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Himal South Asian Volume 17, Number 3-4, March-April 2004 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2004-04

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■   bhai bhai
Shining h
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What better choice than Hotel Tibet!
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<>   <>
Vol 17 No 3-4
w   A   s   i .A   N   M
March-April 2004
O    N   T    E    N   T   S
Shining kitsch
by Shiv Vishwanathan
Peace process and the LTTE split
by Jehan Perera
A comer of Pakistan
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Feeling good? Feeling terrible!
by Syed All Mujtaba
Between jhatka and halal
by Satish Deshpande
20      REPORT
The importance of not forgetting
by Biraj Swain and Somnath Vatsa
10       OPINION
Ecumenism  and   Islam's  enemy
by Yoginder Sikand
Inside the nuclear closet
by Pervez Hoodbhoy
The poor man's disease
by Dr Cesar Chelala
Rice and sovereignty
by Devinder Sharma
Notorious fizz
by Sudhirendar Sharma
NHRC of Nepal: amidst the ruins
by Suhas Chakma
Good books and bad books
by Mukul Dube
Para ninda, para charcha
by Dipankar Sinha
 Contributors to this issue
Kanak Mani Dixit
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Manik de Silva
dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
newdeim Mitu varma
n. America .Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
Joe Thomas K
Design Team
Indra Shrestha
Kam Singh Chepang
Suresh Neupane
Bilash Rai (Graphics)
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Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
Biraj Swain and Somnath Vatsa work with ActionAid's Aman Samudaya project to build peace
and communal harmony in riot-affected Gujarat.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant.
CK Lai is a Kathmandu engineer and columnist with the weekly Nepali Times.
Devinder Sharma is a food and trade policy analyst who chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for
Biotechnology and Food Security.
Dipankar Sinha is Reader in Political Science, Calcutta University, India. He is also on the editorial
board of Ekak Matra.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist based in Colombo, is weekly columnist for the Daily Mirror.
Mukul Dube is a social scientist by training and has compiled the Directory of Performing
Hindustani Musicians.
Pervez Hoodbhoy is Professor of Nuclear Physics at Quaid-i-,Azam University, Islamabad.
Satish Deshpande is a researcher at the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi.
Shiv Vishwanathan is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS),
New Delhi.
Sudhirendar Sharma is a water expert and a development analyst with the Delhi-based
Ecological Foundation.
Suhas Chakma is director of the Asian Human Rights Centre, New Delhi.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a broadcast journalist based in Madras.
Yoginder Sikand is a researcher of Islamic history and a freelance writer based in Bangalore.
Cover design Kamsingh Chepang. Cover Photo: The EyePress agency,
lastlastpage concept Joe Thomas K. Design Suresh Neupane.
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f{ i
ri *    ■
I AM amused by some of the suggestions in Nupur Basu's article
'Jury out on the Jury' (Himal November 2003) that
jury members should take note of the "difficult
circumstances" in which documentaries have been
made as a criteria in judging films. The allegation
that the Jury members at Film South Asia '03 have
been 'apolitical' because they have not given away
prizes to films that Basu (and others) think is
'political' is absurd and ultimately ruinous for
documentary filmmaking. Basu seems to consider
documentary films as not an art form but an
extension of activism and brave journalism. While
bravery is certainly commendable, the yardstick for
judging documentaries should also extend to
matters concerning style and treatment. Aesthetic
choices are never standard and will always differ
and we will have to live with that. And of course,
style and treatment like content is also a political
This is not a defence of Film South Asia, as 1
have never attended one and my recent film Tales
of the Night Fairies was not even chosen to be part
of the 2003 Festival. Moreover, 1 do not even know
what films have won the prizes. 1 am responding to
the suggestion that documentaries should be
judged by the context and not the text, the intention
and not the execution - at least, not necessarily!
For many years, Bombay films never went to international film festivals but they carried on with
an elan that we documentary filmmakers should
emulate. Making documentaries should be about
the fun of making it and sharing it with others
whether inside or outside festivals. It should be
about building constituencies, spaces and audiences
and, about a varied practice embracing a multitude
of styles and formal concerns. Documentaries such
as Bowling for Columbine hy Roger Moore, like
the earlier Roger and Me, would have been
equally inspiring had it not won so many awards.
In fact, documentary filmmaking will have arrived
- like the Bombay film - when festivals and prizes
cease to matter.
Till then, let us remember that no jury in the world
makes everyone happy, just as no film in the world
makes everybody happy. Of course, there is space
to institute Bravery Awards but that is a different
matter altogether!
Shohini Ghosh
AJK Mass Communication Research Centre
jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Back then
I WOULD like to add something to
what is carried in the article 'Special
editions and rubber barons' (Himal
May 2003), even though this response comes nearly a year later. I
know of Madhyamam (the newspaper mentioned) because I happened to live in the
Malabar region (north Kerala) for some time. It would
be interesting to note the articles in Madhyamam
during the war against the Taliban. One would not
be surprised if you happen to come across pro-
Taliban articles in this paper. Also, every family in
this region has someone in the gulf countries and it
makes commercial sense to write anti-war articles.
In a way, the so-called peace initiative of the paper
was only to appease the minds of the Muslim
readers. I happened to hear a speech by a Member of
Parliament from that region in a college there. The
Taliban had been ousted then. The speech was not
only pro-Taliban, but the MP went on to support the
spreading of anthrax in the United States. I was left
angered and wondering. Thinking of the Taliban
ouster as a 'holy war' between Christians and
Muslims was absurd. In a way the paper is biased
when it comes to "American war".
When the author writes that Madhyamam is a
reformist paper, he is absolutely right. The paper
does bring into light the backwardness of the region
and does take steps to root out some of the outmoded
beliefs and customs of the region.
Praveen (via email)
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2004 March-April 17/3-4 HiMAL
 Southasia Shining...
INDIA MAKES up the larger part of Southasia by land-
mass and population, and so if India were shining one
could make the argument that so would Southasia. But
this would only make sense if India's brilliant glow
were spread over its one billion-plus population, in
which case the economic and social revival in its thousand manifestations would also extend across the Subcontinent and outlying regions,
The gentlemen who rule from New Delhi at the moment would like us to believe in the run-up to the general elections of April-Miiy that India is indeed resplendent, sending off rays of light, sparkling like the diadem catching a shaft of the bright early summer sun.
The reality is that India shimmers only for the upper
middle classes, the few score million, enjoying the postmodern, post-protectionist consumerist boom. The point
that the Indian sun shines for but a few does not demand a debate, although we are
aghast at Mrs. Gandhi's Congress
Party's inability get the point across.
Mrs Gandhi has not been able to
challenge the hype and get the
message across that over 400 million
Indians are underemployed, under-
productive, underfed, underclad,
undersheltered and undereducated.
The academics are crying themselves
hoarse, but this is political terrain.
The rest of the Southasian elite
would gladly go along with the
feelgood vibes emanating from the
Jamuna banks, given that their societies are even less egalitarian than
India's. And the interests of the
Anglophone urban superelites are actually tied together
as part of the charmed Southasian circle that is at ease
with each other in gymkhanas from Dhaka to Quetta.
So when New Delhi claims that India sizzles, the well-
to-do in Karachi and Kathmandu are dazzled. And
everyone fervently believes in the trickle down which
will at some point of time touch the masses. Those who
remind of starvation deaths, suicide-prone farmers,
labourers pawning blood and kidney, mothers selling
children to slave labour, are merely trying to spoil
the fun.
These economic upper classes ride the crest of unrepresentative polities, whether democracy or dictatorship. And they meet each other at airport departure
lounges all the time, exclaiming at 'what a small world
it is'. Tn reality, it is not that the world is undersized,
but that the Anglophones of Southasia are a very
small group. Among them, there is no more than two
degrees of separation — between the NGO chieftan of
Islamabad and the senior bureaucrat in Dhaka and the
executive of the Indian multinational in Bombay. Going by this criterion, Southasia is actually already one
Vernacular Southasia
Those who live secure lives in Bandara or Bonani
(Dhaka), Qutub Enclave (Haryana), Sector V
(Islamabad) or Cinnamon Gardens (Colombo), in faux
Greco-Roman towers coming up all over with polished
marble-floor lobbies and airconditioning to keep out
the evening chill, can really feel the rays of shining India touching their face. But then reality strikes looking
down just about anywhere, for there are shanties in the
shadow of the high-rise without running water, whose
occupants defecate in the open nullah over there. Just
out side the grand Greco-Roman
llfllfJin gates, the dusty road has no footpath
'—' I Syj_ and the cobbler has his shop on the
I |MH)|     street. The child labourer (tribal?
■ U   mM     dalit? Gorkha?) scurries about serving
the customers at the chaivvallah's
JT303J stall.
WS}ff^)£>jfo$ rj Much is made of the Great Indian
-* Middle Class, without ever defining
what where lies the 'middle', are we
talking rural or urban, how wide a
band are we including within the
spectrum, and are we not all wanting to call ourselves middle because
we really know that we are upper.
The real middle class properly defined as filling the center of the
demographic spectrum, surprise, does not speak English and makes up the bulk of the urban and smalltown populace, far from rejoicing today suffers in the
miasma of unfulfilled expectations. Unlike for the
absolute poor, whose hopes from society are at nil and
survival the mantra, the frustrations for the millions of
the true middle class come with the chagrin of seeing
others 'make it'. That is where the violent revolutions
of future Southasia are made.
If there was one group that could have brought
Southasia together, it would have been the
Anglophones, because they essentially are of the same
nation. When India and Pakistan go to war as they do,
the generals on both sides speak to BBC Television with
the identical English accent. Yet, other than the members of the India Pakistan People's Forum crying in the
wilderness, Anglophone Southasia prefers to remain
above the muck of politics, speaking liberal language
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
EE3 Central Railway
SI Eastern Railway
□ Northern Railway
□ North Eastern Railway
1-^1 Northeast Frontier Ra j la/ay Mahe
IS Southern Railway    *          '
O South Central Railway
I ;'.! South Eastern Railway
Pft! Western Railway
C3 Konkan Railway
Kanniya kumari
without doing anything concrete on the ground either
to bring about peace or a more egalitarian society.
The India Shining campaign is aimed at this
Anglophone India which basks, not Vernacular India.
The original ad campaign was conceptualised in English and developed in English by the agency Grey
Worldwide India, whose creative director defends the
commercials on almost every English talk-show beamed
via satellite. Only lately and lamely has the GOI been
trying to convert the line into other languages, Bharat
The rest of Southasia's Anglophones also like the
India Shining campaign, because you can always ride
the coattails of the Indian upper classes. That much
trickle down and across, then is.
Railway loo
Bagdogra is the town next to Siliguri in the 'chicken's
neck' that separates the Indian Northeast form the mainland. It is part of the historically depressed region of
northern India, which extends in one sweep from lower
Assam through the Duars, West Bengal, across the
expanse of Bihar and over to Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Everything about the chicken's neck reeks of underdevelopment, but not Bagdogra Airport, which is all
sparkle and chrome, catering to the classes who have
discovered flight.
Just a few miles away from the aerodrome, is the
important railway junction of New Jalpaiguri which
remains saddled with its colonial era sheds and platforms, but with post-colonial squalor that is the lot of
the railway traveller. With the deep pockets of Southasia
migrating to air travel, the railways as the most cost-
effective and egalitarian of transportation systems, are
losing out.
Once on the train out of New Jalpaiguri, this one
happens to be the Kanchenjunga Express bound for
Guwahati, a visit to the toilet vestibule indicates once
again the continuing and expanding class divide. The
lavatory pan of Indian Railways hasn't changed in a
century, and the excreta drops directly into the tracks
and sleepers whizzing past below.
The entire grand network of the Indian Railways, the
largest in the world at 81,511 kilometres, is one massive
latrine network where train travellers (First Class,
Airconditioned First and Second, Second Class) dump
their 'night-soil'. Toilets were first introduced into the
Indian Railways upper classes in 1891 and 1907 in the
lower classes. Since then, into 2004, those who live along
the tracks, rural and urban, have continued to suffer the
indignity of being at the receiving end.
Until the movers and shakers of India (and
Southasia) are sensitive enough to ensure that their railways begin to have on-board collection and disposal of
sewage slurry, India (and Southasia) will never get the
glow that is being claimed. A
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
Shining kitsch
The Shining India ad campaign is an
invitation to a semiotic war, a biitz aimed
at those tired of Malthusian predictions
and Marxist analysis. Positive thinking
over welfare economics.
by Shiv Vishwanathan ^_
Every society leaves behind symbolic as well as
material debris. A symbolic archaeology can be
as fruitful as the material archaeology of moving
around debris of old monuments and ruins. In fact election time would be a good time for symbolic archaeology to examine which slogans and symbols survive
and which get transformed. Indian election slogans
revolve around ideas of unity, stability and innovation.
They are meditations of how parts fit into a bigger whole.
Thus, we had the great slogans of garibi hatao, roti kapda
aur makan, jai jawan jai kisan, or Rajiv Gandhi's 'India in
the 21st century'. Each was a statement of how India
was to be united; each a commitment to a nation-state
project. Most of the 50 years of Indian independence
were dominated by the Congress Party living off its
nationalist symbols like the Nehru cap, the Gandhian
charkha, Sardar Patel's integrity or decisiveness, the
large dams as temples of modern India, or the Green
Revolution. The question is how the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) enters this symbolic space. It is a parvenu. It
realises its own symbols would not take it too far — the
lotus is hardly the Ashok Chakra or the khadi in terms of
emotive power. It has to indulge in the politics of brand
management. True, it does not have the Sumantra
Ghosals or David Ogilvy by its side but it knows it has
to fight a semiotic war to redefine nation, state, history,
economics and geography.
The semiotic war that the BJP fought was conducted
at four levels. First were the present Deputy Prime Min-
ister LK Advani's rath-yatras (the age of 'Toyota chariots') that were generalised events. They galvanised the
party more than the people. It used modem mediums to
capture old symbolic domains. The second battle was
conducted by appropriating Congress Party symbolism. If the Congress gobbled up nationalism, what
would be left for the BJP? What it generated therefore
were acts of mimicry where Vajpayee was projected as
a Nehruvian avatar and Advani as his Patel clone. The
shades were subtly different. The BJP was the party of
patriots, from Subash Bose to Tilak, and from Lajpat
Rai to Patel, and Jawaharlal was only a variant on the
theme. It was brilliantly done. president Sonia
Gandhi was caught up with the 'foreign origin' issue
while the BJP was stealing her domestic symbolic ware.
The third move was more sinister and fought out in
the aftermath of the Gujarat riots. One had to create
symbolic legitimation for the riots and Gujarat Chief
Minister Narendra Modi managed that through a set of
symbolic binaries - secular versus religious, inside versus outside, Delhi versus Gujarat, English language
versus regional papers, the Westernised elite versus
Gujarati people. The secular press, including NDTV,
played into the internalisation of these appositions and
created a constituency for Modi. The ordinary Gujarati
felt he had been misunderstood by Delhi. As Modi put
it in "their" collective voice, "What does Delhi think,
that 50 lakh Gujarati's are murderers and rapists?"
Semiotically he was home with his cosy communalism
hiding its genocidal Janus face. He thanked the English language press especially NDTV for letting him
romp home during the elections. But Advani, along
with Arun Jaitley (Union Minister for Law, Justice &
Company Affairs) and Pramod Mahajan (the BJP General Secretary) realised that these old controversies and
symbols alone would not do. The BJP had to look more
global, more youthful, more achievement-oriented. BJP
politics had to promise consumption accessible to more.
It had to be user friendly — not the party which kept
mobilising the past, but the party which was an invitation to the future. Talking about Bharat was a loser's
strategy. It struck a whining note of those left behind or
left out. Also Jai Shree Ram was hardly a visiting card to
be handed out to the new generation. One had to fuse
time and space, and especially generations, in a new
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 way. It was the Congress that was to have the handicap of history. The campaign could not be conducted
negatively — it was not enough to show that the Congress combination of socialist realism and dynastic rule
led to a stifling of both history and the future. It was not
enough to hint that Omar Abdullah (son of National
Conference leader Farooq Abdullah), Sachin Pilot (son
of late Congress leader Rajesh Pilot) and Jyotiraditya
Scindia (son of late Congress leader Madhavrao
Scindia), the polished new Turks of the Congress were
also dynasts still suffering Oedipally from Congress
The BJP needed a new myth, a picture of India as a
new set of coalitions in virtual reality. It could not be a
Summons to religion, caste, tradition or language. One-
needed a language which was open-ended but not secular; that was hospitable, but offering a notion of values
and productivity; that smelt not of envy but of success;
that was an invitation but worked like a summons; that
represented a fraternity and not a „.
club where everyone wanted
membership. A notion of Tndia that
made one feel good, which smacked
not of corruption, disasters and
nepotism but of untrammelled
success — not local success but global success. Only four things talked
this language - cricket, Bollywood,
the Diaspora and the IT/IIT industry. Each was unapologetically Indian but globally resonant. A notion of unity that was not civilisational but material, a combined
supermarket of dreams and values.
Something that Doordarshan could screen and MTV
would not be embarrassed about. Semiotic wars are not
easy, and the BJP had got it right again. It was called
shining India, lt was a new friendly hypothesis on India.
It had the makings of a surrogate myth.
Doomsday brigade
There are two things we must try to understand. Firstly,
the psychology of the myth and the psychological tactics of those opposed to the myth. Subsequently, we can
explore the language, symbolism and impact of the
myth. The myth as technique was an attempt to create a
'feel good' feeling. It had shades of Norman Vincent
"Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a
mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this
picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind
will seek to develop the picture... Do not build up
obstacles in your imagination".
The power of positive thinking goes a long way for
a nation. Indian social science, with the exception of
MN Srinivas, has been a doomsday brigade.   But here
Talking about Bharat
was a loser's strategy.
It struck a whining note
of those left behind or
left out. Also Jai Shree
Ram was hardly a
visiting card to be
handed out to the new
was an India seeking to escape the captivity of its old
self. This was a generation that was tired of Malthu-
sian predictions and Marxist analysis. It was also tired
of the burden of colonialism having to carry its inferiority around like a sack. The myths of inferiority and inefficiency are the brown man's burden. Here was a generation that felt different, felt optimistic, felt mobile, felt
that advertisements expressed real aspirations and that
management books provided the true techniques to
achieve dreams pragmatically. This was a generation
that felt no burdens of nationalism unless it was the
furious amiability of the cricket match or the ascetic
repressiveness of socialism. 'Feel good' was slang for
desire, for the contentment that went with desire fulfilled. This was a generation that like Martin Luther
King said T had a dream' and then unapologetically
showed that the attic of the dream was the contents of a
supermarket. Shining India was the Indian middle
class' Valentine's Day card to itself. If you cannot love
.,, I,,,,     your neighbour (Pakistan) you can
at least love yourself. A whole
nation wrote out a character certificate for itself. Suddenly whether
it was hockey or History, Indians
wanted to see themselves winning.
Being mobile, middle class and a superpower was a delightful way of
feeling good. It was sentimental a
bit like a Rasna (the synthetic soft-
drink) advertisement saying '1 love
you India'.
Unfortunately few analysed the
ingredients of the psychology of the
_____ advertisement blitz.   They did not
see in it the makings of a media myth.   They did not
realise that you cannot fight myth with fact. Positivism
is of little use in the world of advertising.
Consider two brilliant efforts by two outstanding
individuals. One was a piece by economist Jean Dreze
{Professor at the Centre for Development Economics,
Delhi School of Economics); the other, an equally eloquent one, by political researcher P Sainath in Frontline. When you are talking poverty or hunger, you cannot find a better debating duo. Dreze begins by invoking Darrelt Huffs classic How to Lie with Statistics, and
shows that when it comes to manipulating statistics
the BJP has out-huffed itself. Dreze takes each little
statistical morsel and shows it to be untrue. Whether it
is the birth rate, or the Khadi and Village Industries
Commission (KVIC) production, Internet statistics, or
even tiger conservation statistics — the BJP has it wrong.
What then? You do not confront a Valentine's Day card
with a Human Development Report. Dreze's brilliant
essay appears misplaced, like a guy at the wrong party.
When he says India's rank in the international scale of
human development indices fell last year from 124 to
127 one nods respectfully and waits to read Stardust or
Sports Star.  When tbe nation behaves like a page three
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
column, the last thing you would like is a newspaper
editorial. Dreze is losing a semiotic war. There might be
lies, lies and statistics in a Drezean world but it takes
more that to beat a Goebellian advertisement campaign.
Enter Sainath. He whips it up faster. Sheer genius at
the secular upper-cut in a piece called 'The feel good
factory'. Sainath knows the poor and poverty and he
hits out brilliantly, covering drought, farmer suicides,
per capita food availability. But an accountant's ledger
or an economists' eye do not refute shining India. Does
shining India cease to exist because it shines a bit less
in some eyes? To counter shining India with Dreze and
Sainath is like summoning Amartya Sen to defeat
Norman Vincent Peale. Both may write about well-
being but come the crunch, give me positive thinking
over welfare economics. The answer to a myth is not
facts alone. It is another myth with a more overpowering poetics.
Something similar happened earlier during the
Green Revolution debates when hundreds of economists sought to prove their mettle by laying out statistics on how more people went below the poverty line
during the period. The Economic and Political Weekly is
the graveyard of these articles and yet the Green Revolution stands sublime. If you are a cynic you can say
the poverty market is competing with the feel good market. We are fighting a different battle where Sen and
Dreze are irrelevant. It is a propaganda war about a
millennial dream. Millennialism always creates a vision of well-being and a torrent of prospective consumer
goods. Facts cannot defeat millennialism. Also, for every Dreze there is an equally professional economist
like Surjit Bhalla. You cannot do it a la Marx. He countered Philosophy of poverty with the poverty of philosophy. Any ad-executive can do better copy.
One must try and get to the bottom of the grammar
of the advertisement copy. These are not great advertisements to be retailed in anthologies of advertising
but they are effective because they tap deep into a middle
class primordial dream of a good report card and a
grand celebration. It is like all of India getting a first
division. The world is applauding them. The text is
simple: "Our foreign exchange reserves have raced past
the USD 100 billion mark. It is a moment that makes
every Indian stand proud and tall. It is a figure that
inspires the world to applaud our resolve. From a timid
economy and a weak rupee, we now have the fourth
largest Forex reserves". Breathe it in, breath out. Now,
does it not feel better than sare Julian se acchab Who needs
Iqbal when Moody's Index sounds so much better?
Look at the pictures. They remind you of calendars
and calendar art, or those pictures children do for homework charts with photographs of leaders, vegetables,
fruits that are sold on streets. It is like a civics class
project. There are little cut-out pictures of Vajpayee or
Advani, even Murli Manohar Joshi, and strewn around
are cut-outs of planes, helicopters, DNA helices, globes,
skyscrapers and radio astronomy laboratories in the
background. It is kitsch and that is the reigning art of
our times. If you cannot experience the authentic, then
celebrate the souvenirs. Yet it is not just the BJP. It is
also the message of Abdul Kalam. It has the same combination of bad poetry and the myth of development.
Just read these three Haikus of development invented
in advertising time:
"Roads are lengthening
Distances are shortening
Bazaars are buzzing"
"Schools are bustling
Children are sparkling
Future is inspiring".
The school citizen's song
"By choosing to study further
I widen my knowledge
By taking a loan for my education
I share the burden with my parents"
Read it aloud. Bad poetry always feels better read
This beats socialist realism or what Mayakovsky
wrote in his lesser moments. Can you feel Elliot or FR
Leavis squirming? But look again. It is a social science
as development poetics. Instead of the book of Mao or
Gaddafi, we have the advertisement. These are liberal,
not megalomaniacal stuff that Stalin or Kim il Sung
produced. This is social science sentimentality, a 'family of man' scrap book. Farmers smiling, children laughing, a healthy child, a girl riding a bicycle - UNICEF
stuff. It is a magic of juxtapositions. Vajpayee next to
all the children. Even statistics is a kind of Kitsch. What
do you make of this?
"Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)
with 128 US patents creates
an Indian record"
"India overtaking China as a global leader in
mint oil production"
Potent stuff. The World Social Forum should have
done a mirror inversion of it. But it was not playful
enough. An advertisement world, where instead of the
United Colours of Benetton we have the uniting symbols of India. Too bad if BJP's shining India and Sahara
Parivar get the same ideas. It seems to work. That is
all a mvth needs to do. Shining India. It does not
even need Brasso (metal polish) at least till the next
elections. b
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 Selling the brand
The official version is that the campaign called
"India Shining" began seven months ago. But it
clearly picked up after January, continuing even after
the Lok Sabha was dissolved and poll dates
announced. The campaign was finally called off
following a ban by the vigilant Election Commission.
Two public interest litigations are pending before
the Delhi High Court, charging that the campaign
by the ruling party was using public money to project
its image ahead of the elections. The government
counsel contended that the National Democratic
Alliance (NDA) was within its rights to inform people
about its achievements.
The Bharatiya Janata Party spin master Pramod
Mahajan claimed that the campaign has cost only
INR 65 crore, while people in the advertising world
think it would have been at least double that.
This has become one of the largest ad campaigns
ever in Indian media history. The media monitoring
agency Tarn reported that the India Shining ad was
the second most-frequently telecast 'brand' on
television in December- January, with commercials
being aired on Doordarshan and private channels 9472
times. State-owned Doordarshan got the lion's share
of India Shining commercials, 75 percent in terms of
airtime, while 29 private channels shared the rest.
In the print media, the more popular newspapers
were targeted with full and half-page colour
advertisments on most days in January-February.
Placed by various government ministries, the tag line
in all of the ad copy read: "Achievements of the NDA
government". Claiming everything from increased
girl child enrollment in schools to more telephone
connections, mobile phones and software exports,
these advertisments as a rule featured Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee along with the man from the
concerned ministry.
For the first 15 days of January, the India
shining campaign ranked fourth among the top
brands in terms of insertions in newspapers. There
were as many as 392 India Shining insertions in over
450 newspapers, including vernacular papers and
regional editions of national papers. *
- Suhasini Siddharth, New Delhi
Vacancy Announcement,
Executive Director
Panos Institute South Asia Kathmandu, Nepal
Panos South Asia (PSA) is part of a family of Panos Institutes
worldwide that encourage and facilitate public discourse and debate
on a wide range of issues. Panos works through the media So bring
neglected subjects to the forefront of developmental and
environmental discussions so that voices that are often not heard
can find a forum. PSA is an autonomous institution governed by a
Board of Directors from South Asia and has offices in Nepal, India
and Sri Lanka. The Institute requires an Executive Director to head
its Regional Office in Kathmandu, Nepal. The position wiil fall vacant
in June 2004.
The director of PSA will need to combine an excellent overall
understanding of the development challenges facing the region, a
strong ievel of understanding of international developments as they
affect the region and an excellent knowledge and understanding of
media and communications in the region. S/he will need to be able
to demonstrate leadership and vision in taking the work of the Institute
forward in the region in its newly established self-governing status.
S/he will need to have the capacity to build partnerships and create
spaces for independent debate, and at the same time to balance
Panos' mission of informing and stimulating public debate without
dominating or determining the outcomes of that debate.
The candidate should be a nalional of a country from but not
confined to South Asia, and have: a good first degree in a relevant
subject; the ability to develop a vision and forward-looking strategies
for the organisation and be able to translate them into action; a
minimum of 8 years work experience in progressively responsible
positions, including region-wide and international exposure; a strong
South Asian perspective; a high level of familiarity with information
and communications technologies and the information environment
in South Asia, including broadcast and the print media; good
management experience, including personnel management,
fundraising, budgeting and financial control.
Deadline for applications
Applications along with a brief 2-page CV may be sent up to April 16,2004 marked to the Office Manager, Panos South Asia,
PO Box 13651, near Patan Dhoka, Kathmandu, Nepal. Phones: ++ 977 -1 - 5520985,5531447. Fax: ++ 977 -1 - 5523846.
Email is the preferred option for receiving applications. These may be sent as marked above to psa@
Please do not send documents over 200 kb.
For a full job description on the post see Panos South Asia website:
Rebel Karuna.
THE SUDDEN and unexpected split
in the LTTE in the first week of
March took everyone by surprise.
For this went against the strong
ideological unity of the LTTE
organisation and of the larger
Tamil nationalist movement.
The response of the LTTE
leadership was to relieve its
former eastern commander,
Colonel Karuna Amman of his
post, describing him a traitor to the
cause of Tamil people and the Tamil
Eelam national leadership. Meanwhile, the
LTTE has appointed a new commander,
Ramesh, for the east. Karuna's reaction has
been equally confrontational, setting up a
new Eastern Tamil party and ordering
members of the Tamil Eelam administration
in the area to leave. It is reported that Jaffna
Tamil university staff and businessmen in
the Batticaloa and Ampara districts have
also been asked to leave.
At present, Karuna's position in the east
appears secure, even though his top ranking
deputies have left him for the LTTE. The
cadres he trained and for whom he was the
leader continue to be loyal to him. But they
would also be deeply troubled by their
leader's rebellion against all they stood for
in the past two decades. When Karuna
decided to renounce bis allegiance to the
LTTE leader Prabhakaran, he took on an
enormous challenge with regard to his own
cadres. What would continue to keep his
cadres loyal to him would be the continuing
support of the civilian population. There is
the risk of alienating the eastern people who
thus far appear to be supportive of the
breakaway leadership. But the question is
for how long.
In explanation, Karuna has given two
important reasons for rejecting tbe LTTL
leadership based in the north. The first is
the unequal treatment meted out to tbe
eastern cadre. He has complained about the
recent appointment of 30 northern cadres
to supervisory positions in the organisation
without a single easterner being given a
senior appointment. On the other hand,
eastern cadres are taken to the north to man
front line sentry points and sacrifice their
lives for the sake of the northern people.
The second reason given by Karuna is
the lack of consultation regarding drastic
actions taken in the east, in particular the
political assassinations carried out in the
east at the behest of the northern command.
Recently, when two members of political
parties not affiliated to the LTTE were
assassinated in the east, it was the eastern
command that had to bear the anger and
anguish of the families and communities
as the victims were eastern Tamils.
Going back in time, it would be clear that
from its inception in the middle of the last
century, Tamil nationalism has been
dominated by its northern component.
Jaffna is regarded as the capital of Tamil
civilisation on the island with its intellectual elite being the opinion-makers who
most forcefully represent the Tamil position
on various nationalist issues. By way of
contrast, the east has been the more agrarian
and less populated part of the country, with
correspondingly weaker intellectual
and financial resources. In the past two
decades, especially after the LTTE obtained
its ascendancy in the Tamil nationalist
movement, the eastern position on issues
was seen as no different from that of the
northern one.
Karuna's claims of inequitable treatment
of the east have struck a svmpathetic chord
with the easterners. However, in more recent
days, Karuna appears to be broadening the
line of his ideological attack on his former
organisation. Initially, he paid deference to
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, likening him to a god to whom he remained
obedient. However, he is now speaking
harshly about the leader himself, and casting
doubts on the achievements of the entire
Tamil militant struggle.
It is one thing to articulate eastern
grievances on the ground. It is quite another
to question the rationale of the Tamil
militancy, in which Karuna himself has
played an important part. From a Tamil
nationalist perspective it makes more sense
for the Tamil people to be united under a
single leadership rather than to be divided.
In fact, all those Tamil nationalists who do
not have to bear the brunt of living under
the LTTE's direct rule, whether in Colombo
or abroad, would wish the LTTE to be strong
and undivided. It is the Tamil people of the
east alone, who bore the brunt of the LTTE's
north-centric rule, who would seem to wish
to take up a different position.
Organisational fallout
Karuna's act of rebellion not only weakens
the LTTE's military machine but also calls
into question the whole notion of a
monolithic Tamil nation of which the LTTE
is the sole representative. The social and
economic difference between the northern
(Jaffna) Tamils and eastern (Batticaloa)
Tamils, in particular, was always known,
and scientifically so through anthropological studies of earlier times. But, the
ethnic conflict that pitted the Tamils against
the Sinhalese seemed to have subordinated
this difference, especially within the
monolithic structures of the LTTE. The war
that devastated the north and east alike
served also to foster a common Tamil
identity that finally appeared to reach its
zenith in the notion of the LTTE as the sole
representative of the Tamil people.
The LTTE's reaction to Karuna's act of
rebellion was in keeping with its past
practices of dealing with dissent in its own
ranks and also within the larger Tamil
community. Such persons were either
physically eliminated or severely demoted.
Perhaps, the LTTE calculated that a strong
initial reaction would cause Karuna's
support to evaporate. But so far this has not
been the case. The LTTE's confrontational
attitude has been supplemented by the
disappointment of the larger Tamil community at the sudden turn of events when the
Tamil nationalist cause seemed to be going
from strength to strength along with the
peace process. Sections of the
Tamil mainstream media and
Tamil expatriates have made
common cause with the ltte
against Karuna and the breakaway group. They see a possible
fatal weakening of the Tamil
nationalist cause occurring as a
result of the present rift. This raises
the temptation for that perennial
quick fix solution promoted by
Sinhalese nationalists, and even
the state apparatus, which is the
military solution.
But if two decades of ethnic war
are to teach any lessons to the
people living in Sri Lanka, it is that
military force and propaganda do not
suffice to guarantee victory over groups that
champion an ethnic or nationalist cause.
The LTTE itself was once a very small group.
Karuna controls a very large group,
numbering as many as 6000 fighters. The
LTTE could not be suppressed by either
military force or by propaganda. Neither is
it likely that Karuna can be suppressed, so
long as he has the support of the eastern
Tamil people. In the event of his being able
to maintain his support base, the main
threat to him would he the possibility of
Although the LTTE has been described
as one of the most deadly and powerful
militant organisations in the world, this has
been in terms of its opposition to the Sri
Lankan state. On the other hand, if the LTTE
were to seek to use its military strength
against the breakaway group in the east, it
is likely to get bogged down in the quagmire
of protracted war. The
absence of contiguous
Tamil territory that joins
the north and east, will
make the LTTE's task of
keeping its supply lines
intact formidable.
What next
The manner in which the
LTTE and Karuna attempt
to resolve their problem
will have repercussions
on the ceasefire, the peace
process and the entire
country. Consequently the
attention of the national
and international communitv needs to be focused on
Karuna's act of
rebellion not only
weakens the
LTTE's military
machine but also
calls into question
the whole notion
of a monolithic
Tamil nation of
which the LTTE is
the sole
Ramesh will replace
Karuna as leader of
Ihe Ampara-Batticaloa
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The best option for
the LTTE at this
time is to act in the
spirit of the present
peace process,
which demands that
they take on the
characteristics of a
political organisation
that copes
peacefully with
the conflict resolution process in the northeast. There is a temptation to see a hidden
hand, possibly emanating from India, as
being behind the breakaway group. While
there may have been external support
extended to the Karuna group, the reality of
eastern grievances cannot be glossed over.
The best option for the LTTE at this time
is to act in the spirit of the present peace
process, which demands that they take on
the characteristics of a political organisation
that copes peacefully with pluralism. An
acknowledgement of the genuine grievances
of the eastern LTTE cadre and the eastern
Tamil population would be a constructive
first step. Some of the grievances that have
been very well articulated by Karuna have
their origins in the pre-LTTE period. Tliere
needs to be a dialogue on these matters,
rather than a cover up, by both the LTTE and
Tamil opinion formers.
Those who are concerned with the Tamil
nationalist cause would wish to repair
the split in the LTTE. But it is
important that the rift be healed
through dialogue and compromise that recognises the genuine
grievances of the eastern people,
and seeks a just solution to them.
If violence is used, for whatever
purpose, it can cause irreparable
damage to the peace process. An
LTTE that seeks to resort to a
military solution to re-unite itself
will send the wrong message to
its own cadres about their
sincerity to take the peace process
forward with the government. It
will also frighten the rest of the
country about the LTTE's lack of
sincerity in solving problems
through negotiations and the compromise
that negotiations necessarily entail.
During the past two decades civil society
groups engaged in a great deal of
educational work on the pluralism in Sri
Lankan society as a whole, and the need for
political restructuring on the lines of a
federal solution. In times to come, civil
society groups will have an important role
to play in promoting a greater dialogue in
the wider society on the pluralism within
the North-East that needs to find expression
in appropriate political structures. They
should increase their level of engagement
with the actors in Tamil society, including
the LTTE and the Karuna group.
Obtaining consensus in plural societies
is a rare occurrence and requires wise and
patient leadership, such as demonstrated
by Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The
most appropriate feature of political life in
a plural and multi-ethnic society is dialogue
and compromise. This feature will become
more pronounced in Sri Lankan society after
the April general elections. In the most likely
result of a hung Parliament, the postelection scenario is one of multiple parties
on the one hand, and the LTTE and the
breakaway Karuna group on the other,
needing to work with each other to take
forward the peace process. b
-Jehan Perera
IT IS possible that there will be an unprecedented social upheaval in Pakistan in
the not too distant future. This upheaval
will not necessarily be organised or guided
by political ideology - it would be the
outcome of desperation that follows when
human beings are pushed to the brink, and
feel they have nothing left to lose. Or
perhaps the blatant oppression that is the
most prominent feature of Pakistan's social
and political discourse will continue to
mute any and all reaction, as has been the
case for the best part of two decades. Either
way, whatever little can be said and done
about the outrageous abuse of power that
defines the country's political and social
landscape would be a small step in the right
At the very least it is important that those
who purport to be committed to the welfare
of the people be embarrassed into taking a
stand where no one else is willing. One
place where any action at all could have a
massive impact is in the remote coastal
fishing region of Badin, approximately 200
kilometres west of Karachi. It is in Badin
where the Rangers paramilitary forces -
notorious for major abuses in Karachi
against landless tenants on Okara military
farms and many others - are engaged in
perhaps their most incredible and flagrant
subversion of all by directly targeting the
livelihoods of thousands of indigenous
fisherfolk just to make a quick buck.
The Rangers have taken advantage of
long-standing colonial laws which deprive
local communities of their historical fishing
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
rights to institutionalise a contract system
of fishing through which they are able to
generate massive profits reaching at least
PKR 1.5 million per day. Having appointed
a contractor of their choice to whom they
then provide 'protection', Rangers forces
intimidate local fisherfolk into selling their
catch to this contractor at a fixed rate, well
below the market average. For example,
small shrimp are bought from the locals at
a price of PKR 10 per kilogram, and then
sold in the Karachi market at an average of
PKR 120 per kilogram. The contractor
transports the catch to the Karachi market
at his own expense, and sells at his will.
It has been reported that the Rangers
have agreed to receive a fixed sum for the
full year of PKR 37.5 million, and the
contractor keeps whatever he earns on top
of this figure.
There is more. .Assuming an income of
PKR 500 million per year, the contractor will
hand over a large part of this money in
individual bribes to Rangers high-ups also,
to ensure that the entire Rangers hierarchy
gets a share of the booty. Even then, this is
the tip of the iceberg considering that the
estimate of PKR 1.5 million per day is a
conservative one, and the fact that this sort
of extortion is commonplace in other parts
of the district, and not just the few coastal
areas where this particular investigation
was centred. Despite the overwhelmingly
blatant nature of the extortion, there has
been virtually no action from the part of the
administration. The Sindhi press, well
known for its willingness to take on the
establishment, has embellished the story as
much as it possibly can, but to no avail.
It is not as if this problem is a new one,
and that a time lag can and should be
expected in addressing it. In fact, the
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government
of Benazir Bhutto in 1990 explicitly ordered
a probe into the issue, including a directive
to immediately stop any abuse of power on
the part of the Rangers forces if such an
abuse was uncovered. Needless to say, the
directive remained a dead letter. .As such,
political and social activists in Badin
express deep-seated hopelessness when
confronted with the issue, claiming
that there are no genuine efforts being made
on the part of the administration to
challenge the Rangers, or on the part of
political parties to mount some form of
principled resistance to force the Rangers
to retreat.
The next hardship
The Badin episode is but
a microcosm of the tragedy
that Pakistan faces. In
would not be inaccurate
to say that there has been
no era comparable to the
present one in which more
systematic abuse of power
has taken place, yet there
seems to be little that can
be done to stem the authoritarianism tide. In Badin,
as in many other parts of
the country, apolitical
donor-funded welfare organisations have
occupied much of the social space that used
to be the domain of the volunteer political
activist who gave up his time, energy, and
resources to meaningfully resist oppression
and strive towards genuine change. This
was difficult work, as activists in Badin
testify to even now, but it was backed up by
principled politics, and it was supported
by a mobilised and politicised society at
large. Today it would appear that most
ordinarv working-class people in the
country have accepted their fate. In the
regions where relief organisations operate,
communities await the next hand-out.
In others, they simply wait for the next
The most damning indication of any
society's decline is when people lose hope,
when cynicism overcomes not only middle-
class armchair critics (who are cynics by
definition), but even those working-class
people who are most affected by exploitative
social relations. The situation in Pakistan
at present is one in which the genuine losers
of the prevailing social contract typically
have nothing left to lose and are
willing to resist, in whatever small
way. Unfortunately, there are very
few who are willing to build upon
this local resistance in systematic
ways, without which it is virtually
impossible to foresee a long-term,
people-oriented dispensation
taking shape. Today the fishing
communities of Badin are
struggling against the Rangers,
refusing to buckle down and
accept a damned fate. But there
does not seem to be any support
being generated to give impetus
to struggles of such communities.
Few believe it is even worth trying
There are no
genuine efforts
being made on the
part of the
administration or
on the part of
political parties to
mount some form
of principled
resistance to force
the Rangers to
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The Sindhi press,
well known for its
willingness to
take on the establishment, has
embellished the
story as much as
it possibly can,
but to no avail.
The Pakistani
Rangers force.
to defy the authority of Rangers
It is an indictment of nationa-
list politics in the country that no
Sindhi nationalist party has
attempted to take up the issue.
Even on this front, class interests
remain too prominent to allow
nationalist party leaders to adopt
an uncomplicated and principled
position on a straightforward
people's issue. But despite all of
these bleak realities, as mentioned
at the outset, sooner rather than
later, something has got to give. It
goes against all accepted notions that have
developed over time about human society
that change will not eventually take place
in a society in which virtually all standards
of legitimacy have been eroded.
What we need to recognise is that
perhaps it will only be the slightest of shoves
that will precipitate such change, that
perhaps only raising our voices against the
tyranny of Rangers forces in Badin will
spark a series of chain reactions that
eventually lead to freedom for the fishing
communities of the coastal areas. But it
would appear that the chances of much
happening are fairly slim, because so little
is being done to challenge status quo by
'those who matter'. But it is necessary to
revive belief once again that things can be
changed. The world over, a new generation
of people have been reinvigorated with the
belief that oppression can be challenged.
Young people in particular are once agair;
rediscovering the courage to embark upor.
the long and hard task of building a viab-ie
challenge to oppression. It is most dehr.
going to be a long haul. Over a decade has
passed since the 'end of history' theses
became the vogue in the intellectual centres
of the world, a period in which the fishing
communities of Badin struggled to stay
afloat. A decade is long enough for the forces
of decadence and exploitation to thrive
unchallenged. b
-Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
'INDIA SHINING' and 'feel good factor'
are the slogans of the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance
(NDA), as they prepare for the Lok Sabha
(lower house of the Indian parliament)
elections in April-May 2004. Tndia shining'
had been coined following the recent
upswing in the economy which registered
8.5 growth rates in last quarter of 2003. BJP's
success in three out of the four state
assembly elections (Rajasthan, Chattisgarh
and Madhya Pradesh) too drummed up this
'feel good factor'. The party says that it is
going to the people on issues like development, a stable coalition government and the
leadership of Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.
The question, however, is whether these poll
planks would be able to generate a pro-
incumbency wave in favour of the BjP-led
The main opposition party, the Congress, has stepped up its attack on the BJP's
publicity blitz by launching the Tndia
Cheated' campaign. The party accuses the
BJP of trying to 'cover up its glaring failures'
and believes that DJP's 'feel good balloon'
would be punctured at the Lok Sabha polls.
To re-enforce their case, the Congress is
highlighting the first time negative employment growth that the country has seen
during the NDA years with unemployment
crossing the ten million mark. The Congress
also debunks claims of high gdp growth
rates, maintaining that during the NDA's
five-year rule, the growth rate was just five
percent, and it was only in the last quarter
of 2003 that it read 8.5 percent. The Congress
is confident that the BJP reached its peak in
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
1999 and that the anti-incumbency factor is
strong this time around to unseat them from
Looking at India's electoral history, it is
seen that overarching political planks have
generated waves in favour of one or other
political party for two decades since
the 1970s. In 1971, the Congress gained
a landslide victory on 'liberation of
Bangladesh' as its poll plank. It was the
'anti-Emergency' wave that decimated the
Congress in the 1977 elections. This was
followed by the 'Bring Indira back' slogan
which swept the polls for the Congress in
the 1979 national elections. In 1984, it was
the assassination of Indira Gandhi that
generated a sympathy wave for the
Congress. The beginnings of coalition
politics too rested on the issue of 'Bofors',
with the National Front coming to power in
1989 under VP Singh's prime ministership
with its campaign against the Congress. The
1992 elections rode on BJP's 'rath yatra'
campaign on Ayodhya for sometime but
swung last minute in favour of the Congress
in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi's
The election scene has drastically
changed since the 1996 Lok Sabha polls.
Even was firing on all cylinders,
the BJP couid not gain absolute majority in
the House and collapsed within 13 days of
coming to power. A ragtag Third Front
government chugged on for two subsequent
years. The general elections in 1998 again
gave BJP a truncated majority and this time
it was able to run a government for 13
months with help of its coalition partners.
However, Jayalalitha's exit from the BJP-led
coalition forced another general election in
1999 which again threw the same verdict.
This time around the BJP toned down its
political agenda and evolved a 'common
minimum programme' for the coalition and
has managed thereafter to run its full course
in power.
A larger picture thus emerges - that poll
planks which use to swing elections one
way or the other are having less of an impact
since the 1996 general elections. Instead of
'waves', it is better electoral management
and formidable alliances that become
decisive factors for the success of political
parties in Indian elections.
VVith the political monsoon having once
again arrived, one can expect the standard
line-up of issues to be dragged out of the
electoral closet for airing. Corruption is one
such issue that dominates during electioneering. The ruling government tries to
sell its clean image, while the opposition
rakes up corrupt deeds of the party in
power. For now it would be safe to suggest
that the issue as such has lost its ability to
move the masses. The second favourite is
the spectre of terrorism. Earlier the issue
was raised in the context of Punjab and now
it is done with reference to Jammu and
Kashmir and the Northeast. Surprisingly,
left extremist violence which has been there
since independence has never become a
national poll plank in the country. In the
context of terrorism, hatred against Pakistan
is whipped up for its role in 'aiding and
abetting cross- border terrorism' against
India. Pakistan-bashing is an easy key to
turn to generate popular and momentary
support of the man on the street.
Construction of the 'Ram Mandir
Ayodhya is another issue that gets
milked at every political festivity.
