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Himal South Asian Volume 17, Number 1, January 2004 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2004-01

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 O    U    T    H ASI
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and peaceful with authentic Tibetan decor and within ten minutes'
walking'distance from the tourist shopping area of Thamel?
What better choice than Hotel Tibet!
Lazimpat, Kathmandu, Nepal
For reservations
Tel: 00977-1-429085/86/87/88 Fax: 00977-1-410957 e-mail:
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 Vol 17 No.1
January 2004
Women and
the Maobaadi
Sri Lanka: The need for
large hearts
by Jehan Perera
Pakistan: A parade for the general
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
India-Pakistan: Rhetorical Shift
by Syed Ali Mujtaba
Nepal: A tool of terror
Mocking the digital divide
by Teresa Joseph
Brutalising inmates the Tihar way'
by Subhash Gatade
A fatal love
by Suketu Mehta
Women and the Maobaadi:
Ideology and Agency in Nepal's
Maoist Movement
by Judith Pettigrew and
Sara Shneiderman
On the edge of lunacy
by George Monbiot
A subcontinental free trade Utopia
by Joe Thomas K
Agriculture: Towards a grey revolution
by Devinder Sharma
Is the largest market in the making?
by Farhan Reza
The child rights machinery
by Suhas Chakma
Towards a feminism of caste
by Wandana Sonaikar
Maritime neighbours
by John Gooneratne
handshakes that never shook..
Contributors to this issue
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas 3 Mathew
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Manik de Silva
dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
newoelhi Mitu varma
n. America .Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
Joe Thomas K
Design Team
Indra Shrestiia
Kam Singh Chepang
Suresh Neupane
Bilash Rai (Graphics)
Bhushan Shilpakar (Website)
Subscription/Overseas Sales
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Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
CK Lai is a Kathmandu engineer and columnist with the weekly Nepali Times.
Devinder Sharma is a food and trade policy analyst who chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for
Biotechnology and Food Security.
Farhan Reza is a television journalist based in Karachi.
Jehan Perera, a human rights activist based in Colombo, writes a column in the Daily Mirror.
John Gooneratne is Deputy Director General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process,
Judith Pettigrew works on Nepal and teaches anthropology in the Lancashire School of Health
and Postgraduate Medicine at the University of Central Lancashire.
Sara Shneiderman is pursuing doctoral research on Nepal in the Department of Anthropology at
Cornell University, Ithaca.
Subhash Gatade, a social activist and journalist based in New Delhi, also edits the Hindi journal,
Kriti Sanskriti Sandhan.
Suhas Chakma is director of the Asian Human Rights Centre, New Delhi.
Suketu Mehta is a writer and journalist who lives in New York.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a broadcast journalist based in Madras.
Teresa Joseph is a research scholar at the School of International Relations, Mahatma Gandhi
University, Kottayam.
Wandana Sonalkar, based in Aurangabad, is an economist and founder member of the women's
research centre, Aalochana.
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Department for
DFID is a major bilateral development agency in Nepal. Our commitment is to support
the Government of Nepal and others to reduce poverty. To do this effectively we require
experienced and able professional staff to join our team.
DFID gives priority to support for economic opportunities and essential services to poor
and disadvantaged communities, including those currently affected by conflict, and to
social justice and governance reforms. We are committed to delivering assistance
transparently and with full accountability locally.
The DFID Programme in Nepal is designed and supervised by a team of advisers including
specialists in infrastructure, governance, rural livelihoods, social development, economics,
statistics, health and conflict studies.
We want to further diversify our team to include Nepalese expertise covering social
development (Ref No SD001) and governance (Ref No GOV001) issues.
Applicants should be able to demonstrate they have the expertise in these fields and
who have a successful record of achievement working as a professional in a national
or international development agency. Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong
competencies in relation to working with others; forward thinking; communicating ana
influencing; and analytical thinking and judgement. Applicants must have a relevant
post-graduate degree or equivalent and be fluent in both English and Nepali.
Located in the DFID office in Kathmandu, the positions are based in a fast paced multicultural environment that places a high premium on inclusive team working.You will have
opportunities to work closely with all levels of Government and non-governmental
agencies, and interact with Nepali's from all works of life and from all over the country.
The position offers significant opportunities for professional and career growth.Though
based In Kathmandu, some in-country and international travel will be required.
There will be an attractive and competitive local salary and benefits package. The
successful candidate will be awarded a permanent or a 3 year fixed term contract.
DFID is an Equal Opportunities employer and appoints on merit by open competition.
Nepalese citizens - ethnic minorities, disadvantaged groups and women are encouraged
to apply. For an application form and more information, including Terms of Reference,
please email or collect from DFID Main Gate, Jawalakhel, Telephone
No (977 1) 5542980, Fax No (977 1) 5542979.
Closing date for applications is 1 3    February 2004.
 President to the
HOW FAR Jehan Perera ("President+
Prime Minister = Peace", December
2003) is out of touch with the Sinhalese opinion is indicated by his statement that "the vast majority of Sinhalese people are
united in desiring that the president and the prime minister, representing two different political parties, should
work together to take the peace process forward". The
clearest demonstration of the irrelevance of this statement is the large crowd that attended the funeral of the
Venerable Gangodawila Soma, an outspoken advocate
of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism.
Perera states that "Prime Minister Wickremesinghe
is on an ascending trend". This is belied by the grassroots sentiment. To cite one instance, a newr mayor was
sworn in recently in the town of Kotte. Although he
belongs to the ruling party and had the highest number
of preferences in the last local authority elections, he
was unable to mobilise a crowd for his oath-taking,
Indeed, he was hard put to get people to even put his
posters up.
The ruling United National Front (UNF) is widely
viewed as being anti-national in its outlook. Its ministers are openly lampooned for holding citizenships of
Western countries and advocating pro-US policies. The
nexus of the UNF with big business and with transnational corporations is widely resented, especially in
the light of many the privatisation deals which look
distinctly fishy.
The UNF and Ranil Wickremasinghe are thus looked
on suspiciously, especially with regard to the peace
process. They are perceived as having given in to the
LTTE on every issue. Only WJM Lokubandara, the minister in charge of Buddhist affairs, is thought to be acceptable by mainstream Sinhala-Buddhists.
There is also a widespread belief that the Christian
minority has undue influence with the UNF. The number
of its leaders who are Christian is routinely raised as
an issue by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists. Thus, when
the Venerable Soma expired in Russia, where he had
gone to obtain a doctorate from a Christian theological
college, conspiracy theories abounded. The crowds at
his funeral were unprecedented for that of a Buddhist
monk, and was symptomatic of the unease which is felt
by the majority.
The confidence of the Muslim minority too has been
shaken. It was Muslim votes that enabled the UNF to
come to power at the last general election. But the UNF
is widely seen to have sacrificed the Muslims to the
LTTE nationally and to the USA internationally.
On the other hand, President Kumaratunga has the
confidence of the broad mass of the people. She has
always been consistent in trying to reach a long-lasting
and just settlement, her late husband Wijaya having
been the first political leader to attempt a dialogue with
the l.TTF.. Her devolution package, it will be recalled,
was opposed tooth and nail by Ranil Wickremasinghe,
and his subsequent volte-face was perceived to be the
result of his electoral defeat at her hands.
In this situation, no agreement reached by Ranil
Wickremasinghe will be acceptable, especially not to
many of the monks who were in the ranks of his supporters when he opposed devolution. Therefore, it is
imperative for the president to step forward and attempt
to salvage something of the peace process.
Vinod Moonesinghe, Rajagiriya
Coming out of the
strait] acket
I HAVE some reservations about Ramesh Parajuli's
spirited response ("Judging Film South Asia 2003", December 2003) to two articles in the November 2003 issue of Himal by Lubna Marium and Manesh Shrestha.
In particular, I would like to address myself to Parajuli's comments on the social orientation and ideological
disposition of the Nepali entries to Film South Asia
2003 (ISA '03). As a participant Nepali filmmaker at
this just concluded edition of the documentary festival
I am somewhat at a loss to comprehend his observation
that "The Nepali films clearly disappointed". I do not
understand how it is possible to make so sweeping a
generalisation and still expect it to be taken as a serious
and considered argument. There were only three Nepali entries in the final 43 and if they did make that
grade surely those who made the choice must have seen
some merit in them. This is a particularly significant
point since it is not as if there are country quotas and
therefore the best among the worst from a country will
perforce make it to the final list even if they are not up to
the average standard of entries from other countries. In
this sense, it would have been more fitting if the respondent had paused to consider that the organisers
might have had good reason to include these films from
As a full-time Nepali and a part-time filmmaker I
am conscious of the current social and political predicament that faces the nation, and I am also fully in agreement that these issues need to be discussed threadbare
in all available media, including films, and not just
documentary films. But having said that, I must part
company with Parajuli on the necessity of doing only
films on such issues. It would appear from his comments that political and social conflict, development
issues and such other fare are what documentarists
must restrict themselves to in the pursuit of their craft.
Notwithstanding the appearance of a socially and
politically sensitive radicalism that it sports, this in reality is a conservative perspective as it is a plea to filmmakers to stick to the beaten track. Resistance to change
is understandable but it does not have to be so total as
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 to deny the legitimacy of every departure from a tradition that is self-limiting in its scope and technique. In
Nepal this tradition has been created and reproduced
by a donor driven dynamic and therefore the conventional and hitherto dominant trend in filmmaking bears
all the marks of a narrowly imagined conception of the
medium, its purpose and therefore its possibilities. Almost all documentaries made in Nepal by Nepalis, and
even by bideshis, focus on issues that are patronised by
international development agencies. The heavy hand
of the funder is so evident in many of these films that it
is a travesty to designate them documentaries. Aside
from these development films, there are a handful made
by visiting film crews from television stations with their
own compulsions and pressures. In the circumstances,
the perception that documentaries must confine themselves to these issues is scarcely surprising.
The thought that crossed my mind when I was cutting my film, Bhedako Oon jasto—not that it does not
have a serious angle to it—was to leave behind the conventional formula of the documentary and experiment
in terms of both thematic and narrative departures. Tf in
the process it became an entertaining film it is nobody's
fault, nor does it subtract from the documentary status of the film. Folk culture may
not have the heart-wrenching, melodramatic attributes of out-and-out social and
developmental issues, but it is nevertheless
there to be captured simply and without
sentimentality; and doing that does not in
any way preclude others from engaging
with the themes that have become the special preserve of documentary filmmakers.
My purpose was to present something new
both for the already committed documentary
aficionados, as well as for a potentially new
audience. The idea was to take documentaries, both the making and the viewing,
beyond a small and closed circle of people
and issues. The attempt in fact was to try
and aim for something documentary films do not often
consciously do, namely reach out to a mass—be it the
shepherd in Dunai, the small-holder in Dang, or the
old lady in Birtamod. No doubt it does not address their
livelihood issues, but a song will surely touch a chord.
The reason why it is necessary to take the documentary to the general public is dictated by the conventional limitations of the medium. In most developing
countries, the documentary has been misused as an
instrument of state propaganda disguised as a vehicle
for disseminating information. It soon became a medium
for critiquing that propaganda, but in doing so it picked
up themes and methods that restricted its access to limited groups of people who already posses the necessary minimum understanding of the issues. To that
extent, while it did serve the purpose of expanding the
knowledge of those already interested in knowing, it
did not do much to expand the power of non-fiction
Art versus
versus art
film to attract new audiences.
This raises the question of whether it is correct or not
to be addressing issues which to some might seem non-
issues. This begs the question of why themes have to be
identified as issues or non-issues in the first place. The
same criticism is never directed at the commercial feature
film, because there is a tendency to associate the feature
film with entertainment and the documentary with
information. But once this assumption is removed, and
it must be removed because there is no necessary reason
to retain it, the sharp boundary between the two domains
is erased. Tt is in any case difficult to conceptually sustain
such a division between the two domains merely on the
basis of past practice, because, by that logic, commercial
feature films will be barred from looking at serious social
issues in a suitably entertaining manner. But that is not
an argument that critics of the entertaining documentary
will care to make. That being the case, the logic could
surely apply in the reverse, namely that it is perfectly
possible for the documentary to be as entertaining as it is
for the feature film to be serious.
But the unrelenting critic will still point to the pressing concerns of society as the reason why documentaries must explore issues of justice and
development as a first priority before it can
make forays into such luxuries as entertainment. There is a merit to the argument
that documentaries must deal with such
issues particularly since no other medium
devotes the same degree of attention to these
problems. But to say that is not to assert that
the documentary must deal with nothing
else, especially since there are other filmmakers who concern themselves almost exclusively with such themes. It is practically
impossible to first exhaust all serious themes
by way of filmic examination before entertaining themes can be legitimately taken up.
There are Nepali filmmakers like Dhruba
Basnet and Mohan Mainali who are recognised for their excellent treatment of such serious issues
like conflict and civil strife. But probing cultural issues
does not have to wait on the serious genre completing
its task before the making of light non-fiction films can
commence. The serious genre by definition cannot
complete its task because society always throws up
newer and newer problems. For that reason, the
ordinary viewer cannot be expected to forego the
pleasure of seeing films that are not out and out
entertainers and yet are culturally informative without
being demanding. The evolution of filmmaking does
not need to follow a rigid chronological order dictated
by a hierarchy of priorities.
