerjee -
killed on 3 September while protecting a peace
procession - Gandhi boarded, on 7 September, the
train that took him to Delhi. As the train steamed,
Suhrawardv sobbed like a child. He was grateful -
as every resident of Calcutta was - to Gandhi for
having saved Calcutta from disaster, and to God
for enabling Gandhi to leave this city alive.
Himal Southasian ] March-April 2006
 What happened subsequently in Delhi, we all know.
To quote from Rajmohan Gandhi's masterly account
of it (The Good Boatman, Viking, 1996):
Gandhi stood up to go to the southern end of the Birla
House grounds where he had held prayers every evening
since his arrival in Delhi the previous September. Hurrying
his feet into his chappals, he placed his hands on the
shoulders of Abha, who was on his right, and Manu, to his
left, and advanced for the prayers about 170 yards away.
'Your watch must feel very neglected. You would not
look at it,' Abha said to Gandhi as he quickened their pace.
'Why should 1 when I have two timekeepers?' he replied.
'But you don't look at the timekeepers either,' said one of
the girls. Gandhi laughed but said, 'It is your fault that I
am ten minutes late. It is the duty of nurses to carry on
their work even if God himself should be present there. If it
is time to give medicine to a patient and you hesitate, the
poor patient may die. I hate it if I am late for prayers even
by a minute,'
With this the three and those walking behind them fell
into complete silence, for they had reached the five curved
steps that gently led up to the open prayer
ground. It was Gandhi's stipidation that
small talk and laughter had to cease, and
all thoughts turn to their sacred purpose,
before they put their feet on the
prayer site.
Behind their backs the winter sun was
setting. A 32-yard path lay between the
steps and the platform where Gandhi used
to sit for the prayers. The women and men
who had come for the prayers lined the
path on both sides. Removing his hands
from the shoulders of the girls, Gandhi
brought them together to acknowledge the greetings of the
From the side to the left of Gandhi, Nathuram Godse of
Pune roughly elbowed his way towards him. Godse had
been on the scene ten days earlier for the abortive attempt
to kill Gandhi, had slipped away, travelled to Bombay,
and returned with a fresh plan of assassination. Thinking
that Godse intended to touch Gandhi's feet, Manu asked
Godse not to interrupt Gandhi, added that they were late
already, and tried to thrust back Godse's hand.
Godse violently pushed Manu aside, causing the Book
of Ashram Prayer Songs and Gandhi's rosary that she
was carrying to fall to the ground. As she bent down to
pick the things up, Godse planted himself in front of Gandhi,
pulled out a pistol and fired three shots in rapid succession,
one into Gandhi's stomach and two into his chest.
The sound 'Rama' escaped twice from Gandhi's throat,
crimson spread across his white clothes, the hands raised
in the gesture or greeting which was also the gesture of
prayer and of goodwill dropped down, and the limp body
sank softly to the ground. As he fell, Abha caught Gandhi's
head in her hands and sat down with it...
A haste to pray. A hush on entering holy ground. A
sense ofthe Eternal. Lines of fellow-worshippers. A gesture
The final walk
of goodwill. Rude elbows. A smell of attack. The ring of
three bullets. 'God! God!' Possibly a silent, 'God! Forgive
them.' Loving hands underneath. Earth, moisture, grass.
The open sky. Rays from the dipping sun. A perfect death.
The satyagrahic method
Facing violence, dealing with violence in his own
life, and in the world around him and becoming, from
a barrister to a Mahatma, and then Father of the
Nation, he was and remained Mohandas. Human as
human can be. Given to anger, even to rage, he strove
to rein that trait in. But more, to sublimate it. Aware
that fasting had a moral impact, he undertook it to
further public causes, never a personal grievance. And
if he resorted to a fast for a non-public end, it was for
his own self-purification.
Gandhi's practice of the satyagrahic method is
often used by agitating groups today. When I pointed
out to some youths recently the difference between
Gandhi's method and theirs, the earnest young men
said, "Ours was not a fast, Sir; it was a hunger-strike."
I appreciated their frankness. What distinguishes a
fast from a hunger-strike? I put this
apparent divergence to the Sarvodaya
leader, Narayan Desai, for elucidation.
Narayanbhai said the following in
Hindi (I quote from memory): "The
point is a fine one. A fast is meant to
change the heart-mind of the other side,
and is undertaken as a final resort after
all other steps have been exhausted. It
is persuasive, rather than coercive and
does not permit even a trace of enmity
towards the person or persons at
whom it is directed. A hunger-strike is
meant to obtain a favourable decision in the course
of a countdown."
"The way of peace is the way of truth," Gandhi
had once said. The same can be said of justice, of
equity. The end must be right and just; in other words,
true. And so must the means. If either - ends or means
- are flawed, then honest reparation can unflaw them.
The Gandhian thing to do, as I see it, would be for
both sides to a dispute to own up errors of aim or
method and proceed without recrimination or
suspicion towards a solution, force or coercion being
eschewed by both.
Today the issues that confront us in India are
complex. Truth is not one glowing piece of crystal; if
it were, our choice would have been easy. In South
Africa, for Gandhi, the problem was clear: racism was
wrong; it was evil. Even when fighting the British
Raj, the broad issue at least was clear. Today, we
grope in a vast zone of grey. India is free; it is a
democracy with institutions that are available for
redressing public and private grievances - there is
the judiciary, so well-respected, and the media so free
and vibrant. And yet, we see movements,
underground and on the streets, agitations, protests,
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 satyagrahas. At one level, this is the hallmark of an
open society. At another, does it show some other
problem? Are we as a society and a polity equal to the
volume of aspirations, the quantum of grievances, the
mass of mutually conflicting human sentiments that
are spiralling around us? Or are our preoccupations
with limited goaks, narrow aims, restricted affinities,
blinding us to the larger human conditions in India?
Enforcers of law and order are under great pressure;
they have a strong sense of decorum and discipline.
But civil society is also under pressure - the pressure
of its burgeoning needs; it has a sense of hurt, many
hurts. Both, or either, may go beyond optimal lines of
action and re-action. Both or either may need to
introspect. These are the fracturings of truth. Gandhi
once said with an economy of words he was master
of: "Those that seek justice must come with clean
hands." No sooner is justice sought today than there
arises, at once, a demand for another counter-justice.
There is no dearth of hands raised in protest. But how
clean are those hands?
Naxalite violence saw, among other things, Gandhi
statues and pictures being defaced in many parts of
India, not just Bengal. This is not surprising. If, instead
of iconising Gandhi, those who wanted to follow his
path had addressed the problems of India's
immiserated peasantry, perhaps Naxalism would not
have arisen - at least not in the virulent form it did.
And it must be said here that, as an individual,
Jayaprakash Narayan tried tire most in this respect.
Gandhi took the law into his own hands. So did
Naxalites - and do. But one should not miss the
difference: Gandhi's hands were unsullied by
blood - innocent or guilty. They were ready to
clasp other hands in friendship, understanding,
accommodation. And they were never raised violently
against the enforcers of the law, even in self-defence.
There are today many individuals and
organisations belonging to what is called the 'Left'.
Many of these see themselves as standing to the Left of
our main Communist Parties, the CPI(M) and the CPI.
But there is one position even to the left of these, beyond
which there can be no further Left. And that is the
'truth'. That is not a point on a latitudinal scale, but a
position that can be seen and reached from anywhere
or everywhere - north or south, left or right.
Current concerns
The dissolution of violence - the horrendous asuric
violence of 1947 in the city of Calcutta - was by the
action of one man who 'took charge' without a single
political agenda to serve, a personal score to settle or
an ego to nurse. "Gandhiji has achieved many things,"
Governor Chakravarti Rajagopalachari had said on 5
September 1947, "but in my considered opinion there
has been nothing, not even independence, which is so
truly wonderful as his victory over evil in Calcutta."
There are seven issues in which, today, I believe
Gandhi would have intervened non-violently. These
are (1) quelling communal violence when and where
it occurs; (2) furthering dialogue with Pakistan; (3)
tackling extremist violence; (4) protecting women's
rights and honour as a national priority; (5)
addressing looming ecological crises, particularly over
water; (6) countering economic offences against the
poor; and (7) opposing commercialism and
corruption. His protest would not only have been
totally non-violent, but would have warded off all co-
opters. And it would have had no personal ego
driving it.
The absence of ego, but, equally, the absence of false
modesty, in Gandhi was beautifully demonstrated
when he declined to deliver the Kamala Lecture
endowed by Sir Asutosh in 1928, saying he did not
have the credentials for it. He wrote, from the
Sabarmati Ashram on 1 May 1928, to Dr B C Roy who
had extended the invitation to him:
Dear Dr. Bidhan,
Your letter flatters me, but I must not succumb to my pride.
Apart from the fact that as a non-co-operator I may have
nothing to do with the University that is in any way
connected with Government, 1 do not consider myself to be
a fit and proper person to deliver Kamala lectures. I do not
possess the literary attainment which Sir Ashutosh
undoubtedly contemplated for the lecturers.
You are asking me to shoulder a responsibility which
my shoulders cannot bear. I am keeping fairly fit. I am
biding my time and you will find me leading the country
in the field of politics when the country is ready. 1 have no
false modesty about me. I am undoubtedly a politician in
my own way, and 1 have a scheme for the country's freedom.
But my time is not yet and may never come to me in this
life. If it does not, 1 shall not shed a single tear. We are all in
the hands of God. I therefore await His guidance.
"My time is not yet". What a remarkable utterance
that is! Few know of that letter to a great son of Bengal
in the context of the Kamala Lectures. When Gandhi
wrote that letter, Beliaghata was 20 years away,
freedom was 20 years away. His time did arrive in
Calcutta in 1947. And then in Delhi. He had said,
had he not, that he would oppose what he called the
"vivisection" of India with his life. He wanted to die
with the dying in that communal frenzy, if he could
not stop it. aAnd so, with the words "I hate it if I am
late," he rushed to join those who had died -
innocents, all of them.
But his real time is yet to come, in terms of a national
consensus on ends and means. "Gandhi in the Grip
of Violence", is how I have titled this oration. But in
the end it was violence that came into Gandhi's grip.
He will always be ahead of us, ahead of the violence
in and around us, there, on the margent of truth, where
North and South, Left and Right converge and a pure
light alone remains.
Tagore's great song has the line, jodi ah na dhare ...
Gandhi has held out that alo for all time to light the
path for the true. A
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
The ambivilance about Gandhi
Southasia's difficulties with Gandhi's legacy
by | Ashis Nandy
Nobody calls Gautam Buddha a Nepali, even though
he was born at Lumbini in Nepal. If the Buddha
seems too august or distant, neither is
Rabindranath Tagore's citizenship taken very seriously.
If it were, there would have been at least some scattered
demands for changing the Bangladeshi national anthem,
now that the country has both a well-developed Muslim
nationalism and a budding fundamentalist movement.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's case is different.
Although much of the rest of the world may not
emphasise his Indian origins, many Southasians do -
and they do so in a particular fashion.
Southasians constantly offset his ideas
against his political practices, which they
find contadminated by his Indian-ness and
Hinduism, and find him wanting. After
Gandhi's assassination, no less than
Albert Einstein said that future
generations would find it hard to believe
that such a person had walked the earth.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, however,
mourned his death only as that of a great
Hindu leader. Parts of Southasia are more
ambivalent towards Gandhi than even the
modern West - his avowed target - has
ever been.
This ambivalence has to do not only
with Gandhi's politics, but also with the
fact that he was a political figure. In recent
times, Southasians have come to believe
that the term ethical politics is an oxymoron;
that politicians talking about ethics have
to be either hypocrites, romantic
visionaries, or irrelevant to the 'real' stuff
of politics. When applied to the likes of
Gandhi, in India too (despite its
pretensions to the contrary) this belief is certainly not
confined to a small section of Hindu nationalists or
xenophobes: it includes a large number of radicals,
liberals and globalisers. Gandhi tried to disinherit and
decentre the middle class; the memory of that still hurts.
Southasia has lost something in the process. I am not
a Gandhian, but as a psychologist and political analyst,
I have worked off-and-on with Gandhian principles for
many years. It has paid me rich dividends. I did not
come to Gandhi willingly. Like most Bengalis, I
maintained a healthy distance, and my discomfort with
him was tinged with a touch of hostility. This unease
was aggravated by my parents' admiration for Gandhi:
in my childhood, Gandhi represented authority. How
many other Southasians may have a similar story?
gandhism-not as
an ideology, but as
a reasonably well-
normative position
in public life, and a
particular kind of
social vision-is
greater than
The reluctant way
Like many others, I was pushed towards the maverick
politician and indigestible thinker during the
Emergency of 1975-77, when Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi suspended civil liberties. While looking for
clues to political authoritarianism in India (which I
thought was not possible), I discovered in Gandhi a
thinker who had dared to defy some of the basic tenets
of the worldview that had powered the European
Enlightenment and modernity - as well as their
wholesale dealers and retailers in Asia and Africa. This
opened up for me a number of pathways
to what I can only call dissenting visions
and baselines for political and
social criticism. Gandhi was never
politically and academically correct; he
also demanded the right, on behalf of
the Southern hemisphere, to envision
and to experiment with alternative
human futures.
I never became a Gandhian. Indeed,
as I moved into new studies and got more
deeply entangled with public concerns
and social movements, I became
increasingly convinced that my earlier
discomfort with Gandhi was fully
justified. He was not only a negation of
the core tenets of Southasian modernity
and the region's contemporary elite; he
also invited everyone living with the
certitudes of middle-class life in a
modem Southasian metropolis to set up
an anti-self as a critique and a warning.