The BJP had a phenomenal rise in
the mid-eighties due to this single
issue. However, after its cadre
destroyed the 'Babri Masjid' on 6
December 1992, the party has been
unable to generate much political
euphoria by 'selling' god. Even
though the BJP makes political noises
Poll planks which
use to swing
elections one
way or the other
are having less of
an impact since
the 1996 polls.
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The election this
time is unique
because no
political party has
any ace up its
sleeve to turn the
election around in
its favour.
about the construction of the temple calling
it the party's top political agenda, the issue
no more remains an electoral trump-card
for the party, which is why today it is so
willing to draw a contrast between the BJP
agenda and the agenda of the ruling
National Democratic .Alliance.
Then there are some minority-related
poll planks which are drummed up by the
BJP to mobilise 'majority' votes. Enforcement
of the uniform civil code, bringing the anti-
conversion bill, ban on cow slaughter, ban
on polygamy, and abrogation of minority
character to the Aligarh Muslim University
are some issues that come up time and again
during election-time. While the BJP
canvasses by trying to get the 'majority'
votes, the Congress campaigns against it to
lure the 'minority' votes. However, none of
these issues seem to have the punch left in
them to electrify the masses.
There are also some patriotic
planks such as the foreign
origin of Congress president
Sonia Gandhi that is raised to
evoke national pride. Similarly
the abrogation of article 370 of
the constitution (which gives
special treatment to Jammu and
Kashmir) is raised to whip up
patriotic emotions. At times,
illegal migration from Bangladesh is raised to warn of the dangers to the
country's demographic profile.
This time, the newfound rapprochement
with Pakistan has toned down many poll
planks which once formed the BJP's core
propaganda package. Prime Minister Atal
Bihari Vajpayee's promise to President
Pervez Musharraf has led to a scaling down
of anti-Pakistan rhetoric by the BJP,
including on cross-border terrorism and
Kashmir. Some believe that the prime
minister's commitment to Pakistan has
taken out the sails from the BJP's boat.
Electorates this time may miss out Deputy
Prime Minister LK Advani's carefully
crafted anti-Pakistan utterances, which
have been the highlights of his campaigns
during the past several years. The NDA is
saying that it would campaign this time
lauding the achievements of its rule.
Kashmir, which used to be the war cry of
the BJP, is sold as a state returning to
normalcy due to the Centre's policies. The
coalition is lauding its achievements of
holding talks with the separatist groups of
Kashmir and hints it is even ready to talk to
the militants. The NDA is also endorsing
Srinagar's Mufti Sayeed government's
healing-touch policy of freeing and rehabilitating the militants.
Coming back to the theme to electioneering this time around as set by the BJP,
it remains to be seen whether 'India
Shining' or Tndia Cheated' will do the trick.
The BJP argues that India is on a roll, its
economy is growing, industrialisation is
taking place, agriculture is giving good
returns and every one is feeling 'good'.
Those who emphasise 'India cheated' argue
that the people still lack basic amenities and
the country remains water-and-power-
starved. More than a quarter of the populace
continues to live below the poverty line,
unemployment is on the rise, prices of
essential commodities are rocketing, social
tension has increased and atrocities against
women and minorities are on rise.
Overall, the safer poll conclusion to
make at this stage would be that India is
cheated by its own politicians who have
contributed nothing than gloom and
pessimism everywhere. The debate remains
inconclusive. The election this time is
unique because no political party has any
ace up its sleeve to turn the election around
in its favour. This perhaps is the first election
where both political parties and the
electorate knows that it is not going to be
poll planks but political alignments that
would decide who rules Tndia. /\
-Syed Ali Mujtaba
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
Between jhatka and halal
Gujarat after two years of "normalcy"
For the Muslim victims of communal violence in Gujarat the violence
has not ended - it is the difference between immediate hacking
(jhatka) and slow death (halal).
by Satish Deshpande 	
In their famous conversation about words, Humpty
Dumpty confides to Alice that while verbs are short-
tempered and proud, 'you can do anything with
adjectives'. He also insists that whenever he makes a
word do a lot of work, he always pays it extra.
By this token the adjective 'normal' must have been
paid an astronomical bonus for the truly stupendous
amount of work that it has done in Gujarat over the
past two years. Although his claims were met with
disbelief at the time, Chief Minister Narendra Modi has
been retrospectively vindicated in his insistence that,
except for the first 72 hours of the 'action-reaction' sequence, post-Godhra Gujarat has been, well, normal.
Indeed, we ought to be grateful to him for drawing attention to Gujarat's most significant contribution to the
national ethos since Mahatma Gandhi - the establishment of a new notion of normalcy.
An important term in social theory, the word 'normal' has three main meanings in everyday language -
a common or usual state of affairs that carries the additional connotation of being ordinary or unremarkable;
a healthy condition, the opposite of diseased or pathological; and finally, the sense derived from its root-
word 'norm' indicating an ideal state that is wor-     c
thy of emulation. These meanings suggest that 'nor-    t
mai' is a boundary-marking word winose job is to
separate the mundane from the extraordinary, the
healthy from the sick, and the legitimate from the
delinquent. Although every society and every age
needs such boundaries, their actual location keeps
changing according to the balance of social power in
each context. The political potency of the word derives
from its ability to link a populist-majoritarian fact (that
which is most common) with a moral-ethical ideal (that
which is most right). What we have witnessed in
Gujarat is an unprec
edented attempt to
normalise communal
oppression by representing it as popular
practice and proper
2004 March-Apri
We must not flinch from acknowledging the success of this attempt. The spread of Hindu communal
violence in Gujarat has broken many barriers: a hitherto urban phenomenon has spilled over into rural areas; adivasis and dalits have participated actively; and
the upper middle-classes have been directly involved,
both as victims and especially as perpetrators. Disturbing reports, since confirmed repeatedly, about the presence of women and even children among the mobs make
these India's first 'family-outing' riots. The depth, intensity and sheer scale of public participation - as many
as 40 cities and towns in the state were under curfewr
simultaneously - had shocked even people like Vishwa
Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia.
If the making-common aspect of normalisation was
spectacular, the making-ordinary and making-legitimate aspects have been even more stunning. Gujarat's
recent history contains many acts of symbolic erasure
like the destruction of the poet Wali Gujarati's mazaar
in Ahmedabad. But it is only here that the municipality
- an institution steeped in the dull details of everyday
life - managed to pave the spot overnight to make it
look 'normal' by morning. Every riot involves de-
b struction of property and sources of livelihood; but
JJ in Gujarat, this was followed up with a systematic
Jf economic boycott designed to continue this destruc-
I tion silently and 'peacefully', thus annihilating
\ hope for the future. All riots uproot people from
|I§> their homes and communities; but in Gujarat, this
pa was backed by sustained public pressure to ensure
iJH that the refugees would never return, or would do
so only under stringent 'conditions' enforcing
second-class citizenship. In short, all riots -even
state-sponsored pogroms like the anti-Sikh riots
of Delhi - are supposed to end, to yield to an
'after' that is fundamentally and not just
formally different. Gujarat is our first riot that
has refused to end; for its victims, the difference between the 'abnormal' madness of 2002
and the 'normal' malevolence of 2004 is only
the difference between jhatka and halaal.
Retail repression
Except during the Partition, mainstream political discourse in India has always, albeit after the fact, described
communal riots as isolated incidents of momentary
madness sharply separated from normal everyday life.
Of course this is untrue, because riots cannot be conceived immaculately, but this fiction has suited most
parties - the dominant sections, the 'silent majority',
and .sometimes even the victims. More importantly, the
moral illegitimacy of riots has never been in doubt, even
though the guilty have rarely been punished. Attempts
to justify riots have never flatly denied wrongdoing,
but have concentrated on constructing a history of prior
provocations in order to present the riots as defensive
In its 'laboratory state' that is Gujarat, Hindutva
has developed a prototype of everyday communalism
that breaks decisively with this pattern by seeking to
integrate riots with normal life, shrinking and eventually erasing the zones of delinquency in which they
used to be segregated. Above all, it seeks to legitimise
the oppression of Muslims to the point where it seems
so natural that justifications will be superfluous. The
model here is that of a nation at war, when all patriots
are expected to be unthinking warriors and all questions are anti-national. But war is an abnormal condition, so this example does not capture the full significance of the Gujarat model. A closer approximation
might be caste, where the oppressive hierarchy is so
deeply embedded in tradition that it becomes part of
ordinary common sense, requiring no explicit justification precisely because it is what we 'already know'. In
fact, activists working in Gujarat have pointed to the
birth of a new form of untouchability with respect to
Muslims. The ultimate goal of the Gujarat model is to
make riots redundant - to replace the spectacular, wholesale violence waged by trishul-wielding mobs with the
unobtrusive, retail repression enforced by the mundane
compulsions of daily custom. In the new normalcy,
Muslims are to be ghettoised as a caste of right-less
non-persons forever dependent on 'the goodwill of the
If this chilling vision were thought to be exaggerated or still a distant dream, one needs only to look at
the calm and confident manner in which long-established precedents have been flouted in Gujarat. Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) has been used exclusively against Muslims (and one lone Sikh) but not
against Hindu rioters; differential amounts of compensation have been paid to Hindu and Muslim victims in
similar circumstances; and the legal machinery of the
state is itself obstructing due process and abetting the
accused in evading justice. It takes courage to grasp the
enormity of what Hindutva proposes, and especially
to acknowledge its asymmetry with Muslim fanaticism.
Given the demographic and socio-cultural profile of
India, Muslim hate organisations can never hope to
normalise themselves; they will forever remain in the
delinquent fringe. Barbaric acts attributed to Muslim
fanatics - like the burning of the train in Godhra - will
always remain just that, extraordinarily vicious crimes.
Hate campaigns launched by Muslims can never be
converted into electoral chariots bearing their sponsors
to the most powerful positions in public life.
Spilt milk
But - and this is where hope has often been sought - it
is not as though Gujarat has been easy to replicate in
the rest of India. Despite the initial euphoria of the 2003
state elections which gave 'Milosevic' Modi an overwhelming victory including as much as 55 percent of
the popular vote, the Sangh Parivar met with rebuffs in
subsequent elections in Himachal Pradesh and elsewhere Even in the recent round of state elections where
it has been unexpectedly successful, the BJP was forced
to foreground issues other than Hindutva. And by comparison with past versions, its current campaign for
the general election of April-May 2004 seems remarkably subdued. There has been no routine recourse to
the tried and trusted Ayodhya issue; in fact, 'development' appears to be the uncharacteristic centrepiece of
the campaign, at least so far. Does this mean then, as
many are urging, that it is time to 'get over Gujarat' and
move on?
It is true, of course, that in political terms Gujarat
2002 represents 'spilt milk' that is pointless to go on
crying over, especially given the comprehensiveness of
the Hindu right-wing victory in that particular battle. It
may even be true that Gujarat is the exception proving
the rule that, in the final analysis, rabid Hindu communalism does not make electoral sense on the subcontinental canvas of Indian democracy. But to think thus is
to underestimate the importance of the decisive break
that the events of 2002 have made with the history of
our present. Moreover, by seeking solace on these terms,
we become hostages of ephemeral caste equations, erratic
electoral 'waves' and other political contingencies that
determine the outcome of elections in India.
For the particular events which constituted the riots
of 2002 were unprecedented only in scale, not so much
in content. We had, alas, seen it all before - the burning,
looting and killing, the rapes, the slaughter of children
and even the unborn. But despite the repeated
occurrence of such horrors, the political universe which
produced them remained inhabitable because it had
always - always - disowned these events retroactively.
Howsoever hypocritical it may have been, the dominant ethos did eventually place such events in moral
quarantine, thereby preventing them from infecting the
body politic. Modi and his minions have achieved something significant - they have overturned this history by
masterminding India's first riot with both mass participation and zero remorse. In Gujarat today, two long
years later, neither the proverbial common man nor the
politician, bureaucrat or policeman - in short, none of
those responsible - feels the need, even strategically or
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 cynically, to admit that something wrong has happened.
This immediately places enormous strain on the social
fabric because it demonstrates that, contrary to the conventional wisdom fostered thus far in post-Partition
India, planned ethnic cleansing is in fact achievable.
From the perspective of the Hindu right, the crucial
fact about the 2002 riots is that they have facilitated the
BJP's electoral victory in Gujarat without causing losses
elsewhere. None of the BJP's recent defeats - in Himachal
Pradesh, the Delhi municipal and assembly elections,
etc. were directly attributable to Gujarat; the indications
are that this issue was largely irrelevant to the outcome.
It is equally plausible that the BJP's victories (Rajasthan,
Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh) too are unrelated to
Gujarat, but this cannot be a source of much hope for
the secular-progressive camp. For it only proves that
while Modi-style pogroms may not always win elections, they will not lose them either. The uncertainty of
benefits may dissuade the pragmatic or passive com-
munalist, but their costlessness can only encourage the
committed kind. To men like Modi, Togadia, Singhal or
Advani - hue believers prepared to pay a high price to
achieve their aims - this is clearly a worthwhile bargain. Such people will only be dissuaded by the prospect of heavy losses.
Are there any factors in the contemporary political
scene that can raise the cost of communal violence?
Can such forces be built by collective action? These are
the key questions of the moment.
Globalised Gujarat
There is a widely held view that 'globalisation' will
somehow tame Hindutva through world opinion and/
or the world market. The geopolitical history of the
unipolar world in the last two decades provides sufficient evidence of the fragility of this argument. Moreover, there is the experience of Gujarat itself, as the BJP
leadership conclusively demonstrated, that it is possible to manage appearances by saying one thing abroad
and its opposite at home. In any case, Sangh Parivar
doublespeak is now a well rehearsed routine. As for
the world market, it is doubtful whether it has had any
impact on Gujarat. (The discomfiture of local industrialists may have had more effect, though its long term
implications are difficult to gauge.) In reality, most global markets are thoroughly cartelised with only a few
powerful players, and their alleged tendency towards
political moderation has been extremely unreliable to
say the least. So, where containing communalism is
concerned, globalisation may at best provide some contingent inputs; it cannot form the basis of a deliberate
strategy. Whatever their specific content, such strategies will perforce have to rely on domestic factors.
That is why it is imperative to breach the cloak of
impunity which Narendra Modi has almost succeeded
in throwing over the post-Godhra events of 2002. The
contrast with the Godhra incident is striking: the wheels
of justice do seem to be moving in that context, despite
the considerable doubt that forensic reports have cast
on the original thesis of a Muslim mob having set fire to
Coach No. S6 from the outside. On the other hand, with
the large-scale destruction of incriminating evidence -
including gruesome instances of state police burying
the bodies of victims with large quantities of salt in order
to accelerate decomposition - the subversion of justice
in the post-Godhra riots is nearly complete. Last hopes
are pinned on the small proportion of cases taken up by
the Supreme Court, and on the staying power of
embattled NGOs, local activists, and above all, the survivors themselves.
What else can be done to interrupt the march of
Hindutva, or at the very least, to force it to pay a higher
price for its successes? Can we afford to rely solely on
the vagaries of electoral arithmetic? Two years later, it
is difficult to be optimistic. The voices of Gujarat's victims and its dissenters proved no match for the menacing growl of Modi's amplified election speeches as he
laid claim to 'Gujarati asmita' (Gujarati pride) and threatened to bring down the wrath of 'five crore Gujaratis'
(50 million) on his opponents. If the familiar forms of
our progressive politics are all ultimately founded on
faith in 'the people', then Gujarat 2002 forces us to confront the darkest of all questions: What is to be done
when 'the people' turn regressive? How does one confront a normalised pathology, a banalised evil?
A question first asked of Western Europe in the second quarter of the 20th century now faces Southasia in
the first quarter of the 21st century. Whatever the shape
of the answers that will be forged collectively, it is certain that they will need not only hardworking adjec
fives but also angry verbs.
The violent minority and silent majority of Gujarat do not constitute separate and distinct social
fragments. The silence of a sizeable part of the silent majority is not the speechless shock of
numbed bystanders. It is the conspiratorial silence of willing spectators, remote witnesses to a
Roman holiday, whose public silence is a private roar of approval that is clearly audible to the
architects of the violence. There are those who cannot speak and those who will not speak.
How else are we to explain the seeming paradoxes of the riots in Ahmedabad? We have seen
educated girls and boys from middle and upper middle class families who do not actually
participate in the killings but follow in the wake to foot Muslim establishments. We have seen
couples on two wheelers bring home consumer durables scavenged from the debris of retail
outlets. The cell-phone wielding rioters are not isolated elements who have taken control in a
. social vacuum. Himal, May 2002
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The importance of not forgetting
A report tracing the different forms of violence being meted out to
Gujarat's Muslims over the last two years, starting with the carnage
of February 2002. What has been the pain, and what has been the
response of activists and support organisations?
  by Biraj Swain and Somnath Vatsa	
What is poetry that does not save nations or peoples? At best,
it is a collusion with official lies.
-Cheslaw Milosz
When the world seems to be inexorably hurtling
towards some kind of multi-dimensional
disaster, when the all-consuming passion of
humanity appears equally divided between amassing
of material comforts and hatred of the 'other', there
seems to be little point in arguing for the saving grace of
poetry.   .
Perhaps, after one of the worst massacres in human
history, Gujarat is still lucky to
have its fair share of committed
activists working relentlessly
towards peace and justice. A state
ripped down the middle by none
other than the state itself is
celebrating poetry because there
are people who have the courage
and conviction to stand up for
democratic values and human dignity after facing perhaps one of the
worst instances of organised violence in modem India, the night of
long knives. That night did not end with February and
March of 2002.
Twenty-four months have passed, and injustice continues and so does partisan treatment and de-recognition of Muslims as legitimate citizens of the land. Tlie
ghastly communal violence of Gujarat, which started
in February 2002, is still manifesting itself in the plight
and faces of the more than 200,000 internally displaced
Muslims. Tlie scar on the psyche of the community runs
deep, having been so effectively marginalised, terrorised,
stigmatised, ghettoised and immobilised. The government and establishment have been gloriously ineffective in reaching out to the victims with a healing touch.
Relief and rehabilitation has been a far cry; compensa
tion has been embarrassingly inadequate. As if apathy
was not bad enough, the state-engineered violence
against the minorities continues - the basic 'right to life
with dignity' has in a way been taken away from the
entire community.
Can there be a rights discourse when the state is
indulging in subversion of the rights of its own citizens?
Civic amenities, law and the minorities
It should not be shocking that victimisation is a common everyday occurrence. The Ahmedabad Electricity
Corporation's refuses to provide
electricity connections to the
houses and business establishments of the victimised Muslims, demanding innumerable
proofs where people have
nothing but charred remains of
their property. For a state which
claims 24 hours uninterrupted
power supply, the Gujarat Electricity Board continues to inflict
power cuts on Signal Falia
(an area besides the Godhra
railway station) and Godhra town on some pretext or
other. That these areas are dominated by the Muslims
should not be seen as coincidence.
Tlie Godhra investigation has resulted in nearly 100
arrests, of which 53 are extremely poor people. It seems
'action-taken' is a bid to satisfy the numbers game as
the shoddy and biased investigations have come under the scanner of the apex court of India. The draco-
nian provisions of POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act
2002, updated version of 'T.ADA') have also been imposed upon them, with disastrous consequences such
as further impoverishment and social ostracisation of
the victims' families. Maulana Umarji, the alleged chief
conspirator of the Godhra incident, who is in fact a
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 social activist and leader of the community, has been
targeted in order to terrorise the community into silence
and submission.
The alacrity which is so all-pervasive in the investigative conduct seems to be in short supply when it
comes to dealing with the numerous cases of mass
murders in the post-Godhra violence, memorialised by
names such as Best Baker)*, Sardarpura, Chamanpura,
Naroda Patia... In these cases, one is suddenly confronted with the sudden unavailability of public prosecutors, disappearance of witnesses, an 'overstretched'
crime branch, and selective amnesia
regarding invocation of POTA. Given
all this, the state surely deserves
credit that only 2107 of the 4252 cases
of violence against the minority community have been summarily disposed off.
Every time a public mishap has
happened, from the Akshardham
temple massacre in September 2002
to former Gujarat Home Minister
Haren Pandya's murder in March
2003, the state government has been
more than eager to introduce the
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conspiracy
angle. In fact, even before preliminary investigations
start, the police, under obvious instructions from the
State Home Ministry, have been keen to flash some Urdu
script sourced to the accused. They colour any and every
incident with the conspiracy brush and end up drawing an ISI linkage no matter what. However, the non-
invocation of POTA for any of the accused of the mass-
murders that followed Godhra point to a deliberate
government scheme. In Gujarat today, you can still find
the accused sipping chai and relishing golas (syrup-
flavoured ice) under the 'ever-vigilant eyes' of the police.
These are times even worse than a state of emergency, because under the veneer of normalcy some of
the worst crimes against humanity are being committed by none other than the state. This is also the view of
Harsh Mander, social activist and country director of
the group ActionAid India. The hype that surround the
celebration of 'Vibrant Gujarat', 'Nav Ratri' and 'Patang
Utsav' (kite festival) only showcase 'wooden' pride
meant to hide official cynicism.
In the last one year alone, 240 persons belonging to the minority community have been booked under
rOTd\ for allegations such as waging
war against the country, conspiring
to kill important leaders of the ruling
party, and participating in ISI's plans
of destabilisation. Of the 240 POTA
accused in Gujarat, 239 are Muslims
and the remaining one is a Sikh. The
modus operandi is to illegally detain
individuals, torture them, threaten
them with the use of POTA and extort
a 'confession'. The accompanying
box provides details of four such
cases in the past one year, illustrating the systematic method of creating a 'terrorist' in Gujarat.
The case details indicate that from end-November
2002 onwards the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB),
having its office at the Gaikwad Haveli police station
in Ahmedabad, has 'detected' around 120 'terrorists'.
The entries in the column on offences reveal a remarkable similarity of charges in all the four cases — criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state and, of
course, offences under POTA. The Column 4 entries
indicate that most oi the accused were first detained
illegally prior to their official arrest. An independent
investigation reveals that almost all 'terrorists' were
FIR No. Date and Police station
Number of
Date of
Days of illegal
detention prior
to arrest
1. DCB I FIR No.23/2002; 30th
Nov. 2002 at Gaikewad Haveli
Police Station
2. DCB I FIR No. 6/2003; 4th
April, 2003 at Gaikwad Haveli
Police Station
3. DCB 1 FIR No. 11/2003; 5,h
Nov. 2003 at Gaikwad Haveli
Police Station
4.*       DCB I FIR No. 16/2003; 11
Dec. 2003 at Gaikwad Haveli
Police Station
11 arrested. 6 of
them detained for
4 to 6 days
IPC + ...
44 arrested.
Detained between
15 to 30 days
122.IPC + POTA
4 arrested. Two
Detained for
122..IPC + POTA
3 months
5 detained
122..IPC + POTA
2 to 5 days.
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
FIR and Date        Name of Accused
ICR No. 627/2003
ICR No. 159/2003
Sec. 153 A (a)
and 114 of IPC
Sec. 153 A (a)
and 114 of IPC
Sec. 124-A
of IPC.
Reporter/Editor Indian Express.
Publisher/Editor of Divya Bhaskar
ICR No. 229/2003;   Prabal Pratap Singh, Sr.Sp. Cor.
12.9.2003 AajTak
Dhimant Purohit, Sp. Cor. AajTak.
Uday Shankar, News Director,
Section 153A constitutes the offence of promoting hatred and enmity between
different sections.
Section 124A constitutes the offence of sedition
tortured and terrorised during the period of illegal detention to extract confessions. It was also found that
the women relatives of the accused were illegally detained to pressurise the male members to 'confess'. Almost none of the arrested persons had a criminal record
and most belonged to educated middle-class Muslim
families of jAhmedabad. All the first information reports
(FIRs) have almost the same recitation, including the
"The accused being aggrieved
by the killings of Muslims in the
post-Godhra riots have decided to
take revenge by killing important
members of the ruling party and
trying to destabilise the state".