There is also another compelling reason for thematic
diversity in documentary films. Independent non-commercial filmmaking is only just beginning to make a
mark in Nepal and, if this still nascent activity has to
come into its own, there is a need to motivate and attract
politics or art
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
new entrants into the field. The greater the range of
issues that any field is permitted to deal with, the greater the number of people who can be attracted to enter it.
The film is after all just a medium for expression and
the particular forms of expression will be as diverse as
there are people who explore the medium for all the
possibilities it offers. It is in these specific respects that
I differ with Parjuli's arguments.
Kiran Krishna Shrestha, Kathmandu
For Art's sake
IT IS every juror's prerogative to like or
dislike films. Unfortunately m her article "Judging Film South Asia" (November 2003) Lubna Marium misquotes
and misrepresents me. I only hope that
people like P Balan, the director of the
award-winning 18"' Elephant at Film South Asia '03,
will also see my version of what was meant to be an
informal conversation.
18"' Elephant is a film I loved the day I saw it at the
International Video Festival 2003 in Kerala and I wrote
to Balan about it afterwards. At FSA it was one of the
awards I felt good about. The film works beautifully as
an allegory on the human capacity for cruelty. When
you see the cruelty that humans are capable of wreaking on defenseless animals, you also understand the
cruelty that the powerful wreak on defenseless minorities.
Which brings me to my own preoccupation. It is
true that I was disappointed with the awards generally
because the awards single-mindedly sidelined films that
dealt with the crucial malaise of the Subcontinent, namely, communal hatred and jingoistic nationalism. I am
not the only one who noticed this and the charitable
view is that Marium jumbled my comments with those
that others made that evening.
Having been asked a direct question at the closing
party of the festival, the first thing 1 said was that 1
found the chairman of the jury, Mark Tully's speech
patronising. He had made a special point to tell filmmakers who made "long" documentaries to learn how
to edit! The arrogance of this becomes apparent if one
takes a quick glance at the long list of internationally
acclaimed feature length documentaries entered at FSA
'0.3. It would be a pity if the limited attention span of
those who expect documentaries to resemble television
begins to determine aesthetic standards.
I went on to my central point that films dealing with
the rise of religious fundamentalism and fascism in
India, like Subhradeep Chakravarty's Godhra Tak, Lalit
Vacchani's Men in the Tree and Anjali and jayashan-
kar's Nata, were kept out perhaps because the jury wanted to play safe. With Marium protesting that the films I
mentioned were not "artistic" we got onto a discussion
of what "art" is. I said that notions of "art" are often
brought in to defend existing ideologies. Art is after all
subjective and there can be no clear definition of it. What
was clear is that in disbursing five awards the jury left
out all films (and there were plenty) that might disturb
Hindu nationalists.
It may be co-incidence but if you do an internet
search on "hindutva" and the name of the chairman of
the jury these are some of the things that confront you:
From: "Mark Tully pulls out all stops for Hindutva",
by Bishwanath Ghosh , The Asian Age, 27 August 1997:
"The BjP has found a new advocate in Mr Mark Tully,
the former bbc correspondent, who feels that Indian civilisation has a Hindu base to it and that Hindus should
proclaim their identity with pride.
The party is so thrilled with one of India's famous
foreigners endorsing its line that it has devoted seven
pages to Mr Tully's views in a recent issue of its mouthpiece, BjP Today."
From: "Mark Tully's Hindutva", by Amulya Ganguli
The Hindustan Times, 23 September 2003:
"For several years now, the BBC's Mark Tully has provided indirect support to the BJP's Hindutva cause.
His contention, as reiterated in a new TV documentary,
Hindu Nation, is that secularism is unsuitable for India.
The reason: it is a doctrine which keeps religion out of
public life, an attempt which is bound to fail — and has
failed — in a country as "deeply religious" as India."
From: No full stops in India by Mark Tully:
"Imagine also what would happen if egalitarianism
and its companion individualism destroyed the communities which support those who start life with no
opportunities. For ail that, the elite of India have become so spellbound by egalitarianism that they are
unable to see any good in the only institution which
does provide a sense of identity and dignity to those
who are robbed from birth of the opportunity to compete on an equal footing."
"The caste system provides security and a community for millions of Indians. It gives them an identity
that neither Western Science nor Western thought has
yet provided, because caste is not just a matter of being
a Brahmin or a Harijan: it is also a kinship system. The
system provides a wider support group than a family:
a group which has a social life in which all its members
This is not to imply that the jury had a conscious
agenda. But people inevitably bring their world-view
and their politics to the table, sometimes disguised from
their colleagues and sometimes even from themselves,
disguised all too often, as art.
Anand Patwardhan, Bombay
Sikkim and Nepal
REGARDING THE advertisement of the Sikkim government printed in Himal's November 2003 issue, my
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 question to you is why should we Nepalis be educated
or informed about the economic development of Sikkim? Are you trying to suggest that we should also become a state of India? Why is the government of Sikkim
trying to publicise this in Nepali newspapers when we
are not its voters? It should be very clear to you that we
Nepalis are not going to tolerate any mal-intention of
the Indians or RAW to Sikkimise Nepal on any pretext,
We were never colonised at any time of our history and
that is why we Nepalis have held our heads high. If
there is a plan to merge us into India, the Indians and
especially the chief minister of Sikkim should realise
that we even have the capacity to unite all Nepalis living in India for a greater Nepal, ie, go back to what it
was before 1816.
You the editors of the Himal should not allow money to overrule nationalism. By printing the Sikkim advertisement, you have committed a crime against this
great nation of ours. Please do not repeat this mistake.
If you really want to teach us about economic development, why don't you print an advertisement on Japanese economic development or even the IT development
of Andhra Pradesh for that matter?
Kathana Sharma, Kathmandu
Editor s-
1. That was an advertisement
2. Himal is a 'Southasian' and not a Nepali magazine,
even if it is published from Kathmandu.
Graduation day
S ANAND (October 2003) writes, "According to Jabbar Patel, the filmmaker
who made the biopic Dr Babasaheb
Ambedkar, it was a time when no black
was allowed into Columbia University; and there was Ambedkar, a man
similarly discriminated back at home, studying for a
doctorate at the prestigious university".
On the contrary, James Dickson Carr, the first black
student to earn a Columbia law degree, received his
degree in 1896, and George Haynes, the first black student to earn a Columbia PhD, received it in 1912. Both of
these achievements were in place before Ambedkar
started his degree at Columbia.
Mina Kumar
REGARDING THE article entitled
"The Wars We Wage" by Chitrangada
Choudhury (June 2003), I think the writer rather missed the point of my reporting from Iraq. The reason I commented on the US war
reporters with their Old Glory flags, or my own lack of
objectivity (given my Marine chemical suit, the fact that
I was terrified, and the protection I was afforded by the
US military), was to give The Times readers both a
glimpse inside the invasion of Iraq while also letting
them know explicitly just how biased my reporting
would be under the circumstances. My reporting of the
Iraqi troops was underdeveloped? No! I was with the
Americans! It was a war! What was I supposed to do?
Get out of my Humvee and start walking towards Iraqi
lines in my US Marine chemical suit, notebook in hand?
Embedded reporters were, by their very nature, biased.
But the alternative would be simply not to take an 'embedded' position at all. My own way of dealing with it
was to write as honestly as I could, from a first person
perspective, about what I was seeing and doing, whilst
explicitly informing the reader about the limits on my
objectivity. To have simply ignored the US embedding
programme and attempted to cover the war from the TV
(remember that it was impossible to enter Iraq without
a death-wish during the first 10 days of the war)—or,
worse, rely solely on the reports coming out of Saddam
Hussein's Baghdad—would have been the real abandonment of journalistic duty.
Christopher Ayres
Los Angeles Correspondent
The Times (London)
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2004 January 17/1 HIMAL
 Such charming simplicity!
SAARC CAME into existence in 1985, at a time when
there were no visionaries left among the political class
of the Subcontinent. That is itself eloquent testimony to
the irrelevance of the project as it was envisaged then,
because when Southasia did have statesmen of vision,
none of them suggested a regional arrangement of this
kind. Clearly, they had enough acumen not to succumb
to the delusion that such a thing would work in an
acrimonious neighbourhood. The people of municipal
competence who followed, rushed in to do what better
men had disdained, and SAARC was born.
The beast was born dead, but feigned life. The pretence of being alive was sustained by various equally
stillborn attempts to show signs of life. The most impressive of its achievements so far was SAPTA, which
was unveiled in 1993 as a South Asian Preferential
Trade Agreement. SAPTA stood still for so long that it
resembled a mystic in an inscrutable trance. It failed
comprehensively to generate a preference for each
other's goods and the quantum of trade within SAARC
countries remained more or less static. As the successive attempts at regional co-operation failed,
more and more grandiose schemes for intensifying economic integration were proposed, culminating, at the recently concluded SAARC
summit, in the South Asian Free Trade Area \ ~_JI-
(SAFTA). But even before SAFTA was discussed \y /
at the summit came the quirky proposal to intro- """^
duce a common currency in Southasia.
The only successful attempt at creating a currency
union is the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union, which gave rise to the Euro, whose long
and carefully worked out history stands in sharp contrast to the bungled attempts to introduce regional economic co-operation in Southasia. Europe commenced
its practical quest for a common currency through the
Maastricht Treaty 1992, about the same time that the
eminently forgettable SAPTA was let loose on Southasia.
The Maastricht Treaty, which laid the timetable for the
creation of the Euro brought the European Union into
being, giving a more coherent form to the European
Community, which itself came out of a long experiment
with the creation of a common market through a customs union formed by some countries and the establishment of a European Free Trade Association by other
The origin of the European Union is conventionally
traced to the Treaty of Rome of 1957, which brought
into existence the European Economic Community. In
reality it goes back to the seemingly more humble European Coal and Steel Pact of 1951, intended to prevent
war through the pooling of steel and coal resources. In
other words, the countries of Europe started out with a
desire to end intra-European war and in the process
worked out the mechanisms for a common market and
free trade zone, which converged in the European Community before creating a European Union which finally
adopted a common currency in 1999. Europe took five
decades and a lot of co-ordinated and negotiated effort
to achieve this.
Southasia stands everything on its head and nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the proposal
to initiate a currency union long before putting in place
lesser forms of co-operation, like simply following the
ordinary civilities of diplomatic interaction or the creation of a functioning regional forum for negotiations.
Such confidence-building measures precede intermediate steps like the creation of a free trade zone or a
customs union. Unlike the trajectory followed by Europe in its search for internally peaceful co-existence,
some Southasians states have been hellbent on intra-
regional war, and when they could find no justification to actually wage war they contrived reasons to
threaten to go to war. And in the midst of all this
hectic conflict and the hysteria of war and mutual
recrimination the region absent-mindedly
created a regional body that pretends to promote co-operation. When the promised co-operation failed to materialise, it found still more
ostentatious ways to move towards its illusory
goal by departing even further from the fundamentals required to achieve them. So, 11 years of failure
leads to a weak arrangement like SAPTA being superseded by a weak arrangement like SAFTA, which is
clearly not up to the task of promoting trade integration, because, once again, the municipal minds behind
the project overlooked the most obvious fundamentals.
Between SAPTA and SAFTA lay two sets of nuclear tests
and a war over some barren wastes in Kargil, besides
some skirmishes along the Bangla-India border and
some disputed territory along the India-Nepal border,
and some militarised activity in Bhutan on India's behalf. All of this is in addition to the almost permanent
state of conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. But lest anyone accuse the region of not thinking
big in a constructive way, the prime minister of India
announced, even before SAFTA could be discussed into
existence, that a common currency should be introduced
in the region.
Predictably, in an excitable Subcontinent that is so
easily prone to applaud its own genius, this casual statement by the Indian prime minister has been greeted with
a euphoria that almost suggests that an ill-advised
proposal has already become a well-designed policy.
Experts and columnists have hailed it as the miraculous
path to making Southasia an economic powerhouse.
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 Currency preconditions
Tarun Das, Director General of the Confederation of
Indian Industry, articulates the typically complacent
Indian corporate perspective. According to him, a common currency will cut transaction costs for domestic
businesses as they start to increasingly trade with each
other. Since SAPTA could not, in 11 years, manage to
increase the volume of intra-regional trade above the
pathetically low levels that have been historically
prevalent, and since the prospects under SAFTA are not
much brighter, the number of beneficiaries of a common currency on this count will be extremely limited,
unless there is a dramatic improvement in the trade
figures. He also goes on to add that a common currency
for 1.3 billion people will make Southasia an even bigger market for foreigners to invest in.
