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Himal South Asia Volume 10, Number 5, September-October 1997 Dixit, Kanak Mani Oct 31, 1997

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Sole Distributor for the kingdom of Nepal:
Sinamangal, Kathmandu, Nepal, Tel: 478 301 - 306; Fax : 471 196
S   1   D   E
Associate Editor
Contributing Editors
Kanak Mani Dixit
Afsan Chowdhury
Manik de Silva
Beena Sarwar
Prabhu Ghate
Mitu Varma
Senior Executive
,. Basanta Thapa
Suman Shakya
Anil Karki
Balaram Sharma
Shanta Khadka
Ani! Shrestha
Chandra Khatiw
Marketing Office: India
iPP Catalogue Publication Private Limited
202 Gautam Nagar
New Delhi 110049
Tel: 696 6108, 651 4129
Fax:+91-11-685 8498
Himal South Asia is published and distributed by
Himal Inc Pvt Ltd
PO Box 7251, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tel:+977-1-522113, 523845
Fax: 521013
Library of Congress Card Catalogue Number
88 912882
ISSN 1012 9804
Printed at Jagadamba Offset, Kathmandu
Tel:+977-1-521393, 536390
Visit Our Web-site
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10      Red Star over South Asia
Vol10      No 5     September/October       1997       12
The Chinese Way in Telangana
by Stephen Mihesell
Nepali Cart Before Horse
by Shy am Sh restha
A Bypass for India's
Diseased Heart
by Shishir K. Jha
The People Behind the
People's War
hy R.J. Rajendra Prasad
Sri Lanka's
'Thrasthawadi' -
by Sasanka Perera
Class Hatred in Rural
by Afsan Chowdhury
How the Pakistani Left
Missed the Bus
by Mazhar Zaidi
The (North)East is Red
by Subhir Bhaumih
No Revolution Without
No Democracy Without
by Peter Limqueco
Cambodia's Maoists
Outdid Mao
by Satva Si vara in an
Good Vibes in the
South Pacific
by Kalinga Seneviratne
Meghalaya, Not Himalaya
by Thomas Hofer
CmerdesignbyVemmt'uaJ.Pihto. t3i
Explains the artist: "hiao's stark
visage portrays a Jinn and
relentless itiinii. It shows his ideas
being transposed into the
ideologies o/5ouffi Asian
insurgencies: His is conveyed by
lhe minitituresque ambience,
which is harsh ani exiguous -
iinlik [fit idyllic generally/ouni
in miniatures. The tigers
symbolise the insurgents."
Arts    &
Cousins in Colombo
Himalayan Dreams
Concert Review by Afdhel Aziz
The Goddess of Big Things
by Jyoti Thottam.
Book Review
66      War and Peace in Post-Colonial
Ceylon 1948-1991
reviewed by
Thomas Abraham
Trendy Retro-Ethnocentrism
Food for Mind and Body
No Asylum Sought
Wrong Recognition
Unpopular Nazi in Tibet
Fifty Something
Tears, but No Protests
MQM by Any Other Name
Migrants, Refugees and the Region
Producing Women
No to Mobutu
Fast Track Energy
Pakistan Flip-Flop
Chicken vs Pizza
Bit of a Bother with Brother ■
Bitter Twist ol Arsenic
• Hindi Poet Alokdhanwa
The Parliament of Poetry
by Amitava Kumar
60      Mediafile
68      Abominably Yours
 Vajra (literally-flash of
lighting), is an artists'
condominium, a transit
home for many,
providing a base during
months of hibernation
and creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic
splendour and peaceful
ambience, make an
ideal retreat from the
clock of pressure.
Ketaki Sheth
inside Outside
I stayed a week at the
Vajra, by which time I
had become so fond of
it that I stayed another.
John Collee
The London Observer
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
Swayambhu, Dallu Bijyaswori, PO Box 1084, Kathmandu
Phone 271545, 272719 Fax 977 1  271695
Trendy Retro-Ethnocentrism
Sigrun Eide Odegaard has raised an
interesting topic lor discussion on the
specific group called "travellers" (May/
June 1997). As reflective travellers,
however, we feel misrepresented by her
article. Our main points of
contention are with the
generalisations she makes,
the distinctions between
tourists and travellers, and
the multiplicities of constructing the "authentic".
We tound the apphca-  ^
tion of traits such as "filthily
dressed", "miserly", and
"naively orientalist" to all
who travel on a limited
budget to be ethnographi-
cally unsound. Trendy retro-ethnocen-
trism qualifies Westerners to "bash" other
Travellers are not a homogenous
group: men and women of varying ages
and nationalities obviously embody
diverse characteristics. True, we have
encountered the "neo-colonialist" traveller
who brags about having "done" a country,
often meaning little more than hitting the
highlighted points in the Lonely Planet
guidebook. But we have also met intelligent people who have deeper interests in
a place stemming from prior studies or
personal background.
Despite Ms Odegaard's simplistic
attempt to tear away the distinction
between "travellers" and "tourists", they
do constitute different groups. Usually,
monetary and time budgets define this
distinction and thus lead to different
expenences of a place.
The Lonely Planet guide to travels on
a "shoestnng" caters to those who simply
do not have the money to afford expensive accommodation, especially if travelling for an extended period of time.
"Travellers" land in a place with little
more than a guidebook which points out
areas where cheap accommodation can be
found. "Tourists", on the other hand, have
limited time and larger budgets; therefore,
travel itineraries, often organised as group
tours, are prepared in advance to
maximise the amount of sights "seen" in a
place. Tourists do not want to use
precious time deliberating on where to
spend the night, while travellers accept
this as part of the routine.
Places like Kathmandu's tourist area,
Thamel, exist in many major Asian cities.
These locales are loaded with guest
houses and cheap restaurants and are
testimony to the existence of a traveller
culture. The conformity of the menus and
prices reflect a complex interplay between
what many travellers like and what local
restauranteurs believe Westerners want.
Because a large vanety of Western foods
now exist in these cheap restaurants, a
traveller has overwhelming
choices of local versions of
such foods.
Strikingly, many of
Thamel's restaurants offer
only one option of 'native'
- cuisine expensively priced
under the homogenising
title "Nepali food". This
SjS'ii'MSi strange occurrence cannot
V^\»v^£ simply be blamed on
"Tv xenophobic palates of
travellers as alluded to by
Ms Odegaard, but as a cyclical evolution
of local perceptions of what Westerners
want and the traveller's choice of a
Western meal on a predominantly
Western menu.
Our final point addresses authenticity
as a 'contested zone' among Westerners in
a foreign land. Travellers who believe that
they are getting a more real-life local
experience than tourists are splitting
hairs. Neither groups could or should
consider themselves pioneers in a place -
the packaged tours and the Lonely Planet
guidebook itself are evidence that the path
has been trodden.
However, it needs to be recognised
that a traveller's ideas ol what encompass
an authentic travel experience will differ
from an 'authenticity' sought by the
anthropologist. The experience of
travelling at one's own pace via local
transportation, meeting other travellers,
and "seeing the sights" is what often
makes up the core of a traveller's experience. How much one wishes to learn
about the culture or history is up to the
individual. On the other hand, an
anthropologist might spend a few years
establishing relationships in order to
understand a local perception. But
anthropologists themselves realise the
problematic nature of searching and
creating a single "authentic Other".
We do not think that travellers are
really guilty of not seeing "the countries as
they exist", as Ms Odegaard suggests.
Alysia Han, Morgan Schwartz
Raleigh, North Carolina
Food for Mind and Body
Since a few misunderstandings have
occurred in the editing of the letter 1
entrusted to the "Mail" Section (July/
August 1997), bearing a direct relation to
the nature of our Lord Gautam Buddha's
teachings, please publish the following
explanatory note.
Your commentary "Buddhism on the
Mainland" (May/June 1997) mentions a
"population seeking some spiritual
sustenance". An inkling on the real nature
ofthe "sustenance" you refer to is therefore required
The immense and ever-growing
annals on Buddhism are remarkable for
their all-pervading silence about ams -
Tibetan Buddhist nuns. While literature
about ams is rare and incomplete,
Buddhist literature signed by ams is
non-existent. Anis are also similarly
absent in the celebrated pantheon of
monks, lamas, Dalai Lamas and colleagues, seekers on "the Path to Enlightenment".
Those who do research and are
sustained by the teachings of our Guru
should not only speak in defence of
human rights but, at the same time, also
in His name, etfectively work for the re-
establishment of Gautam Buddha's
original Sangha.
In the times of Arhat Buddhism,
originally established by our Lord Gautam
Buddha, Buddhist nuns attained the paths
to enlightenment. This has been historically recorded. However, for nearly one
thousand years till the present day, the
Dalai Lama caste, originally established by
lamas, has excluded women - Buddhist
Nuns - from investigating the paths ol
education, intellectual reasoning and
'   The practical instructions by the
Dalai Lamas have always been taken as
exclusively the privilege of lamas. During
the past thousand years, the larger
population seeking "sustenance" was
traditionally relegated to poor schools,
originally established by anonymous,
self-sacriiicing 'lay' Buddhists who,
full of compassion for the masses,
managed, one way or the other, to teach
people how to read and write. As for anis,
till the present time, many remain
According to our Beloved Teacher,
Arhat Maunya, nght knowledge feeds
mind and thought, just as right lood
nourishes brain and body. So, the lood for
mind and body should also be the right oi
the anis, together with specialised training
for the writing of Buddhist texts and the
teaching of lay Buddhist people. A clear
understanding ofthe Paths to Enlightenment, sheltered under the original
teachings of Gautam Buddha is
absolutely necessary at present, because
HIMAL South Asia  September/October   1997
 ' The aroma of
Soaltee Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, Kathmandu
presents awe inspiring culinary traditions of India's
Northwest Frontier at its best.
A team of master chefs, create culinary magic for
lunch and dinner by working with recipes and
processes preserved since Medieval times.
Recipes savored by ancient warriors and perfected
by our chefs using rare and exotic spices in an
ambiance of rugged interiors, makes a meal in the
Bukhara an experience that you will relish forever.
Ancient, yet Regal. Rugged, yet Grand. This is the
Bukh a ra jo r you.
For    Reservations    please    call    R e st u a r a n t    Manager    A b h a y
Raj   Gurung or  Chef   B has k ar   Sankhari    at   2 7 39 9 9 E x t n   6555
of one all-important fact: Buddhism is not
Maria de Fatima Machado
Kopan Phaiha
Editor's note: The reference to Kopan Monastery in the earlier letter by the correspondent
was an editorial error.
No Asylum Sought
I would like to point out a significant
error in the box item "Refugee Has Her
Day" of the July/August 1997 issue. While
the other facts mentioned were correct,
the last sentence which states, "...Ms
Sharma has been granted political asylum
in the US", is totally false and baseless. 1
would like to mention to you that the
above statement has created difficulties in
my day-to-day work.
Mangala Sharma
Anarmani, Jhapa
The error is sincerely regretted. Editor.
Wrong Recognition
After reading the item on Bhutan in your
July/August issue, we would like to offer
our opinion on the certificate given by the
mayor ol San Francisco recognising
Mangala Sharma's services to Bhutanese
refugee women, as well as the Amnesty
International award she has reportedly
received. We are surprised to learn that
Ms Sharma counsels women torture
victims and works to educate Bhutanese
women regarding their rights, for, as far
as we know, she visits the camps hut once
or twice a year, accompanying foreign
guests irom the donor agencies.
We refugee women from the camps
are not aware that she has ever conducted
trainings on women's rights or counselled
torture victims, and would like to have
some details to confirm that all this is
indeed -true. Since Ms Sharma claims to he
the voice of the refugee women, we would
like to know what she does in her
frequent travels overseas. When our own
sister has manipulated our situation for
her self-promotion, what can we expect
from menfolk? This is saddening.
Lastly, we Bhutanese refugee women
residing in the camps wish to request
international organisations and persons
concerned to come to the camps in Jhapa
to get acquainted with the facts before
conferring such certificates. They can also
confirm what information they have with
the help of the UNHCR office in Jhapa.
Finally, we ask them not play with the
Conference on South Asian Mediocrity
Himal is organising a conference on South Asian Mediocrity, to take place in Spring
1998. The conference will seek to identify and explain the levels of mediocrity found
in all aspects of South Asian life, from scholarship to business, from politics to media,
from architecture to public health. The gathering wilt strive to survey the levels of
mediocrity and understand why South Asians lag ever-further behind in terms of our
economies, cutture(s), inteliectualism and self-image.
Scholars and specialists from across disciplines and from all South Asian
countries will come together to present papers that are not necessarily restricted
by theme, country or orientation. Because of its open-ended nature, and in order
to plan the conference, we ask those interested to send in concise outlines of
proposed papers for consideration. Views about particular themes that need to be
covered or the manner in which presentations need to be made are also welcome.
Please restrict yourself to a page in single-space.
Watch this space or the magazine's web site for conference details.
Address your paper proposal to:
Mediocrity, Himal South Asia, GPO Box 725 I, Kathmandu, Nepal
fax: 977-1 -52! 013    eel: 977-1 -5221 I 3/523845    email: hima!
sentiments of refugee women, for they are
already frustrated and depressed.
Chandriha Timsina, Leenu
Dahal, Sapana Sharma, Binu
Rai, tiemkanta Dahal
Beldangi I &l\, Gpldhap and
Timai Camps, Jhapa, Nepal
Unpopular Nazi in Tibet
1 would like to add something about
Ernest Schafer's expedition to Tibet about
which there was mention in the short
piece "Nazis in Tibet" in the Jul/Aug
1997 issue.
When tbeir application to visit Tibet
came to me from the British government,
I recommended that we should not
support it, but! received a message Irom
the highest quarters that it was necessary
to do so because Himmler was behind it
and apparently we were then appeasing
the Germans.
I saw quite a lot of the party, but did
not hear of any approach by them to the
Tibetan Anny. It would probably have
been fruitless as all policy was eventually
influenced by the great monasteries. Al
the same time, it would be inaccurate to
say that the Tibetan Army was under
British influence. Certainly, it drew on
India for supplies of arms and was once
receiving training Irom British officers - at
least a few ol its ollicers were. Bat by
1939, it. was run down and inefficient and
had no links with India
Schaefer tried to persuade me that
Britain and Germany should combine lo
control the world, but during his visit,
when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, I
made it clear to him that 1 did not want lo
meet him again. He panicked and fled to
Shigatse from where he wrote to the
German press about being surrounded by
hostile influences. He and his party
managed to leave India just in time in a
special plane sent for Herr Otto Schackt.
The party made themselves unpopular in
many ways, both in Lhasa and Shigatse.
But that is only part of the stop,'.
Hugh £. Richardson
Fife, UK
Editor's note; Mr Richardson was the last
British agent in Lhasa. After the British left
India in 1947, he continued as India's
representative in Tibet until the Chinese
invasion forced him to leave.
Readers are invited to comment,
criticise or add to information and
opinions appearing in MSA. Letters
should be brief, to the point, and
may be edited. Letters that are unsigned and/or without addresses will
not be entertained. Include daytime
telephone number, if possible.
PO Box 7251 Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel 977-1-522113, 523845
Fax 521013
email: np
htlp: //
HIMAL South Asia  September/October   1997
 ■   ,,     ■ ■■■ ■     .
fti    ■   ftCi ft- Si:;
India  •  Pakistan
NOW THAT THE breathless television extravaganza
ofthe 50th anniversary oi Independence ol India and
Pakistan is over, we can perhaps take a more sober
look at the past half-century. Satellite television proved
once more that the medium is the message with its
up-beat look at the anniversary - carefully glossing
over the fact that what we were really commemorating was 50 years ol Partition
Other than a big bash of Indo-Pak businessmen
and celebrities in London to kick off the jamboree and
New Delhi's The Asian Age remembering thai there
was also a Pakistan, the anniversary was marked
separately in the countries that gained independence
by cutting themselves apart. In India, there was a
celebration of India, and in Pakistan it was a celebration of Pakistan. Not for another 50 years, it seems,
will these two nations separated at birth learn to think
ol each other as twins and celebrate a birthday
What ofthe other South Asians who had no 50th
celebration this year", who were all taken along lor the
independence rrde by satellite tv programmers in
mid-August7 Sn Lankans are. actually, gearing up for
their own 50th bash on February 1998. while
Bangladesh marked its 25th anniversary of independence Irom Pakistan earlier this year
Nepalis preen at never having been
colonised, but they too had to gam 'independence' from the Rana prime ministers
in 1950 and from the Shah kings in 1990.
And so. as part ol the golden jubilee, we were treated to the astounding
sight on regional satellite broadcasts ol
multinational companies and their wannabe
counterparts falling over each other to wish
happy birthday - mostly to India because that's
where the market is. True, there was Macleans
toothpaste claiming that it was "spreading smiles
across Pakistan", lint most went with Nokia, the
Finnish cellphone company, which was "proud to
connect the people of India on the 50th year of their
independence". And so it went paint companies,
detcrgentmanulaciurers, ball-point pen wallahs - all
subsidising Rupert Murdoch in order to wish clients
on their side of the border a happy anniversary.
It all proved what was evident all along: lor more
than half the populations in Pakistan and India who
live in poverty 15 August was a mere reiteration of
unfulfilled promises. Promises ol an end lo a life in
squalour, promises of communal harmony, promises
of true grassroots democracy, and promises ol after-
native development models and decentralised
decision-making. Lor about hall a billion people ol
the Subcontinent, the real tryst with destiny is the
daily strueede for survival. In the final analvsis, n
hasn't mattered much for them whether the ruler
sitting in New Delhi is a viceroy or a khach-clad,
Gandhi-capped, Nehru-jacketed politico.
Watching Madhur Jaltrey taking a culinary tour
of the .Subcontinent to commemorate the anniversary, and finding at the flick ol a remote that Y
Channel was o!losing 1 oO free tickets to a freedom
concert, one wondered who was benefitting In mi all
this independence. Certainly the elite and upper
middle classes, those who can ailord the television
sets and cable lees on which to watch the parade go
by All this surlacial and oversweet abundance ol
theme songs, walkathons and television clips - so
reminiscent ol American feelgood television - have
but one target: Yuppy India, which n< <\v tortus a mass
large enough lor advertising to target with commercial messages.
The India ofthe village, tribal, scheduled caste,
the desert, the lores!. the mountain, wis lar Irom the
mmds ol the producers ol the independence hoopla
This was freedom reduced to a soap opera And a- .:
sociological phenomenon, there is no saving whai
political repercussions are in the oiling as saccharin
patriotism peddled by satellite enters millions
ol households in India, and beyond in the rest ol
South Asia
Perhaps we will know it is finally tune to celebrate independence when on 1 5 .August 2057, 1 an
congratulates the people of Pakistan and Habib Bank
felicitates the people ot India.
Sri Lanka
A STRANGE ELEMENT in Sri Lanka's long-drawn
civil war, now in lis fourteenth year, is that despite the
blood that has been shed and the limbs that have been
lost on both side--, ol the lines, there has been little m
the form of protest, the country has not seen angr\
demonstrations with ordinary people taking to the
streets, relusing to otter their sons as cannon fodder
Dcsotle the yearning tor peace among people ot all
classes and communities, the carnage continues to be
.ti septed with stoicism.
Why? There are two reasons. On the Tamil side,
there is kmaucal motivation. Velupillai Prabhakaran,
the leader ol the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Llatn
.i.T't'lo, has been able to inspire his lighters in a way
that lew guerrilla leaders in contemporary woile
history have been able lo The glass ivanidc
capsule thai l.l'TF cadres wear round their necks ano
bite i! captured, tells its own slop. So also tLo
numerous suicide killers who have blown themschv.-
up tor the Liberation Tigers
September/October   1997   HIMAL South Asia
 On the other side of the bloodied fence, the
young men fighting the war for the Colombo government most often do so because they have nothing else
to do. Unemployment has long been the country's
biggest problem and although most politicians and,
indeed, many other Sri Lankans would like to think
that patriotism inspires most of the soldiers (and
sailors, airmen and policemen) at the front, the reality
is that they are fighting for their pay.
The money, by prevailing standards in the country, is good. A frontline serviceman of the lowest rank
earns a minimum of SLR 6000. Besides, he is fed,
barracked and clothed and gets many perks such as
free cigarettes - which non-smokers sell in the open
market. All this makes up for much more than what
the soldier can expect in the lower rungs of the job
market, assuming that a job can be found. Even with
the good pay and perks, however, there are desertions
by the thousands.
But that is not the whole story. Despite the poor
state of its economy and the billions being guzzled up
by the never-ending war, Sri Lanka looks after its war
dead and disabled much better than do most richer
countries. The family of a soldier dying in the fighting
is immediately paid SLR 100,000 compensation. He
is promoted one rank immediately and his pay continues till the time he would have reached the retiring
age of 55 years. After that, a pension begins.
Many of the young men fighting an intractable
enemy on the government side are not married. If
they die, therefore, it is the parents who get the
compensation. Every month in this way, the cash
flows into thousands of village homes. This is no
small amount in the poor hinterland, and hence helps
take the edge off much of the resentment that arises
at the death of a son or husband. To say so is not to
imply that the loss of a loved one in a useless war in
which over 10,000 servicemen and many thousands,
including civilians, on the Tamil side have been
killed, is of no consequence to the families that have
lost a member. Far from it. Grief is very much a factor.
But the economic cushioning has without doubt
helped temper the anger.
Then there are the ceremonial funerals in hundreds of villages dotting the countryside. When lhe
body of a serviceman killed in the fighting is recovered, it is returned to his family and interred with
what the forces call "full military honours". A n honour
guard, band, gun salute, flag-draped coffin and all the
panoply of a moving military ceremony - it is all
provided. Such an event draws big crowds from the
surrounding countryside and there is hardly a dry eye
when a comrade-in-arms presents the folded national
flag to the next-of-kin at the end of the ceremony.
Senior officers have said that bereaved families often
offer another son to the fighting forces.
These, then, are the reasons why the massive loss
of lives in a civil war thai has cost Sri Lanka so much
m blood and treasure has not driven people to the
streets in anger. Where the LTTEis concerned, families
of conscripted young men and women made to fight
and die by Mr Prabhakaran are undoubtedly resentful
about, the loss of their loved ones. But open rebellion
is not possible given the 'fascist' methods used by the
Tigers to run the territory they control. But a day of
reckoning will come and this is one reality that the
LTTE will have to live through when the war ends.
The Tigers, too, honour their dead, especially lhe
"martyrs" going out on suicide missions. But the
rebels cannot do it quite in the style of the national
forces. And though there isless monetary featherbed-
ding for families of dead Tigers, the rebels, too,
provide special rations and other facilities for the
families of their dead.
And so the war goes on and on, and with it the
bloodshed. There are private tears for the dead and
disabled. But no protests.
nounced on 26 July that it. was changing its name to
Mutahida Qaumi Mahaz (United National Movement). The proposal is not new. It was first floated in
1991, and party chief Altaf Hussain had even appointed a "Chief Organiser" in Islamabad to oversee
the opening of national offices in the other provinces.
Soon afterwards, however, Mr Hussain had to flee to
London, following a split in the mqm which made it
unsafe, for him to remain in Karachi. (The split
delivered Mr Hussain's MQM-Altaf and MQM-Haqiqi,
led by former party stalwart Afaq Ahmed, Both factions have their political base in the Sindh cities of
Karachi and Hyderabad.)
The name-change was formally announced at a
press conference by Senator Ishtiaq Azhar, convenor
ofthe MQM's Coordination Committee. The 30-mem-
ber committee has been expanded to include three
more people, one each from Punjab, nwfp and
The change of name may be viewed by some as
Dead Tigers:
The LTTE tost 126 cadres in a
battle in early August
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
Altaf Hussain (second from r)
at MQM rally in Karachi prior
to his London exile.
a positive step in the context ot Pakistani politics, for
it clearly represents an attempt to have a wider ethnic
appeal than the Urdu-speaking 'refugee' community
which forms the group's base. Certainly, the announcement was welcomed by parties like the
right-wingjamat-e-lslami, from the ranks of which a
great proportion ofthe MQM membership is drawn. In
fact, the rise of the MQM in Hyderababd and Karachi
meant ihejamat downfall in those cities, and this may
explain why the Jamat would welcome the MQM
announcement. A nationwide focus would dilute the
MQM's support base in the two urban centres.
Meanwhile, the name-change could help save
face for MQM-Altaf's coalition partner in Sindh, the
Nawaz Sharif-led government. With violence in
Karachi having resumed, the intelligence, agencies are
once again gunning for the MQM, which they hold
responsible. This has been a trifle awkward for the
Sharif government, which has had to hold high-level
meetings on the law and order situation in Karachi
minus MQM representation, to stop infonnalion leaks.
Many believe that the change of name is an eye-wash
to release pressure on the Sharif government, since it
can now claim that its junior coalition partner has
rejected ethnic politics and its old programmes.
The slogans raised by MQM-Altaf supporters at
the press conference called by Mr Azhar were quite
different from those they used to recite earlier. Now,
rather than focusing on the mohajir identity, they
were calling for unity between Pakistan's various
ethnic groups: "Sindhi Punjabi bhai bhai", "Mohajir
Pathan bhai bhai", and so on. But will the name change
really mean a parting of ways with the politics of
ethnicity? After all, the MQM's 24 sitting members in
Sindh Provincial Assembly and 14 in National Assembly were all elected on the basis of their mohajir
(refugee) identity.
How far this new sentiment will wash will be
evident when and if the new MQM (retaining its old
initials, and its old flag) starts a membership drive in
all the provinces. However, an earlier effort, in late
1991, to increase membership through a change in
policy while retaining the old name yielded no results. Then, a rather convoluted attempt was made to
revise the definition of mohajir - which in Pakistan
has come to mean Urdu-speaking - to include all
refugees and migrants, including the Punjabis who
had migrated from jullunder in India, for example, or
the Pathans who had come to Karachi from their
native NWFP.
That attempt at widening appeal failed abjectly,
and it seems unlikely that a new name with old
acronym and flag will succeed. Meanwhile, the
MQM-Haqiqi has said that if Altaf Hussain's MQM
changes its name, il will drop the 'Haqiqi' from- its
own and be known simply as the Mohajir Qaumi
Movement. In that case, there will be two MQMs, one
apparently standing for national unity and the other
for the rights of lhe Urdu-speaking mohajirs. Since the
latter ideology is what forms the support base of Mr
Hussain's faction, the change may end up benefitting
his rival who presently heads a much smaller group.
South Asia
WHILE THE PROBLEM of economic migrants arid
political refugees is hardly unique to South Asia, the
Subcontinent stands out as a region that has been
unable to find a solution to it. This has resulted in
acrimony between neighbours who are already burdened with enough socio-economic problems ol their
own - not lo forget the suffering of the displaced
people and migrants themselves.
There are some refugee issue that have more or
less solved themselves through sheer passage of lime.
Hindu, Muslim and Sikh refugees created by Partition
have had lo come to terms with their displacement.
Refugees who fled Burma in the 1960s to India and
Nepal have likewise become reconciled with their
new situations, and this is true also of the Indian
Tamil repatriates. The Tibetan refugees, while, many
still yeam to return to the high plateau, are well
settled and economically secure.
However, there are millions of South Asians who
have crossed frontiers whose presence is problematic
to host countries and can invite instability in their
place of refuge. As geographically the largest and
most central country of South Asia, India has played
host to most refugees and migrants. According to
Partha Ghosh, Director of the Indian Council of
Social Science Research in New Delhi, post-Partition
India has taken in 15 million people migrants from its
neighbours. These have come from Bangladesh, Sri
Lanka, Burma, and the number does not include the
long-term economic migrants from Nepal,
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
 The most serious problem for the Indian state,
doubtless, are the Bangladeshi settlers who have
ranged far and wide within India, building up significant enclaves in Bombay and Delhi, and inhabiting
large tracts oi the Brahmaputra Valley The 1981
Indian census revealed that in eight border distnct sol
West Bengal, lhe population grew by over 30 percent
between 1971 and 1981, compared to an average 20
percent elsewhere, 'lhe population ol one northern
town leapt from a mere 10,000 to 150,000.