The price of return
Muslims are not the only ones
being targeted systematically.
Activists and members of the
media who speak out against the
abuse of power are also being
targeted. Three cases would suffice to illustrate this
(see accompanying box).
Tlie aim of the state from all such actions is a single-
minded effort to generate suspicion between the Hindus and Muslims, by projecting the former as vulnerable targets for Islamic 'terrorists' and the ISI; and to
ultimately extract political mileage by playing the role
of the sole saviour. Illegal detentions, misuse of POTA
and intimidation of social activists are not mere abuse
of the criminal law system, but are in complete violation of the basic tenets of democracy and against the
rights guaranteed under the articles 14, 21, 22 and 39A
of the Indian Constitution all amounting to an undeclared 'emergency' with suspension of the fundamental rights of a section of the citizenry.
The state also selectively targets Muslim moderates,
peace activists and social workers at tbe forefront of
relief and rehabilitation efforts. They are being harassed,
threatened and sometimes arrested on alleged 'hawala'
money-laundering links. Overall, the government strat
egy is to try and effectively silence moderates and progressives among both
Hindus and Muslims.
Rashidabano Yusufkhan Pathan, a
resident of Shahpur, was witness to the
brutal attack on her husband whose
only crime was that he raised his voice
against the police inaction when a riotous mob went on rampage. The police
took him a way and thrashed him in front
of his wife. He died later the same day.
Not only were Rashidabano's attempts
to register the FIR thwarted, there were
attempts to gag her subsequently
through threats. After a year and half of
attempting to be heard, Rashidabano finally did get a chance to depose in front of the Nanavati
and Shah Commission, set up to inquire into Godhra
and its aftermath. However, even the honourable members of the Commission, instead of recording her deposition verbatim tried to delete the most crucial parts of
her testimony regarding police actions.
In the rural Gujarat region of Himmatnagar, Muslims driven out of their villages during the riots are
being forced into a 'compromise' by withdrawing their
cases — the price of return. The
gram panchayats, the much-
touted symbol of grassroots democracy, are also being bullied
to be made part of the conspiracy.
The victims have felt safest when
they have wilfully resisted the
attempts of state incursion. "We
did not allow the state to enter
and that is why there is peace...
everywhere the state came, it
came with the Hindu fundamentalists like the Bajrang Dal or the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad who indulged in loot and murder. We took a conscious decision to keep the state out,
that is why there is peace here in spite of Popatpura
being surrounded by 14 Hindu villages", says Yasmeen,
a 30 year old mother of three, whose father and brother
were arrested under false charges of rioting in Godhra
The Muslim ghetto
A series of state government orders following the violence, issued as a result of public pressure, have set
guidelines for compensation for injury and loss of life,
property, employment or livelihood. By and large, however, victims received paltry sums as compensation for
their losses — ranging from a few hundred to a few
thousand rupees. 60-year-old R Bibi, former resident of
Naroda Patia, says that the government demanded
proof that her son was killed before she could receive
compensation: "They want proof, where am I going to
go to get proof? My life was taken away when they shot
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 my son. Everything has been taken away and now they
want evidence, where will I get the body from? I was
not even able to see his body".
Of the dozens of people intei"viewed, none had been
compensated for injury or loss of employment or liveli-
brvxl. Independent non-governmental groups estimate
that as a result of the iarge-scale destruction of homes,
properties and businesses in Gujarat, the Muslim community has suffered an economic loss totalling INR
3,800 crores (USD 760 million). Tlie prolonged closure
of shops, industries, and commercial establishments
in Gujarat has also hurt the economy as a whole and
added to soaring unemployment rates.
Muslims in Gujarat, already among the poorest communities in the state, have been further economically
marginalised through ongoing economic boycotts instituted by Hindu nationalist leaders with the support
of local officials. Many remain unable to farm their fields,
sell their wares, return to their businesses, operate commercial vehicles, or retain their jobs, including in the
public sector. Muslims cannot work, reside, or send
their children to schools in Hindu dominated localities. As the segregation continues, hopes for community dialogue or reconciliation have
dissipated. All this has contributed to
the community's 'ghettoisation'.
In Pavagadh, a taluka in Panch-
mahals district, 22 families have been
displaced, their property and land impounded. They have been forced to go
live in a nearby town. The same is the
case in Popatpura taluka, whose
Muslims have been forced to live
elsewhere after being repeatedly
thwarted in their attempts to return to
Vejalpur village, four kilometres from
Godhra township. From Mehsana to
Ahmedabad, Sabarkantha to Panch-
mahals - the story is same. '
Teesta Setalvad, the well-known activist responsible
for getting the Best Bakery case re-opened, is getting
threatening calls and so is her associate Raiskhan
Pathan. Sishu Milap, an NGO working with street and
working children in Vadodara, has stopped getting
government grants because of its association with the
Vadodara branch of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL). SAHR VVARU, a group working with the rape
victims of the carnage, trying to rehabilitate them with
livelihood options and providing protection at the trial
stage, is subjected middle-of-the-night checks from the
Intelligence Bureau.
Democratic space
Mukul Sinha, trade-unionist and senior advocate in
the Gujarat High Court, highlights his association with
the enquiry commission: "While the Nanavati and
Shah Commission had been written off as partisan and
the entire exercise an eye-wash, we have persisted with
"When we started
work, we realised the
quantum of destitution, the depth of
communal hatred,
the absolute misery
of the families who
had their loved ones
booked under
them. In choosing to continue as the cross-examiner in
the Commission, we managed to facilitate the fearful
witnesses to come and depose in front of the Commission. When I have that quantum of evidence but I do
not produce them because I believe the Commission is
partisan then 1 am choosing not to utilise the democratic space provided by the process of an enquiry commission". On the cross examination of the witnesses in
Godhra during the hearing of the Commission, Sinha
says, "We need to be aware of the fact that this Commission report is not just for this carnage but has historical importance and when we produce evidence and
such powerful evidence, and if the Commission ignores
them, then it will be at the peril of its own credibility.
All the evidence is being recorded and we owe it to the
times that this be done".
Salim Sheikh, resident of Naroda Patia and an important witness, was brought forward by Aman Pathiks
(community volunteers, many of whom are the victims
of the carnage itself) to depose in front of the Nanavati
Commission. On coming to know about this, the Crime
Branch of the Gujarat Police picked-up Sheikh's son on
the night before deposition which was to be on 26 Au-
^^^mm^^b gust 2003. Meanwhile, they summoned Salim to the Kagdapeeth Police Station on 27 aA.ugust at 10:30 am,
coinciding with the time of the hearing. However, Salim was at the Commission of Enquiry venue at 10:30 am
defying the Gujarat Police orders. This
is the power of the witness protection
programme of Aman Pathiks, where
even spending time with them gives
the targeted persons hope and courage to defy the police.
Many civil rights groups and other
support organisations are working on
witness protection programmes,
which will be very important wrhen the
trials begin and the witnesses come forward to give
evidence. Mukul Smha is waiting for the Ahmedabad
trials to begin so that the laboriously protected witnesses can come out and depose at the trial stage. That
is the only way to prevent another 'Best Bakery'.
Not only has state inaction in Gujarat served as a
severe test case of the criminal justice system of India as
a whole, it has resulted in judicial and civil liberties
communities the world over to focus attention on
Gujarat. Such international attention and the Supreme
Court of India's orders, even though late, can only bring
fruitful results, says Achyut Yagnik, social activist and
director of SETU, an NGO working on rehabilitating
earthquake victims. "When a Human Rights Watch
comes out with a report on the subversion of justice in
Gujarat or Amnesty International writes about the massive illegal detention of members of the minority community, it ensures that the public memory and attention, which is criminally short, gets re-focussed on the
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
silent and sophisticated victimisation of the Muslims".
Fifteen months after the Gujarat carnage, in July
2003, the US-based Human Rights Watch came out with
a seventy-page detailed report on the plight of Gujarat's
Muslims. Amnesty International, headquartered in
London, also published a report on the illegal detention of Muslims. The two organisations have been constantly putting out appeals and updates on the situation in Gujarat. However, one wonders why the United
Nations mechanisms were not invoked during the pogrom and why they are still not being invoked. For example, why were the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention
Against Torture (CAT) not sought to be applied? Even
though India has not ratified CAT, Gujarat would have
been good reason to put pressure for ratification. To
repeat, it is surprising that the United Nations system
as a whole has remained so conspicuous by its absence
in the Gujarat massacres and their continuing fallout.
Justice needs to be seen to be done in Gujarat, for not
only was the violence suffered by the victims here, it
was seen by countless millions in their living rooms
through live broadcasts — in Shillong, Kanpur, Cuttack,
Kochi, Nasik and New Delhi. Those affected therefore
are not limited to the geographical spaces of Gujarat,
but also to the mind space of
'India', the larger subcontinent,
and the world.
Aman Samudaya
In any rights discourse, the
government is the most important
reference point. Even for the
inalienable first generation civil
and political rights, the state is the
sole guarantor, and it cannot
abdicate the moral and legal
responsibility and the trust that
has been vested in it by the
citizens. The state is a multi-	
headed institution, manifesting
itself through different units, and the National Human
Rights Commission (NHRC), fortunately, is one of them.
The NHRC has done an exemplary job in the context of
Gujarat. Not only have they given a very scathing report
on the state's role in Gujarat but they have also moved
the Supreme Court in both the Best Bakery and the
Bilkees Banu cases. In fact, the Commission's
recommendation of handing over ten cases of mass-
murder to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for
investigation and trial outside Gujarat is finally
proceeding ahead with the recent Supreme Court
indictments against the Gujarat government. The
appointment of the lawyer Harish Salve as the Amicus
Curiae (friend-of-the-court) on the riots cases can be directly attributed to the stand taken by NHRC chairman,
Justice AS Anand.
Despite valiant efforts by civil society groups and
Aman Pathiks Sulekha Gupta, Rasheeda Pathan.
Laxman Kheinia, Sajid Kureshi receive award
from Sonia Gandhi.
the NHRC, the question remains whether there can be
any hope when the state itself becomes the prime violator of rights. Yes, feels Mukul Sinha, "but it requires
concerted effort, planning and strategismg". One such
initiative for strategising is the Citizen's initiative, a
conglomerate of 38 NGOs and activists who came together during the carnage. After innumerable debates,
they were the first ones to declare the incidents following the Godhra train killings as 'pogroms' and 'genocide'.
Aman Samudaya was one Citizen's Initiative effort
to spread the word of peace, reconciliation, hope and to
provide the much-needed healing touch to people devastated by the riots. Spread over the most ravaged parts
of Ahmedabad, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam, Vatva,
Juhapura, Berhampura, Gomtipur, Bapu Nagar, Darya
Khan Gummat, the Aman Samudaya has grown from a
project to a movement, an effective attempt to challenge
the fascism exhibited by the state. The Aman Samudaya
has taken a decided political stance, and been a passionate votary of peace and religious harmony in a state
where concepts like governance, constitution and
citizen's rights would seem to have been cremated.
The conspiracy of silence, the abnormality of
maintaining the business-as-usual attitude, has been
taken on frontally by the Aman
Samudaya. Working with the
victims in relief camps, providing
the traumatised women and
children much-needed psychosocial counselling, livelihood
support to the ravaged families,
legal support to the citizens
whose right to life has been
violated by the state, accompanying the victims to different fora to
make their voices of anguish
heard - the Aman Pathiks have
done it all. They have pitched in
to rebuild lives, hope and trust.
(Aman = Peace)
"After witnessing the relentless state fascism, we
took a conscious decision of focusing on building
peace cadres, building Aman Parivaars, creating
democratic and humanitarian spaces", says Amarjyoti
Naik, team-leader of the Aman Samudaya. "We operate on the premise that this is a campaign of the people
and, rightfully, it should be owned by the people. No
intervention will be sustainable if peace does not prevail. Organisations will continue providing relief and
rehabilitation and Hindu nationalists will continue
indulging in violence with impunity, destroying what
has been achieved. Such interventions are not sustainable without peace and security and that wil! not take
off without justice. Justice needs to prevail for lives to
be lived, hence all such attempts of subversion of justice, including by the state, have to be challenged".
The Aman Samudaya not only rebuilds houses of
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
the Muslims, it has also supported the Hindus, Dalits
and Chamar 'outcastes' when they are confronted with
challenges, such as when they lost their dwellings to
the fierce monsoon of 2003. It mobilised residents when
an eviction-cum-resettlement drive was undertaken by
the Ahmedabad Municipality Corporation on the banks
of the Sabarmati river for the much touted River Front
Development Project, a beautification drive for the rich
and the mighty being carried out without a thought
spared tor the slum-dwellers. Members of both Hindu
and Muslim communities have come together to form
the Rehthaan .Aadhikaar Manch (Right to Shelter Campaign). When development and economic well-being
take priority, people suo moto disown the communal
card, says social activist and Jesuit priest Cedric Prakash
of 'Prashant', a centre for
human rights, justice
and peace which works
with the minority community members and the
slum dwellers in Ahmedabad.
While the Ahmedabad chapter of Aman
Samudaya was thus
engaged in building
peace cadre and community mobilisation, the Godhra chapter
was started in April 2003. "Godhra
was a mine-field of state terrorism.
When we entered, we thought our primary job would be to tackle the systematic communal propaganda, but
we soon realised the levels of destitution, the depth of mistrust, the absolute misery of the families who had
their loved ones booked under POTA.
The level of desperation hit us. We
were not prepared for such hopelessness", says Bahadur, Programme Manager, of Godhra Aman Samudaya.
Aman Samudaya started work among
the psychologically polarised population, seeking to provide the much-needed healing touch
through relief, rehabilitation and legal aid. It also then
took up individual cases, and made socio-economic
profiles of each of the POTA accused families. After eight
months of intervention, the business communitv of
Godhra is now bearing the economic cost of the riots
and is working hand in hand-to-ward off future incidents that could once again tear the town apart.
Conscious inertia
'Godhra Gaurav' is another initiative involved in activities ranging from providing relief to the families
pushed into destitution because the prime bread-winners are behind bars under POTA, to doing detailed
village surveys to identify needy families, celebrating
These are times
even worse than a
state of emergency,
because under the
veneer of normalcy
some of the worst
crimes against humanity are being
committed by none
other than the state.
Raksha Bandhan between Muslims and Hindus, and
carrying out a campaign of peaceful protests. A body of
17 activist groups, Godhra Gaurav brings out rallies
where people come in large numbers to be counted for
peace. A calculation with figures from the income tax,
sales tax and revenue department revealed that not less
than USD 125,000 of business was being lost daily in
Godhra town. "This study of the daily cost of riot was a
major factor in bringing people together", say Sujaat
Vali and Nimesh Shah, leading peace activists and
members of Godhra Gaurav.
Popatpura, the Muslim village of 200-plus families
surrounded bv 14 Hindu villages that has managed to
survive harmoniously, has become a refuge for many
Muslims driven out from other villages. Popatpura has
a space called the Aman
Chowraha (peace and
justice centre), which all
the villagers treat as 'supreme court', a place to
resolve disputes in lieu of
even the Godhra Sessions
Court and the Gujarat
High Court.
ANHAD, Act Now for
Harmony and Democracy, has also been
active in combating communalism
through cultural programmes, intensive political training of local activists,
and peace festivals. It is a body formed
by activists Shabnam Hashmi and
Harsh Mander, along with singer
Shubha Mudgal and academician Biju
Mathew, "We need to act now before
its too late, because if we lose our civil
and political rights, there would not be
any democracy left to defend", says
Hashmi. The fusion band Indian
Ocean, prominent theatre activists
Haren Gandhi and Soumya Joshi have
also joined forces with the ever-increasing efforts for challenging the conscious inertia of the disinterested middle class.
Rohit Prajapati, trade unionist and leading member
of the Vadodara PUCL, speaks of the need to stop the
working class movement from being sabotaged by
Hindu nationalists and associated organisations. Spelling out the dangers of majoritarian nationalism, which
could take on the colours of fascism in no time, Prajapati
says, "The Gujarat government's labour policies hurt
the interests of the Hindu workforce as well, even
though the Modi government was elected on the
Hindutva mandate. We try to expose the lack of commitment of this government even to the Hindu public.
We will continue to raise the question of increasing
unemployment and the rising penury among the working classes of all communities at a time when both the
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
federal and the state governments are claiming economic prosperity"
Indeed, the much-touted economic development has
only meant jobless growth. In the changing political
economy, the balance of social forces has been altered
with the traditional working classes being reduced to
the pauperised informal sector category. This trend, tied
to the corresponding rise of a wealthy middle class
which constitutes the base of Hindutva, will continue
to give rise to may more 'Gujarats' in the future, here
and elsewhere. Hence, there is an important need to
recognise the convergence of the two agendas: the neoliberal paradigm with its thrust on
integration into an essentially
unequal capitalist world system
whose aim is to dispense with the
'bottom 30 percent', and the agenda
of Hindutva which has no place for
the diversities and the pluralities of
India and certainly not for shudras,
ati-shudras (extreme outcastes'),
Muslims and women.
Power of confession
The Gujarat Harmony Project, an
initiative of the organisation CARF,
has been working extensively on
the issue of creating lost livelihoods. It has been providing micro-
finance support through group-
lending schemes through its partner Samarth, where it encourages
the groups to include members from
both the communities. Similarly,
Meera Malek and Rafiq Zakaria's
Centre for Development Education
has been working with Hindu and
Muslim youth. Interestingly, some of
the former have confessed their guilt
in the killings and the arson and
looting that followed. Such confessional sessions have resulted in bringing the youth of both the communities together. 	
When Martin Macwan of Navsar-
jan takes out a rally for assertion of Dalit human rights
through the villages of Gujarat, he gives a clarion call
for the downtrodden to refuse the ill-treatment and the
structural violence that they are subjected to through
the brahminical ideology of karma and caste. He calls
out for resisting every symbol of such violence and
exploitation, like Ram Patra (separate cups for Dalits in
which tea is served in local shops and houses) and
accepting all symbols of equality like the Bhim Patra
(the plate/saucer in which a Dalit generally drinks tea).
Also in such rallies he spells out the contribution of
Muslims towards the Dalit struggle - "Muslims were
The discourse on
democracy has to
be in terms which
recognise and respect the sentiments
of the masses.
era. Even BR Ambedkar has been taught by a Muslim
teacher". Concurs activist Shakeel Ahmed, "Dalits
converted to Islam to put an end to the indignities that
the Brahminical order was imposing on them". Ahmed
is chief administrator of Islamic Relief Committee, which
has been working for the rehabilitation of the Muslim
victims of the Gujarat carnage.
However, with such seemingly natural reasons for
alliance existing between the Dalits and the Muslims,
the fact that Dalits have been used in large numbers
to participate in the Gujarat pogroms is baffling, to
say the least. It seems concerted efforts will be
required to reverse the process of
'brahmmisation' of Dalits and
their progressively being used as
canon fodder bv 'Hindu Rashtra'
fanatics. The trend of tribals in
many states voting for the Hindu
nationalist party is also a signal
of dangerous trends.
Majoritarian nationalism is
nothing but the underbelly of
fundamentalism. Fundamentalism and the violence it engenders
is neither the pathology, nor the
anti-thesis of nationalism. Rather
it is the dark side that refuses to
go away.  Trade-unionist and
peace activist Ashim Roy says of
this dangerous agenda of nationalism: "It is the congenital trait
of the Sangh Parivar to think,
prepare and plan communal violence. The evidence is so incontrovertible that the riots and the
Sangh Parivar appear like Siamese
twins. It is in these riots, when people
suffer and die, that the Sangh Parivar
celebrates. In the frenzy of burning and
destruction, the macabre logic of violence, the raping of women and the
mutilation of bodies, the ideals of the
democracy die and the Hindu nation
It is this idea of the Hindu nation,
which has to be combated. But while strategising the
battle plan, like always, it is important to recognise the
strength of the enemy. One has to be careful of engaging
the masses in a discourse where the terms are decided
by the Hindu nationalists. Thus far, the mainstream
secular activists and political workers have abjectly
failed in their attempts to set the terms of the debate. In
fact, the complete absence of political opposition in
Gujarat is appalling. Tlie Congress party has capsized
and resigned to reactionary politics. Its leadership is
devoid of original thinking. The party's dilemma is
understandable, with the 1975 state of emergency and
the first teachers of the Dalits in the pre-independence      the 1984 riots still fresh in the memory of many. And
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
v: -ft ■-.•Miiyn
less said the better about the Bharatiya Janata Party's
allies in the National Democratic Alliance. But what
about the Left parties? The discourse from their side
has been mostly in terms of rebuttals, refutations and
reactions. We must recognise that the communal players have had a head-start over the secularists.
The secularists also need to recognise that the message of democracy need not be conveyed in an irreligious or irreverent manner - because no human rights
action can happen by stripping the intervention off humanity. If you cannot give Siddharth/Iqbal a secure job
or a better future, then it would be naive to expect him
to give up Ram/Allah! Hence the discourse on democracy has to be in terms which recognise
and respect the sentiments of the
masses. Hence, the need is to highlight
syncretism in religious traditions, even
visible in Gujarat if one looks for it.
One of the problems with multilevel struggles required of the NGOs of
present-day Gujarat is that their focus
on target groups and focus-issues results in micro-interventions. For example, an NGO working on mother and
child health with tribal women would only restrict itself to that sphere and not to the patriarchy prevailing
in the tribal community, which is what has resulted in
poor health indicators. Similarly, many groups with
focus on action-based intervention such as rehabilitation, and job creation will not challenge the structural
violence of the brahminical order. It has taken killing of
the scale of Gujarat 2002 to bring all the groups together.
Collective conscience
Says trade unionist Rohit Prajapati: "When the dice is
so heavily loaded against the victims and almost the
entire legal fraternity at the local level, right from the
public prosecutor, police investigator to the MI A, are
involved, the only way justice could be meted out is if
the media plays a bigger role. The media needs to own-
up the story. It needs to be the democratic watchdog
and create public pressure and maintain it through regular follow-ups".
The Congress party
has capsized and
resigned to reactionary politics. Its
leadership is devoid
of original thinking.
Prajapati sees no alternative to public pressure. He
feels that if the media tempo could be maintained, then
judges, bureaucrats, politicians would all be forced to
be more circumspect when dealing with the horrors of
communal violence. While the Best Bakery case did
manage to get media attention and stir the national
psyche, there are many more cases in rural Godhra
(such as in Pawagarh, Kinjiri, Lunawada), and Ramol
in suburban Ahmedabad which have gone unreported
and unnoticed. Under such circumstances, it is important to travel to the interiors, capture unheard voices of
victims of violence so that others can go about building
alliances, working out a single strategy and fighting to
create a 'collective conscience' which will never forget
the gravity of the injustice meted out in Gujarat 2002.
Moreover, the media should go even deeper and further in focusing on the real stories. The recent riots in
Darivapur and Viramgam, which happened on the
basis of mere rumours, would not have happened if the
rumours had not been debunked by the media through
independent fact-finding. The journalists should also
look into the incidents of secondary victimisation'
through illegal detention of the youth of the communitv. The battle at hand is enormous, but the press tends
to respond with conspicuous silence in exposing
polarisation attempts by the candidates from the ruling party who are contesting the upcoming general elections. This must be considered tantamount to collu-ding with those with
the communal agenda. Abnormal
situations require extraordinary, super-human and persistent responses,
and thus far the media has not shown
itself to be entirely reliable.