This is the kind of hype that does well on television,
but the fact of the matter is that a little over a billion of
this total population already lives inside an economy
with a single currency called the INR, and yet this extraordinarily large market has not been very successful
in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). Das also
argues that companies in each of the
Southasian economies will be able ^^^^™^^^^™
to raise funds from the other member
countries. However, he seems to
have overlooked the obvious fact
that in comparison to the Indian
economy, all other countries have
very weak formal financial systems
so that the claim of mutual benefit is
more fictitious than real. Even if his
point is to be conceded, his next
claim that a bigger market of savings
will result in lower interest rates for
all borrowers, which is good for businesses everywhere,
is questionable because this argument is based on the
heroic assumption that the investment climate in
Southasia is generally robust and higher interest rates
are the only constraint. This need not always be true,
since the constraint of weak demand cannot necessarily
be offset by a lowering of interest rates to induce greater
investments. In any case, other factors, like the level of
capital controls and international ratings tend to weigh
heavily with investors.
Das also proceeds to make the argument that a common currency will help tourism by removing the inconvenience of converting currency. This is not a uniformly
applicable argument since if this incentive has to operate, all the other inconveniences of travel in the Subcontinent will have to be lifted. Indians travelling to
Nepal or Bhutan do not face the currency conversion
problem. In reverse it does not work with the same
charming simplicity, but since the currency is freely
convertible between these countries there really is not
all that much of an impediment to tourism. The problem for the tourist is the visa restriction as much as
currency conversion. For a Pakistani tourist to India, or
In comparison to the
Indian economy, all other
countries have very weak
formal financial systems
so that the claim of
mutual benefit is more
fictitious than real.
vice versa, removing currency difficulties in fact will
not really be of much help unless the absurd and infantile limited-desdnation visa regime is removed. It is hard
to enthuse tourists to revisit on the mere promise of
removing conversion problems when they have to go
through the tiresome routine of reporting to the police
every morning and reassuring paranoid states that they
are not up to any mischief. In effect, a common currency
on its own can do little to help anyone, unless all the
other preconditions that go with making it successful
are met.
Carried away by enthusiasm, Das suggests a timetable of implementation of four to six years. This optimism rests on the fact that Europe took only eight years
to introduce the Euro. The reality is that Europe took
only eight years to introduce the common currency from
the date of finalising the timetable for its implementation. But finalising that timetable was preceded by 40
years of intensive efforts to attain the preconditions that
facilitated the objective of a common currency. SAARC's
dismal history does not inspire the confidence that it
can even update its website on time, let alone introduce
regional co-operation of the kind
that can pave the way for a common
Vast enterprise
A currency union requires fundamental conditions to be met before
it can come into existence. Globally,
Europe can be treated as the exception. The EU represents 6.3 percent
of the world's population, 20
percent of global GDP, and over 40
percent of world exports. Southasia
has 25 percent of the world's population, 2 percent of
global CDP and less than 1 percent of global trade. In
the circumstances, it is advisable for Southasian policy
makers not to eye Europe as a model for immediate
emulation. On the other hand, the East Caribbean
Central Bank Area, which follows a common currency,
is too small as a point of comparison with the
Southasian vastness.
The other major economic blocs have not been particularly energetic about introducing a common currency. The North American Free Trade Area is by default dominated by the dollar, but that does not make it
a currency union. While many of the economies, owing
to the pressure of dollarisation of transactions, considered switching over to the dollar, this was not the outcome of a managed and negotiated process of creating
a union. A union, after all, is an entity that benefits all
its constituent members. A more equal trading arrangement is Mercosur, a Latin American regional integration mechanism, with Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay
as full members, and Bolivia and Chile as associate
members. Though it is the fourth largest economic region in the world, it continues to remain a customs
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
 union and there is no indication of any move towards a
common currency. Latin America seems, for the present,
to be looking only at the prospect of a South American
Free Trade Area. This, in all probability, could emerge
as the real SAFTA.
ASEAN offers possibly the most proximate point of
comparison for Southasia. Even here the news is not
promising for Southasian common currency enthusiasts. ASEAN, which is among the most well integrated
economic blocs and which is 18 years older than SAARC,
is still at the stage of implementing the Asian Free Trade
Area and the Asian Investment Area. Numerous studies
on the possibility of a common currency for ASEAN,
while expressing cautious optimism for the distant
future, emphasise the impediments to even medium-
term fruition such as CDP, growth rate, interest rate and
economic-system differentials. Though some ASEAN
leaders have been enthusiastic about exploring the
possibility of introducing a common currency, the fact
that official deliberations on the preliminary feasibility
workshops conducted so far have been postponed
suggests that, at this stage, pursuing the issue could be
more divisive than uniting because of the stresses that
will arise from surrendering sovereignty and policy
flexibility in crucial areas like interest rate, exchange
rate, inflation rate and fiscal deficit management.
Economic, financial and political convergence is
necessary to ensure the symmetry that is required for a
currency union. But such convergence is predicated
on the existence of conditions that enable convergence.
Currency union is a technically complicated matter
that traditionally involves the concept of optimum currency areas. It prescribes the economic circumstances
which make a currency union beneficial to the
countries involved. Important criteria in identifying
an optimum currency area include the level of
flexibility in real wages, the possibility of high labour
mobility, and the low incidence of asymmetric shocks,
ie, all countries in the proposed union must be similarly
affected by external developments, as this indicates
higher prospects for integration. For instance, the
manner in which the east Asian financial crisis
reverberated through many of the ASEAN economies
is an indication of the uniform effects of external shock
and this is deemed to indicate a possibly greater
capacity for currency integration.
But despite the presence of certain favourable conditions, ASEAN's difficulty lies in the high level of economic disparities within the region despite a creditable history of co-operation over 35 years. Growth rates
for instance tend to vary widely. In 2000, Thailand had
a 4.6 percent growth rate whereas Singapore grew by
almost 10 percent in the same year. Per capita income
differentials as between countries show huge disparities. Singapore's per capita income of USD 32,810 contrasts sharply with Vietnam's USD 335. In other areas
too, the gaps are wide, ranging from the level of public
debt, to current account balances and interest rates.
Southasian unionists
If these are the real constraints that have barred the
immediate possibility of a common currency in ASEAN,
the Southasian condition is even more pitiable. Product output is lopsided in India's favour, since its GDP
is almost 75 percent of the combined output of the entire region and its export trade is over 60 percent of the
SAARC total. Likewise, all the other differentials that
characterise ASEAN are present in SAARC in magnified form. What compounds matters is that SAARC
lacks the kind of complementarities in ASEAN that
make it possible to talk about a currency area for the
latter at some future date. Intra-SAARC trade is in the
vicinity of 5 percent of the global trade of its member
countries. Trade complementarities are, by contrast,
much stronger in ASEAN, with intra-bloc trade
amounting to over 20 percent of the region's total
But even assuming that Southasian unionists were
to disregard all these factors and strive for a common
currency, they are likely to come up against the less
technically complicated but the necessarily more difficult practical steps to set about implementing the process. These are the areas where Southasia displays high
inefficiencies. For instance, it will be necessary to initiate realistic inter-governmental planning and create
convergence plans within specified time frames. The
complexities of the process are evident from the manner in which the EU went about the implementation of
the common currency. Eligibility for entry into the union
depended on meeting some fixed criteria: the budget
deficit was to be held below 3 percent of GDP, the total
public debt was to be kept below 60 percent of GDP, the
inflation rate was to be maintained within 1.5 percent
of that of the three EU countries with the lowest rate in
order to stabilise prices, and long-term interest rates
were to be restricted to 2 percent of the three lowest
interest rates in EU.
The actual introduction of the common currency
involved three stages of implementation. The first stage
covered a three and a half year period from July 1990
to December 1993 during which the free movement of
capital was introduced, the exchange rate mechanism
was stabilised, closer co-operation between central
banks was initiated and economic policies were coordinated. In the second stage, which extended from
January 1994 to December 1998, member states were
required to synchronise economic and monetary
policies, the European Central Bank was established
and participating countries had to fix their exchange
rates. The final stage began in January 1999, when the
single currency was introduced. This was a systematic
process based on very high levels of co-operation.
lt is difficult to visualise countries that go to
war over rocky bits of terrain and which deny overflight permissions to neighbours on the slightest provocation being able to undertake such complex and
synchronised multilateral measures. b
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
MOST ANALYSES of the continuing Sri
Lankan political deadlock focus on its
disadvantages from a Colombo-centric
perspective. The crashing stock market and
the suspension of economic investments
and foreign aid bode ill for the country's
macro developmental prospects. But it is not
only President Chandrika Kumaratunga
and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
and their respective parties that stand in
danger of falling into public disfavour as a
result. Even the LTTE appears to be feeling
the pressures of the present impasse. On the
one hand, the lack of progress in the peace
process means that the LTTE can utilise the
opportunity to consolidate itself in the
north-east, the entirety of which it has access
to under the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. In
the absence of peace talks with the government, and with the suspension of Norwegian facilitation for the duration of the
political crisis, the LTTE will have a relatively
free hand to expand its recruitment drive,
and set up customs, taxation, police and
judicial institutions.
On the other hand, the absence of peace
talks has also blocked the creation of legally
recognised institutions that the LTTE can
have a stake in, and which are necessary if
the LTTE is to be the agent of economic
change in the region it controls. A study
carried out by the Sri Lanka-based Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) has
shown that people, whether in the northeast or outside, .see the conflict in their lives
as being primarily due to economic factors
such as poverty, unemployment and land-
lessness. Any organisation that seeks to be
close to the people has to recognise this
reality. As an organisation that needs to set
itself on the path to maintain its leadership
role through political means, the LTTE has
to be sensitive to the needs and aspirations
of the Tamil masses. While the two years of
ceasefire has brought them immense solace,
people also want their economic lives
to improve as fast as possible. So far, the
Tamil Tigers have been unable to show
the people that it is bringing them this
boon. The war-ravaged
north-east remains for the
most part in the same state
it was at the commencement of the ceasefire.
The international community that pledged
billions of rupees for the
north-east, made the disbursement of their funds
conditional upon progress in peace talks. They
also envisaged the setting up of new joint
government-LTTE institutions, such as the
North East Reconstruction Fund (NERF) and
the Sub Committee on Immediate Rehabilitation and Humanitarian Needs (SIHRN).
However, these new mechanisms are either
non-functional or are yet to be established,
The inability to set up these mechanisms
has sowed seeds of doubt as to the government's capacity to be a partner with the
LITE in developing the north-east.
LTTE Discontent
In recent days, the LTTE's political leaders
have been saying both publicly and
privately that they are prepared to negotiate
with President Kumaratunga in respect of
the peace process. These statements made
in different contexts in London, Kilinochchi
and Colombo by top LTTE leaders would
constitute a shift in the stance of the LTTE,
away from a policy of restricting their
dealings with the Wickremesinghe government alone. After the president's party
suffered defeat at the 2001 general elections,
the LTTE had made no secret of its antipathy
to the president, one that she reciprocated
in full measure. The seven years of government headed by Chandrika Kumaratunga
saw the war with the LTTE escalate to a
maximum, including an assassination
attempt on her in November 1999. However,
it was Kumaratunga who subsequently
invited the Norwegian government to
facilitate a peace process with the LTTE.
However, it is also true that during the
president's period of governance neither
side was able to make progress on the peace
process, with the war continuing to escalate.
When Prime Minister Wickremesinghe
came to power in December 2001, the
country and economy had reached rock
bottom. His most important accomplishment, for which he deserves every credit,
was to swiftly end the war and to revive the
economy. However, two years into the peace
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
By affirming their
preparedness to
negotiate with the
president, or with
any other leader
with a mandate for
peace from the
people, the LTTE
has created a situation that could
help to resolve the
present political
process, it appears that the LTTE is seeing
the disadvantages of limiting their negotiations to the government headed by the prime
minister. Undoubtedly it was the government headed by Wickremesinghe that
achieved the crucial breakthrough with
them that led to the signing of the Ceasefire
Agreement in February 2002, and that was
a document requiring great political courage
to sign and implement. The entry of LTTE
cadres into government-controlled areas
and the opening of the A9 Highway to
Jaffna were radical affirmations of trust in
the peace process and willingness to take
risks for peace.
Two years after the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement the LTTE has reasons to be
discontent. The LTTE's primary justification
for pulling out of the peace talks in April
2003 was the lack of implementation
on promises made during the six rounds
of negotiations that took place
between September 2002 and
March 2003. The new institutions
of governance that were agreed to
be set up for the interim period in
the north-east have yet to be
implemented. Now the political
crisis that has pitted the president
against the government has
stalled any further possibility of
establishing those institutions on
the ground.
New situation
By affirming their preparedness to
negotiate with the president, or
with any other leader with a
mandate for peace from the
people, the LTTE has created a
situation that could help to resolve the
present political deadlock. In effect they have
eliminated the prime minister's primary
justification for standing firm on the issue
of the three ministries taken away from his
government by the president. The prime
minister's uncompromising position up
until now has been that the defence ministry
should be restored to his government for the
peace process to commence. He has stated
that the LTTE will not wish to negotiate with
a government that did not fully control the
armed forces. However, the new message
coming from the LTTE is that they have no
objection to the president wielding powers
of defence, so long as she and the prime
minister agree to the arrangement and to
uphold the Ceasefire Agreement.