At every step, he reminded me of the
German philosopher Theodor Adorno's
belief that one moves closer to truth
when one's intellectual work hurts one's own interests
and those of one's class.
Around that same time, I also concluded that any
thinker operating from within Southasia is doubly
handicapped. Southasian thinkers not only have the
disadvantage of location, but are at all times expected
to be fully correct, both politically and academically.
People wonder, "If he is really that good, why is he
working in Nepal, rather than at Harvard or Oxford or
in the United Nations?" When dealing with a
Southasian activist-scholar, they also refuse to separate
the wheat from the chaff. In Southasia, Plato gets away
with his blatant advocacy for buggery of children;
Emmanuel Kant and Karl Marx, with their open and
unalloyed racism; and Milton, with child abuse. The
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 public, after all, has other aspects of these works upon
which they can concentrate. This cannot happen in the
case of a Southasian activist-scholar, however, because
the aim is ultimately to disvalue his or her contributions.
Beyond the trees
It is from a vantage point marked out by these
considerations that I enunciate the following
propositions, for the sakes of those young Southasians
who have kept away from Gandhi on the grounds of his
specific policy choices and political acts, or for his
occasionally puritanical personal life.
Gandhism - not as an ideology, but as a reasonably
well-integrated normative position in public life, and a
particular kind of social vision - is greater than Gandhi
the man. Gandhi himself would have happily admitted
this: he believed that the ideas he espoused, particularly
non-violence, were as old as the hills.
Nor was Gandhi a perfect Gandhian; it was not
possible for him to be so. He was an active politician, a
fact that he never forgot. Indeed, he could be credited
with creating both the centrality of politics in British
India, by taking mass politics to the villages,
and with establishing militant non-violence
as a viable global political force. This
emphasis on politics guaranteed that he
would make mistakes. If politics is the art
of the possible rather than a sure science,
assessments of the range of those
possibilities can at times go drastically
wrong. Gandhi himself discussed some of
his blunders, and I am sure that future
generations will talk about many others.
However, this also means that Gandhi
cannot be shelved as a dreamy-eyed
spiritual leader who occasionally strayed
into public life as a hobby or pastime. That
is why his name is still invoked, in admiration and in
hatred, nearly sixty years after his death. I cannot resist
the temptation of citing once again what was arguably
the finest obituary of him - not the one by Albert
Einstein, but the one by the British economic historian
Arnold Toynbee. After Gandhi, Toynbee wrote,
humankind would expect its prophets to live in the slum
of politics. I remember I first heard that from the poet
Umashankar Joslvi, who used the quote to explain to the
philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi that saints were a dime
a dozen in Southasia. Gandhi's ability to politically
empower his vision was what was so unique, and which
ensured the long-term survival of his ideas.
Beyond the borders
That vision transcends fhe boundaries of the nation state
called India. That is why the three greatest Gandhians
today are neither Indians nor Hindus: Nelson Mandela,
Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama. Incidentally, the
first two of these started as radical social democrats. They
turned to Gandhi only after people started referring to
their politics as Gandhian. A combination of long-term
moral vision and practical politics brought them to
That is why the
three greatest
gandhians today
are neither
Indians nor
Hindus: Nelson
Mandela, Aung
San Suu Kyi and
the Dalai Lama.
G.andhi. The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, does not
have to call himself a Gandhian, even though he says
that Gandhi has inspired him ever since he was a small
boy in Tibet. Like Gandhi's, his life is his message,
and that message happens to be Gandhian.
In any case, I do not see the reason to impute to
Gandhi superhuman visionary powers, nor a saintly
status. Doing so would only make him less relevant
and accessible to contemporary times by elevating
him beyond mundane, day-to-day politics and
everyday life. That is the line the Indian state has
already taken. It has hijacked him and turned him
into an official symbol and a totem of the Indian state
- 'the father of the nation', as the officialese goes. The
less the Indian state has to do with Gandhi and his
ideas, the more it becomes a conventional, hard, hyper-
masculine nation state, by rejecting one-by-one all of
the elements of Gandhian thought. In so doing, the
more it is forced to talk of the beautiful legacy of the
nation's 'father'.
That thousands of political and social activists have
begun to walk the path of Gandhi - while neither
knowing the man, nor claiming to be
Gandhians - is a tribute to a person who
rejected the hyper-individualist and
consumerist certitudes of our times.
Virtually every major modern dissenting
movement has drawn inspiration from
Gandhi. The movements for environment,
alternative science and technology, eco-
feminism, human rights, anti-
consumerism, and resistance to
nuclearism and globalisation - they have
all directly or indirectly, knowingly or
unwittingly, drawn upon Gandhi's legacy.
I am told that 14 states in the world
today do not have armies. Not that they
have all turned Gandhian, of course - few would likely
even know Gandhi's famous line that armed
nationalism is no different than imperialism. Gandhi's
political vision, after all, was not a by-product of
British liberalism and its tacit theory of colonialism-
with-a-humane-face. Rather, it was forged in the
crucible of an undeniably racist regime - the
authoritarian police-state called South .Africa. Gandhi's
vision bears the imprint of its origins.
Does militant non-violence work in situations
where one confronts an antagonist or combatant who
is completely dehumanised, who can only laugh at
such 'comical', 'effeminate', 'impractical' counter-
modernist protest movements? Can it work when one
of the parties to a conflict considers the other
infrahuman, no different from a lifeless object, to be
manipulated, exploited or kicked around? There can
be no final answer to this question. However, militant
non-violence did work the one time that it was tried
in Nazi Germany. Nathan Stolzfus writes about the
Rosenstrasse protest in Resistance of the. Heart - a book
that does not mention Gandhi even once. He would
have liked that.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 Souihasiasphere by CK ial
The primacy of POLITICS
The solution, as the Mahatma suggested, lies in recognising fhe primacy of
religion and then subjecting it to the supremacy of politics.
Though (we) know the reality of heaven;
As an emotional diversion,
It's an alluring notion.
For a poet, Mirza Ghalib was remarkably pragmatic.
He knew that in the realm of faith, fact and fiction
were inextricably intertwined. To be rigorously
religious, a person must begin by suspending
disbelief. So what if the heaven is merely a vision, a
believer must accept its authenticity in order to
endure everyday reality. But such is the power of
unreason that the faithful need not show patience
till the judgement day; he must become the police,
the prosecutor and the judge to make the impious
face the fire of hell. There is nothing else that can
explain the Muslim rage in the wake of the
blasphemous cartoons published by the rabidly
right-wing Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The. offending cartoons first appeared in
September 2005, but the full force of its reverberations
began to be felt only in February. The question to ask
is: why now? For the believers, it's never too late to
hit back, even though they are the ones to suffer most
in the process. Who did the protestors hurt in
Gwalior, Islamabad, Karachi, Srinagar, Lahore,
Lucknow and Peshawar? In an atmosphere so
charged with emotion, nobody dare ask such
questions, but they will continue to haunt the
conscience of the Muslims of Southasia for a long
time. But first things first: how many of tlie agitators
shouting "Death to West" knew about the state of
the Kingdom of Denmark?
The landmass of Denmark is smaller than Bhutan
or the state of Haryana. In terms of population, it is
half the size of Dhaka or Karachi. Of course, its
economic presence is much bigger, but that is of little
consequence to the Southasian public. Unlike
Norway, Denmark is not a Peace Superpower; and,
in absolute terms, it is not much of an aid-giver either.
The country is not a favourite destination of students
or job-seekers from Southasia. While ignorance can
breed hostility, a certain degree of familiarity is
necessary to nurture enmity. The fact is that most of
us do not know Denmark well enough to hate it. For
example, we did not know that so many Danish
politicians and the media were openly racist,
particularly against their Muslim minority, even
though the European Network against Racism had
mentioned it in its Shadow Report in 2004.
None of the Southasian media ever cared to
mention that most Danes lived in a state of denial as,
"...most politicians, media, and the common man in
the street, not only express their racist opinions
openly, but at the same time believe that there is no
racism in Denmark." In this supposedly tolerant
country of Scandinavia, Muslims are neither allowed
to build mosques nor permitted to have separate
cemeteries. Had we known that something was as
rotten as this in the state of Denmark, we would have
probably been better prepared for the nastiness of a
cruel cartoonist. And that brings the matter of freedom
of expression into focus.
Political lampoon
While it is true that freedom of expression has no
meaning unless that freedom is unconditional and
absolute, every society sets limits upon it to protect
the dignity of the individual, respect for minorities,
and harmony between communities. Those are broad
terms, but not too difficult to keep in mind while
exercising the inalienable right of freedom of
expression. Unless the intention is to instigate,
inflame or insult, there is no reason why one would
need to draw a prophet into a contemporary political
duel. Despite their belated apologies, the concerned
cartoonist, editor, and the government stand guilty
of intentionally hurting the sentiments of Muslims,
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 and there are Muslims all over the globe. But is that
act punishable by death in this day and age? Such a
suggestion itself would be outrageous in any civilised
society. Alas, there is no dearth of lunatics
in our midst.
Haji Yaqub Qureshi, a minister in the 'socialist'
Mulayam Singh Yadav cabinet in Uttar Pradesh,
announced that he would pay INR 5100 million to
the killer of the offending cartoonist. A Peshawar
cleric, Maulana Yousaf, was more modest in his offer
- PKR 7.5 million and a car for the aspiring assassin.
Such shocking suggestions are not just disgraceful;
they strengthen the mistaken image in the West that
most Muslims are fanatics.
A string of causative factors have since been
paraded to justify the rage of the Ummah:
suppression of Palestine, subjugation of
Afghanistan, occupation of Iraq, humiliation of Abu
Ghraib, the degradation of Guantanamo Bay ... the
list goes on. Under the rubric of War on Terror, the
neo-conservative regime of the United
States of aAmerica is conducting an all-
out 'crusade' against Muslims all over
the world, we are told. The hounding of
regimes in Syria and Iran is evidently
part of a plan to keep the Ummah
trembling, and resistance against the
neo-empire has become the moral
imperative of the Muslim world.
The fact is, however, that the War on
Terror and the threats to Damascus and
Teheran have more to do with political
contestation based on spheres of
influence and energy security. Islam or
Christianity have a peripheral role in this
confrontation, and it is important to realise this.
Despite the ring of self-fulfilling prophecy to it, this
isn't what Samuel Huntineton called the 'clash of
civilisation'. If lampooning the Prophet was
uncivilised, the call for lynching the offender
is barbaric.
Mango cart
Southasians like to believe that evil colonialists from
across the seas introduced religious politics in the
Subcontinent where otherwise there was and would
have been broadmindedness and coexistence. The
reality, however, is a little less sanguine. This is the
region where Parashuram once wielded the axe to
decimate all kshetriyas from the face of the earth.
The conversion drive of Emperor Ashoka was
unquestionably backed by the force of 'or else'. It is a
little hard to believe that the once-flourishing
Buddhist and Jain empires of the region passed into
oblivion solely due to the scholarship of various
Shankaracharyas. Akbar did think of Din-i-lahi to
assimilate the faiths of his subjects into a new whole,
but Islam too was essentially a court religion that
of the Sikhs and
mmzmz7 7o'bbz,
accepted as
ingredients of
spread on the basis of sword and reward of the
Mughal Empire. Religious strife is in fact as
Southasian as Masala Curry and Mango Chutney.
But so have been the attempts to synthesise the
immense diversity of this region.
In a region as rife with unreason, intolerance,
fanaticism, hatred, intransigence and despair as they
found in India, the British colonialists would have
failed miserably had they applied their bible-for-land
policy so successfully applied elsewhere in Asia,
Africa and Latin America. To tackle the diversity and
complexity of their Indian dominion, the British
devised their failsafe 'don't-disturb-the-mango-cart'
policy that was based on the secular idea of
separation of religion from politics. Perhaps that was
one of the reasons that antagonism arose among
Muslims and Hindus alike, leading to the Sepoy
Mutiny of 1857 - both the communities were equally
enraged by the non-religious character of their new
masters, who did not differentiate between the meat
of holy cows and unclean pigs.
When the soldiers of Awadh, Bengal
and Bihar refused to bite the bullet
believed to have been greased with the
tallow of beef and/or pork, the British
promptly had the people of these areas
declared as non-martial races unfit for
recruitment into imperial forces.
Religiosity of the political variety was
a disqualification, while the secular
piety of the Sikhs and ritualistic
obscurantism of the Gurkhas were
accepted as ingredients of corps
camaraderie. Ironically, politics of
religion started to vitiate the atmosphere of unity with
the expression of Hindu solidarity to the Caliphate.
The Khilafat Movement of the 1920s, spearheaded
by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and opposed by
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was the perhaps the first
instance that sowed the seeds of suspicion towards
each other in the minds of Hindu and Muslim
Congress leaders.
Much has been written about the secular outlook
of Jinnah and tire religiosity of Gandhi, but what is
often ignored is that neither wanted an Islamic or a
Hindu state. What Jinnah had in mind was a Muslim-
majority state where citizens of all beliefs would live
together amicably, and Gandhi envisioned a Ram
Rajya where justice for all would be the supreme goal
of the state. As it happened, both of them failed. The
Islamic Republic of Pakistan bears no resemblance
to the Muslim country of Jinnah's dreams, and the
irreligious rather than secular Indian state is not
what the Mahatma worked for throughout his life.