Indian census estimates put the number ol
Bangladeshis who have migrated to India at 1.7
million between 1961-71 and 0.6 million in the
lollowing decade, the latter figure not including
another 0.6 million said lo have entered Assam
during the same period. The government ol India
claims that 78.441 were intercepted at the border
between 1LL>2-19L>4.
While humanitarian concern for this migrant
population is most proper, there is no doubt thai the
presence of a large number ol foreigners has ihe
ability to queer the pitch ol politics in the hoist
country, particularly when political groupings try to
take short-term mileage through electoral rolls. Chauvinistic groups can manipulate public: perception and
generate a backlash against foreigners, as has happened with the Bangladeshis, as also with Sri Lankan
Tamil refugees in South India
In Nepal, nearly a hundred thousand Lhotshampa
refugees who lied Bhutan forlear ol persecution have
been accommodated in camps run by UNHCR. Nepal
;'-,. hosts about 15,000 Tibetan refugees and has
provided shelter to a small number ol Afghan
It is Pakistan which hosts the largest single block
of refugees, however. There were some 3.1 million
refugees Irom Alghanistan in the country in 1L)90.
and LNHCk has spent more than USD I billion since
J 980 on its Pakistan programme alone. By the beginning ol 1997, 2.6 million Afghans had returned
(another 173 million from I ran) but not before turning
around the economy and ecology ol northern
Looking at the larger questions ol migration and
the political dislocation that they can cause, the
province of Sindh alone has a migrant population of
2.5 million, ol Bengali origin, who arrived in the
1980s Irom Bangladesh. These migrant?; are seen as a
political menace and political risk by the state.
Stranded Pakistanis, better known as Biharis, arc-
languishing in 66 camps scattered all over Bangladesh,
in conditions of squalour and hopelessness.
Bangladesh will have nothing to do with this population and Pakistan has dragged its feet in taking in the
very people considered 'loyal' to it in the 197 1 liberation war Altogether 1.6 million Biharis have been
relocated to Pakistan, but despite commitments made
and agreements signed, anol her 2.4 million ■, a l otal of
41,000 families) remain in Bangladesh
According to authorities in Sri Lanka who handle
rehabilitation, m February 1997 the country had
about 756,000 displaced people, most of them Tamil,
and many who have been displaced several times
iiver. About a hundred thousand are thought lo be
in refugee camps and elsewhere in South India,
while another hundred thousand have migrated to
the West
The problems ol migrants and relugees, then, are
twololcL On the one hand is the societal instability
that emerges when an alien population enters an area,
for reasons economic or political lhe other is the
question related to human lights- Hud the very nghl
to life    of the migrants and relugees as human beings.
Since there is agreement that political stability is
a prerequisite for economic advancement, the question ol migrants and refugees is critically important il
the Subcontinent is lo look lorward to a brighter
quality ot itle lor Us citizens. Lor, the existence ot
disgruntled host populations and iearlul 'guests' will
constantly undermine movement towards economic
Obviously, the solution is ior countries not to
create economic and political conditions which induce the mass outflow ol populations. Such an
idealised scenario will take tune to materialise. In the is important lor governments and peoples
of all Soulh Asian countries to exhibit concern for the
well-being ol relugees and migrants who suffer and
languish within each of their borders. The backlash
against the loreigner must slop. The SAARC. organisation
itsell must show some initiative in this regard, perhaps bv taking up the recommendation made by the
Kathmanclu-based South Asia Forum for Human
Rights lor a regional protocol or charter lor
the protection ol refugees, migrants and stateless
-Baiuk Vora
In late July it was reported by a Kathmandu newspaper that the Thimphu
government had finally shown some inclination to discuss repatriation
with the Nepali government. The next day, the Nepali foreign ministry,
without putting it in so many words, said chat there had been no progress,
That was that.
F\Nt\U'Yt THIY A$Z£ED jc
T^tlT BACK TH&? R£FU4£&
if y /
HIMAL South Asia  September/October   : 99.7
S^SSjSf^SRSiS'i Ss   -'-1';:+   -:
Image above is taken
from a I 993 Al! India
People's Resistance
Forum publication on the
movement m Bastar,
Madhya Pradesh.
In the more impoverished parts ol South Asia -
from the western Lulls of Nepal to the badlands of
Bihar, in the forests ol Andhra Pradesh or the
marginalised hinterlands of the Brahmaputra valley -
Maoism is no idle intellectual pursuit Body counts
from its practice arc l on near t o home lor comical. and
the deeper issues it raises too close lo everyday living
in ignore.
Nepal, lor instance, has seen more lives lost sn the
year-ancl-a hall-long Maoist "people's war" than were
doomed in the entire 1990 "people's movement"
winch ushered in parliamentary democracy, lhe
village populace is terrorised in the pincer ol Maoist
violence and police retribution. Yet this sudden rise in
the terror thermometer had, till recently, merely
resulted in an embarrassed silence in Kathmandu's
corridors. Only when the present kit-right coalition
government proposed enacting a dracoman "antiterrorism" bill which would affect urban liberals and
politicals more than the Maoists, did the issue merit
public debate
South .Asia's modernist elite are by now so distanced irom ihe countryside that no emotional chord
is struck when rural folk die needlessly and cruelly.
Deaths in Bosnia are more immediate to [Villi drawing rooms than killings on the Bihar Plateau. Because
downtown Kathmandu has as yet to see a serious
bomb blast. lhe terror in the hills oi lhe central -west
districts does not even constitute distant thunder.
The rural poor are so alienated irom the si at e and
Us structures, so despairing til relief that the ideology
of revolt is seen as the only salvation. Maoist cadres
are born ot deep-seated causes wildly inappropriate
education, joblessness, conspicuous consumption ol
the upper classes, cultural alienation, ethnic angc;
etc. But these challenges cannot be confronted and
eradicated with violence, whether from the state or
the Maoists.
The trite response ot the uncommitted lo nsnv
Lelt extremism is to call upon the government id 11
day to resolve the problem through so-called politic.i
means But 'political resolution" requires taeklingtb
"root causes" ol despair and underdevelopment, ani
lew politicians have the wisdom or sagacity lor thai
A "political resolution" requires astute statesmanship
imbued with a deep sense ol justice. In none ot tin
Maoist hotbeds ol Soulh Asia is such a polity insight
Hie most members of the establishment wall do
under the circumstances is mouth easy development
slogans, with no trace ot commitment or understanding. Their tendency will be to let an insurgency
Simmer in low boil as long as it does not harm national
institutions and urban centres or damage large-scale
physical infrastructure sir h as power grids and highways. If those get targeted, then the fashionable
clamour tor "political resolution" vaporises, and the
political establishment, business and academia discreetly look the other way while tile army, police oi
paramilitary engage in mop up.
When an elite loses Us creativity, it lails back o;
ihe easy path of repression. In this, they are assisted
greatly by tile current en >p oi politicos everywhere it
the region who are self-serving, increasingly' cut o;
Irom those thai they represent, and incapable o
constructive engagement. Moreover, il swill action
and surgical precision is not guaranteed and theettott
becomes a prolonged, resource-consuming warfare
it onlv adds fuel lo the Maoist iire
HIMAL South Asia
 11 the establishment class brings about rum
through hypocrisy, the ideologues of the extreme Lett
more than make up for it with their rcjectionism. For
they disparage elected parliaments as nothing but
meeting places for idle chit-chat. They maintain that
the poor and the oppressed do not have the where -
v/ithal to even begin to use such democratic infrastructure or procedures. In an inequitable world,
such institutions are lated to be manipulated by the
rich and the powerful to maintain their status quo
hold over the means ol production, thus perpetuating
exploitation in a more palatable form. To use the
more colourful expression ol Nepal's Maoists, parliament is like a butcher shop "where they display a
goat's head but sell dog meat". Radical change through
armed uprising, say these ideologues, is the only
language the exploiters take seriously.
To an impoverished mass wallowing in a sea of
fatalistic despair, this is heady wine; but it leaves too
many unanswered questions. A revolt born ot a sense
of unfairness could conceivably be countered by a
just apportioning of national resources. But the ideologues ofthe far Left would do well to really understand world history, their own societies, and what
Mao meant, before pushing their poor cadres and
supportive villagers into the cauldron ol terror
Look around, and you wall see that the Maoist
ideology of revolt has taken root only in societies
where old civilisations are almost a spent force,
creaking under their own dead weight in the lace ol
the modernist onslaught. Alter all. it was the failure of
■A decrepit Confucian polity that could no longer keep
Western mercantile capitalism at bay, coupled with
the ravages of World War II, which led to the spectacular success of Maoism in China. A common Han
culture allowed much ofthe contradictions in society1
to be defined in terms oi economic class rather than
caste or ethnicity. Once the issues of economic equity
were resolved through a Maoist levelling, sociely
could go back, as China has now, to business as usual.
This is why the land of Mao today hardly supports
Maoists, be it in the jungles ol lhe Philippines or ol
Turn yoursights, then, to the erstwhile Hi ndustan
where, loo, an enfeebled and deeply fractured sociely
grapples with the pulls ol modernity. But then, the
simple doctrines ol class struggle seem hardly adequate in a Subcontinent where the economic classification is super-imposed upon by a myriad of other
distinctions - of caste, language, region, religion,
ethnicity, and now, nationality. Can the genie of
revolt escape from the bottle and spread across the
land when it can only read the taxonomy mapol class
In other words. South Asia's Maoists are sadly
out of touch if they believe that their cmsade will
cover the. whole Subcontinent as it did the Han
mainland For there are enough other pressures at
plav which will dilute or divert what may even
start out as a Maoist movement. Thus, rebels of
the Indian Northeast or the |VT Sinhala Buddhists in
Sri Lanka may have sworn by the Red Book,
but. ultimately they have followed an ethnic agenda.
The forces of religious extremism ('fundamentalist', if
you will) or nationalistic fanaticism, ironically,
drink from the same well that the Maoist would, only
to churn out cadres of the far-right rather than the
Maoist uprisings have often quickly acquired
religious and ethnic overtones or been marginalised
by religious extremism. The same individuals who
may have turned out Maoist, then, provide the
foot soldiers of the Babbar Khalsa, the Shiv Sena, or
the various jamaats. II there were no Taliban, there
would surely have been t he Red Brigade. Fight
against economic injustice, incidentally, has been
easier through the religious metaphor ol Islam
with its strong commitment to an equitable
universal brotherhood than through a class-defined
Maoist one
To be sure, the re will be a few areas where classic
Maoist strategy can in fact be applied, such as in the
killing fields (T Bihar or the forests of Andhra. However, there is little likelihood that insurgencies will
spread as they come across barriers that transcend the
class divide In which case, it is so easy lor the state
forces lo isolate any insurgency and keep it from
'infecting' other regions.
Assume - and it is a very big assumption - that
the Maoists wrest state power. What next7 Given all
the constraints within complex societies, what can
they do within a realistic time frame that would make
a difference? Willy-nilly, they would have to come
back to issues of professional management, meaningful education, reformed and capable bureaucracy, a
]ustice system wit h integrity inspiring lailh, a banking
and lax structure that is lair and efficient, as well as a
whole gamut ol reform measures The Maoists
dismiss these as unrevolulionary and renegade
Deep-seated problems can be resolved only by
engaging injustice in society head on. openly and
fearlessly, overground and in broad daylight, maintaining a moral upper hand on every front and a
transparency in every issue, every inch ol the way,
much as Gandhi did. Covert hit-and-run movements
cannot do this because they engage the enemy not in
its area of weakness, which is the mora! front, but in
us area of strength, which is military' might.
Furthermore, the very sociology ol underground
brotherhood miiitatesagauist them. Like all romantic
drift, the Left movement too rs caught in a dilemma
between punt}' and pragmatism Born as a protest
movement within the Left, the Maoists naturally have
had to spend more energy on keeping the flock ol t rue
believers intact rather than to spread and grow To
keep schisms Irom emerging, they have to keep oat
costs high, which means descending to the nadir ot
retribution against both the wayward insider and the
popular outsider. Unable to engage in the creative
issues of societal reform, they have ensured ihat, lo
enhance their sell-image of revolutionary purity, the
destructive spiral ol violence, and only more violence, will become the glorious ncver-encl ol Maoism
in South Asia
- Dipak Gyawali
HIMAL South Asia  September/October  1997
The Chinese Way
in Telangana
The early days of the Telangana Movement in southern India serves as a
measure of subsequent Maoist efforts in the region.
by Stephen Mike sell
Maoism first appeared in ihe Subcontinent in
the course ol the revolutionary peasant
movement that spread in early 1947 in the
Telugu-speaking Nalgonda and Warangal districts ol
eastern Hyderabad, known as Telangana. Up until the
1947 transfer of power by the Bntish, Telangana was
under the despotic rule ol the Nizam ol Hyderabad.
The cadres ofthe Communist Party of India initiated
the Telangana Movement during the Second World
War as a genuinely indigenous mass campaign against
the landlords and the state aristocracy.
At first, the communists, maintained a lacade of
cooperation with the Indian National Congress in the
state, pledging to support Hyderabad's accession to
India, and aiming the revolt at ending the illegal
exactions and other landlord excesses. However, the
"intense particularism" ol the Telugu-speaking people
and general peasant discontent encouraged the communist leadership to expand the movement to an
attack on the government.
A chain reaction of village revolts led to the
establishment of gram rajs (callage 'so\ lets'), complete
with people's courts and militia, land seizures, and
the expulsion of the landlords and local (if liters ofthe
Nizam's government. A lull-scale guerrilla army was
quickly recruited and virtually all ol the Nalgonda
and Warangal districts, encompassing 3000 villages,
3 million people, and an area of 16,000 square miles,
came under communist control.
Maoist ideas were lirsl brought to India by the
Andhra Provincial Committee ol the Communist
Party in the neighbouring Telugu-speaking sect ion of
Naxatite areas of influence:! 997
Naxalite areas of influence:!967-72
HcSflipurX^   T
Bhalinda     <•'■%
Sangrur /   * r|]
/" Pupae'.
'-^s''      K   ftnmn»&
the then Madras State, Andhra, when it sought to
import revolution to its side ol the border in 194N.
Mao's four-class theory-, which promoted uniting all
the progressive lorces in an agrarian revolution against
imperialist monopoly capital and its local allies, the
feudal landlords and comprador bourgeoisie, and
which thus tolerated wealthy "nationalist" peasant
classes, suited the Andhra communists This
was because they were dominated by Kamma landlords m possession of 80 percent ol lhe land in the
fertile delta area.
The Andhra communists declared that Mao's
"new democracy" should serve as a "guidance to
India". The Indian revolution was presented as analogous to the Chinese revolution, requiring a prolonged
"people's war" in the form ol an agrarian revolution
culminating in the capture of political power by a
democratic front, Tins was to be different Irom the
Russian revolution. The Andhra communists thus
proposed to unite the entire peasantry, including the
rural bourgeoisie or rich peasants, under the leadership of the working class lor "guerrilla warfare (the
Chinese way)"
The Movement Stumbles
The Telangana Movement began to taller in late 9748
when the CPI made this shift Irom targeting the
traditional local enemies, especially the aristocracy,
lo itn penal ism, as represented by the Nehru government at the Centre. They1 called on their termer
enemy, the Nizam, tor protection against the state
When the Indian army marched into Hyderabad in
1948. and proclaimed an "Azad Hyderabad," the
Andhra communists were joined by the Razakars, a
private army representing extremist Muslim
sentiment, against the "fascist troops" Within a tew
days, the Indian army quelled all resistance, except
for the communists, who resorted lo hit-and-run
guerrilla tactics
To subdue the communists, the army brought in
SO.000 troops and used the strategy tried by the
British in Malaya, ol lorcing the peasant!")' into special
Lamps so as to remove the guerrillas' base ol support.
The army killed nearly 4000 cadres and militant
peasants and jailed another 10,000. The populace
was terrorised by the police and military, and properly worth millions was looted or destroyed.
September/October   '997   HIMAL South Asia
Unable to mobilise the people, remnants of the
guerrilla army got involved in a series of "indiscriminate and unnecessary terrorist actions against
non-military individuals". This brought much disrepute to the leadership. All in all, the efforts to stir the
masses to violence by power of example led only to
individual terronsm, which resulted in further isolation and repression oi the party. Its membership
quickly shrank from 2 1,000 to 7000.
It was the taking up of the Chinese line that led
the Telangana Movement to stumble inlate 1948 and
suffer its terrible reversal in the early 1950s. Beginning as a mass peasant movement to achieve certain
economic demands, the movement expanded into a
liberation struggle to overthrow the Nizam. However,
when the crusade expanded into a struggle against the
Indian Union, it lost the support of the peasantry,
which merely wanted the overthrow of feudal relations and not a fight against the Indian army for an
abstract "people's democracy"
In their subsequent analysis, the party leaders
conceded that the degeneration ofthe movement into
terrorist tactics contradicted and was incompatible
with the spirit of partisan struggle. Where partisan
struggle aims to overturn the regime in close conjunction with mass struggle, developing according to the
growth of mass consciousness and initiative, the
terrorist tactics end up as nothing more than destruction of particular individuals by squads acting in
isolation from the people. This, in turn, creates the
illusion that the main evil are individuals rather than
the regime.
Looking back, the leaders said that the party-
should have limited its action to defending the gams
of the Telangana peasantry when its democratrc initiatives such as the retaking of land came underattack
from the Centre and its armed forces. This would
have strengthened the hands of the fighting people
and peasants and isolated the Indian government in
its support ofthe feudal landlords. It was definitely a
mistake to turn the movement into a liberation war
against the Congress Party without secunng wider
support, which was unavailable in the context ofthe
euphona surrounding Independence and what seemed
then to be the Congress's liberation of the country
from imperialism.
Transplanting Mao
The Telangana communist leaders also came to
recognise great flaws of transplanting the Maoist
formula to the Subcontinent. Partisan war was sheer
necessity for the Chinese peasant, as the urban working class was small and the cities were in foreign
control in pre-revolutionary China. In 1927, the
Chinese revolutionary army was already 30,000
strong, and its was backed up by a friendly Soviet
Union, which provided help for the final offensive.
The lack of a good and unified communications
system kept the enemy irom carrying out concentrated and swift attacks on the liberation forces.
In the Subcontinent, by contrast, partisan struggle
alone, no matter how widely extended, cannot ensure
victory over the enemy Guerrilla forces are invanablv
small and poorly armed, and even il they create
liberated zones, they will be surrounded by hostile
forces. The government's armed forces are well
organised and widely distributed, and a
well-developed communications system allows forces
to be easily concentrated against guerrilla activity.
Despite the mistakes of its Andhra leadership,
the Telangana Movement is the only example of
armed insurrection in South Asia which actually
"liberated" any significant area and started an experiment in an alternative way to organise society and
politics. The movement pushed tbe question of agrarian revolution to the forefront, compelling unwilling
Congress leaders to embark on reforms, albeit
half-heartedly. It forced the pace of the states'
reorganisation on a linguistic hasis, demolishing the
unprincipled and arbitrary division made by former
British rulers. The Movement helped the Communist
Party emerge for the first time as an effective,
widely-recognised political force.
Most importantly, perhaps, the Telangana Movement made the Indian communist movement confront the theoretical and ideological questions concerning the strategy and tactics lor a people's democratic revolution in India: the role of the peasantry in
such a revolution, the place and significance of partisan resistance and rural revolutionary bases, classification amongthe peasantry and the role of revolution
among different strata, the place of the working class
and urban centres, the meaning and import of "working class hegemony" and the Communist Party's role
in realising it in a primarily agrarian society.
Today, the Maoist line is commonly described in
the press as "far left" or "extreme left" due to its strong
rhetoric, tactics and sectarianism. Yet, in its identification of imperialism as the enemy and its strategy of
uniting lhe various democratic forces, including peasant landlords and national capitalists against imperialism, feudalism and monopoly capitalism, Maoism
actually represented a development of the "right line"
in an old struggle of left versus right tendencies within
the Indian communist party that had been going on
since the 1920s.
Thus, the Indian communists found themselves
allied with the Congress Part)" in battle against British
imperialism when following the "right line". Whereas,
at times when the "left line" was ascendant, it was
bourgeois nationalism represented by the Congress
which was the enemy.
The Andhra Central Committee's adoption ol
Maoism set it against the national communist leadership both at the tune of the Telangana movement,
when the national leaders were following the "left
line", and subsequently, when it readopted the "right
line". While ostensibly promoting the Telangana
movement, the national leadership had actually set
itself against it, as the shift from the immediate
objectives of the movement to anti-imperialism meant
that it abandoned the mass basis of the movement,
thus dooming it. .':■
S. Mikescll is visiting professor oj anthropology at the
University of Alabama-Birmingham.
HIMAL South Asia   September/October   1997
Nepali Cart
Before Horse
Managers ofthe newest leftist insurgency in South Asia, Nepal's
Maobadi are exploiting the failure of the state hy putting their reliance
on degenerative violence rather than organisation.
by Shy am Shrestha
From The Worker,
publication ofthe Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist).
When the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
declared a "People's War" in February
1996 and attacked police posts in some
areas in the Nepali hills, it came as a surprise to many.
After all, the United People's Front, the political organ
of the CPN (Maoist), was still involved in constitutional politics. And although the Front had boycotted
the 1.994 general elections, its strong showing in the
first election held in 1991, where it emerged as the
third largest party in parliament, had had people
believe that the extreme leftists would not actually act
upon their rhetoric of armed revolt.
This is the second Maobadi rebellion in Nepal.
The first was the "class-enemy annihilation campaign" of 1971, carried out by the Coordination
Centre, the embryonic organisation ol what was to
become the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-
Leninist). Also known as the "Jhapa Movement", after
the southeastern district where it was centred, this
short-lived uprising was influenced by lhe
in Naxalbari, just across the. border river ot Mechi.
The rebels went on a gruesome spree, chopping olf
the heads of some local landlords before they were
brutally suppressed by the then Panchayat regime.
(The CPN (ML) merged in 1991 with the Communist
Party of Nepal (Marxist) to become the Communist
Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), which is the
dominant partner in Nepal's ruling coalition at the
The present-clay Maobadi, who accuse the ruling
communist party of being revisionist and reactionary,
are well aware of what happened to that earlier revolt
Their armed operations indicate they have retmed on
the shortcomings ol the jhapa Movement in that their
actions seem more coordinated, with the central
leadership retaining overall control.
The Maoists are active in eastern and central
Nepal, but the epicentre of their movement is the two
contiguous districts ol Rolpa and Rukum in the
western mid-hills. Tins area is served neither by roads
nor development activities. This poverty-stricken area
is inhabited by Magars. a very 'backward' ethnic
group which continues to be sustained through migrant labour in India. A region ruled historically by
feudal princelings, the area even today retains a
medieval relationship between the rich and the poor
- a classic setting tor Maoist activity.
Over the 18 months ol armed struggle in which
close to a hundred people have been killed, it is true
that the Maoists have succeeded in carving out a
distinct political identity. Rut it is one that is based
more on isolated acts ol violence and the bravura of
a few devoted caches rather than on the revolutionary
upsurge of an oppressed people.
When the insurgents trained their guns on the
rural elite, and those identified as 'informers', they
found favour among sections of the rural populace in
lhe areas where they operate. However, it is signifi-
September/October   1997   HIMAL South Asia
 cant that Maobadi have had negligible influence on
Nepal's sizeable urban working class.
Gory Glory
The rise of the Maoist movement can be attributed
directly to the failure of the leaders of the 1990
People's Movement to respond to the hopes of the
masses. Despite the expectations engendered by the
Movement, which ushered in democracy, not one of
the several governments that have held power since
then has done anything to deliver the rural peasantry,
making up the bulk ot the population, from the
exploitative land relationships existing in the villages
The marginalised peasantry thus finds it convenient to vent its anger at the local landlords and rich
peasants - the class immediately above it and the one
that represents to it the state with all its shortcomings.
The Maoists have exploited the situation by attacking
this very class in the name of "People's War". If the
militants do not invite extreme repression and avoid
having to fight stronger forces of supression, their
insurgency is likely to grow and continue for some
time to come.
In that sense, the Maoists' most visible achievement in the first phase of their "People's War" has
been the establishment ofthe politics of armed struggle.
However, it seems they have over-emphasised violence, and in the process have forgotten the fundamental tenet of Marxist thought regarding its use.
Doctrinally, Marxists opt for violence only as a last
resort when all otherways toseek social progress have
failed. Violence can only be a reaction to attempts by
the rulingclass to wipe out the peaceful struggle ol the
people with state terror. Mao, loo, upheld this Marxist concept of using violence only to encl violence.
Nepal's Maobadi, on the other hand, seem to
understand the application of violence quite differently. They plead that armed action is a must from the
very beginning ofthe struggle; it is something which
can be applied at any time and at any place. There is
no need to concentrate this highest form of struggle
on concrete situations The principle of armed struggle
is accepted absolutely and a cult of violence propagated, with the Maoists boasting of the number of
violent incidents and glorifying in the unnecessary-
deaths of their heroic cadres "War, war, and war1
From the beginning till the end!" is their battle cry.
And thus it is that the taking away ol life has
become acceptable and commonplace. In a country
where earlier even five deaths would have created a
nationwide distress, today, even as scores die, the
polity refuses to be shaken out of its somnolence. In
February 1997, Maoist-related violence had already
been relegated to single column space in newspapers
even as the leadership declared the start of a "second
phase of operations" at the end of the first year of
the "War".
Naive Revolution
There have been blunders apfenly by the Maoist
leaders over the past two years. Most important was
the inability to judge if the people were prepared for
armed revolt. Even in the impoverished areas where
there has been enthusiastic popular support, the
militants did not work to educate the masses, nor to
prepare them for the struggle to come. There was no
thought to whether the public would be able bear the
repnsals that were to follow soon enough. What the
Maoists presented, therefore, was a sure recipe for
anarchy, and a people in poverty are now doubly
burdened by terror, perpetuated by the revolutionaries and the police.
The leaders' impatience to get on with armed
struggle may have also lost them a voice in
Kathmandu's political arena For when they went
underground with their well-established political
organ, the United People's Front, the Maoists forfeited the avenue to apply political pressure above-
ground even as they continued their underground
campaign. The Maobadi also made the mistake of
lumping together everyone who disagrees with them
So, they have attacked both "class enemies" and those
who do actually speak their own language. This has
led to their political isolation, and also affected their
public linage.
On occasion, the Maoists have also displayed
extreme naivete, such as when they raided the rural
branches ofthe government-owned Agricultural Development Bank and destroyedloan records. The goal
was to "liberate" poor villagers of their loan commitments, the Maoist leadership seemingly unaware that
banks maintain copies of their records outside the
branch ol I ice, too.
Indulging the Revolutionary
The Maoist movement has now publicly moved into
its second phase, and il has been marked by revenge
killings of those involved in doing away with real or
suspected Maoists As part ol this agenda, both policemen and local exploiters have been killed 1 he-
plan is to generale an atmosphere of statelessness
whereby they can easily step in and take over the
To some extent, this plan has succeeded I n some
areas, people live under a twin administration - the
government's and the Maoists'. This was greatly evident in the poor voter turnout in the local-level
elections earlier this year m districts like Rukum,
Rolpa and Jajarkot. The Maoists had announced a
boycott, threatening to kill those who won the elections, and so in 42 village centres no one even dared
file nominations. Elections could not be held in more
than 70 village centres
While such scare tactics may have succeeded in
creating an aura ol unquestioned authority around
them, the Maoists do not sense that their revolutionary militancy and armed revolt also can be used, and
is being used, by the former autocratic forces lor
reviving their lost powers. Although police action has
killed 26 party militants, only one leader ol significance has lost his life till now. The State's strategy
seems to be to keep the militancy at a controllable
level, while not finishing it off entirely by decimating
the leadership just yet.
The Maoist bogey is thus kept alive as the government goes about reviving the much-hated Public
In a country
where earlier
even five, deaths
would have
created a
distress, today,
even as scores
die, the polity
refuses to he
shaken out of its
HIMAL South Asia  September/October   1997
By neglecting
Mao's "mass
line", the
"People's War"
is hound to
degenerate into
a war without
the people.
Secunty Act which was used with such devastating
effect by the Panchayat regime before 1990. The
government is also using the Maoists as the pretext to
enact an Anti-Terrorist Act, although there is stifi
opposition to it. These acts would give wide-ranging
powers to the police, the army and the intelligence
agencies, which, because ol Nepal's peculiar political
arrangement, would mean ultimately power to the
Royal Palace.