In essence, the Tamil Tiger's position is
that negotiations are possible with a joint
governmental and presidential team in
which the president and prime minister
have worked out a new cohabitation agreement. It is also significant that Kumaratunga has been repeatedly affirming her
support for the Ceasefire Agreement since
her takeover of the three ministries in
November 2003. Already, several advantages can be seen in the sharing of power
between the president and the government.
One is that the Ceasefire Agreement now
has bipartisan support from both the
government and main opposition party. As
a result, the popular acceptance of the
ceasefire has registered its highest level of
support ever. The possibility of expanding
this bipartisan support to the decisive issue
of constitutional change is too attractive to
be foregone at this juncture. The president
and the prime minister in particular must
be large-hearted enough to work together to
get the peace process back on track.
The challenge for political and civil
society is to ensure that a new framework
for cohabitation is worked out between
Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe to
replace the old one. The cohabitation
framework that prevailed from December
2001 to November 2003 was one in which
the president did not use her legal and
constitutional powers. Perhaps she was
demoralised by her party's electoral rejection at the general election of 2001. Perhaps
she felt she did not have the answers at that
time to take the country out of the deep pit
of ethnic war and economic disaster that
her government had taken it to. Nevertheless, two years later, the country has
changed for the better and the president
appears to have regained her ambition and
confidence to be at the helm of affairs. With
her takeover of the three ministries, and the
prime minister's inability to regain them,
the old cohabitation framework is no longer
applicable. Unhappy though he may be
with the sudden turn of events, the prime
minister and his government should accept
the new reality and work together with the
president to devise a new framework of
cohabitation for the good of the country.
In particular, a unified approach by the
president and the prime minister will ensure
that the peace process can be restarted and
that decisions taken at peace talks with the
LTTE can be implemented with a two-thirds
majority in parliament. At present, the
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
people are anxious about the possible
dissolution of a parliament elected just two
years ago, in the aftermath of the formation
of the People's Alliance-Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna combine. The two leaders should
realise before it is too late that the people
expect them to solve problems today rather
than to bitterly contest each other politically
in a struggle that could otherwise extend
for several years. b
-Jehan Perera
FOURTEEN MONTHS after the general
election, General Pervez Musharraf's Legal
Framework Order (LFO) has finally become
part of the constitution. What has seemed
like an eternity of wrangling between the
government and the opposition (inclusive
of the mullahs) has finally come to an
end. The agreement reached between the
Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid (PML-Q)
and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)—
the alliance of six religious parties—
was announced by General Pervez
Musharraf himself over national television.
The general, and all the others associated
with the deal, proclaimed the triumph of
Even though the opposition had been
clearly disturbed by the whimsical decree
which empowered Pervez Musharraf to
remain president and army chief for another
five years, head a military-civilian National
Security Council, dissolve the National
Assembly and sack prime ministers, yet to
say that this development is unexpected
would be naive. A final settlement on the
issue had been imminent for many months,
even though the MMA continues to strike a
pose about the signing of the agreement
against "dictatorship". It is now fairly
common knowledge that the army has
supported far-right religious groups in
Pakistan for many years, including some
of the parties which belong to the MMA
alliance. It is also a well-known fact that
there is still much internal tension within
the army over the apparent moves of the
current leadership to revoke the many
privileges that have accrued to the religious
right over the past two decades. Therefore,
there was only ever going to be one
outcome of this overplayed drama—the
consummation of the long-standing relationship between the mullahs and the
Unbelievably, the chorus of praise for
General Musharraf that emanated from the
leadership of the PML-Q after the announcement of the agreement included a suggestion
that the general had made the biggest
sacrifice yet by any military ruler in
Pakistan's history. This is quite an overstatement, to say the least. The agreement that
was signed was hardly different from the
originally proposed LFO. And while it is
quite something that Musharraf eventually
got his way on the LFO, perhaps what is
more astonishing is the unprecedented fact
that the army will not only dictate terms to
the government but will, in fact also, dictate
terms to the opposition.
The MMA, despite having only 62 seats
in the lower house, is likely to be given the
slot of leader of the opposition, while
the Alliance for Restoration of
Democracy (ARD)—mainly consisting of the PML-Nawaz and Pakistan
People's Party (PPP)—will not get the
coveted slot despite having 82 seats.
Meanwhile, of course, Musharraf
has been confirmed president by the
required two-thirds majority in both
houses of parliament and by the
pro\rinces (with token abstentions by
MMA members). He also remains Chief of
Army Staff (COAS), with even the stipulated
date of retirement from that office—31
December, 2004— now being considered
merely tentative.
All in all, quite the victory for democracy.
The response from the ARD has been muted,
confirming the relative impotence of what
are still popularly considered the two
biggest parties in the country (albeit far more
so in the case of the PPP than the PML-N in
terms of seats won). It cannot be stressed
enough that Pakistani society is acutely de-
politicised. Blatant heists, such as this latest
agreement, hardly create a ripple in the
popular consciousness. Among other
things, the intelligentsia in the country
remains complicit in the shenanigans of the
elite. The media has made some advance in
recent times, but even so, self-censorship
is common, and, in any case, the government still holds a virtual monopoly or
information dissemination in the country.
Among other
things, the intelligentsia in the
country remains
complicit in the
shenanigans of
the elite.
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
Stressing the need
for 'consensus'.
There are still many voices in Pakistan,
unsurprisingly many hailing from army
backgrounds, that insist that democracy
does not suit the polity. On the face of it,
this may not be such an outrageous claim,
not only for Pakistan but for any third world
state that was blighted by the legacy of
colonialism, in this case manifest in the
system of Western parliamentary democracy. But it is now a matter of conjecture
whether or not independence movements
in the colonial world after the second world
war should have been more revolutionary,
and less content to simply takeover from the
departing colonial powers. The fact is that
we in Southasia did adopt a particular form
of government, and the international system
has since developed in such a way that
alternatives have been virtually exterminated. That said, looking towards a
transparent and unfettered democratic
process is very much our best bet, at least
for the time being.
Given the fact that the elite
in countries like Pakistan have
typically managed to retain their
privileged status, the establishment
of democratic norms is key to
redressing major imbalances in
resource access and allocation. At
the same time, there is increasing
evidence in the rich countries of the
world to suggest that the prevailing
form of electoral democracy on show is
simply reinforcing the global status quo. So,
ultimately, it is not enough to establish a
free and fair electoral process in Pakistan,
because the minimum form of political
democracy that such a process implies
hardly guarantees economic democracy,
which is what the people desperately need.
Nonetheless, there can be little question that,
for now, without the establishment of such
an electoral process—one that the army
cannot manipulate—prospects for further
evolution are slim. It is only after such a
process takes root that Pakistan can start to
consider more people-oriented and organic
forms of political and social organisation.
So the agreement between the mullahs
and the military making the LFO the 17th
amendment to the 1973 constitution is
definitely a step in the wrong direction. But
then the mullahs and the military have
perennially taken steps in the wrong
direction as far as the general public is
concerned. The question remains: who will
come to the fore to finally put a stop to the
madness and assert the people's sovereign
will? And the answer, as it has been in the
past, is that it must be the people themselves
who do what needs to be done. It remains a
mystery why there is still debate over the
prospects of the military, mullahs, or for that
matter any other elite interest group in this
country turning things around. None of
these groups has any interest in doing so,
and any change in recent times, whether in
foreign policy vis a vis Afghanistan and
Kashmir, or domestically in terms of the
operation of sectarian outfits, has been the
result of external pressures.
As the frenzy over the 12th SAARC
summit in Islamabad subsides, it is worth
recognising that even the recent peace
posturing between India and Pakistan has
much to do with the United States, and it is
plain for all to see how genuine "peace"
initiatives taken by imperial power typically
turn out. The mullah-military agreement
came at a very convenient time for General
Musharraf, such that he could finally
parade himself as president of Pakistan
without the baggage associated with a
constitutional dispute over his own legitimacy. The MMA can harp all it wants on
the fact that General Musharraf wilt not be
considered legitimate until he sheds his
uniform, but the fact of the matter is that it is
the general who is calling the shots in this
country, and ultimately the MMA is quite
happy to follow his lead. While this charade
continues, it is up to the rest of us to consider
how to break the cycle. b
-Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
WHEN INDIAN Prime Minister, Atal
Bihari Vajpayee, left for Islamabad to attend
the 12th SAARC summit, he ruled out any
possibility of bilateral talks with Pakistan.
There were no indications whatsoever of
any intention to resume a dialogue, the need
for which the absurd geopolitics of the
Subcontinent has sustained precisely by
interrupting it periodically for all manner
of spurious reasons. But, with all the
predictable unpredictability of such tiresome diplomacy, within hours of reaching
Islamabad, Vajpayee reversed his stated
position and declared that Tndia is never
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
shy of talking and expressed readiness to
resolve all pending differences with
Pakistan, including those that revolve
around the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
Three days of hectic talks followed that
statement which resulted in a joint statement by the two countries expressing their
resolve to resume talks. An event that had
been staged on the sidelines of the SAARC
jamboree eventually sidelined the main
summit and itself became the principal
draw, reducing the Southasian body to its
customary insignificance as the ceremonial
proxy for the distant dream of regional cooperation.
The unfolding of events at Islamabad
was more or less on expected lines but it
definitely raised the level curiosity as to
what exactly transpired between the leadership of the two countries. Those who have
watched India-Pakistan developments will
not pin much hope on such joint statements
as this could be just another pause in the
never-ending acrimony that defines relations between the two countries. To believe
that India will give Kashmir on a platter to
Pakistan or that Pakistan will forfeit its
claim over Jammu and Kashmir is the kind
of naivete that the fifty-year history of
acrimony does not permit. In which case,
what was the dramatic trigger that gave rise
to the desire to resume talks that, at least for
the present, do not inspire any confidence
about their capacity to bury the past?
There are a few factors which may be
compelling India to talk about bringing the
Kashmir issue to the table earlier than later.
The genesis of this can be traced to the early
1980s when the US introduced terrorism to
this part of the world to evict the Soviets
from Afghanistan. Even as the US came and
left and then again re-entered Afghanistan
the spectres of that policy continue to haunt
the 'war against terror'. Given the thrust
of US foreign policy in the region, there is
little mileage that India can extract internationally, even if it were to join the coalition
against 'terror' by harping on the unfortunate events in the valley as a special regional
manifestation of a global phenomenon and
in which Pakistan has a hand.
Further, India has possibly also started
realising that it cannot forever continue to
play the old game in Jammu and Kashmir.
It may, therefore, have dawned on all but
the hardcore hawks in the Indian administration that it will be more prudent to resolve
the issues which lie at heart of the militancy
than to take on causalities on a daily basis.
The toll of permanently combating militancy may well be beginning to tell sufficiently on members of the Indian establishment to force them to consider an alternative
approach that need not necessarily culminate in a resolution of the bilateral dispute.
India also had to do some drastic
rethinking when it gained nothing from all
its frantic and ungainly attempts to entice
the US to setup base in the country after
9/11. New Delhi's calculation was that the
US would help it in dismantling the 'terror'
infrastructure in Pakistan, which in turn
would cause the problem of Jammu and
Kashmir to vanish into thin air. However,
for the managers of US policy, practical geo-
strategic compulsions proved to be far
stronger than the allurements of all that the
Indian foreign policy establishment had to
offer. The US opted for the
strategically more obvious choice
that seemed to have escaped the
Indian establishment completely.
Now, even after two years of
Americans presence in the region
not only has there been no great
change in the ground situation,
India has also been forced to
become defensive after its spectacular failure in weaning away US
support for Pakistan.
But the one event that served
as the catalyst for the rndian
decision to change tracks on the
Kashmir issue was the invasion
of Iraq by the "coalition of the
willing". The precedent set by the
US in brushing aside all international
objections and bulldozing its way into a
sovereign country set off alarm bells in New
Delhi. In a swiftly evolving international
scenario, where the US as the only superpower has begun meddling in the global
trouble spots, Indian policy makers had
reason to seriously rethink their Pakistan
policy. The realisation seems to have
dawned that it is better to talk about
negotiations on India's own terms than to
be hamstrung by talks mandated by a
narcissistic superpower out to resolve
matters to its own advantage.
However, this hard thinking about the
negotiated approach came about only after
India considered and abandoned as unfeasible all its options to go to war with
Pakistan. Even in the Kargil skirmish of
1999, India considered and then refrained
No more time to waste.
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
Lying in the ordnance
depot for the present.
from crossing the Line of Control. However,
the most defining moment arrived when
New Delhi brought Operation Parakram to
a close and pulled back its troops after
keeping them in forward positions for more
than a year, following the attack on
parliament on 13 December 2001. Military
experts, the very ones who had in 1987
advocated Operation Brass Tacks, cautioned the government that a military adventure
would not necessarily result in an outright
victory and that such a conflagration could
go out of hand, particularly in the light of
nuclear parity between the two countries.