Both the Quaid and the Mahatma would have been
horrified to see the overwhelming role of religion in
the politics of the Subcontinent. An Islamic state is
based on the Shariat, whereas all that the Muslims
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 of British India wanted was a country
safe for their beliefs, a Muslim-majority
state. The Indian republic is based on a
denial of religion in daily life, which
breeds resentment among the majority for
various minorities, leading to occasional
eruptions. None of these models are
truly sustainable.
Nepal is a 'Hindu kingdom' and Bangladesh an
'Islamic state', but a very vicious religious-cultural
separatism hit Sri Lanka, a Buddhist majority
country that was supposed to be most multi-cultural
and tolerant towards minorities. The Danish
cartoon controversy has created devastating effects,
but brawls of smaller intensity keeps hitting India
whenever M F Hussain paints Saraswati in the nude
or depicts Bharat Mata in unconventional ways. In
Pakistan, the Ahmadiayas have been at the receiving
end of Sunni chauvinists for a long time.
The Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan
and made Flindus wear yellow armbands. Who only
knows what the generals of Burma are doing to their
religious minorities as they change the location of
headquarters to suit the numerological charts of the
ruling clique. It is easy to dismiss West Asia as a
hotbed of fundamentalism; the fact is, Southasia
looks milder because we are better at hiding our
hostility towards each other.
The fact is that
most of us do not
Know Denmark
well enough to
hate it.
After all the agitations and
destructions, there has been at least one
positive outcome of the unfortunate
cartoon controversy: a realisation
seems to have dawned among the
ruling classes of the region that if
ideological contestations are not
allowed to their space, religious
confrontations will edge out politics from national
life. Another lesson that must be remembered from
the heady pre-Partition days concerns the
importance of religion in the lives of the people. No
matter how secular the regime, it cannot make all
citizens irreligious in public affairs. The solution,
as the Mahatma suggested, lies in recognising the
primacy of religion and then subjecting it to the
supremacy of politics.
Politicians of post-modern societies have to
accept that religious beliefs of the people are too
deep-rooted and fragile to be handled on the basis
of written and secular constitutions alone. An
understanding of religious sensitivities is essential
to establish the primacy of politics: the civilised
way of settling disputes, building solidarity and
laying the foundations of a better society. That is
the way Gandhi would have preferred and Jinnah
would have accepted after having endured the
horrors of religious hatred.
New From
Inclusive Political Institutions
for a Multicultural Society
Another fortuitously timed book on
Nepal.... This is an academic took at the
causes ofthe mess Nepal finds itself in
today.... For those interested in Nepal's
politics, there is a wealth of information.
Tha Hindustan Times
2005 / 348 pages / Rs 650.00 (doth)
Rs 395.00 (paperl
Ethnic Nationalism and
the State in Pakistan
A    provocative,    passionate    and
stimulating new interpretation of ethnic
Dipesh Chakrabarty
A significant study that informs us ofthe
politics and group interests in one ofthe
most volatile regions ofthe world.
Stephen Castles
2005 / 212 pages / Rs 450.00 (cloth)
Rs 295.00 (paper)
SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd
Struggling to Create
a New Social Order
edited by S H HASBULLAH
This is a rich compilation that draws
from   a   variety  of perspectives....
Hasbullah and Morrison break new
ground with the earnestness of their
endeavour in tracing the origins, causes
and course of the many dimensions of
Sri Lanka's ethnic strife.
The Tribune
2004 / 296 pages / Rs 560.00 (cloth)
China, India and Pakistan
Arpit Rajain has produced an excellent
study of the nuclear menace particularly
In Southern Asia. He has...amassed
considerable information on the status of
nuclear development in China. India and
The Hindu
2005 / 496 pages I Rs 850.00 (cloth)
Rs 4X0.00 (paper)
Indian society is often described as one
with 'unity in diversity* and as a
composite culture. However, recent years
have witnessed contentious debates
about the very nature of Indian society.
Focusing ondifferent facets of this
exacerbating crisis, this book analyses the
various issues confronting India's
society and polity today which can
assume crisis proportions if not tackled
judiciously and expeditiously.
200S / 256 pages / Rs 560.00 (cloth)
Rs 320.00 (paper)
edited by YMMIA GANESH
This collection of 17 original essays
provides insights into the various ways
in which the interrelated issues of culture,
identity and 'indianness' are expressed
in contemporary times.
Afternoon Despatch S. Courier
2005 / 272 pages / Rs 580.00 (cloth)
Rs 320.00 (paper)
B-42, Panchsheel Enclave. Post Box 4109. New Delhi 110 017, Tel: 26491290; Fax: 26492117: e-mail: delhi@indiasage com • Ground Floor, 59/5.
Prince Baktiar Shah Road, Tollygunge. Kolkata 700 033, Tel: 24172642, 24220611, 24226832: e-mail:
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Post Box 131, Hyderabad 500 001. Tel: 23231447. 23230674; e-mail: • 1187/37 Ameya. Shivajinagar. Off Ghole Road.
Pune 411 005. Tel: 25513407, 25513408; e-mail:
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Monuments to what?
ino presencem
tlie nation's consciousness. If only, the stakeholders were
by | Niilofur Farrukh
Iherever we have witnessed major conflicts
in the last century, we also see art today in
the shape of public monuments. This artistic
intervention is increasingly becoming a social tool
to heal national wounds inflicted by social discord
cind war.
Why does a nation need these tangible reminders,
and how do 'brick and mortar' acquire a symbolic
meaning that sometimes transcends the very event
or person that they honour? While the answers to
these questions have changed with time, the very
act of monument-building remains intrinsic to
national identity.
Recorded history reveals that most early
monuments were built by conquerors to
commemorate victories and heroism. In the 20th
century, the pivotal role of civil society has bestowed
a greater responsibility on the artist of the
monument to reflect the ethos of a nation. The
monument, as a repository of a nation's memory
today, is expected to emerge from the sensibility and
sentiments of the people and not be imposed upon
them through the edict of its ruling elite.
In a rapidly changing world, artists are seen to
evolve new symbols as old ones lose their vitality
and relevance. Amin Gulgee's monument in
Karachi, with its reference to donkey-cart racing, a
popular sport among the coastal communities, is
an important precedent in its acknowledgement of
folk culture. The very grammar of monument design
has embraced participation and reflection through
different means. The vertical scale, once symbolic
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 of power and glory, is giving way to a more organic
horizontal sprawl that allows the visitor to enter
the architecture at different levels of his/her being.
In Berlin, the recently completed monument Field
of Stelae, a memorial to the mu rdered Jews of Europe
by Peter Eisenmen, is being hailed as a contemporary
memorial that, according to a press release, "quite
intentionally refrains from imposing a clearly
'readable' symbolic statement."
Pivotal to this monument's design is spatial
innovation, which explores the emotional and
physical responses to space. The concept
successfully turns modest building material like
concrete and its simple forms into an experience that
can be provocative and reflective simultaneously.
The process through which this monument was
achieved is equally important, as it is reflective of
the country's passage to a participatory society.
Since the time the idea was introduced by a
journalist, it has taken the German nation decades
of social and political negotiations, and the very
location in the prime administrative core of the city
is indicative of how, in the end, all the stakeholders
were unified in favour of the project. People's
representatives at all levels of government came
together with members of civil society and families
of the victims to chalk out the goals for the memorial,
which include not only to honour the murdered
Jews and keep their memory alive, but also "to
admonish all future generations never again to
violate human rights." Other objectives were to
defend the democratic constitutional state at all
times, to secure equality before the law for all people,
and to resist all forms of dictatorship and regimes
based on violence.
These are objectives that many regimes in the
world since World War II have failed to uphold,
and even the history of Pakistan, a young nation of
57 years, is marked by two violent social and
political ruptures - the first marked its birth and the
second the loss of its eastern wing. Despite these
highly traumatic experiences, nowhere in the
country has there been an artistic intervention that
reflects the nation's anguish and addresses issues
of failure and loss.
In the country's largest city, Karachi, that is host
to the greatest number of displaced persons from
these ruptures, we encounter two monuments on
the main Clifton Road. Popularly known as the Teen
Talwar (Three Swords) and the Do Talwar (Two
Swords), both are connected to die history of 1947.
Since they were probably born on a civil engineer's
drafting table, to term them as artistic interventions
would be a travesty.
No one seems to care that the redundant
symbolism of a sword is in direct contradiction to
the Quaid's democratic ideals of Unity, Faith and
Discipline, which are so blatantly tattooed on the
surface of the drab marble of the Teen Talwar.
Perched on a small island of grass in the centre of a
busy intersection, the only way it can be viewed is
while waiting for a traffic light to turn green. Its scale
can be best appreciated from the top of the Clifton
Bridge, from where it looks more like an arched
gateway than a monument.
Downstream is located the Do Talwar. This name
has been given to it by the 'man on the street', mainly
to mark the different bus stops on the long Clifton
Road. The main structure is an abstract form with
sloping sides that have been sliced into two equal
parts and can be read as two stylised swords. Built
on an elevated platform, it also has a small
dedication to the heroes of the Freedom Movement.
Presently this monument has been fenced off and
its location in the centre of the heavy flow of traffic
discourages visitors.
These monuments, despite their tangible
presence, are strangely 'silent' sites and have no
presence in the nation's consciousness. This has
largely to do with the fact they were neither built for
an interface nor conceptualised with the input of
the citizenry, but were the product of a ruler's
arbitrary whim. Maybe if the stakeholders were
allowed to take ownership through a dialogue that
not only identifies the objectives of the monument
but uses this democratic mechanism for the
participation of multiple voices, only then can a
nation negotiate an outcome that belongs to all.
An artist who was part of such a process would
be better aware of his/her responsibility towards
the aspirations of a people, and all the aesthetic
decisions would then be tempered with the shared
sensitivity and sensibility.
As I write this piece, the legacy of Quaid-e-Azam
is, once again, under discussion on the electronic
media to commemorate his birth anniversary
celebrations. The main difference this year is that
there is a more progressive interpretation of the
social implications of his philosophy. There is both
a need for soul-searching and a growing will in civil
society not to repeat its past mistakes.
Perhaps the monument of the future can prove to
be the catalyst at this time to facilitate national
cohesion. What better way than to seek inspiration
from the Founder of the Nation's fervent belief that
all Pakistanis are equal, irrespective of their caste,
creed or religion. Similar to the German initiative
that brought the nation together over a contentious
issue, we too may be able to build a monument that
can bury bigotry and discord in an artist's vision of
the nation's future.
'Elsewhere' is a section where Himal. features articles
from other sources that the editors would like to present
to our readers. This article appeared in Newsline,
January 2006.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 A quick jab
Bangladesh's renowned
vaccination programme turns
its focus to measles, and
provides an example for the
rest of Southasia.
by |  Louise Russell
1 hree months ago, Fatema Khatun's son Hossain
died in her arms. Hossain was one of the nearly
20,000 Bangladeshi children who die every year
from measles, the fifth-leading cause of death for
children under five-years-old in Bangladesh.
Hossain was also just three months short of being
vaccinated through the Measles Catch Up Campaign
(MCUC), one of the largest public-health campaigns
ever conducted. On 25 February, Bangladesh began
the three-week vaccination campaign, in which an
estimated 33.5 million children, aged nine months to
10 years, will get their 'catch up' measles vaccine,
regardless of whether they have had the disease or
the vaccine before. Another 1.5 million were
vaccinated in the campaign's first phase, in September
last year. About one-in-four children miss out on
routine measles vaccines in Bangladesh. About 40
percent of children in each age group are left
vulnerable to measles, because the vaccine only has
an 85 percent efficacy when given to children aged
nine months.
Hossain had been out playing as usual, Fatema
says, when he first got sick with a fever that lasted
three days. When it started, she took him to a doctor
who prescribed paracetamol and rest. After tire third
day, when the measles rash came, Fatema's
neighbours said there was no need to go to the doctor
again. "Then he got a bit better, and the rash went
down for three days," she says. Fatema had left for
work early tlie morning that Hossain died. She earns
between BDT 500-600 per month sorting rubbish and
recycling, which is about the same as the rent for the
family's small bamboo hut in their Dhaka slum. The
family relies on the eldest daughter Khadeza's
monthly earnings of BDT 700 as a child domestic
worker to survive.
When Fatema arrived home, she found Hossain
lying on the floor of their hut. "I came back and held
him in my lap to give him a little bit of water," she
recalls. "He drank one sip and died. I was holding
him when he died." Hossain was one of the 15 percent
for whom the vaccine proved useless. But the MCUC
safety net, the 'catch up', could save other crdldren
from a similar fate. Fatema is certainly making sure
her three under-10 children are getting their catch
up vaccination. She is also alerting her neighbours
in the slum - many of whom had children infected
in the outbreak that took Hossain - about the service
that is arriving on their doorsteps.
Government success
In order to reach those children excluded from
mainstream centres through their extreme poverty,
the Measles Catch Up Campaign is going beyond its
springboard of the government's expanded
programme on immunisation (EPI). Rather than
simply working from schools and the government
EPI sites, MCUC vaccination teams are also visiting
railway and bus stations, parks, jails and slums to
reach as many excluded children as possible.
The campaign's estimated USD 15 million cost
has been donated by the American Red Cross (ARC).