It is likely that until these legislative measures
have been successfully implemented, the government will strive to keep Maoism alive in the hills, by
continuing its crackdown on the grassroots cadres
while giving free play to the top leadership. As soon
as it gets the powers it is seeking, a violent suppression of the Maoists can be expected. They will be
indulged no more
The Maoists are isolated today due to their own policy
of regarding all those who criticise them or who
disagree with them as enemies. This holier-than-thou
attitude could be their undoing, through sheer isolation. They seem not to have grasped the significance
ot the fact that even though practically every left
group in Nepal has protested the violent repression of
the Maoist movement, not one has indicated support
for the "People's War".
The Maoists have a false sense that they are on the
right track only because of the abject lailure ol mainstream parliamentary politics over the past couple of
years. This cumulative lailure includes the signing
away of Nepal's hydropower options to India, the
horse-trading to maintain coalition governments in
power, the outright corruption of those who till a few
years ago used to call themselves revolutionaries and
democrats, and the inability to give a new push to
development activities even as market forces move in
to take over the hinterland.
This lailure makes the Maoists all the more self-
righteous and vociferous, but they are making then-
own mistakes. Nothing in their activities indicates
that the Maobadi are trying to involve the local
populace. They are taking to shortcuts and
sloganeering rather than trying to raise the awareness
level ofthe people to that of the leadership The public
is not being prepared to act lor itself.
Mao Zedong's direction was that the revolutionary leadership should wail patiently until people arc
ready for action Meanwhile, they should constantly
educate the people and do whatever possible to
arouse and prepare the masses for struggle. No action,
howsoever well-intentioned, should be initiated until
the people are prepared to follow. This is Mao's
famous "mass line", and without this lhe "Peoples
War" is bound to degenerate into a war without
the people.
An objective and conscious revolutionary movement is not possible and a revolutionary theory to suit
the country cannot be developed without understanding how Nepali society and the class struggle is
developing. Nepal's Maobadi of today' are. moving
ahead m the blind hope that all wall turn out well once
a class struggle has begun.
S. Shrestha is editor of the Nepali-language, left monthly
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Anatomy of a Struggle
Patna graffiti illustrating the writings of revolutionary poet Muktibodh (see page 46).
hy Shishir K. Jha
...the battle must break out again and again in ever-growing dimensions, and there can
be no doubtas to who will be tbe victor in the end-the appropriating few, or the immense
working majority.
- Karl Man< in "The Civil War in France", 30 May 1871.
The 1990s have been a period of great euphoria
among the ruling classes of India, for all the
wondrous opportunities made available
through 'liberalisation' of the economy. While the
steady economic and political surrender to the con-
sumerist demands ofthe elite and to Western capital
continues, the 400 million Indians who are trapped
in poverty can only dream revolutionary dreams.
Amidst the sheer persistence of the country's
monumental social, economic and political ills, the
Indian Left, and the Maoist movements in particular,
have faced a daunting task in mobilising the resistance of the rural and urban working classes. And it
is the state of Bihar, otherwise unceremoniously
dismissed as "the diseased heart of India", which has
defiantly kept India's revolutionary hopes alive with
over a quarter of a century of Maoist struggles.
The deciding historical event which largely explains today's social conditions in Bihar - and the
continuous revolutionary reaction - was the enactment of the Permanent Settlement Act by the British
East India Company in 1793. This Act fostered and
consolidated a specific relationship between the
zamindars who had control over land and those who
did not. Right up to the early twentieth century, the
Permanent Settlement Act helped the upper-caste
land-owning classes to continue their traditional
dominance over the land in return for handing over
a tenth of their total rental income to the state.
This Act also sowed the seeds of agrarian struggle,
which has manifested itself for over 150 years in the
Bihar-Bengal region. Peasants and tribals of the
Chotanagpur region in the southern part of
present-day Bihar, for example, were engaged in
resistance throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1820-21, the Ho tribal peasants of
Chotanagpur rose twice against money-lenders,
zamindars and British rulers. The Oraons, another
tribal community, rebelled in the years 1820, 1832
and again in 1890, To quell the ferocious Kol revolt
of 1831-32, the British called in troops from as far
afield as Calcutta, Danapur and Benares.
The Santhal Uprising of 1855-57 was widespread, covering Bihar, Orissa and Bengal, in which
the Santhals were often joined by the lower caste
peasantry. As many as 10,000 rebels were massacred
in a final gruesome battle which crushed the uprising.
The heroic struggle at the turn of this century by the
Mundas of the Ranchi area inspired folkloric visions
of a new society, which survive to this day in the form
of songs and popular tales.
The baton of the peasant struggle was carried to
the plains of North and Central Bihar during the early
parts of twentieth century. Here, the agrarian protests
often revolved around the issue of bakasht lands,
lands that had been repossessed from tenants by
zamindars for putative non-payment of rent. From
the 1920s until the early 1940s, this land alienation
was considerable - between 2.5 to 3.5 lakh occupancy holdings annually. This, together with produce rent which prevented tenants from selling directly in the market and thus take advantage of
increasing market prices, and an increasingly ecological burden on the peasantry, the structural features
were in place for mass upsurges against the zamindari
The peasant ry was mostly led by the Bihar Pradesh
Kisan Sabha (BPKS), formed in 1929 by a charismatic
leader, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. The Kisan Sabha
and the emerging Socialist Party together led a peas-
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
 ant organisation whose membership had grown to
four lakh by 1939. The bpks's demands were
all-encompassing: the abolition ol the zamindari system, cancellation of all agrarian debt, establishment
ol a system to transfer land to the tiller, and employment for landless peasants.
However, both before and after Independence,
the peasantry were repeatedly betrayed by the conservative Congress leaders of Bihar. The Kisan Sabha
could not muster enough strength to push the Con-
press into accepting its demands. The Sabha's
over-dependence on a few leaders, like Swami
Sahajanand, and its stronger ties with the tenants and
middle peasants at the cost of the landless and agricultural labourers were its major weaknesses. The
first wave of peasant struggle in the plains ol Bihar,
although unsuccessful in itself, did clearly put the
writing on the wall
Flaming Fields
The spectre of radical change haunts the semi-feudal
interests ol Bihar, and of India generally. The Congress party, which came to dominate Bihar's political
scene after Independence, offered token measures to
address the land problem. Without any shame or
pretension, the Bihar Assembly passed extremely
watered-down legislations, among others the Bihar
Land Reforms Act (1950) and the Fixation of Land
Ceiling Act (1962), which had enough loopholes to
"■ovder them meanrngless.
Because of the deep collusion between the state's
governing elite and the semi-feudal landed interests
to deny the peasantry their minimum share of land
and its produce, the pre-lndependence rural class
characteristics of Bihar did not change dramatically.
Merely, the British Raj was exchanged for an Indian
Raj. Landlords, rich fanners and money-lenders were
-till ranged against tribal communities, poor and
landless peasants and village artisans.
Such callous indifference was bound to ignite a
reaction, and 25 years of silence in the countryside,
following the BFKS-led agitation ol the 30s and 40s,
was broken in 1968 with a clarion call for militant
peasant struggle issued by the Marxists-Leninists
This was a loud echo ofthe 'Naxalbari' struggle ofthe
previous year. An armed struggle in the countryside
against semi-feudal interests combined with area-wise
seizures in orderto finally capture state power was the
leitmotif of these revolutionaries.
After the first wave of peasant struggles dominated by the middle peasantry ended m the mid- 1940s,
this time it was the poor and landless peasantry who
are militantly asserting themselves. The new radical
grouping which emerged was critical ol the "parliamentary" tendencies in the Indian communist movement, and believed that the Communist Party of India
and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had
betrayed their revolutionary role The Communist
Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), officially formed in
1969, emphasised the pivotal role ol poor and landless peasants in smashing the edifice ol the
semi-colonial, semi-feudal Indian state.
The first congress of the Marxist-Leninists, held
in Calcutta in May 1970 and inspiredby Mao Zedong's
Chinese revolution, adopted a full-fledged programme
of action. The congress held that the "principal contradiction" of the period was between feudalism and
the broad masses ofthe Indian people. Resolution of
that contradiction would lead to the settlement ol all
other contradictions.
The districts ol Muzaffarpur and Bhojpur were
the first places in Bihar where the silence ol ihe
peasants was decisively broken. Heroic lower caste
figures likejagdish Mahto, Ram Naresh Ram, Bhutan
Musahar. Rameshwar Ahir and Nirmal Mahto, were
some of the early leaders struggling to ignite that
single spark that would light the prairie fire. By the
late 1970s, many central and some northern districts
ol Bihar were raging with the flames of peasant
Unlike Naxalbari in West Bengal, the place ol its
genesis, the Marxist-Leninist struggle in Bihar has
endured. Unlike the other communist parties, the
one persisting and defining theme o| the
Marxist-Leninist struggle here has been its ability to
draw the sustained participation of the poor and
landless against the arrogant, brutal and corrupt
ruling classes. The state's fertile fields have heen kept
in flames by three dominant Marxist-Leninist parties,
among half a dozen others. These are the CPI (ML1
Liberation, on i,m L) Party Unity and the Maoist Communist Centre.
Some of the mistakes committed in the early days
of the struggle, from the early to mid-70s - such as
extraordinary dependence on annihilation of class
enemies and neglect of mass movements - have been
apparently rectified, though much organisational and
ideological re-direction may still be needed in order
to launch and sustain a major struggle
Belchi to Hahaspur
Bihar's economy is overwhelmingly rural-based, with
74 percent ofthe population of 100 milfion relying on
agriculture for survival. Sixty-four percent ol the
people belong to the 'backward' and 'scheduled'
castes, 21 percent are Muslims and'scheduled' tribes.
Between 85-90 percent of the state's rural households
own less than 5 acres ol land each. The 'backward1 and
'scheduled' communities have nursed a historical
grievance against the upper castes who make up I 5
percent ol the population but have until recently
largely dominated the economic, cultural and political structures
hour strategies came 10 dominate the
Marxist-Leninist struggle for the heart and minds ol
Bihar's people. Perhaps the most successful has been
the relentless combat on social issues. The constant
battle waged by the lower caste rural poor in acquiring social dignity, or izzat. lias been immeasurably
successful. The Marxist-Leninists have t bus been able
to help deal a devastating blow to the cultural heart of
Secondly, the focus has been on the seizure and
distribution ol surplus land under the illegal possession of landlords, mahants (religious heads), and
other big landowners, which amounted to about 1.4
HIMAL South Asia   September/October   1997
million acres statewide even after the implementation
of'land reform'. This is perhaps the most intense and
violent of all the struggles, and success has been
partial and concentrated in a few districts ol central
and south Bihar such as Patna, Bhojpur, Nalanda,
Gaya, Jehanabad and Palamu. It is hecause of the
challenge put up by the feudals against the concrete
actions to seize land that the Marxists-Leninists have
felt the need to arm groups of peasants.
Thirdly, the activists have mobilised a struggle
lor minimum wages ol agricultural labourers liven
the minimum wage ol INR 16.50 per day during
non-harvesting periods and 10 percent ol the crops
during harvesting periods are not given to agricultural labourers. The st ruggle around wages can, however, create counter-productive tensions when the
middle peasants are not able to pay the minimum to
agricultural lahourers. This has heen a potentially
divisive issue, for the Marxist-Leninist strategy clearly
depends on uniting both these classes
Finally, the activists have in the last decade
succeeded in pressuring local administrations to undertake development projects in the 'backward' areas. Meanwhile, the rural population has been
mobilised to monitor and ensure that the crores
ol rupees allocated for digging wells, building
roads, providing of warehouse facilities, and so
on, are not squandered. While forcing the
"comprador-bureaucratic" capitalist structure lo be
directly accountable to the people, the
Marxist-Leninists also want to intensify the contradictions within it-
All these activities have been directed against
Bihar's ruling classes. They are like the "baron ol old"
who, in the words of Karl Marx, ''thought every
weapon in his own hand fair against the plebeian,
while in the hands of the plebeian a weapon ol any
kind constituted itself a crime." Placenames such
as Belchhi (1977), Parasbigha-Dohtya (1980),
Pipra (1986), Kansara (1986), Arwal (1986),
Khagri-Damuhan (1988), Tishkhora (1991),
Bathanitola (1996), Ekwan (1996), and Habaspur
(1 997) among many others, are deeply etched in the
mind and memory ol Bihar's poor and landless peasants Names like these mark the moments when the
landed interests struckbarbancally and mercilessly at
the rural poor, killing thousands.
Since the early 1980s, the big landlords, in
connivance with the Bihar state apparatus, have even
organised themselves into private armies, or scnas.
The purpose ol these well-equipped feudal war parties - with names like Ranvir Sena, Kunwar Sena,
Sunlight Sena. Brahmrishi Sena, Lonk Sena, Bhumi
Sena - is to stnke terror among the peasant ry in order
to force t heir militancy to backtrack. Many such senas
have, however, been liquidated by the different wings
of the Marxist-Leninist parties of Bihar.
Land or Votes Liberation, led by its general secretary, Vinod
Mishra, is perhaps the revolutionary organisation ol
Bihar that has travelled the greatest political distance.
In a "rectification" programme launched in 1 977, the
group moved away from an emphasis on "annihilation of individual class enemies" to a concerted attempt at organising mass peasant movements under
the umhrella of a "Kisan Sabha". In 1982, this group
took an even more radical step by deciding to enter
the thickets of parliamentary struggle under the banner of the Indian People's Front.
At its Filth Party Congress in 1992. the c.Pl(M-l.)
Liberation itsell decided to come out into the open
and participate in all kinds of progressive mass
organisations and parliamentary forums. The group's
overall electoral success has been waxing and waning.
It won one parliamentary seat in 1989 and has one
seat, won by a'fraternal' Assam party, the AS DC, in the
present Parliament, ft sent seven members to the
Bihar State Assembly in 1990, but this number was
down to six in 1995, when the party polled around a
million votes. The Indian People's Front was dissolved m 1994 because, it was claimed, it was absorbing and diverting the energies of the mother. Liberation, organisation.
ft is too early say whether the Liberation group
was well-advised to enter the parliamentary I ray. but
it certainly signals a diarp break from its earlier
ideological moorings On the one hand, the obvious
benefit is a national presence and the possibility oi
intervening and giving shape to country-wide debates. On the other hand, there rs the tear that
electoral pursuit will dilute the struggle over land,
thus compromising the very core of the
Marxist-Leninist ideological agenda. The desire for
easy electoral victories, it is said, will provide to some
a reason to excuse themselves from the harderstruggles
on the ground. Other Marxist-Leninist organisations
in Bihar, like the Maoist Communist Centre iMCC)
and the C.PKM-U Party Unity, have refused to enter the
electoral arena because of this perceived danger.
While the debate over strategy continues among
the Marxist-Leninists, the stakes are becoming higher
with each passing day. For arrayed against the peasantry this time are not only the Congress with its class
interest but the centrist and very corrupt Janata Dal
and the right-wing Hindu fundamentalists.
Ultimately, the Marxist-Leninist ideology will
triumph or be defeated depending on the skill with
which they use their parliamentary and extra-parliamentary options While it is important not to let go of
the down-to-earth struggle against exploitation of the
peasantry, they must work to establish a national
presence as opposed to strong presence in a lew states
like B.har, Andhra Pradesh and Assam (under the
banner of A^DC)
The call by the CF1 im-L) Liberation for a "National
Left Federation" of all communist parties may produce the urgent strengthening of India's anti-systemic
forces. Much is riding on the success or defeat of the
different communist strategies as they play themselves out in Bihar. Whether they will destroy or
triumphantly restore the diseased heart of India is yet
10 be seen. ,6
Shishir K. Jha is PhD candidate at Syracuse L'niversify,
New York.
September/October   1997   HIMAL South Asia
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Poor Choru
The People Behind the
People's  War
The philosophy ofMarxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung-Thought", which caught
the public's imagination in Naxalbari 30 years ago has now moved south to
the forests of Andhra Pradesh.
hy R.J. Rajendra Prasad
A year after his idea's'"'ignited the plains of     ers.such as K.Gft Sathyamurthy and Mukku Subba
Naxalbari close by the West Bengal borders. CReddy, both members of the Central Organising
with Nepal, Charu Mazuindaf((the revolu-     Cornnu ttee of the PWG who were strong on ideol ogy.
tionary, came to Andhra Pradesh to Spread his radical
ideas. But here, the kindling did not light.
Coming to Srikakulam in 1967, Mazumdar tried
to organise a movement that had been launched by
Vempatapu Sathyanarayana, secretary of the district
committee ofthe Communist Party of India (Marxist-
Leninist). The movement collapsed completely in
1971, and Mazumdar's plans for Andhra were to be
fulfilled only when Kondapalli Seetharami'ah,a teacher
in a Railway School in Warangal, founded the CPI
(M-L) "People's War Group" (PWG).
Mr Seetharamiah, known a? 'KS'(remained Secretary of Central Organising Committee '(COO of the
PWG until he was expelled by the Party in 1992. In his
mid-70s today, he leads a retired, life but does not
hesitate to castigate his successors in trie WG for their
failure to understand Mao Tse Tung Thought:
Dalam Revolution
The PWG's goals are to motivate the people to wage
war and capture political power through armed insurrection. It rejects the politics of parliamentary
democracy on the ground the oppressed masses have
no chance to win an election without money and
muscle power, available in plenty with the exploitative classes. The PWG traces its Mao's
dictum that "power flows through the barrel of a gun"
and adopts tactics of guerilla warfare with an armed
cadre divided into dalams (squad) which maintain a
string of hideouts. The PWG is said to have obtained
arms from insurgents in Indian Northeast as well as
from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elamin Sri Lanka.
The Communist Party of India as well as the CPI
(M) criticise the PWG, maintaining that the masses will
never achieve political consciousness as long as armed
dalams are around to force a revolution. Other
Marxist-Leninist groups maintain that rather than go
underground, the appropriate goal is to build a
broad, 'above ground', militant, mass movement on
land issues.
As long as he held power within the organi sation,
KS ran the pwg with an iron hand, expelling dissent-
' Under KS, in T 988, one dalam kidnapped four officers ;bf the Indian Administrative Service in East
Godavari distinct to secure the release ol undertrial
Na'xalite prisoners. In 1994-., a-pwg unit got on to a
train in Ghatkesar near Hyderabad and set it on fire,
killing 20'passengers. Actions like these were justified
as part of revolutionary strategy. :
KS was, however, accused' of practicing casteism
(he belonged to the Reddy upper caste while those in
thePWG he allegedly victimised belonged to the lower
castes). After two years of debate, KS was finally
expelled, accused of having, taken inconsistent ideological decisions, Today, the pwg is headed by Muppala
Lakshman Rao, alias Ganapathi, a school teacher of
Beerpur village, Karimnagar District. He is secretary
oi the organisation's i
Andhra Disaperados
The pw.G'hasbeen the most militant of the.dozen or so
■ revolutionary groups operating in Andhra. It. has
established a base in the Dandakaraiiya forest region
on either side of the-Godavari ■river, in the north
' Telengana' districts of Adilabad/. Karimnagar,
Warangal, Nizamabad and M'edah of Andhra Pradesh,
in Bastar of Madhya Pradesh, and'Chand a of
From 1981'to 1996, a total of 1140 leftist "extremists" have been killed in so-called encounters
with the police. The facts behind these encounters
have been questioned by various civil liberties groups.
The police generally do not allow relatives to claim
the dead. Recently, an association was formed to help
claim those killed in encounters, with the pro-PWG
folk singer Gaddar heading it. The association seeks
justice by moving the courts to admit writ petitions
and to give directions to the police, It is clear, however, that this is going to be an uphill task. A judicial
enquiry into the death in encounter of Madhusudhan
Raj, secretary of state committee of ct't (m-l) janasakthi
group (a rival to the pwg) upheld the police version
after the family of the victim as well as the Andhra
Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee boycotted the
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
A total of 1805 people were killed by the Naxahtes
during the same period ot 1981-1996, most of them
belonging to lower castes, such as washermen and
cobblers. The PWG justified these actions by saying
that they had targeted police informants This charge
have been denied by the people of the villages where
the killings took place.
The PWG killed a Deputy Inspector General of
Police, K.S. Vyas, as he was jogging in a Hyderabad
stadium, and a Congress Member of Parliament,
MaguntaSubbarami Reddy, at his residence in Ongole
In Nizamabad, another Congress MP, M. Baga Reddy,
escaped recently when a landmine exploded after his
jeep had passed. Four Congress workers in the following jeep were killed. In 1996, the pwg blasted the
Sirpur Utnoor Pol ice station in Adilabad, killing all f 4
policemen sleeping inside.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has suggested
that a peace commission be set up to solve the
problem of Naxalite violence and the Stale's response
to it. However, no headway has been made because it
is difficult to get someone who enjoys the pwg's
confidence to serve in such a commission. The PWG
was banned by a Congress (1) Government in 1992
and the ban remains in place today.
China's Chairman
Why does PWG flourish in Andhra when its brand of
politics is ailing elsewhere7 A principal reason is
perhaps the area's history of armed struggle, against
the Nizam of Hyderabad state and the big zamindars.
(Sec earlier article. "The Chinese; Way in Telangana",)
Perhaps an indirect legacy ol the Group's activism has
been the growing awareness among the people ol the
need to narrow the difference between the upper and
lower classes. This is evident in events such as the
1996 elections, when a powerful Reddy candidate for
Parliament was defeated in Warangal by a
Lambada, a Scheduled Tribe candidate, or when a
powerful Velama candidate was defeated by a
handloom weaver in Karimnagar. Both won on a
Telugu Desam ticket.
For all its ideological fervour and speaking the
language ofthe gun, victor,' is nowhere in sight for the
PWG. It has, at best, about 30 dalams of 1 5 people each
based in the forests Till now, the state police has
found itself competent to handle the situation, with
]ust a little help from a few companies of the Central
Reserve Police Force and the indo-Tibetan Border
Police It also seems clear that the PWG's much-
vaunted hold on the districts where they have strong
presence is based on fear and intimidation. Ihe result
is that the Group's call for the boycott of general
elections is consistently ignored.
The Group's assessment is that India is still ruled
by the comprador bourgeois classes, who run the
country at the beck and call ol US imperialism, the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The various revolutionary communist groups attribute
the collapse ofthe Soviet Union to the ineptitude of
Gorbachev rather than to any weakness in
Marxism-Leninism. They say that ownership of land
in the hands of a few is central to the exploitation of
the toiling masses. In keeping with these 'radical'
views, the PWG boycotted celebrations of the "50th
anniversary of Indian independence.
The PWG is presently trying to internationalise Its
appeal. It. attended an international seminar organised
by the Workers Party of Belgium in Brussels in May
1996, along with 60 organisations of 40 countries.
There, reports say, PWG leaders held talks with CPP of
the Philippines, the PCPof Peru, TKP (Ml.) ofTurkey. the
Marxist-Leninist organisations of Senegal, and others.
Hopefully, however, the Group perhaps realises
the pit fills of importing revolution in whatever form,
as its own experience indicates After the Srikakulam
movement which was started in 1967 collapsed in
197 f, the pwc, leadership assessed that they had made
a mistake with the slogan: "China's Chairman is Our
Chairman". Because the Savant and Jatapu tribes of
the district could not identily themselves with a
Chinese chairman
R.j.   Rajendra  Prasad  writes   tor The   Hindu  from
Romantic imagery from
Naxalbari Is Not Only the
Name of a Village, 1996.
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Sri Lanka's
The fanata Vimukthi Peramuna presents itself as a Marxist
organisation, and the affinity with Maoism, was initially quite
obvious. But it can never sustain itself on imported ideology
married to terror politics.
Rahana Wijeweera
by Sasanka Perera
Along and drawn-out crisis confronted the left
parties of Sri Lanka in the 1960s, particularly
after the Trotskyite Lanka Sama Samaja Party
entered into a coalition alliance with Sirimavo
Bandaranaike's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in
1964. This action led to a series of splits within the
collective Left movement, and disgruntled young
radicals such as Rohana Wijeweera went on to found
the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna 0VT» the People's
Liberation Front) in late 1967 as a movement dedicated to armed revolution.
Wijeweera had started his political career as a
youth sympathiser of the Ceylon Communist Party
(Moscow Wing), and was later attracted to Maoist
politics while a medical student in the Soviet Union.
When his student visa was not renewed as a result,
Wijeweera returned to Sri Lanka in 1964 and joined
the Ceylon Communist Party (Peking Wing) which
had split from the CCP (Moscow Wing) the year
previously. But soon Wijeweera and his radical colleagues lost confidence in the Peking Wing's ability to
foster armed revolution. They also saw the party's
preoccupation with trade union politics as indication
of its unwillingness to grant the peasantry its legitimate place in revolution.
In the initial phase of its emergence, the ideology
of the JVP, or more correctly its operational slogans,
were a collection of ideas borrowed from Stalinist
Marxism, Maoism, and a romanticised throwback to
the Cuban revolution with cult emphasis on Fidel
Castro and Che Guevara. However, the movement
appealed to educated Sinhala rural youth mainly
because it articulated their fears, especially regarding
rising unemployment. In fact, the JVP never had a
political ideology in the strictest sense, only a set of
popular slogans camouflagedin Maoist and Guevarist
rhetoric. At thesame lime, from its very inception, the
JVP also indoctrinated its cadre with a very clear
anti-Indian bias.
The JVP planned for an insurrection based on the
Cuban model, in which a sudden armed upnsing by
party cadre would lead to a popular revolution. So it
initialed an insurrection on 5 April 1971, attacking
over 70 police stations countrywide. Al that time, the
media did not even have a name to call the rebels, and
at first they were known awkwardly as "Che
Guevansts". Later, a Sinhala term "thrasthawadi",
meaning "terrorist", was coined and also used in
The insurrection failed in spectacular fashion in
a country where, even though there was growing
unemployment, the pre-requisites ol a revolution
were generally lacking. Besides, the rebels were badly
trained and equipped, and lacked lunds and foreign
support. Colombo's authorities brought the situation
under control within a couple of weeks, with military
assistance from countries as diverse as Pakistan, India, Singapore, Yugoslavia, England, the United States,
Egypt - and the People's Republic of China, which
firmly supported the crushing of the rebellion. The
military killed a few thousand rebels, and many more
surrendered or were arrested, to be tried under the
draconian presence of a Criminal Justice Commission. Many were handed long prison sentences in
Terror Begets State Terror
The JVP received a second lease of life after the defeat
ofthe SLFP in the parliamentary elections of July 1977.
Fulfilling an el ection promise, J. R. Jayawardane of the
newly elected United National Party (UNP) government freed jvp prisoners in  November.  The
Che Guevara
Fidel Castro
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
organisation seemed to transform itself into it mainstream political party, abandoning the advocacy of
armed revolution and engaging in parliamentary politics, In fact, the Front took part in two important
elections, the District Development Council
Elections of 1980 and the presidential elections of
1982, in which Wijeweera put himsell forward as a
This "mainstream phase" was soon to end, however. In December 1982, the UNP government decided to extend its rule without holding general
elections on the basis of a rigged referendum This
clear breach of democratic faith disillusioned the JVP
leaders, who had tried lo work within the electoral
process in the hope of gaining some legit imate parliamentary representation. In August 1983, soon after
the widespread anti-Tamil violence of the previous
month, the UNP government proscribed the jvr and
two other leftist parties tor allegedly orchestrating
the violence with the aim ol toppling the
government. Ironically, much of the violence against
Tamils had been the handiwork ol UNP members
assisted by the party's trade union, the jss (Jatika
Sevaka Sangamaya).