The net result: India was left with no choice
but to back down and resume the rhetoric
of resuming talks with Pakistan.
If these were the compulsions operating
on India, Pakistan too was faced with
exigencies that made it realise the need
to break with the past and to do, if nothing
else, at least diplomatic business with India. The sectarian
violence in Pakistan has complicated matters for the ruling regime
as it has begun to attract considerable international criticism,
since Islamabad cannot be seen to
be openly endorsing violence in
Indian Kashmir and yet opposing
it internally. The attempts on the
life of the president general in
December 2003 have also helped
reinforce the idea that militancy in the
vicinity is not conducive to the health of the
state and its dignitaries. There is an
inexorably self-consuming logic to the
strategy of military-backed militancy. This
realisation may well have induced Pakistan
to eventually give a categorical commitment
to India that its territory would not be used
for anti-Indian activity.
Another most important commitment
Pakistan made was to shelve the demand
for the implementation of the United
Nations Security Council resolutions on
Kashmir if India was interested in resolving
the issue through other means. The non-
implementation of several UN resolutions,
like the one on Palestine, has made Pakistan
realise that dwelling at unnecessary length
on a plebiscite in Kashmir is unlikely to take
it anywhere. Islamabad had to recognise of
late that the international community is not
particularly interested in implementing UN
resolutions and it is required for the
conflicting parties themselves to sort out
their problems. This in fact is a major
concession from Pakistan as the past 50
years have seen the country emphatically
asserting at various international fora that
there is no alternative but for India to
implement the UN resolution.
The final commitment that Pakistan
made, and which was a clincher for India
to reciprocate by expressing its readiness to
resolve matters through talks, was to seek a
solution to the Kashmir issue outside the
division of its territory on religious lines.
India in return made a commitment to
Pakistan that it is ready to seek a solution to
the problem which will be to the satisfaction
of all parties concerned.
It is too early to say whether a fresh round
of talks will resolve all the outstanding
differences between India and Pakistan.
However, both the countries have definitely
made a rhetorical shift, and at least some of
what they are saying is a departure from
the cliches of the past. It now remains to be
seen if this change in rhetoric is simply a
forerunner of the cliches of the future. The
question is an important one because
Southasia is officially nuclear and there are
no systems in place to ensure that congeni-
tally incompetent regimes do not end up
actually doing what they may only intend
merely to threaten to do. b
-Syed Ali Mujtaba
THE TERRORIST and Disruptive
Activities (Control and Punishment) Act,
2002 (TADA), was Nepal's reaction to a
global apprehension of terrorism since the
events of 11 September 2001, and localised
in Nepal through continued state of conflict
between the government and the pro-
republic Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-
The comprehensive and convoluted
coverage of terrorist and disruptive acts
under TADA Section 3(2) targets persons
who conspire, cause, compel, commit,
instigate, estaiblish, remunerate or publicise
acts of terrorism, or harbour persons
involved with terrorist and disruptive
activities. Terrorist or disruptive activities
include damage, destruction, injury, death,
kidnapping and threats, and the production, distribution, storage transport,
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
export, import, sale, possession or installation of explosive or poisonous substances,
or the assembly and training of persons for
these purposes.
One of the dangers of TADA is the
inclusion of disruptive activities within the
broad definition of terrorist acts. This
allows for the application of TADA to
political acts that, whilst distinct from
terrorism, are determined by the state to have
a disruptive effect on the operation of the
government or public order. TADA provides
that acts covered in Section 3(2) will be taken
to have been committed with an intention
to undermine or jeopardise the sovereignty
and security of Nepal, or committed in a
manner to create an environment of public
The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRC) reports the widespread use of abduction and 'disappearances' by both the government and the
Maoist insurgents. The government
is estimated to have been responsible for
170 insurgency-related disappearances.
According to Amnesty International, this
figure branches into the arrest of 9,900
Maoists (by .August 2002) and the extrajudicial execution of an estimated 2,000
Maoists since November 2001. The NHRC
has observed that "TADA aids and abets
those who, under the guise of maintaining
'law and order' or 'security concerns',
continue to violate the human rights of the
citizens of Nepal".
Further, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders reports that
since the 29 August 2003 breakdown of the
seven-month cease-fire between the state
of Nepal and CPN-Maoist, incidents of
the arbitrary detention, torture, enforced
disappearances and extra-judicial killings
of pro-Maoists and governmental dissidents have risen dramatically.
The following sections in TADA are of
prime concern:
Section 5(a): The grant of 'special power'
to authorities to arrest without warrant
persons suspected of involvement in terrorist or disruptive acts, allowing for the arbitrary, capricious and prejudicial application
of TADA in violation of Article 9(1) of the
International Convention on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR);
Section 5(m): The grant of 'special
power' to authorities to place surveillance
upon 'suspicious' persons and places,
including the arrest, lock-out or blockade of
the person or place, contravening a^rticle
12(2)(d) which constitutionally guarantees
freedom of movement and Article 12(1) of
the ICCPR. Whilst Article 12 of the constitution allows for reasonable restrictions to
be placed on freedom of movement, the
restriction provided for m TADA, predicated
on the existence of 'suspicion', is far from
reasonable and is not in the interest of the
general public;
Section 5(n): The grant of 'special power'
to authorities to freeze the bank accounts
and assets and confiscate the passports of
any persons suspected of involvement in a
terrorist or disruptive act for a 'certain
period', contravening Article 17 which
provides the right to property. Article 17(2)
of the constitution does allow for the
requisition, acquisition or encumbrance of
property by the state in the public interest,
and the freezing of bank accounts and assets
is an anti-terrorism measure endorsed by the United Nations
Counter Terrorism Committee
(UNCTC). However, the use of 'suspicion' as the determinant threshold
for the exercise of the power, and the
unspecific designation of the
suspension period are not in the
public interest and are insufficient
justification for the suspension of a
constitutional right. This power also
arguably constitutes state interference per Article 17 of the ICCPR;
Section 7: The grant of power
to the government to declare any
person, organisation, association or
group 'involved' in terrorist or
disruptive activities as terrorist in
nature. Whilst Article 12 of the Constitution
and Article 22(2) of the ICCPR allow for
certain reasonable restrictions to be placed
on the freedom of association, TADA is unreasonably imprecise in that it criminalises
membership of associations and organisations deemed to be 'involved' in terrorism
without providing an adequate explanation
of the process through which involvement
in terrorist or disruptive activities is
Section 9 and Section 17(5): The detention of persons for periods of up to 90 days
on the basis of 'a reasonable ground for
believing' that the person has to be prevented from committing acts that 'could'
re.sult in a terrorist or disruptive act. Whilst
Article 15(1) of the Constitution allows for
the preventative detention of persons on the
The National
Human Rights
Commission of
Nepal (NHRC)
reports the widespread use of
abduction and
by both the government and
the Maoist
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
Running the risk of
false implication.
basis of the existence of an "immediate
threat to the sovereignty, integrity or law
and order situation" within Nepal, the
'reasonable grounds for belief test is an
insufficient threshold for suspension of a
constitutional right and is a dangerously
imprecise reflection of Article 15(1) of the
constitution. Further, the arbitrary detention
of a person on a preventative basis for such
an extensive period clearly negates due
process and retracts the ICCPR Article 14(2)
provision of presumption of innocence;
Section 10(3): The imprisonment of
persons for a term of five to 10 years for the
harbouring or hiding of any person involved in terrorist or disruptive acts. It is an
accepted principle of law that the commission of a crime requires evidence of both
mens rea and actus reus: intention and action.
Further clarification of Section 10(3) is
therefore required, as, prima facie, it appears
that the mens rea element to this offence has
been omitted from the calculation of criminal
liability. Accordingly, there is a real danger
of the conviction and imprisonment of
people who unknowingly house persons
involved in terrorist or disruptive acts;
Section 18: The grant of control to the
government of means of communication
such as letters, telephones and faxes that
belong to persons involved in terrorist or
disruptive activities. This is a clear violation
of the right to privacy outlined in Article 17
of the ICCPR. It is also contrary to the
principle contained in Article 22 of the
constitution, which states that "Except as
provided by inviolable";
Section 20: The grant of immunity to
investigating authorities for any activity
carried out or attempted to be carried out in
good faith under TADA. The grant of
immunity provides vast potential for the use
of torture, contravening the right against
torture and inhuman treatment [Article
14(4) of the constitution and Article 7 of the
ICCPR]; the right not to be compelled to
testify against oneself [Article 14(3) of the
consti-tution]; the prohibition against
coerced confessions [Article 14(3)(g) of the
ICCPR]; and the Convention Against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Punish-ment or Treatment (CAT) .Article 2(2)
provision that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or
a threat of war, internal political instability
or any other public emergency, may be
invoked as a justification of torture";
Section 22: The grant of rewards to any
person who arrests or renders assistance in
the arrest of persons who play the main role
in the commission of terrorist or disruptive
acts. The offering of reward for the apprehension of suspects opens TADA to possible
acts of corruption and abuses of authority
in contravention of Article 7 of the Code of
Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.
Acts of terrorism are a direct assault on
basic human rights iind the sovereignty and
integrity of states, and the importance o:
effective legal instruments in the fight
against terror must be acknowledged.
However, the government must fulfill its
obligations under international human
rights instruments and its Article 25(1)
constitutional declaration, which states
"The chief objective of the State [is] to
promote conditions of welfare on the basis
of the principles of an open society, by
establishing a just system in all aspects of
national life, including social, economic and
political life, while at the same time protecting the lives, property and liberty of the
As stated by the United Nations Secretary General's statement at the 4453rd
Meeting of the Security Council on Threats
to International Peace and Security Caused
by Terrorist Acts:
"[W]e should all be clear that there is no
trade-off between effective action against
terrorism and the protection of human rights.
On the contrary, I believe that, in the long
term, we shall find that human rights, along
with democracy and social justice, are one of
the best prophylactics against terrorism". &
-by arrangement with
Human Rights Features
HIMAL 17/1 Januany 2004
Women and the Maobaadi
Ideology and Agency in
Nepal's Maoist
Two anthropologists examine the Maoists'
claims of radical social transformation in the
light of women's experiences on the ground.
Based on fieldwork in several areas, they consider how the intersecting lines of class,
caste, ethnicity, religion, gender and history
shape individual women's political consciousness and motivations for enlisting as
guerrilla cadre. Since Nepali Maoist models
for women's "empowerment" must negotiate
between overarching Maoist ideologies and
the existing particularities of gender discrimi
nation in Nepali society, there are noticeable
gaps between rhetoric and practice. Ultimately, the fundamental changes in gender
relations that the Maoists assert may not be
the intentional result of their policies, but
rather the largely unintended consequences
of the conflict that emerge in relation to
women's existing practice.
This position paper is intended to initiate
debate on these issues as part of an ongoing process of documentation and analysis
of the gender aspects of the Maoist conflict.
by Judith Pettigrew and Sara Shneiderman
2004 January 17/1 HIMAL
Of victimisation and agency
One of the most reported aspects of the Maoist 'people's
war' in Nepal has been its high levels of female participation, with some observers estimating that up to 40
percent of all combatant and civilian political supporters are women. Striking photos of young, gun-toting
guerrilla women are prominently displayed on the "official" Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) website, and
distributed from New York to London to Peru in materials produced by the Revolutionary Internationalist
Movement (RIM). These images are apparently intended
to serve as evidence of the movement's egalitarianism
and "empowering" effects for Nepali women.
However, other observers, like Manjushree Thapa
in "Girls in Nepal's Maoist War" {Himal June 2003)
have recently begun to suggest that Maoist claims of
high female participation have been exaggerated. In
addition, the rapidly expanding conflict 'industry'
based in Kathmandu seems intent on constructing a
discourse of victimisation which portrays helpless village women at the mercy of both the Maoists and the
state. Providing support and rehabilitation for women
affected by the conflict is clearly of utmost urgency, but that does not necessarily merit the portrayal of all such
women as lacking agency.
Such contrasting narratives of
agency and victimisation are nothing
new, and have long been at the centre
of feminist debate. As elsewhere, the
reality for Nepali women lies in the
specifics of lived experience all along
the continuum between these two extremes. To date, no thorough ethnography of rural women's experiences in
the 'people's war' exists and what follows here are tentative steps towards filling that gap,
informed by the work of Nepali journalists, human
rights workers and activists who have advanced a
gendered perspective on the 'people's war'.