The Bangladeshi government itself is contributing
25 percent of operating costs. However, the MCUC is
largely the government's baby, with ministry staff
organising and implementing the campaign through
the EPI networks. Additional partners include a host
of international and national organisations from
around the world. Logistically, the campaign has
required 40 million vaccines, 40 million syringes,
50,000 skilled vaccinators, 750,000 volunteers,
100,000 schools and 150,000 EPI fixed sites. The
vaccines themselves, which need to be kept in cold
storage at all times, have been procured by UNICEF
with the aARC funds.
The government's work on the measles campaign
has been buoyed by its previous success with the
EPI programme, through which an estimated 4
million children are saved every year. It has been
.largely thanks to EPI that coverage against the six
preventable childhood diseases - diphtheria, tetanus,
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 tuberculosis, whooping cough, polio and measles -
increased from 2 percent in 1971 to 73 percent
in 2005.
If not building on past EPI successes, the new
campaign is at least filling in the gaps, says Dr Zahid
Hossain, the dean of Dhaka University's medical
faculty and secretary-general of the Bangladesh
Medical Association. Over the past two decades, EPI
successes have paved the way for the Bangladeshi
focus to ashift now to measles. Despite EPI's original
focus, measles had largely dropped off the parental
radar as the country tackled the more-lethal
whooping cough and the more-crippling polio. The
last case of polio was recorded in August 2000. "We
had to address our primary issues first," Dr Hossain
says, "and now we're addressing our secondary
issues and have started the measles and hepatitis
vaccines. For measles, though, we haven't had this
type of mass mobilisation before."
Fighting measles has the extra benefit of
combating pneumonia. Measles is a respiratory
disease and it can lead to pneumonia, the second-
biggest killer of children aged 1 to 17 years,
according to the 2004 Bangladesh Health and Injury
Survey. "If we can control measles,
through this one campaign, we will be
able to control the incidence of
pneumonia," Dr Hossain explains.
"Pneumonia takes a lot of lives in our
country, especially in the rural areas
and for those that are living under the
poverty line."
The MCUC's ripple effects in
advocacy will also save lives, says Dr
Hossain. At a minimum, it will
jumpstart more than an estimated 10
million caregivers into talking about
the free measles vaccines. And if
caregivers can be made aware of the
vaccine's availability, he says, "hopefully for the
next few years this country will remain free of
measles." Realistically, while the MCUC is hoping
to control measles, eradicating the disease is still a
long way off.
In fact, for this reason, the second MCUC has
already been pencilled in for 2009. Because the
vaccine has an 85 percent efficacy only when given
to children at nine months, when combined with
the number of Bangladeshi children already missing
out on the vaccine, this leaves about two-in-five
children vulnerable to measles. Given this dropping
rate in efficacy and those newborns that will miss
their nine-month dose, the need for a second catch
up is already evident. Still, this first MCUC will be
tire most concerted swipe at measles in Bangladesh
yet. Those involved hope that success in this
campaign will mean the next one will only need to
target children aged nine months to five years.
campaign lias
required 48 million
¥aceines,40 million
smiled vaccinators,
750,000 volunteers,
100,000 schools
and 150,000 EPI
fixed sites.
Above politics
For its resounding 70 percent jump in vaccination
coverage, Bangladesh's EPI programme is now seen
as an international success story for universal
childhood immunisation. In addition, however, Dr
Hossain believes that the programme itself has also
broken ground in the Bangladeshi political arena.
The politics of measles might seem incongruous at a
time when national headlines scream about the
country's security situation and upcoming elections.
But the consistent political support EPI has enjoyed
over its 20-year lifespan has made it a beacon for
other areas of Bangladesh's turbulent political life.
"If we see the history of the last 30 years of
Bangladesh, we will see a lot of difference in opinion
regarding national issues," Dr Hossain says
modestly. "But regarding the EPI prograomme, all the
political parties, all the governments have shown
their keen interest, as the programme has a very good
relation with the local people, the rural people." It is
those levels of trust on local, national and
international levels that now allow many to be
optimistic that the MCUC measles effort will see
success similar to past vaccination drives. The most
prominent of these drives, the polio
National Immunisation Days, ended
in 2004. Every six months, as 18
million children and parents line up
for Vitamin A supplements across the
country, many still say they are
coming for their "polio medicine".
Such is the level of recognition, and
adoption, of the vaccination
campaigns by the people.
That critical local support has been
particularly bolstered by EPI's
identity-blind approach and high
visibility. Seeing their local MP at a
vaccination site leads people to
assume that that person - regardless of politics - is
responsible for saving their child's life, Dr Hossain
says. Rather than kissing babies in election
campaigns, it is the life-saving EPI jabs that have
won the people's support, for the politicians as well.
While the visibility of vaccinations helps in
attracting aid money, Dr Hossain also emphasises
that Bangladesh cannot stay reliant on aid forever.
He says that the level of responsibility the
government has taken in running the measles
campaign is just one positive sign of such change;
he expects Bangladesh will shoulder more of these
costs in the future. As a region, the rate of routine
measles vaccinations in Southasia is the second-
worst in the world - at 61 percent, it is ahead of only
western and central Africa. On this matter,
Bangladesh is no longer a basket-case, and is
providing an anti-measles template for its
neighbours. fa
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Hindi cinema,
Indian cinema
smother Indian cinema as a whole? It will
unless we get wise to the power and
potential of regional-language film.
by | Utpal Borpujari
Hindi cinema is now 'Bollywood' cinema,
although many in the Bombay film industry
find the term derogatory. After all, Bombay
cinema is the only film culture in the world that has
been able to withstand, and even thwart, the global
juggernaut called Hollywood. Working in a manner
that hardly befits its so-called industry status (never
mind the recent efforts at corporatisation), Bombay
cinema has achieved what even the proud French
have failed at - prevent Hollywood from bringing
the national film industry to its knees.
But the same Bombay cinema - often described
as the opiate of the masses in the Hindi-speaking
world, and increasingly an addiction even in the
non-Hindi regions of the globe - is doing to India
itself exactly what Hollywood has so effectively
done to so many countries. Aided by an ever-willing
and ever-expanding media, Bollywood has emerged
as a threat to the entirety of India's venerable
'regional' film industries.
In a country as diverse as India, cinema has long
been a tool to tell the stories of different peoples
across the vastly diverse regions. Hindi cinema has
been the fulcrum of this phenomenon. However, the
regional cinema has also had a powerful role as an
entertainment medium that chronicles the concerns,
cultural richness and contradictions of India's many
societies. In fact, it was regional cinema that initially
catapulted Indian film to the global stage.
As Bollywood now becomes a familiar term across
the world - associated with colourful songs and
dances even while telling the most conscientious
stories in parallel - the space for regional film,
including even the non-Bollywood Hindi cinema,
is rapidly shrinking. But it is cinema in the various
parts and languages that have been hit the hardest
in the widely applauded rise of Hindi Bollywood.
This could sound like a paradox when regional-
language films, such as Amol Palekar's Marathi
Anahat, Rituparno Ghose's Bengali Chokher Bali and
Rajeev Menon's Tamil Kandukondain Kandukondai,
are being released in multiplexes even in a hardcore
Bollywood film market such as Delhi. But these are
exceptions, which do not reflect the broader trend.
Language cinema'
The Indian government, particularly since the time
of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, has given
legitimacy to the term 'Bollywood', heavily promoting
its brand at major film festivals throughout the world.
The entertainment committees of the leading but rival
industry bodies - the Confederation of Indian
Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indi-on Chambers
of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), packed with
filmmakers from Bombay - are playing the willing
conspirators, organising regular conferences that
discuss the dynamics of only the Bollywood
industry, and rarely allowing space for discussion
of regional cinema cultures. These groups also
collaborate with the government in setting up stalls
about Indian cinema (read: 'commercial Hindi
movies') at global film festivals. With Bollywood
cinema being relentlessly promoted as 'Indian'
cinema, many new converts abroad have come to
believe that it is only the former that comprises
the latter.
Even the state-owned television broadcaster,
Doordarshan, the only terrestrial TV channel in
India, has turned away from the 'language cinema'.
It has drastically reduced screening regional cinema,
a role it used to perform quite well. Understandably,
in this era of globalisation and the resultant
mushrooming of private TV channels, it does not
make business sense for Doordarshan to devote so
much time to regional cinema. But then, it is the
country's public-service broadcaster whose
mandated duty it is to reflect the country's diversity,
and regional cinema is undoubtedly a powerful
platform for such depictions.
It is not only government patronage that has given
a boost to Bombay cinema. The rise of the Bollywood
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 phenomenon internationally coincides with the
ushering in of economic liberalisation in India in the
early 1990s. Multinationals were quick to see
Bollywood for what it is - an unmatched marketing
platform to reach the 'masses' in the best sense of the
term. The increasing product placements and
brandings in Bollywood films, and the cosy nexus
between corporate leaders and Bombay film
producers, are only reflections of this strategy.
Even the multiplex boom in the larger metros of
India, which many had hoped would create space for
cinema beyond Bollywood, has largely failed to aid
regional films, barring a few exceptions.
Undoubtedly, the multiplexes have helped to create a
genre of low-budget Hindi films that deal with
subjects outside of the usual Bollywood formula.
These movies are released in multiplexes, but are
pushed out the minute big-budget Hindi 'masala'
movies require the space.
The lack of awareness, and interest, in the rich
repository of celluloid treasure that lies beyond
Bombay is also due to the role of the mainstream
media. Rarely giving space to regional cinema, the
media ceaselessly reviews standard and mediocre
Bollywood fare alike. Stoking the constant gossip
about the film stars of Bombay, the press and
television keep the focus on Bollywood and help it
consolidate the grip on the film industry as a whole.
Last year a prominent Hindi news channel even
invited the film characters (not the actors, mind you,
but the characters) of a popular Hindi film, Bunty Aur
Bubli, to 'present' the news. There have also been
repeated instances when national newspapers and
channels have misled readers and viewers by
reporting that particular Hindi films have won the
National Film Award for the Best Feature Film - when
in reality, those films had won in less-prestigious
categories, while regional-language films have taken
the top honours.
Beyond Bombay
There is nothing inherently wrong with the attention
and support Bollywood receives. Nor can its
popularity be contested. The Bombay film industry
has attained humongous proportions, and its
prospects seem to be staggering. Some forecasts
speculate that Bollywood could grow three-fold in
less than a decade, to become a INR 60,000 crore
behemoth. Obviously, it makes good sense to do
business in a field that is growing beyond the domestic
and even regional markets. Hindi films are being
dubbed into European languages, attracting newer
audiences and greater revenue. But then, cinema has
proven itself over the years to be more than mere
business. It is first and foremost an art form, but one
that by its nature has to involve huge sums of money.
Cinema has perforce a role to play much beyond just
its commercial aspects, and this is where the
importance of regional-language cinema is so obvious
- other than to those who are so glamorised by
Bollywood as to be blind to reality.
Indeed, does Bollywood reflect the real India? Its
literary and cultural heritage, its vastly diverse
cultures and societies, its repertoire of over 2500
languages and dialects, the political and social
conflicts inevitable in the world's largest democracy?
Rather than the fast-globalising Hindi films, it is,
in fact, regional productions that have been able to
bring out the essence and contradictions of India. It
is the other cinema, this 'independent' cinema, in
Hindi and in a huge variety of regional languages
(more recently including English) that gives true voice
to India's 1.1 billion population. And let us not forget
that it is these regional film cultures that first gave
face to Indian cinema globally. Be it Satyajit Ray,
Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal, or Jahnu
Barua, Girish Kasaravalli and Shaji N Karun,
regional filmmakers have long earned accolades for
being uniquely able to capture distinct Indian social
and cultural realities.
Contemporary Bollywood cinema is actually very
different from the cinema of the 1950s and 1960s,
when directors like Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt had
been able to marry commercial needs with aesthetic
sensibilities, to great effect. But while modern
Bollywood has attracted attention for its fantasy-like
nature, regional films have brought to light the
diversities of the 'real' India. This cinema comes from
a band of filmmakers whose creativity is driven by
sheer zeal and love for the mesmeric images of the
big screen, and despite the fact that they live a life
mostly shorn of glamour and money.
In the last decade or so, it has become increasingly
difficult for regional filmmakers to market their films
- not only on a pan-Indian scale, but even in their
own regions, where imitations of the standard
Bollywood fare have become extremely popular. The
South Indian film industries have been able to combat
the Bombay bandwagon only because they have
learnt to produce equally escapist fare - more of the
same stuff in their own languages. The small-
moneyed producers and directors of regional film,
out to present a realistic cinematic paradigm, are
unable to challenge the Bombay behemoth.
As Hindi films witness an unprecedented wave
of popularity, some have been euphoric with
expectation as to how this will boost all 'Indian'
cinema. Unfortunately, the growing hegemony of the
Bombay film industry has only diminished prospects
for the various regional-language industries. A severe
resource crunch, lack of government support, and
an audience grown fat and lethargic on the
Bollywood diet has meant that quality regional
cinema - portraying the diversity of India with hardhitting, at times difficult social realism - is struggling
to find space. To preserve this diversity, and for the
sake of cinema itself, it is crucial that a 'new wave' of
cinema from Calcutta, Madras, Guwahati,
Thiruvananthapuram and Patna steps up to the
challenge from Bombay.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Joymoti :
The first radical film of India
by | Altaf Mazid
In the history of Indian cinema are a few filmmakers
who, by virtue of their creative ability, intense
labour and extraordinary perseverance, have come
to be considered genius. D G Phalke, V Shantaram,
Pramathes Barua, Himansu Roy, Ritwik Ghatak,
Satyajit Ray are some such figures. Traveling through
the little roads of Assam, we find another member of
that pantheon: Jyotiprasad Agarwalla (1903-51), one
of the greatest cultural figures to have been produced
by the state. He made only two films, far less than
other filmmakers, yet with his first film alone he could
be distinguished as a radical auteur of all India.