The jvp leadership went into hiding and the
organisation remained underground and in the background until 1 987, when Indian armed forces landed
in northern and eastern Sri Lanka on the mandate ol
the so-called Indo-Lanka Accord, the purpose of
which was to contain the Tamil Tiger-led insu rrection
in those areas. The jvp's well-established anti-Indian
position now became the key to its growth and
legitimation. The organisation even gained a certain
nationalist aura for us prophetic genius in opposing
Indian expansionism. The JVP was thus handed its
new set ol slogans, it appealed to the Sinhala masses
by depicting the Jayawardane government and Tamil
political formations as pawns of Western and Indian
imperialism out to divide the country
From a sell-proclaimed radical felt youth
organisation, the JVP rapidly metamorphosed into a
fiercely nationalistic, Sinhala-centnc outfit. The )\'p
called upon the "patriotic masses to rally against the
traitorous UNP government in order to save the motherland". Even though the party continues to deny it,
during this time the (VPalso formed the Dcshapremi
Janata Vynparaya (Patriotic People's Movement) for
the sped lie purpose of carrying out military action,
including assassinations oi political enemies With
the much-hated Indo-Lanka Accord providing the
required impetus, the |\-T was readv, once again, lo
use armed rebellion to capture state power.
The Front's use ol threats, intimidation and
political violence escalated in two phases, with the
provincial council elections ol 1988 and the presidential elections ol December N89 The. |\'P regarded
the provincial councils, established by Parliament in
1987 through a constitutional amendment, as
anti-Sinhala and anti-national Its :or:or tactics made
lor very low voter iurrn m , as low a- S percent in the
|\T'domimUed Hambant ca dis'rui m the Southern
q a a
TEL:521894, 521810
FAX: 977-1-523737, TLX: 2342 SUMMIT NP
The tactics used during the presidential elections
were even more brutal, and protest actions were
widespread, although they were never quite spontaneous. Industrial strikes crippled the country, and in
April 1989 the Front succeeded in shutting down the
country for six days. That year, the JVP also started
using landmines against the military and police in the
5outh, with devastating effect. There was increased
killings of innocents, said to be was due to the jvp's
decision to arm criminal elements.
Only 55 percent ofthe registered voters cast their
votes in the presidential elections, marking the lowest
turnout in any Sri Lankan general or presidential pol 1.
Ranasinghe Premadasa of the UNP was elected president with only 27 percent of the vote.
It was also in 1989 that JVP leaders made, a
significant tactical error: they challenged the secunty
forces head on. Perhaps frustrated by the fact that
army and police personnel had not deserted and
joined its ranks en masse, the Front now demanded
that all members of the security forces and police
resign from their posts. Those who did not would be
killed together with their families, it warned. In some
places, the threat was carried out. For the first time,
the armed forces and police had their own reason to
eliminate the JVP.
The JVP developed a false sense of invincibility,
over-estimating its own power and capabilit i es. Whatever heroic halo it had soon disappeared, however, as
its use of terror became increasingly excessive and
irrational. The year 1989 saw not only the worst ol the
jvp's violence, but also the unleashing of counter-terror
by the government. The full extent of state powerhad
never been used to combat the JVP during
Jayawardane's presidency, but the situation changed
dramatically with Premadasa's assumption of office.
A slate-sponsored reign of terror soon overtook in
scale and brutality what the JVP had been able to
The terror of the JVP, meanwhile, came to an
abrupt end with the military's capture of their leader
Rohana Wijeweera and his deputy Upatissa
Gamanayake. The rest of the top leadership was also
soon eliminated, as those captured were summarily
executed. For all practical purposes, by 1990 the JVP
was non-functional, its organisation in disarray.
Operational Ideology
Even as its top two leaders were killed, however, JVP
posters appeared in many parts of Sri Lanka, claiming: "Just because two plates are broken, the hotel will
not be closed down."
The "hotel", it appears, is not closed, even though
it is not clear who is running it. Even asuherc was
wholesale elimination of the Front's uppermost echelons, there were a few leaders who survived. Some,
such as Somawansa Amarasinghe, escaped to England, from where he now claims through fax messages to be the jvp's rightful leader. District-level
leaders who managed to escape the state's dragnet are
unwilling to accept such claims from overseas.
Presently, the JVP appears to be trying to settle its
internal conflicts with the goal of re-asserting itself It.
is once again preparing to prove its amazing ability to
spring back after devastating suppression. One reason for the organisation's resilience is that the JVP
never maintained a dogmatic ideology, but rather a
set of slogans that changed according to the
socio-political climate.
Forinstance, the 197 ljwwas sympathetic to the
concerns ofthe minorities, whereas the JVP of the late
1980s opposed any concessions to Tamils. Today,
loo, it opposes the devolution package proposed by
the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, which
would grant substantial autonomy to
Tamil-dominated provinces. The JVP uses the 5mhala
nationalist argument that the package would divide
the country.
In other words, the JVP has the ability to offer the
masses, and specifically Sinhala youth, what they
want to hear even if such positions violate the very
Marxist principles the movement claims allegiance
to. In the context ofthe devolution debaie, the JVP is
opposed to any notion of self-determination, which
forms a bedrock principle of Marxist thought.
On the other hand, the aspirations that, the JVP
represents are very much a part of contemporary Sri
Lankan reality. As long as the frustrations and the
anxieties of the youth persist on the scale at present,
political formations such as thejVP will continue, to be
there to exploit and articulate the rage. Under such
circumstances, there is also no reason to import
standardised ideologies such as Maoism or Marxism.
Today, the jvp once again gives the impression of
having become a legitimate political party, claiming
to have learnt from its mistakes. But the Front, as with
the UNP (presently out of power), has yet to show any
kind of public remorse for the death and destruction
it caused in the late 1980s. Far from apologising, the
jvp's general secretary Tulin Silva claimed in a recent
interview that his party had never indulged in any
violence. According to him, all the mayhem was the
work solely of the UNP.
This kind of vulgar revisionist rewriting of recent
history will not have an effect on the people who
suffered. Their memories, at least, cannot be revised
as easily. For them, as victims of torture and beatings,
and for thousands of women who have become
widows, the track record of the JVP, and its partner in
violence, the UNP, will be a constant reminder of
politics gone berserk.
In real terms, as far as the rank and file are
concerned, the JVP was and will continue to be a party
of Sinhala Buddhist rural youth, representing their
frustrations and their loss of faith in mainstream
political parties. Given current trends, the organisation
is unlikely to register a significant electoral victory
without publicly expressing remorse for its violent
activities, and without dealing with the murderers
and torturers in its midst, and surely not without a
clearly formulated plan of action for the future.
S. Perera teaches anthropology al the University of
Colombo. He is the author of the book Living wiih
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
Class Hatred in
Rural Bangladesh
What started out as class war on behalf of the proletariat has
degenerated into gang war in support of landlords and petty
by Afsan Chowdhury
Maoism is no longer flagging its li ttf e red book
in Bangladesh as it did in the late 1960s and
mid-1970s. But a militant grassroots vigilante movement, sometimes moonlighting as freelance heavies for hire in the rural areas, slill makes
regular news. Mostly active in the southern and
north-western regions ofthe country, the movement
is a splintered one. However, the various parts are
often lumped together and called the sharbahara (the
proletariat) groups. They are symptoms more of
peasant rage than politics.
The militancy draws its popular and mythical
roots not just from the traditional communist movements of the Beijing variety but from the much more
recent Sharbahara Parly (SP) which was most active
in the 1970 to 1974 period. Founded by Shiraj
Shikder, an engineer, SP was only one among the
many parties of the left, but it caught popular imagination arguing for a red Bengal at a time when most
leftists were confined to just arguing. The party
fought both the Pakistan army and the Awami League
mainstream regulars in 1971. Afterwards, it battled
the government of Sheikh Mujib till his death in
1974, under circumstances never well explained.
1971 Aftermath
The 1971 war created a crisis, fragmenting the already divided Maoist movements of what was till then
East Pakistan. Pakistan was supported by China,
while India and the Awami League naturally fell into
the Soviet camp. Many Maoist groups therefore supported the Pakistan army, which was at that time
engaged in a killing spree. This support gave the
Maoists a bad image, and lhe memories linger.
While the Maoist movement in the neighbouring
parts of India petered off in the early 1970s, it fared
better in Bangladesh as popular opposition to Awami
League rule mounted in the early days. Indeed, the
Maoist movement grew rapidly during the early era of
Sheikh Mujib's rule, though its factional splits and
ideological differences defied all understanding. The
movement included the East Pakistan Communist
Party (Marxist-Leninist), which had been endorsed
by Mother China herself and which clung to Pakistan
even after 1971. (China recognised Bangladesh only
in 1975, following Sheikh Mujib's death.)
The Sharbahara Party suffered a grievous setback
in 1974 when its leader Siraj Shikder was killed,
following which many of its remaining leaders were
eliminated. A visibly victorious Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman said in Parliament, "Where is Siraj
Shikder now?" That declaration marked simultaneously the peak and last recognition of Maoism in
An abortive coup attempt led by Col (retd)
Taher, a war hero and admirer of Chairman Mao, and
supported by a breakaway radical section of the
Awami League which called itself the Gono Bahini
(People's Army), was probably the closest the radicals
ever got to power. But they were outwitted by Gen
Ziaur Rahman, who had Col Taher arrested and later
hanged along with many of his followers. Ironically,
it was the colonel who had ousted a ruling group on
7 November 1975 and installed Gen Zia in power.
Sheikh Mujib was an enemy of Maoism, and he
had been replaced by Gen Zia, who was under threat
from the Indians and the Soviets. It was therefore the
duly of Maoists to support Gen Zia. So went the logic,
and so practically ended whatever ihere was of Maoism
in Bangladesh.
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
Revolutionary Thuggery
In the years immediately following, police ac
lion diminished lhe Maoist groups and they
became marginalised in national politics. But
the sharbahara syndrome or movement -
not the party with its overtones of rural
Maoism — continues to defy peaceful as
well as belligerent attempts to finish it off.
It exists, albeit without any significant
political, theoreiical or mass base.
Says Abrar Chowdhury, a professor
at Dhaka University, of the sharbahara:
"There is really no serious party network
or movement. Some people who are in
total conflict with mainstream politics are
still involved with militant Maoism. What
sustains it in the rural areas is class hatred.
Il is the movement of the disgruntled and dispossessed in the villages, barely operating within political
Surprisingly, some young people do still j oin the
movement, attracted by the revolutionary promises
and what they see as the failure of mainstream politics
to provide answers in a terribly impoverished land.
But the different Maoist groups survive not as part of
a national movement but by relying on local support,
a sort of Maoist version of rural factional politics.
They are said to be active in local level elections and
toll collection, where leaders require muscle and guns
for "multi-purpose cooperative activities".
For many, there is little difference between
sharbaharas and bandits. In fact, they are not even
willing to call them Maoists. Md. Sohrab joined the
movement after dropping out of a local college. He
ran away after a year and now says that the party he
joined is urn by rural politicians of the kind who are
removed from reality. He says, "They really live in
Mao's world. They have no sense ofthe present. They
are driven by violence."
Tasneem Siddiqui, of Dhaka University's Department of Political Science says that while many
young people are drawn to the movement they become rapidly disillusioned. But then those who want
to leave the party find themselves prevented. Renegades, il is said, are liquidated if caught. A typical
Maoist caucus will include recruits ranging from
campus youths, deserters from village feuds, militants without much ideological commitment, and
certainly a few with criminal records.
"While it is true that many are guilty of what are
called revolutionary crimes, the number of people
who use the sharbahara or Maoist banner to practice
thuggery is not small," says Rafique Alam, a senior
leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Parly. Bhorer
Kagoz, a national daily which recently ran a series on
the sharbahara phenomenon, reported that many are
patronised by local landlords, essentially as hired
guns. Politicians of all varieties also have to come to
an understanding with these elements in order to
Besides the landowning classes and local politicians, the other category which has links to the
Maoists are the non-governmental organisations work-
■ -
Mujibur did not like Mao.
ing in the rural areas. They often hire ex- or present
cadres because it ensures both safety and acceptance
at the village level. Besides, educated Maoists have a
good public image at the village level. "Naxals (Maoists)
make good NGO workers," concedes Souren Biswas,
an NGO organiser. There have been moves to rehabilitate the sharbaharas, but these have floundered, with
many returning to the shadow life.
In some cases, remoteness has helped keep the
sharbahara movement alive. Take, for example, Barisal
division which was also the birthplace of the original
Sharbahara Party. The vast badlands of the char (land
left behind by a receding river) in the coastal area and
low presence of the police means that the groups are
able to survive purges.
Though never a threat to the establishment, the
sharbahara manage to remain in the spotlight because
of the clashes and killing which occur every month.
In the Jhenaidah, Jessore Magura and Kushtia belt of
the country's northwest, the influence of the East
Pakistan Communist Party (M-L) lingers to this day.
Deaths due to clashes with police and rivals factions
make regular news. The Maoists of this area maintain
contacts with Naxalite groups across the border in
West Bengal.
Idealism to Realism
While the sharbaharas survive as renegades, the Maoist
phase in Bangla politics is definitely over. Splintered
and surviving in isolated pockets, those who call
themselves Maoists in Bangladesh today are more of
a law and order problem than a political challenge to
mainstream politics. The Idealist Seventies which
drew the young to politics has been replaced with the
Realist Nineties, with individual economic prosperity
the driving force for the young. And that has cut off
fresh blood supply considerably to the sharbahara
The absence of successful Maoist insurgencies in
the rest of South Asia has not provided much inspiration to Bangladesh's Maoists either. On the other
hand, the continuing activism of the sharbaharas
such as ihey are is but a mirror to the frustration ofthe
millions of the rural poor who feel they have little
stake in the existing system. The only option, for
some of them, is to hit out.
HIMAL South Asia  September/October  1997
Trying to ride the state's coattails to power, Pakistan's ageingMaoists concede
that they misjudged the nature of their country and population.
by Mazhar Zaidi
Down at the Anarkali Bazaar teashops in Lahore,
the aged leftovers of what was once the Left of
Pakistan have time in their hands. When they
tire of the television screens at home, they come here
to debate the merits and demerits of the pro-China
and pro-Russia decisions made so long ago by their
respective factions.
Ironically, this is perhaps the only place in the
country where you can hear such discussion, for there
is hardly a trace of the Left remaining elsewhere in the
polity. The Maoism that permeated the political thinking of the intelligentsia in the 1960s, if not mainstream politics itself, today survives only in teashop
gossip of late-night Lahore.
Ironically enough, the decade-old history of
Maoism in Pakistan had very little to sustain, anyway.
Listening in to the conversation, one realises that even
the staunchest Maoists today accept that their analyses and politics "back then" were misconceived.
Romanticised Parallel
The paradox of Maoism's short-lived history on the
Indus plain is that it was born in the very womb ofthe
Pakistani state. The fountainhead of Maoism lay in the
establishment which it was out to eliminate. For,
instead of springing up among the masses lo fulfil an
ideological appetite or stemming frc— r~r£ rsophical
discourse, Maoism came to Pakistan s~ -*v because
the government had aligned itself with f.'-—;. in the
context of regional politics.
Against the backdrop of a gwwiHg relationship
between General Ayub Khan and the US administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. ~--^-~ Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto pushed throusb a dramatic
shift in the country's foreign policy in the early 1960s.
The Indo-China war of 1962 had aires"." brought
Pakistan and China close as both had a common
enemy in the region. But. it was the 19-55 fado-Pak
war which actually paved the way for a strong alignment between the two adversaries of India.
This also laid the groundwork for Maoism in a
country where, since its conception in 1947. communists had been the state's first target. As Imtiaz Alam,
a former Maoist leader who later developed differences and formed his own Punjab -.-.-, puts it,
"The state level friendship between China and Pakistan certainly provided an overall psyche logical atmosphere and it did play a very important role in the
development of Maoism." But, he adds. There were
other iactors as well."
Beyond the state-level friendship with China,
Maoism's growth can be attributed to the much
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
romanticised parallel that the Pakistani communists
drew between their society and that of the Chinese.
Says Mr Alam, "It was intellectually stimulating to
deviate from the Russian line and explore the Chinese
model since it apparently had some similarities with
our conditions. The Chinese way of revolution attracted a lot of intellectuals here because Pakistan was
also an agriculture-based society. Also, by the
mid-1960s, cracks in the USSR model were already
visible. The emergence of a strong bureaucracy disillusioned some of our young communist leaders."
However, the romanticised parallel proved quite
incorrect. "In this thesis we were basically confusing
China's semi-colonial experience with Pakistan's
neo-colonial experience," says Khalid Mehmud, onetime Maoist who later left the party.
Whatever the intricacies ofthe Maoist debate at
that time, the fact remained that the Communist Party
of Pakistan, banned in 1952, discovered the environment suddenly conducive to its activities in the
1960s. After the 1965 war, Pakistan was flooded with
Mao badges and caps along with bundles of red
books. The small underground communist groups
were only too happy to use the cover provided by the
Sino-Pak friendship to take the message of Mao
Zedong to the masses.
The communists of West Pakistan wdio, in the
wake of the official ban, had joined the obscure
centre-right Azad Party, resurfaced to form the National Awami Party (NAP). Immediately, a debate
began within the NAP over the Moscow-Peking split.
As was the case in every other South Asian country
with a communist movement worth the name, the
parly broke up into two groups. One was led by
Abdul Hameed Khan Bhashani, who preferred to go
the Chinese way, and the other by Khan Abdul Wali
Khan, who found it difficult to severe ties with the
Russians who were support ing him from neighbounng
Provincial Communists
Those who advocated nap's alignment with Peking
sought to take advantage of the popularity of China
for its support m the 1965 war. They thought this
would help the NAP enlarge its support base without,
developing direct antagonisms in a sociely not quite
responsive lo left-wing politics. In opposition to the
pro-Peking Maoists was the Russian school, which
based its arguments on a somewhat stronger footing.
The Russian experience had relevance for Pakistan, said this faction, because the Soviets put an
emphasis on population diversity within their country. This was not a problem that had to be addressed
seriously by the Chinese, given their largely homogeneous population. Thus, the Chinese model failed to
take the "national question" of Pakistan into account,
meaning the tackling of provincial aspirations, and
merely emphasised the unitary integrity of the Pakistani state as a regional ally of China.
Because Maoism did not offer much guidance on
the question of ethnic identities, the leftist groups
from the smaller provinces tended to become disenchanted with the Peking model. They preferred to
stick to the pro-Russian Wali Khan, who laid special
emphasis on the national question and the rights of
the smaller provinces. Leading left-wing nationalist
leaders such as Ghous Bux Bazinjo, Khair Bux Mani
and Sardar Atta Ullah Mengal from Balochistan and
Hakim Ali Zardari fromSindh supported Wali Khan,
who himself belonged to the Frontier Province.
"In a country where diversity is still a fact, it was
a blunder to ignore it," recalls Khalid Mehmud.
Maoism, therefore, paid its price, as is clear from the
fact that it only made limited progress in the province
of Punjab and in the metropolis of Karachi - both
were areas where nationalism has never been an issue
since they always retained lhe lion's share of power in
the Pakistani stale.
Thus, the Maoists positioned themselves incongruously with the bigger nationality groups, in
Punjab and Karachi, even though their ideology
should have put them with the smaller, more oppressed, nationalities.
Debates Within
Even when given the opportunity to chart out their
own course, the Maoists of Pakistan were found
wanting. In 1970, Abdul Hameed Khan Bhashani,
who was leading the Chinese group and was one of
the few Maoists with a strong support base in his
hometown in East Pakistan, was kicked out of West
Pakistan by the governor-general, Musa Khan.
Strangely enough, upon returning to the East, Bhashani
chose to support Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami
League rather ihan contest elections with his own
party. Many of Bhashani's old colleagues still find this
decision extremely strange, for he seemed to have
missed an opportunity of posing a credible challenge
to lhe Awami League.
Back in West Pakistan, many of Bhashani's comrades took a similarly curious decision when they
joined Zulfiqar All Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party
(PPP), which had by then managed to mobilise a mass
movement against Ayub Khan's martial law regime.
The Left hoped to use the ppp's mass platform, and'
thought it strategically wise to work with the man
who had been the architect of the China-lilt of the
Pakistani government. The list of those joining the PPP
at that time included the names of leading Maoists
such as MalikMeraj Khalid, TufailAbbas and Zareena
Rana. Today's human rights crusader Mubashir
Hassan, at whose residence the PPP was actually
formed, was himself known for his inclination towards Maoism.
By 1977, most ofthe Maoists who had joined the
PPP with the hope of using it as a mass platform for
radical change had lost their grip on party affairs.
Tired and disillusioned, many of the leading Maoists
found some comfort in the increasingly popular
Frankfurt School, with its emphasis on sociology and
culture in political thought. Choosing to lower their
sights from mass-based national politics, the Maoists
began to fonn small groups whose interests turned
more towards culture, language and local economic
issues. Essentially, these Maoists had decided to do
away with their past.
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
The largest and most active of such groups was
the Punjab Lok Party, which had Imtiaz Alam, Zubair
Rana and Lakhi Pasha now advocating change of lhe
system from within. Perhaps the biggest contribution
of Punjab Lok Party, in its brief flicker from 1978 to
1984, was to put aside borrowed Marxist jargon and
seek answers in the study of local social realities and
economic requirements. It was also this group which
initiated a debate on change from within after a
thorough self-criticism of the Left's history.
While some Maoists found a niche for themselves in the state order, the indecisive ones were
swept away by the Afghan revolution and lhe subsequent rise of Soviet influence in Pakistan. The 1980s
proved a barren decade for Maoism. Those who had
joined the PPP faced extreme repression under General Ziaul Haq, while those who had stayed pure were
completely sidelined by the onslaught of Russian
Back at the Anarkali tea-shops today, there is a
consensus which eluded Maoists in the past. To
paraphrase what these tired fighters have to say, "We
never really tried to develop something from our own
culture and land. Most of the time our politics and
thought were determined by events outside of our
culture. And that's why we could never get anywhere
in this country." !y
M. Zaidi reports for The News in Pakistan.
The (North)East
Is Red
"Mao and Chou En-lai were great leaders. Your Nehru was not."
by Subhir Bhaumih.
The year was 1966. The Cultural Revolution
was at its peak, and both the Naxalbari uprising as well as the great offensive by the Burmese Communist Party were still a year away, when
Thuingaleng Muivah and Thinoselie Medom Keyho
of the Naga National Council (nnc) led 300 Naga
rebel fighters to China for weapons and training.
While the rebel rank and file learnt lhe rudiments of guerrilla warfare, the Chinese put Muivah
and Thinoselie through an intensive course in "Ideology" and "People's Warfare" at the College of
Diplomacy, Beijing, where dozens of foreign revolutionary leaders underwent ideological orientation at
that time.
The instructors at the elite college soon enough
recognised which of the two Naga rebel chieftains was
more receptive to "Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tse
Tung Thought". More than 20 years later al Oxford,
Li Feiyu, a teacher at the College of Diplomacy
recalled, "Thinoselie was a soldier. His interest in
politics was very limited, while Muivah was very
Within a year, Thinoselie returned to fight the
Indian army in the Naga Hills, where a separatist
campaign has raged for more than 40 years now. But
Muivah stayed on until he had thoroughly imbibed
"Mao Tse Tung Thought". He now leads the National
Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN, the strongest
of the Naga rebel factions, while Thinoselie has
remained with the nearly-defunct NNC. Speaking to
this writer at his rebel base last year, Muivah said,
"Mao and Chou En-lai were great leaders. Your
Nehru was not. One must follow their revolutionary
Muivah remains convinced that "China is the
only hope for revolutionaries", although he is somewhat defensive while talking about the withdrawal of
Chinese support to revolutionary movements across
Asia and the growing ties between Beijing and even
military dictatorships such as the one in Burma. "This
may be a temporary phase," he explains.
Whether Muivah is right or wrong, the fact
remains that a whole generation of leaders of Northeast India's ethnic separatist movements still live in
the shadow of China, even though today it is a Big
Power rather than the epicentre of revolution. Says
Paresh Barua, commander-in-chief of the separatist
United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), "Mao's texts
are basic readings for any revolutionary."
Unlike Muivah, Barua has never been to China,
It is a reflection of China's geopolitical interests
that its involvement with Indian revolutionary groups
has been limited to the Northeast. Beijing has never
been too keen on supporting Indian communist
groups like the CPI (M-L), despite their avowedly pro-
Maoist outlook. Even in the case of the "Spring
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
 Thunder of Naxalbari" the Chinese only expressed
moral and political support for the movement. On the
other hand, between 1966 and 1976, they trained
and armed at least nine batches of Naga, Mizo and
Manipuri rebels, about 1200 men in all. The Nagas
and the Mizos were trained in large groups of 200 to
300 guerrillas, the Manipuris in small batches of
around 20 each.
Says one Indian intelligence official who brought
about the surrender of a whole group oi China-
returned Mizo fighters: "The Chinese realised belore
long that most of the Naga and Mizo rebels they
trained were not interested in ideology. They found
out that training a Muivah was not enough. So they
started creating nuclei of pro-Maoist movements and
the 17 Meitei Ojhas was the first experiment."
Manipur's rebel People's Liberation Army (PLA)
grew up around the core of this group of Meitei
(valley-dwelling Hindu Manipuris) Ojhas ('pioneers'
in Manipuri). Beijing provided them with guerilla
warfare training but did not provide arms, saying that
Mao Thought was the best weapon. The PLA proved
adept at increasing their support base while resorting
to weapon snatching for arming their cadres. Almost
an entire guerrilla army was created with looted arms.
The leaders of the PLA continue to regard Mao as
a cult figure of revolution. "The Chinese were dismayed with the Nagas and Mizos, as they were with
the Kachins in Burma later. They wanted a more
ideologically committed group, which they found in
the Manipuri PLA leaders," says R. Sanjouba, Manipur's
leading political analyst.
The pla was, however, the last of the Northeast
guerrilla groups to be trained by the Chinese in the
1970s, lor as relations between New Delhi and Beijing
began to improve, the latter discontinued support for
the revolutionaries ofthe Northeast.
What most restricted the appeal of Maoism in the
Northeast hills was the absence of a clear class cleavage in the region. Added to thai was the influence of
the Church on Naga and Mizo
politics, and its opposition to
Maoist ideals. As a result,
Maoism never got to seep too
deep into already powerful
politics of ethnic separatism
in Northeast India. The
Naxalites from further west
did not find much of a base
here, and their influence was
limited to pockets such as in
the Karbi Anglong hills of
Assam where they penetrated
the local autonomy
Most leaders of these
separatist or autonomy movements were happy simply to
use the Maoist tactics of guerrilla warfare while generally
ignoring its political ideology.
The Mizo National Front
pointedly refused to use Maoist rhetoric even though
hundreds of its guerrillas were trained in China.
Asked why the NSCN or other rebel groups did
not organise along Marxist-Leninist lines, Muivah
says, "Ours is primarily a struggle on the nationality
question. We are not Indians but have been forced to
become one, and our main contradiction lies with
Delhi, not amongst ourselves, Marxism-Leninism
and Mao Thought should be carefully applied, with
local conditions in mind."
Maoism is no longer even what it used to be in the
Northeast. Said Bisheswar Singh, the founder of the
Manipur PLA, just before his death, "China was a great
inspiration to us, and Mao still is. But ihere is a limit
to his appeal now." lb
S. Bhaumih is BBC correspondent for eastern India;
Thuingaleng Muivah
Bridge Building at Local Level (BBLL) an HMG/N and Helvetas/N initiated program is inviting expatriate applications for the post of a
Generalist with Civil Engineering and Management/Planning Background
Essential qualifications:
- at least five years experience in a senior position in the field of development work, preferably in rural construction
- strong ability and experience in imparting technical tasks to rural communities, by understanding their perception and cognition capabilities
and by developing appropriate technical solutions fitting for the rural Nepalese environment
- excellent writing, documentation and communication skills in English (preferably also in Nepali), including interpersonal skills
- Master's degree in civil engineering or equivalent further education in planning and management preferred
- capable of working in a team and independently, aptitude to handle conflicts effectively, but also to assume responsibility and spare no
efforts to make plans and visions achievable
- good sense for strategic planning and conceptual work.
Interested persons with international experience should apply for this expatriate category post with brief CV, references, handwritten application and photo to:
BBLUHelvetas, Program Coordinator, GPO Box 688, Kathmandu, Nepal
i helvetas Nepal ►
Bridge Building at the Local Level Swiss Association for International Cooperation
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
(976: Mao is dead,
long live Mao.
by Peter Limqueco
he French Revolution did not need an ideology. Recent uprisings in Mexico and Peru have
shown that oppressed people rising up against
their tormentors do not necessarily need to call themselves Marxist-Leninists or Maoists.