In such times when hope does tend to
  become a dead letter, making the victims re-visit their pain and remember the details of the
violence may be considered harsh and inhumane.
While time would attempt the healing, on the other hand,
it is important to remember not to forget, even at a price
to the emotional wellbcing ofthe victims and the larger
population. Remove the painful details and you create
a permanent wedge between 'Best Bakery' and justice.
It is these details that the perpetrators fear most, and so
to maintain the social pressure, the activists must do
all they can to aid the victims to remember the details of
atrocity. The memory of the victims will be the first
weapon in the battle that is ahead, which is to start the
trials for all riot-related cases, barring none. Time, which
heals, is also the time which denies justice. Time can
trivialise pain and cleanse the guilty. That will not be
allowed to happen in Gujarat. b
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The anaesthetised middle class and t
The thinker Satish Kumar on the divide between the two Indias - the
affluent urbs and the other that is "based on land and livelihood,
people and forests". j
In 1962, Satish Kumar walked on foot on a personal
peace march from India, through Pakistan, Afghanistan
and Iran, onward through the Soviet Union and Europe,
arriving in the United States in 1964. His first mission,
inspired by the writings of Mahatma Gandhi had been a
walk across India at the age of 18 as part of the Bhoodan
land reform movement of Vinoba Bhave.
In 1974, Kumar became editor of Resurgence, the
journal of ecology, environment, new economics, and
spiritual values. He came close to the economist EF
Schumacher, after whose death he helped found
Schumacher College, an international centre for
ecological studies. Satish Kumar was interviewed by
journalist Rahul Goswami while attending a conference
on 'Gandhi, Health and the Environment', in Maharashtra's
Gadchiroli district.
From the perspective of green philosophy, how do
you view the developments in India since the
liberalisation of the economy in 1991?
The 1991 liberalisation was a natural consequence of the policies of the Indian government.
They had the choice of either going towards a more
decentralised local economy, more people-oriented
and ecologically sustainable, or they had to join the
world's trend of the industrialised-globalised-
tiberalised economy. That actually is a contradiction
in terms, for it is anything but liberal, very
centralised and very top heavy.
Nehru and the Congress party did not work
towards a decentralised green economy, and
Manmohan Singh was the natural consequence.
Tliere was a stagnation of the economy because of
the half-hearted centralised model, the way out of
that stagnation should have been a more local
Gandhian economy.
The pre-1991 policy was not a good one, but the
middle classes benefited quickly and directly from
liberalisation that followed. They became better
consumers, better equipped to destroy quickly that
which they were destroying slowly. Television has
now become very degraded, with shoddy consumer
goods that are tempting, attracting the middle
classes to buy, buy, buy. This is the opposite of what
a sustainable and participatory economy should be.
Amidst the tendency to look at one-dimensional
growth - 'GDP as a measure and indice of development' - do you believe it would have been possible to
follow the route to 'grain swarajya'?
Yes, if they had had the political will. That
would have helped more directly and immediately
the 50 to 60 per cent of our population which is in a
way still stagnant. Liberalisation has created
stagnation at a lower level. If we had chosen a more
green economy, agriculture, craft and local economies would have flourished, but the middle classes
would not have imported goods. They would have
been challenged to make things within, with their
own genius and ingenuity. If the will was there it
would have been a real liberalisation and a real
improvement. Instead we have a division in India -
50 per cent have gone downhill even in terms of
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
k destruction of creativity"
movement in economy. There is
more trade and income, but limited
to a small acquisitive group.
Do you have hope in the urban
The urban elite have become
very callous. They do not want to see
the other India and close their eyes
to what exists at their doorstep. They
are selfish and blinkered and see
nothing but their consumerism.
They now understand only that
progress means consumerism and the
commodification of everything.
People are not strong enough in the marketplace
because big companies are better equipped technologically, scientifically and financially; they wield
more manipulative power and they will buy because
they can pay more. Land, forests, rivers and water
will be all commodified. We have an anaesthetised
middle class that allows this to happen.
Where would a resurgence emerge from?
It has to come from the village, the tribal, and the
small farmer.
But they have to struggle just to even get heard.
There are some good spokespersons - Medha
Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Aruna Roy, Vandana Shiva.
They can communicate the agony, the pain and the
sorrow of rural India and the victims. In India there
are two forces now. One is represented by the
consumerist middle class. The other is based on
land andTivelihood, people and forests, and all they
need is to be organised. The problem is that they are
fighting a million mutinies without connecting with
each other. The power of their resistance is not felt
because they are too busy working in just their own
areas. Something has to happen to make them more
Creativity is a very basic urge in the human
psyche and soul, and the industrial and consumer
culture destroys it. This is the root of this disenchantment. Like Kabir's poem - "Chalti chakki dekh
kar, diya Kabira roye / Dui paatan ke beech mein, sabit
bacha na koye (Looking at the grinding stones, Kabir
laments that in the motion of the wheels, nothing
stays intact)" - people are finding the grind of life
and pace, this rush, too much to bear.
Human life depends on nature and its beauty
and purity. Now we buy bottled water which is stale
- machine-made and processed. Everything is
The middle classes
became better
consumers from the
liberalisation policy --
better equipped to
destroy quickly that
which they were
destroying slowly.
processed and over-processed. People are
finding the end of creativity and the end of good
life - which means good food, clean pure natural
food, and natural water and air. People realise
we are cutting the branch upon which we are
sitting. The reason for all this is the destruction
of creativity. />
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2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
JpHL's enemy within
How many more Karbalas and Quettas are we to see amongst competing
Islamic sects, while the rest of the world sees a united, militant front?
by Yoginder Sikand
The massacre in the first week of March of hun
dreds of Shia mourners at Karbala," Iraq, and the
blasts at an Imambara in Quetta, Pakistan, resulting in the death of dozens of Shias on the day of
Ashura, are gruesome reminders of the simmering sectarian conflict that has raged for centuries among Muslims, making a complete mockery of the rhetoric of
Muslim unity. The much bandied-about slogan of Islamic brotherhood based on the notion of the pan-Islamic ummah falls flat in the face of continued Muslim
sectarian rivalry. Contrary to what Islamists, Muslim
apologists as well as detractors of Islam would have us
believe, the Muslims of the world are just about as
fiercely divided as any other religious community.
The Shia-Sunni dispute is only one, albeit the most
prominent, division that has run through almost the
entire history of Islam. In addition to the Shia-Sunni
divide are the innumerable divisions that characterise
the broadly defined Shia and Sunni communities.
Among the Shias, the main sectarian groups are the
Ithna Asharis and the Ismailis. The latter have two main
divisions, the Nizaris and the Mustailians. The
Mustalians, in turn, are divided into the Daudis, the
Sulaimanis, the Alavis and the Atba-i Malak. Likewise,
among the Sunnis, who form the majority of the Muslim poptilation, there are several factions. In Southasia,
the Sunnis are divided into what are popularly known
as the Deobandis, the Barelvis, the Ahl-i Hadith (see
Himal February 2004) and the followers of the cults of
local sufis who are not affiliated to any formal
organisation. Tn addition to these, there are various Islamist groups.
Each of these many different Muslim groups claims
to represent the single 'authentic' Islamic tradition,
branding all others as having gone astray. Most of them
insist that all other groups that claim to be Muslim are
actually heretics, firmly outside the pale of Islam. When
faced with the reality of fierce intra-Muslim divisions.
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
many Muslims are quick to explain
this away as a hidden 'conspiracy'
by the 'enemies of Islam' to destroy
Islam and Muslim unity. While
there can be no doubt of the fact that
groups opposed to Islam have indeed taken advantage of intra-Muslim divisions, the argument of an externally-inspired 'conspiracy' cannot explain the origins of these divisions, and nor can it account for the
continuing appeal of sectarianism
among vast numbers of Muslims,
particularly the ulema.
Even a cursory glance at early
Muslim history reveals the existence and powerful influence of intra-Muslim sectarianism, starting soon after the death of the Prophet. No sooner had the Prophet
left this world than Muslims began fighting among
themselves. Lust for power and wealth was a deter-
rruning factor behind most of these conflicts, which were
then provided with suitable theological support. Indeed,
one could argue, sectarian divisions among the Muslims have had little to do with religion per se, and at
root represent conflicting claims for power and pelf.
This is, however, not to deny the importance of sectarian doctrinal developments in themselves, and the role
that they have played in further instigating intra-Muslim conflict.
According to a hadith (saying attributed to the
Prophet), Muhammad had predicted that after his death
the Muslim ummah would be divided into 73 mutually
bickering sects. Of these only one would be destined to
enter heavert, and all the rest would be punished with
damnation in hell. When asked by his companions
which this sect (firqa al-najiyya) would be, the Prophet
is said to have identified it as the group that abided by
the Quran and his own practice (sunnah). Now, each of
the 73 or more sects that exist today asserts that it alone
represents the 'authentic' Islamic tradition, and that it
alone abides by the Quran and the Prophetic practice.
Every Muslim group claims to be tlie one saved sect,
and implicitly or directly argues that the other groups
are by definition aberrant, not really Muslim, and hence
destined to doom in hell. This firm conviction of having a monopoly over religious truth inculcates an self-
righteousness that dismisses all other claims, whether
of non-Muslim religious communities or of other Muslim groups.
One is not in a position to pronounce on the legitimacy of the hadith that predicts the splintering of the
ummah into 73 factions. Like many other hadith reports, it might well have been concocted after the
Prophet's death and then attributed to him in order to
legitimise the reality of intra-Muslim sectarianism.
However, this is not a matter of mere academic value,
for it continues to be frequently quoted in the writings
of Muslim polemicists of different sects in order to stress
VsY >         \
□ Baghdad
their claims to representing the 'authentic' Islamic tradition. It is also continuously used to justify the preaching of hatred against other Muslim sects.
One of seventy-three
A recent personal experience would be more illustrative. Some months ago this writer attended a massive
Bareivi gathering in Bombay, where there were impassioned speeches delivered by numerous Bareivi ulema
thundering against various other Muslim groups. The
writer asked a Bareivi scholar present what he thought
about the fiery diatribes of the ulema against other
Muslim sects, coming especially at a time when Muslims in India were being hounded by Hindutva fanatics. Was it not important for the ulema to help promote
Muslim unity instead? The alim (scholar) turned and
answered without batting an eyelid, "The Prophet had
predicted more than 1400 years ago that tire Muslims
would be divided into 73 sects, all but one of which
would go to hell. Now, if we try and promote unity
between the sects that would be going against the saying of the Prophet himself. And that would be a very
grave crime indeed!"
Another instance is equally illustrative. Last year,
this writer met an alim teaching at a madrassa affiliated to the Ahl-i Hadith, a sect known for its strict literalism and hostility towards all other Muslim groups.
This alim is considered to be a great champion of the
cause of the Ahl-i Hadith, his principal achievement
being having penned numerous tracts to prove that the
Deobandis, the Barelvis and the Jamat-i Islami, all fellow Sunni groups, have allegedly strayed from the path
of 'true' Islam, and hence, for all practical purposes,
are not Muslim at all. On being asked why he was making matters even more difficult for Muslims by fanning
intra-Muslim conflict, he handed this writer a bunch of
pamphlets and said, "Read them and you will know
why I am doing this". He continued, "Islam says that
our sole purpose must pronounce the truth (haq boat),
no matter what the cost...and the truth is what I have
written in these books about the other groups that call
themselves Muslims. They have actually wilfully or
otherwise distorted Islam and are far from the path of
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
the Prophet...we have to
speak out against them,
no matter what the consequences. The truth must
be clearly distinguished
from error".
To say it like it is, much
of the responsibility for
fanning intra-Muslim sectarian strife rests with the
traditional ulema of the
madrassas. Unlike Christianity, Islam has no place
for an official priesthood
that can lay down the official
doctrine. In principle Islam has no
intermediaries between man and
God, the relation being direct and un-
mediated. While this makes religious leadership in Islam more
democratic in theory, it also means
that the ulema of different Muslim
groups are free to stake their own
competing claims to represent
'true' Islam, branding other Muslim
groups as deviant. This fuels intra-
Muslim disputes that can often take
a violent turn. It also means that the
ulema of the different sects can easily use the absence of a central religious authority that lays down the
official doctrine in order to promote
sectarian rivalry to advance their
own vested interests. By dismissing
other Muslim sects as aberrant they
put forward their own claims of being the authorities of the sole 'authentic' Islam.
. As centres for the training of
would-be ulema, the traditional
madrassas have emerged as the major bastions of narrow sectarianism
(on madrassas of Pakistan, .see Himal
February 2004). Each madrassa is affiliated to a particular sect or school
of thought. One of the principal aims
of the madrassa is to promote the ver-
The Muslims of the
world are just about as
fiercely divided as any
other religious community. Lust for power and
wealth, determining
factors behind most of
these conflicts, were
then provided with suitable theological support.
"!T ■"'      ad#
Quetta, 2004
lead the followers of the
sole 'true' sect astray. Some
years ago, this writer met a
student at a madrassa in
Uttar Pradesh, who engaged in heated debate,
seeking to prove that the
beliefs of his own sect were
true, angrily dismissing
other Muslim groups as
infidels. He insisted that
his mission in life was to
"serve the cause of Islam,
by warning Muslims
against the enemies of the faith".
On being asked who he thought the
"enemies of Islam" were, instead
of "Hindutva fanatics" or "Zionists" or "American imperialists",
the reply was, that the non-Muslims were enem ies, but not the most
dangerous foes. The student said,
"Muslims know that these people
are non-Muslims, and therefore, by
definition, are enemies of Islam, so
there is no need to preach against
them. What Muslims do not know
is that other groups that call themselves Muslims are not really
Muslim at all". He rattled off the
names of various Muslim sects,
both Shia and Sunni. "They are
wolves in sheep's clothing", he angrily declaimed. "They take the
name of Islam simply to mislead
the Muslims and cause them to
stray from the faith...they are even
worse than the non-Muslims. Non-
Muslims oppose Islam because
they are ignorant about it, but these
people, while they know the Quran
and the Hadith, deliberately distort Islam and do the work of the
sion of Islam of the particular sect it
is associated with, and to dismiss competing versions.
Hence, most madrassas include in their syllabi what
they call ikhtilafiyat or the dismissal of other Muslim
groups as deviant. Much of the focus of the fatwas (religious decree) and the literature that the ulema of the
different sects produce is also geared to branding other
Muslim groups as virtually 'un-islamic'.
In tliis way, the 'enemy' within comes to be seen as
even more menacing than the 'enemy' without. The internal 'enemy' appears as constantly on the prowl to
The theological dimension
In the curriculum of the madrassas
there are numerous texts taught to
the students that are geared specifically to the refutation (radd) of various other Muslim groups, declaring
them to be outside the Muslim fold. This perhaps explains why many ulema have been.averse to moves to
promote intra-Muslim dialogue at the doctrinal level.
There have been no serious attempts, in India at least,
to bring the ulema of different sects together to ssort out
their doctrinal differences. Groups like the Muslim Personal Law Board and the Milli Council do have representatives from different Muslim sects, but while seek-
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
ing to promote common Muslim interests, they have
consciously stayed away from addressing the theological dimensions of the sectarian prohlem. While they
do issue statements from time to time decrying sectarian strife and calling for Muslim unity, they have not
sought to seriously engage with the fundamental question of theological differences that underlie sectarian
At the global level, while several ulema have played
an important role in engaging in inter-religious dialogue, particularly with Christian theologians, few have
been seriously concerned with promoting dialogue at
the theological, as opposed to the political, level between the different Muslim sects. There is simply no
Islamic counterpart of the Christian ecumenical movement that in recent years has made bold moves to promote understanding and cooperation among different
Christian groups. Moves to promote Muslim unity often take the form of appeals for Muslims to come together to present a common front against those who are
branded as 'enemies of Islam', and who are accused of
fanning intra-Muslim differences to serve their own purposes. Such negative appeals, while having powerful
emotional value, do little to overcome internal Muslim
differences in the long run. The sense of unity that the
image of a common 'enemy' promotes is necessarily
short-lived, for such unity lacks the foundation based
on positive principles. As Pakistan's case so well illustrates — once the external 'enemy' (in this case the 'Hindus') is overcome, the 'enemy' within once again
emerges as a powerful vehicle for mobilisation of religious sentiments.
The Muslims of Southasia would do well to consider the example of the Christian ecumenical movement. Christian theologians active in the movement remain committed to their own different interpretations
of their faith. And yet that has not deterred them from
reaching out in a spirit of positive appreciation to other
Christian groups who have traditionally been considered their rivals. It is not the fear or hatred of a religious
'other' that drives them to promote Christian unity.
Rather, it is a spirit of openness and love and commitment to their common (although divergently understood) faith that impels many involved in the ecumenical movement. Considering the way the ulema function, however, one fears that many more Karbalas and
Quettas will happen before they finally wake up to seriously confront the issue of intra-Muslim strife and
the urgent need for Muslim ecumenism. Meanwhile,
however, the world might well have left them far behind, b
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2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
Inside the
nuclear closet
Abdul Qadeer Khan, regarded as the'Father of Pakistan's A-Bomb',
was accused then pardoned by President Musharraf for his role in
trafficking nuclear technology. But what sort of man is Qadeer, and
what does his story reveal about the United States' role in
Pakistan's nuclear proliferation?
by Pervez Hoodbhoy    	
The president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf,
is in a self-congratulatory mood these days, savouring
the praise heaped upon him by US President George
Bush, Secretary of State, Collin Powell, and the undersecretary of state for arms control, )ohn Bolton. .After
surviving two recent assassination attempts and overseeing a high-level summit meeting with India, the great
survivor of Pakistani politics acts as if the worst is
behind him. By way of celebration, he announced new
long-range missile tests for March 2004, and a two-stage
Shaheen II missile system has already been tested at
the time of going to press.
The primary reason for General """^""^^^"™™>"
Musharraf's current satisfaction is
the way his treatment of Pakistan's
hugely popular nuclear hero,
aAbdul Qadeer Khan — forcing him
to apologise on public television for
his illicit nuclear trafficking,
yet also pardoning him for the
offence — allowed him to please
Washington without causing a
massive uproar. Many in the
Pakistani press had warned that ———— —
any attempt to punish Qadeer, advertised for near two
decades as the architect of Pakistan's and the Islamic
world's nuclear bomb, would provoke rampaging mobs
to demand an end to Musharraf's pro-US rule. .As it
turned out, Washington was thrilled with the general's
rebuke of the wayward scientist, while a disillusioned
and disempowered Pakistani public grumbled but did
not take to the streets.
But neither Musharraf's satisfaction nor .America's
approbation is likely to last long. For while Qadeer took
sole responsibility for the trafficking in his televised
Iranian and Libyan revelations since December 2003 have confirmed that this was the
most extensive nuclear
smuggling episode
in history.
confession, the sheer scale of Pakistan's secret exports
raises at least two difficult questions that go far beyond
him and a handful of his colleagues. First, Iranian and
Libyan revelations since December 2003 have confirmed
that this was the most extensive nuclear smuggling
episode in history. Not only did it involve the illicit
export of centrifuge designs and parts used to enrich
uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors, or as fissile material for weapons (an export reluctantly admitted by
the Pakistani government itself); but it also included
complete centrifuges, together with a shipment to Libya
of 1.5 tons of uranium hexafluoride
gas. Could Qadeer and his cohorts
have moved such large pieces of
equipment, and travelled extensively
outside Pakistan, without the
knowledge of the military? The ultrahigh level of security in Pakistan's
nuclear installations makes this
unbelievable and points to deeper
level of complicity.
Second, documents handed over
by Libya to the International Atomic
__     . Energy Agency (IAEA) — now being
evaluated by US experts — reveal that the country had
received old Chinese designs for a workable nuclear
bomb that had been passed to Pakistan in the late 1970s.
Here lies a puzzle, and the possibility of some
embarrassment for the Pakistani establishment because,
although Qadeer is widely advertised as the "father of
the Pakistani bomb", knowledgeable people are aware
that he had nothing to do with the design and
manufacture of the bomb.
As a metallurgist, Abdul Qadeer Khan's expertise
was exclusively in producing weapons-grade uranium
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
hexafluoride gas using the centrifuge process. The rest
of the work of creating a nuclear weapon — including
metallisation, bomb design, manufacture, and testing
— was entirely the responsibility of an unfriendly rival
organisation, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
How then did Qadeer happen to possess nuclear
weapon design information when, in fact, the real work
of weapons design was being done elsewhere?
An empire of patronage
General Musharraf has claimed that Qadeer's export
of centrifuge technology was unknown to successive governments. Yet ^*——^^^~*^
for over a decade, Qadeer openly advertised his nuclear wares. Each year
(including in 2003, when the proliferation controversy had already become intense) colourful banners
used to festoon Islamabad, advertising workshops on 'Vibrations in
rapidly rotating machinery' and
'Advanced materials'. These workshops, sponsored by the AQ Khan
Research Laboratories (also known
as the Kahuta Research Laboratories), had obvious and immediate
utility for those interested in
centrifuge technology, essential for producing bomb-
grade uranium.
In earlier years, Qadeer and his collaborators had
published a number of papers detailing critical issues
regarding the balancing of centrifuges and magnetic
bearings. These dealt with technical means for enabling
centrifuge rotors to spin close to the speed of sound
without disintegrating. The relevance of such work to
The United States
government, both for its
past and present
policies towards
Pakistan and for its role
in nuclear proliferation
generally, also should
be required to answer
some questions.
the development of weapons-grade uranium was already evident even to non-specialist observers. But to
make the blatant absolutely certain in the minds of prospective customers, Kahuta issued glossy sales brochures aimed at 'classified organisations'. These advertised such nuclear products as complete ultracen-
trifuge machines, high frequency inverters, equipment
for handling corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas, as
well as hand-held ground-to-air missiles.
In the light of such persistent, egregious advertising
of forbidden nuclear and other wares, can successive
governments of the sovereign nation
"■^"■^■■"■^   really have been — as General
Musharraf claims — so ignorant?
For all who cared to see, as even
his admirers admit, Abdul Qadeer
Khan was corrupt. Despite a salary
of less than USD 3,000 a month,
Qadeer had bought the choicest real
estate, owned restaurants and
colleges, purchased a hotel in
Timbuktu which he named after his
wife, and claimed ownership of a
psychiatric hospital. His belief that
his historic contribution elevated
him above the country's laws and
environmental regulations even led
him illegally to build a magnificent mansion along the
pristine Rawal Lake, the source of Rawalpindi's
drinking water.
But Qadeer's projection of paternity of Pakistan's
supreme status symbol did not come for free. He had to
buy the loyalty of journalists, military men, and scientists. His biographers and other sycophants were amply rewarded. Many of this writer's colleagues in the
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
Petrol tanker with portrait of Ijaz Ghauri, Pakistan's foremost nuclear
scientist. Sindh, Pakistan ___^	
physics department of Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University would receive cheques for substantial amounts
merely by sending him an obsequious note and asking
for money.
Qadeer was not so generous with this writer. With a
physics colleague, Abdul Nayyar, this writer had challenged in court Qadeer's bid to steal their university's
land in 1996. Though the duo eventually won, Qadeer
had this writer placed on the Exit Control List — forbidden to leave Pakistan until cleared of various charges
of being 'anti-national'. These charges included selling the secrets of the Kanupp (Karachi) reactor to the
United States and India — a wildly ridiculous charge
given that Kanupp is under the full-scope safeguards
of the IAEA.
What does the wind know?
