Digital Himalaya Journals

Himal Southasian Volume 20, Number 7, July 2007 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2007-07

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 July 2007 Vol 20       No 7
War Zones:
Indian SEZs Expand
Aseem Shrivastava
Fake Encounters,
Real Murder
V K Shashikumar
The Logic of
Suicide Attacks
Hekmat Karzai
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Place : ITC One, Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi
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Game, sport, game
Confronted with headlines these days, one might
well ask: Ts there more to sport in Southasia than
cricket? We were sure there must be. After all, hockey
is the national game in both India and Pakistan, as
volleyball is in Sri Lanka. But, as our cover illustration
by Chandigarh artist Karen Haydock suggests, there
is no denying the fact that cricket has become the
overwhelming, dominant passion in tlie region. That
said, all it takes is a little digging to find that there is
indeed life beyond cricket. The rough and tumble of
various contact sports, the exhilaration of climbing, the
thrill (and, yes, dangers) of kite flying, the ancient form
of jousting that is polo - all of these not only continue
to exist, but continue to attract new adherents from
across the spectrum. Tradition, skill and adventure, as
well as the politics of caste and discrimination, mix to
form a heady medley in this sport-filled July issue of
Himal. From the games children play to the core of the
advertising industry, the essence of sport is alive and
pu nting in Southasia today.
President sahiba for India?
Post-Mandal, post-Mandir
A thousand Nepali mutinies
'Sacred Face'
Soutttasian briefs
Paddy in Bihar's Tharuhat
Samir Kumar Sinha
Dark entertainment in the Kashmir Valley
Peerzada Arshad Hamid
Special report
Simulated encounters, real murder
V K Shashikumar
Cmrer feature
Caste and the sporting status quo
S Anand
More than legend
Kabita Parajuli
Opiate of a billion
Boria Majumdar
The Ceylonese origins of Lankan cricket
Michael Roberts
Still in the nets
Amber Rahim Shamsi
Cricket or bust
Siddharth Saxena
Lahore's culture of kite
Shafqat Ali
Malh, challenging the equals
Zaffar Junejo
From royal past to a corporate present
Fatima Chowdhury
At play atop the world
Billi Bierling
Revisiting reservation
Adnan Farooqui
The logic of suicide attacks in Afghanistan
Hekmat Karzai
The present and future of India's SEZs
Aseem Shrivastava
In conversation: Ayesha Siddiqa
Nadeem Omar Tarar
Cosying up to the Bangla generals
Wasbir Hussain
Souttiaslasniiere: C K Lai
Rorty and Ramu
PhetD feature
God knows if I will stay
Aurangzaib Khan
India's humane anarchy
Aditya Adhikari
Not a colonial apologist
Atul Mishra
Tracking 'Milbus'
Safiya Aftab
On the way up
The mind's rock
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Vol 20 No 7
Contributors    to    this    issue
July 2007 |
Editor and Publisher
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Laxmi Murttiy
Desk Bditor
Carey L Biron
Assistant Editor
Himali Dixit
Editorial Assistance
Prakriti Mishra
Kabita Parajuli
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Bocna Sarwar
Kathmandu       Deepak Thapa
Manisha Awal
Business Advisor
Monica Bhatia
Marketing Manager
Komal More
Creative Director Rai
Design & Web
Roshan Tamang
Sunita Silwal
Manc-e Raj bhandari
Hantosh Aryal
Nav in Shekhar
sul>scription@himalmag. com
Samir Maharjan
Valley Distributor
Bazaar International
GPO liox: 2480
Kathmandu - 29
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +97715547279
Fax: +97715552141
ISSN 10129804
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88 912882
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Printed at: Jagadaimba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Ph: +977-1-5547017/18, Fax: +977-1-5547018
Aditya Adhikari is a political analyst with the Carter Center International Election
Observation Mission, Kathmandu. His writings are at
Adrian Farooqui is a research scholar at the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal
Nehru University in New Delhi
Amber Rahim Shamsi is senior copy editor at Dawn News.
Aseem Shrivastava has taught Economics at universities in India and the US. He is
based in New Delhi.
Atul Mishra is a research scholar in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi.
Aurangzaib Khan writes from Peshawar.
Billt Bierling is a Kathmandu-based freelance journalist.
Boria Majumdar, a Rhodes Scholar, is the author of two books on Indian cricket,
including The Illustrated History of Indian Cricket (Roli and Tempus, 2006).
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
Fatima Chowdhury is a freelance journalist based in Calcutta.
Hekmat Karzai is director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul.
Karen Haydock is an artist based in Chandigarh.
Michael Roberts is an adjunct associate professor of Anthropology at the University of
Nadeem Omar Tarar is a post-doctoral researcher at the School of Oriental and
African Studies, London.
Peerzada Arshad Hamid is a Srinagar-based journalist.
S Anand is publisher of Navayana. He lives in New Delhi.
Saliya Aftab is affiliated with Strategic and Economic Policy Research, in Islamabad.
Shafqat Ali is a journalist based in Islamabad.
S K Sinha works with a Patna-based conservation organisation.
Siddharth Saxena is football editor at the Times of India, New Delhi
V K Shashikumar is editor, 'special investigations', CNN-IBN.
Wasbir Hussain is director of the Centre for Development and Peace Studies in
Zaffar Junejo heads the Sindh-based Transformation Reflection for Rural
;j Address j£]
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July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 India oversight
Thanks so much for your recent
coverage of the Lhotshampa
refugee issue (June, "Repatriation
or resettlement"). We found it
unfortunate, however, that the
writer did not stress India's role in
ending this near two-decade-long
tragedy. India has been instrumental
in creating this problem, and its
involvement is necessary in finding
a solution.
With regard to third-country
settlement, this should be a choice
made by individual refugees. That
said, it is also important to note that
the UNHCR and the members of the
core group have been emphasising
only resettlement, rather than
putting pressure on the Bhutanese
citizens. In addition, the US and
other resettlement countries have
not yet demonstrated that refugees'
Poor taste (simulated)
National ID Card §   ,
■wewma.o,;«-;,T ... '"■>&.■'■
ITaaa faa.a.     . , a ada -
■ isitifca •
tM IM i!HI«: I <tt, I C-l 3 :> ;S; iUllBli II
I was recently browsing through
your back issues, and came across
the article on India's national ID
card initiative (November-December
2005, "Peeking out of your pocket").
While the article was competently
written, it included a very offensive
illustration, showing a simulation
of a national ID card belonging
to Rahul Gandhi. The illustration
mentions the "Place of Worship:
Church", "Parents: Italy + India",
as well as a fake CBI Code - all of
which show poor cultural values,
as well as the radical leanings of the
illustrator and publisher. The poor
taste and lack of respect exhibited
should be apologised for, and the
illustration withdrawn.
Savio Pereira
right to return to Bhutan will be
guaranteed after resettlement.
Furthermore, they have not made
clear the conditions under which
refugees will be kept in these
new countries. This oversight
has created unnecessary tensions
in the camps.
UNHCR and the 'core-group'
countries have also not spoken
about the Lhotshampas who
remain in Bhutan, who were not
registered   as  Bhutanese  citizens
Beware the US
In your coverage on Bangladesh,
you have not given due weight to
the role of the US at this critical time.
It is worrying to note, for instance,
that the current prime ministers
in both India and Bangladesh are
former World Bank employees. The
US - in collaboration with European
capitals, as well as the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund
and the Asian Development Bank
- is bent on the 'Pakistanisation'
of Bangladesh. Washington, DC
knowingly allowed radical Islam
and rampant corruption to flourish
in Bangladesh during the 2001-06
rule of the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami
government. Even while US officials
now talk publicly about establishing
democracy   in   Bangladesh,   they
Glad Himal'% banned
Regarding the June cover on
Bangladesh, I would suggest that
you and your reporters refrain from
creating confusion among people
by writing what you think will get
publicity. The Bangladeshi military
has always backed the government,
irrespective of whether it was run
by the BNP, AL or JP. Why didn't
you write such critiques during
those times? I for one am happy
that your publication has been
banned in my country. I believe
in freedom of speech, but most
reporters forget that the definition
of 'freedom' includes an element
of responsibility.
during the last census. Thousands
of Lhotshampas are now in line to
be booted out of the country, and
tlie US, India and most human-
rights groups are acting as mere
spectators as the events unfold. To
claim itself as the largest democracy
in world, how ethical is it for India
to remain aloof from these activities,
taking place in a country to which it
has offered guidance for decades?
Bhutan News Service team
continue to quietly back the army.
India's kowtowing to the US
could seriously hurt the Southasian
cause. New Delhi must not give
in to US imperialist ambitions for
petty short-term gains. An unstable,
undemocratic Bangladesh will be
a significant threat to the region,
particularly for India and China.
As such, New Delhi and Beijing
must ensure that human rights are
quickly restored in Bangladesh, and
that it returns to democracy soon.
Prolonged dictatorship and Islamic
fascism will plunge Bangladesh
into an abyss. The current
unconstitutional government has
neither legitimacy nor mandate
to push the hidden agenda of its
foreign mentors.
Wasim Rajin
By e-mail
Please understand that I am
also against military government.
But the present situation has only
occurred because the two major
parties could not reach a consensus
on the holding of elections. I hope
that the situation stays like this,
so that the people can be rid of
strikes, street demonstrations and
violence created by the political
parties. Politicians in Bangladesh
like to talk about freedom of
the people. All the while, in
the name of 'agitation', they
torch buses and create an environment of chaos that destroys our
country's economy.
Saidul Alam
Edmonton, Canada
Send mail to
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
President sahiba for India?
Who is Pratibha Patil, and how is it that she is likely
to become India's first woman president? Sonia
Gandhi's 14 June announcement of Pratibha Patil's
nomination had journalists scurrying to unearth some
background on the worthy candidate; but no laudatory
past arose, nor any skeleton in the closet. Evidently,
she is just a potential 'common minimum candidate'
to support the common minimum programme of the
ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Here is
a candidate who cannot be accused of being "soft
on saffron", as was the criticism by the left parties
against the candidature of Shivraj Patii, current home
minister and Sonia Gandhi's first choice as presidential
nominee. The left also rejected the nomination of Karan
Singh for his 'royal' background. Gandhi claimed that
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, one of
the early names thrown up and an acceptable
candidate for the left, could not be "spared" from his
current position.
It is telling that the Congress party appears not to
wieid sufficient clout with its current alliance partners,
and subsequently had to bear the ignominy of two of
its high-profile potential nominees - Singh and Home
Minister Patil - being rejected by the left. This has also
been a contest signifying an era of coalition politics, and
the considerable role played by regional parties such
as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Dravida Munetra
Kazhagam, in tilting the votes. This has also been
occasion for unprecedented public wrangling played
out in front of television cameras, and the subject of
SMS polls - rather unseemly for an office that has been
occupied in the past by such dignified statesmen and
philosophers as Rajendra Prasad, S Radhakrishnan
and K R Narayanan.
Following the tenure of the aeronautical-engineer
APJ Abduf Kalam, there has been a shift towards
selecting a 'political' nominee to occupy New Delhi's
Rashtrapati Bhawan on Raisina Hill - the residential
estate purported to be the largest of any head of state
in the world.
Why this intense lobbying for a position that is largely
ceremonial? Although India's president is the head of
state and the supreme commander of the country's
armed forces, in reality the presidency has had little
power. Particularly since the time Indira Gandhi
installed Giani Zail Singh in 1982, the post of president
has been diminished to a rubber stamp for the ruling
party. Powers to declare national emergency, or
'president's rule' in a state facing extreme turbulence,
or to withhold assent to controversial bills passed by
Parliament - all these remain largely theoretical, and
few presidents have managed to assert their veto
powers on actions of the prime minister. In mid-2006,
for instance, President Kalam, after initially sending
back for reconsideration a controversial bill on
broadening the scope of the 'offices of profit', which
would disqualify a person from being a member of
Parliament, had to give his assent after the UPA
ensured that the Parliament passed the bill without
any change.
The UPA had by that time made it clear that it was
not in favour of a second term for Kalam. Meanwhile,
the 'third front' of eight regional parties - including the
Jayalalitha-led AIADMK and Mulayam Singh Yadav's
Samajwadi Party - in its new avatar of the United
National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), are throwing
their weight behind President Kalam, persuading him
to contest a second term. While President Kalam, the
'people's president', might have attracted votes in an
open election, voting by the electoral college, which
consists of the elected members of both houses of
the Parliament and the elected members of the state
legislative assemblies, is largely dependent on the
diktat of the political parties.
Although it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
that installed President Kalam in 2002, it has agreed to
back current Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat
as an independent candidate. As such, the party was
put in a bind by President Kalam's late-June indication
that he would be willing to consider contesting a second
term due to the "overwhelming love and affection from
various sections of people" - although the president
hedged that bet by making his candidature contingent
on his election being a "certainty". That contingency
seems unlikely, given that the UPA, the left and even
some constituents of the National Democratic Alliance
(including the Shiv Sena of Maharashtra) are opposed
to Kalam's candidature. The Shiv Sena, incidentally,
is also in a spot, as it needs to oppose the Congress
even while championing the interests of Pratibha Patil,
a Maharashtrian.
Lifelong loyalist
With the numbers stacked in her favour, the 12th
president of India is likely to be Pratibha Patil, a 72-
year-old, uncontroversial, low-profile Congress loyalist.
Pratibhatai (as she is known in Maharashtra) has
been in politics since 1962, when she was elected
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 to the Maharashtra Assembly, where she remained
until 1985. She has also been a member of the Rajya
Sabha. Patil's CV also tells us that she was a college
table-tennis champ, and even once organised women
The candidate's main qualification appears to be
her steadfast aiiegiance to the Congress, and to the
Gandhi family in particular. Even after her mentor,
Yashwant Rao Chavan, parted ways with Indira
Gandhi after the Emergency, Pratibha Patil stood by
the clan. Her loyalty paid off, and she was appointed to
the Maharashtra PCC (Pradesh Congress
Committee) by Rajiv Gandhi from 1988 through 1990.
Her appointment as governor of Rajasthan in 2004
was also interpreted as a reward for her loyalty.
It is unfortunate that an office that should be
occupied by a person of outstanding qualities, one who
can remain non-partisan despite political pressures, is
now part of the hurly-burly of coalition politics, and that
the primary criterion should be loyalty - not even to a
party, but to a family. The Congress's sudden backing
of a woman candidate is not convincing as a show of
progressiveness, given that no other woman's name
came up before all the other nominees were rejected
by the various UPA coalition members. In a post-facto
justification, Pratibha Pattl's nomination is being touted
as a step towards women's empowerment. All we can
say is, try another one. i
Post-Mandal, post-Mandir
There is a major political churning underway in
North India. The region affected most by the
Mandal and Mandir politics of the 1980s and 1990s
finally appears to be crossing over to a new phase.
From the confrontational caste- and religion-based
politics, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are moving towards
the formation of social alliances between erstwhile
rivals with fundamentally different interests. With the
two states contributing the most MPs to the central
Parliament, this change is bound to have an impact on
national politics. Those political forces that stick to old
exclusivist slogans will miss the bus.
For two decades now, UP and Bihar politics have
revolved around mobilisation along one's own caste
and religious lines, and have not gone beyond catering
to identity-based aspirations. This was important in
itself - marginalised groups attained political power
and a sense of dignity, which allowed them to stand
up to exploitative structures. Laloo Prasad Yadav's
decade-and-a-half rule in Bihar was based on a
shrewd Muslim-Yadav alliance, and he delivered to
his constituency; there was no communal riot in Bihar
throughout his rule, and the Yadavs managed to assert
themselves as never before. In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam
Singh Yadav relied on the same coalition, while
Mayawati stuck to her Dalit constituency - with both
giving a sense of empowerment to their supporters, as
well as access to administration, and economic and
political opportunities.
But the forces that led this change tried to ensconce
themselves in the establishment by assuming that
exclusivist identities would remain the sole determinant
for political choices, and that there was little need to do
much else. In fact, Laloo Yadav was often quoted as
saying that he did not believe in development, since
it would not win him votes. Ground-level realities,
however, were constantly shifting. People were happy
to be finally enjoying citizenship rights in the true
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
sense, but now demanded more. Aspirations were
changing and expectations rising. The citizenry could
see that some cities had managed to corner most
economic opportunities, and they wanted a share of
the pie. Meanwhile, identity remained central to their
self-definition and social structure, but this was no
longer rigid; erstwhile social barriers were being broken
down, and upward mobility and new social alliances
were emerging.
In Bihar, Laloo Yadav was forced to give way to
Nitish Kumar, who allied with the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) to carve out a coalition of upper castes and
the extremely 'backward' castes. Laloo's Muslim-Yadav
formula no longer worked because, to his surprise,
even his supporters said they wanted more-substantial
improvements in their lives, from education to health.
Recognising this, Kumar is now making an effort to
concentrate on law and order, bringing investment to
the state and encouraging the creation of first-class
universities. (Laloo himself, as railway minister,
has also belatedly woken up to this, bringing about
a remarkable turnaround in the functioning of
Indian Railways, suddenly converting it into a
profit-making enterprise.)
In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati has successfully forged
a Brahmin-Dalit alliance, an almost unthinkable
proposition till very recently. She realised that the real
rival of the Dalit was the intermediate-caste landowner
at the ground level. She also knew that the time for
harping on confrontational politics was past - that now
was the time for a political programme championing
 social harmony based on equal rights. The only
party that has yet to wake up., to these realisations
is the BJP, which sttll believes there to be a large
constituency for Hindu fanaticism. Just prior to the UP
polls, BJP apparatchiks brought out a virulently
anti-Muslim DVD, and made a serious attempt to
elevate cow protection to an election issue. As a result,
even its Brahmin base swung towards Mayawati.
The message emerging from UP and Bihar is clear:
marginalised communities want respect, but also real
economic dividends: identity is critical, but identity
fundamentalism has little support: and finally, people
want political stability and social harmony. To the credit
of the Indian democracy, this message has come
from the ground, and will have an impact even in
Delhi politics. i
A thousand Nepali mutinies
To the outsider, Nepal is getting to look like a chaotic
failed state. The government administration is nonexistent; development work is at a standstill; identity-
led agitations are erupting all over; the Maoists are
finding it hard to fit into a government of political parties
while their battle-hardened fighters have difficulty in
respecting the populace; criminality rages in the Tarai.
On the flipside, a social scientist would say that only
the chaotic moment, as chaperoned by Nepal's resilient
political parties, can allow for a transformation of Nepali
society, a process to be defined neither by neighbour
India nor by the larger international community, including
the United Nations. To those who express exasperation
with the Nepali players, according to this argument,
only peace, democracy and a state-structure defined
by Nepalis themselves will have staying power. Also.
Nepal is doing much better than so many countries
emerging from years of violent internal conflict.
Over the course of the last few years, it has
become clear thai there is a fuzzy logic to the Nepali
political process, where the reality on the ground can
be diametrically different from what seems evident in
the English-language discourse. When all seems lost
amidst the cynicism of the unconnected Kathmandu
intelligentsia and the various interlocutors who feed
alarmist information to the donors and diplomats among
others, one is liable to be surprised in the days ahead
when everybody agrees on a formula or scheme that
they had been vehemently opposed to the day before.
That, at least, is the hope today, when a thousand
Speaker SUbhas j' §
NerHbang looks to the
mutinies rage while Girija Prasad Koirala tries to hold
together a contradiction-filled government. But wishes
cannot deliver a constituent assembly election, and that
is the event on which every hope for political stability and
an equitable and inclusive society now rests. The critical
importance of holding elections in November 2007 could
be the one factor that ties everyone together - after each
is exhausted in defending his/her certitudes, and when
every community's (and political party's) demands hit a
countervailing demand from another quarter.
f"> >.;
Bi UUd
The unique situation of Nepal is that everything seems
to be happening at the same time: the demand for
inclusion in a restructuring state, sparking a muttifaceted
debate that is still in its initial stages: the challenges of
the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) trying to maintain
its heroic rebel posture even while serving within a
government-and-parliament format: and the difficulty in
restarting a democracy after it was mismanaged by the
political parties and hijacked by Gyanendra - all of this
in a relatively mature polity that has not seen a general
election since 1999,
Against this backdrop, the vital importance of the
Constituent Assembly becomes clear whichever way you
look at it. And indeed, Nepali citizens are privileged today
to be in a position to be drafting their primary document
of state - learning from others in the Southasian
neighbourhood (and elsewhere), yet devising a text that
is unique to Nepal's history, its demographic diversity
and its wildly differentiated geography. Let it not be
forgotten that the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly
is being conducted according to the mandate of the
People's Movement of April 2006, which requires the
political parties and especially the CPN (Maoist) to be
morally obligated to seek the people's mandate through
the ballot.
The pitfalls of not being able to conduct elections
in November are there for all to see. The current
eight-party government, which includes the Maoists,
will lose all legitimacy the royal rightists will think
they can once again make a stab at power: and
the political turbulence will have the international
community aflutter about 'saving Nepal'. At that
time, when the country experiences a loss of
agency and sovereignty is compromised, Nepali
power-brokers and opinion-makers will have no one to
blame but themselves.
July 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 And so, preparing the conditions for a November
election, as has now been decided through an
amendment to the Interim Constitution, should be
the priority during the month of July. The challenges
come first and foremost from the need for a buy-in to
the 'mixed' election format agreed upon by the political
parties - most importantly, by the indigenous ethnic-
community organisations, the Dalit groups and the
agitated Madhesi factions of the central and eastern
Tarai. While a 'fully proportional' election system might
also have worked, the mixed system (with half of
the seats in the Constituent Assembly to be decided
through the familiarfirst-past-the-post system of electing
candidates, and the other half in which the political
parties are asked to select their members in the house
in accordance with the proportion of communities in the
population) does seem to have within it the kernel of a
'new Nepal'.
Indeed, the mixed system has the ability to throw up
a completely new cast of players in the political arena,
and it is important now forthe political parties to indicate
their bonafide intentions in order that the community
groups to express their whole-hearted support for the
election process. It has also to be kept in mind that a
certain amount of campaign rhetoric and acrimony is a
given, for the upcoming legislature will not only write a
new constitution but also provide the government for
the following couple of years.
if the communities are on board, that leaves the
issue of law and order, which has three aspects:
the Koirala government's abject failure to guarantee
internal security and solidify state administration; the
Young Communist League of the CPN (Maoist), with
its proclivity to speak the language of violence; and
the chaotic situation in the Tarai, where private and
communitarian armies are being born by the day.
Can things settle down enough by the autumn, for
an acceptably free and fair election to the Constituent
Assembly to be held? We sincerely believe so. The
spring has traditionally been the season of discontent
in Nepal, and the upcoming monsoon will bring with
it the balm of camaraderie and goodwill. But Nepal
cannot rely on nature and culture to make the
elections successful. The first task is to get the buy-
in to the mixed system by the indigenous/ethnic and
Madhesi groups. The second is to provide muscle and
motivation to the police force and state administration.
The third is to ensure that Gyanendra, the vainglrious
person who is as yet king, is completely neutralised
and unable to wreck the people's agenda for a
November election.
When all this is done, we may find - surprisingly in
the eyes of some - the situation looking very different
in the next couple of months. Nepal has the ability to
astound the world, when the state and citizens put
their minds together. A
'Sacred face'
(part of a series)
The face of a woman and the profile
of a chiru, the endangered Tibetan
antelope, gaze out in wrapt curiosity from
this painting by artist Ang Sang. Against an
overwhelmingly grey background, their wide
eyes are strikingly bright and open. What are
they watching that so holds their attention?
The woman wears a Nike swoosh on her
hat; and the chiru, that mascot of indigenous
culture, sports a Playboy bunny. These logos,
the bright red symbolism of which screams
from the page like a noisy new entrant, seem
to partake in their wearers' viewership. What
is the relationship here? Woman and antelope
fix their gaze on a common object. What they
are watching must be truly beautiful, or truly
repugnant, to so fascinate both human and
beast. But the searing colour of the corporate
logos has started to invade the whites of their
eyes. >
This is part of a regular series of Himal's commentary on artwork by artists with the Lhasa-based Gedun Choephel Artists'
Guild. Woodblock with brushwork, mineral pigments. 50 cm x 50 cm.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Rating peacefulness
BB 1.357-1.693
BB 1.B92-l.t>93
IBB 2.093-2.587
981   2.587.3,437
The first-ever Global
Peace Index (GPI)
was unveiled recently,
revealing some
unpleasant surprises for
Southasia in general,
and all-but-shining India
in particular. The GPI,
which for the first time
has attempted to rank
121 countries according
to their "absence of
violence", placed India
at 109-shockingly,
one spot lower than
Burma. Iraq was at the
bottom, while Norway
was considered the
most 'peaceful' country.
The GPI was developed
by the Economist
Intelligence Unit in
conjunction with an
international panel of
academics and experts.
Researchers utilised a
definition of violence
that included unrest
both within and between
Other Southasian
countries did even worse,
with Sri Lanka at 111 and
Pakistan at 115. Indeed,
on the GPI's global
map, the Southasian
region is coloured almost
completely red, meaning
the "state of peace"
is "very low". Bhutan,
Pakistan panchayat
group   of   Indian    Panchayati    Raj   officials,
intellectuals and activists are scheduled to visit
Pakistan on a mission in July, to discuss India's
experiences of local self-governance'.- known as
Panchayati Raj. India's Minister for Panchayati Raj,
Mani Shankar Aiyar, will head the 50-person mission,
which is to last all of three days.
The crossborder exchange will be the result of
an agreement made nearly two years ago (as well
as a follow-up agreement made last December)
between Aiyar and the head of Pakistan's National
Reconstruction Bureau to create an India-Pakistan
Joint Forum for Local Governance. Under Pervez
Musharraf's rule, Pakistan took on a new system
of local governance in 20G1, and interest in India's
Panchayati   Raj   system   has   been   periodically
expressed by Islamabad ever since. A
however, at 19, was
placed better than much
ofthe rest ofthe world,
something that will surely
make it onto glossy travel
brochures in the very
near future. China as a
whole was placed 60th,
and Bangladesh 86th,
while Afghanistan, Nepal
and the Maldives were
mysteriously absent from
the rankings altogether
- not that their inclusion
would have dramatically
changed the region's
colour scheme.
On India, one
hypothesis for its low
ranking could be that,
while looking at the
country through the
prism of a centralised
state, it may look 'stable'.
But whether there is
'peace' in the units of the
Indian Union is another
matter - consider the
Northeast, Kashmir,
Jharkhand, Telangana,
Chhattisgarh and
Gujarat! A
ULFA to Nepal?
With Bhutan, Burma and, soon, Bangladesh
rendered non-options, the claim is that the
United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is moving
bases to Nepal. This is what two arrested ULFA
leaders have told their Indian handlers.
After having successfully strong-armed the
governments in Thimphu and Rangoon to carry out
missions in their frontier areas to flush out Indian
insurgent groups in the past, New Delhi now seems
to have convinced Dhaka's military-backed interim
government to send a no-welcome message to any
Northeast insurgent group in Bangladeshi territory.
The only remaining crossborder area to go to,
evidently, is Nepal. Following their arrest in early
June in Assam, senior ULFA leaders Ghanakanta
Bora and Tulsi Borgohain (incidentally, a married
couple) claimed that the group had already set up
a handful of bases in Nepal, and that it was now
planning on moving a significant number of militants
into them.
Perhaps more inflammatory, Bora and Borgohain
also alleged that the Nepal camps were set up with
the help of Nepali Maoist cadres, who had also aided
ULFA militants in the procurement of weapons.
The two ULFA leaders and their son were evidently
based in Nepal prior to their arrest. Days after the
allegations surfaced, Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist) leader Baburam Bhattarai vehemently
denied any connection between his party cadre and
ULFA militants. "We have no direct or indirect link
with them," Bhattarai asserted. "We have never been
in contact with this organisation called ULFA."
There is one question that still needs to be asked,
though. In order to have insurgent bases of the kind
that were in southern Bhutan or Burma, one needs
jungles. But those in Nepal's eastern Tarai, proximate
to ULFA stomping grounds, have all been decimated.
Where would these bases be situated? A
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
On the global precipice
Southasian glaciers, fast receding
On 5 June the world
celebrated another
World Environment Day,
further cementing the
global understanding of
the earth's environment
as well on the road to
doom. The World Bank
released a report the
same week, warning that
crop yields in Southasia
could decrease by up
to 30 percent over the
coming four decades,
due to global warming.
The report noted
that climate change
in the region would
inevitably significantly
hamper attempts to
achieve the UN's
Millennium Development
Goals, including in
poverty reduction and
communicable disease.
The net impact of many
of these ramifications,
the Bank's researchers
cautioned, will be a series
of "severe" economic
shocks, which will
radically increase the rate
of population movements
and create new migration
patterns. Populations will
From Bhutan to Burma
Bangladesh's attempts to purchase hydroelectric
power from Bhutan have evidently come to naught.
By mid-May, Energy Adviser Tapan Chowdhury said that
there had been no answer from either Thimphu or New
Delhi to Dhaka's repeated queries on the matter since
early March. "We cannot expect to buy hydroelectricity
from Bhutan at present," Chowdhury conceded, at a
roundtable set up by the Asian Development Bank.
And so the adviser (a minister in the current set-up)
announced that Dhaka was planning on sending a
delegation to Rangoon in June, to look into the possibility
of importing hydroelectricity from Burma. This option
was clearly not as enticing as the possibility of importing
Bhutani power, which would have been so close by,
just across the 'Duars' of Assam. Chowdhury warned
that importing Burmese energy would require large
capital investments into Burmese hydropower
plants- loans which would be difficult to procure, given
the current international sanctions in place against the
Rangoon junta.
But money would not be the only issue. While New
Delhi has a special relationship with Bhutan and imports
the vast majority of the energy the small Himalayan
country produces, a similar dynamic has been evolving
between Burma and Beijing. How will Bangladesh untie
that particular geopolitical knot, to assuage its thirst
for power? /).
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
particularly move into
urban areas and across
international boundaries,
exacerbating looming
resource crunches,
stressing poorly
planned and inadequate
infrastructure, and putting
increased pressure on
states' senses of national
and resource security.
Separately, the
International Centre for
Integrated Mountain
Development (ICIMOD),
in Kathmandu, took the
opportunity to raise the
alarm about another 50-
year scenario. Within the
coming half-century, an
ICIMOD report stated, all
Himalayan glaciers could
disappear. These glaciers
function as sources
for nine of the largest
rivers in Southasia, from
Pakistan to Burma, and
the direct impact on the
region's population of 1.4
billion people would be
As the glaciers
melt, they will affect
agriculture, biodiversity
and hydroelectricity
production, and will
lead to massive swings
in both flooding and
drought. What seems
clear is that while we
fight each other based
on petty nationalisms
here in Southasia, all
our attitudes and mental
foundations will be made
irrelevant by the tectonic
shifts resulting from
global warming. But our
sense of alarm seems
only to be linked to the
period around World
Environment Day. So, see
you next 5 June - we will
worry some more then! ^
This country or that
In late May, an official Indian delegation for the first
time paid visits to a handful of the 'enclaves' that
dot the Indo-Bangladeshi border. It was joined by a
counterpart mission from Dhaka. The team visited
three Indian enclaves in Bangladeshi territory and
four Bangladeshi enclaves in Indian territory, in an
effort to speed up the process of trading the so-called
chhitmahals that was initially agreed upon more than
thirty years ago.
Although exact numbers vary dramatically
from source to source, there are an estimated
51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India and 111 Indian
enclaves in Bangladesh, created due to Partition-era
confusion over a 19th-century agreement. Cut off from
the protection and munificence of their home countries,
the estimated 30,000 residents ofthe enclaves live
without electricity, schools, medical facilities and other
infrastructure. The recent visit was to usher in what is
forecasted to be a 'final' round of talks on the issue in
late June in Dhaka. If the news has reached them at
all, those
30,000 will
be looking
to an end
Mid-range Maldives
The Maldivian
government has
announced plans to
build five new airports
in various parts of
the atoll nation. The
Maldives' aviation
minister, Mahamood
Shaugee, said that the
new programme would
take the total number of
air hubs in the country to
seven. He promised that
the addition of the new
landing strips, on land
reclaimed from lagoons
in the north and south
atolls, would make the
Maldives a less exclusive,
less expensive holiday
destination for tourists.
"The image that we
want to portray is that
we have products for
the mid-market also,"
Shougee explained, going
on to note that each new
airport would be built
in conjunction with at
Bilateral pollution
For the first time, the issue of crossborder pollution
has been raised under the auspices of the Indus
Water Treaty. On the sidelines of the bi-annual meeting
ofthe Indus Commission in New Delhi in May, Pakistan
Indus Water Commissioner Syed Jammat Ali Shah
recounted his dismay over the pollution levels he
had witnessed in the Jhelum River during a recent visit
to Kashmir.
Shah had been in the area to inspect the Uri and
Kishanganga hydroelectric projects, and reported
finding, for instance, drains from Srinagar emptying
directly into the river. (Out of 52 sewage installations
in Srinagar alone, 35 are reportedly flowing directly
into the Jhelum without treatment.) Shah subsequently
decided that the issue of pollution flowing out of Indian
territory into Pakistan through rivers is indeed covered
under the 1960 treaty.