General literature on women combatants is limited,
since most published work on women and war focuses
on women as civilian victims. The available literature
points to a lack of recognition of women's active roles
during armed conflict, which frequently leads to a
double victimisation during the reintegration phase
following conflict. For example, families and communities may castigate woman combatants for ignoring
'feminine' duties such as chastity and motherhood
during the conflict, while on the other hand, leaders
responsible for designing post-conflict demobilisation
and reintegration programmes do not recognise
women's contribution during the guerrilla struggle and
do not design gender-inclusive programmes. Such studies as have emerged from conflict areas suggest that
although women are transformed by their experiences
of participating in armed insurgencies, they rarely gain
equality through this engagement. They also indicate
Beyond the reports
issued by human
rights groups and
NGOs, there has
been relatively little
in-depth research on
the Maoist movement in Nepal
that the presence of women does not make the character, culture and hierarchy of militant organisations more
Although the situation in Nepal must be considered on its own terms, useful analytical frameworks
and comparative insights can be gained from research
conducted in other conflict zones. Karen Kampwirth's
2002 publication, Women and Guerilla Movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba probes in depth the
political, structural, ideological and personal factors
that motivated women to participate in guerrilla activities. Based on interviews with more than 200 female ex-
combatants, Kampwirth suggests that the factors which
lead women to participate as guerrillas include structural changes, such as land concentration which increased insecurity for rural poor, male migration and
the abandonment of families, and female migration
which break traditional ties and make organising more
possible; ideological and organisational changes such as
the growth of religious and secular self-help groups
and changes in gvierrilla methods such as a shift to
mass mobilisation; political factors including severe re-
__________ pression in response to very moderate oppositional activities causing
many women to join or support guerrilla groups as a means of self defence;
and personal factors such as age, since
large numbers of young women
joined the armed insurgencies as teenagers, following in their parents' activist footsteps. Kampwirth also notes
that some women join armed struggles for a combination of all or several of these factors.
These issues have just begun to be
addressed in a Nepal-specific context. Beyond the reports issued by human rights groups
and NGOs, there has been relatively little in-depth research on the Maoist movement in general. Several publications have recently begun to take the Maoist movement seriously as an object of analysis. However, much
of this work remains focused on large-scale party dynamics and historical issues, rather than addressing
the experiences of people on the ground. During the
early phases of the conflict, there was a tendency among
Kathmandu-based commentators to cast rural Nepalis
who participated in the -vlaoist movement as victims of
a sort of false consciousness, whose lack of education
and general 'backwardness' made them unable to understand Maoist ideology, and were therefore dismissed
as less than full political agents. What is required, however, for a fuller understanding of female involvement
is more detailed examination of the ideological dimensions of the movement from the perspectives of those
who participate in it.
The limited existing literature on women in the war
has provided some welcome exceptions to the dominant pattern of analysis, with a few important articles
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 focusing specifically on women's agency. However,
these have tended to go to opposite extremes by either
suggesting that women are fully empowered through
participation in the Maoist movement, or that they do
not have any less militant option to exercise their
agency. Perhaps it is prudent to adopt a more nuanced
approach, which acknowledges both women's multiple
existing scripts for agency and the constraints within
which they exercise it.
Maoist claims and critiques
Ever since Frederick Engels first articulated the link
between gender roles and modes of production in his
classic work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property
and the State, the relationship between women's liberation and class revolution has been an important aspect
of Marxist ideological debate. Female communist leaders have taken pains to distance themselves from 'bourgeois feminists', arguing that the 'woman question'
must be addressed within the overarching framework
of class revolution rather than as a social end in itself.
Operating within this historical con- ^^^^^^^^^
text, Nepal's Maoists must negotiate
between two hegemonic ideologies—
Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought and
conservative Hindu cultural norms—
in defining an approach to the 'woman
question' that is at once consistent
with international ideological expectations and applicable to Nepal-specific social situations.
In the original list of 40 Maoist demands presented to the Nepali government at the commencement of the
'people's war', point number 19 is the
only one that refers specifically to
women, and this focuses on an issue specific to Nepali
law: "Patriarchal exploitation and discrimination
against women should be stopped. Daughters should
be allowed access to paternal property". As suggested
by the second sentence here, Nepali law historically
prohibited women from inheriting property unless they
were unmarried and over the age of 35. However, this
tenet of the civil code was altered in 2001 after long
battles by Kathmandu's mainstream feminist organisations, at least in theory granting equal property rights
to women.
This leaves only the first sentence as a relevant plank
in the Maoist platform. The reference to "patriarchal
exploitation and discrimination" accurately sums up
the fact that in the world's only officially Hindu state,
dominant—and often state-supported—ideologies towards women are based upon conservative Hindu concepts of femininity. However, Nepal is also home to
over 60 non-Hindu ethnic groups who speak Tibeto-
Burman languages and together constitute a substantial proportion of the population. The official 2001 government census figures show it to be just over 20 pcr-
Providing support
and rehabilitation for
women affected by
the conflict is clearly
of utmost urgency,
but that does not
necessarily mean
such women lack
cent, but most likely this is a gross underestimation.
The Nepali scholar, Harka Gurung, for example, puts
the ethnic population at 36.4 percent. It is common
knowledge that gender relations among these groups
vary widely from the normative Hindu image, often
with more egalitarian kinship and economic structures.
We will return to this point later.
Official Maoist pronouncements on gender relations
have focused on overturning gendered hierarchies as
part of their larger programme for radical social transformation. Li Onesto, a journalist for the Revolutionary
Worker who made several trips with the People's Liberation Army in western Nepal from 1998 to 2000, appears particularly interested in women's issues, and
presents an entirely positive view of the empowering
changes the 'people's war' has brought to women's
lives. In "Red Flag Flying on the Roof of the World",
she writes that, "When the armed struggle started in
1996, it was like the opening of a prison gate—with
thousands of women rushing forward to claim an equal
place in the war". In a rather sentimental turn, she adds
       that this "is something that can bring
tears to your eyes".
In 2000, Onesto interviewed
the CPN(M) commander-in-chief
Prachanda about changes that the
'people's war' had wrought in the
Maoist "base areas" four years after
the "initiation". Prachanda emphasises the transformation of gender and
family relations:
"The people were not only fighting with the police or reactionary, feudal agents, but they were also breaking the feudal chains of exploitation
       and oppression and a whole cultural
revolution was going on among the people. Questions
of marriage, questions of love, questions of family, questions of relations between people. All of these things
were being turned upside down and changed in the
rural areas".
Onesto then presses Prachanda to speak explicitly
about women's participation in the movement. He appears reluctant, but finally makes the following statement:
"... our party has tried to develop the leadership of
women comrades. There have been problems in doing
this, but now we are, step-by-step, working to solve this
problem. Masses of women have come forward as revolutionary fighters. And we had a plan right from the
beginning that the women and the men comrades
should be in the same squad, the same platoon and
that all things should be done in this way. We have
worked to make new relations between men and
women—new relations, new society, new things".
Notably, Prachanda acknowledges the difficulties
in developing women as leaders within the party. He
otherwise claims that the 'people's war' has been re-
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
sponsible for a radical shift in gender relations in society at large. However, as these are his most prominent
published statements on gender issues, it is surprising
that he does not offer more in-depth information or examples of Maoist successes. In fact, it seems that international Maoists such as Onesto bear greater responsibility for creating the image of an egalitarian 'people's
war' in Nepal than the Nepali Maoist leadership themselves.
Comrade Parvati, the pseudonym for a writer who
identifies herself as a Central Committee Member and
Head of the Women's Department of CPN (m), speaks
openly about the "problems" in developing women's
leadership to which Prachanda alludes. Although male
cadres' military careers continue developing beyond
the age of 40, female cadres' careers rarely develop after
the age of 25. When the People's Liberation Army
expanded to the brigade-level, women started asking
questions about their participation in leadership positions. In "The Question of Women's Leadership in
People's War in Nepal" published in ————,—————i
The Worker, she argues that female cadres experience difficulty asserting
themselves, and male cadres have difficulty relinquishing "... the privileged
position bestowed on them by the patriarchal structure". Continuing in the
same vein, in "Women's Participation
in the People's War", she observes that
frequently the male leadership relegates women's issues to women rather
than taking them up as central issues,
neglects to implement programmes developed by the women's mass front, are unnecessarily
overprotective of female cadres, and resort to traditional
division of labour by monopolising "... mental work
and relegating women to everyday drudgery work".
Married women who show promise are discouraged
from taking up positions that would take them away
from their husbands. Women active in the Maoist movement frequently experience marginalisation when they
have children and "... many bright aspiring communist women are at risk of being lost in oblivion, even
after getting married to the comrades of their choice".
Despite these problems, Parvati also emphasises the
party's successes regarding women. By 2002, there were
several women in the Central Committee of the party,
dozens at the regional level and even larger numbers at
the district, area and cell levels. The People's Liberation Army boasts many women section commanders,
and vice commanders as well as female-only squads
and platoons and local level female cadres. Parvati also
highlights the importance of the All Nepalese Women's
Association (Revolutionary) (ANWA-R) in mobilising
women at the community level, as well as serving as an
example of effective mass organisation at the vanguard
of the entire movement. With the adoption of a new
form of Nepali Maoism, named "Prachanda Path", in
International Maoists
bear greater responsibility for creating
the image of an
egalitarian 'people's
war' in Nepal than
the Nepali Maoist
February 2002, the question of developing women leaders gained prominence and a separate department to
develop women's potential was created.
One example of women's ambiguous position
within the party leadership is the story of Kausila Tamu
(Gurung). In mid-2001 the Maoists set up people's governments in 21 districts, and while no woman was appointed to chair a district government, four women were
appointed as vice-chairs, including Kausila Tamu in
Lamjung district. Tamu had previously been a commander in a guerrilla squad, as well as a sub-regional
committee member of the part}'. According to Parvati,
Tamu had denounced and divorced her husband, who
had disowned the movement after being captured. Following the death of the district chairman, she was promoted to this most senior position, but was killed while
laying an ambush against the security forces in May
2002. She is best known as the author of a letter which
became public in 2002, in which she told her family
that because she was close to Baburam Bhattarai she
_—»—__—»«_» had become a target from those outside his faction and was under suspicion. Following her death, comments
published in the Kathmandu Post quote
a colleague of hers as saying that she
was "...fearless and a good organiser
in the region [and] would not have
been killed had the leadership been
cautious". What is surprising is the
lack of attention paid to Kausila
Tamu's career both when she was
alive and following her death.
A hill 'janajati' ('peoples' nationalities') woman, Kausila Tamu was one of a very small
group of women elected to the leadership of the original people's governments, yet her story has primarily
been cited by the Nepali press for the light it sheds on
rivalry between factions headed by the male leaders
rather than for its own value as the story of one the few
female leaders from hill janajati backgrounds. In contrast, the death of Rit Bahadur Khadka, who held an
equivalent position in the organisation in Dolakha district, attracted enormous attention and extended
eulogising from the party. While it may be possible to
explain the different degrees of attention paid to these
two individuals as being solely due to their factional
affiliations, it remains curious that one of the few janajati
women to reach a position of senior leadership has received such scant attention.
Along these lines, there is still a conspicuous absence of any women at the top. Members of Kathmandu-
based feminist organisations of various political affiliations were particularly unimpressed with the lack of
any women on the Maoist negotiating team that came
aboveground following the ceasefire of January 2003.
In an article addressed to the male Maoist leadership,
women's health and reproductive rights activist Aruna
Uprety draws attention to women's disillusionment
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 with the divergence between Maoist ideology and practice by accusing the Maoists of "...behaving no differently than our 'men-stream' political parties. We never
expected our male-dominated government to involve
women in the peace process, but we thought you were
going to be different".
Empowering the universal Nepali woman
Uprety's complaint highlights one of the central
problematics in Maoist attitudes towards women: in
many ways, the underlying vision of "Nepali women"
upon which Maoist claims of transformation are premised may be remarkably similar to existing dominant
discourses. In her 2002 article, "The politics of 'developing Nepali women'", scholar Seira Tamang clearly
shows how the stereotypical image of a "universal
Hindu Nepali woman", oppressed and in need of empowerment, is the fictional product of a development
discourse created by and for high-caste Hindus in
Kathmandu. As Tamang explains, ^^^^^^^^^
"The patriarchically oppressed, uniformly disadvantaged and Hindu,
'Nepali woman' as a category did not
pre-exist the development project. She
had to be constructed by ignoring the
heterogeneous forms of community,
social relations, and gendered realities
of the various peoples inhabiting
Nepal". These discourses of empowerment emanating from the development establishment may have had unintended results.
By emphasising rural women's critical thinking
skills, 'empowerment' programmes may have paved
the way for them to engage with Maoist ideology as
fully conscious political subjects. In this regard, the
Maoist movement shares similarities with social change
projects that have historically operated in Nepal. Despite their critique of both the Nepali state and foreign-
funded development agendas, the Maoists themselves
have arisen out of the same crucible, and in many ways
have uncritically appropriated the terminology and symbolic vocabulary of the entities they claim to work
against. The language of 'women's empowerment' is
one such example. Its deployment seems to indicate an
implicit acceptance of the notion of a universally
disempowered Nepali woman. This essentialised image stands in stark contrast to the reality of multiple
scripts for agency that have long been available to
Nepal's ethnically and religiously diverse women.