It is said that General Musharraf has a strong personal
dislike of Qadeer, and it is unlikely that he approved
his shady dealings. Yet when he removed Qadeer as
head of the enrichment facility in late 2000, allegedly
under US pressure, Musharraf did not order a thorough investigation; nor, more recently, did he show
much gratitude to the two countries which had exposed
the international crime ring. Indeed, in the marathon
press conference where he announced his acceptance
of Qadeer's petition for mercy, Musharraf excoriated
Iran and Libya for surrendering to the IAEA and meekly
handing over documents on their nuclear programmes
that implicated Pakistan ("Our Muslim brothers did
not ask us before giving our names"). When asked if
the state would appropriate Qadeer's illicitly acquired
wealth, Musharraf replied that this was not necessary
— this even though Musharraf has been incarcerating
political rivals for many years on charges of corruption
that may be true but are yet to be proved in court.
But Pervez Musharraf is not the only one with some
explaining to do in this murky affair. Tlie
United States government, both for its past
and present policies towards Pakistan and
for its role in nuclear proliferation generally,
also should be required to answer some
questions. American policy on nuclear
proliferation towards both Pakistan and
Israel has historically been driven by expediency. As these two countries set about
building nuclear weapons decades ago, the
US chose to look the other way. While
Pakistan fought America's war-by-proxy
against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in
the 1980s, the president of the United States
certified year after year that Pakistan was not
attempting to build a nuclear weapon, thus
allowing Pakistan to continue building the
bomb. But after the Soviets withdrew from
Afghanistan in 1989, the US imposed
sanctions on Pakistan, accusing it of a
nuclear arms programme.
Such expediency — to put it in mildest terms — continues to guide US actions today. CIA director George J
Tenet claims that his agency had penetrated deep into
the nuclear technology smuggling ring in recent years.
This should not have been difficult, given Qadeer's
shameless advertising of his wares. But, still, why did
the jAmericans fail to stop him?
If Tenet's claim is correct, then we must conclude
that the US knew, but did not attempt to stop, centrifuge and bomb designs from being further copied, and
centrifuge parts being manufactured and distributed
to other interested parties. In effect, this has made the
difficult job of containing the spread of nuclear weapons much harder. It is not clear why the CIA chose to
move so slowly and with such apparent indecision and
one must come to the conclusion that there has been US
complicity as well in nuclear proliferation.
The more recent United States indulgence of General Musharraf has a clearer explanation. The Americans want Pakistan to help eliminate the al-Qaida and
Taliban threat. Colin Powell's statement that Pakistan
has done "quite a bit to roll up the (nuclear) network"
must be read in the light of this urgent priority. But can
Pakistan deliver on either account?
In Pakistan, as elsewhere, nuclear organisations are
clothed in layers of secrecy, which raises questions
about Powell's optimism. It is also an open question as
to whether Pakistani government assurances, even if
they are sincere, can prevent all in the country's nuclear
establishment from following in Qadeer's footsteps.
Only two years ago, as is well-known, senior members
of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission were ready
to play their role in the jihad against America. In a fit of
Islamic solidarity they went to Afghanistan and met
with Osama bin Laden and tire Taliban. It is difficult to
believe that they were the only ones so inclined.        fr
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
Tlie history arid the present Reality of a xiastardJyMs^se that hits
the poorest in the jaoorest regions of Southasia.
by Dr Cesar Chelate
L donovani (kala-azar)
Perhaps the lesser known of the infectious disease
of Southasia, and the most neglected, is Kala-azar.
The name stands for "Black Sickness," because
of the darkened colour assumed by the skin of some
patients. Kala-azar is the Mogul period vernacular
name of visceral Leishmaniasis, a disease fatal if not
treated, that annually affects 500,000 people in 69
countries and has a population at risk of 350 million
people. 90 percent of cases occur in Bangladesh, India,
Nepal and Sudan.
Cause, symptoms, and distribution
The leishmaniasis are different illnesses caused by
infection with a parasite called a protozoan, a single-
celled organism considered to be the most simple in the
animal kingdom. Tliere are three forms of leishmaniasis
- the cutaneous, the muco cutaneous and the third form
that affects several organs and is called visceral
leishmaniasis or Kala-azar. The last form of this disease
is the one prevalent in India and Nepal.
The symptoms of Kala-azar include highly undulating fever, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain,
cough and diarrhoea. Among the clinical signs are a
dark colour of the skin, and enlargement of the spleen,
liver and lymph nodes.
Kala-azar is normally present in areas of drought,
famine and densely populated villages with poor or no
sanitation and is not uniformly distributed in the
affected areas. Among those most commonly affected
are older children and young adults of both sexes with
male preponderance. As a result of migration patterns,
in recent years foci of Kala-azar are also present in cities
where the poor live in densely populated ghettos in
sub-standard conditions.
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The Leishman-Donovan duo
Early history
Kala-azar made its first documented attack on humans in
Jessore District - now part of
Bangladesh - in 1824, where it
started in the village of Moha-
medpur. The disease presented
itself with typical signs and
symptoms: darkened skin and
wasted bodies with protruding
abdominal veins. The wea-   	
kened patients usually ended
their lives amidst serious bouts of dysentery or
pneumonia. In three years, it is estimated that this
epidemic caused the death of 750,000 people.
Kala-azar had the characteristics of a communicable
disease, and apparently spread through traffic routes.
A few years after it was initially detected, the disease
had expanded rapidly by roads and water through the
entire Ganga plain, leaving death and —^^.j.^
destruction in its wake. A British civil
surgeon working in India in the 1870s
wrote of villages "in which not a healthy
person was to be met with, while repeated
relapses of fever, daily deaths, loss of their
children, increasing depopulation of
their villages and the absence of hope for
better times, has so demoralised the    	
population that they neglected to avail themselves of
medical and other aid, unless brought actually to their
The disease also appeared in Assam, carried by-
British steamers serving the Ganga and Brahmaputra
rivers. Kala-azar ravaged the region, and for the next
25 years Kala-azar killed almost a fourth of the
population in some parts. With what author Robert S
Desowitz calls "remarkable epidemiological insight",
the people of Assam called the new infection sarkari
bemari, 'the government disease', since they associated
it with the British presence and the changes they
brought to the country. With the extension of the disease
from Assam to Tamil Nadu, Kala-azar established
permanent residency in the subcontinent.
As happens with many epidemics of infectious diseases,
and for reasons not totally known, Kala-azar seems to
have a specific cycle of activity, which is estimated to
be between 15 to 20 years. With the beginning of the
new century the epidemic in the Ganga plain waned,
but did not completely disappear. Until 1900, the
disease remained a mystery as to its causative agent or
the mechanism of its transmission, lt took 80 years since
it was first documented to find the agent causing the
A British soldier stationed in Calcutta in 1900 who
contracted the disease was an invaluable link to the
understanding of its origin. The soldier died in England,
90 percent
of cases occur
in Bangladesh,
India, Nepal
and Sudan.
where his body was autopsied
by William Boog Leishman, who
hacf previously worked tor the
India Medical Service. For years,
Leishman had been trying to
find' tf\e causa rtVe ctfgartflsw? ol
Kala-azar. He took a piece of the
spleen from the soldier's body
and stained the samples. To his
surprise he found a new set of
    bodies which were later called
'Leishman bodies' and which
he thought were the cause of the disease. The first person
to confirm the finding was Charles Donovan in Madras.
In 1904, the organisms responsible for the disease
were recognised as being protozoan in nature, were
given the name 'Leishman-Donovan bodies' and
received the taxonomic designation of Leishmania
donovani. That it was an infectious disease
la^HMHHMB was demonstrated by its spread from
household to household, and from village
to neighbouring villages. But the question
as to how it was transmitted and which
the responsible agents were, still
remained. After several false starts,
researchers were able to find some clues -
geography, of all disciplines, proved
Major John Sinton, a renowned specialist on
malaria, became intrigued by Kala-azar. Working at the
Central Research Institute's Medical Entomology
Section at Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, Sinton found
an interesting trail. Sinton probably reasoned that
epidemics happen over time, and so they have a history,
but they also happen at particular places, so they must
have a geographical spread pattern. On examination
of the spread pattern he saw that the disease had a
restricted distribution in the eastern half of India, from
Madras to Assam. When he compared the distribution
pattern of the blood-sucking insects with that of the
Kala-azar, the map of one species of insects closely
^Kala-azar Cycle
Visceral leishmaniasis
or kala-azar is caused
tay Leishmania muhdply
in spleen,   [viar and
bone marrow
V zryJJ     L
\     1       4H^^    infeclve pi
eisrirpariia tie
'tifnssli^u Is fo
Sand'ly irrgesls
nama with Wood
(,s m 7-10 days
'jman hOSl through Hy tute
astigote forms Inside host cells
uliiply and spread \a other cells
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
coincided with that of Kala-azar -Phlebotomus argentipes,
the silvery sandfly.
Based on these findings, Sinton published a series
of papers in 1924 and 1925 proposing the theory that
the sandfly was the vector (the carrier) of the Kala-azar
parasite, Leishmania donovani. Sinton thought that once
infected in a person, the sandfly passes the infectious
agent to other persons in whom the protozoan will set
up residence and cause the disease.
Testing for proof
Further evidence to accept his hypothesis    _____
was needed, however. Robert Knowles
and scientists at the Calcutta School of
Tropical Medicine fed laboratory-bred
sandflies to Kala-azar patients. They then
dissected the flies and searched for the
presence of Leishmania donovani. They
were able to find them in the gut, and later
in the throat, of flies that had been fed on
the patients earlier.
But crucial proof was necessary.
Because the sandfly vector becomes
infected when feeding on the blood of an
infected individual or an animal reservoir
host, an infected sandfly had to bite a
person, and that person had to come
down with Kala-azar to prove that it truly
was carrying the infectious agent and that
this agent was the cause of the disease.       	
An Indian physician, CS Swaminath, provided that
final proof. Working with Henry Edward Shortt, a
professor at the University of London's School of
Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, they obtained the
collaboration of six volunteers from the hill district of
The treatment of
the disease
cannot ignore
that globalisation
and trade,
combined with
increasing socioeconomic
disparities has
led to increased
.Assam and placed infected flies on them. Three of the
volunteers contracted the disease. The finding
confirmed that the disease is transmitted from person
to person using the sandfly Phlebotomus argentipes as
the vector of Leishmania donovani and that this infectious
agent was responsible for Kala-azar. This was a
significant moment in the history of the disease.
Search for a Cure
Parallel to the evolution of the disease was the search
for a cure. Just as geography had helped in finding its
■■•■■■Hua^M    vector, history (and cosmetics) helped in
finding the first effective treatment for
Kala-azar. That treatment, however, had
some important secondary effects.
The women of ancient Egypt were
known for their concern for looking
beautiful and for taking good care of their
bodies. They used a cosmetic paste that
contained oxides and sulphides of the
heavy metal antimony, which had
accidentally proved effective in treating
some skin disorders close to the eyes of
women using that paste. Centuries later,
the success in using arsenical and
antimonia! compounds against syphilis
and African sleeping sickness called
attention to the potential effectiveness of
therapy with these heavy metals for
~~—~~"—_     treating Kala-azar patients.
The initial antimony compounds used were
extremely toxic and not very effective. In 1935, a new
antimony product, pentavalent antimonium
(Pentostam) was developed, which was the first
effective drug against this disease. This was not
enough, however, to eliminate the threat posed by it,
since the sandfly vector continued multiplying. What
was necessary was a powerful, long lasting, and cheap
insecticide that could eliminate the vector of the disease.
Kala-azar affected
Districts of Nepal
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
K^azar Transmission
Phlebotomus Sp.
Phlebotomus Sp.
Visceral leishmaniasis (Kala-aiar) as it occur in India and Nepal
(No animal host is known)
Effect of spraying with insecticide
It wTas discovered in the 1940s that using DDT
(dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethylene) to combat malaria
had another unsuspected effect. DDT was not only able
to kill the anopheline mosquito that was a vector for the
most common types of malaria but was also able to act
against the sandfly vector for Kala-azar. Actually,
because of the characteristics of the sandfly, the
insecticide was more effective against them than against
the anophelines vectors of malaria. The explanation
for this difference is that sandflies (which actually do
not fly but just hop from place to place) sit on the walls
longer and at lower height than the anophelines, and
can thus be more easily reached by the sprayed DDT.
The DDT used in India by the National Malaria
Eradication Programme in the 1940s ravaged the
sandfly population and interrupted the transmission
of Kala-azar. By the mid-1950s no new cases of Kala-
azar were being recorded and in the mid-1960s Kala-
azar had become an almost forgotten disease in the
country. However, when the national anti-malaria
campaign was interrupted in India, Kala-azar
reappeared in 1970 in the village of Vaishali, in Bihar.
Vaishali, where the Buddha had his last
enlightenment, now also had the dubious distinction
of being the place where Kala-azar reclaimed its territory.
In the late 1970s Kala-azar travelled downstream and
appeared in Bangladesh, and shortly afterwards
entered part of the Tarai, the agricultural plains of Nepal
bordering India, where it became endemic. The Tarai
covers 17 percent of the total land area of the country,
where 48 percent of Nepal's total population presently
lives. Kala-azar is now present in 13 districts in Nepal,
bordering Bihar in India.
The treatment of the disease cannot ignore that
globalisation and trade, combined with increasing
socio-economic disparities has led to increased
international migration. India, Nepal, Bangladesh and
Bhutan are an example of countries with porous borders
and frequent migration of population. Migrants are
particularly vulnerable populations, and their movement across borders entails risks for the propagation of
communicable diseases and infections such as HIV/
AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and Kala-azar. This makes
it even more imperative to find ways to control the
spread of those diseases.
Asymptomatic or sub-clinical infections
An important finding from the point of view of
preventing Kala-azar is that most infections remain
asymptomatic or sub-clinical. It is estimated that
asymptomatic infections outnumber those that are
symptomatic by an estimated ratio of 10:1, or even
higher. Due to the high number of persons who remain
asymptomatic, but can still infect other people, effective
control of the infection is very difficult.
Panduka Wijeyaratne, resident advisor for the
Environmental Health Project in Nepal (funded by
USAID) is an expert on Kala-azar. For the past several
years, this project has carried out a series of actions
aimed at reducing the threat of this disease. He has
been working with leishmaniasis for the last 20 years
and for 10 years had a network of several countries
working on this problem.
Wijeyaratne told this writer that, "What we have
already seen is only the tip of the iceberg, because below
are all these asymptomatic cases, some of which will
become symptomatic, particularly among the poor".
Wijeyaratne adds, "Kala-azar is a controllable, treatable
disease that affects those most neglected and
In Nepal, most cases of Kala-azar had been diagnosed
based on the clinical picture and relatively non-specific
tests such as the total white blood cell count or bv a test
called the aldehyde test, The most specific one is
demonstration of parasites, usually carried out by
taking an aspirate from the spleen or bone marrow and
examining the smear under a microscope.
A new test recently developed is called k39. The test
requires only one drop of finger-prick blood and replaces
the traditional diagnosis by biopsy of the liver or spleen
or by puncture of the bone marrow or a lymph gland.
Nepal at present has the diagnostic Kit-39 for Kala-azar.
This new test offers interesting possibilities for eventually
eliminating the disease, since it will be much easier to
diagnose those affected — even if asymptomatic — and
start the treatment of the disease earlier.
Control of the disease
Both effective treatment and prevention are the
cornerstones of control of this disease, but there have
been three serious complicating circumstances. Firstly,
was the finding that co-infection with HIV was
becoming more frequent, making treatment even more
difficult. Secondly, there was the increasing resistance
to pentavalent antimonium (Pentostam), which had
been the best weapon against the disease for more than
half a century. Finally, there was the matter of population
movements across borders.
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
A significant recent development has been the
identification of the drug miltefosine as the first oral agent
against the disease. Presently, clinical trials of this drug
are being conducted in Nepal, and if miltefosine proves
its effectiveness it will be a tremendous step forward in
the fight against the disease, since it will replace the
painful and highly incon-vcnient treatments presently
Another recent development has been the agreement
between Nepal and India's National Vector Borne
Disease Control Programme. Through this agreement,
both India and Nepal will share information and
resources as part of cross-border collaboration efforts,
which will increase dramatically the effectiveness and
efficiency of efforts for controlling the disease.
Impact of the disease
Although the number of cases of Kala-azar in Nepal is
estimated at approximately 2,000 per year, this number
does not take into account tbe number of asymptomatic
cases, nor gives an indication of how serious an
epidemic of this disease can become if the risk factors
arc allowed to increase. In addition, the disease has a
tremendous economic impact on the affected families,
particularly since a sick person in the family means
that sooner or later other members are also going to be
affected, including those responsible for the family's
economic support.
This writer visited the village of Juri, a heavily
endemic area in the Janakpur District and met a man in
bis early forties (he ignores his real age),
Ram Sewak, from the Danuwar, a low
socio-economic caste. Ram Sewak
revealed that of the 35 persons in his
extended family, 17 had had Kala-azar.
His own wife had died of the disease; he
had had to sell his plot of land to pay for
her care and had been left destitute.
Unable to take care of his children, a boy
of 10 and a girl of eight, be had sent them
to live with a maternal uncle. He now
does not have a home and does whatever
work he can find. There were several
similarly tragic stories in Janakpur, the result of the
predations of Kala-azar.
Kala-azar is a good example of a bad situation, a
disease that affects those of low socio-economic level in
households where hygiene and sanitation are poor,
circumstances that favour the spreading and
multiplication of the sandfly vector of the disease What
can be done to improve the situation?
Perhaps the best approach is to try to diminish the
risk factors/situations associated with the disease. The
sandfly is attracted to livestock, breeds in animal waste,
and is present in wall cracks, and damp floors in the
homes. Children should avoid sleeping on the ground
floor, and wall cracks should be repaired. Bed nets and
spraying houses with insecticide have proven to be
Kala-azar patient (child) at Jaleswar District Hospital, Nepal.
effective measures to avoid the disease. At the same
time, there should be a campaign at the community level
to reduce sandfly breeding sites using local materials,
and education both at the community level and with
health staff at all levels aimed at improving case
recognition, surveillance and reporting.
Kala-azar affects
those of low
level in
where hygiene
and sanitation
are poor.
Can Kala-azar be controlled?
An important element in the fight against
this disease is to have the political will to
carry out the necessary actions, something
that frequent political changes make
difficult. Another person, Vijay Kumar
Singh, senior physician at Janakpur Zonal
Hospital, was eager to communicate his
experience in dealing with Kala-azar for
over 20 years and seeing over a thousand
patients. He said that one of the reasons
not enough attention was paid to the
„—. _    disease, was the fact that it affected the
lower socio-economic classes, the voiceless ones.
Ishwor Prasad Upadhyaya, at the Primary Health Care
Centre at Gaushala, Mahottari District, had no doubts,
"Kala-azar is a poor man's disease".
On being asked if Kala-azar could be controlled and
eventually eliminated, Vijay Kumar Singh said: "Yes, it
can... But we need at least 10 years of sustained effort.
What is necessary is a complementary set of activities
including early detection at community level, prompt
treatment, regular follow up and completion of
treatment, as well as close synchronisation of activities
between India and Nepal, and continuing political
will". As things stand now, all the elements are in place
to effectively control this dreadful disease. a
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
Rice and sovereignty
The grain that sustains more than half of the world's population may
soon be owned and controlled by a private company.
by Devinder Sharma
W   £_£._- — -
The launch of a high-yielding dwarf rice variety
by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRl)
on 28 November 1966 marked the beginning of
Asia's struggle for freedom from hunger. Perhaps
drawn by the promise of the 'miracle rice' - the IR8 rice
variety - the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the
United Nations (FAO) dedicated 1966 as the International Rice Year. Thirty-eight years later as the United
Nations dedicates the year 2004 to the world's most
important staple food once again, celebrating it as the
International Year of Rice, the starchy grain has
undergone complete metamorphosis.
In 1966, the miracle rice seeds that ushered in the
green revolution belonged to the species Oryza sativa
(the biological name for rice). Since the time the indica
variety of wild rice was known to be growing in the
northern and southern slopes of the Himalaya - some
15,000 years ago - rice has been regarded as probably
God's greatest gift to humankind. Staple food for more
than half the world's population, rice has come to be a
part of the Asian culture itself. Nearly 91 percent of the
world's rice is produced in Asia (nine of the top ten
rice-producing countries are from Asia) and 92 percent
of the produce is eaten in Asia. Rice is the principal
food of three of the world's four most populous nations:
the People's Republic of China, India and Indonesia.
Rice is what sustains more than 2.5 billion people in
these three countries alone. For centuries, rice has been
the sociology, tradition and lifeline for the majority
That was an era associated with Oryza sativa - a
period when rice was freely available for farmers,
consumers and the scientists. Whether it were the
200,000 plant accessions of rice that were known to be
cultivated some 200 years ago, or the handful of dwarf
and high-yielding rice varieties and its numerous
national variants the world over that have led the march
against hunger in the recent past, rice was a realm of
As the world begins to commemorate the International Year of Rice 2004, a leading multinational
agribusiness giant, Syngenta, has already claimed
ownership of rice. In other words, the biological
inheritance of the world's major food crop is now in the
hands of a Swiss multinational. The journey of rice,
beginning with the emergence of wild rice some 130
million years ago, crossing the Himalaya, passing
through southern China, hopping to Japan, travelling
to Africa, traded to the Middle East and the
Mediterranean and shipped to Mexico and America,
has finally ended at the banks of river Rhine in Basel,
Switzerland - under the monopoly control of Syngenta.
Over the years, agribusiness giants kept assuring a
worried scientific community that crops like rice, wheat
and other cereals are of no commercial interest to them.
Their focus was, they said, on such cash crops as
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
strawberries, cut flowers, tomatoes with the potential
of big profits. This prompted universities, which
developed such technologies in the first place, to license
these to the private corporations. Knowing well that
patenting alone will determine who wields power over
farming and the world food system, a tug of war began
between the multinationals over who controls the rice
plant genome - the raw sequences in the genetic code
(a gene is an ordered string of DNA nucleotides that we
inherit from our parents whereas genome refers to the
entire constitution of our genetic material or make-up).
The tussle over the monopoly control of rice extends
to its 12 chromosomes. These chromosomes contain 430
million base pairs of DNA, and are expected to have
about 50,000 genes. Syngenta, in collaboration with
Myriad Genetics Ine of the United States, has beaten
the other food biotechnology giant Monsanto in the
game by sequencing more than 99.5 per cent of the rice
genome. Syngenta has made it clear that it will restrict
access to the genomic map and expects proprietary
control over any research carried out with the
Top executives of Syngenta have	
already told The New York Times that
while companies would not seek to patent
the entire genome, they would try to
patent individual valuable genes. They
categorically stated that Syngenta and
Myriad were well on their way to locating
many of those. First it was Monsanto
which made international headlines in
April 2000 by announcing to share its
working draft (rough version, 60 percent)
of the genome map with international
researchers sequencing the rice genome
under a publicly funded International
Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP),
and now it is Syngenta making clear its
efforts to seek patents on genes with visible
commercial output - the race is on to draw
proprietary control over something that
is actually part of nature and a human
There are conflicting reports of the latest tally of
patents over rice genes. Some researchers say that more
than 900 genes have already been patented. Earlier, the
Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) had
compiled a list of 609 patents on rice genes drawn till
September 2000, 56 percent of which were owned by
private companies and research institutes in Western
countries. On top of the list was the American giant Du
Pont with 95 patents, followed by Mitsui, Japan, with
45 patents. Tn the next three years, especially after the
mapping of the rice genome by Syngenta, a majority of
the patents would surely be in the lap of a handful of
multinational agribusiness companies.