If poverty, oppression and government neglect
gets unbearable, the people have a choice either to
take up arms or to move elsewhere. It is more likely
that they will take up arms because usually such
people have nowhere to go. Ruling elites who have no
concerns for social justice and equity, driven as they
are only by greed and the quest for power, should not
be surprised when peasants, workers and ordinal")'
people decide enough is enough. And the banners
need not be red, they can be green or blue or pink.
However, it is also a fact that such outbursts
usually cannot rise from the district or regional to
national level without the underpinnings a doctrinal
base. An ideology of national scope, however, must
be scientific enough. And it may be of the left or the
right. Let us not forget that it is not the monopoly of
the left to be a progressive force. The period of history
when the left had the exclusive role of trying to
transform sociely in a progressive way has passed,
partly because of what has happened in those countries that called themselves communist. There are
movements from the right which have been progressive as well, such as the Portuguese colonels' coup in
1975 which toppled the fascist dictatorship of Salazar
and unleashed political and economic reforms.
China and Asia
In the past 500 years, there have perhaps been only
two persons who have managed to captivate a worldwide audience with what they wrote: Adam Smith
and his Wealth of Nations in 1776 and Karl Marx a
hundred years later with DasKapita!. The world today
still revolves around these two men. Each created an
ideology, a school of thought, and a method of
analysing society. What the founder wants and what
the follower makes of it are, however, two different
things. The followers tend to transform an ideology
into religion, irrespective of the founder's intention.
A lookback at the rise and spread of Maoism in
this century has to start with an understanding of the
impact of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. When
the Soviet uprising triumphed in the second decade
of this century, there was a big debate about whether
the revolution would spread to the developed world
first before catching on in the'backward' countries. At
that time, delegates from China, India and Japan
questioned the assumptions ofthe Communist International and argued forcefully that the peasantry was
very much a revolutionary force.
When the Chinese revolution started in the
1930s, Mao Zedong was trying to chart his own path
to revolution, one which was quite different from the
Bolsheviks'. The Russian revolution took place in
Petrograd and in Moscow, very much the result of an
urban working class revolt. Mao and his associates
knew that the Chinese experience had to be quite
However, to their ultimate distress, the communist movements, of the developing world tended to
structure themselves according to the colonial pecking order. So, the Indonesian communists essentially
answered to the Communist Party in Holland, which
in turn answered to Moscow. In the Philippines, the
Communist Party took its cue from the US Communist Party which likewise looked to Moscow. It was
not much different in the Subcontinent.
But it was different with the Chinese, Even before
the triumph of their own revolution, the Chinese
communists had started organising overseas Chinese
in Southeast Asia: trade unions in Thailand, ethnic
Chinese working class in Singapore and Malaysia,
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
without Democracy
without Revolution
and to a lesser extent ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and
the Philippines. The leadership in Thailand's Communist Party was always of ethnic Chinese composition. Wang Hongwen, the youngest member of the
infamous Gang of Four, was actually bom in Thailand
to Chinese parents.
Perhaps the only other country besides China
where Maoism actually ruled for a while was in
Cambodia. The Cambodian Communist Party under
Pol Pot (see page 37) started to distance itself from
Vietnam even while they were jointly fighting the
Americans in the early 1970s. When they entered
Phnom Penh in 1975, the Khmer Rouge started its
experiment with a Cambodian version of Maoism.
The result was what has come to be known as the
Cambodian holocaust, which shocked even the supporters of Cambodian communism.
Earlier, Cambodian Maoists had also been working with Thai communists, launching joint operations against villages inside Thailand. But the Thai
comrades were shocked by the zeal of the Cambodians who proceeded to shoot villagers riding motorcycles thinking that if they could afford the machines,
they must be class enemies.
Uncle Ho vs Uncle Sam
In Vietnam, things took a different turn because the
country had its own communist visionary, Ho Chi
Minh. But even so, the Chinese had a strong influence
on Vietnam, and Vietnamese communists used southern China as a refuge. In the Philippines, the small
Chinese communist branch helped train guerrillas to
first fight the Japanese and later local feudal landlords. In what was then Malaya, the Communist Party
was run by the Chinese branch.
That was the setting when the Vietnam. War
escalated in the mid-1960s and China itself was going
through the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. The
main slogan of the Red Guards was that US imperialism was a "paper tiger" and that armed struggle was
the only way to fight it. And they were happy to let the
Vietnamese do the fighting. But when the Pans peace
talks began, the Chinese Communist officialdom was
unhappy that the Vietnamese were negotiating peace
with Uncle Sam - it was contrary to the concept of
valiantly defeating imperialism in the battlefield.
The Vietnamese, always fiercely independent,
argued that they had a two-track policy: in the battle-
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
field, fight, in the conference room, talk. The Chinese
■ were displeased and the Vietnamese were puzzled:
here they were fighting imperialism and they were
being accused of revisionism! As the Vietnamese
Communist Party started pursuing a more independent line, the country was automatically pushed into
the Soviet camp.
To a large measure, therefore, the spread of
Maoism in Asia was dictated by efforts to export the
Cultural Revolution and Cold War geopolitics. The
Red Guards orchestrated riots in Hong Kong as an
attack British and Portuguese imperialism, and smaller
demonstrations were organised in Burma by ethnic
Chinese. The Communist Parly of Indonesia (PKI) was
the largest communist party after the Soviet and the
Chinese parties, and was pro-Chinese in the fight
against the Soviet wing. Interestingly, despite its
Maoist leanings, the PKI never advocated armed
struggle to seize power. And that may be why they
were wiped out in military-backed pogroms in which
a million people were killed in 1965.
The Sino-Soviet split had repercussions on communist, movements all around the world. This falling
out of two fraternal nations was repeated within the
communist parties of almost every country which
had a communist party, with pro-China and pro-Soviet
factions emerging in almost pre-determined fashion.
In hindsight, we can see that this split postponed real
Police dead in Maoist action,
Gaya, central Miar.
Image taken from Oppression
and Reaction, a publication of
Madhya Pradesh Maoists.
revolutions within the countries of Asia, as the communists busied themselves defending China or the
Soviet Union instead of doing their own homework.
There was a fragmenting of the communist movement Asiawide.
Mao and Maoists
There is no doubt that Mao Zedong was a true
revolutionary. But one must, separate Mao Zedong
from the people who today call themselves Maoists.
One thing that revolutionaries worldwide have taken
most seriously about Maoism is the famous dictum
included m the Red Book: "Political power comes out
of the barrel of a gun." When you carry around a
phrase like that it soon transforms itself into a religious credo, a mantra for violence. However, although violence has been used by political movements of both the left and right, the political violence
of the left has usually tried to be clear about its role:
the target has to be a class enemy, and political
violence has to have a political end.
But in many revolutionary situations, violence
has degenerated into a fetish; it has become an end in
itself, and hurts the very people who are to be saved.
In the Philippines, for instance, Maoists would shoot
ordinary traffic policemen on the streets, unmindful
of the fact that he was just a working class cop doing
his job of regulating traffic. There was the expected
backlash from the public as, far removed from political ends these so-called revolutionaries began to
show their colours as mere criminals and killers.
Purges within some Maoist parties have been more
ruthless, brutal and arbitrary than even the violence
against class enemies.
Today's political parties of the left will have to be
independent. That is the first condition. They cannot
take orders any more from any one, not Moscow, not
Beijing, not Havana, not Pyongyang. Of course, the
parties will have to take into account international
factors such as globalisation and interlinked
cross-border issues, but their concentration must be
on redeeming situations within their own countries
and populations.
What remains of Maoism in the globalised world
is a mixed bag. China itself has more or less abandoned Maoism. The Great Helmsman is in his mausoleum and that is about the only relic left. There are
a handful of countries where there is still active
Maoism. In Peru, the Sendero Luminoso has been
decimated after their violence became too indiscriminate, leading to a reaction by alienated peasants.
In the Philippines, the Maoist groups have split
and the Chinese don't even bother with the remnants
that call themselves Maoist. The majority of those
who split away think that the objective conditions are
not the same and the system is no longer feudal but an
underdeveloped capitalist mode of production. In
Sri Lanka, what you'd call real Maoism was finished
off a long time ago when the first JVP uprising
was crushed in 1971, ironically, with Chinese
military help for the Bandaranike government.
The second uprising in 1988 was essentially a
violent grab for power that tried to ride the crest
of a popular anti-Indian sentiment.
In India, the Naxalite movement had its supporters in some parts of the country and was building up
some momentum before it was crushed, but India is
so vast that the impact of Naxalites was to a certain
extent exaggerated by the media and there was never
really much danger to the state. Today, the People's
War movement in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar are
either escalations of caste violence as each side tries to
take revenge for a previous massacre with an even
bigger atrocity, or it is a limited uprising against the
state security apparatus, which has become the symbol of local oppression.
In Sri Lanka, Nepal or India, the legal process is
still an option and the avenues for parliamentary
struggle are still open. It may be a very distorted
parliamentary system, but it represents a way to come
to power through the ballot rather than the bullet.
For any serious political movement ofthe left of
today, the lessons of history are quite clear. First, we
may draw lessons from the Bolshevik, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions but we cannot duplicate any of them. Each revolution has its own cultural,
historical and economic context. The second lesson
of this century's experience with communism is that
there is no revolution without democracy and there is
no democracy without revolution.
Maoists have long known how difficult it is to
convince a peasant to take up arms. Because he has to
leave his family, his land and his crops in the field,
grab a gun and fight. If you cannot even convince a
person to vote for you, it is more difficult to convince
him to come fight for you. The realistic path for the
left is to embark on a long process of education not
only of their own people but also of society at large.
To begin with, rather than raise the gun, communist
movements must work to understand the nature oi
their national societies. The overall heightened level
of consciousness can then be used for political
mobilisation. Trigger-happy Maoism will not serve
the people, not in Nepal, Vietnam or the Philippines.
P. Limqueco was till recently former senior editor ofthe
Asia Times in Bangkok and is now editor of the Journal
of Contemporary Asia.
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
Cambodia's Maoists
Outdid Mao
by Satya Sivaraman
In late July this year, international television
networks flashed pictures of a sensational 'show
trial' of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot being conducted by his
own mutinous troops. As the world watched, his former comrades in arms denounced Pol Pot, now old and frail, accusing him
of treason. He was sentenced to lifelong house arrest.
It was easily the kindest 'punishment' ever meted out to
anybody in tbe nearly five-decade-long history of the extremist
group, notorious for its barbaric methods of executing both
enemies and old friends. Many observers suspect that the entire
trial, willingly lapped up by the international media, was a farce
- probably the brainchild of Pol Pot himself and meant to assist
the Khmer Rouge in its efforts to re-enter mainstream Cambodian
politics. By publicly distancing themselves from their leader, who
led the Khmer Rouge's geno
cidal   spree   in   the
mid-seventies,     the
group stands a better
chance of being accepted back into the
fold by  ordinary
Cambodian citizens.
Over two decades ago, in 1975,
when the Khmer
Rouge came to
powerby routing US
troops during the
Indochina war,
many within war
weary Cambodia welcomed them as harbingers of peace and
stability. Their hopes were dashed bizarrely when the Khmer
Rouge launched a programme of abolishing cities, executing
intellectuals (often identified as such because they wore spectacles), and turning the country into one large agrarian commune.
In the words attributed to one of the Khmer Rouge leaders at
that time, Pol Pot's attempt was to "outdo even Comrade Mao".
The results were horrendous, as tens of thousands of urban
Cambodians perished in the countryside due to starvation, hard
labour and-torture. In its last days, before a group of Khmer Rouge
defectors backed by Vietnamese troops overthrew it, the Pol Pot
regime executed hundreds of its own cadre suspected of turning
against the leadership.
Though the media popularly likes to call the Khmer Rouge
'communist' or even 'Maoist', the group's ideology (if one can call
it that) was in a league of its own. Though initially part of the larger
Indochina Communist Party under the leadership of Ho Chi
Minh during the 1940s and 1950s, the Khmer Rouge broke away
accusing the Vietnamese of promoting their own interests over
Cambodian concerns. In the 1960s, the group did move closer to
Mao's China, where it found patronage and even ideological
inspiration, but under Pol Pot's leadership the Khmer Rouge
developed a dubious ideology ot extreme nationalism (particularly anti-Vietnamese), combined with Utopian ideas of forming
a moneyless, cityless and ideologically pure peasant society.
Though a self-proclaimed champion ofthe peasantry and
responsible for the killings of thousands of 'bourgeois' intellectuals, Pol Pot, whose real name is Saloth Sar, himself never did
a day's work on the farm. He was a failed student of radio
engineering in Pans during the early 1950s.
Historians argue that what really brought Pol Pot and his
bunch of fanatic nationalists to power was the infamous bombing
of the Cambodian countryside by the US air force claiming to be
attacking Vietnamese troops in the area. Between February and
August 1973, US B-52
bombers and other aircraft dropped over
250,000 tonnes of
bombs on Cambodia,
estimated to be 50
percent more than the
total tonnage
dropped on Japan
during the Second
World War, including the two atom
"That is what really drove the Cambodian peasantry into the
arms of the Khmer Rouge, which was only a marginal force in
Cambodian politics at that time," says a senior official in the
Cambodian foreign ministry, who himself served in the Khmer
Rouge two decades ago, Ironically, it is the United States which
is now heading the international chorus for an international
tribunal to try Pol Pot for crimes against humanity.
On the other hand, some Maoist groups in South Asia tend
to dismiss all criticism of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as the
result of Western propaganda. While it is true that the global
media seldom mentions the responsibility of Western governments, and the United States in particular, for the genocide and
tragic civil war in Cambodia, there is no denying that the Khmer
Rouge leadership was so blinded by its Utopian ideology that it
chose to eliminate thousands of people rather than accept that its
ideas were wrong or inadequate.
Mao Zedong said, "Revolution is not a tea party." Sure, but
revolution should not be a slaughterhouse either. [i,
S. Sivaraman is a journalist and filmmaker presently based in C7i mug
Mai in Thailand.
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
$' r  i e f
AFTER THREE decades of television in
India, women have finally begun to enter
the production arena in a big way. They are '.
no longer just pretty faces on screen, for
today Indian women are involved in every
department of television production: in
directing and producing shows, handling
cameras, designingsettings, script-writing,
coordinating, you name it.
Partly, this has been helped by the
unshackling of the television medium and
the nse of innovativesatellite and terrestrial
companies. Natasha Badhwar has been with
New Delhi Television for over two years
now. She says, "In all honesty it never
occurred to me that 1 was taking up a
profession which was considered a male
domain. It was something I found challenging and adventurous and I didn't think
particularly that professions may be
'marked1 by gender."
Ms Badhwar chose camera-work because she loves the outdoors and was excited about putting together what she saw
in a news or feature capsule. The first year
was not wnbhout tension, however, because
ofthe attitude of her male colleagues. "I'm
sure some of it was due to the fact that I was
a young girl being entrusted with a big
responsibility," she says. "I used to feel
alienated among the team of eleven male
colleagues, but now 1 understand them."
There are limits to Ms Badhwar's expectations of her job, however. She says,
"Working ten hours a day and having to
travel at short notice seems nice only because. I'm 26 now. 1 can't imagine how
people balance such working hours with a
family. The job's far from glamorous. "
Meghajoshi, too, found it hard to gain
acceptance as a freelance art director before
ultimately establishing herself in the trade.
Says she, referring to male colleagues, "One
has to learn to relate to them and il possible
even share a smoke. One has to slowly earn
mutual respect so that they don't dismiss
you 'as a woman'."
Describing her work, Ms Joshi says,
"It's not easy work. It's messy work, involving mud, paint, cement. But the money is
good - from thirty thousand mpees to
anything above, depending on the complexity of the design," says Ms Joshi.
Traditionally, men have been preferred
in production since it involves odd hours
and running around. The gender preference, however, is shifting. Says PC. Lahiri,
Vice-President at Zee Telefilms, "When we
recruit, the emphasis is not on gender but
the freshness of the mind. We are looking
for those who are adaptable, enthusiastic,
alert and eager to grow-."
Not so, according to Saba Diwan. Due
to in-built social bias, she says, "Women
are not really encouraged to go into the
technical aspects of TV production." An
established film-maker, Ms Diwan finds it
amusing that such bias extends even to the
equipment. Handling a camera is considered arduous work and is still associated
with men.
But women have begun to brave it out
in the men's world of video film production, and what Ms Diwan calls "small humiliations" on the job are on the way out. If
things are already changing in television
production, perhaps it is management's
turn next.
- Roop Mallik (Women's Feature Service)
No to
"WE DON'T want Molsutus here", says
an editorial in The Sunday Times of
Colombo, responding to a speech made
by President Chandrika Kumaratunga
in which she suggested that South Korea and Malaysia have been able to
develop due to authoritarian rule. Of
sutficient interest, we excerpt the editorial in extensio:
The President's open espousal of
authoritarianism as a spur to economic development smacks strangely
of the late President Jayawardane's
vision for Sri Lanka. Having had a
taste ofjR's Executive Presidency and
yet lambasting JR's dictatorial style
Shptesvber/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
 B r
f *
Fast Track Ener gy
LET; THERE be light. But there wasn't.
Alas, it was realised, for there to be light
there must be power. So it was sought from
near and far, and forward they cairie with
promise of power.
AsJ advancing technology and development take a hold: of Bangladesh, the
country begins to feel the thirst for electricity. Already, there is a 1400 MW power
deficit nationwide, and various parts are
facing brownouts every day. Man-hours
are lost, industrial productivity plummets.
To respond to the growing crisis, the
previous government oi Khaleda Zia's
Bangladesh Nationalist Party opened :. up ;
the power sector for private investment.
Before long, multinational bidders homed
in: Threeyears and a Change of government
later, the first two private power, sector
deals have been signed.
; .Enron International & Associates, having already made some sparks fly m
Maharastra and Nepal, signed the first agree- *
merit with the Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB) m the third week of May.
Under the agreement, Enron and its associ-,
ates^ Wartsila Dieseland the New England
Power Company ofthe US and Bangladesh's
Fortune Limited - will set up a 10Q.MW
barge-mounted power plant on a build—
'own-operatebasis at HaripurinSylhet, and-
begin to supply power to the national grid
.within 10 months: Under the agreement,'.
the .'government- will buy ail the.- power •
generated-for at. least 15; years: J     ""
. ■:: . This is the first private: power development venture by a consortium of international producers under ...the private power.
policy enunciatedby Begum Zia in October
1996. Enron says th'ati t will■ import. haph-
tha petroleum to drive the Haripur power
J plant "initially but will'switch to Bangla.'
natural gas by the end of i 998 to., reduce '
generation costs, A FDB spokesperson said
that of the! 5 companies that h ad responded,
to the tender call for three barge-mounted.
power plants, Enron Is bid. was' the. most'.
"competent"."        " " '       : ■•   :
Enron will su pply power at BDT 2.45.
■per KW4iour:(USD 0.0 6) ft which compares'
favourably With PDB's mi-based generation-
costs of over-BDT 4 perKW-hour,(USD
0.09). The government has opted for barge-
mounted'-power units because of quicker
■ setup ■ possible and what is "called, "power-
augmentation ; transferability" by the
experts-:   ■ ■ , I ,, " ' "
■ Enron's 10-rrionth countdown started-
in June. As per the agreement, the government will absorb, any loss incurred from
delays that are due to political or social
disturbances beyond the control.. of ihe
■■ private developers. On the other' hand,
. the' foreign associates "will have to pay damages if they fail to fulfil their contractual
■ obligations,   '     ■        - , ..  ■
• , ' Enron has provided a USD 10 million
bank security which the government can
'■ encash if.the developers fail to honour the
agreement.- Initially, the' developers.J will
■ mobdise their funds .through commercial
■ credit but they will also have the option, fp
tap the local capital market.
- Meanwhile, another' agreement has
been signed for a 100 MW power plant for
- Sitakunda, Chittagong, with Smith Cogeri-
erations, and. negotiations are underway
for a third' 100 MW power plant, to be
based in-Khuliia. Both contracts, will use
the 15-year Enron agreement as a model.
'. Beyond these projects, the -government.
plans to setup two more plants,-one a -300-
450 MW plant at. Meghila Ghat and another
. a; 200 MW-plant at Haripur. , ...
The 'fast-track approach' in closing the
deals on- the.-first two plants has been impressive, for the negotiations began only in
■April, at"the initiative;;of the Ministry of
Energyand Mineral-Resources. While some
might worry about the hurry, one thing is .
clear; those who want to avoid load-shed- '
ding: in the years'ahead, head for Dhaka.   .
I "     : * • ,   . ' - Taldt Karnctl'
President Kumaratunga appears to be
paradoxically haunted by the late President Jayawardane's ghost.
It was Felix Dias Bandaranaike, then the
elder Ms Bandaranaike's super-minister,
who once said "a little bit of totalitarianism" was a good thing. Al least he spoke his
mind. But what the people of Sri Lanka
went th rough only those who lived through
those times will know.
Are we right in seeing in President
Kumaratunga's comments the beginning
of a new vision of her own veering into what
we can only assume is a shift into a dictatorial mode? Dictatorships may throw up
some good economics but let us not forget
the darker side to their shimmering faces.
Aren't we seeing what is happening in
South Korea today, with two ex-presidents
in jail for cormplion?
Does our President want to emulate such
a corrupt system? Set against the jew examples she perhaps dreams of, there are
several others which have bubbled up from
time to time where dictators have transformed themselves into petty kings while
the people under them lived like beggars. If
she tunes in to CNN or Sky News television
she will see what is happening to a despot
like Mobutu inZaire (now again Congo), a
man who bled the country dry before finally having to run away from his palaces
at home.
There are many other dictators of the
Mobutu-kind who have unleashed untohf
suffering and damage. Let President
Kumaratunga take a lessonfromsuch happenings and quickly erase from her mind
any thought she may harbour of moving
away from the democratic path, ivhatever
its shortcomings - stepping away into an
abyss of no return.
History may judge her in whatever
way she deserves - that is yet a matter
to be seen. But let her not be judged
as a despot.
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
Pakistan Flip-Flop
THE UN Security Council is all set to he
expanded, which leaves Pakistan's foreign
policy managers in a bind. The United
States has given what seems to be a nod to
the inclusion of India as a permanent member in the Council, and this is being viewed
as a nightmare for Pakistani foreign policy.
The whole fabric of geo-political realities in
the South Asian region would be disturbed.
India, in the Pakistani view, remains a
flagrant violator of Secunty Council's own
resolutions on Kashmir.
The US announcement to enlarge the
Council with Germany, Japan and one
member state each from Asia, Africa and
South America came in the wake of a meeting between the US chief delegate Bill
Richardson and the Indian Ambassador
Prakash Shah in New York on 15 July. A
deal is said to have been struck at that
meeting, with India having bartered its
signature on the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT) for a permanent seat. This has
complicated the issue for Islamabad because it has always made its own accession
to the CTBT or npt conditional on India's
own signature.
Commenting upon the US proposal,
Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) says that it
does not construe it as endorsement of
India's bid for a permanent station at the
Secunty Council round tahle. The FO
spokesman says, "As yet there is no consensus on the expansion in the category which
is regarded by NAM (the Non-Aligned Movement) as an anachronism. We share the
.'tew of the non-aligned states that proliferation of the centre of privileges is con-
::ift. ft   dtmocratisation."
Pakistan, he says, favours expansion
in the non-permanent category only, with
10 more members included by rotation on
a regional basis.
This, however, is only the latest presentation of a meandering policy. It is true
that Benazir Bhutto in an address to the
General Assembly once said that Pakistan
did not favour the induction of more permanent members into the Council. But a
few months later at an official banquet in
Tokyo, she reversed her stand and said
Pakistan would be happy to see Japan
occupying a permanent seat.
At the recent non-aligned summit in
Delhi, Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan
pleaded for the sovereign equality of nations in the United Nations, while back
home in the National Assembly he said he
favoured Japan and Germany becoming
permanent members. But then again, later,
the Foreign Minister chewed no words in
opposing the Indian bid for a Council seat.
Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed has
maintained a similar stance, and it is expected that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
will put up a big fight agatnst Indian inclusion when he addresses the forthcoming
session ofthe General Assembly in the fall.
Independent analysts m Pakistan say
that since different aspirant regions and
nations of the world will be involved in a
bruising battle to decide who has the better
claim to the regional permanent slots that
are to open, Pakistan should stand firmly
by the principles that all the 21 Council
members - or at least 16 of them barring
the present Permanent Five - ought to be
elected by the 185 member states. Any
betrayal ol this principle, they warn, would
consign the United Nations to the dustbin
of history a la the League of Nations.
The Islamabad analysts are olthe opinion that criticising India on Kashmir - the
mainstay of Pakistani diplomacy - will not
be enough to prevent India from achieving
its current objective. What, therefore, could
be Pakistan's bargaining chip?
If barter is the name ol the game, say
some, the answer may lie in recognition of
Israel by Pakistan. And strangely enough,
only last month the religious parties in
Pakistan started to discuss the merits and
demerits of recognising Israel. But will it be
enough to deny India the coveted chair at
the Security Council roundtable in New
York? Some think not.
- Nadeem Iqbal
Chicken vs Pizza
A COUPLE of years ago, an overseas
businessman was stunned to be escorted
by his local host to a Pizza Hut in Karachi.
The fast food eaten' is marketed in Pakistan as a place for fine cuisine. And with
prices to match, that is what it has become, at least lor many last-track executives and the younger set.
The dozens ol homegrown pizza
parlours of Karachi and Lahore arc being
given a run for their money by the multinational food franchise The tirst branch,
which openedin Karachi :■■ few years ago,
had Lahoris feeling left out But the franchise has spread out its corporate ten-
September/October  1997  HIMAL South Asia
$ r i e f
Bit of a Bother
with Brothers
prime ministers and scion, of Sri Lanka's
Bandaranaike dynasty, was celebrating 20
years as a parliamentarian. He organised
a lamasha for himself, and as we all
know none of these back-scratching, head-
patting events are complete without a.'
visiting VfP.. ,     ,'' - .; -
Anura: chose Benazir Bhutto:
Savour the scene. The politically ambitious son of an assassinated prime minister
(Anura's dad, Prime Minister swrd
Bandaranaike, was shot dead by a Buddhist
monk in 1959) inviting the very political
daughter of a judicially executed prime :
minister of a neighbouring country to be
chief guest at acelebration described by the
editor, of the government-controlled Sunday Observer as exhibiting "the political
manhood of Anura Bandaranaike".
The .parallels don't end there. Benazir
had a rival in her brother, Murtaza Bhutto.
Anura's is his sister, incumbent President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Chandrika's relations with her brother, who
for long regarded : himself as the natural
successor to tiie leadership of the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party (SLFP) dieir lather founded,
is as strained as Benazir's was with Murtaza.'
before hjs untimely death.
: Unlike the Bhutto, matriarch, Nusrat,
Sirima Bandaranaike, now 80 years old, is
sdll in the political slipstream. She holds
the formal position of prime minister in her
daughter's administration. She is also the
de jure leader ofthe SLFP, although she has
tacles since then, and today there are two
aforementioned huts in Karachi, and two in
Lahore, one of which is touted as "South
Asia's biggest Pizza Hut".
The rush when a new Hut opens in the
Pakistani cities makes one wonder if this is
the same country that is home to the venerable naan and tandoor. Lines stretch for
blocks, and the rush of customers forces
the traffic police to deploy extra cops.
But now the pizza novelty is fading,
and so are the crowds. They're rushing
across the street to Kentucky Fried, a more
recent entrant, and one that caters more to
local tastes, for less money. Pizza, after all,
does not excite the Pakistani taste buds
with the same energy as chicken. "Pizza is
R tp'i,..Mamma Sirifhol Baby Ahurq 'oocf Friend' Sfinazk.
thermg to
no real power under'a constitution which
has .the president head both the state and;
the government/As far as the SLFP is con--
d, Chandrika- is de
who calls all the shots, hardl)
' even. Consult her mother.