Although Shah was evidently unimpressed with
explanations given to him of attempts to mitigate the
pollution flows from Jammu & Kashmir, experts in
Srinagar have long complained of a lack of necessary
funding to deal with the issue. Indeed, for the past
several years, water-quality experts have failed even
to set up monitoring stations beyond the Srinagar
area. Meanwhile, medical experts have warned of
unacceptably high levels of both water-borne diseases
and industrial pollutants throughout the Valley.
The issue of crossborder pollution of watercourses,
finally raised on the Jhelum, should perhaps be a cue
to environmentalists in Bihar, for an environmental
appraisal of pollution on the Bagmati, which carries
down untreated sewage from the Kathmandu Valley. £b
least one resort. "We are
making an effort to bring
mid-range resorts to
the Maldives."
Occupancy of the 89
existing resorts in the
Maldives is reportedly
at nearly 90 percent.
Fifty-one additional
resorts are currently
under construction, and it
is said that charter airlines
from Europe have already
begun booking
flights into the yet-to-be-
built airports.
The opening up of
alternative airports may
also be an attempt to
address disgruntlement in
the less-developed parts
- particularly Addu atoll
in the south - towards
Male-centric tourism and
other development. A
World War ll-era airport
in Addu is said to have
been left neglected by
Maldivian authorities in
order to pamper Male.   /s.
Low-country solidarity
Following the recent mass flooding in the Maldives,
the first country to respond to Male's pleas for
international aid was none other than cash-strapped,
crisis-engulfed Bangladesh. When the interim
government in Dhaka announced a contribution of
USD 1 million to ameliorate the effects of the country's
worst flooding since the 2004 tsunami (a preliminary
report suggested that nearly 1650 people had been
made homeless), officials in Male were perhaps the
most surprised of all.
Thus it was that the Southasian country with the
lowest GDP was the first to step forward to help the
Maldives, which has one of the highest - indeed,
Bangladesh's GDP is around a quarter of the
Maldives'. And not only is USD 1 million the largest
contribution that Dhaka has ever made to another
government, but it far eclipses the Maldives' largest
single international aid contribution - USD 50,000,
made to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh following past
natural disasters. The amount also far outstrips other
promises of assistance made to the Maldives to date,
including by India and the US.
In explanation of this largesse, Bangladesh's
ambassador to the Maldives pointed to the similarities
between the two
countries, noting that
they are both "low-lying
states, vulnerable to
flooding and the effects
of global warming". He
also stated that while
the aid came with no
strings attached, he
hoped that the Maldives
would in the future
help Bangladesh to
create an international
organisation to
help with emergency
disaster response.       k
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
The Mechi battleground
Help Appeal
India fired Bhutanese refugees trying
to get bock to their country.
Many got injured
Help the injured
refugees for
medical treatment
:,.   'vv ': .
After years of
the circumstances
surrounding the Bhutani
refugees in southeastern
Nepal have suddenly
turned dramatically
violent. After thousands
of Bhutani refugees
attempted to cross the
Mechi River border bridge
into Indian territory on
28 May en route to their
homeland, one of them
was killed and dozens
wounded when Indian
security forces opened
fire. Indian officials
reported that at least six
of their own personnel
were also injured
when refugees started
throwing rocks.
The previous week, the
UN High Commissioner
for Refugees, Antonio
Guterres, had visited
the refugee camps in
southeastern Nepal,
before going on to
Thimphu, where he
had urged the royal
government of Bhutan to
repatriate the estimated
107,000 refugees
currently in the UNHCR-
overseen camps.
The confrontation on
the border also followed
directly on the heels
of days of dramatically
ramped up violence
in the refugee camps
themselves, with anxiety
Fibre optic to Southeast
Just weeks after a new fibre-optic connection
between India and Pakistan through Wagah was
slated to become operational, New Delhi agreed to lay
a similar cable to the east, across the Manipur border
into Burma. The project will be sponsored on the Indian
side by the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited
(BSNL). The proposed connection will stretch from
Imphal to Moreh, and from Tamu to Mandalay, about
500 km into Burma.
While vastly improving India's telecommunications
link with its eastern neighbour, the cable will also be the
first step towards connecting the Subcontinent directly
to Southeast Asia, in a network that will eventually end
in Singapore, through Kuala Lumpur. Construction on
the first phase of the project has already begun, and
is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
In addition, BSNL is said to be planning to build an
underwater telecommunications connection directly to
Singapore, across the Bay of Bengal. h
On 10 June, External
Affairs Minister Pranab
Mukherjee electrified
the refugees' mood
when he conceded in
Calcutta, after meeting
with the West Bengal
chief minister, that the
Lhotshampa refugee
issue was indeed an
"international problem".
This was a major
departure for a country
that has denied not only
any international flavour
to the refugee issue, but
even its own interest in
what it has called a purely
bilateral issue between
Thimphu and Kathmandu.
It now remains to be
seen how the refugees
and their leadership are
able to capitalise on this
sudden surge of interest
in their condition. A
mounting surrounding
refugee activists opposed
to recent moves towards
third-country resettlement.
Preparations are currently
underway to begin
resettling refugees to the
US and other countries,
with the process to begin
by the end of the year.
Two refugees were
killed by Nepali police
in the camps during
attempts to quell the
violence, and one
prominent refugee
leader was severely
injured when attacked
by goons. A two-week
strike subsequently called
by the refugees was
suspended, however, on
promises of a meeting
between refugee leaders
and Nepali, Indian and
Bhutani officials.
The sari fights back
The power of entertainment has long been proven
unmatched in rendering irrelevant intellectualised
hang-ups. This has been visible in recent times in
Pakistan, where the popularity of Indian television
dramas among Pakistani women has led to a spike in
sari sales. Pundits have dubbed the reappearance of
the sari there as a "new fashion trend".
Not only has the popularity of such shows as "Kahiin
To Hoga", "Kumkum" (see photo) and "Kahaani Ghar
Ghar Kii" led to a brisk black market in saris smuggled in
from India, it has also resulted in a dramatic upsurge in
the small local sari-manufacturing industry in Pakistan.
One shopkeeper recently estimated that a sari-wallah
may have sold 20 saris a week in past years, but could
now have a weekly turnover of up to 100.
As could be imagined, the most in-demand saris are
those that resemble the ones worn by actresses on the
tele-dramas. As such, local manufacturers have come
out with lines named after the television characters
themselves -for instance,
the Kumkum or Kashish
sari. After decades of
relentless loss of cultural
space to the salwar
kameez, it has taken the
Hindi serials to revive the
fortunes of the regal sari.
Television can bring some
justice after all! A
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
An international
conference on
Kashmir, to be held in
Bombay in early June,
was postponed due to
New Delhi's decision
not to allow visas for
Pakistani participants.
The conference was to be
part of the international
organisation Pugwash's
series 'Conferences on
Science and World Affairs'
Ironically enough,
Pugwash, which is based
in Europe and the US,
is currently headed
by an Indian, eminent
scientist and Rajya
Sabha member M S
Swaminathan (see pic).
Prominent personalities
had been slated to
attend the conference,
including Jammu &
Kashmir leaders Omar
Abdullah and Mirwaiz
Umar Farooq. Several
Pakistani diplomats,
scholars, government
officials and leaders from
Azad Kashmir were also
expecting to take part in
the conference, including
Sardar Abdul Qayyum
Khan and Chaudhary
Latif Akbar. That was
when the visa problem
came up.
The New Delhi
government gave no
explanation forthe denial,
although similar Pugwash
conferences on Kashmir
have successfully taken
place in Kathmandu in
2004, and in Islamabad
last year. &
Politicised waters
Beijing recently concluded a wide-ranging study on
how the waters from five major Himalayan river
systems are currently being used, reigniting fears
in India and Bangladesh over China's longstanding
plans to build a dam on the Brahmaputra's Tibetan
headwaters. Although an official in Lhasa couched
the enquiry in terms of China's currently stepped up
environmental initiatives, he also noted that the study,
conducted over the course of a month from 8 May to
3 June, would be the "longest and most wide-ranging
examination of the region's use of water resources".
Researchers ostensibly focused on drinking water,
sanitation and small-scale hydropower, but this did little
to quell jitters in New Delhi and Dhaka. Despite past
diplomatic discussions, Beijing is believed to be moving
forward with its old plan to dam the Brahmaputra,
eventually diverting nearly 200 billion cubic metres of
water per year into the Yellow River, for use in China's
increasingly parched northern regions.
It seems appropriate for India's Northeast and all of
Bangladesh to collaborate on this issue, with an eye
to heading off the Chinese plans. And the going could
still be tough, given Beijing's proclivity to run roughshod
over naysayers in matters of water sharing and
dam building. h
IN0IAJTI6ET         ' 	
MP "already" Chinese
A consular decision by China's embassy in New Delhi
in late May has added to irritation over Beijing's
continuing claim to around 90,000 square kilometres
of land in Arunachal Pradesh. During the course of
preparations for a visit by 107 Indian bureaucrats to
Beijing and Shanghai, Chinese officials in the Indian
capital agreed to issue 106 visas - but said that the
107th, meant for an official from Arunachal, was
unnecessary because, as far as Beijing was concerned,
the man was already a Chinese citizen.
New Delhi immediately cancelled the entire visit,
and the city has been full of rancour over the incident
ever since. Although Manmohan Singh and Wen
Jiabao signed an agreement two years ago to resolve
their countries' border disputes through "friendly
consultations", rhetoric over Arunachal has been
heating up in recent months. New Delhi recently sent a
probe to the state to explore reports that Chinese troops
are illegally occupying parts of Indian territory.
Possibly this type of diplomatic incident has not
occurred in the past because there have been too few
Arunachalis applying for Chinese visas. But what will
happen when applications increase? h
I c
Rapporteur worries
he purge being
carried out by Dhaka's
military-backed interim
administration now also
targets UN officials. Sigma
Huda (see photo), the
United Nations' Special
Rapporteur on Trafficking,
was supposed to appear
in Geneva before the
Human Rights Council
on 11 June, to give
a report on her findings in Bangladesh. The week
before, however, the interim administration forbade
her from leaving Bangladesh, claiming that she was a
"security threat", and charging her under anti-corruption
legislation. Huda's husband, Bangladesh Nationalist
Party politician Nazmul Huda, has also been charged.
Huda was previously refused exit from Bangladesh in
The assumption is that Dhaka officials were worried
that Huda would be making some damning accusations
in her report, including highlighting allegations that the
military-backed government has detained and tortured
more than 95,000 Bangladeshis in recent months. She
responded to the latest contravention of international
law by questioning whether she herself was really the
security threat, "or whether the government itself is
the threat?" h
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Revisiting reservation
Any democratic society faces the challenge of
harmonising two essentially contradictory political
concepts: first, equality before the law irrespective
of religion, caste, race and gender; and second, social
justice at the cost of the same commitment to equality
before the law. Over the years, reservations have
become the Indian government's standard approach
:: .vards groups demanding equality, and this has led to
increasing political pressures to extend reservations to
communities other than Scheduled Castes (SCs) and
Scheduled Tribes (STs).
For a week during late May and early June, Rajasthan
witnessed an unprecedented level of violence over
demands by the state's Gujjar population for inclusion
in the ST list. The protesters sought, extraordinarily,
to demote their caste category from Other Backwards
Classes (OBC), in order to gain further benefits from
affirmative-action policies reserved for STs and SCs.
Their demand was subsequently violently opposed by
Rajasthan's Meena community, which is currently listed
as a Scheduled Tribe. Gujjar demonstrators blocked the
national highway in Rajasthan, dismantled railway lines,
and burned bridges, public buses and railway property.
All in all. the protests claimed 26 lives. The agitation
spread like wildfire to Uttar Pradesh. Haryana, Delhi
and even Jammu & Kashmir, even while the police,
paramilitary forces and army seemed nonplussed.
The roots of the current crisis can be traced to
promises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
leader Vasundhara Raje. During her 2003 campaign
in Rajasthan, Raje had pledged to grant ST status to
the Gujjar community. Since becoming chief minister
in December of that year, however, she has not moved
to fulfil that promise. Even as Gujjar anger escalated,
things were made more difficult for Raje by warnings
from leaders of the state's powerful Meena community,
who were worried that Gujjar inclusion on the ST
list would affect their own position, for having to divide
their benefits.
It was following the official formation of the state of
Rajasthan back in 1949 that the Meenas were declared
a Scheduled Tribe. The Gujjars were not, even though
the two communities are of comparable socio-economic
status. It was in 1993 that the Gujjars were granted
OBC status, a category devised to cater to deprived
communities that did not make it within the ST and
SC categories. The community started jostling for ST
status when Atal Bihari Vajpayee granted OBC status
to the powerful Jat community in Rajasthan in 1999,
and Gujjar leaders realised that they were looking at
receiving a smaller share of the OBC reservation pie
- hence the proposed shift to ST status, which has
generated identical fears among the Meenas.
Though the recent protests were about entitlements
The recent agitations hy lhe Gujjars in
Rajasthan can provide an opportunity
to clear Ihe cobwebs around India's
caste-based reservation policy.
m jobs and educational institutions, they were fuelled by
the perception that, over the last 50 years, the Meenas
had done better for themselves than the Gujjars had,
largely due to their ST status. While the former has
become well represented in state and service jobs, the
latter has largely had to resort to mining and construction
or, at best, minor clerical positions.
After six days of agitation, a settlement was arrived
at on 4 June, signed by Chief Minister Raje and the
Gujjar leader Colonel (Rtd) K S Bainsla. While it has
brought temporary peace to Rajasthan, the animosity
between the Meena and Gujjar communities continues.
Meanwhile, an official committee directed to look into
the Gujjar demands will have to work extremely hard it
it is to submit its report within the stipulated three-month
period. There is no guarantee that its findings will satisfy
the Gujjars. And either way, no findings will satisfy both
the Gujjars and the Meenas.
The Gujjar-Meena confrontation has prompted a
nationwide rethink of India's policy of reservations
based solely on caste. Yet, this is not just a story about
Gujjars or Meenas wanting to gain more reservation
privileges. It is also the story of how politicians are
attracted to quotas and reservations as vote banks.
Once contemplated as a temporary measure to ensure
equality for historically disenfranchised communities,
reservations have become a permanent tool for
vote-bank politics - and have, in the process, been
excessively divisive.
Two-way Fe:;er:<t,nout
The policy of affirmative action in India is based on a
rigid reservation system that uses quotas to assure
diversity in the educational system and certain sectors
of the workforce. While the policy of reservation in favour
of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes was implemented
very early on in post-Independence India, the same
arrangement was not made for the OBCs because the
Constituent Assembly could not decide on whether the
criteria for defining 'backwardness' in this case should
be class or caste.
Though the constitutionality of the use of religion as
a criterion in selecting backward classes has not been
challenged explicitly, the government has rejected its
application in practice in the face of demands made
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 by Muslims and Dalit Christians. Reservations have,
however, been extended to more and more groups
over time - by state governments during the 1970s
and 1980s, and by the central government following
the Mandal Commission report in 1980, which affirmed
reservation practices for OBCs and STs and SCs.
This has called into question the legitimacy of India's
reservation policy in general. For one thing, it has brought
benefits to members of groups with considerably weaker
cases for preferential treatment than the Scheduled
Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. This disconnect
has sharpened social tension and political contestation
around issues of ethnic identity, against a background in
which the demarcation of groups eligible for reservation
benefits is already problematic. Furthermore, reservation
policies in higher-education admissions encourage
inter-group competition for access to seats in elite
institutions. This has led to increasing resentment
against beneficiary groups by more-advantaged groups,
whose members have traditionally enjoyed exclusive
access to such positions.
The group-based reservation policies that are
currently being proposed for OBCs in higher education
have their rationale in three basic premises. The first is
that the groups concerned are socially disadvantaged
relative to what is known as the 'general' category.
Second, the disadvantage is most effectively addressed
by directing benefits towards groups, rather than
towards disadvantaged individuals or households. And
third, among available group-based affirmative-action
policies, reservations in education and government jobs
are the best choice.
Addressing backwardness
Is there a case for OBC reservations in higher
education? Despite the lack of data, it appears that
although OBCs do face some disadvantages vis-a-vis
the general category, these differences are small in
comparison to the obstacles faced by the Scheduled
Castes and Tribes. Furthermore, the question of relative
disadvantage of the OBCs with respect to the general
category has remained controversial because there
is no recent census data that correlates caste and
social status. The last detailed caste enumeration was
undertaken by the colonial administration in 1941. Even
then, this data was only partially tabulated due to World
War II and the political unrest of the last years of British
rule. As such, it is data from the 1931 census that is
most heavily relied upon.
Furthermore, the official definition of 'other backward
castes' has varied from state to state. The term does
not signify a homogeneous social group and, moreover,
splits between upper and lower backward castes have
historically occurred in many states. The heterogeneity
among broad categories such as the OBCs, together
with the fact that some communities - such as the
Jatavs amongst the SCs, or the Kammas, Reddys, Jats
and Vokkaliggas amongst the OBCs - have been able
to corner a disproportionate share of state resources
through effective political mobilisation, suggests that
reservation policies targeting broad social groups may
not be effective tools of social justice. Too many of the
disadvantaged lot, including the Gujjars of Rajasthan in
the current instance, will be excluded in favour of the
more privileged.
The idea of group dignity fervently catches the
public imagination when it comes to the reservation
of public-sector jobs for disenfranchised groups.
Frequently in North India, it is political victories of lower
castes that get celebrated as symbolic of defiance and
social redemption, rather than committed attempts at
changing the economic structure of deprivation. While
reservation policies ostensibly serve the function of
group upliftment and provide symbols for aspirations
of future generations, public quotas generally end up
helping only tiny elites within disenfranchised groups.
The overwhelming majority of people in these groups
stand no real chance of landing the high-level jobs that
reservations secure, in large part because they drop
out of school.
Beyond thedirect consequences of distributive politics
are its ramifications for democratic governance. The
Indian polity has recently become more representative,
with the inclusion of groups hitherto excluded from the
state apparatus, and elite control over governance
has somewhat diminished. This has led to a welcome
expansion of democracy into the lower rungs of the
social hierarchy.
These social and political changes have come to
North India rather late. South India, where comparable
socio-political and economic mobilisation took place
several decades ago, has seen significantly better
performance in matters of public expenditure - on pro-
poor projects in health, education, housing and drinking
water. This reflects the fact that, in South India, there
has been a long history of social movement against
exclusion of lower castes from the public sphere,
against their educational deprivation and so on.
The historical disparities between caste groups in
India are so great that corrective policy interventions are
essential. To a large extent, the reservation policy has
succeeded in providing opportunities to people who did
not have them. But in judging who should be eligible for
reservation, the focus has been only on caste, and this
has meant that many of the benefits of reservation have
gone to economically well-off groups. Furthermore,
little effort has been made to supplement reservation
policy with an improvement of basic facilities: good
primary schools, better health facilities, and training
programmes. Neither the Constitution nor public policy
has been able to ensure substantive equality. State
intervention, whether in the form of reservation or action
against adverse discrimination and a host of welfare
policies, has reduced neither the vulnerability suffered
by the vast majority of Indian citizens nor the massive
inequalities in the country. i
July 2007 1 Himal Southasian
Caste and the sporting status quo
As long as caste continues as the overwhelming factor in India, all-round sporting glory
will be elusive, and Indian teams will continue performing disastrously globally.
Sport, historically, evolved as a substitute for
war. Chariots used in war would be used for
racing as sport. In ancient Greece, the Olympics
games were closely associated with the development
of the state and warfare between states. In the
sporting arena, gladiators - either prisoners of war or
criminalised slaves - fought to the death in front of
spectators. Early sport was controlled war in a public
place: permissible violence, staged within a certain
demarcated boundary, unfolded under the gaze of the
state, king or some form of authority.
The linkages between war and combative sport
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
in the Subcontinent are strong. In India, when
ultra-nationalist and revisionist historians celebrate
'ancient' sport such as kushti, malla-yuddha or pehlwani
- forms of combat wrestling in which the mythological
Bhima and Duryodhana participate - they are primarily
referring to martial arts. Even in the southern part of
the Subcontinent, kalarippayattu (prevalent in parts of
present-day Kerala and Kamataka) and varma add (in
present-day Tamil Nadu) are martial-art forms that
double up as medical practices, since they emphasise
understanding of the 'vital spots', and also pass for
sport. Kabaddi, a popular sport in the Punjab that also
 Sport is projected as a great social leveller, but in India it becomes yet another site of
reinforcing social norms.
finds mention in ancient Tamil culture as sadugudu, is
another combative team game that entails a great deal
of group physical contact.
When sport thus is a display of controlled physical
aggression, the question of who has a right to
perform becomes crucial. In traditional caste society,
participation in all martial sports would necessarily
have been limited to the martial Kshatriyas; in some
cases, arms-bearing Brahmins also participated. The
oppressed castes, especially the Dalits, are not expected
to participate in sport. In the hierarchical social order,
every caste group has a certain predefined role to
perform, and the very participation of Dalits in the
sporting arena could threaten that order, with the
prospect of defeat at the hands of the 'subaltern'.
The mythological story of Ekalvya, the Adivasi
archer who is denied by the Brahmin guru
Dronacharya a chance to even compete with the
less-talented Kshatriya-disciple Arjuna, encapsulates
the issues of boundaries and transgressions that
animate castesociety.Karna, half-brother ofthe Pa n d avas
dm tt\e ep\\t MatisAAvat jA, te dcdYtsed low -borr\, b\A poses
a threat with his very talent at archery. Ekalvya, Karna,
Arjuna and Dronacharya may be mythological
characters, but they continue to be the reference points
when caste codes are written by the modern sport
establishments. The Indian state a wards for the country's
best players are named after Arjuna, and after Dronacharya for the best coaches - a Kshatriya-Brahmin
combination notorious for "its unsporting attitude,
duplicity and deception.
Even today, birth determines eligibility in various
forums, and the sporting arena is more contested than
other public spheres. The victory of an individual or a
team belonging to an oppressed caste can lead to role
reversals. A Dalit cannot be an 'acceptable' winner
in sport, since it imbues the person/community with
heroism. Though globally modern sport today endorses
the slum-to-podium successes of the working-class
poor, and modern sport is seen as a site of subaltern
assertion, caste society does not permit such assertions.
James H Mills, editor of Subaltern Sports: Politics and Sport
in South Asia, argues that "sports invites subalternity"
- although such an invitation seems foreclosed in many
ways ill the caste-ridden Indian context. And even if
there are sporting arenas where Dalits and Adivasis
can truly excel, such a sport never manages to attract
mass appeal, and such heroes are rarely subjects of
mass adulation. The forgotten Indian archer, Limba
Ram, a one-time world champion, exemplifies such
\Tvda£fercx\ce. Cfely a Tetxd-ilkar, Dhoru or Sarda Mirza
can be icons and brands.
Not a social leveller
Take the case of an 'ancient' Indian sport such as
pehelwani. According to Joseph S Alter, a scholar
who has studied Indian wrestling, untouchables and
Muslims are discomaged from entering the akhara
More than legend
Whatever history and allure
football and cricket possess,
neither can claim the mythical
roots known to Southasian
archery. The Ramayan, Mahabharat and the legend of Ekalvya
each use an archery contest as
their starting point. The sentiment
of these fictional matches - as an
arena for men to display
their hunting prowess
and compete in a show
of machismo - if not their
function, was echoed in
the realities of historical
life in the region. In the
Himalayan principalities,
archery was much
more than the game
it is today. As a form
of defence against
raiders, as the main
of hunting, and even
as protection against invading
colonial forces, archery held a place
of prominence.
In today's Himalaya, Bhutan is
most widely associated with archery,
where it has been the national sport
Gurung warrior
since 1971. According to legend,
Bhutan's archery history dates
back to the 10th century, when a
Buddhist monk, Lhalung Pelgi Dorji,
assassinated an anti-Buddhist king
using a bow and arrow. Traditionally,
a group of archers was led by a
tsip, an individual believed to have
particular archery powers. The tsips
made full use of the power they
were accorded, charging exorbitant
fees for their services. Teams would
invoke the divine to intervene on their
behalf, a practice now forbidden by
the government-controlled National
Archery Federation of Bhutan.
Siddhartha Gautam, a skilled
archer himself, is said to have
played a role in archery's spread
through the region, as he moved
across the Gangetic plains. Indian
tourism websites from West Bengal,
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 A hierarchical divided society that insistently sustains and nurtures inequaiity cannot
aspire to sporting glory.
(exercise pit). After all, he notes, "Akharas are often
located on land that is owned by temple-management
committees or donated by a public benefactor or
patron of wrestling." Dalit participation, and potential
victory, can upset the caste order of things. Moreover,
the pehlwani diet is strictly vegetarian, and emphasises
brahmachnrya, or celibacy. .According to Alter, "A diet
of milk, ghee, and almonds is said to both build up and
stabilize one's supplv of semen. Ghee in particular is
regarded as homologous to semen since it is whitish
aind creamv, aind because it is the distilled essence of
milk." The ideology around pehlwani seems anomalous,
but it strongly endorses caste hierarchy. Crucially, the
expensive diet is not something the largely poor Dalits
would be able to afford. The Dalits thus tend to be
excluded structurally from the strict regimen that goes
into the disciplining of a wrestler's body.
In India, where more than 72 percent of the population
continues to live in rural areas, where demarcations of
boundaries based on caste continue to be Hither rigid,
sport, both in its premodern and modern avatars, is not
a ready option for the oppressed communities. Where
Dalits cannot even visit teashops or wells, access to
public playgrounds or a gym, if there is one, becomes
a serious issue. It is for this reason that one witnesses,
in India, news of Dalits being attacked and even killed
for winning sporting contests, in particular in games
dominated bv the upper castes.
In   December   2003,   in   the   village   of  Santagarh
in Saharanpur District of L'ttar Pradesh, two Dalit
boys, Vikas and Munish, were brutally killed after
their cricket team had inflicted a string of defeats on
the Rajput-dominated Hasanpur team. The all-Dalit
Saharanpur team had won INR 200 per victory in
their last three cricketing encounters with Hasanpur,
and the Rajput sense of pride and honour had taken a
beating. Similarly, in January 2007, in Sodapalayam, in
Tamil Nadu, a Dalit youth named Siva was murdered
following an altercation between the Dalit and the
dominant Vanniar youth over a cricket match. These
are but a few incidents that have come to light due to the
fact that, at the centre of the conflicts, has been cricket
- a game that drowns out all other sports in India.
Sport is projected as a great social leveller, but in
India it becomes vet another site of reinforcing social
norms. The domination and popularity of cricket
owes not merely to the fact that it was introduced hy
a colonial power around their gymkhanas, or to the fact
that in contemporary India, urban and rural, it appears
to require nothing more than an improvised bat, a
rubber ball, three hand-drawn lines on a wall or a pile
of stones serving as wicket. As such, cricket has come
to be projected as a truly democratic sport, one that can
be played by more than just the rich.
It is this notional, routine access to cricket that gives
the poor and the unprivileged the impression that they
are participating in something of a 'national' game,
that otherwise onlv the upper-caste Tendulkars and
Darjeeling and Sikkim, all the way
down to Tamil Nadu, boast of
indigenous archery traditions.
In more recentyears, the sport has
undergone something of a revival,
including regaining popularity in
Nepal. Initially, influences from
both the north and the south
contributed to Nepali archery.
The Thakali, Gurung, Magar and
Chyanntal communities of the
central and western hills of Nepal
were traditionally archers. Head of
the Thakali Heritage Committee,
Bhumikarna Bhattachan, says,
"We can't say exactly when or how
archery originated in Nepal, but the
Thakali language itself highlights
the significance of archery. It is one
of the most important aspects of our
culture." During the annual Toran
La festival in Manang, in the east of
the Thakali region, archers shoot at
a human-shaped figure, aiming at
the heart.
Yogendra Sherchan was a
member of the Nepali team at
the first South Asian Archery
Championship, in Dhaka in February
2006. That year, Nepal beat Bhutan
to take third place. "Modern archery
is different from its traditional form
in terms of equipment and rules,"
he says, "but the basic skills
required are the same." Bhattachan
echoes these sentiments: "A skilled
archer must have strong eyesight,
excellent concentration and, above
all, sadhana [spiritual practice]."
With India's international
achievements in archery (Jayanta
Talukdar was ranked the world's
number two archer in 2006), the
game  is  spreading  beyond tribal
communities. To make the sport
more accessible than expensive
modern equipment allows, the
Archery Association of India
created the Indian Round in
1995, sponsoring village-level
competitions with wooden and
bamboo equipment. The Toran La
festival of Nepal (among others)
serves a similar purpose. While
Bhutan's government is also
making efforts to support archery,
the youth of today are more likely
to be found sprinting down than a
football pitch than aiming an arrow.
But while its dominance in the
state's emphasis on Druk tradition
means that archery is unlikely
to be forgotten in Druk Yul
anytime soon.
- Kabita Parajuli
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 If is a fact that only those who have the paraphernalia o! flannels, shoes and the right
aear, as we!! as access to weli-lormed pstcnes and 'nets', can even think ol playing
competitive cricket at ine lowest division levei.
Dravids pia v. One-day cricket, with its demands of total labour force in India. Of these, nearly 85 percent
fitness, has led to a more regionally and, caste-wise, are engaged in traditional farming, (here is hardly the
more diverse national team than the 'traditional' time or income required to engage in sport, even as a
five-day Test cricket. Yet the larger svstem that governs child. Sport is invariably seen as an extracurricular,
cricket in India, and the manner in which access to most even non-school, activity for which tliere are no
professional sports is structured, limit the possibilities of academic incentives. According to the norms, a school
'subaltern'forays into the higher echelons of any sport, must necessarily have a playground, but such norms
it is a fact that onlv those who have the paraphernalia are easily flouted. Only upper-class schools provide
of flannels, shoes and the right gear, as well as access to some opportunities tor real engagement with sport.
well-formed pitches and 'nets',can even thinkof playing In India, those who take to athletics, hockey, football
competitive cricket at the lowest division level. or other physically intensive hut deglamourised sports
Today, global capital and the television boom in India tend tocome from less privileged backgrounds. The aims
mav appear to have bestowed a pre-eminent status on and objectives of a lower-middle-class sportsperson
cricket. Yet the game's ready acceptance among the in India can be rather modest. Having been torced to
elite, and its natural propensity to be Brahmin- and neglect academic education, he or she aims to become
upper-class-dominated (at least in Test cricket) goes a state-ranked player by age 22; at best to participate
largely unexplained. ,-\shis Nandy, who has in the in a few national finals; and, on the strength ot such
past equated cricket with Hinduism, and argued that achievements and a degree, land a clerical job with the
it is an 'Indian game' accidentally discovered bv die government, availing the 'sports quota .
British, writes in his The  lao of Cricket: "Particularly For sportspersons with better education, keen on
recognisable to the Indian elites were cricket's touch ot     moving up one rung and getting a toehold in the middle
class, public-sector units (PSl.'s), led by the railways,
had in earlier times offered employment and financial
securitv. Even thev ceased to represent their employers
in sports meets by age 30. However, since the "1990s,
following the policy of 'liberalisation', the government
disinvested from I'SUs, and there followed a freeze on
most government recruitment; as such, the incentive
to explore a career in sport is far less attractive today.
The private sector's policies of recruitment do not, of
course, make allowance for any form of affirmative
action - forget a sports quota.
Given such combinations of factors, most Indians,
egged  on by  the mainstream media, are keener on
timelessness, its emphasis on purity, and its attempt to
contain aggressive competition through ritualisation."
for Nandy, who can be considered anti-modernist and
anti-secular, cricket is a non-modern game that seeks
lo sustain a 'hierarchy of values' that defies modernity.
Cricket, most importantly, being a non-contact sport,
appeals to the Brahmin sense of'purity'.
Non-school activity
The question is often asked as to whether some form of
affirmative action in sport, one that ensures subaltern
participation, could lead to more Indians climbing the
medals podiums in global sport. There is no simple
answer to this question. As things stand, the possibility following the failures of the Indian cricket team than
of participating in modern competitive sports depends in introspecting on why Indians do not fetch medals at
almost entirely on access toeducation. But in rural areas global sporting events. A hierarchical, divided society
in India, 75 percent of schools make do with one teacher that insistently sustains and nurtures inequality cannot
for several classes. Among Dalit children, the dropout aspire to sporting glory. As long as caste continues
rate in classes 1 to 5 is nearly 37 percent; in classes 5 to remain an over-determining factor in India, ail-
to 8, it is nearly 60 percent. By secondary-education round sporting glory will elude Indians. Till then,
levels, that number jumps further to 73 percent. Few postmodern scholars can continue to speculate on how
schools have playgrounds, and there is precious little this is, in fact, symptomatic of the  Indian tradition
space for sports other than plots used for assembly.
Certainly sports equipment is absent, and children are
left to play 'games' rather than 'sports'.