The daylight robbery of genetic wealth - appropriately termed biopiracy - is happening with the
CGIAR has even
gone a step
ahead by taking
Syngenta on its
board - thereby
ensuring that the
company gets
free access to
the world's
biggest rice
collections that it
connivance of top scientists, international organisations
and the policy makers. The Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which
governs the 16 international agricultural research
centres for public goods, has actually welcomed the
recent developments in rice. The Rockefeller
Foundation, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the
World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and
even the FAO and UNDP have refrained from standing
up against the nefarious designs of private companies
in the name of research and development. In fact, CGIAR
has even gone a step ahead by taking Syngenta on its
board - thereby ensuring that the company gets free
access to the world's biggest rice germplasm collections
that it holds.
Golden Rice
In fact, Syngenta subsequently has gained exclusive
rights on the controversial Golden Rice technology
(a vitamin-A-fortified strain of rice that could stave off
progressive blindness from vitamin deficiency in as
many as 250,000 poor children globally a year) in
     exchange for help with Intellectual
Property Rights issues and the different
testing of the rice for a humanitarian
project. This happened even as the
international community was negotiating an agreement to see that the 70-
odd patents that were coming in the way
of free transfer and application of the
technology were removed. Ingo Potrykus,
university professor at the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology who developed
the Golden Rice, was in a desperate haste
to see that his name is enshrined in
history as the saviour of the
malnourished. Greenovation, a spin-off
company from the University of Freiberg
in Germany, was therefore founded in
1999 to out-license university research to
life science companies.
The patent was applied for a year
later, naming Ingo Potrykus and his
colleague Beyer as the inventors, facilitating an
agreement with Zeneca, now Syngenta. For the Swiss
company, the IPR over Golden Rice provides a human
face to its manipulative gene control designs. The
company has already announced that the technology
will be free for farmers in the developing countries with
annual incomes of less than USD 10,000 - a wonderful
exercise in public relations knowing well that Golden
Rice has little utility and relevance for developing
The quest for control over rice does not end with
patenting of its genes. In 2002, stung by criticism,
Syngenta India had to pull out from the controversial
research collaboration with the Indira Gandhi
Agricultural University (IGAU) at Raipur, Chattisgarh.
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
Monsanto Laboratory of the Life Sciences at the Washington
University in Saint Louis         ■    	
The collaboration would have given the company
commercial rights to over 19,000 strains of local rice
cultivars held by the university. These rice varieties were
painstakingly gathered by the agricultural scientist RH
Richharia in the 1970s. In exchange, the university
would have received an undisclosed amount of money
and royalties. Environmentalists and some scientists
had opposed the deal on the ground tliat Richharia's
collection was national wealth and not the private
property of the university and that opening the database
to a multinational company was a 'sell-out'. "We are
very disappointed to see the misleading and false
accusations that were made (against the collaboration)", a company official was quoted as saying. What
is however relatively unknown is the fact that the
Richharia rice collections were not the only plant species
that the company had an eye for. It has reportedly gone
to numerous agricultural universities in India, singing
agreements that enable the company commercial rights
over the hybrid rice varieties in lieu of five percent
royalties from sales.
Patrick Mulvany of the Intermediate Technology
Development Group (ITDG) is a distinguished researcher
who has closely followed the biodiversity trail. "Not
just national collections, but also CGIAR genebanks
(which contain over 600,000 plant accessions) will come
under increasing pressure from multinationals in the
next year or two, to exchange the genetic resources in
genebanks under public control for traitorous pieces of
silver", he warns. Also, 'Plant genetic resources for food
and agriculture' is defined in Article 2 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (2001) as
"any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential
value for food and agriculture" - it should be quite clear
from this that IPRs are NOT to be allowed on these genetic
However, the eminent Commission on Intellectual
Sequential steps of image analysis for rice chromosome.
Property Rights (CIPR), set up by the UK government
(2001), has already jumped the gun and has interpreted
Article 12.3(d) which states that "recipients shall not
claim any intellectual property or other the
form received from the Multilateral System (MLS)," as
meaning that patents can be taken out on genes derived
from the seeds kept under the rules of the MLS (those 35
genera of food crops, including rice, wheat, maize
and potatoes, and 29 forages covered by the MLS in its
jAnnex 1). Mulvany explains: "The crucial words 'in
the form received' mean that material received cannot
be patented as such, but they do allow patents to be
taken out on modifications (however defined) to that
In simple words, even the CIPR has failed to foresee
the underlying threat to food sovereignty. Not realising
that such an interpretation will lead to scientific
apartheid against the people of developing countries.
After all, with the product and process patents coming
into vogue in agriculture, the dice is loaded against
public-sector agricultural research. As a result of private
control over genes and biological processes, farm
research in the public sector will be rendered redundant.
It has already happened in the rich industrialised
countries where universities have increasingly gone
private or are surviving on private funds. Rice research
will be the biggest casualty, and with a few private
companies vying for the crumbs, rice is essentially in
the grip of Syngenta.
The International Year of Rice 2004 is in reality a
celebration of the private control of one of the mankind's
most precious heritage - rice plant. It is a toast to
acknowledge the emergence of Switzerland on the
world's rice map. Oryza sativa, therefore for all practical
purposes will become Oryza syngenta. A
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
Notorious fizz
The multinational colas swamp the public
consciousness with their advertising blitz,
but a parliamentary committee has been
doing its job in India.
by Sudhirendar Sharma
agenda, the cola companies were
busy building up their ad campaign
out of a formidable war chest with
which to buy the most popular
Bollywood stars.
The JFC had little option but to
hold the Ministry of Health respon-
Do the companies even
pay for the water that is
pumped to fill some
7000 million bottles of
soft drinks every year?
Apparently not.
In New Delhi a new advertise
ment featuring three of the lead
ing Bollywood actors was perfectly timed to take the fizz out of
the eagerly awaited report of the
Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC)
on pesticide residues in (and safety
standards for) soft drinks, fruit
juices and other beverages. No
surprise, therefore, like the escape
of impregnated carbon dioxide from
the cola bottle, that the historic findings of the report had evaporated
from public memory within a week
of the report's release!
Tabled simultaneously in both
houses of the Parliament on 4 February 2004, the JPC report put an
official stamp on the New
Delhi-based Centre for Science
and Environment's claims that
indeed soft drinks contained
pesticide residues. Though the
findings were nothing less
than historic, they could not
make a dent in the face of the
publicity blitz unleashed by
the cola multinationals, which
have comforted the public with
the belief that the drinks are
The 'clean chit' provided to
the multinationals by none
other than the country's health
minister, Sushma Swaraj,
prior to the setting up of the
JPC, had already worked in
their favour. While the 15-
member JPC sat to examine all
the relevant facts in setting up
a comprehensive public health      Protestor's are not amused.
sible for the spread of misinformation, but by that time, the damage
had already been done. For the INR
6,000 crore (close to USD 1330 million) soft drinks industry that is
growing at an impressive rate of 7-8
percent annually, the six months
spent by the JPC in filing its report
was a period to let loose the blitz,
with not a second to be lost. And, it
did not miss any minute of this opportunity! When it comes to business in fluid products, to begin with,
six months actually translates into
no less than 3000 million bottles of
soft drinks pushed down the throats
of unsuspecting public.
The JPC was shocked to find that
sms the burgeoning soft drinks industry was unregulated. It is
exempted from industrial
license under the Industries
Act of 1951 and gets the convenience of a one-time operating license under the 1955
Food Products Order (fpo).
All that the industry has to
comply with for unrestricted
operations is the requirement
of a no-objection-certificate
from the state government and
clearance from the state Pollution Control Board.
Finally, what was not done
in decades got accomplished
in days. Within 20 days of the
CSE expose in August 2003,
the Ministry of Health had
brought in a draft notification
to cover soft drinks, fruit juices
and other beverages under
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
the same standards as that for packaged drinking water. The JPC observed the Government's over-
enthusiasm with scepticism, noting
that the ministry has not taken the
opinion of the statutory Central
Committee on Food Standards.
The Committee further wondered at the Government's wisdom
of clubbing soft drinks with fruit
juices when the maximum residue
levels (iMRL) fixed in the case of raw
fruits and vegetables were much
higher under the existing provisions of the 1954 Prevention of Food
Adulteration Act (PFA). Observing
gross negligence, the JPC recommended that MRL be fixed for all the
pesticides registered in the country.
Shockingly, the MRL of only 71 of
the 181 registered pesticides has
been fixed under 1954 PFA Act.
The JPC had been particularly
concerned about water quality, as it
constitutes 86 to 92 percent of any
soft drink. Surprisingly, neither is
water defined properly nor any standards laid down under FPA, FPO or
the Bureau of Indian Standards
(BIS). Given the fact that prone-to-
contamination groundwater is the
source at the cola factories across
the country, quality of water assumes greater significance. The
Committee was concerned about
the use of ground water by cola companies.
Ground reality
Do the companies even pay for the
water that is pumped to fill some
7000 million bottles of soft drinks
every year? Apparently not. Though
the companies have taken the mandatory permission to pump groundwater at their factory premises
across the country, the actual water
withdrawal has been free everywhere. The shocked and dismayed
JPC questioned the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, about the
ground reality. "So far, as we know,
the Government is charging no
money for this purpose", came the
rather lame reply. When asked how
it was that the cola majors had free
access to groundwater, and that too
at the cost of public health, citing
lfAv ■-
-   t-u
"1 III
' * »  a!
'   *  * a, i
Heart-throbs Shahrukh, Saif and Preity
are suckers for Pepsi. __
Given the fact that
groundwater is the
source at the cola
factories across the
country, quality of water
assumes greater
the legal position of groundwater
being bundled together with land
ownership, the Ministry of Water
Resources expressed its inability to
levy charges.
In light of the Kerala High Court
judgement in the case of Plachi-
mada plant of Coca Cola, the JPC
questioned the stand taken by the
bureaucrat at the Ministry of Water
Resources. The court has directed
no uncertain terms that the use of
groundwater is free only in case
the same is used for domestic or
agricultural purpose by the owner.
In case of its commercial use, the
court observed, the panchayat and
the state are bound to protect
groundwater from exploitation. The
committee, meanwhile, took strong
exception to the ineffective functioning of the Central Ground Water
Authority (CGWA), constituted on
the directions of tlie Supreme Court
to regulate groundwater exploitation.
In many ways, the JPC report
reads like a charge-sheet on the functioning of the concerned ministries
of the government. However, the report makes significant recommendations to improve the situation.
They include the setting up of stringent standards for pesticide residues in soft drinks, regulating
groundwater extraction for commercial purposes, the inclusion of water within the definition of 'food',
and developing coordinated action
by research institutions in the public domain. Hie JPC has thus unleashed an agenda that is aimed at
providing safe food and water to
the masses.
Though the JPC report has
brought public health onto the centre stage, it is not yet clear if its recommendations would translate into
concrete action. With about eight
different ministries dealing with a
plethora of laws and regulations on
food products — law enforcement
is at best cosmetic and loose. Shockingly, a significant public-health
issue that impacts the life of millions
is not an electoral issue for
the April-May general elections in
India. A
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 NHRC of Nepal
amidst the ruins
Government attitude is threatening an institution which has shown some
degree of seriousness towards ensuring protection of human rights. There
ought to be a rethink.
 by Suhas Chakma	
At the eighth annual meeting
of the Asia-Pacific Forum of
National Human Rights Institutions concluded in Kathmandu
on 18 February 2004, the National
Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
of Nepal stood tall amongst many
of its peers from the region because
of its interventions for promotion
and protection of human rights in
the ongoing-armed conflicts between the Maoists and the government of Nepal, Over 8,000 people
have been killed, about a thousand
have disappeared, thousands have
been orphaned and widowed, and
hundreds of thousands have been
internally displaced since the
Maoists began their 'people's war'
in 1996.
As the conflict continues to intensify by the day since the collapse
of the peace talks between the
Maoists and the government on 27
August 2003, human rights institutional mechanisms notably the Supreme Court of Nepal (SC) and the
NHRC have been facing contempt
from the government and its security forces. The workload in 19 hilly
district courts dropped drastically
with less than 50 cases recorded in
a year according to a recent report
of the government's Judicial Council. Maoists have their own form of
crude justice and threaten government judges. The Supreme Court has
also failed to inspect the Appellate
and District Courts in the country
during  2002  and  2003   "owing
to bad law and order situation"
though it is required to inspect the
subordinate courts every year as per
the Judicial Administration Act of
1991 and SC regulations. The police and army often refuse to accept
court orders to produce detainees,
and re-arrest detainees immediately
after the courts order their release.
There would seem to be little difference between the security forces and
the Maoists when it comes to observance of the law.
Since 2000, an
estimated 662 persons
have disappeared at
the hands of the security forces while 114
cases of disappearances have been
attributed to the
The NHRC, established by the
government and with the mandate
to promote and protect human
rights, has faced a similar fate. The
government of Nepal even refuses
to acknowledge the reports of the
NHRC or take appropriate action
against those who are found guilty
after proper investigation by the
NHRC. Further, even as the NHRC
called for investigations of abuse by
the United Nations human rights
institutional mechanisms in late
2003, the government responded by
establishing the National Centre for
the Promotion of Human Rights
under the prime minister's office to
the detriment of a body already
crippled by the lack of adequate financial resources.
All of this comes despite the fact
that the NHRC has consistently
maintained impartiality while dealing with abuses by the security
forces and the Maoists. At the height
of the conflict prior to the ceasefire,
in January 2003 the NHRC investigated human rights violations in 35
districts of Nepal. On 22 October
2002 it apprised then Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand of
human rights violations in the
country including illegal detention,
extrajudicial killings and use of excessive force in arrest and search operations. On 23 October 2002, the
NHRC condemned the Maoists for
attacking unarmed citizens, development infrastructure, cultural heritages, health posts, recruitment of
child soldiers and indulging in extortion, appropriation of people's
houses and looting foodstuff and
medicines. The Maoists were also
found to be indulging in extortion
and murder of teachers in order to
disrupt education
However, the troubles for the
NHRC started when the government
apparently took offence to its investigation into the massacre of 17
Maoist cadres and two civilians in
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
The NHRC's quarters in Kathmandu
cold blood in the district of Rame-
chhap on 17 August 2003 while the
third rounds of talks between
the Maoists and the government
was underway. An investigation
committee of the NHRC, consisting
of credible Nepali citizens included
exhumation of the bodies, leading
to the conclusion that the unarmed
victims had been killed at close
range, with hands tied behind the
back. The investigating committee
termed the lullings as a violation of
international humanitarian law, in
particular Common Article 3 of the
Geneva Convention, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, the
Army Act, the Police Act and the
Armed Police Act.
The NHRC's subsequent investigation into the killing of students at
Sarada Higher Secondary School at
Mudbhara Village under Doti
District on 13 October 2003 found
that students and teachers who were
forced to take part in a cultural
programme by Maoists were indiscriminately shot at by the security
forces. Altogether, the NHRC has
written to the government about 20
cases when there has been evidence
of excessive and unlawful use of
force by the security forces, which
under the concept of 'unified command' function under the direction
of the Royal Nepal Army.
With only the Supreme Court (in
Kathmandu) willing to accept habeas corpus petitions against disappearances, and filing a case before the courts being beyond the ability and logistical capability of most
Nepalis outside of Kathmandu, the
NHRC remains the only other hope
in terms of the institution capable
of at least receiving complaints of
human rights violations. Since 2000,
the TMHRC has received a total of
808 complaints of disappearances
involving 739 males and 69
females. An estimated 662 persons
have disappeared at the hands of
the security forces while 114 cases
of disappearances have been attributed to the Maoists. The army
claims that they "cannot divulge the
details of some of the abducted
persons for security reasons".
Amidst the ruin of all institutions associated with a modern
state, the NHRC of Nepal is one that
has to be kept strong for the sake of
the people's protection. In order to
ensure that this institution is not
reduced to another government
mouth-piece, any National Human
Rights Action Plan for Nepal,
which is in the final stage of preparation, must include strengthening
of the NHRC with human and financial resources. That's the least
that a government could do to
preserve some semblance of
seriousness in addressing human
rights violations. ^
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
Good books and bad books
BOOKS HAVE been in the news in India recently, for
no fault of theirs. First came the attack by the Sambhaji
Brigade on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
of Pune in January 2004, ostensibly over the 'denigration' of Shivaji by a historian who was only setting out
the different ways in which people have looked at that
historical hero. Naturally, those whom he had thanked
for having helped him were bad people who therefore
became targets. Then rewards were announced, in
Mumbai and in Kolkata, for blackening respectively,
the faces of the writers Salman Rushdie and Taslima
Nasreen. Hordes of avid bibliophiles everywhere, incensed beyond endurance by bad books...
Finally came the World Book Fair which opened in
New Delhi on 14 February 2004, organised as usual by
the National Book Trust (NBT). It began, according to
the report published in The Hindu the next day, "amid
[the] chanting of Vedic mantras [and the] rendition of
Saraswati Vandana". This is, as we know, how public
events commence all over the globe, so the use of the
word 'World' in relation to this book fair was entirely
It was only to be expected that the speakers at all the
major functions in the book fair should be associated
with the Sangh Parivar, which, through the BJP-led
coalition at the Centre, controls the National Book Trust.
This year, though, there was a change in the usual
arrangements: individual
publishers who wished to
hold book release functions
or 'meet the author' events
were required to obtain the prior permission of the fair's
organisers. The Chairman of the jNBT, BK Sharma, said
that this was not aimed at censorship but represented
sound management and was meant to prevent possible
disorder. It was only 'unavoidable circumstances'
which kept the organisers from allotting space for
the release of Taslima Nasreen's most-recent book
Dwikhandito, at which the writer herself was to have
been present. None but the organisers of such a large
event can understand the immense problems involved,
the great responsibility that weighs on their shoulders.
A book represents, in now unfashionable terms,
'superstructure' or 'ideology'. It may contain the truth
as those who follow "religions of the book" believe their
particular books to represent, or it may contain lies.
With obvious exceptions, the reader is free to evaluate a
book. What is important is tliat in every modern society,
books are a symbol of the freedom of expression that is
guaranteed to every member of such a society. In the
Indian Constitution, this freedom is set out in Article
19 (1) (a); .although specific exceptions are listed wliicli
keep it from being absolute.
Maharashtra, ruled by a Congress-led coalition,
banned James Laine's book
on Shivaji- and West Bengal,
ruled by the CPI(M), banned
Taslima Nasreen's Dwikhandito. In both cases, the stated
reason was that the books
hurt the 'sentiments' of some
people and therefore had the
potential to cause trouble.
Thus Taw and order' were
given primacy over freedom
of expression. It does not
speak well for the governments of either that they
considered themselves unable to tackle the law and
order problems which may
have arisen, choosing instead
the easy way out of simply
banning the offending works.
We do not know if it
occurred to the two administrations that they had, in the
process, trampled over a
fundamental right granted by
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
the Indian Constitution. One is led here to
think of other administrations, those which
included people who had shaped the
Constitution. Did they ban the writings
such as those of Golwalkar and Savarkar,
which not only caused but were intended to
cause hurt to the sentiments of millions of
Indians and which recommended the
denial to these Indians even the rights of
ordinary citizens? Of course they did not.
Perhaps some secretly agreed with the
maniacs while others saw no harm in
letting them rant on. Whichever way we
choose to look at it, freedom of expression
was not denied even to those who spouted
One is led here to think also of what
many stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar have
been permitted to say, without let or
hindrance, in their writing, in their public
speeches, and in audio and video cassettes.
The likes of Narendra Modi, Pravin
Togadia and Ashok Singhal, and, in a
comparatively restrained though no less
obvious way. Deputy Prime Minister Lai
Kishenchand Advani himself, have freely
painted India's Muslims as Pakistani
agents, as Pakistanis, and as terrorists, not
to speak of several references involving
what is more directly called obscenity. Of
the many provisions in the Indian Penal
Code which prescribe punishments for
such acts, one need mention only those
which pertain to public tranquillity
(chapter VII), religion (chapter XV) and
criminal intimidation (chapter XXII).
Today's leaders are not governed by those
very laws which they are pledged to
uphold: nor, of course, are their 'kin'.
Literally silencing opponents is one use
to which political power has been put. The
other side of the coin is the spreading of
one's own vicious ideas, their imposition
on the nation, most particularly on its
children. Both run counter to the law of the
land, but why should those people bother
who have political power in their grasp and
-who never made much of the law of
the land anyway? Their own agenda is
primary, and they use the laws only when
they can be used against others: otherwise
they bend them or ignore them entirely. The
law is only a tool: it has nothing to do with
natural justice or with principles.
Political power and the law can be
misused to impose on people books that
are packed full of lies. Further, people can
be compelled to believe what these books
Bad Authors!
Irian Habib
Anil Sadgopal
contain because books which contain alternative viewpoints can be made unavailable,
again misusing the same set of law7s. Modern
societies are liberal in that they grant great
freedom to their citizens as individuals,
imposing restrictions only when the exercise
of this freedom impinges on the freedoms of
other citizens. Books, especially those that are
used in school education, are perhaps the
finest example of how India, in the last decade
or so, is being led back from liberal modernity
to a mediaeval suppression of individual
freedoms, in large part through the obnoxious
and cynical promotion of superstition.
Anil Sadgopal, Arjun Dev, Bipan
Chandra, DN Jha, Irfan Habib, Nalini Taneja,
Romila Hiapar and Teesta Setalvad are some
of the people who have written, with cogent
arguments and extensive documentation,
about the Sangh Parivar's organised effort to
give a particular slant to text books meant for
school children. The preponderance of
historians is explained by the fact that it is
chiefly the land's history which the Sangh
Parivar has sought to re-write, in such a way
that it might 'prove' the ancient and eternal
superiority of its ahistorical and sociologically nonsensical construct of 'Hindu'
culture and civilisation - a superiority which
it says was marred by the coming (always as
invaders, naturally, for there could have been
no simple traders among them) of evil people
who followed other faiths. To regain that
superiority non-Hindus must be disenfranchised, suppressed, thrown out - or
simply annihilated.
My fear is that the World Book Fair of 2004
may mark the co-option of the National Book
Trust, in the way in which the National
Council of Educational Research and Training was long ago co-opted, into tlie service of
the Sangh Parivar. If this happens, not just
school books but all books will sing the
glories of Hindutva; and there will be nothing
else to read.
I saw recently a book which documents
how, in Iran after the Islamic Revolution,
many banned books - not just Nabokov's Lolita
but also, strangely, the works of Jane Austen
- were read in secret by girls and young
women with the encouragement of their brave
teacher. Perhaps the time is not far when I
shall have to hide when I read Tolstoy or
Heming-way - or Charlie Brown. A
Mukul Dube
Mainstream (India)
Salman Rushdie
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 Para ninda, Para charcha
The chat-behind-the-back has emerged as a 'political right' of the ordinary people, a way to defy authority and try and keep it in check.
[Note: With this issue, we begin an irregular series on writings
from lhe 'langauge' journals of Southasia. This first
instalment is from the Bangla journal Ekak Matra, published
in its edition VoiZ4, No.4, January-February, 2004.
Translation by the writer.]
IF THE prevalent notion of democracy, notwithstanding
its refractions and ambiguities in practice, ultimately
boils down to the rule by the elected representatives of
the people, it cannot but be an exercise in communication. To be precise, it is supposed to rest on a two way-
process of exchange of messages and ideas, both substantive and symbolic, between the rulers and the ruled.
Both sides are supposed to benefit from the communicative exercise. The rulers benefit because through this
process they not only keep in touch with the people
whom they would periodically face in the elections
but also because, by being informed of various
demands and. grievances of the
people, they find a sense of direction
in governance. On the other hand,
through the same exercise the ruled
come to realise that they do have a
role in governance, at least an indirect part in determining the policies
being formulated and implemented.