■ ..'Like Nusrat, Mrs Bandaranaike makes-
no secret of her partiality for her son, who
is. now a frontbencher of the ..United National Party (UNP):, which his father,quit to
"found the SLFP,when he judged he had no
future in the UNP, then led by Don Stephen
Senanayake.' - ,   ..''
." ■ Solomon" West Ridgeway' Dias
Bandaranaike, to give Anura'sfather his full
name; did not have to Wait long to realise
his ambition pf becoming'prime minister.-
In 1956, barely,six years afterhe had quit'
the UNPfthe was swept to poweron the crest.-
' of a wave of nationalism. Old intimates of
SWRD-say that he firmly believed Jus luck,
: changed when his'son,-Anu'raJ' was born..'
swrd enjoyed office for little "more
than three years beforehe was assassinated.
His widow, Sirima, unwillingly thrust into
politics, did much better serving two terms
from 1960-65 and, 1970-77 on the -throne.
before starting her third wallflower tenure
no more than a local naan with some
topping," says a young mother who swears
by Kentucky Fried.
Says an upcoming young architect,
"At Pizza Hut you have to eat with a knile
and fork, which is a drag." At KFC, its
hands-on,recallingits "finger lickim good"
campaign. With a branch each in Karachi
and Lahore, and more set to open, KFC is
clucking contentedly, ha ving pulled many
customers from the pizza shack over into
its coop.
All this would surely have made the
long-dead Colonel Sanders stroke his
goatee in merriment - or twirl his moustache, keeping in view the country he has
just colonised.
in-1994.'.." ... '.'.'
- 'Like Nusrat Bhutto ui Pakistan,: Sirima,
Bandaranaike-- .eventually' tilted- fox
Chandrika-as rivalry between son and
: daughter took its toll of.the'SLFP. Just as his
father had done before him, Anura read the-
\Vnting on the1 wall and quit -the SLFP to:
enter the' cabinet   of ..President  D.B: .
-Wijetunga at the tail-end of the .IMF's 1?
■yearsin power, which ended with thegen-
era I .elections of Au gu s t" 19.9^: Th e resulting
paradox is that he now sits in the' parlia- ■
: nient'ary--o.pp6sitiori while the party ,oI his •
■ father, 'mother and sister is iri -office after
nearly two the wilderness;
At her. Colombo
Benazir.dwelt mamly on the "trauma and
"tragedy" of her own life. -She/was asked
- what her advice'to Anura- Bandaranaike
was. Benazir's response. :the involvement of •
: outsiders -in family disputes always1 made
matters worse.- She would therefore.jpreffer-
"to keep out of the Bandaranaike squabble.
But one Sunday newspaper friendly to Anura.
did have her saying that-political families
should forget their differences' and,unite.
'. M aiiima Sinma would
see her son back" in the SLFP, a- fold he
departed on two occasions. So diddaugh-
- ter Chandrika on one occasion. Whether.;'
"the-matriarch,nowin-hertwilight-yearsbut -
■soldiering on despite, "many" infirmities,
would be able to do that in her lifetime
remains- to be seen. But -there, are some
punters -placing "their money on Anura.
Bandaranaike winning the leadership of
the opposition UNP, a position that eluded
their father.
Although neither Anura nor Chandrika-
attempt to hide their dislike for each other,
mother Sirima strives manfully to serve as
a buffer between her wrarring offsprings*
That perhaps explains why Chandrika was
invited for, the -grand finale-qf Anura's,"
twenty-years-in-Parliament celebration. -
The president politely told the organisers
that she would be out of the country at the
time- shoppmg:for-a college for daughter
Yasodhara in Bntain.
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
$: r: i * /
Bitter Twist
of Arse n ic
thickened skin on the palms and the feet
that later crack open and bleed. Soon, an
unshakable fatigue sets in. Some people
suffer headaches, chest pain and stomach
cramps. Some, like Anil Chandra Das, a.
once-hearty 50-year-old Bangladeshi farmer
and merchant, lose theirhearing:
"We would try talking to him but he
wouldn't, answer," recalls daughter 11a Rani
Das, 16. "He just lay in bed all day and we
looked into his eyes. Then one day he
didn't open his eyes anymore. We all began
to cry."
There has been a lot of crying recently
in Naopara, a small, banyan-'
shaded village that has be-
\^J[\ come the, epicentre of
h   Bangladesh's   latest
il       natural disaster. This
: il
velopmerit is a shock:'" - :~ -   ., 'J  J',
-■"This is. not a. minor'problem,"^
Bangladesh's Health" Minister Salahudd-jn-.
- Yusuf declared during an interview last
year,in whichhea'dmiited-.thaf I5 million
compatriots might be- at. risk from drinking
„' tainted water. Perhaps exhibiting" the'gov--
- ernnaents attitude towards the growing cri-.
sis, the minister then added, "But it is not ■
■■ such a majorproblem either."     - ■■ - . ,
The real magnitude of arsenosis will
^ unfold only slowly, according to doctors.
: The''concentrations oi arsenic found m
hundreds of Bangladeshi-well's - the worst
'» contain 2QQ times the maxintum limit set
''   by the World Health Organisation-do not
kill outright. J Instead, a buildup of the
\   : lethal chemical over months or years
\   causes'a'wide array of-mcreasingly de-
bilitating diseases, from "cancer it
\    raldisord
v. nrS>\
time around, though, the trouble is
not dropping from the Bay of ;"
Bengal's cyclone-churned skies, but .
gurgles instead from the depths of
the fertile Ganga delta itself. Wells in
Naopara, like thousands of other wells in
eastern Bangladesh, have been found to be
tainted with arsenic.
Nobody knows the extent ofthe evolving disaster, but some experts think that
almost half of the country's populat i on is at
risk. A study conducted in early 1997 found
that water from 34 southern districts, with
more than 50 million population, had dangerously high levels of arsenic. "Ninety
percent of Bangladeshis drink from deep
tubewells," says Bilcus Amin Hoque, a water specialist at the Centre for Health and
Population Research in Dhaka. "This de-
-  -■ "This is a staggering tragedy, exactly because it is progressive, and the
results are so hidden." says -Herman
Gibb.'an expert- of the US,Environmental Protection Agency who- has
"  studied similar cases of arsenic con-
\       lamination across the border in West
\J       Bengal, where a million more people
may be affected. The .arsenosis■ epidemic in eastern Bangladesh and West Bengal, Gibb says, is probably the worst in the
world. -   -J.
The culprit behind diis
stealth health crisis? The conspiracy-loving press blames
everything from kdler chemicals oozing out of industrial
fertilizers to toxic pollutants
drifting down the Ganga from
India. One spate of articles even
blamed millions of imported
electric poles coated with arsenic-based preservatiyesj.
But the cause is more mun
dane, if profoundly more ironic. The. arsenic- percolating into hundreds of wells of
. eastern Bangladesfus.anaturally-occurring
toxic mineral'. As long- as the 'arsenic remained submerged in groundwater; it-was
inert, but -the aquifers shri veiled with well-;
-drill'irig'and' irrigation in.the 1970s. The
arsenic-,- exposed to .'the air'for the first time,
becomes water'soluble, and "like tea in a
'tea-bag it- now seeps put of die sediments
with ever}7 monsoon flood-
"The bitter twist, of course, is that having .spent bit lions modernising its agricultural sector, Bangladesh has-unwittingly-
been poisoniogj itself. Government engU
neers, financed largely by foreign aid, have
sunknearlv 3 million tube-wells sinie*
1971-       - ■       ■        : . .:       "-     *
-. , "This" is nobody's -fault because no-"
body knew this would; happen-," sayslshak
AH, a public health engineer who" h as-tested'*
300 wells -in, Khulna and found a third of
them contaminated. "We have addressed
hunger, but created another misery in the-
process." -   ■ "      •• ■■
At the moment, tJiere seems to be no .
easy or affordable solution to the arsenic
plague. SO: the govern rhent has-resorted to
capping tainted wells:and, where it Can,
drilling deeper ones. '."They capped my well
so now we are drinking from the pond,"
explained Hafi'z Rahman, a tough, 70-year-
old larmer whose arsenic-induced lesions
have healed somewhat since j
he began quenching his thirst
from a murky pool outside lus
doorway.   Neighbours h&ve '
olio wed suit.
Meanwhile, his 'neigh^
1-innr AriiJ Chandra Das did -
he ravages of the '
He died in March.! A
months later, his son '
too, perished, to ar-
- Paid Salopeh
not survive
eptembsrlOctober 1997: HIMAL South Asia
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Hindi Poet Alokdhanwa
The Parliament of Poetry
by Amitava Kumar
"Till now poems have been written only
about going to jail,
while for any right-thinking person
no poems have been bom
for blowing up jails."
Switching on the tv one night in
a single-roomapartmentinthe
United States, I find myself
face to face -with Alyque Padamsee,
the Bombay ad-man, selling soap. It
is a documentary by Werner Volkner,
with Mr Padamsee holding forth on
the desire of the Indian housewife for
Liril soap. Another ad-man,
Mohammed Khan, comes on to provide a packaged a vision of India
where "the guilt is gone". Indians, he
says, do not mind spending more
and more money on consumer
But, of course, there is the other
India. Even filmmaker Volkner was
aware of this: while Padamsee hawks
his wares, the camera pans over the
sight of men washing their bodies at
roadside hydrants. The crucial question is not where reality lies, but in
what ways and where it gets discussed, and who raises a voice in
protest. As a way of answering these
questions, I am offering in translation the poems of the contemporary
Hindi poet, Alokdhanwa.
As the Patna-based poet writes
in his long piece "janta kaAadmi" (Of
the People), there is an oppressive,
institutional apparatus that silences
the clamour of protest:
They are professional murderers
those who choke and strangle to
death the naked news
in the shadow of sensational
they show themselves again and
again the serfs of that one face
the map of whose bathroom is
bigger than the map of my village.
The publishing houses of this
country like the pale worms
found in the icy cracks:
on the banks of the river Hooghly,
before taking his own life
why had the young poet screamed
- The Times of India
This silencing of protest has a
particular relationship to poetry;
Alokdhanwa poses the question:
"Why is it that every time the question oj
poetry /is unable to catch up with the
question of the common life?" To him,
the answer is clear. There are those
who have patronised the construction of a "museum of poetry" where
they conserve a bloodless, vapid, aes
thetic ideal.  For Alokdhanwa, the
prospect of the common poet of the
people stepping into this space ofthe
affluent afcademi-culture suggests the
startling image ofthe poet's corpse in
the capitalist's fish-tank:
Amidst poems like fine tobacco
capable of collecting a crowd of
failed, old female-lovers
my shepherd face smelling of
must have seemed very
unexpected to you,
as much as
in Sahu Jain's fish-tank
instead of the fish, afloat, the corpse
of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh.
The revolutionary poet, dead, in
the fish-tank of the best-known capitalist patron of literature speaks powerfully of the place consigned to protest poetry in the institutions of the
arts. (Muktibodh, who died in 1964
after a long illness, enjoys a stable
reputation as a revolutionary, epic
writer of Hindi poetry.)
Who is this poet who protests
the practice of poetry as high art, who
writes, "Til! now poems havebeenwrit-
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
ten only about going to jail/while for any
right-thinking person/no poems have
been born for Wowing up jails"! It is in
Alokdhanwa's social milieu, and in
the political geography ofthe land of
his origin, that we can locate the
terms of his identity.
Alokdhanwa has been writing
poetry lor more than 25 years but has
published no more than a handful of
long poems. He has no collection rn
his name. Manglesh Dabral, a writer
m Hindi, says: "He has remained
outside debates and symposiums and
he has also not stepped into the
so-called mainstream of poetry that
is flowing through a lew, selected
cities. He has many incomplete poems, whereas today the tendency is
to write and get something published
immediately. Alokdhanwa shows a
great restraint in even getting his
complete poems published."
In the 1980s, with the spread of
the Naxalite movement, Bihar had
emerged as the crucible lor a new
kind of struggle and consciousness.
In a region of chronic poverty and
caste-class exploitation, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
presented a different world, in which
ill-fed and ill-clad people rose up in
arms, Hinging a challenge to an oppressive, agrarian order, claiming "jote
boye hate dhan, khet ka mahk wahi
kisan" (those who till and sow and
harvest, only they are the owners of
the land). SnkakulamandTekngana,
which had become legendary names
associated with popular struggles in
the eariier decades in other parts of
India, were reinvented in a fresh period of struggle just when their invocation had begun to seem an act of
mere nostalgia. Alokdhanwa has been
a witness as well as a partisan in this
In Bihar, conditions are such
that even the Public Works Department of the state government has a
special Naxafite cell. This unit has
been entrusted with the task ol constructing roads in areas where peasants are rebellious. Those who do not
have access to roads that will take
them to schools or hospitals finally
get roads so that the police and the
army can take swift action if the property of the landlords is in any way
Who will build roads to the huts
of the people Alokdhanwa writes
about7 1 cannot easily distance my
self from that other, more humane,
and more militant because it is more
humane, message that Alokdhanwa
offers about whom he can reach with
his poetry:
From the machine that cuts ice to
the machine that cuts human
against the bright, inhuman
my poetry passes through the
middle of burning villages
with rapid fire and sharp shrieks
near the burnt woman
it is my poetry that reaches first,
when while doing this my poetry
gets burnt in different places.
And there are those who are even
today using poetry for carrying
filling the oxygen of new
metaphors in the lungs of words,
but for him who has been born
during the curfew,
whose breath is hot like the
summer wind
in the mind of that young
it is tike a brand new gun that my
poetry is recalled
Far Irom the prone figure ofthe
burnt woman, lar also Irom the furnace that is the mind of the militant
coal-miner, to return for a moment
to the coolness ofthe television screen
where Alyque Padamsee boasts of his
knowledge of what the Indian house-
wile wants. Mr Padamsee tells us that
he imagines the Indian middle-class
woman "daydreaming" while taking
her bath "which is the only time
when she's alone". To this woman,
Mr Padamsee offers a "freshness
Meanwhile, in his poem "Bhaagi
Hui Ladkiyan" (Girl m Flight)
Alokdhanwa imagines a struggle between fantasies and the actualities
that surround young women in India. For the poet, the sole purpose of
exploring this tension lies in the depiction of oppression-and the freedom won by a girl in flighi, through
her own agency and will, rather than
the fragrant enticement ol a soap
manufacturing company:
Chains of the home
become so much more visible
when a girl runs away from home.
Are you faced with memories of
that night
which one sees again and again in
old films
whenever a girl runs away from
She is not the first girl
who has been in flight
and nor is she going to be the last
now there must be other boys
and other girls too
who will run away in the month of
Throughout "Bhaagi Hui
Ladkiyan", Alokdhanwa prefers to
read love, particularly the love ol
women, as protest, because "she can
do anything/only giving birth does not
mean being a woman". The poem is
also an condemnation of patriarchal
Vou will erase that
you will erase a girl in flight
from the air of her own house
you wilt also erase her from there
which is her childhood inside you
from there too
I know
the violence of superiors!
The poem also develops as a
stinging critique of the masculine
traffic in women and the economy ol
gendered control. It rebukes the mode
of production that relics on the subjugation of women and the repression of desire:
keep your wives separate
from whores
Criticism of Alokdhanwa's "Bhaagi Hui Ladkiyan" in
Samkalcen janmai, a magazine ol radical cultural
criticism, in the words of its fate editor, fvlaheshwar:
Your women arc running away only in ihe pages oj
their diaries. But where are they fleeing in real life,
these women? fn real life, women arc heing confrontational and their assertiveness is increasing by the day.
Women have begun to realise that they are struggling
under tke collected weight of patriarchy, feudal oppression and capitalist-consumerist power... Where
are these confrontational women7 You say that they
are fleeing in their diaries and we are witnessing ihat
they are not running away anywhere. At (his time.
compared lo fleeing, they would consider getting beheaded a better option.
HIMAL South Asia  September/October   1997
and keep your lovers separate
from your wives
how you are struck with terror
when a woman wanders fearlessly
searching for her own self
together in whores and wives
and lovers!
Now she can be anywhere
even in those nations to come
where loving will be a full-time
In "To Posterity", Bertolt Brecht
offers a poignant but careful assessment of the role of poetry:
In my time streets led to the
Speech betrayed me to the
There was little I could do. But
without me
The rulers would have been more
secure. This was my hope.
That hopeful confidence which
Brecht risks, and which Alokdhanwa
seems to share, leaves unanswered
one question, namely that of literacy.
1 have with me a photograph of a
wall-painting only a few miles from
Alokdhanwa's flat in our hometown,
Patna. On that wall are painted a few
short lines from a poem by
Muktibodh, the same poet named in
"Janta ka Aadmi". The poem reads:
"Right to equality/The challenge ofe quality/Or else/Struggle and assault."
The wall-painting was done by
cultural activists engaged in a literacy
campaign in Bihar. Alokdhanwa is a
pari of this campaign; but how hopeful can he remain that he will produce readers for his verse? Rather
than readily proclaiming that the subaltern masses are obliging the writer
of protest by reading his or her rebellious signs, it is crucial to draw attention to the silencing of literary protest
through a culture, of illiteracy.
This is the phenomenon that the
Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano,
has called "indirect censorship". This
mode of censorship works by denying creativity to the vast majority of
people and honouring a small handful of specialists. Alokdhanwa has
protested in his poems against the
dead museums of poetry. One should
attach to that protest, a criticism of
the enforced impoverishment of culture by denying to millions the right
to read and write.
In India, it is not only the poor
and the unlettered who remain unaware of the poetry of protest. How
many political poems find their way
into the school curricula? My teachers in high school in Patna felt it was
necessary that 1 memorise what William Wordsworth had written about
daffodils, a flower I had not even laid
my eyes on, while I was to remain
oblivious of the words of Bhikari
Ram, a Musahar poet near my birthplace, singing in Hindi:
Sudhama's wife weeps and
Days are lean,
No sattu to eat,
No hut to live in.
Days are lean.
No shoes on our feet.
Days are lean.
Where poetry feeds into a tired
aestheticism and remains a slave to
obsolete, colonial standards, it is not
surprising that Alokdhanwa should
protest also against being a poet. One
of his poems ends with the words,
"This is not a poem/this is a call to open
fire/that all those who use the pen/are
getting from all those who work the
plough." His "Open Fire Poster" is, in
a way, what it calls itself and hence
different from a poem: a poster calling on intellectuals to bear arms and
fight with the poor and the exploited.
At the same time, however, there
are clear ways in which this text
works specifically as a poem. For
example, it protests against the
marginalisation of poetry itself: the
poet, after all, is allowed only as far as
the peripheral district towns. The
centre is always kept out of poetry's
reach, and the protest is articulated
from far outside the parliament's
If those people ever grant me
entry into their poems
it is only to blindfold me
and to use me
and then leave me outside the
they never let me
reach the capital.
I am grabbed
by the time I begin to reach the
district towns.
The poems are not offered so
much as strategies to attain the cen
tre as they are to serve as testimonials
or records of damaged lives. For instance, the poet presents the loneliness in the space of the nation-state
which can boast of cheap cigarettes
but not a community. "It is not the
government - it is this country's/cheapest cigarette that has keptme company."
In its appeal to leeling and effect,
precisely under conditions of deprivation that make any sense ol the
personal impossible (the poet's
mother, let's not forget, is only a "five
footi ronstick-7on which hang two pieces
of dry bread"), poetry inscribes its
Neither a poster, then, nor simply a poem, this post-colonial writing
confounds with its cunning rationality and its rage. It reminds of James
Mill's colonial condemnation back in
1840 of both poetry and Indian culture: "Poetry is the language of the
passions, and men feel, before they
speculate. At this first stage the literature of the Hindus has always remained."
Al the same time, Alokdhanwa's
writing voices a protest against the
post-independence nation-state. It
does so by opposing the sanctimonious language oflaw:
Now between my daughter and
my strike
there is not even a hair's breadth
when the constitution is on its
own terms breaking my strike and
my daughter
In being neither simply posters,
nor only poems, and in its opposition
to the language of the oppressors,
former or present, Alokdhanwa's
writings avoid the conditions of being either propaganda or advertising.
As a writing of protest, this poetry
leans its shoulders into history against
the door closing in its face. The space
it is trying to open is against the
inhuman claustrophobia of increasing restrictions on the living, in particular those i I literate millions around
Patna unable to read this poet.    A
A. Kumar teaches at the University of
Florida at Gainsville and is author No
Tears for the NRI, a book of poems
(Writer's Workshop, Calcutta).
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
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August 31,1997
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December 31,1997
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Fijians, both indigenous and Indian, are tired of the race-based politics of the
last decade and want a new beginning. They seem to have got it.
by Kalinga Seneviratne
Ten years ago, on 14 May 1987,
Lt Col Sitiveni Rabuka
stormed the Fijian Parliament
with his troops, arrested the entire
Indian-dominated Cabinet and declared himself leader of a military
government. The putsch was staged,
he said quite simply, to restore control of the country to indigenous
Fijians: "Everyone is welcome to come
and live here as our guest, as long as
Fijians run the nation."
For three years, Prime Minister
Rabuka governed by decree and then
he rammed through a constitution in
1990 which the Indian opposition
likened to an apartheid period document. Under it, the Indo-Fijian parties were relegated to a position of
serving as a "permanent opposition",
with no hope of achieving power
through the ballot.
A decade later, Prime Minister
Rabuka has come full circle. In May,
he conceded to demands and agreed
to the concept of a multiracial cabinet. In July, both houses oi Parliament passed constitutional amendments to thateffect. Opposition leader
Jai Ram Reddy of the National Federation Party (NFP) said after the parliamentary vote that he was "very
happy for our country and all the
people of this country". The nation's
main daily, Tfie Fiji Times, carried a
front page picture of Mr Reddy
warmly shaking hands with Prime
Minister Rabuka. The amendments
also include, for the first time in Fiji,
a bill of rights.
Some had thought, with the
many examples of failed statesmanship all over the world, that Fiji would
never be able to bring itself back
from the brink. Today, however, the
polity seems set to mend itself.
Constitution and Race
Situated in the South Pacific, Fiji is
made up of more than 300 islands,
about a hundred of which are uninhabited. The 1996 census put the
country's population at 772,655,
consist ing of Melanesians (indigenous
Fijians), Indians (or South Asians),
Polynesians, Ratumans, Chinese, Europeans and those of mixed-race.
The Indo-Fijians are descendants
of indentured labourers brought to
the islands by the British, beginning
in 1879, to work in sugar cane plantations. Since then, sugar has become
the country's main export and the
backbone of the economy, while the
Indians through hard work, education and enterprise have become a
powerful economic force. When Fiji
was granted independence in 1970,
political power was transferred to the
indigenous community, while the
migrant (Indian) community held the
economic power.
Ever since the Great Council of
Chiefs ceded Fiji to the British Crown
in 1874, on the understanding that
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
Sura's main
Methodist church
after Sunday service.
Indigenous yuppies
in Suva and
(opposite) sugarcane
farmer Kamlesh
the rights of the indigenous people
would be protected, race has played
a major role in the constitutional
history of the country. As the British
were departing, Indians who made
up the majority population by a thin
margin wanted voting on a "Common Roll", whereas the indigenous
Fijians argued that they would have
a say in the governance only through
a "Communal Roll" where voting was
ethnically segregated.
The 1970 constitution was a
compromise with members chosen
under bolh rolls. However, it gave
rise to a situation in the 1987 elections where the Alliance Party representing the indigenous community
got only 24 seats while the combined
Indian-dominated opposition - consisting of the nfp and the Fiji Labour
Party (FLP) - got 28 seats.
This was what precipitated Col
Rabuka's coup and, later, the 1990
constitution. According to its provisions, the Lower House had 70 seats,
37 of which were reserved for Fijians,
27 for Indians and 5 for General
Electors. The voting was done entirely on a communal roll. Soqosoqo
ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei CSVT) — the
political party aligned with the Great
Council of Chiefs and now led by Col
Rabuka - won two elections under
the 1990 constitution.
"It was a racist constitution imposed on the people by presidential
decree, with entrenched discrimination against the Indian community,"
says Mahendra Chaudhry, leader of
the FLP. Under pressure from
the opposition, a constitutional
review commission was finally appointed by the government in 1995,
headed by former New Zealand
Governor-General Paul Reeves, with
Canberra-based Indo-Fijian historian
Brij Lai and indigenous Fijian businessman and former parliamentarian
Tomas Vakatora as members.
Their report was submitted in
late 1996, and a parliamentary select
committee began to prepare a blueprint for a revised constitution. While
many indigenous provincial councils
rejected the key recommendations
relating to voting rolls, the Reeves
Report gathered support within Col
Ribuka's own party, and in the community at large. Under the amended
constitution, there will be 71 seats in
parliament, out of which 23 will be
reserved for indigenous Fijians,  19
for Indians, three for General Electors, and one for Ratumans
(Polynesian mixed race). Voting for
these will be on the communal roll,
while the other 25 seats will be contested on an open roll.
The newprovisions also enshrine
the principle of multiracial government, which requires the leader of
the party with the highest number of
seats to invite other parties which
have won a specified number of seats,
to join the government. Though this
requirement will not be active until
the general elections slated for 1999,
Col Rabuka has indicated his intention to form a multiracial cabinet,
The Colonel's Turnaround
In a fortuitous turnaround, it was Col
Rabuka, the very man accused of
promoting the growing racial divide,
who came to lead the movement for
the revised constitution. He played a
key role in persuading the Great
Council of Chiefs and the sceptics
within the SVT to back the amendments.
The Prime Minister was helped
greatly by a change in the leadership
of the Methodist Church, which
claims membership of more than two
hundred thousand of the population, primarily indigenous Fijians.
Earlier, the church was closely identified with the 1987 military coup
and attempts to declare Fiji a Chris-
tianstate, whichwould have excluded
the mostly Hindu and Muslim Indo-
Fijian community.
The Rev Ilaitia Tuwere, the
church's new president and a liberal
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
theologian, publicly opposed the proposal for a Christian state, maintaining that it would go against Christian
principles. He said, "Fiji is now a
nation that urgently needs national
unity and development at all levels.
Because of this it is necessary to involve all powers at work in our community. It is for this reason we support religious freedom."
After the parliament's decision,
partially as an attempt to pacify those
in his party who felt the paramountcy
of the indigenous population had been
bartered away, Col Rabuka declared,
"We lost some things we would have
liked to retain, but on the other hand
so did everybody else." For his part,
nfp leader Mr Reddy said that there
were now "very good vibes and a
general realisation that we need to
work and move forward together."
The new model adopted by the parliament was ideal for any multicultural
society, he said.
Mr Reddy explains that it was
demographic factors which paved the
way for the historic compromise on
the race issue, a different climate having developed in the country since
1987. Indigenous Fijians are now the
single largest group and growing fairly
rapidly, while the Indian population
has been shrinking due to erosion at
both ends — lower growth rates and
Says Mr Reddy, "Before the military coup we were 48 percent (of the
population). Now we are 43 percent.
Projections are that in 10 years il
could be as low as 35 percent. The
demographic change has made the
Fijians a lot more confident." This,
Mr Reddy believes, is why the Indigenous Fijians were willing and ready
for some form of power-sharing.
Moods and Trends
Demographic trends support Mr
Reddy's analysis. The results of the
1996 census, recently released, shows
that for the first time since the 1901
census, indigenous Fijians form a significant majority, having overtaken
Indo-Fijians who are down to 46
percent from a high of 51.1. The
country's population has grown by 8
percent during the last decade, but
the Indian component has actually
declined. At the last census taken just
before the coup, Indians made up
48.7 percent of the population and
indigenous Fijians 43.6 percent.
During the last, decade, 53,800
Indo-Fijians emigrated, most of them
doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, teachers, managers and businessmen. The majority have gone to
Australia, New Zealand, Canada or
the United States.
"The attempt by the post-coup
government to divide the races in Fiji
was very strong, They tried to divide
trade unions, political parlies and so
forth along racial lines. These policies were leased on the thinking thai
it is race that brings people together,"
observes Tupeni Baba, an indigenous
Fijian and a Cabinet minister in the
government overthrown in 1987. Mr
Baba believes that the worsening economic situation in Fiji is what forced
Col Rabuka and his supporters to
achievements for the community as a
whole, it's been slow in coming." His
point of view is supported by a UNDP
study on poverty in Fiji, released in
March, showing that indigenous
Fijian households overall had the lowest incomes, while the average income of Indo-Fijians in the highest
bracket was 42 percent higher than
the highest income of indigenous
Fijian, households.