Nevertheless, he is little known.
Joymoti, released in 1935, added a new chapter in
the chronicles of Indian cinema, primarily in the
discourse of realism. Further, Jyotiprasad was the
only political filmmaker of pre-independent India,
though there were many in post-independent India,
starting with Ritwik Ghatak. Above all else, Joymoti
is a nationalist film in its attempts to create a cultural
world using the elements of Assamese society. It is
the only work of its kind of that period.
Biographers of Jyotiprasad Agarwalla are often
mystified with the diversity of his interests. From a
playwright in his mid-teens, to a popular dramatist,
to a newspaper editor; first a student of law, then of
music; composing tunes originally by blending local
and Western music, later writing revolutionary
poems and songs; writing children's literature, then
art criticism, then intellectual essays. Jyotiprasad
established a makeshift studio to make the first
Assamese feature film, and later transformed the
space into a cultural centre dedicated to the causes of
the people. He organised a volunteer force for M K
Gandhi's Salt March; he was labelled by the imperial
government as an absconder, surrendered, and was
imprisoned twice. He joined in the Communist-led
uprising of 1942; he resigned from a government body
in order to protest the compulsory contribution by
the government to the World War II effort; he was
president of the first India People's Theatre
Association conference in Assam. The list is endless.
One constant remains throughout, however: politics
was inseparable from Jyotiprasad's works, whether
in poetry or drama, dance or theatre, music or moving
image. Throughout his varied career, we see the
same conscientious artist striving to express himself
in aesthetic terms - with a worldview of his own,
immersed in deep love for Assamese literature
and culture.
The making of the film Joymoti is remarkable on
many counts, yet two things are particularly striking.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 First was the form of the constructed imagery that
discarded norms of Indian cinema (read: 'faded
photocopy of spicy Hollywood') that had been
prevalent since its birth in 1912. Second was the
director's inflexible determination in achieving the
concept of that form in the truest possible way. These
two intertwined, complimentary aspects cannot be
discussed separately. For revealing the natural life
of a particular region of Assam, Jyotiprasad decided
he would have to develop his own style rather than
import elements from elsewhere. Established actors
are far removed from the types of characters essential
for a lifelike portrayal; studios based in other parts
of the country are either too busy producing films for
mass consumption, or too incapable of feeling the
pulse of the alien concepts espoused by Jyotiprasad.
Jyotiprasad wished to follow the doctrine of
cinematic realism as expressed by the Russian
filmmaker Lev Kuleshov (although back then, the
term in vogue was 'innovative
cinema'). Kuleshov demanded that
all things theatrical be banished from
films, so as to make way for the
aesthetic value of documentary truth,
montage and real-life material. His
ideas of a new film culture were
founded as per changes that had
occurred in the Soviet Union after the
revolution in 1917. Jyotiprasad came
across these ideas while studying in
London: He was a visitor to the
German government-founded UFA
studio in Berlin for six months. There,
he took up the idea of 'innovative
cinema', as something capable of
embracing the spirit of anti-colonial uprising in
India. For his active role in the non-cooperation
movement against the British, he had been officially
declared an absconder prior to his journey to the
West. For him, there was no question: only now could
a new culture begin.
The content of Joymoti is also innovative: a widely
popular legend of a 17th century princess of the Ahom
dynasty who died of the torture meted out by a puppet
king. Joymoti had remained silent about her husband,
who had fled the state and whom the king had
wanted to kill as a competitor of the throne. The
oppression and passive resistance of the film's story
paralleled the situations prevalent in India during
1930s British rule. Thus, the realistic depiction in
the film was a political approach, contradicting the
theatrical style of acting, costume and sets, which at
the time were the dominant features of Indian films.
Cinematic content of productions in other Indian
regions were also overtly religious, based on
mythology. Contrary to such films, Joymoti was based
on real historical materials - although history books
are silent about a particular lady named Joymoti.
Jyotiprasad Agarwalla
Assamese studio
While Jyotiprasad pursued Kuleshov's ideas on
filmmaking, he increasingly wanted the culture of
film to take hold in Assam. He was perfectly capable
of organising financing that could have allowed him
to shoot his film in any major studio in Calcutta or
Pune, but his ideology barred him from doing so. The
idea subsequently arose of establishing his
own studio in Assam. Jyotiprasad was deeply
sceptical about any misrepresentation of the
traditional culture of his land. He also felt that, as
cinema had already attained worldwide popularity,
without a filmmaking centre the people of Assam
would lag behind culturally.
The studio in Bholaguri was a large concrete
platform, with open-air enclosures of bamboo mats
and banana plants. It used the sun as its only source
of light. Jyotiprasad floated newspaper
advertisements for actors and actresses, mentioning
brief outlines of the film and
descriptions of the characters. His idea
was to get 'types' for his characters, not
seasoned artists, even offering
remunerations for successful
candidates. One of his preconditions
was that potential actors needed to be
from 'respectable' family backgrounds,
as opposed to those from red-light areas
that had been used during the 1930s
in Calcutta. After a prolonged search
and detailed interviews, he brought
together the chosen ones to acquaint
them with his characters as well as
with the techniques of filmmaking,
with an eye towards establishing a film
industry in Assam. Few of them had ever even seen a
film. He sought out a trio, Bhupal Shankar Mehta
and the Faizi Brothers, from Lahore as cameraman
and sound-recordists. He brought to Guwahati those
individuals who were still fresh and yet to be
weighed down by the commercially-dominant
Hindustani cinema (the term Jyotiprasad used in his
writings), whose hub at that time was in Lahore,
across the expanse of the Brahmaputra, Ganga and
Indus plains, in Punjab.
Jyotiprasad designed the set using bamboo hats
and mats, deer and buffalo horns, Naga spears, and
other traditional materials. A museum-like property
room was also created, where the director culled
traditional costumes, ornaments and handicrafts for
the set's decor. For developing film, ice was brought
from Calcutta by steamer, train and automobile.
Joymoti might have allowed Jyotiprasad to project
the political values of the 'Assamese' screen-images.
But compared to the works of other filmmaking
regions of undivided India, it was a disaster in terms
of technical quality - particularly sound. The cheap
battery-operated sound-recording system chartered
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
from Lahore turned out to be quite
inadequate, which he found out only
at the editing table in Lahore during
'post-production'. With limited money,
he could not return to Assam for re-
recording. In that part of then-India,
there was no possibility of getting
another Assamese-speaking person.
Finding no other option, Jyotiprasad
accepted the default output and
dubbed about thirty characters with his
own voice, including those of the
female characters.
Back home, there existed just two cinema houses
in the then-undivided Assam, in Guwahati and
Shillong. These were highly inadequate to ensure a
return on his investments. He proceeded to build
a movie theatre for himself in Tezpur, and arranged a
number of itinerant shows around the state. People
turned out in large numbers to witness the marvel of
Assamese moving images, besides paying homage to
the legendary protagonist namesake. Nonetheless, the
audience failed to appreciate its merits, partially due
to naivete in recognising the firm's realistic approach.
Although he had been an heir to his family fortune,
Joymoti left Jyotiprasad bankrupt. Despite his preeminence, he was never a representative of the film
trade, nor was he able to change the course of
mainstream filmmaking. Four years later, in 1939, he
made his second and last film, Indramalati. It was shot
in a Calcutta studio with an eye towards the
box-office. Although he was able to recoup his
original productions costs, proceeds from Joymoti
never materialised, and Jyotiprasad shuttered his
studio thereafter.
Regional realism
Discussions about realism in Indian cinema (here
confined to 'nationalist' and socially conscious films
that have been regarded as landmark Indian works)
usually start with four films made within a four-year
period prior to 1947. They are Bimal Roy's Udayer
Pathe (1944) and its remake, Humrahi (1945), Chetan
Anand's Neecha Nagar (1945), and K A Abbas' Dharti
Ke Lai (1946). After Independence, this list would
include Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin
(1953) and Satyajit Ray's Father Pachali
(1955), this last of which opened a new
discourse on 'regional reality^.
With the exception of Father Pachali,
this list includes several dominant
themes and oppositions: the struggles
between the haves and have-nots, the
country and the city, and the tenant or
peasant and the landlord or
moneylender. In format, the films are
characteristic in turning to Hollywood
as a model - although this dynamic still
created, where the
director culled
ornaments and
handicrafts for the
sets decor.
is a
bbZ77b77zZZo777 7b
create a cultural
world using the
takes place within the Bombay mode of
production. There are no radical
stylistic departures in demand for
realism. The actors in these films were
mostly established stars, although
studios tried to refashion them as
'common' men and women.
Jyotiprasad Agarwalla's Joymoti has
yet to figure in discussions related to
realism and Indian cinema. This
oversight may be partly due to the film
having been made in a marginal-
language area, and partly due to non-
circulation of the film since its release in 1935. When
compared with those films listed above, Joymoti
appears as perhaps the most pioneering work in
depicting realism in Indian cinema - both in concept,
and in the persistence in realising that concept. Even
the phrase 'regional reality', which has been used
for Father Pachali, perhaps could be redefined by
going back to this work of Jyotiprasad's.
Joymoti may also be seen as India's first feminist
film. Three of the film's female characters - Joymoti
herself, her close friend Seuti, and the king's mother
- were against the royal court's politics. Although
they were not vocal in their disagreement, their
tactical and silent protests are quite noteworthy.
Furthermore, viewers see a host of women joining
them, all of which are unusually realistic female
depictions. Indian cinematic women were otherwise
painted as mother, goddess, vamp, prostitute,
hunterwali, et al - full of grace, beauty and seduction
(See Himal Nov-Dec 2005, "'She' and the Silver Screen").
Jyotiprasad's care in his depictions of his female
protagonists can be traced from his very first play,
written at the age of 14. Throughout his subsequent
decades of playwriting, there is one binding
commonality through his plays: the critical hand that
the female characters have in determining the stories'
major events. After Joymoti, however, the Indian
woman would have to wait until the 1950s to appear
in her full, real form on movie screens of
the Subcontinent.
It is not appropriate to say that Jyotiprasad
Agarwalla of Assam needs to be re-discovered by the
world of Southasian cinema, because he
was never discovered in the first place,
lt is time, in the rush of today's Hindi/
Hindustani film world to embrace the
world market, to look back at an unsung
director who was a true pioneer of
realism. It is even possible that digging
so far into the past will inform
current media practitioners in a way
that their own future works may
steer closer to reality, and away from
the frivolity to which many seem to
have succumbed. A
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
Restoring Joymoti
In 2005, the government of
Assam celebrated the 70th
anniversary of the Assamese
film industry. At the same
time, the film that had started
it all, Joymoti, was getting its
own septuagenarian birthday
present - a new life, 25 years
ago, Altaf Mazid, a Guwahati-
based filmmaker, saw a
documentary on Jyotiprasad
Agarwalla. Researching
further on the film over the next couple of years, Mazid
increasingly began to look at Joymoti as not just an
interesting state artefact, but also a nationally significant
piece of Indian culture. That convinced him that Joymoti
had to be made available to a wider audience. In an
interview with Himal Southasian, he said that the film
itself had been in very bad shape; if digitally restored
and nationally distributed, however, he feels It is capable
of adding a new chapter in the history of Indian cinema
- particularly on the subject of Yegional reality'.
Where were the original reels found?
In the early 1970s, Hridayananda Agarwalla,
Jyotiprasad's youngest brother, found seven reels of
the lone print of Joymoti while cleaning the junk out
of his garage. Jyotiprasad's film venture had cost his
family's tea garden huge losses. The other brothers
(except Hridayananda, he was too young then) as
well as his greater family did not give a damn about
the artist-philosopher. The condition of the reels was
one of near-depletion, but Hridayananda Agarwalla
made an extremely timely and wise decision. He
engaged Bhupen Hazarika - another one of the other
great cultural figures that Assam has produced - as
director for a long documentary, Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad
aru Joymoti (1976), in which the reels were
incorporated. That way the reels were saved.
How did you go about restoring the reels?
I attended my first International Film Festival of India
in 1986, in Hyderabad. There, I saw a restored old
French film, and started thinking about the restoration
of Joymoti. I tried several times to persuade the related
people, as well as the government. In 2000, when I
had my own editing set up, I began thinking about
making a subtitled copy of Joymoti. I got a video copy
of Bhupen Hazarika's documentary and pulled the
Joymoti portion into my computer. The reels were
disorganised and in an as-they-were-found condition.
Furthermore, several portions of the film were made
to freeze, in order to accommodate extra voiceovers.
Most of these are from Bhupen Hazarika's voice. I
deleted those patches, and re-edited the pieces back
into order. The subtitling part took the most time.
Pradip Acharya, a professor of English, did the English
translation of the dialogue and songs. We spent
many weeks of sleepless nights - the dialogues were
quite inaudible.
What part ofthe process did you enjoy the most?
The song at the end, Flow on you water of Luit...