Compounding the problem is child labour, which
forms  the  lot of  the  exploited  youth  and  children.
if resisting the modern, how non-performance wiih
regard to global standards is in fact a native critique
of the universahsing and standardising impulse of
contemporary global sports. Till then, we can partake
of the subcontinental obsession with cricket, a sport
Children under 14 constitute around 3.6 percent of the    that apparently defies modernity.
As things stand, the possibility of participating in modern competitive sports depends
almost entirely on access to education.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Indian cricket changed overnight. All it took was
the excitement and energy following one victory:
India's World Cup win on 25 June 1983. That
evening, what used to be a mere sport was converted
into a lucrative career option, and cricketers into
default national icons. And from dien on Indians - and
along with them, the rest of the region - began to look
to cricket as both a relaxant and something into which
to channel their energies, patriotic and otherwise. Soon
enough, the corporate world would take note - and the
rest of the world would follow.
Cricket has been played in the Subcontinent since at
least the early 18th century, but it was only around the
close of the 19th century that the game began to assume
parricular significance in the region. With the inception
of an influential cricket series in Bombay in 1892, the
game's popularity increased, and by the 1930s, the
Pentangular matches (so-called for their inclusion of
Europeans, Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and 'the rest')
were being viewed by 25,000 or more spectators. The
Indian Cricket Board was formed in 1928, and India
played its first Test match at Lords, in London, on 25
June 1932.
But it was only after India's triumph in 1983 that the
game came to be perceived as a viable path to fame and
income for middle- and lower-middle-class Indians.
Ihat victory paved the way for corporate sponsors to
invest in cricket, in anticipation of rich dividends. It
also gave the media events for it to build hype around,
and cricket proved a salve for a troubled nation. Today,
no hyperbole can capture the importance of cricket in
the everyday life of the country. And the reason for this
can be traced to one of modern India's most sensitive
disconnects: India is the world's second-most populous
country, but its global presence remains relatively less
significant. On the political stage and the economic
front, although desperately^ trying to edge herself into
the circle of super powers, India has not quite made it.
This marginality is especially prominent in sport. In
the past two summer Olympics, the Indian tri-colour
was hoisted in victory only once. India has never won
a gold medal in a non-team sport in the Olympics. As
Indians turn their attention to cricket, however, the
narrative of'catching up' suddenly disappears. Cricket
is the only realm where Indians, for the past two
decades, have consistently - the World Cup debacle
in the West Indies this March notwithstanding - been
able to flex their muscle. It is India's only crack at world
domination. Clearly, the widely voiced aphorism is
true; for Indians, cricket is much more than a game.
In the two decades since 1983, the craze for cricket
has become a veritable mania. In the contemporary
sporting world, few would argue with the assertion
that, economically at least, India is the new cricketing
superpower. As a consequence, cricket has become
integral to defining the culture of postcolonial India,
a country anxious to define its position in a world
rapidly changing and characterised by globalisation
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Opiate of a
Cricket has transformed India, as much as
India has transformed the sport.
and growing inter-dependence. As was evident
during this year's Cricket World Cup, for the short
duration that Indian hopes were alive, cricket mania
completely dominated the country. During the week
of 17-23 March, all other news seemed to melt into the
background as millions of Indians sat glued to their
television sets, following their team's every move.
As was to be expected, cricket commerce was also
at an all-time high during the series. Given the amount
of attention focussed on it, India's early loss led to
widespread dejection, vandalism and public wrath
across the country. (A similar situation held sway across
the country's western border, after Pakistan too suffered
an early and ignominious defeat.) This is because the
fortunes of the Indian cricket team encapsulate the
story of postcolonial India in microcosm: a tapestry
being woven around the performance of 11 men, who
carry on their shoulders the hopes and demands of a
country of a billion.
Feel-good space
The Indian madness for cricket does not transfer
to other sport. Indeed, the attention drawn by the
 country's two other popular games, football and
hockey, does not compare, even though the latter is
technically India's national game. Since the mid- to late
1970s, Indian teams have fared poorly in these games
at the international level. In hockey, India performed
miserably in the Olympics and the Champions Trophy
tournaments during the 1980s and 1990s; in the eight-
country tournament held in the Netherlands in August
2005, the Indian hockey team finished a dismal seventh.
Though it did win India bronze medals in the 1968
and 1972 Olympics, hockey's popularity has notably
diminished over the past three decades - during which
time cricket's ratings have skyrocketed.
Meanwhile,   the  last   time   that  Indian   football
performed decently was at the Bangkok Asian Games in
1970, where the team won a
bronze. Since then, the
tale of football in the
country has been one
of continuous decline;
in   rankings   for   June
2007  compiled  by  the
International     Football
Association (FIFA), India
placed at 161st. Football
infrastructure      in     the
country is such that FIFA's
president,   Sepp    Blatter,
argued   during   a   recent
visit that India should not
hope to enter the sport's big
league anytime in the next
two decades.
Both football and hockey
have longstanding histories
in India, and the reasons for
the decline of their play in the
country are many. The Indian
Olympic Association, the All
India Football Federation and
the Indian Hockey Federation
have all recently accused the
corporate world and the media of what they perceive
as unfair treatment of these two sports. While there is
a kernel of truth to these contentions, poor marketing
strategies, internal politicking and the myopic views
of the officials who run these institutions have also
accounted for their sports' stagnation.
Given India's history of failure in other team
sports, the Indian public has grown accustomed to
leading on the cricket team. Somewhere along the
way, appreciation of individual performance came to
be drowned out by the clamour for national victory.
Players are now lauded not for great innings so much
as for those performances, however brief they may be,
that have proven decisive. After his penultimate ball
four against Pakistan in the final of the Independence
Cup in Dhaka in January 1998, Hrishikesh Kanitkar
was as much a star as Saurav Ganguly or Robin Singh,
both of whom had scored very high in the same match.
Stars are made on the basis of last-minute saves.
Thus, a young Sachin Tendulkar, a relative newcomer
in 1993, whose meagre score of 15 runs had been a
disappointment in that year's Hero Cup semi-final
against South Africa, was catapulted to stardom when
he conceded only three runs while bowling in the last
over. The crowd hailed a saviour who had brought
victory' by two runs; Tendulkar's sad 15 was forgotten.
Cricket today provides India a feel-good space,
where nearly all differences can be overcome, lhe
assertion of an Indian 'identity', the expression of
cultural nationalism or the feeling of a common emotion
- these are no longer confined to the
stadium and post-match activities.
For instance, a poll conducted a
few years back found that more
than 50 percent of India's youth
would prefer to live in another
country. However, as journalist
Sandipan Deb has observed:
"Even when they do go away
to some other country, they
have a live cricket scorecard
open surreptitiously on their
computer monitors throughout
their working day, and they
turn out in daunting numbers
at the stadium whenever
India's playing in their
adopted country." The global
Indian wants simultaneously
to escape his country
and to embrace it. Clearly,
cricket is no longer a mere
'national' obsession.
Anthropologist Robert
Foster has offered similar
analysis of the role played
by the Papua New Guinean
rugby star Marcus Bai in
stirring the Papuan national consciousness. Similar to
Bai's role vis-a-vis his countrymen, cricket in India is
no longer a vehicle for merely imagining the nation,
but has become one by which to transcend the nation
- to escape the troubled country, even, through a form
of 'imagined cosmopolitanism'. Foster says that such
imagining conjures a Utopian vision for the future, one
where a Papuan, or an Indian, can engage with the
world on a level playing field. In India, however, cricket
provides far more than an opportunity for imagination.
The sport allows postcolonial India to assert itself on
the world stage.
The postcolonial game
For a short while, India's craze for cricket succeeded
in hiding the grim realities confronting many of the
India's squad to England, 1932
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 region's countries, particularly with regards to poverty.
Retired cricketers faced destitution, and it was, and to
some extent still is, commonplace to hear of former
players being rescued from inhumane conditions by
human-rights workers and the most ardent of fans. If
this was the fate of once beloved sportsmen, there was
little wonder about the circumstances of much of the
rest of the population.
Since the turn of the millennium, things have
begun to change. In 2004-5, the Board of Control for
Cricket in India (BCO) formally started a pension
scheme, converting cricket into a proto-industiy. Any
player who has represented the country now qualifies
to receive a mondily pension of at least INR 25,000
from the cricket establishment, for as long as he lives.
Players' widows are also part of the scheme. Perhaps
most significantly, however, a proposal is now under
discussion to extend the pension scheme to India's
roughly 50,000 national-level, interstate players, known
as Ranji Trophy cricketers. Doing so would suddenly
allow for a relatively large constituency to see cricket
on a national level as a realistic, stable, life-long career.
Even as it finally" begins to look to the well-being of
its non-international players, Indian cricketing has felt
confident enough to turn its attention to its would-be
competitors - namely, other sports. Take a look at the
following news release, from May 2006:
The Indian cricket team will play a match every year
to raise around Rs 45 crore to promote other games in
the country. "It is not only cricket the BCCI is worried
about. It will spend Rs50 crore every year on training the
country's top-ranking junior player of any individual
game played in the Olympics," BCCI president Sharad
Pawar said. He concluded saying, "It is riot good for the
country that we are not winning golds in the Olympics.
Cricket has people's cooperation and the board's
finances are improving. It is appropriate for the board
to assist other games."
Indeed, through the pension scheme and through
these new efforts to give players of other sports a
boost, Indian cricket has undertaken an important
programme of ensuring that sport is, for the first time,
able to directly benefit a significant and growing group
of people in the country. During the course of what
may be seen as a decade-long transition, cricket has
become the first Southasian example of what could be
called a 'postcolonial' sport. As recently as the 1990s,
despite its vast popularity and increasing financial
might, national-level cricket was still essentially
just a game - a game that rich people played while
poor   people   worked.   Several   factors   during   the
A leisurely pastime
The movement of cricket's global
power centre was borne out
particularly sharply to this writer
when, in March 2006, England
won a famous victory in Bombay,
beating India in the third Test
match. After watching the English
victory, I ieft my friends' house
in a quiet London suburb. The
loss had left me crestfallen, and
I assumed that everyone in the
London Underground would be
discussing the game. As it turned
out, however, cricket in England
is hardly the game it once was.
Only us Southasians, it seemed,
really bothered about what was
happening back home, and awoke
early in the morning to watch the
action.   For the  English,  cricket
has become nothing more than a
leisurely pastime.
In the crowded train, I listened in
on a football-related conversation
between six British teenagers.
On inquiring what they thought of
the English cricket squad's recent
victory over India, I was told, "We
didn't know that England was
playing a friendly against India!"
Upon clarifying that I was talking
about cricket, not football, the group
was quick to point out that after the
biannual Ashes series between
England and Australia, cricket
generally talis out of focus in most
London homes.
Though thoroughly confused,
I became determined to find out
whether cricket had any substantial
presence in central London. It
did not seem unreasonable, after
all, to expect that analysis of the
recent match would be shown on
the television screens of at least
some shops in the area. But a
subsequent stroll proved me wrong.
In direct opposition to Southasia,
nearly all the televisions I saw
were beaming football updates. In
the working-class neighbourhood
in Oxford, the sole place where
a pedestrian could catch some
cricket news was the local grocery,
owned by a Pakistani man whom
locals called Lalaji. This dingy
corner store stoically continued to
air cricket around the clock, despite
the expense required to subscribe
to the requisite channel.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 past decade led to the establishment of cricket as an
institution, one in which several groups of participants
- cricketers themselves, but also administrators, fans
and sponsors - have a stake.
Eastern colonialism
lhe opening up of the Indian economy during the 1990s,
coupled with the role of the new media, stimulated
the solidifying of a commercialised, and increasingly
jingoistic, cricket culture. Until a 1995 judgement bv
the Supreme Court, the state-owned television channel
Doordarshan had monopoly rebroadcast rights over
Indian cricket. Following the decision, however, the
BCCI suddenly found itself able to sell telecast rights
of cricket matches in India to any private broadcaster.
What followed was a phenomenal! influx ot corporate
finance to Indian cricket.
Soon, and just as the Indian public was being drawn
into the global economy, names like Sachin Tendulkar
and Rahul Dravid began promoting various brands
of products. Indeed, cricket became inseparable from
brand names. Though an indulgence for most Indians,
.Adidas, Nike, Reebok and other cricketer-endorsed
brands   found   a   place   in   tlie   cricket   enthusiast's
filllliliO        p »   i-       a [
participation in the game. Off-field, drinking a
particular soft drink became importantly symbolic of
participation in national triumphs. The 1996 World Cup
hosted in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, for example,
is remembered as much for being an organisational
success as for the advertising war that look place
between Pepsi arid Coke.
For   their   part,  cricketers   went  from   being  mere
glamour icons to becoming integral parts ot the
entertainment/advertisement economy. Soon, in
India at least, thev were able to directly influence
the dav-to-dav lives o( the masses, whether in
generating active patriotism, inadvertently inducing
destruction following failure in matches, or building
and fashioning a consumer culture. Cricket stars began
shaping lives.
As India's cricketers rose in stature, the countrs was
increasingly able to disengage itself from its colonial
past. This is visible in particular bv the ease with which
the Subcontinent has been able to overpower Western
countries to win rights to host World Cup competitions.
Indeed, no other country can match Indian cricket's
current financial muscle. As such, over the course of the
past decade, tlie economic nerve centre of world cricket
has firmlv shifted a wav from the West, particularly
England, and towards Southasia [see hex).
Cricket's iconic status within the Southasian diaspora
underlines the region's transformation  inlo the new
centre of global cricket. One simple example from 2004 is
enough to prove the point. During the inaugural match
of the Champions   trophy  in  Birmingham,  England,
not a simile hoarding board at the event advertised for
0 o
a local company - thev were all from the Subcontinent.
And Southasia (or at least India, Pakistan, Sn Lanka
and Bangladesh), despite being a lardy entrant into
the contest to win the rights to host the 2011 World
Cup, was eventually the runaway winner. Are we now
seeing an Eastern economic imperialism, with its basis
in cricket, colonising the West in tlie global sporting
village of the 21st century? J
The Swiss Red Cross (SRC)
The Swiss Red Cross (SRC) is a private organization, part of a worldwide network ol 185 National Societies. The purpose of the
SRC's activities is to protect the lives, health and dignity of human beings.
The position is based in Bangladesh (Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj and Dhaka)
Role and Responsibilities
• To assess community health concerns, needs, health seeking behaviour and health spending and the appropriateness of the
SRC projects response to them, developing strategies for change within the projeot framework
• To assess the capacity of the existing government and non-government health services (personnel, infrastructure, systems and
procedures); developing strategies to link communities to them within the SRC project framework
• To assess the scope of establishing Mother and Child Health (MCH) related services; designing a sustainable, integrated
• To prioritise health interventions that could be addressed within the SRC project framework
• To develop tools to address the prioritised community health needs, partner and service provider potentials and to tram field staff
in their application
• Medical and paramedical qualification and training/knowledge in PHC health service management
• Minimum of 3 years experience in longterm health projects
• Knowledge and experience in participatory assessment/evaluation methodology
• Knowledge and experience in development of health promotion strategies and project design
Good communication and networking skills
• Willingness to live in rural Bangladesh
• Drivers license
Fluency in English (written and spoken: working language).
Vacancies Contact
Send your application and CV to Swiss Red Cross, Field Personnel (Attn. Andrea Zurbuchen), Rainmattstrasse 10, 3001  Bern,
Switzerland ore-mail to before 13 Jul 2007.
Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
The Ceylonese origins/of
Lankan cricket
Sinhalese lads, 1903'
The state has decreed
volleyball Sri Lanka's
'national game', but the
citizens, of course, know
it to be otherwise.
Modernity took firm root in Ceylon under
the imperial aegis of Britain. British rule
ushered a considerable transformation in
the political economy of the island, a revolution in the
communication system, the administrative unification
of the country and the emergence of new (capitalist)
class forces. English became the administrative
language, leading to the development of an indigenous
socio-political elite - referred to locally as the "middle
class" - whose mode of domination included a facility
in both the English language and lifestyle.
During that process, the ethnic diversity of the island
was compounded. Apart from the Tamils, Sinhalese
and Tamil-speaking Moors of yesteryear, one witnessed
the influx of people identified as Indian Tamils, who
worked on the plantations in the interior or as menial
labourers in the main urban centres. The island's
location also encouraged small groups of Malays (who
had served in the Dutch and British regiments), as
well as Bohras, Smdhis, Parsees and Colombo Chetties
to join the mixed European descendents described as
'Burghers' in tlie polyglot towns of the southwestern
quarter of the island, most notably in Colombo. By the
1880s, Colombo was the island's hegemonic centre,
looming over the rest of the country with its political
and economic clout, as well as its symbolic primacy. It
was this primacy in Colombo's status that was to prove
central in the evolution of another overwhelming
hegemony in Ceylon: that of cricket over all other
sports in the country.
It was through Colombo, too, that the intellectual
currents known as 'liberalism' and 'nationalism' first
entered public consciousness. A small coterie of young
Burgher men, educated in English at the Colombo
Academy, comprised the forerunners of Ceylonese
nationalism when, in 1850, they launched the
periodical Young Ceylon. This new way of thinking was
sustained by the emerging multi-ethnic, indigenous
middle class over the course of the following century.
The first momentous challenge to white superiority
occurred, prophetically, on the cricket field, when the
best Ceylonese XI took on the best local Europeans in
June of 1887, in a match they lost. This began an annual
Europeans-versus-Ceylonese series that lasted until
1933 - a series in which, by the 1910s, the Ceylonese
were usually the victors.
Cricket was also a medium for the encroachment
of other Westernised ways of life, particularly that
institution known as the club. Thus, cricket's anti-
colonial dimensions were qualified by strands of
Anglophilia and a distancing of its bearers from the
hoi-polloi. Indeed, running parallel with Ceylonese
nationalism, one saw indigenous resistances of a
more marked anti-Western character. There were
two threads intertwining here: tire hostile Hindu and
Buddhist reactions to Christian proselytising on the
one hand, and hostility towards the English language
and Westernised lifestyles (and the associated
assumptions of superiority) on the other. Among some
Sinhalese, this resistance was quite virulent, and one
can point to a cohesive Sinhalese nationalism from the
1860s onwards.
Thus, at the time of Independence, one found
Ceylonese and Sinhalese nationalisms, along with
Tamil and Moor communitarianism, jostling with one
another, often in complex overlap. On the cricket field,
however, the elite ranks of all the ethnic groups (with
the partial exception of tlie Indian Tamils) were united
in supporting Ceylon against all 'outsiders'. Colombo-
bred, middle-class Tamils were among the leading
players and administrators. When Ceylon played
India or took on the Madras Cricket Association for
the Gopalan Trophy from 1953 onwards, Tamils were
among the keenest of Sri Lanka's fans. This is in direct
contrast to today, when a significant proportion of
indigenous Tamils tend either to be ambivalent or to
July 2007 [ Himal Southasian
 Card games such as bridge, rummy, donkey, snap and canasta have been the most
popular games in Sri Lanka for over a century and a half, while carom has also maintained
a strong following.
support India - or even 'anyone but Sri Lanka', on fhe
principle of backing the enemy of one's enemy. Today,
with cricket having become Sri Lanka's premier sport,
reaching across all classes and embracing most parts
of the country, this qualification is of some importance.
But in order to grasp the significance of such
developments, we must retrace our footsteps to the
early 19th century, and the advent of those great
inventors of games, the British.
Passing time in British Ceylon
The British rulers in Ceylon indulged in a broad
spectrum of recreational activities, with the enthusiasm
and leisured circumstances of rulership. The full
panoply of British games, of both the board and field
varieties (including the 'manly' pastime of hunting),
were vigorously pursued in Ceylon. By the late 19th
century, the field games included football, volleyball,
hockey, athletics and cricket. Over time, most of these
(except polo) were taken up by the Ceylonese middle
classes, while some board games such as draughts were
dispersed across all strata. Indeed, card games such
as bridge, rummy, donkey, snap and canasta have
been the most popular games in Sri Lanka for over a
century and a half, while carrom has also maintained a
strong following.
As with the British, field games were institu tionalised
through   clubs,   which  inevitably   led   to   a  similar
opportunity for segregation. Inevitably, the 'colour
bar' stood firm at the gates of the European clubs, but
a similar proclivity to set up cricket clubs along ethnic
lines also became ingrained among the Ceylonese. The
first of these, the Malay Cricket Club, opened its doors
in 1872, followed by several multi-ethnic institutions.
There was also an important disconnect between
the urban and rural areas. Both cricket and rugby
were largely restricted to the urban centres until tire
1960s, and were for the most part elitist in character;
rugby, for instance, was only played in Colombo,
Kandy and the plantation centres. In contrast, football
was more widespread, and attracted both elite
academies and a wider range of educational institutions
and regions.
Despite the elitism shared by Ceylonese rugby with
cricket, there was nevertheless an important difference
between the two. Many more schools, including the
leading ones in the Jaffna Peninsula, played cricket.
Moreover, some working-class people in the larger
towns were drawn to the big matches between rival
schools, encouraged by the opportunity to engage in
betting, as well as the carnival atmosphere of these
large matches. As such, team-specific loyalties built up
over time, something that did not take place with either
rugby or football. One must not forget that education
in Sri Lanka was not expensive at this time, and that
classes at most urban schools included many poor
children, whose parents were also drawn into their
children's areas of interest.
Cricket, moreover, was not an expensive pastime of
the purely 'leather ball and white longs' kind. The game
could be played with all manner of balls, including the
local kaduru ball, and therefore attracted young players
from all strata, though they remained exclusively male.
Since players could use cheap tennis balls, cricket was a
familiar sport in the palm groves, bare patches, beaches
and side streets of the urban and semi-urban areas for
over a century. It could also be played by children
within the restricted space of a garage or veranda.
Lasith Malinga, who shot to fame recently as a sling
bowler, developed his relatively unique technique as a
tennis-ball beach-cricket lad.
Cricket also had a golden aura to it. Famous
English and a<\ustralian sides would occasionally play
whistle-stop one-day matches in Colombo when their
ships called in, en route to their respective countries.
Beginning with tire West Indies in 1949, sides touring
India sometimes also played a series in Sri Lanka. The
attention devoted to such matches in the prestigious
English-media newspapers was high octane for the
sport's popularity in the country.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
In the meantime, cricket was beginning to catch on in
schools where it had not previously heen a prominent
leature, notably in the former Buddhist denominational
schools Ananda and Nalanda (both in Colombo),
Dharmaraja (in Kandv) and Mahinda (in Galle). During
the 1%0s, Neville Javaweera, the farseeing former
head ol the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation,
initiated Sinhala-language cricket commentaries for
the annual big match between Ananda and Nalanda,
which involved the invention of a whole new
vocabulary. This was a momentous step, as it hoth
.ontributed to the popularity ofthe game and deepened
refined knowledge.
17 March 1996
Through the years, the prestige associated with cricket
in Ceylon (and, now, Sri Lanka) encouraged high
levels of proficiency, particularly in the art of batting.
Over time, the lineages of excellent cricketers in some
elite schools, notably S Thomas' College, crystallised
and enabled Cevlon to field teams that beat Pakistan
and India several times during the 1960s. In
addition, several Ceylonese pia vers made their mark in
Oxbridge and English county cricket during the 1950s
and 1960s.
These achievements eventually gained Ceylon
'associate' status within International Cricket Club
(ICC) circles in 1965. But circumspection bv Western
countries kept the highest levels of international cricket
closed, even after Sri Lanka won the ICC trophy for
second-tier cricketing countries in 1975. These doors
were eventually opened in 1981, which meant tours
of Sri Lanka with all the associated international gloss.
This also happened to be the time that television was
introduced in Sri Lanka. Cricket fervour grew apace,
despite the context of escalating conflict and a civil war
in the south from 1987 to 1990.
When Sri Lanka eventually succeeded in winning the
World Cup in one-da v cricket in 1996 against Australia,
Sri Lankans around the world were glued to their TV
sets. That day, 17 March in Lahore, capped a century
and a half of evolution of Sri Lankan cricket: all at
once consolidating the 'groundwork' provided by
tennis-ball cricket, the prestige of school cricket, a
long pedigree of good cricketers and television's
glamourisation of the game. Sri Lankans proved
themselves capable of holding their own at the highest
international levels.
While the government decreed volleyball to be the
'national game' of Sri Lanka in 1991, this declaration
is not widely known, nor readily accepted bv those
who do know, today, with the overwhelming
media attention towards cricket, as well as the
widespread engagement with the sport, cricket is
undoubtedly the country's ruling prince of sport - as
well as the popular king, A
Still in the nets
Pakistani women's cricket has begun a
long journey,
It is played on every available strip of grass and
patch of asphalt, in every gnlli and moliallah. i fockey
may be Pakistan's national sport, but cricket is
the national passion. Of late, however, that passion
lias turned sour, with forfeited matches, tailed dope
tests, fitness problems, the early exit from the World
Cup in March and the death of coach Bob Woolmer.
It lias been a bad vear for Pakistani cricket, to sav the
least - for men's cricket, at any rate.
While the men in white are portrayed alternately
as gods or devils, depending on the slant of the fickle
public mood, the country's cricketing women have
been building a team under the radar. Yes, Pakistan
does have a women's cricket team. No, these women in
white have not won a major tournament vet, But that
must be seen in context.
"The Indian women's team has been playing for more
than 35 years," savs 21-vear-old L'rooj Mumtaz Khan,
captain of the national women's cricket team. "We
can't compare." fhe current Pakistani team is merely
two years old. Also stacked against it is the nature of
cricket's social milieu. Those games being played in the
gallis and mohallahs? All by boys. And while Shamsa
Hashmi, secretary ofthe women's wing of the Pakistan
Cricket Board, mav call the game a "second religion",
Pakistan's religious extremists have raised a fuss about
mixed-gender sporting events.
In   2005,   the   Muttahida   Majlis-e-Amal   (MMA)
- the conservative multi-party religious alliance
that constitutes  one-fifth  of  the current  Parliament
- intervened in a mixed marathon in Lahore. When
violent clashes ensued, the government prohibited
women and men from sporting' together. The
aftershocks of that decision can be felt even todav.
Men are banned from women's cricket matches unless
accompanied bv their families. Ihis ban even extends
to the Women's World Cup qualifier tournament, an
international event where the likes of Zimbabwe,
Papua New Guinea, Bermuda, Ireland, South Africa,
Scotland and the Netherlands wil! compete in Lahore
this November. But team captain Khan is happy with
the decision, "We do prefer to avoid groups of men
watching our games. This keeps out riffraff who come
to see us plaving for cheap thrills."
Khan herself comes from a fairly liberal family. She
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 batted and bowled with the boys from a young age, and
was soon playing more competitive cricket with boys
older than she was. Her parents have been supportive,
and her college (she is in the final year of a dentistry
programme) has fully accommodated her sporting
pursuits. For Urooj, cricketing has never been a male
activity. "I've got a younger brother who doesn't play
cricket," she says with a grin.
On to Lahore
More encouraging than the experience of women like
Urooj Khan, who hails from metropolitan Karachi, is
die sight of female cricketers who come from inland
towns such as Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Sialkot
and even far-off Toba Tek Singh. The national team's
fast bowler, Qanita Jalil, is from Abbottabad, in the
NWFP, where the provincial government is led by the
MMA. But in a country where women are pigeonholed
as either demure housewives or glitzy sex bombs, the
sporty woman is a breath of fresh ah for many. .And
the fact tliat playing sports is becoming increasingly
acceptable at the family level despite the conservative
wave that seems to be sweeping the country, is giving
girls a healthy outdoor outlet that was previously
almost nonexistent. Urooj has many girls between
the ages of 14 and 18 coming to participate in matches
and camps.
Women's sports have been getting a boost in Pakistan
over the past eight years of Pervez Musharraf's regime.
Previously, the only women's national team was under
the Pakistan Hockey Federation. Now, the Pakistan
Football Federation and the Pakistan Cricket Board
(PCB) have separate women's wings. Under Nawaz
Sharif's government from 1997 to 1999, women were
forbidden from playing any sport in public. It was in
the face of death threats that sisters Sharmeen and
Shazia Khan brought women's cricket toPakistan back
in 1996. Despite stiff opposition, they w^ent on to form
the Pakistan Women's Cricket Control Association
(PW7CCA), which became affiliated to the International
Women's Cricket Council.
The PWCCA team eventually qualified for the 1997
World Cup held in India, and went on in 2000 to beat
the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lords in London.
However, official backing for the sport has increased
since the time that Sharmeen and Shazia Khan had
to depend on their businessman father for funding
support. In fact, Pakistan's revised National Sports
Policy of 2005 states: "All sports federations will
organise appropriate sports for women. Women wings
(where feasible) will be created." Indeed, it was when
the PCB took over the reins of women's cricket in 2005
that the game really picked up.
"The PCB is contributing in terms of facilities and
funds," says Shamsa Hashmi. "Cricket has been
introduced at the school and college level. Plus, there
are 11 regional teams." It has been a busy six months
for the women's wing. This year alone, there have
been the Inter-District Women's Championship, the
National Women's Cricket Championship and the
National Schools Under-17 Women's Championship.
Meanwhile, a month-long training camp for 33 players
in preparation for the November qualifiers is currently
underway in Lahore. In their first major win last year,
the Pakistan women's team triumphed 3-0 over the
visiting team from Hong Kong.
Urooj Khan is now looking forward to the November
qualifiers, in which Pakistan's main competition will
come from Ireland and South Africa. Eight teams are
competing for just two slots in the World Cup, and this
will be a make-or-break tournament for the fledgling
team. "One of the obstacles we face is that girls do not
get to play cricket all year round like boys do, so fitness
can be a problem," says Hashmi. "So we give them
exercises they can easily do at home."
But how far women's cricket in Pakistan can win
over deeply entrenched social mores remains to be
seen. When asked whether she sees herself playing
cricket five years from nowr, Khan at first answers
in the affirmative, but then her face clouds a bit in
doubt. "I would like to get married," she admits shyly.
PCB's Hashmi has also observed that the priority of
most young Pakistani women is to settle down - with
a husband and kids, rather than a red leather ball
and a white willow bat. Perhaps if the team qualifies
for the World Cup, there will be an incentive to delay
the inevitable. A
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Over the course of more than a decade of
writing on sports - a time that has coincided
with the explosion of international cricket in
India - I have covered only one one-day cricket match
with 'visitors'. During this time I have concentrated
on football. I have reported on the dismal standards
and the doping scandals, taken lonely treks into the
Punjab heartland on investigative beats, explored the
socio-political role of football in India's Northeast,
covered Tibet's defiance towards China in the fonn
of a ragtag national football team, and discovered
that Britain's first expatriate footballer could have been
an indentured Indian labourer from the Caribbean.
As far as cricket is concerned, there have been
endless hours at the copy desk, cleaning up messy
stories by self-important (and mostly touring)
cricket correspondents. In all of this, I can count only
one game of cricket in terms of a reporting
assignment - admittedly a dismal record.
But this is not a lament. It is, rather, a celebration of
a choice. I have nothing against cricket - far from it.
Nowadays, I might not haul myself out of bed at first
light to see England take guard against Australia in
the Ashes Down Under, nor do I sit bleary-eyed (but
ever alert) long into the night to watch games in the
once-distant West Indies. But all of that is in the past.
Since Australia's Shane Warne and the West Indies'
Brian Lara retired in quick succession in recent months,
much of international cricket's edge seems to have left
with them. But my decision not to cover cricket long
predates this recent slump.
When Sachin Tendulkar was scoring his record-
brealdng Test century in Delhi two winters ago, and
the world was watching breathlessly, I was in Manipur,
tiying to make sense of footballing nationalism in the
faction-ridden state (see box). When aAnil Kumble,
again in the capital, was taking his "11 for' (whereby
he defeated all 11 of the opposmg team's batsmen) in a
single, decisive inning back in 1999,1 was on a mission
to uncover child labour in Punjab's lucrative sports-
goods industry.
hi both cases, my stories were relegated to the inside
pages of the newspaper I worked for. That is all right
and, of course, expected. It would have been petulant to
believe that my articles needed to be staring everyone
in the face. Yet, this marginalisation of non-cricket
stories follows a pattern.
While covering my sole international cricket game in
November 2002, a younger colleague, who had been
sitting a few rows from me with Maninder Singh
- the former cricketer who was hospitalised after an
Cricket or bust
For Indian sports journalists, the decision
is stark.
attempted suicide in mid-June - came over and excitedly-
announced that this would make the 50th match.
" Whose? Sourav Ganguly's?" Missing my sarcasm and
suggesting that Ganguly had already played over 300
one-dayers, he said this was the number of games he
had now covered as a journalist,
I got to thinking, who keeps count in such matters?
Likely not a sporting romantic - but a lover of numbers,
or a careerist. Journalists must not be grudged then
moments of glory, but there is something more than
an enthusiast's pride to this eagerness to keep one's
personal score.