"Our people are more likely to
sit back and be complacent, whereas
Indo-Fijians are more likely to be
wanting to improve their status. They
are more competitive," observes Nina
Sera, an indigenous Fijian youth
The failure of race-based policies to uplift the economic profile of
rethink their strategy of cementing
indigenous Fijian control over the
"There was a realisation by
Rabuka and other protagonists of the
coup that a racial government consisting of (indigenous) Fijians alone
cannot run the country; there's an
economic price to be paid. That
realisation is a good one," says Mr
Baba, who is now Professor of Education at the University of the South
Pacific in Suva. "The coup-makers
were finally confronting the consequences of their action. Their own
people were the ones suffering badly."
Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, a young
Fijian chief tends to agree with Mr
Baba's view. "They didn't lift the economic profile of indigenous Fijian
significantly... In terms of concrete
indigenous Fijians, lack of investment by Indo-Fijians in the local
economy, and the flight of both their
capital and professional skills overseas, along with the demographic
changes taking place in the country,
are the elements, then, which combined to create the current mood for
reconciliation and compromise. The
concrete manifestation of all this is
the newly amended constitution,
which makes multiculturalism the
new national credo. The communities of Fiji may yet be able to come up
with a workable and historic compromise in Fiji, under which
Asia and the Pacific will co-exist and
prosper. lb
K. Seneviratne is a Sydney-based
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
Meghalaya, Not Himalaya
The mdih cause for the
floods in Bangladeshis not
located in the Himalaya,
The Meghalaya Bills have a
decisive role in explaining
the Bangladesh floods.
* Bangladeshi villagers, do
not perceive monsoon
floods as a critical hazctrd.
by Thomas Hofer
Megrialflya's terrain
transports water
into Bangladesh.
Every year during the monsoon season, the Himalayan
region appears in the headlines because of large scale floodi ng in
the plains of the Ganga and
Brahmaputra. In general, this is also
the time to go through the annual
ritual of accusing the peasants of Nepal
and the nearby mountain regions for
sending down the floods in ever-
higher volumes. They are to blame, it
is said, because it is the deforestation
in the Himalaya which leads to devastating inundation, particularly in
The truth is, it has never been
clear to what extent the floods are a
natural phenomenon occurring
through history, and to what extent
human activities - either forest-cutting upstream or building of embankments downstream - have played a
role in increasing the inundation in
modern times. It is not even clear that
the floods are increasing in frequency
and intensity over the decades, as is
However, this lack of scientific
confirmation has not deterred politicians, engineers and journalists from
engaging in passionate condemnation of upstream inhabitants for the
inundation, particularlyinyears when
the floods are high. Blame for the
Bangladesh floods became a geopo-
litically sensitive matter because the
Ganga and Brahmaputra are both
international rivers. Even more interesting was the fact that plans for flood
management and even flood control,
involving vast sums of foreign aid,
were activated on the basis of incomplete knowledge.
The hypothesis regarding the
domino-effect of human activities
in the Himalaya on the ecological
processes in the lowlands can be
summarised by the following,
superficially convincing, sequence:
population growth in the mountains
-'increasing demand for fuel wood,
fodder and timber-1 uncontrolled forest removal in more and more marginal areas->intensified erosion and
higher peak flows in the rivers-»severe
flooding and siltation on the densely
populated and cultivated plains of
the Ganga and Brahmaputra.
Such a supposedly scientific
chain of events has served as an expedient tool for both the plains politician and his counterpart in the hills.
For the former, it has been useful in
times of flood-related crises to pin
the blame on the peasantry of a remote region. His hill counterpart,
meanwhile, was amenable to accepting the blame because bad science
was presented to him asjait accompli.
and also because the aid agencies
funded reforestation programmes in
the bargain.
The Himalayan Degradation
Theory, as it came to be known, was
proposed in the early 1970s based on
anecdotal information, and was immediately picked up by the media,
bureaucracy and the aid community
for its plausibility. However, as empirical research was carried out
through the 1980s, holes began to
appear in the fabric of lhe hypothesis. It turned out that explanations
for floods were not. really that simple,
and that the inhabitants of the
Himalaya had less to do with the
ecological processes in the lowlands
than what had been too easily assumed.
Unfortunately, such was the inherent attraction of the Himalayan
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
Degradation Theory that the increasing accumulation of scientific evidence against it failed to gain publicity. This remained true even after, in
the late 1980s and early 1990s, two
publications came out which did a
creditable job of presenting the case
against the Theory; they were The
Himalayan Dilemma, edited by Jack
D. Ives and Bruno Messerli, and The
Citizen's Report ofthe Indian Environment, edited by Anil Agarwal and
Sunita Narain. The two reports confirmed that it was not possible to
prove on the basis of available data
that the Himalaya contributed to
floods in Bangladesh, nor that there
has been any increasing trend in flood
frequency or flood volume.
What the Data Says
Data collected and analysed between
1992 and 1996 by a Bangla-Swiss
team now provides scientific evidence
to further disprove the Himalayan
Degradation Theoiy. It also provides
new suggestions as to the cause of
Bangladesh floods, and indicates that
the perception of the Bangladesh peasantry regarding floods displays considerably less panic than the engineers, politicians and even academics in Dhaka. The detailed scientific
results of the study, of which this
writer is principal author, is to be
presented in a book next year, The
Floods in Bangladesh: Processes and
Impacts, published by the United
Nations University Press.
The study, which was a joint
effort of the University of Berne, Department of Geography, the Swiss
Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the United Nations LJni-
versity shows, firstly, that floods in
Bangladesh and India are largely independent of human activities in the
upper catchment areas. Neither the
frequency nor the volume of fl ooding
has increased in Bangladesh over the
last 120 years. Precipitation and runoff in the Himalaya do not seem to be
important causes of the floods in
Bangladesh. The rainfall patterns in
the Meghalaya Hills, however, seem
to be decisive. Comparing the three
major river systems, the Meghna
catchment is of primary importance,
followed by the Brahmaputra
catchment. The Ganga catchment
plays only a minor role in Bangladesh
Before providing the details of
f■-■""■<.   ■"■■■;A>::'H:/ISn:
bl } --■■■* •    .
i       >       \     ' • ; ."
X » \ <"
the study, it should be stated that the
water resources of the Ganga-
Brahmaputra-tvleghna basin are
shared by China, India, Nepal, Bhutan
and Bangladesh. The availability and
sharing of water is therefore a geopo-
litically very sensitive issue, and so
even when there is reliable hydro-
logical data available it tends to be
treated as classified information.
Climatological information is less
restricted, but the "station density"
is very low, especially for the
All in all, this makes it difficult to
pursue scientific studies ofthe region's
water-related problems and to investigate the framework of highland-
lowland interactions, which can
therefore only be based on case studies rather than systematic analyses.
In that context, and as far as the
Himalayan catchment area is concerned, the present study has restricted itself to the region which
maybe called "Ganga Himalaya". No
conclusions can be formulated for
the "Arunachal Himalaya" in the east,
which feeds the Brahmaputra before
it enters Bangladesh via Assam, due
to the near-total lack of access to data
for this area.
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
Cloudburst in Nepal
An opportunity presented itself in
the monsoon of 1993 to study the
correlation between heavy rainfall in
Nepal and the flood mark in
Bangladesh. An extended cloudburst
on 19-20 July 1993 in eastern and
central Nepal had catastrophic effects on the local population and
infrastructure. Several districts were
hit by floods and landslides, and many
people died or became homeless.
There was widespread destruction of
crops, and flash floods destroyed the
main highway into Kathmandu, cutting off the capital for days. Due to
very high sedimentation, the life-span
of the Kulekhani Reservoir was reduced from 50 years to about 25
Data shows that there were two
flood periods in Bangladesh in 1993,
one from 18-25 June and the other
from 10-26 July. Both events were
the result of heavy rainfall in
Bangladesh and, significantly, were
concentrated on the Meghna and
Brahmaputra systems. Western
Bangladesh, that is, the Ganga system, was almost completely unaffected by flooding. What significant
floods there were in Bangladesh that
year, therefore, were concentrated
on a different river system than the
Flood Perception
* A STUDY WAS conducted to see how the views on flooding differed between farmers, *
politicians, journalists, engineers and donor, agency ^representatives m Bangladesh, The •
result showed that farmers were the least concerned of all: Fortherm floods were a part of
life which their ancestors and they had learned to adjust to ...They also knew the benefits that
floods brought in terms of fertility to the soil. '  ■      '  -   •  -  ' :   ■   - •• .... .. '.' *
■ "People donotdieif there is flood, but people dieif there is nollood,1' goesalecalsaying
in Slrajgari}' District. One farmer in Simla village m the Brahmaputra iloodplaiirtold
researchers, "If there is no flood there will be-no crop,.-the -sail-wilt turn inter a-desert.'L
According to the peasants interviewed, they feel a much bigger threat from what scientists*
call 'lateral river erosion'. Whereas the land is always there after a few days when the flood*
recedes, nothing is left when your household and land have been carried away by a shifting,
. river. '" . J   . J.   '     .   "„ \  ,  ' '.. J ~  ' j' !' "' ■' .   .
Politicians, the researchers leamt, believe that floods are a major problem for thejj,
suffering they supposedly bring to the populace. As far as the politician 4s.J concerned,*
therefore, the flood problem has to be solved by ..This will potentially involve*
large1 projects and expensive packages of foreign aid.- ■ ■-■■ >.  •• ■■     ■•■     : '  *
Engineers, too, see flooding simply as a problem of high water volume, to be resolved
by implementing technical measures. According to one expert, "There is a tendency among
engineers to perceive water as a burden. Therefore,J water" should be; controlled arid*
conducted to the ocean as soon as possible.":. - ■■ ■■ ■> *
' For journalists, flooding is the season for catchy headlines and over-statements.J. Pre|s *
analysis in Dhaka is still dominated by reports on the floods' origins in disturbed Himalayan *
ecology, and the unquestioning acceptance of the theory that flood intensity has increased:;
pver recent decades. Meanwhile, by its exclusive coverage of the floods- the Western media *
has helped define monsoon flooding as the main problem of Bangladesh, Jwhieb is hardly ;
the case. The problem of river erosion is addressed by the Dhaka press but ignored by the
Western reporters. ...
Influenced as they are by the politicians, engineers and journalists; the donor agencies
have tended to focus their attention on floods and the search for a technical solution. Thus,
while the farmers may be quite happy to live with floods but want assistance to tackle rivers-
erosion, landlessness and economic problems, the donors tend to come up/with more aid.
for flood mitigation. The great flood of 1988 galvanised the international community on this
score, with lhe G-7 summit of industrialised (aid-giving) nations in July 1989 calling for,
"effective, coordinated actionby the international community insuppqrt of the Government
of Bangladesh in order to find solutions to the majorproblem (Hood) which are technically,-
financially, economically and environmentally sound," . j
When it comes to perception of floods and their danger, therefore, few heed the wisdom -
of villagers, even though il is they who have to live with theflood. It is clear that while making
decisions relating to flood mitigation and related development activities, the views ofthe -
scientist, engineer, politician and journalist must all be taken into account, but without
neglecting the most important perception of all — that of the inhabitants of the flpodplaui.
one into which the Nepali deluge of
July emptied. In other words, the
1993 flood in Nepal had no connection to the floods in Bangladsh.
In order to further support this
finding, and to estimate the effect of
the Nepal flood on the hydrology of
the Ganga in Bangladesh, the water
level graph of the Ganga at Hardinge
Bridge was analysed. Hardinge Bridge
is located approximately 600 km
downstream of the flood-affected areas of Nepal in 1993. Assuming an
average flow velocity of 1.5 m/sec,
the Hood wave from Nepal should
have reached Hardinge Bridge five to
six days later, around 25 July.
It is indeed the case that a short-
term, very moderate fluctuation of
the Ganga's flow was recorded from
24 July to 30 July, with a peak on 27
July. This situation may be interpreted as a result of the Nepal floods,
but can just as easily be attributed to
the intense local rainfall from 20 July
to 24 July, recorded at Pabna in western Bangladesh.
In any case, it is clear that the
flood flow ofthe Ganga's Nepali tributaries had levelled off over the course
of their passage from the hills and
through the plains, and had only a
very small effeel, if any, on the discharge of the Ganga as it entered
Bangladesh. The short-term peak of
the Ganga on 24-30 July was not
significant in terms of constituting a
flood in Bangladesh.
It is thus clear that even an extraordinary flood event of rare dimension in the Himalayan foothills
of Nepal has almost no impact on
hydrological conditions in
Bangladesh. The effect of the 1993
cloudburst in Nepal having had almost negligible consequence on the
Ganga discharge at Hardinge Bridge
in Bangladesh, we must conclude
that the Ganga Himalaya does not
contribute significantly to the floods
in Bangladesh.
Rain in Meghalaya
Through the testimony of millions of
schoolbooks, the small town of
Cherrapunji in thesouthem slopes ot
the Meghalaya Hills has attained
mythic status as "the place where it
rains the most in the world". It is
interesting, therefore, that no one has
thought to study a possible link between heavy rains in this region of
Meghalaya and downstream flood-
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
 ing-in Bangladesh. For, the precipitation in this region of Meghalaya can
only be described as massive, and far
above the average rainfall anywhere
else further up the catchment areas of
the Ganga or Brahmaputra.
The average monsoon rainfall
(May to September) in Cherrapunji
amounts to 9527 mm. In some years,
it can be much higher; there was
19,728 mm of deluge during the
same period in 1974. It helps in the
understanding when one realises that
this amounts to more than the height
of a six-storeyed building. By contrast, Pokhara Valley, which is said to
have the most rainfall in the entire
Nepal Himalaya, records an average
annual rainfall of only 3800 mm. It is
much less for regions closer to the
Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, such as
Kathmandu Valley and Darjeeling.
Comparing Cherrapunji rainfall
data with flood occurrence in
Bangladesh proves instructive. The
rainfall in Cherrapunji was far above
normal from July to September in
1974 and 1988. These were also two
major flood years in Bangladesh in
the last two decades. In 1978 and
1986, which were years of very low
flood in Bangladesh, the rainfall in
Cherrapunji was also below average.
The Meghalaya Hills are located
adjacent to the vast floodplain of
northeastern Bangladesh. They form
a first topographical barrier for the
humid monsoon winds on their way
up from the Bay of Bengal to the
Himalaya. It is natural, therefore, for
these hills to get very high rainfall in
the summer. The hills have shallow
soils and rocky surface, so the runoff
is immediate when it rains. As a result, and in spite of the comparably
water pours down from Meghalaya
into the Meghna floodplain to the
south, and to the Brahmaputra in the
north, which too has a very short
distance lo go through Assam before
it enters Bangladesh.
The high average hydrological
flow from the Meghalaya Hills and
the obvious correlation between high
rainfall in Cherrapunji and high flood
in Bangladesh indicate that deluge in
Meghalaya is an important, perhaps
even decisive, cause of flooding in
Brahmaputra Flood
The collected data indicate that floods
in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam
may have a connection with floods
downstream, but floods in the Ganga
plain of India do not seem to be
related to floods in Bangladesh. This
is seen in the flood figures for 1988
and 1978.
Both Assam and downstream
Bangladesh were hit by severe floods
in 1988. The fiercest flood wave in
the Brahmaputra Valley coincided
with peak flooding in Bangladesh. A
small area, a considerable volume of     satellite image of 16 July of that)
which was not even taken at the
height of the flood, shows an almost
constant line of flood patches along
the Brahmaputra through Assam
down to Bangladesh,
In the 1978 monsoon, the inundation in the entire Ganga plain of
India was far above average: at least
40 million people were affected by
the catastrophe. In Bangladesh, however, flooding remained far below
average; only a few, regionally limited flood events were reported from
the western part ofthe country. Flood
on the Ganga seems significant for all
of Bangladesh only when it peaks
si mu 1 taneously with the Brahmaputra
The statistics show that, clima-
tologically, the dry years in the west
(the Ganga catchment) often coincide with humid years in the east (the
Brahmaputra/Meghna catchment),
and vice versa. The extent of flooding
in Bangladesh in a specific year corresponds to the climatic conditions in
the east and to the level of flooding in
Assam rather than to the climatologi-
cal conditions in the west or the
flooding on the Ganga.
There also seems to be a historical and sociological reason why the
Brahmaputra's significant flooding as
it relates to Bangladesh has been neglected while the Ganga's has been
highlighted in general writings and
in the media. The Brahmaputra, flowing as it does through only a brief
tract of the Indian Northeast before
entering Bangladesh, is not as widely
known as the Ganga. The latter, on
the other hand, flowing as it does
through the heartland of historical
Hindustan, is fully part of the South
Asian cultural pantheon. This may
serve to explain why, when a flood
hits Bangladesh, the public looks to
The weather station
at Cherrapunji:
This station records
the highest rainfall in
the world.
Riverbank erosion
along the
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
the Ganga and its Himalayan tributaries as the cause rather than the
Brahmaputra. This, then, can partly
explain why the hill peasant of the
Himalayan foothills is blamed whenever Bangladesh is inundated.
Bangladesh Deluge
The role of rainfall within Bangladesh
in triggering or exacerbating floods
also seems to have been overlooked
as experts and lay persons alike seek
answers in upper catchments. High
rainfall in Bangladesh, after all, is a
typical feature before and during
heavy floods and without doubt contributes significantly to inundation.
Again, the extraordinary Hood
of 1988 provides an interesting case
in point. Asa result ofthe position of
the monsoon trough over northern
Bangladesh and Assam, the northern
part of the country got heavy rainfall
that year, while the south remained
almost free of precipitation. Rainfall
in Sunamganj in northeastern
Bangladesh was extra or dinar,': over
six days, from 24-29 August, 9o0
mm of rainfall was recorded at this
station, which is almost 20 percent of
the average annual rainfall in this
area. The period of nationwide flooding in 1988 was between 20 August
and 6 Septemher, with the peak re
corded around 31 August.
More study is required to pinpoint the exact correlation between
localised rains and heavy inundation, but the connection seems clear.
Puzzle Pieces
In summary, the data shows that the
Bangladesh floods are influenced by
a combination of regionally differentiated rainfall patterns. The influence
ol the Ganga Himalaya is not important because the catchment is at a
distance from the Bangladeshi flood-
plain. As a result, the peak discharge
from heavy rainfall or cloudbursts
which are carried down by the I lima-
layan tributaries such as the Kosi or
Gandaki level themselves out by the
time they join the "base flow" of the
Ganga and subsequently arrive in
The contribution of the
Arunachal Himalaya to a ilood on the
Brahmaputra cannot be assessed due
to lack ol data. The Meghalaya Hills,
however, seem to play a decisive role
due to their location close to the
floodplain of Bangladesh and because
of lhe high rainfall and rapid runoff
Finally, it can he said that the rainfall
within Bangladesh itself is a significant factor.
The Himalaya, at least ihe part
located in the Ganga catchment,
seems to have negligible impact on
floods in Bangladesh. It this statement is accepted, then the habit of
blaming mountain inhabitants for the
flood catastrophes far downstream
must be abandoned This would also
considerably improve the political
climate m the area. Tins does not
relieve the mountain people of their
responsibility to use their environment m a sustainable manner,
A lot ot questions about rainfall,
flooding and mitigation measures
remain to be answered. The present
study has merely added some pieces
to the complex puzzle as to why
Bangladesh floods. Also, it has contributed to the further devaluation of
the Himalayan Degradation Theory.
Now, researchers are required to
move ahead with the task of sharpening their understanding of the hydro-
logical regime ol the Ganga-
Brahmaputra region Tins can only
be achieved through the permanent
and free exchange of scientific data
among the states of the region
T. Hofer is physical geographer at the
Department oj Geography, Lorivx-raiy
oj Berne.
Vac.97/11 Rangeland Management Specialist
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which has its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, was established in
1983 to address the problems of economic and environmental development in the Hindu Ktish-Himalayan (HKH) region covering parts of
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan. China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. ICIMOD is an independent organisation governed by a Board
of Governors and funded by some 20 countries and donor organisations Its mandatory activities are (i) Documentation and Information Exchange,
(ii) Research, (iit) Training, and (iv) Advisory Services. Activities are Implemented in close collaboration with partner institutions in the regional
member countries. ICIMOD now wishes to fill the above position in its Mountain Natural Resources Division.
• Post Graduate academic background or equivalent in pasture or range management or reiaicc subject.
• At least 10 \ear> experience in pasture or range management, with experience in the HKH region.
• Proven capabilities in writing articles, papers and documents for different target groups.
• Proficiency in computer applications; knowledge of GIS desirable
Detailed Terms of Reference is available on request. Female Candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.
Starting date
Salarv and benefits are based on a modified UN System.
Three \ears. of which one year is probationai, and subject to continuation of present funding levels at ICIMOD.
1 Januan. 1998
Applications with names of three referees, should be received before 1 November 1997 and addressed to:
Mr. M.R. Tuladhar, Head, Administration and Finance
ICIMOD. C.P.O. Box 3226, Kathmandu. Nepal
Fax: f977-1J 524509/536747
cream sandwich PUFF biscuits
Distributors required for South Asia.
Tel: 977-1-250001, Fax: 977-1-249723
only in
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G.P.O. Box 1676
Kamaladi, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: 977-1-226358
Fax: 977-1-224031
To send your precious goods
through air-cargo, air-sea cargo, sea cargo, air/sea-
mail {post parcel), packing and forwarding to any
destination in the world Speedily,
Safely and Guaranteed.
P.O.Box 3745, Jyatha, Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Ph: (off) 249444, 253444, Fax: 977-1-224247
Himal South Asia is organising Film South Asia '97, the first ever South Asian documentary film festival from 18 to 21
September, which will showcase the best of what filmmakers from this region have to offer.
Out of a total 125 entries, the following have been selected to be screened at Film South Asia '97.
The list also shows the country where the film was shot name(s) ofdirectors), yeor of production, whether a premiere, and length.
All films produced in and after 1995 are in the competitive section. All films are subtitled in English
Aodarollu Ekamarte (When Women Unite: The Story of an Uprising) - India.
Shabnam Virmani. 1996. SO minutes
Aon Poove (Male Flower) - India. P. Balan. 1995.20 minutes.
Achin Pakhi (The Unknown Bard) - Bangladesh. Tanvir Mokarnmel. 1995. 67 minutes.
Ajit (The Unconquerable) - India. Arvinet Sinha. 1996. 28 minutes.
A la Khate - Nepal. Morten Nielsen, Frantz Rosenburg & Neena Brinck. 1997.
24 minutes.
Amrit Beejo (Eternal Seed) - India. Meera Dewan. 1996.43 minutes.
And She Dances On - Pakistan. Shireen Pasha 1996. 60 minutes.
Ashgari Boi: Echoes of Silence - India Priti Chandnani & Brahmanand Singh. 1997.
45 minutes.
Bereovement - Sri Lanka. Sharmini Boyle. 1995. 30 minutes.
A Boy in the Branch   India Lalrt Vachani. 1993.27 minutes.
Creeks of"Conflict - india. Krishnendu Bose. 1996. 40 minutes.
Dorubrobma (God's Own Tree) - India. Sudheer Gupta.  1997 (PremiereVfl 5
138 minutes. j-<$
Faces of Eve - Pakistan. Shireen Pasha 1995.25 minutes. cfL&a(&9~
Fate Worse Than floods - Bangladesh, India & Nepal. Bjom UfcrjEsTieffiMS minutes.
father. Son and Holy War- India. Anand PatwardHjtf fr^SktlAminutes.
Freedom from Fear- India. Indraneel Kaul^9W^f*rate$...
Free ta Sing? The Mux of Suman ChatterjeS^ndia Sudipta Chatterjee. 1996. 56
Halfway Home - India. Ananya Chaterjee. 1995. 26 minutes.
Himoloyon Herders - Nepal. John & Naomi Bishop. 1997 (Premiere). 76 minutes.
/ Live in Behrampada - India. Madhusree Datta. 1993.46 minutes.
Kahankar. Ahankar (Story Maker. Story Taker) - India. K.P. Jayashankar & Anjali
Monteiro. 1995.38 minutes.
Ka Phor Sorat (A Cremation Ceremony) - India Raphel Warjiri. 1997 (Premiere).
33 minutes.
24. Meals Ready -India. Surajit Sarkar & Vani Subramanian. 1996. 46 minutes.
25. Mukti: Gaan (Song of Freedom) - Bangladesh. Tareque & Catherine Masud. 1995.
60 minutes.
26. A Narmada Diary -- india. Simantini Dhuru & Anand Patwardhan. 1995. 57 minutes.
27. Om Mani Padme Hum (Hail the Jewel in the Lotus) - India Mahadeb Shi. 1996.
53 minutes.
28. Pastoral Politics - India. Sanjay Bamela & Vasant Saberwal. 1996. 29 minutes.
29. Red Earth - India. Rahul Roy. 1996.48 minutes.
30. Sacrifice of Serpents: The Festival of Indrayani in Kathmandu, Nepal - Nepal. Dirk Nijlancl,
Bert van den Hoek & Balgopal Shrestha. 1597 (Premiere). 108 minutes.
31. The School That Karmi Sorea Built - India. Ananya Chaterjee. 1996. 30 minutes.
37. The Seeds of MolflfjBjpffla. Rajeev Vijayngavan. 1996.22 minutes.
33.   Snakes aai i^kTSsMamerr- Pakistan. Nazimuddin. 1996.25 minutes.
34_An1SoajJ*efy Ordinary Gold) - India. Shejo Singh. 1996. 38 minutes.
f. #JJIpntDoeM't*Come Anymore - Nepal. Tsering Rhrtar 1997 (Premiere) 38minutes
Taj Mahal: Not a Love Stony - India. Ramesh Menon. 1996. 28 minutes.
. \37.   Tantro Mantra - India. Alex Gabby. 1996. 74 minutes.
38. Teyyam: The Annual Visit of rhe God Wshnumurti - India Erik de Maaker. 1997.56 minutes.
39. Tu Undo Hoi (To Be Alive) - India. Shabnam Virmani. 1995. 50 minutes.
40. Vapours of Empire - India. Gilbert Lcreaux & Mukul Mangatik. 1996. 26 minutes.
41. Voices of Children - Bangladesh. Tareque & Catherine Masud.  1997 (Premiere).
30 minutes.
42. Woit Until Deotii - India Supriya Sen, Samit Basu-Mallik, Tathagatha Banerjee &
Jayant Chakrobarty. 1995. 55 minutes.
43. Wounds of War- Bonds of Peace - Sri Lanka. Anoma Rajakaruna 1996. 24 minutes.
23.   Monrbhumi - India Amar Kan-war. 1995. 52 minutes.
The films will be judged by a three-member festival jury made up of internationally
noted filmmaker Pankaj Butalia from New Delhi, Pakistani theatre, television
and film personality Salman Shahid and Bangladeshi photo-journalist and educator
Shahidul Alam.
The best film will be awarded a plaque and a prize of USD 2500. The second and third
prizes carry purses of USD 1500 and USD 1000.
Tickets will be available from 10 September onwards from the festival office at
Film South Asia, Himal South Asia, Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur. Phone +977-1-522113.
Fax +977-1 -521013 email
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TheSindh Provincial Government has
just established a Sindh Language
Authority. Its chairman is Hameed
Sindhi. That's logical.
Glad to hear that someone else is
trying to get at the Bengali television
market. Zee tried it a couple of years
ago and backed out. A Dhaka construction magnate and banker, Abul
Kher, is said to have teamed up with
Star TV to target a cross-border Bengali-
speaking audience scattered over
Eanglad esh, West Ben gal and Tripura,
Maybe this will be a harbinger of times
ahead when targeted cross border television will similarly rope in other regions of South Asia, such as Tamil,
Punjabi, Pushthu, and so on.
Mr Kher's Bengali channel is going to
be called SAARC TV. Now, either he
is planning to go South Asian before
too long, or he has overreached for his
Bangla TV, which he could simply
have called Bangla TV. Have heard
that there is some grumbling over at
the SAARC Secretariat about the misuse of the name 'SAARC by all and
sundry, from magician's associations
to Rotarians. Do you not think that the
bureaucrats over in that ungainly Secretariat building in downtown
Kathmandu should be raising hell?