Nepal's non-Hindu and largely Tibeto-Burman language-speaking ethnic groups, who have come to be
known collectively as janajati, often structure gender
and other social relations very differently to those suggested by the normative Hindu image. There is also
considerable diversity among the practices of Nepal's
Hindu groups, which this stereotype does not acknowledge. Although the representation of hill janajati corn-
Male cadres' military
careers continue
developing beyond
the age of 40, female cadres' careers rarely develop
after the age of 25
munities as entirely egalitarian is equally extreme—as
scholar Mary Des Chene has pointed out, there are
"many quiet forms of constraints on the 'freedom'" of
janajati women as well—in many cases, they do have
access to different forms of economic and cultural power
than their caste-Hindu counterparts. In addition, the
gendered division of labour in hill janajati communities
has traditionally been more fluid, with men often performing domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning,
and women engaging in heavy labour such as carrying
loads for cash wages.
Such diversity raises important questions about the
Maoist claim to have transformed social relations, as
well as the commonly cited reasons for women's attraction to the Maoist movement. In a widely-circulated
article, "Where There Are No Men: Women in The
Maoist Insurgency in Nepal" that affirms the Maoist
discourse of empowerment for women, Shobha Gautam,
Amrita Banskota and Rita Manchanda claim that the
^^^_^^_ majority of Maoist women are from
janajati backgrounds. On the one hand,
they suggest, janajati women "are culturally less oppressed than Hindu upper-caste Aryan women" and suffer
from "fewer religio-cultural restrictions". Yet on the other hand, they are
predisposed to join the Maoist movement because, "the tribal socialisation
of women from the oppressed ethnic
groups, especially their experience of
communal sharing in women work
groups [sic], makes them particularly responsive to collective action". Indeed, if, as the authors suggest, janajati
women are already relatively empowered, then why
should they be attracted to a rhetoric of transformation
based on a reified notion of an oppressed "universal
Nepali Hindu woman"? Conversely, if janajati women
are the main female protagonists in the 'people's war',
why should Gautam et al later be so concerned about
what it means for "Hindu women" to take up arms? If
it is indeed Hindu women who are taking up arms,
why all the interpretive emphasis on janajati women?
The supposition that janajati women make up the
majority of Maoist women remains unsubstantiated. In
addition, the suggestion that they are more inclined to
take up the Maoist cause because they have greater freedoms is contradictory, and also reminiscent of the traditional attitudes of internal colonialism emanating
from the Hindu elite at the centre towards the non-
Hindu groups in the periphery. Such explanations for
women's participation seem to accept without question existing stereotypes of non-Hindu groups as egalitarian, 'martial races', who are essentially predisposed
to taking up arms. They also do not adequately explore
the motivations of the many caste-Hindu women participating in the movement.
In a similar vein, the anti-alcohol campaign of the
ANWA(R) has been one of the most publicised aspects
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
of women's participation in Maoist-associated action.
However, there has been little attempt to understand
in-depth how the anti-alcohol movement has different
implications for various cultural groups. In fact, it may
well be the case that such strident alcohol bans alienate rather than attract, and even infringe upon the existing freedoms of women from hill janajati groups for
whom alcohol consumption and exchange hold important symbolic power in cultural and religious life. The
structure and achievements of the ANWA(R) as a mass
organisation deserve further ethnographic attention,
but from a perspective aware of the diverse meanings
the organisation's campaigns may hold for women from
different backgrounds.
Comrade Parvati takes a slightly more nuanced approach by suggesting that the effects of the Maoist movement have been different for women from each group,
depending upon their existing relative freedoms. She
writes that the revolution has assisted dHindu women
"... to break the feudal patriarchal restrictive life imposed by the puritanical Hindu religion, by unleashing their repressed energy". On the other hand it has
"... given meaningful lives to Tibeto-Burman and other
women who are already relatively free and have greater
decision-making rights, by giving them challenging
work to do". She suggests that the people's war has
had a particularly important impact on those from the
most exploited dalit communities by "...unleashing
their hatred against the state". These statements seem
at odds with Maoist claims of social transformation
premised upon the assumption that rural women are
universally oppressed and in need of empowerment—
if they already possess such agency, why must they
become Maoists to find meaning? Despite these dis-
junctures, however, the Maoist platform is clearly compelling to many rural women, both Hindu and otherwise. The following two brief ethnographic montages
demonstrate some of the contradictions that are evident in practice, which we return to analyse in the conclusion.
Division of labour
Among a group of 450 Maoist combatants encountered
by Pettigrew in the Nepah midhills, approximately 25-
30 percent were women between 16 and 25 years old.
Of the seven-member section with whom she talked in
depth, two were women. While a man led, one of the
senior members was a 19-year-old dalit woman who
gave orders to her junior colleagues. Both the dalit
woman and her younger female colleague, a 16-year-
old chettri, were responsible for cleaning their own
guns, maintaining their equipment, washing their
clothes and participating in sentry duty. They did not
help in preparing food nor in repairing uniforms, both
of which jobs were carried out by men.
After the food was cooked, the four members of the
section not involved in sentry duty received a plate of
meat to share. Pettigrew watched as the multi-ethnic
group consisting of bahun, chettri, dalit, and magar
(hill ethnic) men and women abandoned the usual caste
and gender conventions and hungrily ate together from
the same plate.
The 16-year-old chettri woman spent much of the
morning cleaning her gun. Shortly after beginning, the
cork she inserted to clean the barrel became stuck. She
tried several physically demanding methods to dislodge
it by herself, which involved using her body in ways
which would have been unacceptable for a woman
within most other social contexts. -After several attempts
she realised that she needed someone with greater
physical strength to help. Only then did she request
assistance from her male colleagues. They did not seem
to consider her exertions as anything out of the ordinary and paid no attention to them.
While these images match with the Maoist portrayal
of politically engaged and liberated women, participating equally with men in combat-related activities, this
is a partial picture. -An ex-Maoist woman interviewed
by Pettigrew, the widow of a senior local-level cadre,
complained bitterly of the gap between ideology and
practice. While she spent every day doing propaganda
work aimed at educating village women about Maoist
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 ideals of gender equality, she did not enjoy equal relationships with her male colleagues. She complained in
particular that she returned home at night to an unchanging situation in which her husband and other
male relatives active in the Maoist movement expected
her to take full responsibility for domestic activities .such
as cooking, cleaning,' running the house and looking
after the animals. She concluded that she, "... wished
to join a women's party as that is the only place where
I can fight for women's rights". Tragically, weeks after
this interview she was killed by the security forces as a
"Maoist woman".
Some of the social shifts occurring among non-affiliated civilian women are not prescribed by Maoist
ideology, but rather created by the circumstances of war.
In many areas of mid- and far-western Nepal, so many
men have left to join the Maoists or flee the situation,
that women are left to provide for their families alone,
and therefore take on roles which they would not have
considered doing in 'normal' life. In many areas, women
are reported to be ploughing fields, running forestry
groups, and administering schools and other institutions. Gautam et al interpret such changes as "an assertion of capability" by village women, but the over
whelming emphasis on women taking over men's jobs
begs the question of why non-affiliated village men are
not also taking over women's jobs if there are indeed
such a high number of female combatants.
Furthermore, it appears that some of these perceived
changes are logical extensions of pre-existing practice
rather than new departures. This may be particularly
so in janajati communities, where men have long been
engaged in outside activities. Although the immediate
cause may now be the 'people's war' rather than
Gurkha/Gorkha recruitment, the salt-grain trade, or
labour migration, this is not the first time that village
women have had to make do alone and take on
stereotypically 'male' gendered roles. Pettigrew's research on the division of labour among the Gurung
ethnic group before the conflict highlights notable flexibility. While given a list of tasks deemed to be gender-
specific by both women and men, she subsequently witnessed women performing every "male reserved task"
except ploughing, house construction, and the slaughter of medium to large animals. At the time of her research, she concluded that given the right circumstances women would also plough. The insurgency has
now provided those circumstances, but by accident
rather than design. Rather than successes of the Maoist
movement, then, these shifts in practice might be seen
as instances of the "unexpected dynamics and spaces
of ambivalence" that anthropologist Andrew Kipnis
identifies as central to the formation of putalively Maoist
Marriage and family
It has generally been observed that most female Maoist
cadre in rural areas are very young, usually under the
age of 20. This suggests that the majority of Maoist
women are unmarried at the time that they join the movement. According to Comrade Parvati, however, they soon
face internal party pressure "to get married covertly or
overtly as unmarried women draw lots of suspicion
from men as well as women for their unmarried status.
This results in marriages against their wishes or before
they are ready to get married". By focusing their recruitment efforts on unmarried women, the party may
control marriage choices to a large extent, and also
manipulate marriage alliances for political purposes.
The leadership may view marriage as a means of controlling female cadres and making it more difficult for
them to leave the party, whereas women with existing
marital ties and children are seen as more likely to have
conflicting allegiances. The disparate treatment of
women depending on their marital status suggests tliat
not all women are equal in Maoist eyes, and we must
look closely at age and marital status, in addition to
ethnicity and religion, as important factors in shaping
women's experiences of the conflict.
In Shneiderman's research area, also in midhill
Nepal and which has a predominantly non-Hindu ethnic population, the Maoists have actively recruited at
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
 secondary schools since 1999, targeting both male and
female students between the ages of 14-18. They also
recruited married men in their 20s and ____
30s by paying repeated visits to their
houses and exerting pressure on them
to leave their families and join the
Maoists, and/or to work as non-combatant political supporters within the
village. However, married women—including those within the 18-30 age
range who could make able-bodied
fighters—were never targeted for re- 	
cruitment. A 25-year old janajati married mother of two sons, who had completed her secondary education and was well-respected as a capable
community member by both men and women, told
Summary history
The discourse of
empowerment emanating from the development establishment may have had
unintended results
Shneiderman that she was in fact offended by the visiting Maoists' treatment of her as an uneducated, tradi-
mmmmB^mmKamr, tional woman: "They only want to talk
to my husband. They rarely discuss
their ideological positions directly with
me, even though 1 understand what
thev are saying and want to learn more.
THE 'PEOPLE'S war' was first
officially declared in February
1996, when the Communist Party
of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) presented a 40-point list of demands
to the Nepali government. The
points deal largely with rectifying
economic and social injustice,
abolishing monarchy, and establishing a constituent assembly,
and have been described by several non-partisan commentators in
terms such as, "reasonable and not
dissimilar in spirit to the election
manifestos of mainstream parties". The Maoists went underground when these demands were
not addressed.
With their original strongholds
in the mid-western districts of
Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot, the
Maoists slowly began to establish
"base areas" elsewhere in the
country. Early on, repressive police responses antagonised local
people and contributed to support
for the Maoists. The rebels also
capitalised on a widespread sense
of frustration with a corrupt and
unreliable state, which despite
promises of enfranchisement and
economic development after the
advent of democracy in 1990, had
provided little in the way of concrete improvement. The conflict escalated after major police opera
tions in 1998, with frequent skirmishes between Maoists and police
throughout the country. It reached
a new height in November 2001,
when the guerrillas withdrew from
a several-month long ceasefire and
initiated a series of attacks across
the country including ones targeted
at Royal Nepalese Army barracks
in Dang in the mid-west and Salleri
in the eastern district of Solu-
Khumbu. This confrontation
marked several departures: for the
first time the Maoists had directly
challenged the army (rather than
just the police), and had demonstrated their now substantial
strength outside of their known
strongholds in the western part of
the country.
In response, then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba imposed a
state of emergency on 26 November,
2001, which effectively suspended
most civil rights and for the first time
deployed the army to fight the
Maoists. After a year of continued
conflict and increasingly large numbers of deaths among Maoists, state
forces and civilians, as well as a political crisis in the parliament, King
Gyanendra—who had come to
power after the June 2001 royal massacre in which his brother, King
Birendra, was killed—appropriated
executive power and put the demo-
They order me around in a way my own
husband and in-laws would never
dare do". She confirmed that several of
her peers felt similarly disillusioned
             that the Maoists' promises of gender
equality were not only belied by their
attitudes towards married women, but even provided
negative role models for local men,
On a practical level, conservative attitudes towards
cratic process on hold on 4 October, 2002.
January 2003 saw a second
ceasefire called between the parties, and a schedule for peace talks
was established as high-ranking
Maoist leaders came above ground
and became instant celebrities,
most notably the ideologue
Baburam Bhattarai. All of the negotiating parties faced the challenge of establishing political legitimacy: since there was no democratic government in place, the
Maoists questioned the ability of
"government" negotiators (hand-
picked by the king) to in fact implement any agreement reached. On
their side, the government negotiators questioned the Maoist ability
to maintain control over their cadres, particularly since low-level
attacks continued to occur
throughout the negotiation period.
Ultimately the talks broke
down in late summer 2003 when
both sides refused to budge from
their opposing positions on the
issue of a constituent assembly.
On 27 August, Prachanda, the
Maoist commander, unilaterally
declared the ceasefire over, and
Maoist/security force confrontations resumed. Human rights
groups have extensively documented the human rights violations committed by both the
Maoists and state forces, and the
conflict has cost over 8000 lives
since 1996. b
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 married women may be reinforced by the logistical demands of the current phase of the 'people's war'. Prior
to the state of emergency declared in November 2001
the Maoists maintained independent camps in forested
areas and made only occasional visits to villages, but
after the declaration of emergency, they were unable to
sustain the camps and began to subsist almost entirely
on food and lodging provided by village households.