Cricket reporting - what could otherwise be a
beautiful task - now comes accompanied by journalistic
ambition so great it seems to gnaw at the game's
soul. The trade's promise of growth and acceptance
Internationa! cricket has supplanted not only reportage of all other sports, but also
coverage of other cricket. Today, domestic Indian cricket games do not receive mention
in any but the most provincial of papers.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 distracts from the sport itself, and fosters a destructive
competitiveness. .Those who choose to report on cricket
must thus either discard all sense of propriety and
plunge headlong into the game of self-promotion, or
opt to keep a distance and merely watch it all. If you
choose the former, you may discover a new talent,
perhaps even find yourself at the head of the reportorial
pack. If you choose the latter, you will invariably
be forced to wrestle with your emotions - kicking
yourself for being such a shrinking violet, since all
the tours are going to other people while the
column-inches are filled with poorly filed reports
from attention-hungry megastars, mostly made-up
controversies and convenient leaks. Indeed, one of the
many effects of excessive cricket reporting has been
that, in their rush to file something exclusive every day,
journalists allow 'news' to be planted by the players.
During long international tours in particular, when
regular stories seem to dry up, petty controversies
among cricketers, with their agents, and the
high-handedness of Cricket Board officials, are
played up to seem significant. It is the journalist pack's
survival tactic.
In India, an aspiring sports journalist must either
be content to cover cricket, or seek another profession.
After all. barring the occasional blip on the radar screen
from the tennis court, no other sport provides the
material gratification and ego boost that cricket writing
does. To imagine being able to write about anything
else is self-delusion - and the situation has only gotten
worse with time. You may discuss the exploits of tennis
star Roger Federer or the trends in European football
with your sports-loving editor during a cigarette
break, but you will be called to task if you make the
golfer Jeev Milkha Singh your story's lead, instead of
the latest war of words between Greg Chappell and
Sourav Ganguly.
When I became a sports journalist, in the mid-1990s,
the cricketing boom in Southasia was in its nascent
stage. The Internet was yet to be found in Indian
newspaper offices at that time, and the ubiquitous
television camera and crew were yet to arrive on the
bidian pitch. In the mid-1990s, Sachin Tendulkar was
just about to sign his first multi-million-dollar deal
withWorldTel. In the ensuing upward spiral, prices for
telecast rights and TV deals would go through the roof,
multiplying manifold with each new series - and soon,
these were cropping up by the dozen. As the game
Manipur's football nationalism
t is December 2005, and Sachin
Tendulkar is scoring his 35th
century, beating a record that Sunil
Gavaskar had held lor 22 years.
But Imphal, the capital of Manipur,
is oblivious to the tremor rocking
the Indian mainland. A flickering
TV set in a dank hotel lobby is
probably cricket's only connection
to the city. And even there,
apart from the hotel cab driver
awaiting his call, the Sikh
businessman and front-desk
manager who rarely looks up from
his bills, nobody is watching.
But later in the evening, when the
electncity returns after a power cut,
there is a remarkable awakening.
After a soulful rendition of a
local number, the waiter of Sri
Krishna Chicken Centre joins
his mates to watch the delayed
showing of an FC Barcelona-
Cadiz Spanish League football
meet on cable television. The
telecast is greeted with silence
and rapt attention. At this very
moment another channel is
replaying Tendulkar's century,
but no one here is tuned in.
'Tense tournament: during a December 2005
match among Kuki'.villages
In November 2005, a refereeing
decision at the Santosh Trophy
tournament in Kochi had hurt
Manipur's chances of advancing
to the semifinals; the subsequent
protests in Manipur led to a
two-day closure state-wide. Public
demonstrations were arranged
immediately, and effigies of the
referee and All India Football
Federation (AIFF) officials were
burnt. The local cable channel
halted telecasts of the rest of the
tournament, and Zee Sports' ratings
took a nosedive. Scathing editorials
of the referee's call appeared in the
local papers, and a Manipuri referee
H turned in his badge.
The All Manipur Football
Association (AMFA) was quick to
withdraw its teams from all AlFF-run
competitions through the end of the
year;thiswasfollowed by the Manipur
Olympic Association's withdrawal
from all national-level sporting
events. In the uber-organised world
of Manipuri sport, the national
participation of its teams nationwide
is serious business. Manipur is a
state deeply divided between hill
groups  and  the  dominant,   non-
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 became increasingly commercialised, the time-tested
tradition of an off-season would quickly be done awav
with. And with players on the pitch the year-round,
sponsors would feel they were getting their money's
worth, and television channels would prove ever
eager to cut coverage of other sports to broadcast yet
another cricket series.
But back then, us greenhorn sports journalists
were still made to believe that, with good, intelligent,
head-down work, success would eventually come
our way. Cricket was just one part of the wide and
wonderful world of sports, in which everything had
a place; our paper would even carry reports from
English county games. International cricket has
supplanted not only reportage of all other sports,
but also coverage of other cricket. Today, domestic
Indian cricket games do not receive mention in any
but the most provincial of papers. If a domestic match
is not featuring at least one bitter, discarded Test star,
why should it even come up in editorial meetings?
It was in the mid-1990s that Southasian cricket
stopped   being   a   sport,   and   was   converted   into
a money-making industry, tn the process, the
game created a new personality for the previously
friendly cricket writer: the bloated ego, the
self-important bluster. As the players became celebrities
and proximity to them acquired a premium, reporters-
turnecTrockstars became a loud and intrusive presence
on the cricket grounds. In this world of heavyweights,
the stakes are high. There continues a running battle
in the press box at New Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla
stadium over which of the local cricket-scribe bigwigs
discovered Virender Sehwag. Everyone claims
ownership, and as Sehwag's star fades, all sav that
they were the first to stick their necks out and warn of
his impending decline.
Any serious cricket journalist can vouch
for the existence of this kind ot petty nearsightedness, which takes away from a meaningful
engagement with the sport. For readers tired of
the bluster of cricket journalism, there is only one
recourse - turn to other sports. Only when the public
rewards sports journalism that does not take away
the romance of the game, will the editors aind
television programmers begin to give more importance
to other sports. jk
tribal community of the Imphal
Valley. The Zeliangrong, or Kabui,
sect of the Naga community, for
instance, is considered a natural
antagonist of the Valley-based
Meitei community. But even the
Zeliangrong Football Association,
an organisation with a troubled
relationship with the AMFA, called
off play, expressing its solidarity
with the bandhs.
In Manipur, football represents
perhaps the only point on which
all can agree. Maybe Manipuris
unite when confronted, via national
football, with the image of an India
that has alienated them in the
past, and which spurns them in the
present. "Nationalism manifests
itself in almost all teams coming
out of the state. They are ready
to die for the state," says football-
crazy IAS officer R K Nimai.
'Sport is the one counter-
insurgency plot by the government
that has actually proved popular,"
chuckles one political activist.
Referring to the spread of hard
drugs among young Manipuris,
he claims: "First they went for
the youth with other tricks. It was
rampant in the 1990s, and it worked
like magic. Then they discovered
the opium of sport. Now they've
thrust hockey sticks and badminton
racquets into their hands, and the
guns have gone," No one seems to
be complaining.
Over the past decade, Manipur
has served as a nursery for
mainstream Indian football. Each
major club in mainland India boasts
of an array of Manipuri players.
Add to that a triple world women's
boxing champion in Mary Kom;
a clutch of excellent sportsmen
and women in cycling, judo
and boxing; evergreen women
weightlifters, and a fresh interest in
sports not traditionally associated
with Manipur (including archery
and wushu), and the picture
for Manipuri sport could not be
rosier. Dhanabir Laishram. a
political scientist at Manipur
University, suggests that part of
the reason why sport has become
a raison d'etre for Manipuri youth
is a lack of traditional employment
options: "Manipur is a case of
urbanisation without industrialisation.
The   agricultural   sector   too   has
been poor. Sport has become an
industry in Manipur."
But why does it arouse such
passion? In the dressing room
in Kochi that day in November
2005, the anger was palpable.
We will never play in India again,
never! was the refrain heard from
many players. "There is a sense
of alienation in all walks of life in
Manipur, not just in football," says
Nimai. "There was a sense of hurt
with what happened in Kochi.
Things like this make people
feel that the Centre doesn't
really care."
What would correct that
ill-feeling'? "An apology, that's all,"
insists Pradip Phanjoubam, of
the Imphal Free Press. "All those
in Manipur need to have their
sentiments assuaged is a mention
from the Federation that the referee
was wrong. We are not asking for
the result to be reversed. That
cannot happen in football. What
we are asking for is just a show of
concern. All of Manipur is looking
for just that one word. And not just
in football."
- Siddharth Saxena
July 2007    Himal Southasian
culture of kite
The politics of kite flying during
Lahore's Basant festival has
become difficult. Are we not to be
allowed to have some fun?
People have flown kites for millennia - for
relaxation, as recreation, as an ancient tool for
military signalling and as a modern signifier
of an ephemeral harmony. The practice originated in
China around 3000 years ago, from where it eventually
trickled into South and Southeast Asia. In Pakistan,
kite flying has long brought the followers of various
religions together annually, to join hands - and cross
strings - in heralding the arrival of spring.
In the Subcontinent, legend tells of the 12th-century
saint Nizamuddin Aulia, of Delhi, and his grief at
the death of his nephew, Taquiddin Nooh. As he
was wondering what he could do to cheer him up,
Nizamuddin's close friend and disciple, Amir Khusro,
came upon a group of village women dressed in bright
yellow, the colour of mustard in bloom. The women
told Khusro that they were celebrating spring, and
offering flowers to their gods. The sight of the gaily-
dressed women did indeed brighten Nizamuddin's
spirits, and to this day, the Basant, or spring, festival is
commemorated with a profusion of mustard flowers at
several Nizamuddin shrines. While they are celebrated
throughout Southasia by communities of all religious
backgrounds, the festivities have long had a particular
connection with Lahore. And the old, walled city is
especially famed for its enthusiasm for Basant patang
baazi, or kite flying.
Lahore, once renowned for its fashion and style,
has in recent years been working to recover the glory
that it had as the cultural capital of Punjab. The effort
began around 1990, when the World Bank funded a
massive renovation of the old city. During this push,
civic leaders latched on to the popularity of the Basant
festival; and over the past decade and a half, Basant
has become an event surrounded by so much hype in
Lahore that many people have dramatically reworked
their havelis (mansions) in tlie city, decorating rooftops
and expanding lawns so as to be able to accommodate
the festival-goers. Multinational companies have also
cashed in on the public mood, and the festival has
become increasingly commercialised.
Amidst this rising popularity, however, there
is also rising angst. In recent years there has been
growing public disgruntlement with the kite flying
at the festival, due both to safety concerns and rising
pressure from fundamentalist groups. A nearly
year-round ban on flying kites throughout Pakistan,
with a two-day exception for Basant, has now led to
uncertainty with regards to the future of the festival.
Indeed, the substitution in the public rhetoric of the
Basant celebrations in general for kite flying in
particular goes to show just how characteristic kites are
of the Lahore festivities.
Basant begins each year around mid-February. The
festivities start in the evening, when people begin to fly
their kites from illuminated rooftops. This distinctively
Lahori practice of night-time kite flying, coupled
with music, dancing and feasting, carries on
throughout the night, ending eventually at the end of
the third day. The kites flown in Lahore during Basant
are of the manoeuvrable, square construction, with a
triangular tail and five bamboo struts - the same
basic design found in the other cities of Southasia.
As elsewhere, the Lahore kites are tethered by cotton
strings coated with powdered glass. With multiple
kite-fliers in a particular area, the goal is to get into
a paicha, wherein the strings of two or more kites
cross. Then, using a special flying technique, each
kite-fighter attempts to cut the strings of the other
kites, success in which results in shrieks of "Boo kata!"
The vast majority of those who fly during Basant are
kite-fighters - perhaps because they have little choice
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 in the matter, since kite fighting is probably as old as
kite flying itself.
To prepare for launching, a kite is punctured with
a matchstick on each side of its central strut, at two
places above and two below the point at which the
cross-struts meet. This provides for a triangle of string,
making the kite more aerodynamic. Ihe puncturing
procesb is called taran, and how well it is done defines
how responsive the kite is to its master during flight,
particularly important in kite fighting, fhe string used
for fighting also has to be readied with great care. The
string's strength is tested by crossing it over a master
string, and two people saw the strings back and forth
until one is cut. Once its strength has been discerned,
the string, or dor, is wound into a ball called a pinna
or gola. The string is sharp and abrasive, having been
coated with finely ground glass, and voung children
have grown up being taught the special ways to deal
with dor. Some dor sold on the market, however, is
extremely sharp and sometimes even reinforced with
metal, posing a frightening public safety hazard.
There aire certain ethics invoked in the paicha.
For instance, a kite mav not be attacked until it is
complete]v up in the air, and in the control of the flier.
Nonetheless, competitions surrounding kite lighting
can often descend to ground level, with fliers resorting
to fisticuffs once their kites are defeated in the air. In
recent v ears, a number of deaths in Pakistan have been
attributed to kite-fighting frustration.
'.. :■ Ci i 1M c i vu ,1, uut Ui i 'JildlitlL .
If razor-stringed aerial dogfights sound like they could
:v dangerous, thev are. This vear, at least 11 people
Ted aind more than 100 people were injured during the
mo days of legal kite flying, these deaths and injuries
were due to lacerations, electrocutions, people tailing
off rooftops and getting hit by stray celebratory bullets.
During the previous five vears, official records show 861 people died and over 2000 were injured in kite-
r el a ted accidents.
The physical toll may be considered part of the game
bv many, but the game itself is now under attack. Over
the years, there have been several petitions against
the festival placed before Pakistani courts. In 2004, the
I .ahore I ligh Court heard a new complaint bv a Lahore-
based lawyer, alleging that the Basant kite flying
was un-lslamic. The court rejected the claim, luit the
government nonetheless decided to pass a countrywide
ban on kite flying in 2005 on grounds of safety concerns,
with a few days' allowance for Basant.
To this day, however, Islamabad officials are at
pains to emphasise that the government's actions were
nol religiously motivated. "The fact is that Basant has
nothing to do with any religion," says Minister for
Culture ti Ci Jamal. "There has been a problem with
some people who use razor-edged strings. Ihis has
caused some accidents, and the government had to
ban kite-flying just for this." Sheikh Rashid Ahmad,
Pakistan's Railway Minister, who himself flies kites
during Basant, notes: "Some religious fanatics want to
tie everv thing with Islam. Thev forget that culture and
religion are different things. 1 think the kite-fliers should
be allowed to enjov, hut with some restrictions."
Pakistan People's Partv (PPP) leader Makhdoom
Amin Fa him savs that kite living is an integral part
of Pakistan's culture and tradition. "We have been
living in this region lor centuries, and our forefathers
and their forefathers have been flying kites,' he savs.
"Where does lslam stop us from flying kites?"
Despite the assumption that the majority of
Pakistanis tend to agree with Fahim, religious groups
continue to press for doing away with the Basant
festival. The head of the rightwing Muttahida Majlis-
e-Amal (MMA). Qazi Hussain Ahmed, goes so far as
to say that Basant is a f lindu festival- "It is un-lslamic,
and the government must bain it," he savs. " lo add to
this, hundreds of people lose their lives in this 'kilting
festivity . Whenever wo come to power, we will not
allow this Hindu festival lo he celebrated ait the cost of
so many lives."
The MMA is in the opposition in Islamabad, but
governs in NWFP, where the provincial government in
2006 passed its own law outlawing tlie practice, over
and above the Supreme Court's ban. Transgressors
are now threatened with tines of Pkl\ 40,000 or three
months in prison. A religious leader at the Jamia i la fsa
seminary, Cihaz.i Abdul Rashid, explains religious
concerns this wav: ".Anything that wastes money or
resources is not acceptable in Islam."
Such fire-and-brimstone aside, fundamentalists are
certainly not the only voices calling for restrictions
to be placed on kite flv ing. laaqat Ali's daughter was
killed last year during the Basant; she was a bystander,
simplv watching the festivities, when some wayward
string acted as a razor. "What's good in flying kites?"
Liaqat demands. "Mv daughter's throat v\ as slit, aind I
can't forget it. 1 think thev should ban Basant."
Flying versus fighting
Despite objections bv the cultural fundamentalists
and victims of kite living, tens of thousands of people
gathered in Lahore this vear on 24-25 February, the
window set aside for legal kite flv ing. .As fliers sent their
kites up by the thousands, the floodlit skies of Lahore
were once again a kaleidoscope of whistling, swooping
paper diamonds, and the air filled with enthusiastic
shouts and cheering from the rooftops. Special kiteflying functions were arranged at more than 1100 sites
around the city, led in places by some of Lahore's most
prominent personalities. In keeping with tradition,
many kite fliers wore yellow ribbons, scarves and even
full yellow dresses. Again, there were accidents.
For his part, General Pervez Musharraf, a longtime
Basant supporter, said that the ban on flying kites could
be lifted in the future only if the hysteria surrounding
kite-fighting was defused, and the practice could be
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
looked at as a simple game, "We are not against the
festival, but rather against those people who are
manufacturing such threads that slit throats," the
general said in Lahore. "We should not look at it as
Islamic or un-lslamic. ... Play die game as a game,
so that we can continue to enjoy it, so that our next
generations can enjoy it."
hi the final analysis, flying kites is a significantly
different sport than fighting with kites. Many feel
that putting restrictions only on the latter would be
a relatively balanced solution. "I don't want to lose
this festival," said Fareeha Pervez, a renowned singer,
during the most recent Basant. "Action should be
taken against those who bring a bad name to Basant
by manufacturing those dangerous strings that
cause accidents." Marina Akhtar, a college student,
agreed: "We should enjoy kite flying as a game, but
there should be checks on those who shoot into the
air [in celebration], and those who manufacture metal
strings that cut people."
This would appear to be the way that the government
is leaning as well. During the two days that it allowed
kiie flying this year, the Punjab court laid down several
conditions. In addition to stipulating the size of the
strings and kites that could be used, it banned the use
of some of the more flagrantly dangerous kite-fighting
strings, including metal-reinforced ones. Instead,
strings could only be covered with wheat-flour glue
and finely ground glass to provide the cutting edge. The
government has also started regulating the industry,
issuing licenses to compliant string manufacturers.
Even such precautions were evidently deemed as
insufficient, however, as Lahore officials also took
it upon themselves to urge bicyclists to attach safety
antennas to their cycles, to guard against dangerous
strings that may descend horn above. The hope Lahoris
harbour is that, with the dangers posed by kite flying
tackled, the sport will be allowed to herald spring in
their city, unencumbered by the fundamentalist urge to
ban anything that is celebratory and enjoyable. A
Malh, challenging the equals
The traditional form of wrestling in Sindh is
being revived thanks to business and media
patronage, but some critics are unhappy
with the excessive marketing.
led to cricket taking hold in the urban centres. After
Partition, Pakistan's governments have displayed a
tendency to mimic the colonisers, including in their
support of certain games to the exclusion of others.
As such, the authorities in Islamabad have
promoted hockey and football, and greatly pampered
cricket players. Meanwhile, they have paid scant
attention to the traditional games of Punjab, Sindh,
NWFP and Balochistan, leading to the gradual
decline of these pastimes. Bilharo and wanjhavati, for
instance, are now virtually extinct in Sindh, while
many worry that malh has been limited to being a
traditional spectacle rather than as a popular sport.
jAn exploration of these issues unpacks tlie story of
the Sindhi nation, and of the suppression of its culture
and aspirations.
Sandro diann
Malh in Sindh is still played with traditional flair, with
certain rituals performed before each game. The mood
is set by Manglumhaar fakirs, Sindhi folk musicians,
beating drums to a particular rhythm. Games generally
begin in the evening, and the drumbeat serves to attract
he word malh is derived from the Sindhi
malha'n, meaning 'to celebrate'. Contemporary
linguists have accepted the word as a proper
| noun describing tlie ancient Sindhi form of wrestling
^that is today also played in Balochistan, NWFP and
Afghanistan. Malh is thought to date as far back as the
Indus Valley Civilisation, and is said by some to have
led to the internationally popular Greco-Roman form
of wrestling.
Long before Pakistan became a separate country,
malh was famous in Sindh, trumping other contact
sports such as bilharo and wanjhavati. While all three were
popular in the rural areas, British influence eventually
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 spectators. The fakirs are accompanied bv a musician
plaving the shelmai, the reed instrument. The music
thev produce together is called malhklm ji vajja, the
music of the game.
Following the musical overture, the pehelwans,
or wrestlers, ceremoniously bow and touch the soil
with the index fingers of each hand. Thev then kiss
these fingers, and touch their ear lobes. This ritual is
meant to demonstrate the pehelwan's humility and
the absence of undue pride in one's strength and skill,
A more recent inclusion in this preparatory practice
has been the players touching the feet of their ustad,
their teacher, seeking permission to take part in the
upcoming match.
Next, the pehelwans sit in individual barics, or
squares drawn on the ground. They are now ready to
engage in the last element of their preparations - tbe
viutlro diann, or 'challenging the equal ones'. The player
chooses his equal from the various squares, a pehelwan
who belongs to the same malh category as he does.
Inclusion in any one of malh's three categories is based
on mastery of the game's techniques and on physical
strength, particularly of the wrists.
A malh match starts when a pehelwan rilualistically
grabs at the snudro, or cotton cummerbund, worn by
Ins opponent. These cummerbunds, traditionally
made of ajrak, the block-printed cotton cloth typical
ot Sindh, are brightly coloured with crimson and
indigo blue. Crabbing the snudro is known as sandro
chhikmn, 'directly challenging the opponent', Thereafter,
the match's referee ensures that both pehelwans grip
one another by the hand - and the match begins.
There are ten moves aind techniques that a malh
plaver needs to know in order to compete on the field,
these include various types of trips, pulls, pushes and
other moves to throw an opponent off balance, as well
as moves to counteract such attacks. The goal is to have
the opponent fall, and to pin him to the ground. A
match involves two rounds, or joree, and the winner is
declared following the results of the second round.
There are 83 locations in Sindh where malakhro,
in malh matches, are held each year, all of which are
associated with religious shrines. There aire also 17
events where malakhro are held, the most important
of which is the annual Uris Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai,
the fair of Bhit Shah. This festival gives malh players
an opportunity to prove their skills in public, and to
fight for titles. The winners hold their titles until the
next year's fair.
ivlalh and media
Although the Sindhi media and the rulers in Islamabad
have not generallv enjoyed cordial relations, they have
undertaken certain joint activities over the decades
that have been good for the health of malh. Back
in 1966, for instance, the Ayub Khan government
organised a series of events in Sindh known as jashan,
and the common feature of each was the malakhro. As a
result, the Sindhi-language daily Ibrat began following
malh. Readers, in turn, began to demand further
promotion of the game, as well as the construction of
malh stadiums.
Patronage is essential for malh wrestlers, who
need not only to maintain families on their earnings,
but also fo sustain themselves on expensive,
high-protein diets consisting of meat, ghee, butter,
milk, almonds and pistachios, and to have enough time
for extensive exercise.
During the/, late 1970s. llilal-e-Pakislan, a Karachi-
based Sindhi-language newspaper owned bv the
Pakistan Peoples' Partv (PPP). began to publish
its own sports page, devoted to coverage of malh.
Shortly thereafter, PPP founder 7ulifqar Ali Bhutto's
government was toppled by Zia ul-Haq, and martial
law was declared, S M .Abbasi was subsequently
appointed Sindh's martial-law administrator, and
he continued the state's patronisation of malh,
Meanwhile, amongst the majority of pehelwans from
peasant backgrounds, a man named Ghulam Sarwar
jatoi became known as one ol the few educated malh
plavers. Jatoi was not only able to found and register the
Malh Association, but was also able to foster additional
links with government officials, continuing the revival
of the game in Sindh.
Recently, the Karachi-based Fauji Fertiliser Company
began promoting a new product through the medium
of malakhro. The Kawish Television Network joined
tlie campaign, aind began to air live and recorded
malakhro events. This was the first time in the history
of electronic media in Pakistan tliat a channel was
devoting ai primetime slot to a non-big-dravv game.
Porreho Pehelwan, a top-ranked wrestler, remarked
that malakhro bad never before been broadcast with
live commentary.
However, not all malakhro aficionados are pleased
with what thev perceive ais marketing gimmicks to
promote an aspect of Sindhi culture. I laji Khan Mangi,
a veteran political activist, does not feel that culture can
be preserved or salvaged through its commercialisation:
"Social justice and equal distribution ol resources is
the onlv way to promote cultural activities, including
malh," he savs. Some observers believe that social
stability is crucial to provide an environment in which
the game can thrive, and that political turmoil is
affecting social stability.
So we have the paradox of the preservation ol Sindhi
culture: the attempts to revive malh have mostly been
initiated by non-democratic governments, from Ayub
Khan to Pervez Musharraf. Perhaps this has been in the
hope that this traditional form of wrestling will prove
cathartic for a suppressed people - that it will help to
relieve them of evervday frustration, or to shake off ai
collective disgruntlement with the regime. Whatever
the motivation, the fact remains that malh is seeing a
revival. The pehelwans and a growing number of malh
supporters cheer. i-
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
The December 2006 season
gets underway, Calcutta
Although the roots of modern polo are in Southasia, until recently the sport's future in
the Subcontinent seemed tenuous.
As the warm weather reaches across Pakistan's
Northwest Frontier Province, the 3700-merre-
jhigh Shandur Valley stirs from its winter
slumber, to play host to a veritable anachronism. As
the valley greens, tribesmen from near and far gather
at the highest polo ground in the world, to be part of a
colourful festival of music, dance and ancient sport. The
main attraction of the festivities is the polo tournament,
played under the tight of a full moon between the
traditionally rival teams of Chitral and Gilgit. The
players observe rules set out almost 800 years ago
by Ali Sher Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan.
Tlie excitement generated by the skill, power and
speed of this ancient game - one of the fastest in the
world - is dramatically heightened by the energy of the
gathered crowd.
Polo is one of the oldest team sports still being
played. WTiile the game's true origin remains a
subject of speculation, many scholars believe that polo
emerged from the harsh encampments of nomadic
warriors in Central Asia, who are known to have
domesticated wild horses more than 2500 years ago.
The name itself is said to have come from the Tibetan
word pulu, meaning ball. By the fifth century BC, as an
elite cavalry under the Persian King Darius I marched
across the steppe, the game was taken up as a training
technique for mounted soldiers.
The first firmly documented polo game dates back
to around 600 BC, between the Turkmen and Persians.
Evidence of tlie strong popularity of polo in Persian
society is widely attested to in surviving paintings
and scholarly texts. Polo subsequently spread rapidly
throughout Asia, from Japan in the east to the Byzantine
Empire in the west, patronised by some of the greatest
warriors of history, including Alexander the Great and
Genghis Khan. Indeed, polo became an integral part of
court life of that era. With the demise of those empires,
polo too became humbled.
By that time, however, the Persians had brought tlie
game to India. There, under the patronages of Sultan
Qutb-ud-din Aibak and Emperor Babur, the game
flourished, eventually becoming the national sport
during the 16th century. Its popularity spread beyond
the Mughal courts among the Rajput kings, whose
descendents ended up as the patrons of the sport down
through the centuries. But once again, with the demise
of the Mughal Empire in die late 16th century', polo
found itself bereft of royal patronage, and continued to
be played only in remote village areas.
In 1858, two British soldiers, Captain Robert Stewart
and Major General Joe Sherer, witnessed a game similar
to polo known as sagol kangjei being played by locals in
Silchar, Manipur. Both officers were so captivated by
the experience that they quickly introduced the sport
July 2007 j Himal Southasian
 to their peers. The following year, thev established the
Silchar Polo Club, followed by the Calcutta Polo Club
in TS62, which remains the oldest active polo club in
the world. Over the subsequent decades, polo spread
throughout the British Empire, and is todav played
professionally in more than 70 countries.
Although todav Southasian polo is largely confined
to India, the game is still played in other countries of
the region. Second to India in this regard is Pakistan.
Beyond the country's distinction of hosting the
Shandur Valley grounds, the Lahore Polo Club is also
one of the world's oldest surviving clubs. There, the
main grounds are named after Sultan Qutabuddin
■Vibak, the 13th-century ruler of Delhi, who died in
1210 when his horse fell while playing polo in Lahore.
Flsewhere in Southasia, the origins of polo can still be
:ound in Afghanistan, in a game known as buzkashi. in
this, the national game in both Afghanistan and nearby
Kvrgyzstan, riders use their hands to grab and carry
the carcass of a goat or calf across a goal line. Finally,
in Nepal and Sri Lanka, the polo scene has evolved
to use elephants rather than horses, a twist on the
game that was first introduced around the turn of the
, enturv as a novelty for rich tourists. The World
Elephant Polo Association was formed in the early
I Q80s in southwest Nepal.
But the legacy of Southasian polo would be
incomplete without particular mention of the princely
kingdoms of Rajasthan, where the Rajasthan Polo
Club is this year celebrating its 100th vear. While the
maharajahs long ago embraced the game with a passion
tliat continues to this day, given the natural inclination
for horse riding in the area, the game also earned an
important patronage among the non-royal locals. The
roval polo-plaving families of laipur, Jodhpur and
i. dai pur have continued to make their presence felt in
:he polo scene in India, along with the prominent 61st
Cavalrv of the Indian Army, and a handful of highly
-killed civilian teams.
Eight horses, eight mallets
A polo game is comprised of two teams of four players
.■ai h, who compete on a field that is 300 yards long and
160 yards wide. The game takes place during seven-
minute segments, called clmkkas, and a full match is
generally made up of between four and eight chukkas.
Pia vers wield long-handled mallets from horseback, and
attempt to move a small white ball across a goal line at
either end of the field. Each player on a polo squad has
a significant role to play, although the responsibilities
assigned to individual positions arc interchangeable.
Unlike many other team sports, polo allows both men
and women to compete together on the same team, as
well as a mix of professionals and amateurs.
While the success of a polo team depends on the
skill of the riders, the horses are a critical part of any
game. "Horses are the very essence of the sport," savs
Devyani Rao, a prominent Indian female polo player.
"Thev look so beautiful on the field, and when you
see a good display of horsemanship, it shows you
what a horse-human team can do." The centrality of
the horse in polo is also emphasised by one of India's
most prominent players. Colonel Kuldeep Singh
Garcha. "Everything in the world is still measured
by horse power, because the horse, irrespective of the
advancing-technology, has left a tremendous impact
on mankind," Garcha notes. "The sheer beauty, grace
and speed, coupled with strength, sends the adrenaline
rushing more than any other sport - which once led
someone to sav that polo is a disease, and the only cure
is poverty or death."
Polo's fundamental rules are meant to ensure the
safety of the riders and their mounts. Nonetheless, it
remains one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
Sawai Man Singh II, the last Maharaja of Jaipur and one
of India's most notable polo players, died after a poio
accident in England in 1970. More recently, the voung
heir of Jodhpur, Yuvraj Shivraj Singh, slipped into a
coma that lasted several days due to head injuries after
a fall in 2005. The experience of watching a game of polo
is subsequently one of melding the players' courage,
artistrv and horsemanship, with a constant worrv tor
their safety.
The excitement of a polo match begins to build the
moment a spectator takes a seat overlooking the wide-
open polo field. As the umpire throws the ball between
the two teams, there is a sudden explosion of energv,
as horses push each other and players begin swinging
their wooden mallets. The energy on the field translates
directly into the stands. As veteran polo player, Pradip
Rao, suggests: "Despite its image of being an exclusive
and niche sport, polo attracts many different kinds of
spectators. There are those who are enthusiasts and
come to see the game for what it is. [hen there are
those eager to experience the aura that polo exudes of
past grandeur and royalty, and even those who just
want to be seen. Either way, it is a must-attend event
on the social calendar, with media shutterbugs eager to
capture the glamour, glitz and aura of royalty."
Corporate polo
It is this perception of glitz that has both helped and
hurt polo over the centuries - and, in truth, has come
to define the sport. Bv hitching its own health to that
of royalty and empire, polo has been able to ride high
when empires were doing well, but has also repeatedly
By hitching its own health to that of royalty and empire, poto has been abie to ride
high when empires were doing well, but has also repeatedly ebbed in sync with
those empires.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 ebbed in sync with those empires. Phis symbiosis
continued right into modern times. For decades, the
game received significant support from the Indian
Army and members of former Indian roval families.
Nonetheless, as per the experience of centuries past,
the popularity of polo in India was clearlv on the
downswing as the sun set on the British Empire.
Things have changed dramatically in recent vears,
however. The turnaround began during the 1990s, when
the Indian corporate sector suddenly became interested
in polo as a way of reaching the niche and lucrative
crowd of polo aficionados. This led to an infusion of
funding, and injected a whole new energy into Indian
polo. But everything has not been set right. Pointing
out some of the emerging contradictions, Pradip Rao
says, "The increase of corporate sponsorship in polo
lias made the game more competitive and receptive,
with a growing number of civilian teams. At tbe same
time, it has done verv little to raise the level of the game
and increase the number of polo players that take up
the sport professionally."
Devyani Rao agrees, pointing to the irony of polo's
slow corruption by money and flash mess. "Polo is
slowly falling prey to imitating only the lifestyle
aspects," she savs. "Rather than quality of the game,
we are trying to match only the glitz and glamour."
Likewise, Col Garcha says that, at the moment,
corporate sponsorship is a "double-edged sword. It has
brought in the necessary 'Vitamin VI' |money|» while
at the same time the sport itself has taken a backseat.