But saar, they are all diplomats. What
to do?
Mynew terminology beeperjust went
off. The term il has located on its radar
screen is 'Indianity', a cypher for 'Indian Identity' and used at a seminar on
the subject at Udaipur in mid-June by
the Kumarappa Institute of Gram
Swaraj. Okay, so what does Indianity
consist of? Pat comes the brahmanical
reply from Dr Vishwambharnath
Upadhaya, Vice-ChanceUor of Kanpur
University, "Bhoogol, bhav, bhasha."
That translates as geography,
depth of feeling and language.
What do you do with a real estate developer guilty of advertising fraud, by announcing a "Paradise in Dehra Dun" and showing
a lovely picture taken straight out
of a picture postcard of the Canadian Rockies? Ask for a Tree site
visit" as promised and demand a
round-trip Air Canada ticket to
British Columbia!
^ 4
H .        j^S
v '* \ &&
f. _.^»    ■ e^H
A SAARC team was off to demonstrate
regional amity on the high snows, I
was told, and so I did some research.
Who, where to? The destination is the
top of Mount Gya in Himachal Pradesh.
The expedition was flagged oil by
Mul ay am Singh Yadav, U P - wal lah wh o
also happens to be Defence Minister of
India. It was organised by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in
Darjeeling to commemorate India's 50
years ol Independence. The 28-mem-
ber team includes three climbers from
Sri Lanka and two each from Nepal
and Bhutan. I can imagine that it was
not possible to have a Pakistani along
when blood still flows on Siachen ice,
but what wrong have the Bangalis
done to be excluded? So close to
Darjeeling, that too.
India will never become a mahaan
world power if it turns petulant at
every turn. Now, the Indian government has relused to allow filming in
India of Salman Rushdie's novel,
Midnight's Children. Arrcy yaar,
grow up!
Talking     of     grown-up     men,
Bangladeshis of the male variety seem
to be having a lot of fun. According to
a report published in late July, and
which has all the trappings of serious
research, "some 51 percent of married
men in Bangladesh said they have
experienced pre-marital sex, while 18
women even after marriage". Far be it
from me to accuse Bangladeshi men oi
lying about their sexual adventures,
but, give me a break!
The Asian Age reports from Kathmandu
on 4 August, "Even as lashing rain
keeps people indoors here in Nepal's
Vqapwtal, groups ol brightly-clad village women make their way to the
watery paddy fields that dot the valley." 1 love the colour of what those
village belles are wearing, and the
thought of them frolicking in the paddies, the rain pouring from the skies,
makes me ieel almostlike a Bangladeshi
male in full form. But I have to first
find Vqapwtal, and my map of Nepal
does not show it. Can anyone help?
Truly disturbing confirmation of the
dangers of penmanship in Pakistan
came my way with the latest issue of
the National Gazette and Monographs'
Communication which is a modestly
produced but very useful monthly
compilation on the information media and publishing out of Islamabad.
The July issue alone had the following
announcements: Senior Sub-editor of
Jong Karachi, Manzar Imkani shot dead
by unidentified assailants; Farasatullah
Khan, Jang correspondent in Daska,
shot and critically wounded; renowned
educationist Ashfaq Ahmed shot dead
in Gul berg, Lahore; Javed Rana, senior news editor of The News Lahore
shot dead. Thank heavens for the one
announcement of a natural death, that
of senior freelance journalist
Rana Iqbal.
The basketball-loving (supposedly),
log-housing living (also supposedly)
monarch of Bhutan is properly called
His Majesty King Jigme Singye
Wangchuk of the Dragon Kingdom.
it:    r"~ r
li?om the
maci rune
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
Whyfore, therefore, he is being called
"His Excellency Jigme Singye
Wangchuck" by The Asian Age in a
news item on how Bhutan has agreed
to allow the Sankosh river to be diverted all the way to Farakka. Whyfore
indeed, I tell you.
The Naga people of India's (they might
not agree) Northeast met for eight
days to try for conciliation among the
various politicised {actions. Where did
they meet? Atlanta GA, whose only
claim to fame in recent years has been
the holding of the 1996 Olympics. So
what do the Mizos do if they too want,
to "relinquish old antagonism, give up
old grudges and build upon the best of
(Mizo) heritage"? I am afraid they will
have to wait till after the year 2000,
when all Mizo factions can troop to
Sydney NSW, but only after the games
are over. Such is logic.
There is a supposedly-independent,
newspaper published by an expat Indian in New York which survives
handsomely on the handout of UN
agencies. It is known as The Earth
Times, and its job is to surreptitiously
publish puff pieces on UN aid agencies without the earth knowing who
paid. And so, here is a recent article
lead, written by a Daniel J. Shepardin
the paper, "Major improvements in
access to health care have accompanied Nepal's democratically elected
government assumed power five years
ago..." Reading on, the money for this
one seems to have come straight out of
UNFPA coffers.
Any person who calls himself an intellectual is not one. Does not have
enough intelligence, which is the first
prerequisite of being part of the intelligentsia. 'Intellectual' is something
that you call others, much like 'environmentalist1, never yourself. 1 think
all SAARC countries have this category, which indicates the depth of
mediocrity in this region, which is
why 1 support the announcement by
Himal's editors that they are organising
a conference on South Asian mediocrity. Be sure to have a panel on
those who call themselves intellectuals, including the entire membership
of the All-India Conference of Intellectuals. Boy, that must be one big
membership glob of self-important,
bombastic, stuffed-
shirt, paan-chewing
(though not in itself
a contrary trait,
but in association
with the others it can
be lethal) non-
Saw an AFP picture
of a tea conference
in Colombo. A lady
tea-picker was demonstrating her craft,
with what looks like a specially crafted
helmet with place for the basket
tumpline. I think this is an admirable
idea, if it works", and should be replicated - ah, that developmental word—
in the other tea-pickin' areas such as
the N ilgi r i, D a rj eel ing hills and Assa m
The 1997 Progress oj Nations of
Unicef has a full-page picture of a
Muslim man with a raised arm supposedly against a kurta-clad woman
with hands covering her face. This
picture is supposed to depict "The
intolerable status quo: violence against
women and girls". Photo-editor has to
be given a course in cultural sensitivity, I say. The photo can hardly depict
a man engaged in beating, for the
mechanics of the act
requires a posture
quite different from
what is shown. If anything, that is a South
Asian posture when
a man is leaning relaxed against a wall.
For all we know, he
may be singing a
gazol off key, and she
might be saying with
her gesture, "I can't
stand il!"
Whichever among
you thought Pakistani women were
made of docile stuff
think again after you
hear this. The News
reports from Islamabad, "A woman car
driver thrashed a traffic police sergeant
when he challenged
her for running a red
light at Khyber Plaza chowk. Instead
of leaving the spot, the woman...tore
the sergeant's uniform and sat on his
motorcycle. She left the spot in anger
to the amazement of onlookers."
Glad to note that there is at least the
semblance of a debate among journalists in Karachi on the propriety of their
receivmgsubsidised residential plots
from the Sindh government. The practice goes back to the 1960s, writes
Imran Shirvanee in The News, and the
latest offering was at the hands of
former First Husband Asif Ali Zardari
on it. Well, if they are at least talking
about the propriety, Pakistani journalism cannot be all that bad, can it?
- Chhetria Patrakar
• *^*$9m
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
 .; ft-
Surendra, Prem
and Bijay at the
Lanka Oberoi
CouiiM u/i Comvtb(y
After weeks of hype on fclevi
sion and radio, rapturous ap
plause greeted the Colonial
Cousins as they walked on to the big
square stage in the middle of the
cavernous Sugathadasa Stadium in
Colombo. This applause was expected, given the heavy rotation oi
theirvideos on MTV Asia. Their brand
of mature adult contemporary pop
has struck a chord with many Lankans
who have a penchant lor ballads and
music of the mellower kind.
• Aftersomepreliminarysmalltalk
with the audience, the twosome
launched into "Alnght" from their
debut album, a funky boppy tune
with feelgood lyrics. Hariharan really
opened up and let rip on the vocals -
his reputation as a fine singer in the
bhajan and ghazal traditions are
clearly well deserved. Lezz, Stevie
Wonderesque in Iris plaits, was the
Highlights of the show included
the spiritual "Krishna", its moving
message somewhat spoiled by Lezz
plugging the song's inclusion in the
MTV Viewers Choice award. Even
though his songs don't sound like
advertising jingles, I guess the pitchman in Lezz couldn't resist the soft
sell. Then there was a hypnotic rendition of "Indian Rain", locked down by
a unified bass that throbbed throughout the stadium. (Though if you listen closely to that last, song, you'll
find a direct ripoff of melody from
"Norwegian Wood" by the Beatles.)
Initially, this reviewer thought
that the whole fusion 'thing' wassome
sort of a gimmick, but it comes across
well when the Cousins do it. It helps
educate the audience when the artistes
respect the traditions of the music.
The Cousins have the knack of
writing songs with very open
structures which allow them to
pursue the intermingling of influences. Both are sincere, if slightly
restrained, performers.
it was perhaps too much to expect guitarists Vernon Reid from Living Color and Vishwa Mohan Bhatl
to accompany Hariharan and Lezz to
Colombo, but the backing musicians
proved excellent, including a soulful
flautist and an agile percussion
After the success of the duo's
MTV Unplugged project, it will be
interesting to see what comes next.
Perhaps the Cousins could use their
newfound pop success to bring to
pro mineti ce the work of other Indian
classical artistes, Hari Prasad
Chaurasia for example, whose work
has been limited to releases on the
Real World album. Their role should
change from being local popsters to
that of leaders of a New Asian School,
spearheading the introduction of
South Asian music to the rest of the
world. Then everything really will be
"Alright". lb
Fans of Sursudha and their
music attended their recent
"peace concert" in the Lanka
Oberoi with some anticipation. It
was also an occasion where the group
was to release their newest CD, "The
Third Eye", which is supposed to
represent the threesome's love oi
Buddhism and evoke the flavour of
Lumbini, the Sakyamuni's birthplace.
Sursudha comprises of Prem
Rana "Autari" (flute), Surendra
Shrestha (tabla) and Bijaya Vaidya
(silar) who began performing 11 years
ago and have travelled the world
touring their albums. As musical
ambassadors for Nepal, they performed admirably. Their music is
steeped in the myths of the moun-
tains and valleys, which they evoke
in the minds of the audience. 'The
Third Lye" comprises nine tracks,
andhas titles like "Nirvana", "Shanti",
"Chaitya" and "Bodhimarga - The
Path of Enlightenment".
Drawing heavily from images and
concepts of Buddhism, the concert
was a musical meditation, a contemplation of the component parts that
make up the faith. Track 3, entitled
"Vihara" is actually recorded live i n a
monastery, with the sound of monks
performing devotional exercises and
brisk chants. Lithe and flowing, "The
Third Eye" is indeed a rewarding and
refreshing break from the hustle of
daily life of the Subcontinental on
the go. t
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
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byjyoti Thottam
If Ayemenem were really as lush,
magical, and dreamlike as some
reviewers oi The God oj Small
Things would have us believe, i t woul d
have to give up its name.
Because Ayemenem, unlike
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo
or William Faulkner's Yoknapa-
tawpha County, is a real place. The
peculiarities of life there that inspired
Arundhati Roy will continue well after the clamour around her novel dies
down—witness theobscenity charges
pending in another tiny Kerala town.
It would be easy to dismiss the
lawsuit as another plot twist in Ms
Roy's Cinderella story. But this complaint does accomplish one tiling: it
brings The God of Small Things back to
the place that lives in its pages, and in
doing so, forces readers to look beyond the tired categories they have
been using to think about South Asian
English literature.
The lawyer who brought the suit
may be extreme in condemning the
book as obscene, but he is not alone
in judging it according to a different
set of standards from those used in
the drawing rooms of Delhi and New
York. For millions of Malayans, it
doesn't matter that The God of Small
Things is the hottest new South Asian
novel. What does matter is that it
smashes a large hole in the wall protecting their culture from the rest of
the world.
The Malayalis who leit Kerala in
the late 1960s and early 1970s built
miniature Ayemenems in every corner of the globe, and this book is
being passed around them with the
urgency of village gossip. Unlike
Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh,
Ms Roy uses Kerala as more than just
a setting. lis recitation of leave-taking
and return, its tracing ofthe intricate
patterns of propriety, and its evoca
tion ofscandal-theMalayali
Angel of Death - resonate
deeply lor people from
Rushdie Test
This sense ol place is missing
from most ofthe mainstream
criticism of the book. In
the West, the reviews follow certain
conventions for
writing about
South Asian literature. First, The
Rushdie Test: how
does this writer's
wordplay, fantastical scenes and
mullicultl-pop culture relerences
compare to Salman? Then, what does
this novel "say about India"? Whatever the specific lime and place of a
novel, critics reliably draw some neat
conclusions about the sorry stale of
caste/class/gender/communal relations from the plot of a Soulh Asian
This formula allows for praise
lhal is empty of understanding. Alice
Truax, writing in The New York Times
Booh. Review, offered a particularly
egregious howler. Mistaking the kinship term "kochamma" for a surname
(from Rahel's grandaunt Baby
Kochamma), she wjites, "Even as the
Kochamma family seems to be withering before our eyes, the story of the
family is flourishing." Peter Pop ham,
in the Independent of London, finds in
literature a reason (finally!) lo celebrate the 50th anniversary of Independence: "Indian English goes from
strength to strength. It has risen to
the challenge of evoking the phantasmagoria of India."
The New Yorker, for its part, chose
to mark the anniversary with a special fiction issue. Charlie Rose, an
influential American talk show host,
was to celebrate the day with Roy,
Rushdie, and Gita Mehta for good
measure. Raving about, books, it
seems, has become a substitute for
thinking about everything else that
happens in South Asia.
While the critical response back
in India has been more varied and
less shallow, an acceptance of lhe
categories imposed by Western publishers is poisoning the discourse
about South Asian literature in English. The Subcontinentals may not
be seduced by any so-called exoticism, bul they may be quick to react
against metaphor as too rich, too
vivid. They may not make facile comparisons of one South Asian writer lo
another, but they will keep careful
tally sheets of the advances. They
may not presume that one novel
speaks for an 'Indian' experience, but
they may also be unwilling to admit
how little South Asians from different parts of lhe region actually know
about each other.
Malayali Critics
The eager reaction of Malayalis to the
book has given rise to some unlikely
HIMAL South Asia September/October 1997
 Arts & Society
alternative critical voices. A doctor
from Toronto, P.K. John, posted an
informal review on the Web noting
that "Arundhathi is known as Susi
Mol in family circles. Susi Mol's book
uses some American innovations to
get attention or break the rules." He
then describes the scene of Estha's
molestation and a bawdy song about
a monkey with a red bum. However,
he praises the love scene between
Ammu and Velutha as "handled with
great care and tenderness".
Similarly, a review by the
Malayali author Manorama Ma thai
begins with an assertion of familiarity, a mention that he knows the
author's family, and continues with a
touch of condescension: "1 thought
the incest scene at the end was unnecessary but probably, it was one
of the things that people look for
These 'local reviews' have their
ownproblems, particularly theirpro-
prietary air over the author and her
story, and they certainly do not represent any Malayali consensus about
Ms Roy's work. However, they do at
least offer some new ideas. Mr M athai
criticises the use of a child as narrator; Mr John notes tbe importance of
the servant-mistress relationship.
Outside the mainstream press,
the possibilities open up for many
interpretations. What would happen,
for example, if one began lo think
about this book as one written, specifically, by a woman? Ms Roy articulates, through lhe character of Baby
Kochamma, how women are both
the enforcers and the victims of social
norms. Or by a mother? The tender
intimacy and sensuality of Ammu
and Velutha's affair is matched only
by the passionate closeness of the
relationship between Ammu and the
Of course, the various aspects of
a writer's consciousness, as a woman,
as a Malayali, as an Indian, as a South
Asian, as a member of the
English-speaking elite, never exert
themselves in isolation. In the best
literature, these arbitrary allegiances
are present on ever}' page and challenge the reader to separate one from
the other. Whatever one thinks of
The God of Small Things, this book
and its attending bluster has proven
the necessity of discarding another
set of Laws, the ones that tell us what
should be read, and how. And
how much. £.
7. Thottam is a freelance writer in New
Breaking Up Is Hard
To Do
w« m hkn
m Posi-CoiONUL Cehoh
As expected, the 1 Oth anniversary ofthe lndo-Sri Lanka
Accord in July did not invite
public celebration in Colombo. It is
not dilficult to see why. The agreement pledged peace. Instead, after
broken promises from everyone involved, all it led to was fighting on a
scale more bitter than anything ever
before experienced on the island.
While the anniversary is not an
occasion for the popping of champagne corks, it does, however, pro-
War and Peace in
Post-Colonial Ceylon
by Adrian Wijeinanne
Orient Longman Limited, New Delhi, 1996
INR ISO   fSBN 81 250 0364 9
reviewed by Thomas Abraham
vide an opportunity to look back on
the events of a decade ago and reflect
on what went wrong. It is also an
occasion to look lo the future and try
to see a way out of South Asia's most
intractable civil war. Adrian
Wijemanne's book is an interesting
contribution to the debate on a solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.
Mr Wijemanne was a civil servant in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) during the 1950s before he moved to
Europe where he now lives. He has a
solution to the ethnic conflict that
has the advantage of being clear, concise and rational: split lhe island into
two, give the Tamils the state of Elam
they want, give the Sinhalese the
Sinhala state they want, and let the
two live happily ever after. The
proposal's disadvantage is that it. is
difficult to imagine any Col ombo go v-
erriment having the courage to propose to the Sinhalese that tbe country
be divided. It is equally difficult to
see the Sinhalese people agreeing to
this freely.
The lndo-Sri Lanka agreement,
which was a relatively modest proposal to devolve power to a Tamil
majority provincial council in the
island's north and east was enough to
trigger an insurgency by the jvp which
took nearly four years and tens of
thousands of deaths to quell. The
bloodbath that would follow an announcement that the country was
about to be split is unimaginable.
Bui this does not detract from
several penetrating observations ihat
Mr Wijemanne makes on the nature
ol modem nationalism. He asks a
question that every political leader
on the Subcontinent faced with separatism needs to answer: Is it worth
risking precious human lives in the
interest of preserving political structures and national boundaries inherited from the British empire?
September/October  1997 HIMAL South Asia
Mr Wijemanne writes that those
who want to see resolution of secessionist conflicts must recognise that
"human life is more important than
political or geographical structures".
He adds, "States and state structures
are the handiwork of man and there
is nothing irrevocable about them.
There is nothingsacrosanci about the
state, be it unitary or otherwise." This
is a principle that ought to be emblazoned in letters of gold across the
facades of every government building and parliament house across
South Asia.
Mr Wijemanne also reminds us
that lhe founding principle of a democratic nation state is the consent of
the people. It is this consent which
holds the state together. Once it is
withdrawn, no force of arms can hold
the state together for long. "The elementary fact is that the glue which
binds a sociely together and supports
the state is the freely given consent of
the governed. Consent by its very
nature is voluntary and cannol be
secured by coercion or legislation.
Such efforts may produce a temporary acquiescence but not the permanent bond of freely given consent."
Theoretical Elegance
Mr Wijemanne, like many who are in
favour of a separate Tamil state in Sri
Lanka, argues that the Sinhalese and
Tamils are two separate nations yoked
together artificially by the British into
a single state. "The unitary state bequeathed by the departing imperial
power was regarded as the most essential part of society. Bui il contained a fatal flaw — it was not a state
based upon a nation; it was a state
superimposed upon two nations by
an imperial power." He writes that
there was no "Ceylonese" national
identity to back the new nation stale.
"For the vast majority of the population, of both races, die concept of a
'Ceylonese' nationality was simply
non-existent and unknown."
Besides the fact that there was no
common identity to underpin the
Ceylonese (later Sri Lankan) nation
slate, asserts the author, the Tamils
clearly deprived the Sri Lankan state
of its legitimacy by indicating that
they had no wish to remain within it.
This was unambiguously expressed
during the 1979 general election,
when the Tamils voted massively in
favour of the TULF, which had in ils
election manifesto pledged to "secure, if possible by constitutional
and peaceful means, a separate, independent sovereign state for the
Tamil people in their homeland
which comprises the northern and
eastern provinces."
The TULF received nearly 70
percent of the vote in the Tamil-
majonly northern and eastern provinces , and Mr Wij emanne writes that
"the true significance of this
enormous electoral viciory of lhe
TULF was played down then and
continues lo be played down to
this day."
Given that the Tamils have spoken in favour ol separaiion, Mr
Wijemanne asks whether it is "right
for the Sinhala people to insist on
maintaining the entity created by an
imperial lial and thus inexorably reject the claim of the Tamil people?"
The answer, to him, is "self-evidently,
unambiguously clear... The Sinhala
people have no imperial standing or
right to enforce a former imperial
master's fiat... The Tamil people are
fully justified in desiring a state
of their own and likewise lhe Sinhala
people are entitled to a state ol
their own."
Thesolution proposed istoagree
to create a state of Elam comprising
the northern and eastern provinces
ofthe island, and a rump Sri Lanka
with the island's remaining Sinhala-
majority provinces. This is a theoretically eleganL and morally justifiable position, but it is more or less
impossible to put into practice. In
the same way that a nation state
cannot exist without the consent of
all the people who comprise it, it
cannot be broken up either without
lhe freely given consent of [ill lhe
different people within it, unless one
is willing to pay the price of terrible
Prom lhe bloodbath that accompanied the partition ol India and
Pakistan, to the horrible human suffering that has followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, history demonstrates that, in the words
of an old pop song, breaking up is
hard to do. The only successful, nonviolent example ol break-up of a
nation state in recent times has been
the velvet divorce between the Czech
and Slovak republics. This split succeeded because people on both si des
desired it.
Mr Wijemanne puts forward many
argu tnents demonstrating that, agreement for divorce wifel be good for the
Sinhalese people. They will benefit
economically from the resources released by the termination of the war;
the end of the conflict will bring an
enormous psychological and moral
relief, not to mention an end to the
death of countless young Sinhalese
soldiers; and so on. The authoris also
candid about the difficulty of persuading the Sinhalese to give up their
cl aim to the whole island of Sri Lanka,
and the blow this will be to their
Having said all that, Mr
Wijemanne concludes that there is
no choice but to go ahead with the
divorce, as it is the only way left lo
end the conflict. He holds out. the
hope that the stales of Sri Lahka and
Elam will develop political and economic links. One day, like parts of
the European Union, they will choose
to enter into a new alliance, in a slate
whose name the author proposes
might be "Srilam".
Division of the country is not an
option for the practical-minded Sinhalese politicians, however. In a democracy, they will require the consent of the people before taking such
a bold step, and it is impossible to
conceive of the Sinhalese giving this
consent. The truth ol lhe mailer is
thai, for better or worse, the Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka have
been joined together by history, geography, and a common political system. Like two Siamese twins who
cannot be separated.
Despite the erudition with which
Mr Wijemanne presents his case, his
plan cannol work, for the Sinhalese
and Tamils cannot wish each other
away. What they can, and must, do if
they are to dwell in peace, is to sit
down and talk about ways in which
they can live more comfortably with
each other within their common island home. Ten years ago, one such
attempt was made and il failed, One
can only hope that after a decade of
war, both sides are weary enough to
give it another try. lb
T, Abraham, London correspondent jar
The Hindu, was based in Sri Lanka in
Is it worth
human lives
to preserve
and national
from the
HIMAL South Asia September/October  1997
67    i
 Abominably Yours,
IUt was at a recent kitty party at the
ltRumdoodle Bar that we found out
how difficult it has become to find
mates for our daughters. South Asia's
handsomest hunks, its choicest
bachelors, are being lured away from
under our noses by farang women. Ever
since that close shave with Nehru the
loss of King of Sikkim to Queen Hope
and Sonia's successful interception
of Rajiv, this drain on the Subcontinent's male genetic pool has been
gathering pace.
Then when Jemima sguirrelled
away Imran (on whom all of us had a
secret crush ever since he
single-handedly demolished India in a
test match) we knew this whole thing
was getting out of hand. The threat is
still real: notwithstanding recent spy
satellite pictures of Diana being
nuzzled by Dodi al Payed, it looks like
the Princess of Wales' heart already
belongs to a certain Pakistani
When is this going to stop? Over
raita, we agreed that if it doesn't our
choice of males will soon be limited to
Sita Ram Kesri lookalikes. What we
need is a proactive approach, an action
plan to bring out the best in the men
we have left. Just look around you, they
either have biceps or brains, never
both. And if they do, you can be sure
they already have one-way tickets
outta here. Those who remain are
either potential bride burners with pot
bellies, mosque demolishers in khaki
shorts with chopstick legs, hirsute
frontiersmen who look like Taliban
deserters, or skinny nose-pickers with
sideburns greased in coconut oil.
But all is not lost. With some effort
our malefolk could probably be redeemed. What needs to be done is set
examples, pick role models that
Chopstick Legs and Coconut Face can
look up to and emulate. One way to do
this is to organise pageants, first
statewide and later subregional, to
select a Mr Subcontinent. After all, if
we can have the annual Miss
Hindustan contest to pick the silliest
female in the country, there is no
reason why a competition cannot be
held to choose the Man with the
However repulsive the thought,
since the alternative is accelerated
hunk haemmorhage and further erosion
of South Asia's Y chromosomes, I think
j the idea merits consideration. The
male-dominated SAARC Secretariat
could take the lead since this
is a matter of vital relevance to
the South Asian region.
Sponsors should not be hard
to come by: manufacturers of
products preferred by South
Asian males would fall over
each other for the chance to
be associated with an enterprise as noble as this:
• "Unicorn Brand Potency
Capsules Is Proud To Be A
Sponsor Of The Mr Subcontinent Contest, Stay Vkile Till
You Are Senile with Unicorn."
• "Beehive Moustache Wax,
Co-sponsors of Mr Subcontinent, Never Lets Your Handlebars Droop. Also Good for
Beards and Chest Hair."
• "And finally, Mr Subcontinent Is Brought To You by
Ghanashyam Ghee, Maintaining Your Love Handles for 50
Years of Independence."
Just like Miss World's
Swimsuit Round, the Mr
Subcontinent pageant will
have an Underpants Parade sponsored
by Jockey. Clad in their A-Fronts,
contestants will waddle down the
catwalk exposing cellulite hoarded
carefully over the decades and layers of
lard kept for insulation against the
extremes of temperature of the
Indus-Ganga Plains.
"Beauty is just skin dip," shall bo
the slogan of the Mr Subcontinent
event, taking into account the practical
difficulties that are bound to be
encountered. The most crucial round in
the contest will be the Interview, where
a female MC will try her damndest to
throw the nervous contestants
off-guard with tricky questions:
MC: Our next exhibit is the voluptuous
Mr Balbir Pehelman. That's a great
underwear outfit you have there, Balbir,
the fabric really brings out the contours
of your A-front very nicely. It looks very
flattering, So tell me Balbir, darling,
what is your favourite colour.
Balbir: Our country has so many
battered women and street children,
and I would like to make their life a
little easier by helping them cross the
street. Because the traffic is so bad,
and some drivers are so careless,
MC: I see, that sounds simply marvelous. So what is your ambition in life?
Balbir: Yellow.
MC: Right, I see. Balbir, who is the
person you admire the most in the
Balbir: I would like to be respected for
my mind, and not my body. Because
my body is only the outside of the real
me inside.
MC: (Shuffles papers, checks notes.)
OK, fair enough. One last question,
Balbir, what are your views on arranged marriage?
Balbir: Mother Teresa.
Future Mr Subcontinents will then
serve as role models for males throughout the region and perhaps boost their
chances of being completely repulsive
for prospective groom hunters from
the West.
Even as we speak, our most
eligible bachelors (married or unmarried) are being targeted shamelessly.
And our last line of defence must be to
put guys like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul
Gandhi, Anura Bandaranaike and
Pranoy Roy under 24-hour armed guard
to prevent them from
being lured away under
our (and their wives',
where applicable)
September/October 1997 HIMAL South Asia
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