Jyotiprasad Agarwalla memorialises Joymoti's death with
a sequence on the river 'Luit' (later changed to
'Brahmaputra' by New Delhi) and a background song. I
found that portion the most memorable. While editing,
and still when I see the film, I feel a great sense of
excitement. What a remarkable sequence it is!
Is the entirety of the film now restored?
Just the seven reels, or 60 minutes - a shorter version
of the two-hour-plus original. But that is sufficient to
know the film completely. I am happy that the reels
were found that way.
How much money did the process take? Did you
have assistants?
Just INR 16,000. It was solely a labour of love. Only I,
my wife Zabeen, and Pradip Acharya, who did the
translations, are involved.
What has been the reaction to the new
The ice has not yet melted. The people of Assam have
been long deprived of seeing Joymoti, and the subtitled
version will help Assamese and non-Assamese people
understand the dialogues and songs. But as usual, the
government has little interest in works that do not
serve their immediate political agenda. I even offered
our local TV station, Guwahati Doordarshan, a free
telecast of the subtitled version, but they have no
place for programmes that cannot generate commercial
sponsorship. The only public showing until now was
held in Delhi on 20 January 2004, the birthday of
Jyotiprasad Agarwalla.
What would you hope to be able to do with
A digitally-corrected print is required for any international
release, the estimated cost of which is INR 3.5 million.
The art-house circuit is always interested in seeing such
old marvels. I have sent copies of the restored version
to the Berlin and Cannes film festivals, but they have
found it very difficult to judge the film from the video
copy. Over the last 25 years, Joymoti has become a
fulltime obsession for me. In each viewing, I discover
something else. Now that obsession has turned to
obtaining a full 35mm restored version, so that the film
can be appreciated everywhere.
Write to Altaf Mazid at
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
Affirmative action for
a shared India
Positive discrimination in government jobs and in
education has helped the Dalit progress, despite continuing
discrimination elsewhere. But when will leaders of Indian
industry understand that the empowered Dalit means
an economy that is vibrant?
by | Chandra Bhan Prasad
Regulated by its caste and outcaste
quintessence, 'Caste India' continues to be
apprehensive of the idea of a shared India. Its
soul trapped in the quagmire of the past, India refuses
to emancipate itself from that unhealthy state. At 166
million, Untouchables currently make up around 16.2
percent of the population; tribals, at around 84
million, comprise about 8.2 percent. Despite
encompassing nearly a quarter of the population, to
the mind of Caste India, both these Dalit groups are
social aliens', and must remain where they have been
for ages. In other words, Dalits are entitled to neither
dignity, nor any partnership in whatever happiness
India as a society generates.
When the veteran journalist B N Uniyal wrote the
groundbreaking 1996 article "In Search of a Dalit
Journalist", in which he showed that there was not a
single Dalit journalist working in Delhi's mainstream
media, the larger society remained unmoved,
undisturbed. The media is generally seen as among
the more humane, forward-looking, and
contemplative of institutions. Yet despite India's 4890
daily newspapers, it is not possible to this day to
name even four mainstream Dalit journalists. As far
as the electronic media is concerned, there are no
Dalits in the newsroom - either as anchors,
producers, cameramen or correspondents.
If that mindset continues to govern the
'progressive' media, it is easier to understand the
attitude of the larger Hindu society toward Dalits.
As a central feature of the caste society, the regime of
hierarchy does not even spare beasts. In the Tamil
village of Tuticorin, non-Dalits had imposed a ban
on Dalit-owned dogs, worried they would stray into
non-Dalit areas. The social ideology of hierarchy
would simply not allow Dalit dogs to mingle with
non-Dalit dogs.
The December 2004 tsunami devastated fisherfolk
families in Nagapattinam, but even in such trying
times, the non-Dalits in the village refused to share
makeshift shelters with Dalit survivors. Similar tales
of discrimination were reported when the massive
earthquake of January 2001 struck Gujarat, killing
thousands. Like Nagapattinam, Dalit survivors in
Kutch were thrown out of emergency shelters, in full
view of national media.
It is in the face of this systemic discrimination that
Dalit groups have sought to assert themselves
politically. Under the growing pressure of Dalit
aspirations, the United Progressive Alliance
government has sought in recent years to debate the
question of extending affirmative action to the private
sector. Leading captains of industry, however, would
have none of it (see box). Despite the fact that many of
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 these men have attended prestigious
European or US institutions, they
remain oddly similar to temple priests
in India, who have long believed that
Hindu gods and goddesses must be
stringently protected from polluting
Dalit shadows.
Such viewpoints raise some
important questions: Is there any
actual proof, by survey or research,
showing that Dalits recruited under
reservation systems under-perform? Or
any proof of the supposed nonperformance of such industries, which
can be traced to the presence of Dalit
engineers or professionals?
it early a Quarter of
iii@ papulation,
f finals are entitled
to neither dignity,
Ignominy of merit
There is some 'proof, deployed more
to insult and deny sharing workplaces with Dalits:
mark-sheets in examinations. Prima facie, merit
ideologues would appear right in their assertions.
Why should a Dalit with 55 percent marks be
preferred over a non-Dalit candidate with 65 percent
marks? The intrinsically jaundiced Indian academia
has made no attempt to decode the fallacy of the mark-
sheet-driven ignominy of merit. No one has explained
the phenomenon of non-Dalit children receiving 95
percent and greater in Central Board of Secondary
Education (CBSE) high-school examinations, but
then failing to retain those performance levels at the
post-graduation level.
If we were to compare, at random, the mark-sheets
of ten Dalit and ten non-Dalit researchers from high
school to post-graduation, a graph would indicate
the following. Dalits: High School - 50 percent,
Intermediate - 55 percent, Under-Graduation - 58
Reservation reservations
• The concept of reservation without reference to merit
could have a distorting effect on the operations of the private
sector. - Anand Mahindra, President of Confederation of
Indian Industries
• It will have tar-reaching impact on the industry, as it may
completely destroy the meritocracy in such units and bring
inefficiency. - Mahendra K Sanghi, President of the
Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India
• We oppose it as the move is against industrialisation
and will lead to job reduction. - Y K Modi, President of the
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry
• It will completely destroy meritocracy in the private sector.
■ Kiran Karnik, President of the National Association of
Software and Services Companies
• If I employ a thousand staff, live percent reservation
would mean I have to recruit 50 people I may not need. ■
Satis Tondon, Managing Director of Alfa Laval India
happiness india as
7 7ZZ77b7o
percent, Post-Graduation - 61 percent.
While the marks of Dalits would
generally increase throughout the
schooling, similarly ordered statistics
for the non-Dalits would generally
decrease: 95, 90, 70, 68. What if there
were two more stages included in
postgraduate levels: PG-I and PG-1+?
The results of a similar comparative
graph would stun us all. Dalit
mark-sheets generally show a
progressive rise as Dalit students climb
to higher levels of education, while
non-Dalit mark-sheets show a
progressive decline.
In public discourse, however, it is
proponents of merit who use mark-sheet
data to argue their case. If so, should
we not suggest that, with growing age,
the non-Dalit becomes dumber, and the Dalit
sharper? What actually happens is that upper-level
education systems have a standard pattern - more
equalising, treating each more similarly, irrespective
of school education. Higher education also acts to
remove Dalit students from their family environment,
which often lack rich legacies of learning or teaching.
In a more equal university or college context, Dalits
tend to do better. The same equalising environment,
however, becomes disadvantageous for non-Dalits.
Lower-level school systems are entirely different,
with a huge gap between government-run language
schools and the private-run, English-medium public
schools. The journey of a non-Dalit child often begins
from play- or pre-school. Taught by already-educated
parents, a non-Dalit student grows with a tutor and
a significant helping of extra reading materials.
Hardly any student can score 90 percent-plus in high
school without tuitions. That system of extra tuitions,
extra coaching and extra literature, however,
disappears in upper-level academia.
School examination results therefore present a
highly exaggerated mirror of non-Dalit talents, which
works negatively for Dalit students, whose mark-
sheets would often understate their talents. The non-
Dalits' merits can be likened to a certain variety of
watermelons grown in Rajasthan. This variety grows
faster and bigger - and hence cheaper - but remains
pink inside. Retailers have to compensate by injecting
the pale melons with a chemical that turns their
insides red. The customers are thus fooled by the merit
of the red watermelon. This is how 'merit' is
manufactured and used against Dalits as well. In that
sense, the ideology of merit is not remotely related to
an urge for excellence or competence. Rather, it is a
social ideology of segregation and hierarchies, and
one that is central to Caste India.
For its part, urban India wants to share neither
classrooms nor workplaces with Dalits. As such,
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 whenever the question of affirmative
action comes up for debate, merit is
deployed to assert segregation. The
response is a willing, but completely
inaccurate, assumption that Dalits
are incompetent, and non-Dalits,
predestined for excellence.
Reservation hypocrisy
offhandedly that
Dalits', while in
become a layer at all, creamy or otherwise?
Or do their children seek positions under
Group 111 or IV services?
Whether Dalit or non-Dalit, those who
join government service generally belong
to the relatively advanced sections of their
respective classes. There are far fewer
cases, however - in fact, the rarest of the
rare - where parents of a Dalit bureaucrat,
The more India argues for its inherent fiCf f ®5§f¥§tl§lS administrator or diplomat have been IAS/
Dalits am
breathing space.
hierarchical order, including the
exclusion of Dalits, the funnier it
becomes. Some would suggest
offhandedly that 'reservations haven't
helped Dalits', while in fact reservations
have been the only social policy that has
given Dalits any breathing space. There
are some 3.5 million Dalits in
government jobs, about 125 Members of Parliament,
and hundreds of MLAs. There are about 68,000 Dalits
in Group A services, living in bungalows and riding
in white Ambassadors. There has been a Dalit head
of state, a Dalit deputy prime minister, two Dalit Lok
Sabha Speakers, at least half-a-dozen chief ministers,
and hundreds of ministers. There have been Dalit
judges in the higher judiciary, and currently a number
of Dalits are serving as vice chancellors of universities.
Outside the regime of reservations, say in the
private sector, there are hardly any known Dalits in
corporate boardrooms, acting in Bollywood, or
speculating markets at stock exchanges - to say
nothing of a publicly traded Dalit-owned company.
With reservations, a Dalit could, for instance,
become CEO of ONGC, one of the world's most
successful oil companies. Without reservations, a
Dalit could rarely become even a typist at a private oil
company. With reservations, a Dalit could head the
police force in a state like Uttar Pradesh. Without
reservations, a Dalit would have difficulty becoming
a guard at a private-sector company.
Caste India understands all of that.
Thanks to the intellectual situation
created by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar,
as well as due to an evolving sense of
modernity, Caste India would
generally refrain from saying that it
'hates' Dalits. What it would suggest,
however, is that reservations have not
helped Dalits.
Once cornered on such rhetoric,
Caste India would change its tack:
"Well, the benefits of reservations are
cornered by a creamy layer of Dalits."
That would be amusing. Where is the
cream among Dalits? From a
population of over 250 million people,
less than 100,000 Dalits have managed
to get into Group A services. Do they
in the private
markets at stock
IPS/IRS/IFS officers themselves. In the
case of non-Dalits, such examples are
easily found. So why does Caste India not
talk about the creamy layers within itself?
There is actually the unstated hope that
children of such Dalit professionals will
not follow in their parents' footsteps. In
other words, this India does not want to
see a creamy layer - a middle class - emerge from
within Dalit ranks. In battles for emancipation
around the world, after all, the middle class has
nearly always played a crucial role.
Particularly telling was the 12 August 2005
Supreme Court judgement (later annulled by
Parliament), which ended reservations in the private
universities. For decades, the argument has been thus:
"Give them the best of education and end tlie qtiota
system." At times, these statements would even sound
pleasant to the ears. But when the Supreme Court
decision came, Caste India did not condemn the
judgement, and was instead on the bleachers
cheering wildly.
That means that whatever has been said for
decades about the 'best of education' was false. Not
that many did not already doubt the honesty of such
statements, but a Supreme Court judgment was
needed to nail the lies. In the wake of economic
reforms, the government has withdrawn from
opening new colleges and universities, and instead
has encouraged the private sector
to undertake the task. The private
sector, however, has different
ideas about embracing Dalits in the
student workforce.
Captains of Indian industry often
send their children to US universities
for degrees in management and
business, often buying seats for
thousands of dollars. There, they study
alongside African-American and other
minority students, many of
whom attend school under affirmative-
action programmes. Similarly, most
top-level Indian companies trade or
collaborate with US corporations,
conveniently forgetting that most US
corporations practice workforce
diversity programmes by law, and file
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 annual returns to the national Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
about the demographic makeup of their
workforce. Back home, however, they
continue to complain: "Nowhere else
in the world do companies practice
reservation." Well, as a matter of fact,
nowhere else in the world is there a
caste system. Where there is racism,
there are ways to correct race relations.
More Dalits
empowered could
then mean greater
economic growth,
but even this
A market languishing
With the caste order as its life and blood,
the evolution of civilisation in India has been highly
problematic. So profound are these problems that
even at the dawn of the 21st century, the country has
not been able to produce a socially secular elite. Worse
still, the country has not been able to produce an
authentic bourgeoisie. No wonder that the villagers
of Tuticorin, the fisherfolk of Nagapattinam, Harvard-
educated industrialists, Oxford-trained newspaper
editors, and temple priests - each so professionally
dissimilar - would react so similarly should a Dalit
reference occur.