I lopefullv it will evolve by itself and strike a balance in
the coming vears."
The Calcutta Polo Club (CPC) perhaps best embodies
the paradox of polo in modern India. Far removed
from the glitz and glamour, the oldest active cluh in
the world is struggling to regain its glorious past. I he
club was once the hub of subcontinental polo, where
several members of roval families and world-class polo
players competed for prestigious cups, then, as the
sport itself fumbled with the changing times, the CPC's
fortunes began to spiral downward, with fewer funds
and crumbling infrastructure.
In the last few years, however, the CPC's prospects
have brightened significantly. First, club president
Keshav Bangur, a polo enthusiast himself, spent a
significant chunk of his own money to set the club
back on track - improving the grounds, rebuilding
the stabling facilities, purchasing and training horses,
and putting together a professional team to conduct
lessons. The next step was to engage the skills of
public-relations consultant Khadijah Chowdhury, to
promote the sport and club during the December 2006
polo season - the first official season to take place in
nearly a decade.
Ihe public response was positive. Crowds first
came in a trickle, out of curiosity, Bv the time the
season ended, the Calcutta Polo Club was regularly
enjoying a full house, for the first time in decades.
While Chowdhury credits the success ot the season to
the club's own initiatives, she also believes that media
support helped significantly. The December 2006 season
was covered extensively in the sports sections of leading
Indian dailies and television channels. Ihis coming
December, tlie CPC staff will be trying to match and
build upon that success.
Grandeur and uncertainly
In the current situation, there is much optimism amidst
the apprehension about preserving polo's legacy in
India. Devyani Rao notes that the Indian polo team has
done very well at recent World Cups, and that a new
crop of players, including I lamza Ali, Vishal Chauhan
and Rukshit Agnihotri, looks promising. Chowdhury
points to the recent success at the CPC as indicative ot
the national potential the sport has to grow, but cautions
that young, talented players need to be encouraged and
provided with adequate training and facilities to raise
the standard of their game to an international level.
Tbe CPC is now offering a programme aimed at
students, which has already attracted more than 23
new members since January. The Flaryana Polo Club,
in Gurgaon, is planning a similar programme. Angad
Kalaan, captain of India's 2007 World Cup team, whose
family owns the Haryana club, savs that low-level
promotion is exactly what Indian polo needs. While
Kalaan acknowledges that corporate sponsorship has
allowed for a crucial infusion of energy into the game, he
emphasises that lhe sport's future in India will depend
on new talent.
Over in Rajasthan, I! H (Taj Singh, Maharaja o!
Marwar-Jodhpur and the founder of the Jodhpur Polo
& Equestrian Institute, has been working persistently to
reinstate lodhpur as India's main centre lor equestrian
sports in general and polo in particular. In 19LC, he
restored the well-known Jodhpur team, which also
included the young heir apparent, Yuvraj Shivraj Singh.
In 2000, the Maharajah Caj Singh Foundation renovated
the polo ground in lodhpur and also hosted two Jodhpur
te<inis, along with teams from Kashmir, Delhi and one
from Kenya.
The Garcha family, meanwhile, has made its presence
felt in Jaipur, where the family's members have put
their software fortune into creating a mini polo empire.
Colonel Garcha, along with his son Satinder, has been
instrumental is setting up the famous 30-acre Jaipur
Riding and Polo Club, on the outskirts of Jaipur. The
11-acre polo ground, surrounded bv a massive, 300-seat
grandstand, is said to be onlv the beginning.
The current polo scene in India thus finds itself in a
contradictory predicament. On the one hand, polo has
historically followed the cyclical rise-and-fal) of empires,
feeding off the rich and royal. On the other hand, there is
now a need to plav to the galleries of a wider audience,
to ensure the sport's survival in this post-imperial age.
Abandoning the grandeur of the past and tackling the
uncertainty of the future is now the challenge, &
July 2007 i Himal Southasian
 Why would anyone voluntarily choose to risk
life, limb and bank balance to try to get to the
treacherous top of a massive, snow-covered
hill? Numb with cold, gasping for air, with muscle
tissue quickly deteriorating - even when mountaineers
do achieve their goal, they can do little more than briefly
stand tall on the summit, and cajole their companions
into taking a souvenir photograph. They then begin the
arduous and equally dangerous journey down. Why
not simply stay home?
"Because it's there," goes the famous quote by the
British mountaineer George Mallory. Shortly after
mouthing this memorably obtuse aphorism, in 1924
Mallory took part in the third British attempt on
Mount Everest (he had also been on the first two),
and promptly disappeared. Although his body was
eventually found in 1999, to this day no one knowrs
exactly what happened. An expedition that began this
June is attempting to discover whether or not Mallory
and his companion, Andrew Irvine, made it to the top.
Since these first efforts were made on Everest from
the Tibetan side of the mountain, Himalayan climbing
has changed dramatically. WTiereas Mallory and Irvine
were still clad in woollen knickerbockers, modern
mountaineering has brought with it not only the relative
luxury' of high-tech clothing, but also the indisputable
opulence of cinema tents, heated showers and bakeries
at the base camps on both the Tibetan north and Nepali
south sides of the mountain.
From 29 May 1953, the day Edmund Hillary and
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first summited Everest, until
1996, the year a single storm killed eight people near
the summit, only 842 ascents were recorded. Over the
last decade, however, more than 2200 people reached
the peak. After last year recorded 471  ascents of
Everest - also claiming 11 lives - the 2007 season has
again broken all records, with more than 500 people
reaching the top of the world between April and June.
Obtuse records
In the old, halcyon days of Himalayan mountaineering,
it was considered a privilege to take part in an
expedition. Nowadays, would-be mountaineers have
only to cough up a pile of cash (Everest can be climbed
for between USD 15,000-60,000, depending on the side
of the mountain, number of Sherpas employed for
support, and additional services) to be helped up the
mountain. Of course, this is a claim that most expedition
leaders are loath to admit. "Climbing Everest has
changed," veteran Everest expedition leader Russell
Brice accedes. "But people still have to put one foot in
front of the other themselves. Carrying someone up is
simply not possible."
These assertions aside, Everest has become
something of a playground. Indeed, with dozens of
people gathering at the summit at one time taking
snapshots, slogging your way to the top has lost some
of its charm, not to mention its exclusivity. Rather, the
race to 'conquer' Everest has devolved to one of a series
of 'firsts': the first blind man, the first blind woman, the
first person without arms, without legs, the first Welsh
woman, the first man in shorts, or the first Westerner
to race up and down the mountain multiple times in a
single season.
This year, upon reaching Everest's summit, a 17-
year-old American girl became the youngest person
to climb the highest summits on all seven continents.
Weeks later, a 71-year-old Japanese man became the
oldest person ever to reach the mountain's heights. A
Brit this spring claimed to have made the first telephone
July 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 call from the peak - although a Chinese team later
disputed this alleged record, saving that they had done
so way back in 2003.
Of course, of those hoping to achieve another 'first'
this year, not all have succeeded. Wim 1 lof, known as
the Iceman, failed to reach the summit wearing only
his shorts (see photo). The 48-year-old Dutchman, who
holds nine endurance records and recently ran 21
kilometres barefoot north of the Arctic Circle in Finland,
reached an altitude of 7400 metres, but was forced to
turn back. He has vowed to tackle the mountain again
before long.
Taking on Everest under-clothed made a big splash
last year as well, when Lhakpa Tharke Sherpa caused
a furore by baring his upper chest while atop the peak.
Many of his fellow climbers, as well as the Nepal
Mountaineering Association, were aghast, decrying his
actions as an insult to the holy mountain. But Lhakpa
Tharke claimed his deed was a religious one. "It was
a wav of promoting peace in the world, and making
different religions come together," the 26-v ear-old said.
"I painted a picture about peace, and held it in front of
my heart. I prayed to the gods, and staved like this tor
three minutes. Mv life has been better since then." That
might indeed have been the case, but Lhakpa Tharke
has now become known, rather incorrectly, as the
'naked Sherpa'.
Despite the dramatic changes in equipment ant\
support, the popular techniques used in approaching
Everest have changed little over the decades. The
expedition that had put Hillary on the summit in
1953 used the 'siege' style, whereby a huge team sets
up a large camp at the mountain's base. From there,
thev create a massive supply chain up the mountain,
eventually leading all the way to the summit. Such an
approach requires a large number of workers behind
the climbers themselves, a niche that has long been
filled bv the Sherpas that live in the area leading
to the entrance to Everest. The economic benefit of
mountaineering to this communitv in particular has
therefore, on the south side, been tremendous.
Depending on size and kind of expedition, the normal
ratio is one climbing Sherpa per climber for summit
day. In addition, however, there is generally a large
team of Sherpas providing back-up to an expedition
- cooking, fixing ropes, setting up camp and the like.
The Sherpas earn about USD 50-70 per day, plus up to
a USD 1000 bonus if they get to the top.
However, even as Westerners are setting more and
more records, climbing Everest has become more than
a mere job for some Sherpas. "This is mv interest," savs
34-year-old Lhakpa Sherpa, from Okhaldunga, a region
south of the Sherpa heartland of Solu-Khumbu. "From
my hometown we can see the amazing panoramic
view, and when I was young 1 always wanted to climb
all these mountains. That has always been my dream."
Meanwhile, the famous Apa Sherpa has now broken
all records, by scaling Everest 17 times and counting.
(Rumour has it that the 47-year-old Apa had promised
his wife he would stop when he reached the summit
for the 12th time, back in 2001.) this year, he summited
with a speed climber, I.akpa Gelti, who currently holds
the record for the fastest ascent from base camp to the
top, at 10 hours, 56 minutes and 4h seconds.
Siege v alpine
Armchair adventurers have long been particularly
obsessed with Everest, and tend to forget thai there are
seven more 8000-metre peaks in Nepal alone. While
each of these is tackled everv season, climbers do so
in a very different style than is employed on Everest,
And, whereas criticism has arisen that the 'siege'
approach has allowed rich amateurs to climb Everest
without previous mountaineering experience, such is
not the case on most of the other 8000-metre peaks in
the Nepali Himalaya.
Annapurna, the world's tenth-highest peak, is
infamous for its avalanches, and has claimed the lives
of several world-famous mountaineers, including the
Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev. This season, onlv
three mountaineers reached Annapurna's summit,
and according to some of the accounts, the experience
was rather unpleasant. "We did it, we did it, we did it
- and survived," read the dispatch written bv Andrew
Lock, Australia's most accomplished mountaineer,
when he finally reached the safetv of Annapurna's
base camp this spring. "We did not have the thousands
of metres of fixed rope, oxygen, climbing Sherpas
or hundreds of other climbers, as on both sides
of Everest," he wrote, emphasising the difference
between the climbing culture surrounding Everest and
other peaks.
One question that is posed from time to time is
whether the way of tackling Everest would have
been different if the first Westerner to set foot on its
summit had not been Edmund Hilary and his
siege-stvle expedition (led bv John Hunt), but rather
Reinhold .Messner. In 1978, the south-I'yrolean
became the first person to climb the mountain alpine
style', a technique that does withoutSherpa support on
the Himalayan peaks. Then climbing alpine, the
mountaineers carry everything themselves, without
using additional oxygen in bottles. If Messner had been
the first to summit Everest, could alpine style have
come to be seen as the 'proper' way to ascend the
mountain? Or, what if Hillary's initial prediction
had been correct, and iiis achievement had been of little
interest to the world in general? If the urge to climb
Everest, as the world's tallest peak, had not
been so strong, perhaps Himalayan siege-style
would never have emerged as a progressively less
sporty sport.
But today, regardless of the purists turning their
nose up at siege-style climbing on Everest, it seems
clear that this particular version of the climbing sport
will continue - as long as Everest "is there". £
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Suicide terrorism, like 'terrorism' in general, is
difficult to define. The act of committing suicide
towards a particular objective is nothing new,
and we have seen it done by the Bible's Samson and
by the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II. The
recent global phenomenon of the suicide attack started
in the early 1980s, with groups such as Hezbollah in
Lebanon and al-Dawa in Iraq. Tlie former's 1983-85
suicide campaign against Israeli troops in southern
Lebanon not only caught international attention, but
was also considered an unmitigated success - unable to
cope with the assault, Israel eventually retreated from
Lebanon almost entirely for decades.
In Sri Lanka, the LTTE has been active since the
1970s, and has played a significant role in bringing
suicide attacks to Southasia. The LTTE studied the
success of Hezbollah's suicide attacks, but modified
the technique to its own requirements. In her 2005 book
Dying to Kill, Mia Bloom writes that Tamil Tiger head
strategy of suicide attacking had caught the eye of al-
Qaeda, which proceeded to conduct, coordinate and
synchronise suicide assaults using multiple bombers.
This led, of course, not only to the 1998 synchronised
bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya,
but also to the attacks on the US of 11 September
2001. Al-Qaeda's greatest impact has been to inspire
other groups to adopt its modus operandi. Besides
the massive spread of global jihadi ideology to areas
with disparate local grievances, al-Qaeda's influence
has also manifested itself in the worldwide increase in
suicide bombings. Indeed, out of more than 700 suicide
attacks that have been recorded in the course of modern
history, over 70 percent have taken place since 9/11.
A new phenomenon
Although Afghanistan has seen constant conflict over
the past three decades, there had been no record of a
suicide attack within the country until 9 September
The logic of suicide attacks in Afghanistan
October 2006 blast,
southern Afghanistan
Velupillai Prabhakaran "saw the potential benefits
of this method specifically in carrying out targeted
assassination attacks in situations where it was difficult
or impossible to attack a certain public figure or group
of people using other methods."
The LTTE has thus been held responsible for the
assassinations of several political leaders, including
Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe
Premadasa. The LTFE is also unique in that it was one
of the first groups to use women as suicide attackers,
and to date 30 to 40 percent of the group's attacks have
been carried out by women. If the tactic of suicide
terrorism has brought attention to the Tamil Tigers'
cause, the organisation has also contributed to the
tactic by perfecting it on land, air and sea. The elite
Sea Tigers, for instance, is well known for its ability to
inflict serious casualties through suicide attacks on Sri
Lankan Navy vessels.
Because of its effectiveness, by the mid-1990s the
Before the fai! of the
Taliban and the influx of
Coaiition military forces,
Afghanistan had only
ever experienced a singie
suicide attack. Last year
a!one, there were nearly
120. What happened?
2001, just two days before the American targets were
hit. On that day, two al-Qaeda members assassinated
Ahmad Shah Massoud, the head of tlie Northern
Alliance. Even after the US-led Coalition forces arrived
in Afghanistan in October 2001, the trend in suicide
attacks emerged only gradually, with one attack in
2002, two in 2003 and'six in 2004.
From that point on, however, the pace escalated
dramatically. Learning from the effectiveness of the
insurgents in Iraq and other places, various militant
groups carried out 21 attacks in 2005, with targets
concentrated in Kabul and Kandahar. In 2006, there
were 118 suicide attacks, which included political and
religious figures as targets. This year, as of 19 June,
there have been 59 attacks. What explains this surge
in mayhem?
There are several reasons why Taliban and foreign
militants have decided that suicide bombings are
particularly suitable for use in Afghanistan. First and
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 most straightforward, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have
concluded that this approach is most effective in killing
Afghan and Coalition troops. This is a direct result of
the perceived success of Hezbollah and the LTTE, as
well as that of Hamas in Palestine and the various
groups now operating in Iraq. Suicide attacks allow
insurgents to achieve maximum impact with minimal
resources. Studies have found that when insurgents
engage in direct combat with Coalition forces in
Afghanistan, there is only a five percent probability of
inflicting casualties. With suicide attacks, the 'kill-rate'
increases several-fold.
Second, Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders have noted
that the use of suicide attacks has instilled fear in the
local populace. This has not only led to a widespread
feeling amongst the Afghan people that the authorities
are unable to protect them, but has subsequently
destabilised the authority of local government
institutions. As such, the gulf between Kabul and the
population at large is expanding inexorably, and this
serves the purpose of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Third, insurgents in Afghanistan have been able
to tap into the expertise and training of the global
jihadi community. Militants have been able to impart
knowledge on suicide tactics to Afghan groups both
in person and through the Internet. Combined with al-
Qaeda assistance and recruitment from madrassas in
Pakistan, those militants have also supplied a steady
stream of potential suicide bombers to the jihadi
insurgency in Afghanistan.
Fourth, suicide attacking is extremely effective as
an assassination tactic, in situations in which there is
significant security around a target. The Taliban and
al-Qaeda began to use suicide attackers as assassins
over the past year, targeting important personalities
including Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the late governor
of Paktia who died as a result of the attack on 10
September, 2006; Engineer Mohammed Daoud, the
former governor of Helmand, who barely survived
the attack; and Pacha Khan Zadran, a member of the
Afghan Parliament who survived as well.
Fifth and most important, suicide attacks have
provided renewed visibility to the Taliban and its allies
- something that guerrilla attacks had been failing
to generate. Given their high profile and casualty
rate, every suicide attack conducted is reported on in
both the regional and international press, providing
augmented exposure to the 'cause'.
From without, within
A couple of years ago, there was significant debate
in Afghanistan regarding the identity of the suicide
attackers causing such havoc. At the time, it was
assumed that the majority were foreigners, and that
the tactic was essentially an imported product. As
more information became available, however, there
appeared to be two categories involved in the attacks.
The first group is indeed made up of foreign militants,
influenced by the global ideological jihad against the
West, especially the United States. This group sees
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July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Afghanistan as the second front of that jihad (the first
being Iraq), which provides them an opportunity to
face their enemy in direct battle. These individuals are
heavily inspired by global and Internet-based radical
clerics and Taliban members, who proclaim, as Mullah
Dadullah (killed in battle against the Coalition Forces
on 11 May 2007) did in 2006, that "Afghanistan has
been occupied by the crusaders, and it is a personal
obligation of the Muslims to fight against them." Thus
encouraged and motivated, these people come to
Afghanistan from countries such as Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia, with the goal of attaining martyrdom, and of
setting an example for the rest of the Muslim ummah.
But a small group of Afghans too are carrying
out suicide attacks. While many of the bombers may
originate from training camps in Pakistan, the fact that
they come from over the border does not necessarily
make them Pakistani. ,<\n Afghan war orphan educated
and trained in a madrassa in Pakistan, who now
returns as a suicide bomber, is still an Afghan. While
most Afghans believe that suicide attacks are neither
culturally nor religiously acceptable, they ignore
the fact that Afghan culture is not as isolated as it
was in the past. At one point, one quarter of
Afghanistan's 25 million people became refugees,
and a significant segment of that population attended
madrassas in Pakistan, where many were introduced
to extremist ideologies. Indeed, such training continues
today, and there remains no shortage of suicide recruits
from these madrassas.
There are three other prominent possibilities that
could lead an Afghan to commit a suicide attack in
Afghanistan. First, many operations undertaken by
the Coalition forces have killed innocent civilians,
including little children. Afghan culture has long placed
a priority on revenge for the death of a family member.
Second, poverty and unemployment are currently high
in parts of south and southeast Afghanistan. Often,
those involved in suicide assaults, particularly Taliban
members, do so for the monetary support promised
to their families. Third, there are instances when the
attacker has seemed unaware that he is performing
a suicide mission; he is simply given a package to
deliver, and a handler ultimately detonates the bomb
with a remote trigger.
In addition, the relatively easy access today to
various types of technology allows for the very rapid
spread of ideas, including dangerous ones. The
objective of most of these is straightforward: to inspire
and motivate Afghans who are disillusioned with the
Coalition forces and the Afghan government to join the
jihad. Underlying all of this is the exposure of Afghan
citizens to al-Qaeda, which has been very successful
in injecting its extremist global ideology throughout
aAfghanistan. It was during the Taliban's reign from
June 1996 until November 2001 that al-Qaeda and the
Taliban established a close relationship, wherein al-
Qaeda supported and trained many Taliban cadres.
An Afghan war orphan educated and
trained in a madrassa in Pakistan, who
now returns as a suicide bomber, is still
an Afghan.
Following the post-9/11 transformation of the Taliban
from a conventional military force into an insurgent
one, this training and indoctrination began to reap
significant benefits, and the Taliban started to act as a
significantly more sophisticated organisation.
Anti-suicide fatwa
Faced with such a situation, the Kabul government has
no choice but to enhance the capacity of its intelligence
agencies, with an eye to disrupting the network that
organises and supports suicide bombings. As has
been widely noted, suicide attackers hardly ever work
alone. While intelligence is the initial link in the chain
of thwarting any kind of terror attack, it is of utmost
importance with regard to suicide attacks.
Police training in particular needs to be enhanced.
Currently, the Afghan National Police is given a few
of weeks of general training, but recruits receive
nothing specific on threat assessment or related
analysis. In addition to receiving necessary resources,
the police force needs to be taught two sets of skills:
first, in engaging the local community in a friendly
and professional manner, in order to create a network
of unofficial on-the-ground informants; and second,
advanced training in counterinsurgency techniques, to
be better able to deal with violent groups.
More broadly, there is a crucial disconnect between
the military actions in Afghanistan and the reality
on the ground. Both Coalition and Afghan troops
must abandon their heavy-handed approaches,
which tend to kill and injure innocent civilians. They
must instead work with local communities, to try
and develop mutual trust. The Afghan military must
also familiarise itself with the Taliban's new way of
operating. ,A.fter analysing the pattern of recent attacks,
it is clear that the two theatres for suicide attacks are
Kabul and Kandahar, and security in these hotspots
must be immediately increased. Only by knowing the
environment and protecting it will the military be able
to anticipate future attacks.
But the answers to Afghanistan's future peace can
hardly be limited to military actions. The Afghan ulama
(religious authorities) must continue to oppose suicide
bombing, and issue fatwas to that effect. The moderate
religious leadership throughout Afghanistan should
be empowered, and given prominent opportunities to
spread its message of peace and tolerance. Importantly,
the government must cooperate with society at
large to formulate healthy counter-ideological
measures, such that religious clerics are engaged to
initiate  dialogue first  with the  population at large
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 and second with militants and their sympathisers, in
order to dispel notions that suicide is compatible with
Islamic jurisprudence.
Until Afghan security institutions are sufficiently
strengthened, the international community must
remain engaged in Afghanistan. Without continued
assistance, the country's fragile security institutions
will crumble, inevitably leading to a repeat of the early
1990s, when the country was a hub of international
militancy and drug production. Most crucially, it is vital
that the organic capacity of the state security agencies
is developed, so that these agencies do not appear to
a\fghan citizens to be mere Western lackeys.
Suicide bombings are the horrific residue of larger
malaise and so, given both its landlocked position
and geopolitical situation, Afghanistan's relationships
with its neighbours must be upgraded for the sake of
its long-term stability. As such, Kabul must work to
strengthen ties with nearby countries, whether through
commerce and trade or transfer of knowledge. The
two most important neighbours are clearly Pakistan
and Iran, and their assistance is crucial to curb
the inflow of militants from either West Asia or
Pakistan itself.
It also is imperative that strong but informal ties be
forged with village communities that live along the
Afghan-Pakistani border, as some have been known to
offer a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives.
Kabul must formulate an overall plan to deal with these
communities, and to provide them with necessary
services - particularly education and healthcare - with
the specific aim of improving living standards. The
fact is that the majority of the population in these areas
continues to resent the Taliban, and does not wish to
go back to the draconian rule that was forced on it
under the Taliban regime until 2001. This local mindset
translates as goodwill for the Karzai government and
must not be squandered.
Looking at the experiences of other states around
the world, though, the strength or capability of
Afghanistan's government and security sector may
not matter all that much. No state, after all, has been
able to fully immunise itself from suicide attacks
- and a^fghanistan may be set to follow this pattern.
The trend of suicide bombings in Afghanistan has
clearly gone up in the last few years, and it could
continue to for the foreseeable future - particularly
if the insurgents believe that suicide assaults are
the best answer to the very sophisticated military of
the West. However, by developing a professional
security sector, drawing on global experiences, and
incorporating issues of cultural and religious sensitivity,
it might still be possible to develop a rational middle
way in Afghanistan. £
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July 2007 | Himal Southasian
War zones
The present and
future of India's SEZs
Indian policymakers rush headlong towards
the discredited model of China's Special
Economic Zones, even as people-power
movements pose a challenge.
The summer of 2005 saw a major shift in India's
economic policy, when Parliament passed the
Special Economic Zones Act without even
the semblance of a debate. Since then, widespread
resistance notwithstanding, over 250 Special Economic
Zones (SEZs) have received formal approval, and the
government has made the final announcement of the
creation of 80-odd SEZs. Tliere are several hundred
appl ications hi the queue.
The notifications of SEZs have followed a particular
pattern in India, whereby major shifts in the country's
economic policy are affected through stealth. In 1991, a
crisis regarding short-term balance of payments in the
country's external accounts was manipulated by the
country's policymaking elite, to quietly usher in major
changes in the way the national economy was to be run.
These far-reach ing changes included the liberal isation of
the import regime, which had a special significance for
agriculture; becoming more open to foreign investment
in various areas of industry and services; allowing
more foreign investment in finance; and privatisation
of public sector assets. There was no public discussion
of these changes, no debate befitting a democracy. The
role of the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank in this process was hardly incidental. Much of
underprivileged rural Tndia continues to reel under
the impact of the structural-adjustment policies that
the two Bretton-Woods institutions brought to the
country 1991. If we also take into account the role of
trade concessions made by New Delhi to the World
Trade Organisation after 1995, we can understand the
origins of perhaps the most prominent consequence of
this remote-control management of India's economic
policies: the rapidly rising pile of corpses of bankrupted
Indian farmers who have committed suicide
What is a Special Economic Zone? It is a specially
demarcated area of land, owned and operated by a
private developer, deemed to be foreign territory for
the purposes of trade, duties and tariffs. With the intent
of increasing exports, within the SEZ production can
be carried out by investing companies utilising a large
number of concessions - tax exemptions, guaranteed
infrastructure and the relaxation of labour and
environmental standards. These last are what make
SEZs particularly 'special'.
It is worth noting that India may be the first country
in the world to be experimenting with privately
owned Special Economic Zones; in China, even when
they have been developed by the private sector, SEZs
are ultimately owned by the state. a*\nd SEZs are not
new to the Subcontinent. Their predecessor was the
Export Processing Zone (EPZ), the first of which was
created in Gujarat in India in 1965. The Colombo and
Dhaka governments have also been experimenting
with SEZs. According to the International Labour
Organisation, by 2002 over a hundred g
countries   around  the   work! |
were doing so.
July 2007 j Himal Southasian
 The Shenzhen syndrome
New Delhi's recent enchantment with Special Economic
Zones is a direct consequence of the perceived success
of the Chinese model. Beijing experimented with
SEZs over a period of two decades, beginning in the
early 1980s, with the liberaliser Deng Xiaoping at the
helm. They were initially introduced in the coastal
areas of the southeastern part of the country, as a
pilot experiment during the early phases of the post-
Mao opening up. Despite at least one case of notable
'success', in Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, the SEZ
model of economic growth has stood discredited in
China for nearly a decade due to the outcry regarding
unacceptable working conditions for the majority of
workers and the devastation of local ecologies as a
result of the Special Economic Zones.
Much of India's move towards SEZs can be traced
to a 2000 visit to China by former Union Commerce
Minister Murasoli Maran, whobecameenchanted by the
success of the showpiece SEZ at Shenzhen. Shenzhen's
annual rate of growth has been 20-30 percent for the
past quarter century, and over 10 million people have
found employment in an area the size of the Jaipur
metropolitan area. The city continues to generate 14
percent of China's exports.
And yet, drawbacks abound. As a New York Times
reporter wrote in December 2006, few cities anywhere
have created wealth faster than Shenzhen, but the
costs of its phenomenal success were "environmental
destruction, soaring crime rates and the disillusionment
and degradation of its vast force of migrant workers."
The SEZ model that has taken New Delhi's fancy -
and which it is systematically attempting to implement
- is one whose time has long ago lapsed. This fact can be
understood from a look at the peculiarities of the Indian
situation, and the odd world in which its corporate and
policymaking elites find themselves today. The Indian
economy has been growing at an impressive 8-9 percent
for about five years now. The country's corporations
have become globally mobile units, locating themselves
as far afield as eastern Europe and China, Bolivia and
Equatorial Guinea; acquiring companies in Europe and
North America, and mines and oilfields in Africa, Latin
America and Australia.
However, there remains immense corporate
frustration within India itself. Some of the cheapest
labour in the world is at their command and yet,
because of the 'inconvenience' of democracy, Indian
companies find themselves hamstrung to hire and fire
in sync with the business cycle - as happens in China.
Some of the most readily accessible natural resources
are at the disposal of Indian businesses, but there is the
In India, SEZs will provide a profitable
refuge from the Indian Constitution, an
effective waiver from democracy.
nuisance of bureaucracy, in the shape regulations and
pollution-control boards and the Union Ministry of
Environment and Forests. While Indian businessmen
may have firm control over the hearts and minds of
politicians, they still feel encumbered by regulations
and by being made to pay too many taxes. There is
infrastructure in India, but it is either in the city and
already burdened, or adjacent to agricultural land
and a pain to acquire. The list of grievances goes on
and on.
Special Economic Zones offer relief from this
bramble of hurdles. Much that could never be
attempted outside their boundaries is the norm within
the safe confines of the SEZs. American corporations
routinely abuse both labour and the environment in
Shenzhen in ways unacceptable back home - though
few seem to mind the cheap goods and clothing. In
India, SEZs will provide a profitable refuge from
the Indian Constitution, an effective waiver from
democracy. The Development Commissioner and SEZ
Authority are to have overwhelming powers, making
local, provincial, national and international laws all
but irrelevant. Nandigrams and Kalinganagars will
happen from time to time, but so long as they do not
all take place simultaneously, or too close to any given
election, there is little worry.
This is the plan, at any rate. But is it working?
Adjust kar lenge i
After a series of protests in Raigad, Maharashtra
- where the Reliance conglomerate wants to build a
massive SEZ, equal to a third of the area of Bombay
city - and the fierce uprisings in West Bengal (to name
only the most prominent anti-SEZ protests), the central
government has been forced to flip-flop on the issue.
When, in 2006, the new SEZ rules went into effect, at
one stage the Board of Approvals was clearing SEZ
proposals at the rate of one a day. This past January,
however, the government halted the process, following
the first massive protest in Nandigram against the
huge SEZ project that the Indonesian Salim group had
planned to construct there, in which hai f a dozen people
lost their lives, in the middle of March, Nandigram
erupted again, forcing the West Bengal government to
scrap the project altogether.
Following some new restrictions, however, New
Delhi has lifted the freeze on Special Economic
Zones. In early June, final approval was given for the
construction of 24 new SEZs, with nine more pending
the authorisation of individual states. This took
place following tbe announcement of some possibly
significant changes in policy in April. For instance,
the government has now placed a ceiling of 5000
hectares on any SEZ; earlier, there was no cap. More
importantly, state governments can no longer acquire
land for an SEZ on behalf of private developers. Nor
can state governments form joint ventures with private
developers if the developers do not already have land
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 in hand to offer the project. States can acquire land to invoked to acquire land for SEZs, allowing the state to
develop SEZs on their own, provided they abide by the act as a broker for private companies - hardly a role
rules of a new relief and rehabilitation package, to be behoving of a democracy. The conflicts and protests
announced soon. Moreover, at least half of an SEZ's of the last year in West Bengal, iVlaharashtra, Punjab
total area is to be earmarked for processing units or and elsewhere have revealed the moral folly of such
areas within an SEZ reserved for industrial activities an approach.
like mining, manufacture, or fabrication. Earlier, the The  likelihood   is  that  the  recently   announced
norm was 35 percent for multi-product SEZs; amendmentscanbeeasilycircumventedbybusinesses,
If actually implemented, these changes would be with help from politicians. When pressed recently by
significant. For instance, the new policy implies that the media about whether he would listen to Reliance's
private developers would have to deal directly with urgings that the 5000-hectares cap should be relaxed,
farmers and landowners to acquire land for SEZs. Union Minister for Commerce Kamal Nath gave a
While this means that the state will not interfere in revealinglv convenient reply: "It's not the Gita or
such processes, it will remain to be seen whether land the Bible, no?" In any case, Reliance is still moving
mafias will be restrained from snatching land from ahead with its plans in Maharashtra and Haryana,
peasants for companies. In a country such as India, attempting to construct an area significantly larger
where the acquisition of large chunks of contiguous than  5000  hectares  by  acquiring contiguous  land
land in a farmed area is complicated by the number under the names of several different companies.
of different owners the acquiring company has to deal , ,
with, the transaction costs for an interested company Approaching eventualities
are substantial. What else do India's policymakers want to do?
There is also the risk that a  company  may  fall Recent concessions such as the liberalisation of foreign
short of the minimum land required for the industry direct investment in real estate; the rush of builders
in question, due to the unwillingness of one or a few and developers to acquire SEZ land; the fact that only
owners to sell their property. This was the very reason half of the area under an SEZ has to be dedicated to a
that the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was originally broad definition of processing or industrial activities;
Afghanistan Higher Education Project rVr/i
Institutional Leadership & Administration Manager, Afghanistan
Project Management: Consortium composed of Academy for Educational Development, University of Massachusetts, and Indiana
The Afghanistan Higher Education Project (HEP) is part ot an overall USAID funded program to rehabilitate and strengthen the
capacity of the education system to improve access to quality education throughout Afghanistan. The HEP project supports this
broader objective by building sustainable capacity at the tertiary level to deliver high quality pre-service and in-service teacher
education for secondary school teachers.