The process also enables the ordinary
people to get rid of the 'illusion of omnipotence' about
the rulers — the idea that that the rulers have the unlimited capacity to provide them with whatever they
want. However, the question is do the rulers of the third
world (including as it should Southasia) care to treat
democracy as a communicative exercise? If not, what
option is left to the ordinary people in terms of their
political communication — of communicating about
the polity and politicians in general and the rulers in
My concern here is to defend and justify a specific
kind of practice — chat-behind-the-back — of the ordinary people, by wThich the ruled make critical evaluation of the leaders. In Bangla, this practice is known as
para ninda, para charcha, with a widely-used acronym
PNPC. We shall subsequently point out that the chat-
behind-the-back is different from gossip. But before we
mention its characteristics let us explain why it earns
the status of 'unofficial' political right of the ordinary
Communication: rulers'
zone of silence
There is hardly any doubt
that a yawning gap exists between the privileged and
powerful rulers and the ordinary people. This is not
only true in the cases of authoritarian and dictatorial
rulers but also in the cases of those who swear by
democracy. Take the case of India, the world's largest
democracy. Have the Indian rulers taken a pause and
thought of making democracy a communicative
exercise? The 'communication' which they generally
indulge in tends to be of two kinds. The first, mostly on
the eve of elections, rests on slogans and rhetoric relating
to achievements, backed up by impossible-to-fulfil
promises of after being elected. The second is seen in
'normal times': top-down information dissemination
— from the rulers to the ruled — with little scope for
feedback from those down below.
To take a specific example, ordinary Indians today are being subject
to an extraordinary publicity-blitz
of the 'India Shining' campaign, apparently by the Government of India, but in effect, by the Bharatiya
Janata  Party (BjP)-led  National
Democratic Alliance (NDA). The ad-
_____ __ vertisements and commercials that
are part of the INR 500 crore-campaign (over USD 110
million) are full of distortions, myths, false claims and
clever manipulation of facts about India's march
towards development. What does it signify? This publicity-blitz, coinciding with the coming of the parliamentary elections starting in April, reveals a govern-
ment-in-hurry to let people know what it has done so
far. That only proves that regular rulers-to-ruled communication has been missing. It is important to note
that the tendency to put ordinary people in detention
incommunicado is true of the rulers of all shapes and
sizes — irrespective of their ideological affiliations.
Thus, when the Congress Party criticises those in power
for "misleading people by the false feel-good mood"
through this campaign it tends to forget a piece of recent history. When in power it was responsible for dealing the severest blow to the Indian democracy — by-
imposing the Emergency in the 1970s. During the Emergency one of the most favourite slogans of then Indian
government was "work more, talk less". It was a classic
The leaders remain so
hidden from us that we
have little scope to vent
our feelings directly.
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
case of the rulers becoming the guardians of 'juvenile'
citizens and telling them to keep their mouth shut on
issues of governance. The obvious toll: democracy as
communicative exercise!
If communication remains the blind spot of the rulers, its source lies in their ingrained attitude of treating
power in terms of a zero-sum game. Thus, in their perception, power is something they should possess in
totality; otherwise, they consider themselves powerless.
Whatever may be the specificities of the polity of, say
for instance, the Southasian countries — in terms of
Nepal's experiment with cohabitation of monarchy and
democracy, Bangladesh's rotation with military rule
and party rule, Pakistan's 'mix' of democracy and military rule, and Sri Lanka's contention with the presidential and the parliamentary systems — the rulers
display a splendid, if dangerous, commonality in defying the status of democracy as a communicative exercise. Interestingly, if this is the scenario in countries
which have adopted democracy in ^^„mmmi^^mmmmim
one way or other, one can well
imagine what the scenario is in
countries like Bhutan, or for that
matter in Burma or Malaysia. In
Malaysia, the leading figure of the
opposition has been thrown into jail
and beaten black and blue — in the
name of protecting "Asian Values".
Dissent is a dirty word for the ruling
class in such countries. And the best
formula identified by such rulers to ™~ ~~~
stall, stunt and uproot dissent is to resort to, at best,
one-way information flow, and at worst, silence.
Weapon of the ruled
The fact, however, remains that despite the rulers' hostility to communication, the supposedly inactive and
indifferent ordinary citizens continue to communicate.
Indeed, the chat-behind-the-back is part of the everyday life communication of the ordinary people. It is
important to differentiate this 'subversive' practice from
what is generally known as gossip. The chat-behind-
the-back (PNPC) is of a different genre even if on certain
occasions it can come close to gossip. Gossip involves
much more trivia than chat-behind-the-back which has
greater depth and spread. To indulge in PNPC, one needs
to possess some facts and data. There may be some
degree of exaggeration, distortion and simplification
and even speculation in it but it has greater degree of
critical insights than what gossip, which relies
overwhelmingly on imagined situation and free-
floating speculation, could muster. Last but not the least,
chat-behind-the-back is, generally speaking, more oriented to the public conduct of the rulers and less on
their private conduct while in the case of gossip the
reverse is true. What is most interesting is that while
chat-behind-the-back relies more on issues of public
concern, it remains a 'private' practice or act.
In Southasian countries
rulers display a splendid, if dangerous, commonality in defying the
status of democracy as
a communicative
Chat-behind-the-back can vary in terms of intensity
and focus of criticism. Thus, when one argues that a
particular leader is useless there is sharp focus on him/
her, and the intensity of the criticism is greater. But when
one argues that the leader has not been able to do much
because his/her party has been the main constraint,
the focus is more diffused and the intensity of criticism
is relatively less. Even if the fact remains that one cannot take into consideration the innumerable instances
of PNPC in countries of Southasia, one can hazard a
guess to point out that in most cases they are of the first
category. The reason is the sense of insecurity and the
feeling of frustration of ordinary people, which make
the rulers aliens in their own land. The leaders, notwithstanding their occasional visibility through a cavalcade of cars and army of security personnel, remain
so hidden from us that we have little scope to vent our
feelings directly. The countries we live in are far different from those of Scandinavia in which the top-rung
mtmm^^mmmm^mm^ leaders could be found mingling
with ordinary mortals in shopping
malls, cinema and opera houses. Nor
do we have a Hyde Park-like space
where we can publicly criticise our
leaders in little gatherings. In the absence of so many opportunities, the
only option left is chat-behind-the
back. It also remains the people's answer to the reluctance of our rulers
to grant the third-generation human
~~ ™ rights — the Right to Information
and the Right to Communicate.
Purifying politics
There are some sceptical pundits who raise doubts
about the relevance of the rights to information and
communication. Their logic runs something like this:
because the ordinary people are not conscious enough
of the political and democratic rights they have little
need for them. But one can raise a counter-question: on
how many occasions have the rulers cared to provide
these rights to the people to come to the conclusion that
the people themselves arc absolutely unable to appreciate them? On the contrary, on various occasions in
these countries it is the people at large who have shown
their political acumen and respect for civil and political rights. Thus, it was the ordinary Indians who were
instrumental in throwing out the government which
promulgated the Emergency, through the parliamentary elections of 1977. True, such occasions do not come
frequently. It is also true that, what should be the ways
in which the ordinary people would express their opinions in adverse political situations is a question that
defies easy, simplistic answers.
It is difficult to organise referendums in Southasian
countries in the Scandinavian style, to hear the people's
true voice; even if they are held, as in the case of military-ruled Pakistan, the result is a mere sham. When it
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
 comes to elections, all over Southasia, the rulers take
exceptional care to put hurdles to prevent voting from
being free and fair. This must be the reason why
Bangladesh has introduced the system of "caretaker
government" in conducting elections. This is also the
reason why the Election Commission in India takes so
much trouble in supervising the code of conduct for
political parties. The same reason induces the visit of
foreign observers during the elections in Southasian
countries. However, no system is totally secure especially when the ruling class does not want it to be so.
If politics is fundamentally a process of conflict resolution or conflict management, it must encourage deliberations, discussions and debates on various issues
of common concern. When it is not encouraged by the
powers that be, that signals a possible end of politics.
But then 'politics' has an exceptional sunival instinct.
Even when the establishment plays the game of de-
politicisation, politics — in the form of disagreement
and dissent — continues to survive ^mmmm^m
in multiple centres and in multiple
forms, not necessarily making itself
audible and visible. The chat-behind-
the back of rulers might be construed
as largely the inaudible and invisible version of politics even if it has a
public character, being a process that
involves group/s of people.
How is politics purified by PNPC?
By reversal of the existing scenario,
even if for a short duration. To ex-
plain, by this process the 'powerless' ordinary people
become the 'shooters' and the leaders become the 'target' of attack. What is even more interesting is that this
process 'freezes' the leaders; they cannot react because
they are not physically present. This precludes any kind
of protest and resistance on their part. Even the leaders
prone to using violence to establish their rule meet the
same fate in being 'freezed'. As a result, the ordinary
people become 'empowered' for the time being; they
also become, even unknowingly, the custodians of hidden reflexivity.
Where have the analysts gone?
One major concern is the lack of focus on PNPC by the
leading political analysts. It is interesting that even if
analyses of political communication have proliferated
in recent times, and scholars have been theorising everyday-life interactions such as gossip, the chat-behind-
the-back as an important element of political communication has not been given serious thought. It is understandable that it might not be of great interest to the
Western scholars who treat it in terms of 'manipulative' or 'distorted' communication. Being guided by the
'ultimate' goal of the expansion of West-centric rationality and application, they believe, based on the reality of their situation, that the freedom of expression has
already secured institutional recognition. In their view
The chat-behind-the-
back is more oriented to
the public conduct of the
rulers and less on their
private conduct, while in
the case of gossip the
reverse is true.
of things, what is at best needed is to protect this freedom from the onslaught of capital.
For some scholars, as for American sociologist
Michael Schudson "conversation is not the soul of democracy", because such "spontaneous" practice has
nothing to do with the "refined, formal and purposive"
process of problem-solution such as politics. What remains out of the sight of Western scholarship is the
'reality of falsehood' in countries such as ours, in which
bureaucrat-ism goes on in the name of people-centrtsm;
centralisation in the name of decentralisation; underdevelopment in the name of development; manipulation of rules in the name of maintaining law and order;
regimentation in the name of free flow of ideas. What is
particularly surprising is that the scholars from the non-
Western world have largely followed the line of their
Western counterparts in being indifferent to behind-the-
back-ism in politics even if the surrounding lived reality
is so different. The reason for this might be found in the
m^^^mmm^mmmmm fact that most Third World scholars,
being educated in the Western mode
and methods, find it more convenient and satisfying to blindly follow their Occidental gurus, rather
than taking the trouble of exploring
more appropriate issues and relevant methods that are truer reflections of their 'own' reality.
The new 'ism'
" But while the analysts may remain
indifferent to it, chat-behind-the-back goes on undeterred in buses, trains, offices, college and university-
campuses and even in friendly gatherings. Not only
that, its utility in the life of the people is making PNPC a
transnational and global practice in the new millennium. Thanks to the spectacular progress of information technology (IT) chat-behind-the-back about the
rulers is having a kind of reach with a pace that was
unthinkable even a few years back. Thus, sitting in India one relies on the Internet to carry on chat-behind-
the-back with friends from the other countries of
Southasia. The result: so many Southasian leaders become the 'freezed' targets of attack. The range of targets
gets even broader with even the world strongman,
George W Bush, being made the feckless target. All said
and done, and despite the neglect of the scholar, chat-
behind-the-back has earned the status of a 'political
right' by default. In displaying tremendous apathy in
granting the designated democratic rights to the ordinary people the rulers have themselves enhanced its
significance. This is the paradox, or is it irony? tb
Dipankar Sinha
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
Funeral feasts for the priests
Do be sure
To be secure of fate
Before you embrace
The subtle curvature
Of time and space.
—Nadeem Rahman in History
UNCLE SAM is more engaged with Southasia today than
ever before. Before taking even routine decisions, Hamid
Karzai looks towards Washington for a nod of approval.
General Musharraf swears his loyalty at every opportunity—he went to the extent of dismantling a Pakistani
idol, and his own "hero", Abdul Qadeer Khan—to remain
in the good books of the Pentagon. Together, Karzai and
Musharraf have taken it upon themselves to let
Americans have a free run of the Hindukush region on
the pretext of a combined hunt for Osama bin Laden.
In the Nepali Himalaya, US military personnel are
getting ample opportunities for some on-the-ground
experience of tropical mountain warfare. The Maobaadis may not like it, but the government in Kathmandu is
only too happy to let the Eagle land in any part of the
kingdom in lieu of the advice of a few counter-insurgency consultants who have parachuted	
in, plus some military hardware.
Saffron Bharat is so pleased with
the neo-cons in Washington that it is
ready to soft-peddle on the issue of
'outsourcing' (shifting white-collar
jobs from the US to the Subcontinent,
among others), which remains a
major concern of the cyber-coolie
outfits operating from the Bangalore-
Bombay-New Delhi triangle. Like-    — — 	
wise, the Dhaka elite may complain in private about the
conservative policies of Washington towards even a moderate Islamic state like Bangladesh, but in public they do
not utter anything that might jeopardise their garment
export quotas. Meanwhile, in Colombo, policy wonks fall
over each other in their endeavour to get clo.ser to the
visiting dignitaries from American think tanks. Given
the clamour for American approval all over Southasia,
you would think that the region does not deserve more
than a mere nod from the minders US foreign policy. The
reality, however, is quite the opposite. The Americans
are cultivating Southasians with an ardour never before
In February, the Asia Foundation (TAP) hosted a
roundtable in Dhaka where representatives of civil society from India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in addition to Bangladesh, discussed the role of the United States
in Southasia. Based on the proceedings of the roundtable,
TAF plans to prepare a detailed report and submit it to
Outside players desirous
of influencing Southasian
policies press all the
right buttons to keep
opinion makers here
under their control.
the new administration in Washington. The Fulbright
Commission is organising a similar meet this month in
Colombo where livewire thinkers from the region are
expected to assemble and hear former US Assistant
Secretary7 of State Kar! Inderfurth before making their own
recommendations for increased US engagement in the
region. Hello? What's happening here? A hunter
preaching to his prey that being hunted is in their own
best interest?
Yes Sir!
Even though it is more than half-a-centory since the last
colonials left Southasia, our collective 'yes sir' disposition remains intact. The culture of conformism manifests
itself in three ways. First, we accept the official version
without questioning it—the authority is always right.
Second, experts are revered as modern avatars of
interpreters of scriptures, they are our new priests. To
question an expert—whatever be the merit of his or her
expertise—is tantamount to sacrilege. Third, even the
wayward opinion of one sahib—meaning someone from
the First World, regardless of gender or nationality, but of
the right colour of skin—is equivalent to at least five
reasoned analyses presented by people
of our own kind in English or the
vernacular. Outside players desirous
of influencing Southasian policies
press all the three buttons to keep
opinion makers here under their
After the ceaseless bombing of
Kandahar and the repeated blitzkrieg
over Baghdad, no government in the
world is going to consider it worth its
while to question the intentions of the Pentagon top brass.
After all, Osama bin Laden was not found in Kabul and
no trace of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) were
found anywhere in Iraq. But the 'War on Terror' declared
upon the world by the first hyperpower in history
continues regardless. Whatever the neo-con cabal in
Washington decides, it becomes the official viewpoint of
nearly every government in the world. In the short term
at least, the United States need not fear the unfavourable
outcome of any election. If Brazil and Spain can be made
to see the merit of silence and acquiescence, polls in Sri
Lanka and India are unlikely to challenge the what is
beginning to look like the forthcoming US dominance of
To keep the desi experts kowtowing, the aA.mericans
have been courting the Southasian media and its intelligentsia in a massive way. Sponsored articles are written
to justify the inevitability of free market, merits of US unilateralism, and the benevolence of the Washington
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
Consensus. News reports are slanted to show US
adventures in positive light. Dial-a-quote academicians
in each of the Southasian capitals and the regional metros
fall over each other to endorse whatever position the
American government is taking.
As recently as the early eighties, it used to be academically fashionable to oppose US policies. But a lot of
dreams died in the debris of the Soviet Union. This demise
of the CCCP became an important factor in establishing
the intellectual hegemony of Boston Brahmins who
shuttle between the Ivy League and Wall Street with
practiced ease. However, there is another factor often
overlooked by the analysts of the Global South: nearly 75
percent of think tanks in the United States, most of them
engaged in promoting the neo-con agenda, began
operating after the 1980s. The act of 'manufacturing
consent' spread out of the business kulak archipelago in
Manhattan to engulf the entire world.
Most of these think tanks—funded by foundations,
churches, financial institutions, MNCs, INGOs, and even
the US government itself—claim neutrality. Rather than
openly advancing their point of view, they goad 'native'
intellectuals into endorsing their agenda through a
deceptively simple modus operandi—put them together,
wear out their resistance by feeding them an endless
stream of propaganda prepared by friendly academicians, and then end up with vague conclusions that
could be interpreted in any way you want. Most of the
regulars of the seminar circuit know the trick, but they
play along regardless. Not to do so would lead to
intellectual irrelevance, because competing forums are
conspicuous by their absence.
But, no...
It is the Southasians who should themselves be taking
the initiative to formulate a regional consensus about
what we want from the new US administration not taking the floor at American-organised talk fests. If Southasian intellectuals were to prepare a wish-list on their own
accord to submit to the incoming occupant of White
House, it would probably include, but will not be limited
to, the following suggestions:
• The US role in South Asia needs to be proactive and
not reactive as it has always been. Being proactive also
implies connecting with people, not just the metro elite.
■ The US should support democratic movements in all
the countries of Southasia, including Afghanistan,
Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan and inside big
India. Mouthing platitudes for human rights alone is
pointless, for respect for human rights and adherence
to democratic norms is inextricably linked.
• Rather than incessantly harping on free-market principles, the US should broaden the access of
Southasian products into its market and, for example,
facilitate the export of garments and carpets from
Bangladesh and Nepal.
• The US should shift its focus from strengthening the
military to the institutionalisation of democracy in
the countries of Southasia.
• The US should increase development aid, which is at
an almost inconsequential amount at present, to the
countries of Southasia. The 'root cause theory of terrorism' is not as vacuous as it has been made to look
by the phalanx of neo-con commentators currently
flooding the media.
• Freer movement of Southasians into the United States
needs to be ensured without jeopardising the host's
immigration policies.
• Hunger, health and education are the real challenges
of Southasia, not Pakistani missiles, Indian nukes and
Bangladeshi Islamists. The US must correct its priorities.
Now, these recommendations are unlikely to emerge
from any seminar, workshop or roundtable sponsored
by the American foundation Southasians need to develop their own mechanism to produce knowledge and
undercut, if not challenge, the US hegemony. Technology can be transferred, capital investment can be lured,
men and material can be brought from elsewhere, and
even management can emerge gradually. But it needs
vision, and long-term commitment to manufacture knowledge. Ultimately, it is neither money nor the military might
that decides the winner. All conflicts are basically
ideological, and to resolve them, manufacturing
knowledge, not consent, is of paramount importance.
The concept of Southasian foundations funding think
tanks in the region is not as far-fetched as it sounds in the
first instance. There are enough SouthasLws in the North
who stand to benefit from better ties between their region of
birth and their countries of adoption. Software billionaires
of Bangalore, ga rment tsars o f Dhaka, tea tycoons of Colombo,
and manpower moguls of Karachi, all can easily fund policy
analyses institutes that sustain and support independent
research in areas of common interest to all. Unless there is a
future for all of us, there will be no future for any of us, and
the sooner we realise it the better. Competing for Washington
DC patronage individually is not going to lead Southasian
nations anywhere.
Even at the micro level, countries of Southasia have
neglected policy studies for far too long. It is very convenient to attribute it to financial constraints, but one suspects
that poverty of thought is perhaps the main cause of our
poor record in policy research. The money doled out to
individual parachute consultants even by countries like
Bhutan and Nepal can fund independent multi-
disciplinary researches by a dozen indigenous scholars.
Fate favours the prepared. As long as we need Karl
Inderfurth to chart the course of future US-Southasia relations, there is no way we can grow out of the highly
unequal patron-client relationship. There has been
enough blaming 'the government' for all our woes. It is
time the business, the civil society, the academia, and the
media stood up and accepted their complicity is fashioning a role of subservience for Southasians to suit the US
worldview, and agreed to making amends. b
-CK Lai
2004 March-April 17/3-4 HIMAL
 Himalayan paranoia
;A.-. d'"0t-"   ..?$«'■'*%»
rhe scizophrenia in certain bureaucratic echelons
of the Government of India and its associated
academia must be palpable. The entire line of the
Himalayan frontier has been ultra-sensitive terrain
ever since the 1962 debacle, whence meddlesome
foreigners - even scholarly innocents - were thrown
out for daring just to even be there.
And yet February saw Indian Air Force Mirage
and Mig fighters happily escorting US Air Force F-l 5
Eagles over the Western Himalaya. No worries about
what the Yank pilots might see over the side, even
though airline passengers at Cochin and Varanasi
airports are routinely asked to desist from
photography at the pain of being dumped on the
How the world        fre fW7b7Z7Wob7\":-Z-■''■■■'■■
hath changed. The "777~-'" -o:•        ■'.:
regional superpower
decides, better late
than never, to cosy
up to the global
superpower. And
there is no better
way to show
appreciation than
take the Yanks up
for a spin over
terrain that for
decades the hosts
claimed was their
most vulnerable and closely-guarded frontier region.
So Bharat-rakshak IAF engages in "fighter ops" with
USAF, titled Cope India '04. The last time the two
superpowers engaged in joint exercises was Exercise
Shiksha in 1963, right after the Chinese adventure.
"The purpose of Cope India '04 is to conduct a
bilateral training ground with tbe Indian Air force in
order to enhance US and India relationships and
promote regional security and stability in the Asian
Pacific area," said Col Greg Neubeck, 3rd Operations
Group deputy commander and US Forces deployed
commander for the exercise. "The most immediate
result will be the increased understanding of each
other's capabilities and how the two Air Forces may
work together as a combined and integrated Air Force
Ummm. So the idea is to promote regional security
not only over the subcontinent but farther afield. And
what might the F-16s and Migs do together once they
get to understand each other's capabilities?
Actually, this willingness to allow the Eagles to
fly carefree 'somewhere over northern frontier' may
well be a good thing. It means that New Delhi is
getting over its paranoia over the Himalayan
rimland. This is a good thing. When India breathes
easy, and is unruffled by alien sonic booms over its
glaciers, that means it is more likely to be your
friendly neighbourhood giant than the cantankerous
geezer with a chip on his shoulder the size of
An India which for decades stymied Nepal's
efforts to build north-south hill highways for fear of
Chinese tanks rolling down to the Ganga maidaan is
now actually asking the Nepali government for
transit passage to the Tibetan plateau. Does New
Delhi know something we do not know? No, New
Delhi is getting to
o7 ZZ7"     ":"' •",.'"■ know what we have
::'■■.. "::-'ftft.;r o-'o- alwaysknown.
That the Himalaya
is no longer the geo-
strategic barrier it
was since the time
of Chingis, and
presents itself today
as a rimland of
Opening up
Nathu La via
Sikkim, the hope is
that Siliguri and
Calcutta will corner
trade with Lhasa and eastern Tibet. Seeking transport
and transit rights through Nepal to the Changthang
plateau of western Tibet seems aimed at the economic
surge that the high plateau will see with the
expansion westward of highways and (later)
A confident regional power is always better than a
nervous giant who can easily turn into a bully. Tbe
waning of Himalayan paranoia may be an early
indication of the ground shifting in New Delhi's geo-
strategic thinking. Less conspiracy-seeking. More
thought and perspective. In which case, should we let
the Eagles soar, even if it be over Southasian skies?
HIMAL 17/3-4 March-April 2004
Free market does bring out the best in everyone!
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