Thus, even if it were to be definitively proven that
a shared India is better than a segregated India, Caste
India   would   remain   unmoved,   refusing   to
unappreciated by
Caste India.
emancipate itself from its antiquated
social institutions. To an industrialist,
there can be nothing more tempting
than making profits. The Indian
industrialist, however, would still seem
to prefer prejudice to profit.
This India is therefore unwilling to
even consider the argument that
reservations in government jobs have
in fact helped Indian industry more
than they have helped the Dalit
beneficiaries. Dalits working in state
institutions spend an estimated INR
300 billion annually - whatever Dalits earn as first-
or, at best, second-generation consumers is said to be
spent completely by the third week of the month. One
c>an speculate, then, that if the private sector opens up
to Dalits, their earnings would quickly be returned to
the market. Dalits tend to spend more on movable
assets than on immovable assets - in other words,
they do not usually block currency circulation. In any
successful market economy, money needs to remain
in circulation as much as possible. More Dalits
empowered could then mean greater economic
growth, but even this potential dynamism goes
unappreciated by Caste India.
Indian industrialists could do well to look at a
similar situation in the US, where African-Americans
are now considered to be among the strongest of
consumers. Like Dalits, African-Americans
historically lacked inherited assets and goods, so
whatever they earned they have returned to
the market.
Unlike in tlie past, the American economy has seen
shorter periods of recession, at longer intervals, since
the mid-1980s. In fact, there was a lull in the business
cycle for less than one-tenth of the time between 1991
and 2005, ensuring that the economy continued to
grow rapidly. This was a period of aggressive
affirmative action in the US, which created a new class
of consumers. African-Americans, Native Americans,
and Hispanics amassed a disposable income of about
USD 1.9 trillion annually, more than the combined
GDP of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. ,As a
result, American retail sales ballooned, thereby
boosting production. The impact of these new entrants
into the middle class on the American economy is
beyond debate. It is no wonder, then, that the American
bourgeoisie is not averse to affirmative action.
Perhaps Caste India, which increasingly admires
the American model, remains unaware of this link
between Dalit empowerment and economic upswing.
Caste India remains a highly problematic society,
nearly as problematic as South Africa once was.
Without global support, Nelson Mandela's journey
mav never have seen the light of day. Likewise,
without global support, the Dalit battle for a shared
India may remain in the shadows.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Book Review!
Stinking filth:
The political economy of scavenging
by | Vijay Prashad
In late January 2006, the sewer ran over.
Our well-heeled street in Chennai
pulsated with excreted lava. A work
crew arrived to lift the manholes and break
the pavement. By mid-morning, they had
put pipes into the sewer and had begun
pumping out as much of the sludge as
possible. The smell overpowered
everyone. Then a few of the men and
women put plastic bags over their hair,
lifted up their lungis and saris, and
descended into the sewer.
They stood in the black treacle of shit,
piss and other assorted matter, using
bamboo sticks as oars to move the sewage
around, and then buckets to pass it out to
be deposited on the street. A little later,
they left the holes to wash their feet and
hands with water from a white plastic
container. One man gave me a big smile and said,
"dirty," in. English.
I do not speak Telugu, the language of these
contracted labourers from Andhra Pradesh. The
municipality does not hire them directly, because the
work they must do is illegal according to 1993
national legislation. Nonetheless, there are now about
10,000 such workers in Chennai, most of whom live
in one of the 150 slums within the city's precincts.
The contract labourer said dirty, and even as the word
was nowhere near sufficient to describe what he had
experienced, it sufficed. It was dirty. The whole thing
was dirty: the sewage, the job, and the coexistence
between humans as technology-saving
devices and technology to save labour.
Wrhy does the municipality use human
labour, when it could turn to machines to
clear the drains? It took Eleanor Roosevelt's
visit to India in 1952 to introduce the long
broom for street-sweepers.
Why does Indian civil society tolerate
such a reduction of the human being?
Gandhi, for all his limitations, raised the
question of scavenging and cleanliness
onto the platform of Indian nationalism
back in 1901. Over the next four decade.s,
his timid approach to scavenging and
untouchability nonetheless confirmed the
outrageousness of the practice within the
ambit of the vision for a republican India.
Between 1949 and 1976, five state-
commissioned reports came to the
same conclusions: scavenging
continues; it is barbaric; and the state
must act to end it.
The 1949 Barve Commission ended
with a final word to the scavengers
themselves. The practice continues, it
argued, "because the scavengers have
submissively put up with its dirty
nature and never raised their voices
against it, as if it were ordained for
them by birth." History was thus
cheapened when India's first
commission on the problem - chaired
by a Brahmin no less - turned the onus
of scavenging onto the scavenger. It is
your problem, the government
suggested, because you do not refuse to
do this job. The silence on the millennia of struggle
against Brahmanism, and the obliviousness to the
political economy of scavenging, dramatically
reduced the Barve Commission's recommendations.
From on high, the commission propounded: "But they
should know that, as human beings and as equal
citizens of free India, they have a right to insist that
the condition of scavenging work shall be such, that
it should be capable of being done by any self-
respecting person."
Gita Ramaswamy,
India Stinking:
Manual Scavengers in
Andhra Pradesh
and their Work
by Gita Ramaswamy
Chennai: Navayana,
Organising labour
The 'right to insist' has been claimed by safai
karamcharis (manual scavengers) ever since
the Barve Commission's findings, whether
through the medium of caste associations,
trade unions, political parties, or newly
created abolitionist groups. These last have
received some attention in the past few years,
before and after the World Conference
against Racism at Durban in 2001. The
Navsarjan Trust (NST) in Gujarat and the
more militant Safai Karamchari Andolan
(SKA) in Andhra Pradesh are both
committed to various forms of direct action
to end the use of pit latrines and other sorts
of sanitation technology that require manual
Bangalore: Books scavenging.
for Change 3rd Gita Ramaswamy's India Stinking and
Edition 2005.    Mari Marcel Thekaekara's Endless Filth
Endless Filth:
The Saga of the
by Mari Marcel
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 provide a survey of the legislative failures        llltiftllltfiilf
and barbarism of the practice. The former
introduces the reader to the SKA, while
the latter introduces the NST. Both books IHJHiailiSIH IsIOItCS
profile the leading forces in each of these
respective organisations - the SKA's
Bezwada Wilson and the NST's Martin
Macwan - both of whom have fought hard
to motivate civil society to push against
the recalcitrance of state authorities.
"Why should we organise [the
scavengers]?". Wilson asks Ramaswamy.
"To demand better wages and living conditions? I am
criticised for being anti-institution, anti-organisation.
But our strength does not grow with a powerful
organisation of manual scavengers. We can only be
powerful when there are no manual scavengers."
Macwan is similarly forthright in his discussions of
the government's various commissions: "What totally
devastated me was that they were not agitating against
the practice. They were merely begging the Panchayat
to give them more brooms to prevent their hands from
being soiled with shit. They didn't dream of
eliminating scavenging."
Scavenging, after all, cannot be reformed; it must be
abolished. But not only has it not been abolished, it
has been strengthened. While both Ramaswamy and
Thekaekara indict the Indian civil society and
government on moral grounds, that is not enough:
one has to seek out the problem elsewhere than
morality. In both books, abolitionists enter a
neighbourhood to break down a pit latrine. There, they
are confronted by the residents of the area, who
remonstrate with them because they have no access to
any other toilet, a particular problem for the women.
"You people have big houses, so you can have toilets
inside your homes," one person tells the SKA in India
Stinking. This is typical, and it is meaningful. To
moralise against scavenging does not address the
fundamental questions of uneven access to public
facilities, or the use of labour as a cheap substitute
for technology.
Caste and economics
This tendency towards morality comes about because
of a lack of linkage between Brahmanical ideas about
pollution and the political economy of sanitation. If
the problem was only in Brahmanical prejudice, then
a moral condemnation of the ideas might produce an
ideological shift. The problem vests equally in the
ideology of pollution-purity, however, and on the
state's reproduction of caste oppression through its
agencies like the sanitation department. As such, it is
worth taking seriously the complaints of those who
rely upon the degradation of other humans for their
own cleanliness.
To moralise against one section of the poor to help
another is insufficient. The state neglects the sanitary
needs of the working poor, and then provides them
offering no
programme for
their liberation.
with bare-minimum services on the backs
of the manual scavengers. Rather than
spend money on technologies that can
remove humans from direct contact with
the excreta of others, the local government
relies on human beings from certain caste
communities to bear the social costs.
Municipalities spend far more on water
supply than on sewage removal, and
disproportionately more on the enclaves
of the wealthy than on the slums of the
poor. These economic decisions are rife
with caste implications, because to run sewage
removal on the cheap means that administrators
replace available technology with human labour. This
is the inhumanity of the political economy of
scavenging, and it has a long history. In 1912, an
English officer suggested that the colonial
municipality must be "guided not by what is the best
system of sanitation, but by what is the best system
which the Municipal funds can afford." This
logic continues.
In 1993, the Lok Sabha finally took up the matter
and passed a stringent law banning the use of manual
scavenging. The SKA and NST act on the basis of that
law, but they have found that only a statutory agency
would be able to break the very pit latrines that are
now illegal. Indolent, insolvent and caste-ridden
governmental agencies, however, have not taken this
initiative. The law also passed just as the Indian state
began to liberalise. How will Housing and Urban
Development Corporation (HUDCO) funding create
water-seal latrines, when HUDCO and its ilk are
under their own financial constraints? Liberalisation
has meant the decline of the state's regulatory
capacity. The 1993 act defrayed the abolition of
scavenging onto the individual states of the union at
a time when government agencies and state budgets
were being scaled back. This needs to be part of the
context of any discussion of abolition, and explains
why almost a decade-and-a-half later, there are still
over 1.3 million people who work in this sector. The
"worst kind of oppression and indignities,"
according to the 1994 National Commission for Safai
Karamcharis, continues. For neither the first time nor
the last would this government body call the practice
of manual scavenging "a blot on the face of
the nation."
The moral voice is necessary. The realist
descriptions of the inhumanity are compelling. Both*
of these are well provided for in India Stinking and
Endless Filth. Ultimately, however, humanism alone
fails the scavengers, offering no programme for their
liberation. Such a plan would require a forthright look
at the nexus between the political economy of
scavenging and the pollution-purity ideology
of Brahmanism. Anything less makes us, the
bourgeois reader, feel better, but does little for the
objects of our concern.
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Book Review
The Pakistani Dalit
by | Yoginder Sikand
The hierarchical and discriminator)' caste system,
legitimised by Hinduism, is so deeply entrenched
in Southasian societies that it has even affected
the adherents of theoretically egalitarian religions like
Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and
Buddhism. With the highest Hindu
concentration in India and Nepal, the
exploitation of Dalits is often believed
to be limited to these countries. As
this remarkable book explains,
however, caste discrimination
against Dalits is a social reality in
Pakistan as well, where over 95
percent of the population is Muslim.
Pirbhu Lai Satyani knows of what
he speaks: a Pakistani Hindu social
activist based in Sindh, Satyani works
with his country's Dalits. In this slim
volume, he claims that of Pakistan's
roughly 3 million Hindus, over 75
percent are Dalits of various castes,
including . Meghwals, Odhs,
Valmikis, Kohlis and Bhils. They
reside mainly in southern Punjab
and Sindh and seem to suffer the
same dismal plight as their
counterparts in India.
In a 1944 speech, Mohammad Ali
Jinnah declared that the Muslim
League would protect the rights of the
Dalits, assuring them of full security.
Soon after, Jogendra Nath Mondal, a Dalit from East
Bengal, was appointed as the leader of the Constituent
Assembly of Pakistan and the country's first law
minister. With increasing intolerance towards
minorities in post-Jinnah Pakistan, however, Mondal
resigned from the cabinet and migrated to India in
1953. Today, Satyani argues, the religious minorities
are at the bottom of the heap in Pakistan's social
hierarchy, and among them, the worst sufferers are
the country's Dalits.
In the aftermath of Partition, the majority of Hindus
who stayed back were Dalits. The migration of Hindus
to India continued, especially after the India-Pakistan
wars of 1965 and 1971, when they felt an enhanced
sense of insecurity. Those fears reappeared when
Muslim minorities in India were attacked by Hindu
extremists, in the wake of the destruction of the Babri
Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992. Hindus worried that such
activities would be used as a pretext by Islamic
extremists in Pakistan to target them.
Lacking money and resources, Dalits in Pakistan
were unable to make the same choice of migration
available to upper-caste, more well-off Hindus.
Satyani writes: "The Dalits are so
caught up with mere day-to-day
survival issues that Hindu-Muslim
.     conflicts or Pakistan-India disputes
are not as important for them as they
are for rich 'upper'-caste Hindus."
The fact that, for Dalits, life in India
is hardly better than in Pakistan,
might also have deterred migration.
Harney Bhi Jeeney Do:
Pakistan Mai Acchoot Logon
ki Suratehal
(Let Us Also Live: The
Situation of Pakistan's
by Pirbhu Lai Satyani
ASR Resource Centre,
Lahore, 2005
Price: PKR 20
Lowest of the low
Dalits in Pakistan are caught in a
quagmire. Being a part of the Hindu
fold, they have to face the same
discrimination that minorities in
general are subject'to in Pakistan. The
fact that they are the 'lowest of the
low' even within this minority makes
their position all die more vulnerable.