The Institutional Leadership & Administration (ILA) Manager will focus on developing the administrative and leadership capacity of
the Rectors, Deans and department chairs of 16 secondary teacher educational institutions, as well as staff of Ministry of Higher
Education in Afghanistan. This individual will work closely with leaders and faculty members at each institution and provide the
conceptual and hands-on support and mentorship that will improve the structural frameworks that guide their operations. Overall,
the ILA manager will work through the Chief of Party and wiih related individuals and institutions to ensure the timely realization of
the projed objectives.
1) At least a Master's degree in area related to higher education leadership development.
2) Minimum 4 years ot progressively responsible experience in program/project management in area of institutional systems
development. Experience must include educational leadership development, teacher education, institutional capacity building, and
deep familiarity with credits systems.
3) Applied knowledge of organizational design within the education sector, particularly higher education, and experience in teacher
training. International field development experience and knowledge of higher education systems required
Please send letters of interest and CVs before 19 July 2007 to or to:
Prof. David R. Evans (Principal Investigator, HEP)
Center tor International Education
University of Massachusetts
285 Hills House South
Amherst, MA 01003
July 2007 | Himal Southasian 47
 the fact that industrialists are all too often heing granted
land well in excess of their production requirements
- all these point to an engineered real-estate boom
through SEZ growth. Huge amounts of capital are
pouring into the land market, from both within India
and overseas. Returns of 30. 40, even 100 percent
are becoming common - making Indian real-estate
markets some of the most attractive anywhere in the
world for investors.
And the political implications of SEZs? Ear-reaching
and monstrous. It is proposed that the SEZ Authority
will be headed bv a centrally appointed Development
Commissioner, in whom will be vested all the powers
of local administration, the state labour Commissioner
and the regional pollution control boards. The
Authority wil! consist of five other members, at least
two of whom will be representatives ot the private
developer. Importantly, none of the six members of
the SEZ Authority will be elected, lhe .Authority will
halve jurisdiction over areas as large as 50 or 100 sq
km, putting out of applicability such things as elected
municipal government (for urban areas) or panchayats
(for rural areas).
Indeed, the powers being granted to tlie unelected
SEZ Authority suggest a real-time experiment in
corporate totalitarianism, launched through the high
offices of the nation state. As flags are raised once again
in rajwadas and princely states, the long-slumbering
glories ol Indian feudalism may once again rise
from the ashes under newly coined corporate brands,
fitting snugly into the needs and imperatives of global
finance, injecting with new energv a capitalism that
would appear to be stagnating worldwide.
With their private airports, luxury housing, super-
deluxe hotels, world-class shopping mails and
multiplex plazas, SEZs offer us a window into the
world of corporate consumer dreams. To some, thev
also portend the end of effective democracy in India.
fhe surrounding sea of human misery and squalor is
bound to give rise to repeated aind violent rebellions,
something that is already well underway. With
such concerns in mind, private armies of security
guards arc now being trained aind readied for the
approaching inevitabilities. While statistics on the
growth of private securitv aire hard to come by,
it is well known that security firms like Croup 4
and others have been expanding their operations in
recent years.
With this alarming scenario as a backdrop, the
question may be asked: is there not a way that SEZs
could be used judiciously' ihe short answer is no,
not under the given provisions and the extension of
overarching rights to corporations. Moreover, there
are a plethora of alternatives to SEZs. For instance, the
government could widen and strengthen the National
Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS),
putting purchasing power in the hands of the rural
poor, raising at once rural employment, aggregate
demand, investment, outpul and growth. In the process,
it could create Sustainable Ecological Zones (another
species of SEZ altogether) tis programmes like
watershed management, soil conservation aind
afforestation aire institutionalised aind the natural
environment is protected.
But to execute such a strategy would involve
environmental democracy, in which local elected bodies
such as panchavats have control and decision-making
powers over resources. To galvanise the collective
imagination and to forge the will to implement these
alternatives in practice., will require a thriving public
culture of democracy - precisely that which SEZs are
being created lo undermine. Globalisation, far from
bringing freedom to the world, is talking it awa\ - in
the name of freedom.
III! pro
u 111 uNIFORMITYjaina diversity
IISulIApbo- water
aUfwwUn Don_P^ M .^^IHPi
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
R E P O rj;
The recent spate of reports on fabricated 'encounter killings' by the paramilitary and
police in India points to a systemic rot. Fortunately, a tenuous check on this impunity
is coming from within the ranks themselves.
Reports of the cold-blooded killing of civilians
by security forces in Jammu & Kashmir, the
Northeast and Chhattisgarh, in the name
of combat operations against insurgents or Maoist
guerrillas, grabbed headlines in India during the first
half of this year. Despite the public hubbub, the top
brass in the Indian Army, police and paramilitary forces
have kept quiet about the allegations, and seem to be
in favour of standing behind their men whatever their
crimes may be.
In January this year, the infamous Ganderbal killings,
in which the murder of three civilians was covered up
and attributed to an 'encounter', came to light after a
probe by a special investigations team (SIT) headed by
the deputy inspector-general (DIG) of the J & K police.
The victims were villagers 'disappeared' from south
Kashmir: carpenter Abdul Rehman Padroo and street
vendors Nazir Ahmad Deka and Ghulam Nabi Wani.
The investigations in Ganderbal uncovered yet
another case of police complicity - in the killing of
Maulvi Shaukat Ahmad Kataria of Banihal in Doda
District, who 'disappeared' last October from the local
mosque where he was the imam. A SIT found that the
photograph of a "slain Pakistani militant" - identified by
the Ganderbal police as Abu Hafiz, of Karachi - was
actually a picture of the missing imam. In line with the
prevalent police practice, weapons had been placed on
the body to implicate the deceased. In this instance,
the weapons were found to have come from a cache
of arms seized from militants in genuine operations,
which the police had kept out of the records with the
intention of using them to provide clinching 'evidence'
in simulated encounters.
Bringing the guilty to book in the Kashmir encounters
case has been particularly difficult due to the conflicting
interests of the security agencies involved. In early
May, the army filed an application in a lower court in
Srinagar, challenging the SIT's chargesheet - which
names, in addition to five policemen, five personnel of
the paramilitary Rashtriya Rifles, including a colonel
and a major, implicated in the killing of Maulvi Shaukat.
The army claimed that the J & K police should have
sought permission from the Home Ministry before filing
the chargesheet, because security forces deployed in
J&K were protected under the Armed Forces Special
Powers Act, the AFSPA. The J&K police, however,
maintained that the army personnel were not "acting
in the line of duty", and therefore should not enjoy
impunity under the AFSPA.
In April, the public uproar regarding the Ganderbal
killings led the J & K government to set up a commission
of inquiry, which is expected to submit a report by the
end of July. The attention being given to these fake
encounters has also enabled whistleblowers from within
the ranks of the security forces themselves to gather the
courage lo reopen older cases of disappeared persons.
What is revealed is a sordid saga of murder and high-
level cover-ups.
BSF cover-up
A case in point is linked to the incident that occurred
on the night of 7 September 2003, in the J & K district
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 of Pulwama. That evening, a Border Security Force
(BSF) commander with the 42nd Battalion, Narender
Singh Dangawas, claimed to have killed Ismail Bhai,
supposedly a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant from
Karachi, during a counter-insurgency operation. But
Ghulam Nabi, the stationhouse officer at the Rajpura
police station, where the body was brought for
identification, told this writer that the body had never
been positively identified. The implication was that the
report was falsified.
Despite the dubious nature of the Pulwama operation,
Dangawas was recommended for a President's Police
Medal. Before he could be awarded, though, an insider
blew the whistle. Constable Subhash Rathod testified
against his commanding officer, telling BSF authorities
that an officer of the intelligence wing of the BSF had
handed over an innocent Kashmiri to Dangawas, who
later killed him and faked the encounter. Yet, Dangawas
continues to be shielded by the BSF: all of the five
inquiries that the BSF has conducted of the matter over
the past four years have exonerated the commander.
The J&K police remain suspicious, and an
investigation into Dangawas's actions remains open.
But investigations have stalled, supposedly because
no one has come forward to identify the victim's body.
Evidence unearthed by this writer, however, suggests
an elaborate cover-up. For instance, while Dangawas
claimed that 66 of his soldiers had taken part in the
encounter, 47 of them have subsequently testified tor
an internal, confidential BSF enquiry that they had not
in fact been involved. Similarly, the situation report
prepared by Dangawas claims that Constable Bashir
Ahmed fired 68 rounds during the encounter, but Bashir
himself says that he was nowhere near the scene.
A BSF informant who wishes to remain anonymous
clandestinely recorded phone conversations with 16
BSF personnel supposedly associated with the fake
of December 2005. The
recordings were made
between     December
2005   and   February
2006, with the aim of
bypassing the formal
process   by   which
internal        reports
continue to remain
confidential.  They
submitted to
the   Delhi   High
Court in 2006 as
evidence that the
BSF was indeed
covering   up  a
fake encounter.
The Pulwama victim: Pakistani
militant? Innocent civilian?
Below are some excerpts from the tapes.
Paresh Sahu, Constable, 42nd Battalion, BSF
Sahu: I have made it absolutely clear in all enquiries
that I was not part of the operation.
Informant: When the encounter was on, what were you
Sahu: I was on patrol duty.
Shashi Jogi, Constable, 42nd Battalion, BSF
Informant: That means Narender Singh  Dangawas
fraudulently included your name in the list of those who
were part of the operation.
Jogi: Yes, that's what he did. So when I was called in for
the deposition, I told the senior BSF officers conducting
the enquiry that I was just not part of the operation, and
so I could not have been part of the team that carried
out the fake encounter.
A BSF deputy inspector general, K C Padhi,
conducted the first inquiry on the alleged encounter
in 2004. In phone conversations recorded by the BSF
informant, Padhi admitted that Dangawas played foul.
Informant: But sir, you are aware that many names have
been fraudulently added to the roster of those who took
part in the operation?
Padhi: I have mentioned it [in my report].
Yet Padhi later cleared Dangawas of all charges.
This procedure was repeated with Deputy Inspector
General V R Bahl, who sat on yet another inquiry
commission. Bahl confirmed to the informant that the
evidence against Dangawas was damning, but he
nevertheless gave him a clean chit.
There is hardly any tangible evidence to back
up Dangawas's version of events. For instance, all
Indian security units engaged in counter-insurgency
operations make it a point to keep photographs of their
operations, but in the case of the Pulwama encounter,
Dangawas claimed that all photos had gone missing.
His colleagues, however, are more forthcoming.
"Commandant Dangawas deleted all the photos from
the hard disk of the computers in our unit," alleges
Vinay Gehlote, an inspector with the 42nd Battalion, in
a taped conversation with the BSF informant.
The process of cover-up, however, required
extensive in-house collusion. In Dangawas's first report
to his superiors, he claimed to have killed a Bangladeshi
Jaish-e-Mohammed militant. But in a subsequent FIR
report, the man's nationality had changed and he
was said to be with the Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Then, in 2004, BSF chief J B Negi, replying
to an internal enquiry letter, wrote an order giving
permission for a Summary Court of Inquiry against
Dangawas. In this order, Negi described the victim as a
"Bangladeshi terrorist".
Either way, according to official records, a Pakistani
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Jaish-e-Mohammed militant named Ismail Bhai is
now buried adjacent to the Kellar police station in
Pulwama District. But is he really a Pakistani, or
even a militant? The Delhi High Court is now hearing
Constable Subhash Rathod's petition, but Dangawas
remains a free man, shielded by the BSF on the basis
of a diluted chargesheet. The General Security Force
Court that dismissed the charges against Dangawas
this past February had only heard evidence against the
defendant tor the following three charges: first, for an
act prejudicial to good order and discipline, in which he
was accused of confiscating a civilian's car; second,
for ill-treating a subordinate; and third, for committing a
civil offence by wrongful confinement and harassment
of civilians.
Triple murder in Gujarat
The situation surrounding Dangawas and the Pulwama
encounter would have passed undetected if it had not
been for the anguished conscience of a member of
the BSF's 42nd Battalion. Subhash Rathod's courage
in pursuing a court case against his superior seems
nothing short of extraordinary, but the collapse of
institutional mechanisms of accountability - whereby
'"■egal acts are covered up with impunity - merits closer
examination. With five internal BSF inquiries having
exonerated Dangawas despite the i act that his superiors
knew the encounter in question was dubious, it is clear
that internal structures of accountability alone are not
enough to ensure justice. This is a particularly crucial
disconnect in situations in which human rights come a
distant second to concerns of 'national security'.
Even as the public was trying to come to terms
with the unfolding situation in Kashmir this spring,
events in Gujarat underlined the precarious position
of whistleblowers in the system, further raising
questions on their effectiveness in exposing internal rot
- particularly when up against collusion at the highest
levels. The case in question was the killing of a man
named Sohrabuddin Sheikh.
Starting in late 2005, a man by the name of
Rubabuddin Sheikh began appealing to the Gujarat
authorities to initiate a CBI inquiry into the death of his
brother, Sohrabuddin, and to produce his missing sister-
in-law, Kauserbi. He finally approached the Supreme
Court, which ordered that an investigation be conducted
by the state's Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
The case was then handled by an agent named Geetha
Johri. Her team's first report, released in September
2006, presented evidence to attribute three separate
murders to the Gujarat state police's Anti Terrorism
Squad (ATS). Johri had also stumbled upon an
elaborate nexus of corruption that furthered a political-
communal agenda. The investigation stunned India,
particularly because it detail how foe police forces
from three different states - Gujarat, Rajasthan and
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July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Andhra Pradesh - had all colluded in the operation and
cover-up. For her pains, however, Johri was removed
from the investigation in early 2007. It was only after the
Supreme Court intervened in March that the officer was
reinstated and allowed to continue the investigation.
According to the ATS's internal records, at about five
in the morning of 26 November 2005, on the outskirts
of Ahmedabad, a team comprised of members of
the squad and a few Rajasthani policemen saw the
headlight of an approaching motorbike. As the bike
came closer, the policemen claimed they recognised
Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a gangster alleged to have links
to Pakistani militant groups. They claim that they leapt
to stop the bike, that the biker lost control and that he
fired a gun as he fell. The policemen then returned fire,
killing the suspect. The story as given was full of holes.
To begin with, how could the policemen have recognised
Sohrabuddin in the darkness of a November morning
against the headlight ofthe oncoming motorcycle?
Geetha Johri's investigation provides a picture
of how the preparations tor the 'encounter' had
proceeded. The CID team traced Sohrabuddin, his wife
and a third person to a bus traveling from Hyderabad to
Sangli, in Maharashtra. At around one in the morning
on 23 November, a team consisting of ATS personnel,
assisted by the Andhra Pradesh police, halted the
bus in Kamataka, and dragged the three people out of
the vehicle.
It was more than a thousand kilometres away and
three days later that Sohrabuddin was shot dead. But
the police were not yet finished. On 27 November
2005, the day after Sohrabuddin was killed, his wife,
Kauserbi, was brought to a bungalow in Koba, on the
outskirts of Ahmedabad. There, she is said to have
become hysterical upon being told that her husband
was dead. The ATS's original plan had evidently not
included Kauserbi's murder, but when she vowed to
expose her husband's killing, she was poisoned by a
police doctor. According to the CID report, her body
was carried away in a police jeep and burned.
Even Kauserbi's murder was not the end of the
Sohrabuddin cover-up, however. Along with his team,
then-ATS chief D G Vanzara (now a deputy inspector
general) launched another operation, targeting Tulsiram
Prajapati, an associate of Sohrabuddin. As one of the
last people to see Sohrabuddin and Kauserbi alive on
24 November, Prajapati was a key witness in the fake-
encounter case, and Vanzara did not want him spilling
the beans. So, Prajapati was arrested in November 2005
for the 2004 murder of gangster Hamid Lala, a rival of
Sohrabuddin's. Fearing for his life, Prajapati wrote to
the local court in Udaipur, warning that "the police say
they will kill me and spread the story that I escaped
from police custody." A year later, in December 2006,
his fears turned out to be well-founded. According to
the FIR registered in Ahmedabad, Prajapati purportedly
escaped from police custody on 27 December. A day
later, Vanzara's team was said to have located him at
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July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Ambaji, on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border, and shot him
dead. Just 10 days earlier, the Gujarat CID had listed
Prajapati as a witness in the Sohrabuddin case.
The marble dole
Why did this triple murder take place? Who was
Sohrabuddin, and who wanted him dead? To uncover
the story, this writer tracked the last decade of
Sohrabuddin's life from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh.
Thirty-three years old when he was killed, Sohrabuddin
began his working life as a truck driver. He gradually took
to crime, and eventually became the mam accused in a
high-level arms-transport case in 1995. Sohrabuddin's
mentor at the time was Abid Khan, better known as
Chhota Dawood, the local front man for Bombay's
notorious underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim, who is
purported to have Sinks to Pakistan's Inter Services
Intelligence. It was this connection that, a decade later,
allowed Indian police to label Sohrabuddin a 'terrorist'.
Sohrabuddin rose quickly in the underworld, his
criminal activities eventually spanning four states.
According to the Rajasthan police, Sohrabuddin
began extorting traders in Rajasthan's lucrative marble
industry, which had an annual turnover of INR 50 billion.
The marble traders eventually approached M N Dinesh,
the Udaipur police superintendent, who it is presumed
contacted then-ATS chief Vanzara. The last straw
came in 2005. when Sohrabuddin is said to have made
an extortion demand to Rajasthan's biggest marble
trader (who. with the CID investigation ongoing, needs
to remain anonymous). According to the Gujarat CID,
Vanzara's phone records showed that, immediately
before and after Sohrabuddin's death, he had been in
regular contact with this trader's family.
Questions regarding Sohrabuddin's killing cropped
up almost immediately after the alleged encounter.
Although any incident including an encounter is
supposed to be investigated by the local police
station, in Sohrabuddin's case Vanzara's team acted
as defendant, judge and jury by investigating its own
encounter. Vanzara and two other officers of the
Indian Police Service have since been suspended and
arrested for murder, and several additional policemen
face prosecution in the Sohrabuddin case, but the
question of impunity remains.
Hit-men in khaki
The term encoun?er/(/7//ng has now become synonymous
with murder, often involving high-profile cops who are
generally assured of future impunity. Veteran police
officers blame the rise in encounter killings on a failing
justice system. They suggest that policemen frustrated
with the slow pace of adjudication and acquittals,
evidently due to lack of sufficient evidence, take the
law into their own hands. Yet despite the increase in
simulated encounters, there are no organised, updated
or accurate statistics on encounter or extrajudicial
killings, and those involved are forced to rely on their
own experience. "The criminal-justice system has to
come back on the rails," says Julio Ribeiro, a well-
regarded former police commissioner of Bombay.
"Twenty-five years ago, this number of encounters
was not taking place. It is coming up now more and
more. You must understand why the judicial system
has become so weak: it is because of corruption.
Corruption is the main cause of all this."
In the case of Gujarat, at least, this corruption goes
all the way to the pinnacles of the police and political
establishments. Three years ago. the Gujarat police
evolved a plan of action for a state that had, in their
assessment, "become a haven for terrorists". Top
police sources who served in the state at the time of
the Godhra incident and the riots that followed confirm
that there was a clear political directive to eliminate
some Muslim criminals, in order to send a message to
any who may be planning attacks in retaliation for the
2002 communal riots.
The connection between organised crime and the
hit-men in khaki has subsequently come to wield a
vice-like grip over many police forces, particularly in
Gujarat. "I was asked by high-level bureaucrats to plan
the elimination of people." recalled R B Sreekumar,
former Additional Director General of Police in Gujarat.
"I said it is illegal." At the moment, the justice system
of India is heavily dependent on the consciences of
people such as Sreekumar, as well as those who led
to the breakthroughs in the cases of the Kashmir and
Gujarat fake encounters. The health of the system
overall, however, is far too important to continue placing
it in the hands of a few high-minded individuals.
The recent exposes of extrajudicial killings in India,
coupled with the inability of the country's criminal-
justice system to address a spate of fake encounters,
have brought the spotlight squarely onto India's archaic
Police Act of 1861. One solution could be found in
a legislative proposal currently being vetted by the
Ministry of Home Affairs for a Model Police Act (Himal
December 2006, "Reforming Indian policing'). The
Supreme Court in September 2006 directed the state
and Centre to implement the Act, which aims to ensure
transparency in police functioning - including through
the creation of state security councils, which would
take on the responsibility from the state governments
for overseeing the police forces. Several states have
refused to accept the new legislation, however. The
Gujarat government, for one, has publicly stated
that it does not want to let go of control over the
state police.
The question therefore remains: Is there enough
political will to put in place the reforms directed by
the Supreme Court? Former police commissioner
Ribeiro says that regardless of the current political
climate, the necessary momentum will eventually
build up. He notes, "It is not the job of the police to
kill people. It is not the job of the police to be judge
and executioner."
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Paddy in Bihar's Tharuhat
With rice production in tSie Bihari Tarai facing stiff competition
from sugarcane, the traditional reliance of the Tharus on paddy
as food and currency is changing rapidly.
When the Tharus of Rajasthan migrated to
the Himalayan foothills some 400 years ago
as it is said, they left behind more than just
the desert sands. From a diet based on wheat and
millet, they switched over almost completely to rice,
to such an extent that many in the Tharu community
now believe that wheat and millet are fit only for poor
people. Nowadays, wheat flour is not widely available in
Tharuhat-the term forthe region where the Tharus live
- and wheat-based foods are never served to guests.
Rice paddy became a lifeline for the community; a
common sight in the Tarai is now that of Tharu farmers
ploughing the land and singing traditional b/rhan/songs,
praying for good rains and the plentiful production of
their paddy.
The Tharu as a community is today scattered
across the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh and
Uttarakhand as well as in Bihar. Tharus are also
found across the belt of the Nepali Tarai. In Bihar, the
community is concentrated in West Champaran District,
with its largest settlements in the area also popularly
known as Tharuhat - a flat stretch of about 45 square
kilometres, surrounded by the Dun and Someshwar
hills. There are over 25 Tharu-dominated villages in
Bihar's Tharuhat.
Due to sufficient irrigation and productive land suitable
for paddy cultivation, the communities of the Tharuhat
depend on rice not only as their staple, but also as
their security and medium for transactions. Mahendra
Mahto, the head of Naurangia village, says that in this
area, paddy is still the preferred form of wage among
agricultural labourers. Even barbers and blacksmiths
are paid in measures of paddy, for services rendered
to the community throughout the year. Here, paddy can
be exchanged for anything, says Mahto - from turmeric,
chillies and cumin, to silver and gold. Though the dowry
system is not prevalent in Tharu society, before going
to her in-laws house for the first time after marriage, a
daughter is presented with paddy in beautiful handmade
baskets of munj and khar grass.
Paddy is not only an individual family's asset, but
also serves to increase community cohesion and social
responsibility among the Tharus. Perhaps the most
important element of a Tharu village is the community
granary, the dharam bakhar, a paddy reserve that is
created by contributions from the villagers, according to
the size of landholding and harvest. Villagers can borrow
rice from the dharam bakhar for any purpose, except
direct marketing for monetary benefits. The borrower
simply has to convince the granary management
committee, generally headed by the gumasta, or village
head, and has to return the quantity by an agreed-upon
date. In Mahto's village, five percent interest per month
is charged for the paddy lending, if the payment is
delayed. It is because of the dharam bakhar that no
family in Bihar's Tharuhat goes hungry, it is said.
Losing taste and ground
Rice production in India has increased by nearly four
and a half times over the past half-century, from 20.6
million tonnes in 1950 to more than 91 million tonnes
July 2007 j Himal Southasian
 during 2001-02. This can largely be attributed to the
advent of hybrid varieties of paddy. Like other areas,
Bihar's Tharuhat has begun to lose its indigenous
strains of paddy. "We have already lost some good
varieties, like kala mansuri, kanak jeera and gurdi,"
says Ambika Mahto of Gobarahia village. Soon other
varieties will also vanish, he warns, including basmati
and anandi. As with other lost varieties, these last two
are Agahani - 'late' species, which take almost four
months to ripen, unlike the hybrids, which are ready for
harvest in just three months.
While basmati is now only being grown by
farmers with a significant amount of land available,
anandi is, for the moment, continuing to survive
relatively well, due to its importance in Tharu culture.
Roasted anandi is commonly served to guests with
curd, milk and pickles. "If a guest is not served with the
roasted anandi, the hospitality is considered wanting,"
says Chandar Diswah, of Naurangia. Anandi is neither
sold nor exchanged among the Tharu community.
Instead, it is cultivated only by certain affluent farmers,
and is provided to other community members as a gift.
"The hybrids give us more produce in less time, but
the native varieties we have lost were tastier, and more
suitable to the local soil and climatic conditions," says
Ambika. High-yielding 'dwarf' varieties grow quickly and
consume less water, and hence have quickly become
preferred among Tharu cultivators. This change has
not only caused the loss of an indigenous gene pool,
but has also reduced the fertility of soil. "Two decades
ago, we did not use synthetic fertilisers for the paddy
crop," recalls Ambika. "But now, we can't expect a good
harvest without using them."
Urea and di-ammonium phosphate fertilisers are
extensively used to supplement soil nutrients in the
Tharuhat. For the past five years, on the advice of
agriculture experts, villagers have also begun adding
zinc. "When we were growing the old paddy varieties,
only two crops were possible in a year, providing
enough time to rejuvenate the soil," says Chandar.
"While hybrid paddy allows three crops in a year, it
leaves no time for the soil to get replenished." While
synthetic fertilisers nourish the soil in the short term,
he continues, with extended use they deplete the soil
and pollute the groundwater. One youth in Naurangia
village blames the current situation on the agricultural
practices and lifestyles of his ancestors. "Pulses are
not an integral part of our diet," he says, pointing out
the reason for not growing pulses that act as natural
nitrogen lixers and thus nourish the soil.
Food v cash
Besides the challenge of hybrids and environmental
dislocation, Tharuhat's paddy culture is facing other
obstacles. To begin with, rice production in West
Champaran is not particularly high. According to
the Directorate of Rice Development in Patna, the
1863 kg of rice produced per hectare here makes it a
medium-to-low producing district. But paddy is being
increasingly displaced by sugarcane, whose acreage
has doubled in the last half-century in India as a whole.
In Tharuhat, about a quarter of paddy cropland has been
converted to sugarcane fields in the last 20 years.
Compared to rice, sugarcane requires less labour
over the course of its three-year cycle, needing care
only during its first year. While local mills in West
Champaran are the main sugarcane purchasers, the
crushing capacity of these mills is poor. As such, they
are unable to consume the entire crop of a particular
area. In addition, exploitative mill owners do not pay the
farmers for two or three years in a row, a situation that
has spawned regular agitation by the farmers.
Taking advantage of the current imbalance between
supply and demand, illegal sugarcane-crushing units
have sprouted in many Tharu villages in recent years.
But these small-scale units, heedless of government
regulations, often produce inferior quality jaggery, which
has less market value and poor consumption potential.
Instead, it is mainly used for preparation of local liquor.
A Tharu elder
Furthermore, these village-based crushers exploit local
farmers by paying very low prices. "The purchase rate
of sugarcane by the sugar mills is about 110 rupees
per quintal, but the local sugarcane crushers give them
only 75-80 rupees for the same quantity," says one
Naurangia villager.
While Tharuhat villagers replace paddy with
sugarcane to earn more from their land, many small-
scale landholders are now faced with food crises. Many
have become dependent on either the government or
the village granaries. "In Tharuhat, the villagers are
used to good rice, and the quality of the rice provided
by the public-distribution system is inferior to their own
product," complains Mahendra Mahto. While previously
the dharam bakhar was used mainly for special
occasions, now more and more villagers are forced to
take loans from the community granary simply to meet
their everyday food requirements. 'The time has come
for our community to reverse the trend in our farming
system," says Mahendra. "Not just only to save our
rice-based culture, but also to get healthier food."      £
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Cosying up to the
Bangla generals
Civil-rights and other abuses
notwithstanding, New Delhi is looking at
the current situation in Bangladesh with
great interest - and actually hope.
After years of turbulent relations, it is ironic
that New Delhi is currently basking in a
sense of reassurance over the possibility of
good-neighbourly relations with Bangladesh, with the
army-backed interim government appearing to be firmly
in place in Dhaka. Since it took over in January, the
tenor of statements emanating from the highest levels
in the interim administration have enthused New Delhi
for a variety of reasons. In particular, Indian diplomats
and security officials have expressed approval for
Dhaka's crackdown on 'terror'.
Indeed, hopes have been stoked in the Indian
establishment that the interim government headed by
Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former banker, will eventually
take the long-awaited steps that could choke off the
insurgents from Northeast India, whom New Delhi
is convinced are taking refuge across the border in
Bangladesh. But there are also hopes that the current
administration in Dhaka will energise Indo-Bangladeshi
ties that have been at a low over the past decade,
in  particular,  this could translate into creating an
atmosphere of trust and goodwill to boost mutually
beneficial economic measures.
To optimistic observers, New Delhi and Dhaka
have over recent years maintained a hot-and-cold
relationship, largely defined by who has been in power
in Bangladesh - either the seemingly secular Awami
League, or the conservative Bangladesh Nationalist
Party (BNP). To a dispassionate observer of Southasian
politics, however, India-Bangladesh relations have
more specifically been held hostage to the bitter 'battle
of the begums', between Awami League chief Sheikh
Hasina and BNP supremo Khaleda Zia.
Either way, both parties have found it to their benefit to
thwart Indian policy. The Awami League early on sought
to shake off its pro-India image to please the domestic
audience, by not coming out with proactive measures
for improving ties with New Delhi. Meanwhile, the BNP,
backed by Islamist forces, was able to be significantly
more open in its anti-India posturing. Under both parties,
New Delhi feels it has received very little cooperation
from Dhaka on matters of illegal migration, or shelter
for the Northeast insurgents who India says operate out
of 200 camps inside Bangladesh. Furthermore, Dhaka
has regularly continued to deny India transit facilities
from West Bengal through Bangladesh, to service its
landlocked northeastern states.
At least on the surface, things have changed
significantly since the interim government took over
in January and imposed a state of emergency. The
army-backed regime called off the 22 January national
elections, and has subsequently reconstituted the
Anti-Corruption Commission, and arrested close to 200
politicians (and mounting), mostly on graft charges. It
has also revived the National Security Council, giving
military leaders a platform on which to air their views
on governing the country. In the meantime, there has
been mounting criticism over human-rights abuses,
unconstitutional governance, and clamping down on the
media and other bodies urging transparency. But New
Delhi seems heartened by the crackdown on militancy,
and this may well blind Indian policymakers to a host of
problems, the seeds of which are planted in the current
bout of activism by its eastern neighbour.
The most 'reassuring' signal that the interim
government in Dhaka has sent New Delhi came on 30
March, whentheauthoritiesexecuted the most prominent
names in Bangladesh's rising Islamist militancy - chief
of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) Abdur
Rahman and his deputy, Siddiqui Islam, alias 'Bangla
Bhai'. With its hands full in Kashmir, India has been
extremely wary of the possibility of a new front on
its eastern flank, along the 4100-km porous border,
particularly in the wake of controversial Western reports
that the country was becoming a hub of al-Qaeda-linked
Islamist forces.
The 30 March executions were seen as a significant
blow to Bangladesh's first overt militancy campaign,
which had rattled the country through a series of
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 coordinated blasts and suicide bombings during 2005.
With the BNP-Jamaat alliance government having
consistently denied the existence of Islamist militancy
in the country, the executions were seen by Delhi
as Dhaka's getting serious about a clear and
present danger.
VVTici! ibZiiiid i'7df\ uU
Should India cosy up to Dhaka's new army-backed
regime? Some analysts would give an emphatic nod
- despite both the strong-arm tactics being employed
by the interim administration, and the fact that Dhaka
officials have yet to carry out any action against the
alleged Northeast-insurgents' camps. As things
stand, the possibility of the Bangladesh Army taking
over direct power appears unlikely, particularly given
the role its ranks play in lucrative peacekeeping
missions. This is all the more reason, then, for India to
engage with the interim government, and give it much-
needed backing.
The current rulers in Dhaka look set to remain tn
power for some time, with elections not about to be
held for at least a year. Furthermore, the process
of comprehensive electoral reforms, including the
preparation of the new voters' list and identity cards
for all those above 18 years of age. is yet to begin.
This massive exercise, involving between 76 and 80
million voters, is estimated to take at least 12 months
to complete. Furthermore, the Bangladesh Army chief,
Lieutenant-General Moeen U Ahmed, has vowed no
let-up in the hunt for corrupt politicians and militants
while the interim government clears the way for a free
and fair' election. That job will be accomplished neither
easily nor soon, and so it appears that the army will
inevitably carry on ruling Bangladesh by proxy for some
time to come.
Aside from keeping contact with the Fakhruddin
Ahmed regime. New Delhi must also take into account
the possibility that sections from within this interim
authority (or a new political force entirely, including
fresh faces from the existing political parties) could well
come to call the shots during the next elections and
beyond - with, perhaps, the backing of the army.
As the larger and more powerful neighbour, India is
also in a position to cut some ice with the regime, by
taking unilateral, proactive action on a few particular
issues. New Delhi can demonstrate its support to
Dhaka's battle against militancy by rounding up
Bangladeshi criminal elements who may be operating
from India's border areas. Towards this end, Dhaka
has already been regularly furnishing the names of
such criminals to Indian officials, just as India has been
providing Dhaka with details of Indian militants said to
be operating from within Bangladesh.
But the most important area where New Delhi
needs to intervene is in correcting the balance of
trade between the two countries, which has long been
weighted   heavily  against  Bangladesh.   In   2001-02,
Bangladesh's exports to India were a meagre USD 50.2
million, while imports from India that year stood at more
than USD 1 billion That trade imbalance continues.
with Bangladesh's exports to India in 2005-06 standing
at USD 251.6 million, and imports from India going up
to nearly USD 1 8 billion during that period. Part of this
process is already underway, and offers an immediate
opportunity for the Indian government. Since mid-2006,
India has offered duty-free import of seven new items
from Bangladesh, and promised to do away with duty
on 4200 additional items within three years. New Delhi
has also sought a list of all irritants, including non-tariff
barriers, that are currently impeding bilateral trade.
During the visit of Indian Foreign Minister Pranab
Mukherjee to Dhaka on 19 February, the Indian
government announced unconditional duty-free access
to the import of two million pieces of readymade
garments from Bangladesh. With a total investment
of USD 389,2 million during the period of 1971 to
September 2006, India is ranked as the 12th-largest
investor in Bangladesh. Now, hopes are pinned on
India's Tata group to finally negotiate its long-pending
three-billion-dollar investment in Bangladesh, for a
power station, steel plant and fertiliser unit. Talks were
suspended last summer, but in mid-May this year the
new Board of Investment executive chairman, Nazrul
Islam, said that the government was close to an
agreement with the Tatas". While these assurances
need to be taken to their logical end, under the
current circumstances India should also consider
extending to Bangladesh a free trade agreement, as it
has with Sri Lanka.
Once bilateral economic ties improve, and once
Bangladeshis begin to see benefits from concessions
given by India, the government in Dhaka would be in a
better position to pursue an 'India-friendly' policy. As for
the other bilateral bone of contention, New Delhi need
not even push for transit facilities through Bangladesh
at this time. After all, India has recently started a USD
103 million development project on the Sittwe port in
Burma and the Kaladan River in Mizoram, bypassing
its need to access the Chittagong port. If Dhaka-New
Delhi relations improve, the two countries would be in a
position to work on a strategy to end the most politically
potent issue - economic migration from Bangladesh
to India - by focusing on how to jointly improve the
economy in Bangladesh.
Being the most dominant of Bangladesh's
neighbours, and a democracy to boot, India cannot for
long remain a mute witness to widespread reports of
the throttling of democratic values by the army-backed
Dhaka regime. Apart from everything else, the test for
New Delhi will lie in successfully performing a delicate
balancing act: between cosying up to the generals in
Dhaka, and warning them ofthe possible consequences
of straying too far from the democratic path. This will
be a very difficult undertaking, but the latter cannot be
accomplished without the former.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Rorty and Ramu
Hesitation, hope and happenstance
Both would have
depended on
happenstance to see
what happened to
their interpretations.
When Hitler will be fast asleep.
Gandhi in deep trance,
spinning his wheel.
That's when.
We shall play hide and seek.
- Sindhi Poet Vimmi Sadarangani
Two of the more remarkable
philosophers of our time passed
away recently. On 8 June, at his home
in California, Richard Rorty succumbed to
pancreatic cancer. He had been fighting the
disease for a long time, and his departure,
at age 75, was not unexpected. Five days
later, on our side of the globe, Ramchandra
Gandhi quit his own haunt unannounced,
without leaving a forwarding address for
his limited circle of admirers. The 70-year-
old was found dead on 13 J une at the India
International Centre in New Delhi.
It is unclear whether Rorty and Ramu (as
they w ere known to their peers) ever met one
another, but they shared some similarities.
Rorty drifted from analytical philosophy to
the humanities and then on to comparative
literature. For his part, Ramu went from
teaching to dialogue and conversations,
before turning to hybrid fiction to express
his most profound thoughts. .According
to the theologian W L Reese, Rorty once
proposed that, in place of building theories
about 'reality', attempts should be made to
"poetize culture, rather than rationalize or
scienrize it, celebrating not truth but play
and metaphor". Meanwhile, Ramu did just
that, through his plays and prose.
Of the two, Rorty was better known as a
public intellectual. Though reviled equally
by critics from left and right, his eclectic
output intrigued the press. He opposed
Western ethnocentrism, but supported the
idea of promoting democracy and human
rights around the world. He prophesied
that democrats in the US would be forced to
support the war in Iraq declared by George
W Bush due to the "terror" of looking
effete, but continued to oppose it all the
same. It may not have been his motto, but
orty affirmed Walt Whitman's famous
declaration, "Do I contradict myself? Very
well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I
contain multitudes."
Ramu's assertions were subtler, but they
emerged from a simultaneous acceptance
and rejection of his extraordinary lineage
(he was grandson of Mohandas K Gandhi
and C Rajagopalachari) and unusual
circumstances. For his last few years, he
had lived the life of a nomadic intellectual
- an academic without perch, a philosopher
without sponsor, and a writer without
regular publisher. But he remained engaged
throu gh his public lectures, occasional books
and regular contact with the literati of New
Delhi. The fact that he was not quoted very
often in the media says more about the state
of the market-oriented Indian press than
about one of the most erudite philosophers
of the Subcontinent.
Age of uncertainties
Children love to play hide and seek, for the
sheer pleasure of hesitation. Is she in that
nook or the other corner? Is he. hiding behind the
arch or pretending to be the pillar? In a way,
discovery and disappointment are both
immaterial - the game is an end in itself.
Tliere is no objective truth, only relative
positions of almost equal significance.
Such equivocation infuriates traditional
philosophers to no end. Bertrand Russell
dismissed pragmatism as "shallow
philosophy" suitable only for an"im mature"
country such as the United States. But
the end of certainty has made doubt
acceptable. The philosophy of hesitation
propounded by Jacques Derrida has made
pragmatism respectable, although this did
not happen overnight.
Ironically, the end of superpower
rivalry did not result in the acceptance of
diversity. Rather, it merely gave birth to
two coterminous wordplays: the 'clash
of civilisations' formulation of Samuel
Huntington, and 'end of history' forecast
of Francis Fukuyama. But the centrality
of the US was an inalienable part of both
propositions. The committed pragmatist
that he was, Rorty saw through the games
of those in Washington, DC who were
masquerading as philosophers: intellectual
spadevvork was preparing the ground for
pax americana.
But unlike many of his peers in the
fields   of   relativism   and    pragmatism,
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Rorty refused to accept that the West had
no business promoting its own brand of
democracy and human rights in the rest
of the world. He was unrepentant to be an
American, even in the age of hyperpower
paranoia; he continued to insist that the
messages the empire needed to curry were
those of Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson. In
the interim, how to cope while struggling
was the crucial question for humanity.
Pain is an integral part of being.
Civilisation has been built through efforts
aimed at lessening human suffering. It
was the West that first discovered ether,
aspirin and morphine, but the non-West too
deserves to benefit from these discoveries.
Rule of law, freedom of the press,
independence of the judiciary, right to
education and access to public services are
similar socio-political devices that need to
be spread throughout the world. The West
need not be apologetic about supporting
those struggles that seek to establish
democracy and human rights anywhere in
the world. These were Rorty's suppositions.
To Huntington's position that "It would be
immoral of the West to shove its stuff on
the rest of the world," Rorty supported
the retort of Roy Mottahedeh: "It will be
immoral not to!"
When Rorty visited Kathmandu in
September 2001, the Maoist insurgency was
in its ascendancy. In the intense discussion
that followed an interesting presentation
on the philosophy of pragmatism, he
pointed out the importance of hope in all
human struggles. Then, it is the stage of
hesitation: is the struggle the only way out
of the morass in which we find ourselves?
Certainties inevitably lead to violence.
Doubts and reflections allow the mind
to get over the passions of the moment.
The inherent contradiction between hope
and hesitation is the most difficult phase
of struggle. This is where happenstance
becomes the decisive factor.
We all do what we can do; some of us
can manage to do what we want to do. But
ultimately, Rorty noted, it is the mere quirk
of circumstance that actually decides what
has been achieved by what we have done.
Such a sentiment sounded fatalistic back in
2001. In hindsight, however, his prognosis
about mass uprisings seems breath takingly
prescient. As with individuals, societies
too need to adopt devices of lessening
pain. Just as nirvana is unachievable to
most, the perfect society is a Utopia. It is
the search that matters. And we need to
carry the social and political equivalent of
morphine derivatives to lessen the pain
along the way.
Journey to unknown
On the face of it, coupling Hitler with
Gandhi, even in a poem, as Vimmi
Sadarangani does in the verse that begins
this column, is nothing short of sacrilege.
But these two figures merely represent
binary opposites. One inflicts pain; the
other is a healer. 'Dead certainty' is Hitler's
motto; 'unending doubts', Gandhi's
credo. One sleeps, the other walks. What
better metaphor could one find to depict
darkness and light, to create some space for
playing the game of hide and seek that is
human life?
Those who can cope, survive. Learning
to play the game lessens the agonies of
living. But if there is a God, Nature, Destiny
or History, what does He do when Hitler
is not sleeping? With the irreverence of
pragmatists, Rorty would have dismissed
the question of truth, and pointed out
the primacy of struggle. Ramu, on the
other hand, would have probably woven
a story around a mythological figure to
establish the importance of hope, as he
did with Sita's Kitchen in 1992, to cope
with the consequences of the Babri Masjid
tragedy. Both would have depended on
happenstance to see what happened to
their interpretations.
Kabir talks about the contradictory
facets of truth - kagad lekhi (accumulated
knowledge) and aakhan dekhi (life
experienced) - and proposes submission to
the divine as an escape from the confusion
created by these two. Richard Rorty, a
pragmatist, and Ramchandra Gandhi,
an adherent of Vedantic adwaita (the
non-dualism of 'not this, not that'), lived
and died to show that the trail we take for
the journey of life is for us to choose and
build. There are no easy escape routes. John
Dewey, the patron saint of pragmatism,
defines philosophy as "a catholic and
far-sighted theory of adjustment of the
conflicting factors of life". Ramu probably
found that definition quite agreeable, and (
lived to deal with it as best as he could ..o^f
What will Rorty and Ramu do iffffiey
meet wherever it is that they have gone?
They will probably play hide and seek, a
game that best exemplifies the discipline
called philosophy. £
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
caught amidst a stampede
over ice-distribution (see
photo) eerily reflects the struggles
of his own current existence. For
now, he is happy to hold a block of
ice, happy to be able to chill some
water for his family living under
a burning sky. But soon he will
once more run after uncertain aid,
trampling his peers, only to find it
literally melting away again.
the biggest in and around Peshawar
- which the Islamabad government
recently slated for closure by this
coming August.
Sitting in the shade of a truck that
carries his ragtag possessions, Feroz
Khan, a patriarch of 75, quotes with
resignation: "Paise che dar sarawi/
Nan ma warkawa chahta/Alam ba day
tabeh wif Maldar hawai fata" (If you
have money/ Don't give it away/
The world will be at your feet/ Will
USD 100 per person during what
was termed a 'grace period' from
1 March to 15 April this year. "The
Pakistan authorities extended this
window of opportunity to .Afghans
who had not taken part in the
registration exercise of October 2006
to February 2007," says UNHCR
spokesperson Babur Baloch. "These
refugees do not have proof of
registration, and would be treated
as  illegal  immigrants   subject  to
As push comes to shove in
the attempt to repatriate Afghan
refugees living in Pakistan,
convoys of trucks are now heading
westward, full of exhausted families,
cows, cockerels, and battered
doors and windows salvaged
from demolished homes. They
now begin the endless wait for an
elusive assistance package. Women
enveloped in coloured kuchi shawls
sit precariously atop rocking string
beds tied to truck-tops. Children
relieve themselves in the spaces
between the trucks. These are the
people of the refugee settlements
of Jalozai and Kacha Gari - two of
treat you with respect reserved for
the rich). "I am old and poor," says
the elderly man, surrounded by his
family of 23, all of whom are waiting
for UNHCR's promised assistance
package, and then to return to the
Afghan border town of Nangrahar.
"Those who pay commission to the
authorities are cleared first. No one
bothers about a blind old man like
me." Sleeping children lie in the
shade, surrounded by clouds of
flies. The air is thick with the stench
of decay and excrement.
IChan is one of the 205,000
unregistered refugees who received
the UNHCR assistance package of
national laws if they stay."
The refugee population in
Pakistan is spread over huge
distances. Poverty and low literacy
limit their access to information,
and many are likely to remain
uninformed about the registration
exercise. And then fliere are those
who view it with suspicion - a tool
for authorities to identify and crack
down on refugees, to send them
back against their will.
Earlier this year, the Islamabad
government served notice to the
residents of Jallozai and Kacha
Garhi that they would have to leave.
Many  had been living here for
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 decades. Registered residents have
been given the choice to repatriate
voluntarily, assisted by UNHCR,
or to be relocated to camps in the
remote northern towns of Dir
and Chitral. Those who are not
registered, however, will face legal
action if they remain in the camps.
The carrot-and-stick policy of
legal action versus the USD 100
incentive (which was raised last
year from USD 33 per person) seems
to have been relatively successful.
Indeed, the rush of refugees
has posed a major challenge
for UNHCR, now tasked with
separating the genuine returnees
from the 'bogus' cases. "They are
asking refugees how much is the
bus fare from here to the city, or
how much is a kilogram of daal
in the local market," says Anas,
a 38-year-old from the northern
town of Haripur, explaining how
screeners are attempting to tell
who is actually from Afghanistan.
"I was asked who was the local
mayor,  or if I knew about the
fighting factions in the tribal areas.
How would I know? I have come
from another place."
Repatriation workers have been
turning away up to 2000 refugee
claimants every day. Apart from
interviews to establish their
credentials, refugees who wish to
return home have also to prove that
they are indeed receiving assistance
for the first time.
Long after the 15 April deadline,
Afghan refugee groups continue
knocking on the doors of the Afghan
embassy in Islamabad, hoping to
get the time limit extended for the
forced expulsion of unregistered
refugees. But the government's
Commission for Afghan Refugees
has made it clear that the amnesty
period is over. Only the 2.15
million Afghan refugees who have
received registration cards from
the government will be granted
temporary protection - and then
only until December 2009.
"There will be no peace here for
me if I stay," says Zalmay, 40, on
his way to Kabul. "I have lived here
for 23 years, but I am not registered.
If I am caught, I'll have to bribe
the police. I don't have that kind
of money."
Back to the war
While many refugees profess to
be upbeat about their prospects
back home, their choice is a stark
one: suffering in the refugee camps
or the same in their own country,
crippled by decades of conflict.
Last year, a study commissioned
by UNHCR and the International
Labour Organisation (ILO) on
the integration of refugees into
the dAfghan labour market found
some positive trends, but also
raised concerns about "the aAfghan
economy's future absorption
capacity". Said the report: "With
respect to future return and
reintegration programmes ... new
approaches would be needed if the
majority of the estimated 3.5 million
Afghans still in Iran and Pakistan
are to return." Adding to this worry
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 has been the news that, according
to Afghan authorities, some 90,000
undocumented Afghans have been
deported from Iran since 21 April.
Worries about shelter and
employment aside, refugees feel that
conditions in Afghanistan remain
far from conducive for returning
and starting a new life. The United
Nations, Human Rights Watch and
Afghanistan's Independent Human
Rights Commission have all raised
concerns about the increasing
number of civilians being affected
in the ongoing armed conflict in the
country. In 2006 alone, more than
650 civilians were killed.
UNHCR puts the number of
refugees who have voluntarily
repatriated from Pakistan since
2002 at three million - the largest
such operation in the refugee
agency's rdstory. Meanwhile, the
annual voluntary repatriation drive
for registered refugees started
this year on 15 April. But a recent
UNHCR briefing paper cautioned:
"While voluntary repatriation is
the preferred solution, all parties
acknowledge that there are some
Afghans who will not be able
to return home and will need
alternative solutions."
Unregistered refugees have little
hope for such a solution, however,
and are feeling die pressure to
leave. The sight of families and
children sleeping under trucks
while awaiting registration to
cross the border brings to mind the
song that popular Afghan singer
Farhad Darya sang during his years
as a refugee:
When I look at my palm it seems
in the coming days and nights,
God knows if 1 will stay.
In which country will blow the
dust of my grave?
In the cemeteries of my land, God
knows if I will stay.
In the last months of their stay
in Pakistan, refugees have begun
exhuming the bodies of those
who have died in the camps,
and prepared to take the bodies
back home.
Morbid symbolism seldom fails
to surface in conversations with
Afghan refugees. After decades of
war and displacement, it seems the
only certainty in their lives is death.
Majeed, 60, is a carpenter horn
Nangrahar Province in eastern
Afghanistan. He sits on a string
bed outside his shop in the Kacha
Garhi refugee camp, in Peshawar's
suburbs. His wares: coffins made
of cheap wood, standing in rows
beside his bed. He is not the only one
dealing in coffins; more carpentry
shops along this road offer coffins
than doors or construction materials
for homes.
"Ka gor gran day kho the mari nakam
day" (The grave is expensive, but
the dead have no choice), Majeed
quotes a Pashtu proverb, to show
that the refugees have run out of
options in Pakistan - and that even
though it is difficult to go back, that
is what they must now do.
Asif Nang, an Afghan writer,
came to Pakistan as a young boy
twenty years ago, in the wake of
the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
He describes what he calls the three
stages of his hfe as a refugee: "1
came here very young. Like any
child's, my childhood was innocent.
We had suddenly lost everything.
A refugee comes to a country
where he has no legal status. His
worldview becomes distorted; his
heart dies, and he lives with that
fear and hopelessness all his life."
The second stage was when
Asif and his family struck root in
Pakistan. "You have to live. You
struggle, find a job, do business.
Twenty years go by, you have a
family. Your children grow up here,
think they belong here. Your elders
die and are buried here. You think,
This is life, this is home."
And now, the third stage? "And
then, you are asked to leave again.
Your children ask questions: Why
are we leaving? Why don't we
belong here? It takes a physical
and psychological toll, where you
have to let go of your home, your
business, your education, the
land you have come to love - and
leave for a land that has become
alien. It is like becoming a refugee
all over again." ■ k
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
It is always tremendously sad to report
on the killing of
journalists, and here
Chhetria Patrakar
has to refer to the
murder of Zakia
Zaki on 5 June. Zazi
(sec pic) headed the
private radio station
Sada-e-Sulh (Peace
Radio) in Afghanistan's northern province of Pawan.
Her murder - by seven bullets fired point-blank -
was seen as a warning for women not to work in the
media. Hundreds of women have joined the profession
since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Zaki, described
by the a\fghan Independent Journalists Association
as "independent and courageous", had previously
received death threats, and had faced down demands
for Sada-e-Sulh to be taken off the air. Another woman
journalist was also murdered in Afghanistan during the
last month. Shakiba Sanga Amaj (see pic), a 22-year-old
television presenter with the Pashtu channel Shamshad
TV, was killed on 31 May, Amaj's death might have had
something to do with a marriage-related family matter,
but the loss of a professional reporter and presenter
will be felt dearly by the fledgling Afghan media.
We all liked to
believe that Gen
Musharraf was a
libertarian when
it came to the
media, for the
way in wlrich he
allowed journalists
free reign all these
years. Well, it turns
out that that was
only because he
was confident about his hold on the polity, the lack of
opposition from exiled leadersNawaz and Benazir, and
the Western support that propped him up, especially
after 9/11. Also, because he knew that the English-
language press represented no political challenge, the
general was willing to indulge it in its independence.
But with the unravelling of his control, the anti-media
nature of the Musharraf regime is becoming clear.
During May, the transmission of three leading private
television channels was blocked, in an attempt to contain
the controversy surrounding the general's suspension
of the chief justice. What scares Gen Musharraf, of
course, is that these channels - ARY, Aaj and GEO
- air in Urdu, and thus have the power to rouse mass
sentiment. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulator}'
Authority (PEMRA) has denied harassing the stations,
claiming that cable operators had themselves begun
censoring their own broadcasts. Well, we know
otherwise. Following political opposition and vigorous
protests by journalist organisations, the Pakistani
government was forced to suspend implementation
of an ordinance that would have increased PEMRA's
powers. The authorities have instead announced the
creation of a six-member committee to review the
controversial ordinance, and to submit a report to the
prime minister. But things will probably get worse for
the media in Pakistan before they get better.
Over in India, the
central government
is at least is a
little circumspect
when it comes to
directing the press.
And so, when the
authorities decided
that their journalists
were getting out of
hand in its coverage
of the conflict
between the Meena
and Gujjar communities in Rajasthan (see accompanying
story), Information Minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi
(.see pic) called in the television channels and asked
them to show restraint. NDTV executive director
Dibang indicated that the authorities even suggested
that the names of the two communities not be used in
newscasts. Responding to reports that he had issued
veiled threats to the media, the minister said: "I am
not advising or dictating. I have no right to dictate."
Meanwhile, Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN stated that
the minister had "made an appeal for self-regulation,
which is fine."
lt has now come time for the Pakistani regime to be
worried about a Sindhi magazine published in India
with a circulation of 1000, of which perhaps a score or
two arrive in Karachi. Ghanshyam Das G Hotumatani
is a Pakistani who emigrated to New Delhi in 1995,
where he started the monthly Sindhun Yo Sansar - the
'World of Sindhis'. It is a one-man operation, and
copies are mailed to readers, especially journalists, in
Sindh. The Sindh Home Department has now ordered
a ban on the publication and the confiscation of all
copies on the market. The allegation is of provocative
articles against the state of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the
province's Home Secretary, Ghulam Muhammad
Mohatarem, told the Daily Times of Lahore: "1 don't
remember exactly why we have banned the magazine,
as I am out of my office and the related file of this
issue is lying in my office." We await the honourable
secretary's visit to his office, and hope that he locates
the file.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 In case you missed it, Aung San Suu Kyi turned
62 on 19 June 2007. Here's a nice painting by artist
Andrea Harris.
The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has
come out with a report on newspaper sales globally
and in Southasia, which allows us to see just how
fast the Indian press is growing. WTiereas 97 million
Americans read the news in print, every day in India
150 million people (and counting) pick up the paper,
hi terms of numbers of copies sold, the world's five
largest newspaper markets are: China (99 million
copies sold daily), India (89 million), Japan (69 million),
the US (52 million) and Germany (21 million). Sales of
Hindi dailies in India make up 34 million, while English
papers sell around 11 million copies. Indian newspaper
sales increased 13 percent in 2006, and 54 percent over
the past five years. Newspaper advertising revenues
in India increased 23 percent over one year, and 85
percent over the last five. All of which makes you
wonder: Why are we doing whatever it is we are doing,
instead of investing in Indian media, and becoming
subcontinental media moguls?
Rakesh Sharma is the
maker of the widely
hailed d ocu mentary on
the 2002 Gujarat carnage,
Final Solution. May 2005
found him filming on tlie
sidewalks of New York
City with a handheld
video camera - having
taken neither the official
filming permit nor the
one-million-dollar insurance coverage needed. After
Sharma was detained by the New York authorities,
he decided to sue, claiming that the need for a permit
was an impediment to free speech. For his pains,
Sharma has forced through a rewriting of the rules in
NYC: filmmakers and photographers using handheld
equipment will henceforth need neither city permits
nor insurance coverage. It is said that the New York
Police Department has agreed to pay the filmmaker "an
unspecified sum" as part of the settlement. CP would
guess the sum would be enough to fund several more
Sharma documentaries (with handheld camera) in the
days to come.
On 20 June, Sri Lankans who tried to log on to
Tamilnet, a Tamil news website, were frustrated by
their inability to do so. It later turned out drat the
government had ordered all major Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) in Sri Lanka to block the website.
Hosted overseas, Tamilnet became one of the most
well known news websites under editor Darmaratnam
Sivaram, until his murder in April 2005. Well, Chhetria
Patrakar is aware of Tamilnet's pro-LTTE leanings,
but is always appreciative of its analyses, insights and
reports on Tamil issues - almost missing from
mainstream Sinhala and English-language media.
Surely, banning Tamilnet is not how to promote debate
and discussion.
In an article published
in the Business Standard
in early June, journalist
Shuchi Bansal took a
wide-ranging look at
the use of tabloid-like
material on Hindi news
channels. It seems that
the new station India TV's
use of sensational news
items (including an odd preponderance of stories on
sex, snakes and ghosts) has led to a massive ratings rise
over the past few months. Though it may have rival
companies indignant, Bansal says that media veterans
blame Star News for starting the trend of "blowing up
the inconsequential" back in 2005, during a week of
ratings wars in which Aaj Tak responded in kind.
Bansal notes that at least eight major Hindi news
channels compete for an advertising pie worth INR 5.5
billion. But competition for ratings does not entirely
explain the steamy or trivial nature of a significant
amount of Hindi news content. Ba nsal's sources observe
that news of this sort would not sell in Kerala, Bengal,
Andhra Pradesh or the Northeast.
Some observers point out that the "race for the
frivolous" can only be a shortcut for many Hindi
networks and that, as these organisations re-evaluate
their strategies, the market will be segmented between
channels showing hard and soft news. Indeed, Chhetria
Patrakar certainly hopes the best for Hindi television's
non-tabloid news practitioners; India's Hindi-speakers
deserve better, regardless of what ratings may show
- Chhetria Patrakar
July 2007 { Himal Southasian
Srinagar's once-thriving cinema culture too is hostage to
a resolution of the Kashmir problem.
For people who live outside of
the Kashmir Valley, cinema
halls are generally places of
lively entertainment, abuzz with
queues and excited talk of the latest
blockbusters. In Srinagar, however,
cinema houses are more likely to
resemble military garrisons - either
actually housing paramilitary
troops, or with overwhelming
security to keep safe those few
theatre-goers willing to brave the
anger of fundamentalist groups.
Since the late 1980s, when
insurgency exploded in Kashmir,
militant outfits such as the Allah
Tigers have issued a series of
morality-based diktats, ordering
cinema owners to pull down
their shutters. Dukhtaran-e-Millat
(Daughters of the Faith), a women's
separatist organisation, has long
rallied against perceived degeneracy
in Jammu & Kashmir, and has many
times marched through the streets
of Srinagar, attempting to ensure
that cinema halls were darkened.
Similar bans have been imposed
on liquor shops and street vendors
selling fashion and film magazines.
Although the revival of popular
cinema culture in Kashmir remains
a distant dream, this spring did see
Srinagar's Tagore Hall suddenly
bedecked for a weeklong film
festival, the first International
Film Festival of Kashmir. The idea
behind the event was not only
to entertain, but also to groom
aspiring filmmakers and art lovers
in the Valley. The dramatic turnout
- writers, filmmakers and students
in particular - proved that the
Valley's citizens have been awaiting
such an opportunity to indicate
their rejection of the fundamentalist
lockhold on popular culture.
Not only had most festival-
goers never attended a similar
event, many had never even been
in a cinema hall. Shafia Ward, a
college student, said that she was
more excited about the ambience
inside the hall than about watching
the films themselves. "There is a
need to revive cultural activities
in the Valley," she said. For most
Kashmiris in Shafia's generation,
entertainment has been - and
remains - limited to the confines of
the family house.
As dusk sets in, doors and gates
in the Kashmir Valley are quickly
shut and padlocked, restrictions on
night-time movement having long
been routine. "The fear of the gun,
of the combat-gear-wearing trooper,
is always there," says Mariah Majid,
an undergraduate student from
Hyderpora, in uptown Srinagar.
"No one can gather courage to
roam around freely after dusk sets
in. Here, darkness brings more
darkness. It throws us back into
the Stone Age." Mariah, who also
attended the recent film festival,
called the experience a "bonanza
...We hardly get to see films on the
big screen!"
Although there is clearly a
yearning to watch films in a hall,
in general the level of danger has
simply precluded going to the
movies. Fifteen-year-old Aqib did
not attend the festival, and he has
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 never ventured into a cinema hall.
With the excitement generated bv
the event at Tagore Hall, Aqih says
he will go to ti cinema hall at least
once in his lifetime. Not onlv have
Aqib's parents disallowed him
from going to movie theatres, thev
have barred him from playing in
the central polo grounds in Srinagar
ais well. Following school, he hos to
rush home before dark. But even if
Aqib's parents were to allow him
greater freedom, he would not have
many friends with whom to plav
- their parents have all imposed
similar rules.
Ghostly ousei
Prior to the insurgencv, the Kashmir
Vallev alone had 18 cinema houses.
.Among the most prominent of these
were the Broadway, Paladium,
Neelam, Shah, Shera/, Khayam,
Firdous, Naaz and Regal. Theatres
dotted the urban landscape, and
. inema lovers were able to watch
any new release from Bombay, even
in the remote corners of the state.
Following the earlv-199Ds ban
imposed bv the militants, in 1997
some cinema halls, including the
Broadvvav and Neelam in Srinagar,
were reopened, and this seemed
lo indicate a 'return of normalcy'.
However, the re-opened theatres did
not fare well due to the public's fear
of being targeted by fundamentalist
groups, lhe Broadway theatre
subsequently downed its shutters
again - and this time, the decision
was the proprietor's own. Despite
being situated in a locality with
arguablv the highest troop
presence in the world, a stone's
throw from an armv cantonment,
the Broadway could not attract
enough cine-goers to remain
solvent, lhe building is now being
converted into a hotel. Another
cinema hall, the Regal, was targeted
in a grenade attack the day that it
reopened in 1999. It shut down
again immediately.
The Neelam is currently the only
functioning cinema hall in Kashmir,
but it shows films to just a handful
ol people at a time. The theatre
gives   the   appearance   more   of   a
military installation than a place
of entertainment. Central Reserve
Police Force (CRPF) troops guard the
building, aiming guns at passers-by
from sandbagged bunkers atop the
theatre building, while the cinema's
outer fence is surrounding by coils
of razor wire. Given the area's
restricted-movement designation.
pedestrians generally prefer to
take alternate routes, to avoid any
untoward incident,
In his late 60s, Noor Mohammed
sells tickets for the shows at the
Neelam. The tedium of waiting
for customers is writ large on his
wrinkled face. Nonetheless, with
a pile of ticket hooks in his hand,
he welcomes everyone with a
smile. Behind him aire a couple ol
hoarding boards advertising the
current show - Kabul Express, the
controversial film on Afghanistan
that was screened several months
ago outside the Vallev. "We cannot
afford to show anv film soon alter
its release," savs Sunmder Singh,
the Neelam's buyer, "lhe reason
is, people here don't turn up in big
numbers, and so we cannot afford
first-run costs."
From screening five shows a dav,
the Neelam now only schedules
three showings. On this particular
dav. the first two shows have
already been cancelled, because
no viewers showed up. lhe
third show is now playing, with
just ten viewers in the theatre s
balcony. The rest ot the hall has
a ghostly appearance, as scenes
from the movie flicker over row
upon row of empty seats. Although
the Neelam can take an audience
of HOt), since the hall reopened
the number of viewers has
never gone over 40 at a single time,
Noor says.
Noor has worked at the Neelam
since its opening in 1966. "In those
days, there was no threat," he
recalls. "People used to throng
cinemas to entertain themselves.
Tickets used to sell out in advance.''
He looks at the little-used ticket
book in his hand: "When the
cinema was closed, I was asked to
work at the  flour  mill owned  bv
Here, darkness brings
moie darkness. It throws
us back into ihe
the proprietor ot this cinema hall."
Others at the Neelam similarly
shitted to the mill between 1991)
aind 1999, A couple have been lucky
enough to have been able to move
bark, although making a living at
a place like the Neelam remains
difficult. Noor is sceptical about the
prospects of reviving the Valley's
cinema culture, "Unless and
until Pakistan and India reach a
compromise on the long-standing
Kashmir dispute, nothing can
happen," he savs.
Certamlv little is happening at
the rest ot the Valley's theatres. At
the Palladium, in the centre ot the
city at I,.ail Chowk, the hoarding
hoards now hear images of
gun-wield ingCRPF men. Svca mores
and other trees have grown through
the washrooms and balconies
(s,y photo). Three other halls - the
Firdous, Slieraz and Shah - remain
under the occupation of paramilitary
troops garrisoned there. The
Khavaiiii is now a hospital, lhe
N.iai/. is securely locked up. The
Regal is out on rent, where local
vendors sell cheap items to
Srinagar's citizens.
Some of the grandeur of the
cinema halls of the Kashmir Vallev
lives on, in absentia, it vou will.