The scourge of the caste system,
coupled with their position in the
class matrix, have together made
Dalits one of the most deprived
communities in the country. Any
analysis of the situation of Pakistan's
Dalits would have to locate them in
the context of these multiple
identities: of being poor, Tow-caste' and minority.
Satyani brilliantly narrates the structural violence
that Dalits are subjected to. While there is immense
diversity in their living patterns, what is common is
their marginalisation and deprivation. In rural areas,
most Dalits work as landless agricultural labourers
and sweepers, with their huts located in separate
settlements outside of the main village. They
generally earn a pittance and are often forced into
free labour by powerful Muslim and Hindu feudal
lords. Those heavily indebted to landlords and
moneylenders can expect little support from the state
justice system, and have to submit to a miserable
existence as bonded labourers. Land mafias in rural
Sindh regularly grab lands on which Dalits have set
up their huts. In most places, Dalits have no temples
of their own and local Muslims often illegally occupy
the few places where they can cremate their dead. In
towns and cities, Dalits generally live in the poorest,
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
 most squalid slums. Discriminated against by
Muslims and upper-caste Hindus alike, many Dalits
have converted to Islam or Christianity.
Efforts are rarely made to ameliorate the plight of
Pakistan's Dalits, and the few initiatives that have
been taken seldom reach the intended beneficiaries.
Many Dalits do not possess national identity cards
and so cannot access various government
developmental schemes. With the country's more
influential and organised Christian and upper-caste
Hindu communities monopolising state-sanctioned
facilities for minorities, Dalits are deprived of even
the basic rights meant for them.
Unlike in India, where Dalit activism is slowly
finding its feet and the state system has been
somewhat responsive to the plight of the 'oppressed'
castes, there is hardly any organisation working for
Dalit welfare in Pakistan. In the absence of strong
political leadership of their own, Dalits have failed
to effectively demand their rights from the state or
from the larger society. Even in the most blatant cases
of human rights violations, they generally do not
protest. Satyani traces the inadequate political
mobilisation to acute poverty, rampant illiteracy and
discrimination. In many places, Dalits are not
allowed to freely vote for candidates of their own
choice, often forced by powerful Hindu and Muslim
landlords to vote for particular candidates. The acute
division among Dalits, with various Dalit castes
practicing untouchability amongst themselves, has
further added to the political marginalisation.
For its part, the Pakistani state prefers to promote
the more influential upper-caste Hindus as 'leaders'
of the Hindus, rather than also consider an alternate
Dalit leadership. The state's commitment - or lack
thereof - to the Dalit cause is apparent in the Punjab.
Despite a population of almost 350,000 Dalits in
southern Punjab (mainly in the Rahim Yar Khan
and Bahawalpur districts), there are no reserved
seats for either Dalits or Hindus in the Provincial
Assembly. Christians occupy all the seats reserved
for minorities in the Assembly.
Affirmative action policies meant especially to
encourage Dalits in government employment have
been discontinued. While decades ago, M A Jinnah
had provided a six percent job quota for Dalits in
some government services, in 1998 the Nawaz Sharif
government, assisted by some upper-caste Hindu
and Christian leaders, changed the Dalit quota to a
general minority quota, thus effectively denying
Dalits assured access to government jobs.
Combating the oppression
The caste system is a Southasian problem, given its
transborder existence across India and Nepal - and,
as   this   book   shows,   in   Pakistan.   Satyani
recommends that the issue of Dalit human rights
and amelioration of their pathetic conditions be
placed as part of the SAARC agenda. This would,
he hopes, force all SAARC members to take the issue
more seriously.
The author presents an exhaustive list of social,
political and religious recommendations, meant to
eliminate inequities that burden Pakistani Dalits.
These include: the setting up of a national
commission devoted exclusively to Dalit issues;
proportional reservations for Dalit seats in the
national and provincial assemblies; adequate
representation for Dalits in all government services;
and the revision of educational curricula to delete
negative portrayals of non-Muslim communities.
Recognising that class and caste issues converge
against Dalits, Satyani suggests that landless
labourers be granted land titles.
The author also advocates for Dalit rights within
the context of the larger Hindu community, calling
for the repeal of all 'black laws' against religious
minorities. If Pakistan wishes to emerge as a
multicultural country that respects diversity, he
says, it must also give Hindu employees - including
Dalits - holidays for their festivals. Dalit
communities that do not have access to cremation
grounds should be provided such facilities. Finally,
Hindu temples presently under the control of the
Waqf Department should be given back to the
community. Whether Pakistan's state authorities
would be willing to accede to such demands, of
course, is another question.
Given the near total absence of literature on
Pakistan's Dalits, this slim book is nothing less than
pioneering. It is not without its limitations, however.
The author could have provided district-wise figures
for the Dalit population and a list of various Dalit
castes in Pakistan (reportedly over two dozen). Some
oral narratives would also have added value.
Relations between Hindu Dalits and other similar
Tow'-status groups among the Muslims and
Christians in Pakistan might have been discussed,
as also inter-Dalit differences, which have impeded
efforts to promote a broad-based Dalit alliance.
Another dimension missing from the account are
the rich religious traditions of the Dalits, which have
historically sustained them over the centuries. The
author also ignores the efforts being made by some
individuals and groups in Pakistan, including
several of non-Dalit background, to work for Dalit
emancipation. In the course of this writer's recent
visit to Pakistan, he met several such people, whose
efforts need to be documented and highlighted in
order to serve as a source of inspiration for others.
This work by Pribhu Lai Satyani deserves to be
translated into English and other languages, for it
would be of considerable interest to people outside
of Pakistan as well. A
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Book Review]
Political is personal
by | Ira Singh
If you grew up in a small town in the 1970s, studied
in a convent school, and later wended your way
to college and hostel in Delhi University, this book
will be a nostalgic one - whether it is for the smell of
Lakme egg shampoo (long ago swamped by L'Oreal),
choir practice, or parathas at the P G Women's hostel
canteen. Yet this is a novel more ambitious than a
coming of age saga, the usual bildungsroman; it is also
a kunstlerroman, a portrait of an artist. This accounts
for the book's structure: the first three sections are in
the protagonist's voice, the next are extracts from his
first book, and the last section is from
the point of view of his ex-lover. These
narrative strategies, though simply
constructed, invest the protagonist with
a certain significance.
Ritwik Ray grows up in Patna, and
will eventually make a choice to return
and work there. In some ways, it is
Patna that is the protagonist of this book.
However much you can imagine
transposing the action onto another
small town or city, Chowdhury's
strength is his sure and concrete
relationship with the place where he
locates his novel. While he peels away
the layers of the pretensions and
hypocrisies of the benighted middle
classes, he also sketches, with
compassion, a portrait of a place sunk
in cultural torpor and riven with caste
antagonisms. Simultaneously, the author charts some
of the major political movements in this country since
the 1970s: that of Jay Prakash Narayan, the Naxal
revolution, the Mandal agitations.
The book ends around the time Laloo Prasad
Yadav, having come to power in Patna, arrests L K
Advani and stops his Ram rath yatra from entering
Bihar. The 'political' in this book is the personal, and
at no point do we feel Chowdhury is merely using it
to form a 'turbulent' backdrop to a saga of 'smalltown' life. That too is a strength. Chowdhury seems
to get every nuance right: the Bengali-Bihari
confluence, the upper-caste response to Mandal,
and the casual violence against a Muslim boy
from Bangladesh.
Ritwik's world is defined by the characters who
people it. Harryda is the film buff who invites fate
Patna Roughcut
Siddharth Chowdhury
Picador India
Price: INR 250
after flouting convention by living with a lower-caste
woman, and who is a direct counter to the hearty
youths with whom Ritwik went to school and played
cricket. Mrinal Babu is the local zamindar, and his
loyal minion, Saifu Mian. Most importantly is Mrinal
Babu's granddaughter, Ila Lytton Mowbray. Ila will
decide what Ritwik reads; this, in turn, becomes a
central shaping experience for both protagonist and
reader. This is a book about books, their power to
transform us and to define us.
Ila, beaten to death by right-wingers while
performing a street play, continues to
haunt and shape Ritwik's life. This is
resented by his lover, Mira Verma, who
will eventually marry the urbane Samar
Sinha. The last section of the book,
recounted by Mira, delivers us a Ritwik
seen through her eyes. Both Mira and
Ritwik are writers now, but Ritwik does
not particularly want to be published in
New York; he is content with his Patna
In a book that is intelligent and dense
with observation and recall (even though
the prose is occasionally clumsy), a few
things do seem odd. There is no
inferiority - we do not really 'know7 the
characters well, for observation takes the
place of interior growth. In that sense,
the characters tend to be flat, particularly
the protagonist, who is too much the
author's mouthpiece. The other is the somewhat
mannered way in which the women characters are
developed. This reviewer was, in fact, reminded of
another Ila: in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines.
That's a praiseworthy book, too, but with the same
problem. Both Mira and Ila here are deeply and
problematically romanticised; in turn, Ritwik
becomes a darkly glamorous character in Mira's
narrative. This, perhaps, lends a somewhat precious
air to the sections detailing Delhi University and the
return to Patna (the setting is the Patna cine society,
the film Godard, the section of the novel rather
awkwardly called 'Waiting for Godard').
Yet these remain minor quibbles. This is not
another dreary growing-up novel, but is highly
recommended. Patna Roughcut charts the history of a
generation with both credibility and passion.
Himal Southasian | March-April 2006
Registering in Lahore
An Indian Bangalee finds a welcoming face at Pakistan's front door.
by |  Rinku Dutta
Not even my arch-enemies will accuse me of
being lily-livered - least of all, the Foreign
Registration officers at the Lahore Police
Headquarters. In fact, some of them are reluctantly
appreciative of my holding-my-own as an Indian
woman before the overbearing, muscled-
moustachioed-macho Pakistani law-keepers.
As I strode into the Foreign Registration (FR) office
this time, I glanced around, checking for the faces,
objects and arrangements of re-association in
potentially hostile territory. The clock that used to be
on the right wall, I noticed, was now above the door.
"Arre Professor Saheba! Aap kab ayeeN? Itne maheenoN
ke baud hume yaad aaye?" ("Oh, hello Professor Saheba!
When did you arrive? You remember us after so
many months?")
I aAaa«.      addaaa/a -
The officer rising to welcome me 'home' looked
familiar from my last visit, almost a year earlier, when
I had come to report my exit from the country. Then
too he had touched me with his genuine warmth.
"Professor Saheba, why are you leaving?" he had
teased. "Are you upset with us?"
I was touched. I smiled and assured him that his
apprehensions were misplaced - I was leaving
because of other reasons. Over my year's stay and
three-monthly visits to extend my visa, the officers
and clerks at the FR office and I had become well-
acquainted with one another. So Chief Officer K didn't
probe. He ordered tea.
I had to politely refuse. "When I return, inshallah."
God-willed or otherwise, I went back to Lahore
less than a year later. Chief Officer K looked
quizzically at me as I inspected the office's changes.
"I was looking for the clock," I explained. "It was on
that wall when I first came here in December 2002."
"You remember?"
"Yes. And besides, I had made a sketch."
I happened to be carrying my sketchbook in my
bag, and I showed him the pen-drawing I had made
of the FR office the first time that I had come to 'police
report'. Officer K showed it around appreciatively to
the others in the room, and each guessed as to the
identity of the snoozing officer depicted.
I had made the drawing sitting in the same chair
in which I was currently seated, but Officer K had
not been present. Waiting for the clerks, I had busied
myself sketching the office, until I was shooed out by
an officer suspicious of my busy pen. Sometime during
my subsequent visits to the FR office, however, my
presence must have been accepted as benign.
Refuting my misgivings, they have proven to be
respectfully courteous and proactively helpful.
Chief Officer K has been particularly impressive -
dealing every day with aliens, especially the 'enemy'
Indians, compassionately and considerately.
Knowing that he was in the FR office eased much of
the anxiety that I had suffered the first two times I
was in Lahore.
The day I was leaving, while sipping a Mirinda in
his office, in tottered two old gentlemen. Indians.
Octogenarians. Chief Officer K looked at me and
commented disparagingly: "Old people above 65
years of age were to have been given 'police-reporting-
free' visas. That was the supposed understanding
between our countries. Look at these two - one 87-
year-old Indian has come to visit his 83-year-old
Pakistani blood-brother, and the two have traveled
all. the way here to report the Indian elder's arrival!"
Looking through the documents, he addressed the
younger brother, who was helping the older one into
a chair: "Please, next time neither you nor he needs
to come here to report. Just send the relevant papers
through someone else. We will take care of it."
Officer K is all for peace between India and
Pakistan. Visa procedures have become stricter these
days, sometimes cutting the number of applicants
the Lahore office processes by two-thirds.
To have a peace-loving chief officer at the Lahore
Foreign Registration office is an enormous blessing.
To express my gratitude, I gave him a framed, enlarged
copy of the sketch that he had admired. He wanted to
hang it on the wall of the renovated office, but I
gave him one to stand on his less obtrusive side-
cabinet instead. A
March-April 2006 | Himal Southasian
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 Sun, 600 million yearsold.
Culture, 3000yea rsold.
Al in Sri Lanka.
There is year long beachcombing climate in Sri Lanka.
If you're not content just lounging in a deck chair,
there's water sports, deep sea diving and surfing.
However, you wouldn't be prepared for the
awe-inspiring spectacle of ancient Sri Lanka
and all its well-preserved remnants.
You're our world
^PSrilankan Airlines


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