I heir familiarity as well-known,
well-loved landmarks remains
ingrained in the life of this city, and
the streets and areas surrounding
these old theatres still retain the
names - Broadway. Regal, Naaz,
Kliavam - that once inspired
notions of excitement, splendour
and leisure. Kashmir used to be
the favourite haunt for Bombay
filmmakers, but they have largely
stopped shooting in the Valley.
Now even their productions are a
rarity here, as Kashmiris are denied
the pleasures of watching cinema as
a collective exercise.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
India's humane anarchy
A unitary, democratic and
progressive Indian state was
by no means pre-determined
by its colonial legacy. At the time of
Independence in August 1947, there
had been nearly a year of incessant
rioting between groups of Hindus and
Muslims. An Islamic state had been
carved out from the western and
eastern flanks of the Subcontinent,
areas that many Indians regarded
as an inextricable part of 'their'
civilisational heritage. Almost a
million people were killed, and many
millions more fled to safety among
their co-religionists. Many Hindus
who fled Pakistan to seek refuge in
West Bengal and the Punjab bore
intense anti-Muslim feelings, which
played to the advantage of radical
rightwing Hindu groups that wanted
India to be declared a Hindu state.
The territory that remained as
part of India was by no means
united. Over 500 princely states,
some the size of large European
countries, remained unintegrated
with the nation. These were states
that had never come under direct
British rule, and now some ol their
rajas and nawabs wanted complete
independence. The Subcontinent
was fragmented among hundreds
of communities that spoke different
languages and dialects. Indian
society was extremely hierarchical,
with the lower orders living in abject
poverty and degradation - ready
across the country, some would
say, for a Maoist-style revolution.
The conditions for the creation
of a unitary state of any kind, let
alone a secular, democratic and
socially progressive one, were
highly unpropitious.
The basic tenets on which
the Indian nation state now
rests - democracy, federalism and
secularism - are taken as given. But
in the years immediately following
Independence, India's leaders
had to struggle to establish these
foundations - through argument,
compromise and sometimes force.
For those already well versed in
recent Indian history, Ramachandra
Guha's India After Gandhi still offers
fresh insights, peppered with the
felicitous turn of phrase and the
revealing anecdote. It also contains
much that is new. In general,
comprehensive histories of this kind
rely mostly on secondary sources.
However, due to a paucity of
literature on certain areas of India's
history over the past fifty years,
Guha spent significant time delving
in various archives, and in the
process unearthed original materials
and unexpected discoveries.
Intheearliersectionsof India After
Gandhi, Guha is keen to impress
upon his readers the tremendous
difficulties that lay before India's
post-Independence leaders. The
author does not take a structural view
of history, where all movement is
predetermined by existing economic
and social conditions, and where
the individual is largely ineffectual.
For Guha, history is shaped when
people decide on particular actions
and carry them through. The lives,
thoughts and actions of individuals
India After Gandhi: The history
of the world's largest democracy
by Ramachandra Guha
Picador, 2007
important to India's recent history
(not only the Nehrus and Ambedkars,
but also those such as Sukumar
Sen, the country's first chief election
commissioner, and Naga leader
Angami Zapu Phizo) are thus given
a position of primacy in this book.
Indeed, encountering the host of
characters in its pages is one of the
volume's principal pleasures.
Awe of the nation
Guha's deepest respect is reserved
for the first leaders of post-
Independence India - Vallabhai
Patel, B R Ambedkar and the like,
but above all for Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is the Nehruvian vision of India as
a plural, secular, democratic state
that Guha champions throughout
this new work. Among other things,
India After Gandhi is a response
to Guha's ideological rivals on
the right. Although it responds to
criticism of him from the left as well,
it does so to a lesser extent and
often only implicitly. Guha himself
has sympathies with a 'softer' left
- it is mostly with the violent and
authoritarian tendencies of the
militant left that he has problems.
In interviews, Guha has called
himself a "liberal constitutionalist".
He is also a patriot. As such, he
locates the source of India's national
identity and pride in the defining
ideas of the modern Indian nation,
as enshrined in its Constitution and
supportive documents. Doing so is
the author's way of responding to
the Hindu nationalist's search for
glory in a mythical Hindu past.
"Whenever I see these great
engineering works," Guha quotes
Nehru as saying, "I feel excited and
exhilarated." Guha himself shares
these feelings when he observes
India's post-Independence leaders'
struggle to achieve a desirable
political, social and economic order.
His sense of awe and wonder is
contagious, and often present in
the first third of the book: when
he describes, for instance, the
gigantic enterprise that was the first
general election, the first attempts at
industrialisation, and the Constituent
Assembly debates. Guha illustrates
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 how the general Indian populace
during the 1950s also shared its
leaders' "romance and enchantment"
with democracy and development.
Thus, of the 1954 inauguration of
the Bhakra-Nangal hydroelectricity
project, he writes:
Seeing the water coming towards
them, the villagers downstream set off
hundreds ot home-made crackers. As
one eyewitness wrote: 'For 150 miies
the boisterous celebrations spread like
a chain reaction along the great canal
and the branches and distributaries
to the edges of the Rajasthan desert,
long before the water got there '
Such accounts of celebration
diminish as memories of colonialism
recede. The idealism of a new
nation wanes, and it becomes
embroiled in a multitude of internal
and external conflicts.
Much of the remainder of India
After Gandhi reads like the story of a
constantly embattled state. There are
the repeated conflicts with Pakistan
-over Kashmir, and over the territory
that in 1971 became Bangladesh;
the secessionist movements in the
Northeast and the Punjab; the rise of
Hindu nationalism; the strife between
Hindus and Muslims, between the
upper and lower castes, between the
Hindi-speaking national political elite
and the non-Hindi-speaking states.
The Indian state also came under
assault from the political class, that
very group that was supposed to
protect it. Indira Gandhi dismantled
the institutions her father had
expended so much energy building.
She got rid of intermediate leaders
in the Congress hierarchy, and
personally selected holders of top
political positions. Real power was
concentrated in her 'kitchen cabinet',
which consisted of close family
members and loyal retainers.
The general decline of institutions
continued, even as Indira Gandhi
and her son (and successor} were
assassinated. Corruption infected
the political class and bureaucracy.
Political parties across India became
increasingly prone to nepotism.
Confronted   with   the   innumerable
conflicts the Indian state had to
contain, and by the increasing
venality of the political class and
its ineffectual government, foreign
observers predicted the imminent
death of Indian democracy. Some
foresaw a military takeover; others
envisaged an India that had fractured
into a plethora of smaller states.
But, except for the brief period
between 1975 and 1977, when
Indira Gandhi imposed the
Emergency, the institutions of
democracy continued to function.
Despite repeated assaults, the
centre held. And hidden behind
the chaos, fundamental changes
were occurring in Indian society and
politics. "The churning - violent and
costly though it undoubtedly was
- could be more sympathetically
read as a growing decentralisation
of the Indian polity," Guha writes,
"away from the hegemony of a
single region (the north), a single
party (the Congress}, a single family
(the Gandhis).'"
The rise of parties organised
around regional groupings and
lower castes represents, to use
the words of the political scientist
Yogendra Yadav, a "second
democratic upsurge" in India's
post-Independence history. Starting
the tate 1980s, the Congress party
has been almost completely wiped
out from the political powerhouse
of Uttar Pradesh, and the fact that
control over the state government
has mostly alternated between a
party of Other Backwards Castes
and a party of Dalits cannot be seen
as anything but a deepening of
Indian democracy.
As an epigraph to one of his
chapters, Guha quotes Ashis
Nandy: "In India the choice could
never be between chaos and
stability, but between manageable
and unmanageable chaos, between
humane and inhumane anarchy, and
between tolerable and intolerable
disorder." India has seen intolerable
disorder. The Indian state has not
been able to do enough to educate
and feed its people. It has not been
able to provide adequate protection
to its minorities-for instance, during
the anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat
in 2002. But for much of the past
half-century, the system laid down
by those who founded the nation
has provided a framework within
which anarchy has been tolerably
contained, and various interests
have been allowed to compete
without destroying the integrity of
the nation state.
Despite brief forays into the realms
of Indian economy, film, music and
sport, India After Gandhi is primarily
a work of political history. Guha
does intervene to defend Nehru's
economic policies, but he completely
sidesteps the contemporary debate
between those who argue that only
free-market policies can achieve
the high rates of growth that India
needs, and those who maintain
that government intervention is
necessary to ensure an equitable
distribution of resources. Besides
being in full accordance with the
dominant economic thought of
the mid-20th century, he insists,
Nehruvian planning was necessary
for India, as government-led
industrialisation gave a joint purpose
to a recently forged and deeply
divided nation. Guha's defence
of Nehru's economic policies,
then, is also primarily political. A
deeper engagement with India's
economy, as well as with cultural
history, would have brought to the
reader better a sense of the material
and internal lives of India's post-
independence citizens.
At a time when Nehru has come
under attack from various quarters
- Hindu nationalists accuse him of
pandering to minorities, proponents
of the free market claim that his
economic policies kept India in a
state of economic stagnation for
decades, and leftists claim that he did
not have the political will to institute
wide-ranging land-reform and other
measures to ensure the uplift of the
poor - India After Gandhi provides
a new look at the Nehruvian legacy,
and offers fresh arguments as to
why India's gratitude to its founding
fathers would not be misplaced.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
Not a colonial apologist
It is difficult to prevent history
from becoming a caricature. In
popular imagination, Southasia's
colonial subjugation represents a
sincere example of that modern
art of storytelling: a near-perfect
plot. The British 'protagonist'
and the Indian 'foil' play out the
'rising action' leading to the
'climactic'end of colonialism. Identity
crisis fuels the catastrophe of
Partition, but does not lead to
denouement, much less to a
resolution or eventual catharsis.
But the progress of this nice,
linear narrative is ruptured by
the contradictions of colonialism.
Hence, 250 years after Piassey,
150 years after the Mutiny and
60 years after Independence and
Partition, the ghost of the colonial
past still keeps Southasians
anxiously suspended. The chaos of
Southasian mass politics draws the
most attention within the confines
of political systems of respective
countries - Indian democracy
versus Pakistani dictatorship versus
Bangladeshi military rule, etcetera.
This practice obscures the common
reasons behind our political mess,
foregrounding what appear to be
distinct, country-specific causes.
The root causes nonetheless persist,
deep beneath the paraphernalia
of modern states, leading to the
recurring crises that plague our
region. Historians, however, are an
incorrigible lot. They seek to rescue
history's descent into caricature.
By offering us an account of the
Empire, Identity, and India:
Liberalism, modernity, and the
by Peter Robb
Oxford University Press, 2007
broad tropes that inform modern
Southasia, British historian Peter
Robb invites readers to assess
how well he performs in discussing
the role of what he calls liberal
imperialism' - in modern India in
particular and the Subcontinent
in general.
Electoral democracy is no
guarantee of a liberal polity. We
often miss this point by privileging
the gloss of formal democracy
over the quality of a liberal public
culture. The distinction becomes
more obtuse in Southasia, where
representative democracy has been
hard to come by and, barring perhaps
India, governments have oscillated
between technical democracies and
outright dictatorships. The grammar
of the colonial Indian state has much
to tell us about our current infirmities.
The colonisers did indeed come
first to trade with and later to rule
India, Robb argues, but all the while
they were imbued with a sense of
purpose. They set certain ideas into
practice, which had profound, if even
ironic, influences. "I suggest that it
was largely because the British tried
to interpret and to improve India,"
the author writes.
We may have heard this argument
from empire apologists before.
But Robb distinguishes himself by
claiming only the influence of liberal
ideas, and not the success of the
outcomes they intended. His 'liberal
imperialism' is a weak cousin of
the liberal philosophy that emerged
from the European Enlightenment.
The need to govern India made it
imperative that it be done in ways
familiar to the men of the British East
India Company. As such, a system
of minimalist government emerged
that largely imitated the institutions
back home.
Planting an alien philosophy in a
largely unknown land necessitated
some pruning. So, the British did not
of the people of the Subcontinent,
at least not until the events of
1857. From Robert Clive onwards,
successive governor-generals, and
later viceroys, harboured a sense of
responsibility towards their unequal
and partially inferior subjects. Hubris
of power uncharacteristically lived
with false modesty of purpose; in an
over-abused phrase, this was
the 'white man's burden'. There
consequently emerged a superficial
liberalism around which modern India
(and modern Indians) constructed its
identity. Unfortunately, this farcical
variant of liberalism continues
even today.
Timeless unity
The seven essays of Robb's
Empire, Identity, and India subtly
chronicle the nature of this "ideas-
in-practice" in the construction of
the Indian nation, the Indian state
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 and the Subcontinent's Muslim
separatism, carefully stressing the
role of the region's people in each
of these constructions. According
to Robb. the state preceded the
nation in India. Definite boundaries
and institutions of governance
within those boundaries were vital
to the emerging sovereign state,
and the author presents incredibly
detailed snapshots of how territorial
Doundaries of the colonial state were
marked in the Northeast and Mysore
regions. Territorial consolidation was
a cumbersome exercise, and brutal
measures were often undertaken to
demarcate the limits of the state.
These essays tell a great deal
about the current problems of India's
Northeast, where sovereignty did
not flow from colonial writ. Powerful
local resistances either thwarted
the efforts of achieving sovereign
statehood, or led to the creation of
vast areas of indeterminate control.
The colonial government's formal
jurisdiction over the eastern and
western parts of the Subcontinent
was inconsequential in the face
of its negligible actual control. Is it
surprising, then, that exactly these
areas were partitioned in 1947, to
create Pakistan? Robb does not go
so far as to ask such a thing, although
the question lingers nonetheless.
The 'Mutiny' of 1857 caused the
Queen to promise subjecthood to the
people of the Subcontinent, implying
representation in the institutions of
the state. This ushered in a crisis
in 'liberal imperialism", because it
had survived thus far precisely by
denying representation to the native
population. Robb appears to argue
that this debate between English
conservatives and liberals (in which
the latter won, albeit marginally)
created a space for the nationalist
leadership to emerge. In effect, a
question of Indian participation in
their own state opened the means
of construction of the Indian nation.
Is it surprising, then, that a liberal
Jawaharlal Nehru 'discovered'
the timeless unity of an Indian
nation, just in time to offer it to an
independent people? Robb does not
ask this question either, although it
too would be worth asking.
Furthermore, this nascent nation
would have been short-lived had it
not been for a rescue effort. Robb
is correct to argue that the secular
identity of the colonial state need
not have logically informed the
identity of the emerging nation. The
communists and the communalists
were, after all, in competition. But
Nehru rescued his nation from
primordial temptations to give it a
secular identity. Had Robb followed
up his own argument, that India's
secular identity was not predestined,
the drift would have become clear.
But he has not.
rvf P.
One likewise does not quite know
what to make of Robb's treatment
of Muslim identity politics and
separatism. Ambiguity marks his
account. To be fair, he accurately
captures the coloniser's view of the
Muslim 'orthodoxy', as it were. He is
on firm ground when arguing thatthe
movements for Partition redefined
the Southasian Muslim community
in two ways. First, it politicised
a religious alliance. Second,
it represented an incomplete
association of Southasian Muslims
with a territory. But the argument is
not taken forward. Partition created
a regime of suspicion towards the
loyalties of minority citizens. One
of the indicators of the tragedy of
liberalism in Southasia has been
this culture of fear and suspicion
between minorities and majorities.
One wonders why a historian
of 'liberal imperialism' does not
confront ailments that his subject
matter had a hand in producing.
Robb emphasises that equating
the sentiments that "all colonialism
is bad" with "colonialism is all bad"
is "not interesting". One could
say it is not important, either.
Extreme positions seldom get the
picture right. Had it not been for
'liberal imperialism', the difference
between British and Spanish
conquistadors would never have
become clear to us. The British
Empire in India privileged 'civilising'
over    proselytising.     In    contrast,
the importance of Mohandas
Gandhi's balancing role in the face
of colonial liberalism and religious
communalism cannot be overlooked.
His presence in the crucial decades
of the early 20th century may
have saved Southasia from many
excesses, far worse than those
that now form its history Gandhi
openly admired aspects of the Raj
withoui necessarily conceding
his own ground However, the
influence of Gandhi's resistance to
the brutalities of 'liberal imperialism'
is missing in Empire. Identity.
and India. For a work of immense
sophistication, these oversights
are inexplicable.
The Southasian nation states
that emerged out of the euphoria
and tragedy of 1947 have gone
in paradoxical ways. India can
perhaps boast of a robust
democracy, white Pakistanis and
Bangladeshis have yet to decide
whether they want to govern
themselves or be governed by
a small elite. None of the three,
however, can claim to be a liberal
polity. There are genuine limits
to what India's public culture can
tolerate, and in the past few years,
the discord between democracy
and liberalism in the country has
deepened. As with most things.
India appears comfortable inheriting
the legacy of 'liberal imperialism', A
gap between popular rhetoric and
meaningful practice has turned it
into a "Republic of Brazenness", as
the political scientist Pratap Mehta
noted recently. Should not one
ask how different Mehta's Republic
of Brazenness is from Robb's
liberal imperialism?
Robb's stature as a fine historian
of the colonial Indian state is
well established by his rigorously
researched works on a range of
related issues. Empire, Identity, and
India must be read patiently and
repeatedly, lest he be mistaken to
be an apologist of the empire. His
is a history of the superficiality that
substitutes forthe rich philosophical
edifice of Southasian states. This
book must be read to understand, if
not to ease, our own anxieties.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 R E
Tracking 'Milbus'
The feudal and the general
Contrary to the impression
created by the reaction of an
obviously unnerved regime
in Islamabad, independent military
analyst Ayesha Siddiqa's recent
book, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's
military economy, does not contain
startling revelations, libellous
claims or outrageous assertions. In
itself, it is not a sensational book,
and does not give the impression
of having been written with the
intent of grabbing headlines. Rather,
it is a painstakingly researched
academic project, with a central
theme couched in a theoretical
framework.      Nonetheless,      the
authorities tried strenuously to
stop the volume from reaching the
bookshelves - in the process, only
succeeding in tripling sales.
Siddiqa's work includes a
detailed historical analysis of the
role of the military in Pakistan, and
presents meticulously referenced
data on what are essentially public
institutions. Again out of line with
the government's reaction, some
of this material has already been
published elsewhere. Much of the
analysis includes arguments that
have made regular appearance in
the past, when Pakistani writers
and    journalists    have    reported
on the 'perks and privileges'
enjoyed by the country's military
personnel. Siddiqa's conclusions
are disquieting, but anybody who
has had an interest in Pakistan's
politics and economic history
would have already come across
similar hypotheses in the extensive
literature on state-society relations
in the country.
Military Inc.'s scholastic worth is
undeniable. If the work had been
published five years ago, it probably
would have been launched at a
sombre function in a five-star hotel,
with guest speakers drawn from
the senior echelons of the military
Ruling classes v the people of Pakistan
Currently in London delivering a series of public
lectures, Ayesha Siddiqa talked to Nadeem
Omar Tarar about her academic pursuits and the
future of peace, in Southasia.
. numiiv
i IW
What got you interested in the Pakistani military?
It was partly a result of watching war films in cinemas
as a child with my parents, who were too modest to
watch romances with their young daughter. It was under
considerable family pressure that I sat for the civil-service
examination in 1987. After an MA in War Studies at the
king's College in London, I did my PhD. I returned to
Pakistan in 1996, and was assigned the department of
Military Accounts, and later to the Pakistan Railways and
Defence Audit. My academic engagement with the Naval
War College, tn Islamabad, as a guest lecturer, and my
research on defence and strategic issues, enabled my
interactions with senior officers in the armed forces
At what point did you quit the civil service?
In 2001, I decided to quit the civil service, as I felt
compelled to devote more time to scholarly writings rather
than sitting in the government. Based on my doctoral
dissertation, my first book, Pakistan's Arms Procurement
and Military Buildup, 1979-1999 was coming out. I had
also been contributing to several of the leading defence
journals. But my status as a government servant was
proving limiting to my academic career, and I eventually
resigned in 2001. Apart from working as an independent
consultant and holding several overseas fellowships, I
served as visiting research fellow with the Islamabad-
based Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 and possibly civil bureaucracy and
academic circles. It would have
been discussed for some weeks in
newspaper editorials and academic
forums, and perhaps been the target
of half-hearted rebuttals by the
corporations discussed in its pages.
The book would have received the
sort of attention that a research work
of merit can and should receive.
This book, however, had the
misfortune - or, indeed, the fortune
- to be published in May 2007,
at a time when General Pervez
Musharraf was beginning to
experience what might be the worst
crisis of his regime. The timing has
propelled both the book and its
author into international headlines,
with Islamabad attempting to disrupt
Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's
military economy
by Ayesha Siddiqa
Oxford University Press, 2007
the launch ceremony, and allegedly
sending intelligence agents to
intimidate Siddiqa's family. There
were subsequent reports that a
chargesheet was being prepared
against Siddiqa for the publication
of 'malicious' material against the
armed forces. In the tradition of other
Pakistani intellectuals who have
dared to question the status quo,
Siddiqa has now left the country,
perhaps indefinitely.
The parent-guardian
Aside from the widely publicised
figures of the estimated worth of the
Pakistan Army's private business
empire (around USD 19.7 billion)
and the legally acquired assets of
top generals (ranging from USD
2.6 million to nearly USD 7 million
per individual), what is Military Inc.
really about? As detailed in the
introduction, the book puts forward
three general arguments. All three
revolve around the idea of 'Milbus',
a term Siddiqa coins to refer to
'military businesses' or capital that
is "used for the personal benefit of
the military fraternity". As such, her
first argument is that Milbus rests
Tell us a tittle about the writing of Military Inc.
In 2004, I was selected for a Woodrow Wilson
Fellowship on the strengths of a book proposal that
eventually became Military Inc. One of the most
intriguing questions for me at that time was the
complicity'of the civilian governments with the military
establishment. I could understand what military
interests were in the economy, but why the rest of
the stakeholders cooperated escaped me. I used the
opportunity to draw on my experience as a former
civil servant in the accounts and audit department,
and my training as an academic in defence studies
to analyse the political structure of the Pakistani state
in terms of the hegemonic role of military capital and
cia:ss in the governance of the country. The book is
not about conflict between civil or military institutions,
but is essentially about the ruling classes, which
includes bureaucrats and politicians versus the people
of Pakistan. Unless we change the political structure,
nothing is going to change.
What is your reaction to the controversy that has
The book had no intention other than academic pursuit,
and I sought no other audience than academics.
I have tried to distance myself from the public
controversy surrounding the book, while affirming
my mandate as a dispassionate academic - which
includes the justification for writing the book in English.
I am not a journalist, not even a politician. It's not a
people-people thing, it's an academic work. The hue
and cry which you see around the book is precisely
what I didn't want to happen. My intent was to present
a scholarly piece of work, which might be controversial
academically but definitely not politically, the way it in
fact turned out to be. I don't want to be remembered
as an author whose launch was banned by the
government, but rather for writing a thorough, credible
piece. Whatever has happened to me will curb the
voice of others. You know, it's just bad timing. But I
have to say that l do feel very saddened by the fact
that none of my academic peers stood up to defend
my freedom to express myself. Academics of any
worth, if there are any in Pakistan, should have said,
'Look, let her say whatever she has to: even if it is a
trashy work, let the debate go on.'
, .     - .   ■ ■ ■
Given the political-economic role of the military
in Pakistan, how do you see the future?
As an analyst, my duty is to describe what is there,
whether it is pessimist, bleak or bleaker. 1 don't
believe it's my business to find solutions. I don't think
there wilt be peace in Southasia until fundamental
structures change - not only in Pakistan, mind you,
but also in tndia, where the Indian Army has begun to
take on an active role. That's actually the subject of
my next book, a comparative study of the militaries in
five countries of the region. .*-
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 on the transfer of resources from
the public to the (military-affiliated)
private sector. Second, that the
growth of Milbus encourages
the top echelons of the armed
forces to support "policymaking
environments" that will "multiply
their economic opportunities". And
third, that such actions are "both
the cause and effect of a feudal,
authoritarian, non-democratic
political system". This last assertion
is particularly interesting, as it
implies that the interests of the
military and the feudal landlords
converge, thereby belying the image
of the Pakistan Army as a modern,
technology-savvy institution with an
interest in supporting technocrats
in government.
Siddiqa begins her thesis with
an analysis of various forms of
civil-military relations. She refers
to the pre-1977 role of the Pakistan
Army as an "arbitrator military",
which acquires political power in
certain circumstances (particularly
during periods when civilian
governments are perceived to be
particularly corrupt), but does not
seek to prolong or institutionalise its
role. Instead, it relies primarily on
the civilian bureaucracy to run
state affairs, even when the army is
in power.
On the other hand, the
current dispensation in Pakistan
(comparable to the situations in
Turkey and Indonesia) is classified
as a "parent-guardian" military type.
In this form, the military seeks to
institutionalise its role in politics
through constitutional amendments,
with the active help of certain civilian
partners. Siddiqa argues that such
a transformation in the role of the
armed forces is necessitated by
their need to "secure their dominant
position as part of the ruling elite",
and points to the 2004 formation
of the National Security Council
in Pakistan as an indicator of the
institutionalisation of military rule. It
is important to understand, though,
that this process could not have
taken place without some measure
of support from powerful elements
within the civil bureaucracy, as well
as from some political leaders.
How did the military manage
to effect this transformation in a
country such as Pakistan, which
enjoys a powerful civil bureaucracy
and political parties that have solid
grassroots support? Pakistan's
vulnerability to external threats
from the time of its creation has,
of course, been a key contributing
factor to the military's prominence
among the organs of the state. In
addition, Siddiqa contends that
civilians do not understand the
linkages between the military's
growing financial and political
power. Civilian governments tend
to allow the military to accumulate
assets and build financial empires
free  of  oversight,  she  notes,  in
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July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 exchange for the military's support
during periods of civilian rule.
Such a contention implies
that political leaders and the civil
bureaucracy have consistently
underestimated the military's need to
consolidate its power, and that they
did not revise their expectations,
even as the military continued
to infiltrate civilian government
structures. Immediately thereafter,
however, the author discusses the
evolving role and growing power
of the Pakistan Army from 1947
onwards. While acknowledging
Hamza Alavi's classification of
Pakistan as an "overdeveloped"
state, she notes that "the civil
bureaucracy and the political elite
have always viewed the armed
forces as an essential tool for
furthering their political objectives."
Siaaiqa tnus does not appear to
subscribe to the view that politicians
are altogether naive; instead, she
points to a symbiotic relationship
between feudal political leaders and
the army.
Ban backfire
The key sections of Military, Inc.
relate to the military's financial
empire. Here, Siddiqa covers the
four, relatively more transparent,
subsidiaries - the Fauji, Shaheen
and Bahria foundations, and the
Army Welfare Trust. But she
also pays generous heed to the
commercial ventures, such as the
National Logistics Corporation
(officially a part of the Ministry of
Planning and Development, but
the ground operations of which
are run by the army), the Frontier
Works Organisation (initially
under the control of the Ministry of
Communications, and now under
the Ministry of Defence), and the
housing projects administered by
all three branches of the military. In
a more daring move, Siddiqa also
attempts to quantify the economic
benefits utilised by armed-forces
personnel. These fall into two
categories: the visible, in the form
of land grants, a rough calculation
of which places the value of military
land at about USD 11.6 billion;
and the invisible, or the business
opportunities availed by military
personnel using the influence of
their parent organisations, with the
government, for instance, providing
natural-gas subsidies worth USD
18.97 million to Fauji Fertilizer alone
in 2006.
Perhaps the most revealing
section of Military, Inc. deals with
the cost of Milbus, which directly
challenges the view that financial
institutions managed by the armed
forces are efficient and competitive.
Siddiqa documents, for example,
the financial travails of the Army
Welfare Trust, which in 2001 was
forced to ask the government for
a bailout of USD 93.1 million - not
the first time the Trust had run into
difficulties. Siddiqa's analysis of
the other three foundations is less
detailed due to a paucity of data; but
she is able to note annual losses of
USD 17.2 million in the three sugar
mills run by the Fauji Foundation,
as well as negative operating profit
margins of 10-15 percent in the
Fauji Jordan Fertilizer Company at
the beginning of this decade.
Siddiqa should be gratified by the
official reaction to hertreatise, which
has tellingly exposed the insecurity
of the establishment with regards to
these issues. The official statement
from the Ministry of Defence, which
was supposed to be a refutation of
her "allegations", simply reiterated
the importance of the armed forces
as a pillar of the Pakistani state, as
well as the military's right to provide
for the welfare of its employees
- neither of which contentions had
been challenged by the author.
More than three weeks after
Military, Inc. was launched
in Pakistan, and more than a
month after its initial publication
in London, no public institution
had challenged the information
or analysis presented. Instead, a
considerable amount of energy was
expended in vilifying the credentials
of the author, including the time-
honoured method of invoking her
meetings with Indian researchers
at international conferences. The
bungled attempt to ban the book
launch, and even the book itself
(the government denies banning
sales, but the book was not
available in most key bookstores
on the day ot its launch) has \x\ tact
succeeded in trebling its sales, with
the publisher already into a third
edition. Overseas sales are likewise
recording significant highs, and
the book is receiving exceptional
coverage in the international
press. A government that insists
on taking credit for launching the
information age in Pakistan with the
liberalisation of the country's media
really should have known better. &
Himal Southasian available at Oxford!
Renders con now find issues of Himal every month at Oxford Bookstores throughout Indio - in New Delhi, Colailto,
Bangalore, Modros ond Bomhay.
Thoughtful - Irreverent - Coherent - Regional
Himot Southasion -Tlie monthly magazine from Kolfimondu
%■%    .■■;-"'■'
' a"." a*.     SK&
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
 On the way up
The mind's rock
When trekking in the hills of Southasia with a
load on one's back, the mind is concentrated
and the eyes are fixed on the ground. The
satisfaction of walking alone - carrying a load, though
one not too heavy - is probably linked to human
evolution, as the kind of activity our ancestors did in
the long march from monkey to man. One might even
hazard that some aspect of hiking alone is written into
the human genetic code. Herein lies the attraction of
trekking as a recreational activity, into which it has
evolved since the 1970s.
Trek is actually a Boer/Dutch term that was imported
into the Nepali Himalaya after some pioneering tourism
entrepreneurs realised that there was no English word
to describe this type of walking. This was neither
camping nor hiking, but a special kind of walking on
trails used by villagers who have done so - and have
carried loads on their backs with the help of a forehead
strap, also called namlo - for millennia.
Trekking sharpens the mind, especially after the
body finds its pace, breathing becomes regular, and the
heart pumps harder to supply the oxygen demanded
by the lungs to feed the muscles. In the process, the
brain gets a bonus dose of well-oxygenated blood.
Even when in a trekking group, the actual walking
is an individual exercise, with each trekker in his
or her own world. The mind is free to roam, to be
imaginative, to think, plan, devise. Many more
ideas are born during a strenuous walk than sitting
sedentary on a settee. A study of how inventions come
to be, or how flashes of inspiration are generated,
would probably show that the origins lie not in
seminar halls or in cross-legged meditation, but on
walks or rambles. (An aside: Himal magazine was
born in the mind of one trekker during the summer
of 1986.)
The brain can, of course, also go awry when it
is receiving a surge of blood, and creativity can tilt
towards the impractical, if not the downright absurd.
Speaking of which, over years of trekking, with the
eye fixed on the ground and a pack on the back, I have
found that rocks and pebbles often take the sudden
shape of - Southasia! The shape of the Subcontinent
constantly jumps up at me from the pieces of stone
along the trail.
During a trek in the Langtang region north of
Kathmandu in early June, I tried to divert tire mind's
advanced creativity to decipher this phenomenon.
Why do I tend to see Subcontinental shapes everywhere
I turn, with the outline of the African continent
coming a distant second? Of course, I stand to
be directed by the reader on something that a few
- at least one or two - might consider worthy of
weighty consideration.
This seems to be a matter to be discussed between a
geologist and a psychologist (and perhaps, in tlie case
of this columnist, a psychiatrist). The geologist might
suggest that the crystallochemical structure of certain
rocks naturally promotes a chipping or breaking at
the distinctive 60-degree angle that defines peninsular
India, between the Coromandel Coast and the Bay
of Bengal shoreline. Or s/he might point outs that
rocks break all the time in all different directions - not
limited, of course, to the two dimensions that give us a
Southasian shape. This is where the psychologist butts
in, to say tliat, among the plethora of forms of broken
rocks to be found in nature and along walking trails,
the mind's eye will search out the shape(s) that come(s)
closest to what one is familiar with. Essentially, you see
what you want to see, and not what you don't.
And so, when the mind is excessively creative during
a trek, what else would the Southasian editor notice
while heaving Iris backpack up the Langtang Valley,
but Subcontinental forms everywhere? Someone else
may see that of Mahatma Gandhi, or, more likely, that
of Aishwarya Rai.
Moral of the story: If you want to commune with
your ancestors, go on a trek. Do the same if you want
to see things that are not there, or shapes that come
jumping at you with a certitude that defies geology.
Alternatively, too, if you want to start a magazine,
do a trek. £.
July 2007 | Himal Southasian
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