In this situation, Maoist cadres are dependent on established householders to support them, and recruiting married women in addition to men would weaken
their own network of providers. The cadres' reliance
on householders reinscribes traditional divisions of
labour, often making the boundaries between domestic
and public space much sharper than in "normal" life.
Both authors interviewed village women who complained of being unable to carry on routine work outside the house while Maoists were staying with them,
another way in which women's existing practice may
be further circumscribed by the war.
All of this suggests strongly that despite the rhetoric of social change at the top, in practice at the
grassroots, many Maoist cadres main- ,_,,_„
tain traditional notions about marriage. While some women experienced
these biases negatively as the imposition of a gender-based discrimination
that they had otherwise rarely felt, like
the young woman quoted above, other
women and their families have learned
to manipulate this inconsistency between Maoist ideology and practice for
their own protection. Pettigrew interviewed a number of unmarried house-
holder women who falsely told the Maoists that they
were in fact married in order to secure gentler treatment
in their homes by suggesting that they were under the
protection of men capable of taking revenge. We have
also documented a return to child marriages—a past
practice largely abandoned due to state-sanctioned "development" campaigns against it—to protect younger
girls from recruitment. This unintended consequence
of the war provides an ironic counterpoint to the wide
claims of empowerment through the equally unintended appropriation of "male" jobs by women.
There is less information available about Maoist attitudes towards birth and childcare. The scanty existing material suggests that children remain largely the
responsibility of women, and in fact often count against
women in terms of their status within party hierarchies.
Writing in 1998, Onesto observes that:
"...the women still have primary responsibility for
taking care of the children. But this is starting to change
slowly. 1 have met many women comrades with small
children, and other people are always taking turns caring for the children—in the 'revolutionary community',
everyone is considered an 'auntie' and 'uncle' to the
kid. There is not yet organised collective childcare".
The relationship
between women's
liberation and class
revolution has been
an important aspect
of Marxist ideological debate
This statement ignores the fact that so-called "collective childcare" has always been a fact of Nepali village life, complete with the frequent use of kinship terms
such as "uncle" and "auntie" to refer to any adult who
does not already have another specific kinship designation. In Pettigrew's research area, collective childcare
was institutionalised with the opening of a day care
centre in 1999 through a local project unaffiliated with
the Maoists.
It seems that not much had changed several years
later, when Comrade Parvati describes the situation for
party members who are also mothers as follows:
"With the birth of every child she sinks deeper into
domestic slavery. In fact many women who have been
active in 'people's war' in Nepal are found to complain
that having babies is like being under disciplinary action, because they are cut off from the Party activities
for a long period".
While an experienced Maoist section commander
in the field told Pettigrew that, "if a female cadre becomes pregnant she does not have to fight and after
birth also she does not have to fight, rather she can do
,, ^uu^Li-.     other support activities", this ideal
may not often be achieved in reality.
In Pettigrew's field area, informants report seeing pregnant female Maoists
amongst groups of combatants. While
it is possible that they do not take part
in organised attacks, the fact that they
remain with the fighting force puts
them in vulnerable situations, Some
pregnant or postpartum women arc
unable to keep up with their group and
  other situations are arranged, Pettigrew documented the story of a village woman who
was forced to hide and support for a month an unwell
combatant woman who had just given birth. She has
also collected several stories of Maoist women giving
birth in the forest. Such babies often died despite efforts
to keep them alive, or were abandoned, due to lack of
food or harsh living conditions. Other Maoist women
are known to have left their infants in the care of extended family members while they returned to the battlefield. This can create difficulties for the family, who
may be targeted by state forces if such children become
known, and the children themselves carry an unavoidable stigma.
This suggests some of the ways in which it may be
difficult for Maoist women to return to "normal" life if
they choose to leave the party. While Shneiderman has
observed male ex-Maoists returning to their villages and
resuming their responsibilities as if they had never left,
women Maoists may be shunned by their families upon
their return. Hisila Yami, one of the few women on the
Central Committee of the party, who also happens to be
married to Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, highlights this problem in a 1997 interview: "Sons will be
welcomed back with open arms, but for the daughters,
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
 can there be a return? When thev become guerrillas, the
women set themselves free from patriarchal bonds. How
can they go back?" (as cited in Gautam et al). Yami may
be correct that women, and particularly caste-Hindu
women, who become party members distance themselves from expected social norms in the village, but it
seems that in choosing to join the Maoists they subscribe to another set of hierarchical social relations. On
one level, this choice is no different from the many others that rural women make every day. It is an option
chosen consciously from a range of many possibilities,
constrained by specific conditions of ethnicity, religion,
economics, individual history and so forth. Yet on another level, it is an irreversible decision. Once a woman
becomes known as a Maoist, even if she leaves the party,
she may continue to be targeted by state forces and risks
imprisonment, torture and death.
So why do women make such dangerous choices to
join, particularly janajati women, who      ....,	
it would appear have more to lose?
Seira Tamang suggests that arenas of
agency for janajati women have been
circumscribed by the closely intertwined processes of state-building and
development at work in Nepal since
the 1950s, and that "the specific form
of 'traditional Hindu patriarchy' that
exists in.Nepal today is actually quite
'modern', traceable via legal and developmental activities to the attempts
by the male, Hindu, Panchayat elites
to construct unifying national narratives with which
to legitimate their rule over a heterogeneous populace".
The result has been that "modernity" for younger generations of janajati women may in many respects mean
a more limited set of choices than their mothers and
grandmothers had in the past. Anecdotal evidence from
the community in which Shneiderman worked also
bears out the hypothesis that marriage practices have
become more restrictive, and notions about womanhood
more Hindu-influenced over the past two generations.
Pettigrew's research with Gurung women shows that
acquisition of Nepali language skills over the last two
generations has brought women more into the sphere
of Hindu influence, creating additional restrictions on
their movement and increasing scrutiny of their
behaviour. But in spite of widely expressed normative
ideas, there continue to be multiple scripts for agency,
of which becoming a Maoist is just one.
Instead of seeing janajati women's attraction to the
Maoists purely as a result of a 'gender gap', it may in
fact be useful to look at it as more of a 'generation gap'
that motivates both young women and men to participate in a movement which provides a means for them
to challenge the legacy of the past generation: an in-
Maoist claims of
social transformation
are premised on the
assumption that rural
women are universally oppressed
and in need of empowerment	
with paradoxically increasing ideological influence
that constrains their lives in ways unknown by their
parents or grandparents. As Pettigrew has previously
argued, "Participation in the Maoist movement enables
village youth to realign themselves in relation to the
discourse of modernity, which up until now has
entirely focused on the town". For many rural individuals who see themselves as marginal to the "good and
proper life", as scholar Ernestine McHugh has
described it, enjoyed by those with the money to relocate to urban areas, the Maoists' expressions of complex ideological notions in local idiom are compelling,
as are other localised strategies which do not assume
previous political knowledge, or even literacy. In this
regard, becoming a Maoist may provide a powerful alternative national identity within a 'modern' Nepal for
those who have otherwise felt excluded from such national imaginings.
Along these lines, Mandira Sharma and Dinesh
Prasain suggest in "Gendered Dimensions of the
People's War: Some Reflections on the
Experiences of Rural Women", that the
CPN(M)'s focus on local knowledge
and action is one of the keys to their
success. This argument signals an important interpretive shift away from
trying to identify ethnicity and gender
as isolated motivating factors and instead dwells on locality, which may
mirror more closely Maoist recruitment
strategies. In our analysis, women are
likely to join the Maoists for similarly
diverse reasons as men within their
own communities. The notion that women and men
join revolutionary movements for similar reasons is supported by the literature on female combatants in Central America. Karen Kampwirth states that in almost
all cases women joined for the same reasons as men
from their own community. Disparities between urban
and rural standards of living, lack of opportunities and
frustration with class and caste-based discrimination
may be more pertinent than gender-specific grievances.
This insight provides an alternative to approaches that
overemphasise essentialised gender or ethnic identities as factors in women's participation, a move which
obscures the actual power of Maoist ideology—and both
women's and men's real attraction to it. It is important
to recall that in traditional Marxist formulations, the
'woman question' is always secondary to class liberation, and many women who support the Maoist ideological platform are likely to cite class issues as their
primary motivation.
Political and personal factors clearly interact in complex and individualised ways to motivate women's
action. It is widely recognised that excessive violence
by the security forces has prompted many to take up
arms. Intimidation by the Maoists and forced recruit-
creasingly dysfunctional state in practical terms, but      ment are other important dynamics at play. For some
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 women, membership in political mass organisations
has led to violent police repression, leading them in
turn to join the CPN(M)'s military wing. Two female cadres interviewed by Pettigrew reported that membership
in Maoist student organisations prompted their arrest,
and their subsequent torture in custody led them to join
the People's Liberation Army. The role of female torture
in prompting women to become militants within the
context of the 'people's war' needs further investigation. Literature from Latin America and elsewhere
shows that torture is often gender-specific, with the torture of women systematically directed at their female
sexual identity through rape and other forms of sexual
harassment. Revenge can also be an important motivating factor for women whose kin have been killed by
state security forces.
The observations in this article are preliminary. Further ethnographic work on all aspects of the situation
is required, and should include re-     ^__________
search on: the diverse experiences and
motivations of women at different levels and positions within the Maoist
movement; party structure and gender
policy; the psychological impact of
militarisation on civilian women; the
experience of military service for guerrilla women and the anxieties and
fears of the wives and family members
of the security forces. Future research
can be enhanced by incorporating
comparative perspectives that draw on
the existing body of work on other insurgencies in Southasia as well as in     ~
other parts of the world.
Overall, the emerging picture of Maoist attitudes towards gender relations is contradictory. Despite an ideological commitment to gender equality, there is a clear
gap between rhetoric and practice. The positions of the
male leadership on women's issues remain largely unstated, and their commitment to bettering women's positions unclear. While senior Maoist women acknowledge some successes, they remain critical of their party's
record. It appears that women's liberation is subsumed
by the overriding Maoist goal of class struggle, and that
in their devotion to this goal, the Maoists in some ways
continue to replicate hegemonic Hindu attitudes towards women. Despite claims to have transformed such
institutions as marriage, there are widespread intimations that marriage is used as a means of controlling
female cadres. Conversely, the lack of attention given to
recruiting married women can be considered a
reinscription of traditional divisions of labour, as
Maoists require householder women to provide a village-based support network. While some women state
that they joined the movement in search of more egalitarian gender relations, Maoist women face a complex
In the world's only
officially Hindu state,
dominant—and often
ideologies towards
women are based
upon conservative
Hindu concepts of
set of struggles within a party whose understanding of
their past, and commitment to their future, is incomplete and ambivalent. The 'people's war' has certainly
precipitated new experiences for Nepali women of all
backgrounds, whether in learning to use guns for combatant women, or negotiating the fine line of safety between state forces and the Maoists for civilian women.
While such shifts cannot be claimed entirely as the intentional achievements of Maoist policy, it is clear that
on the individual level of embodied practice they have
introduced women to potentially transformative possibilities.
Authors' note
The authors acknowledge Sushma Joshi, Lauren Leve,
Bela Malik, Anne de Sales, Manjushree Thapa and Mark
Turin for their insightful comments and contributions
to this article. We also thank the participants of the
panel "Trajectories of Socialism in Contemporary Asia"
at the 2003 American Anthropological Association con-
      ference in Chicago, USA, and at Social
Science Baha in Kathmandu where
earlier versions of this paper were presented.
The discussion here is based on
both primary ethnographic material
and published secondary sources in
English. Due to time and space constraints, the present article does not
incorporate Nepali language materials, but these constitute an important
aspect of our ongoing research. We
particularly welcome commentaries
that refer to articles and reports cur-
      rently unavailable in English. It has
been difficult to conduct in-depth research on the conflict in rural Nepal, particularly since the state of emergency was declared in November 2001. Foreign visitors are closely monitored in Maoist-controlled areas,
and the constant potential for violence between the
Maoists and the state forces can make extended visits
unsafe. Both authors conducted previous long-term
research in rural Nepal before the insurgency escalated, and later returned to their original field sites to
collect data about the conflict. Our material spans several distinct locations in western, central and eastern
Nepal (we have chosen not to name specific villages
or districts), and was gathered from 1999 to 2003 on a
series of short field visits under constrained conditions. We also recognise that Maoist policy and practice differs depending upon the stage of struggle at
each place and time. For these reasons, the localised
data upon which we base our analysis is in many
cases suggestive rather than definitive. b
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
Towards a Grey Revolution
The message from the Government of India is becoming clear: farmers get out of agriculture and make way for the contractors.
by Devinder Sharma	
The green revolution is part of India's history. The
grey revolution is the future. At least that is what
the blueprint for agricultural reforms, authored
by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India,
seems hell-bent on unleashing through Green Revolution II.
The agricultural reforms that are being introduced
in the name of increasing food production and
minimising the price risks that farmers continue to be
faced with, will in fact culminate in the destruction of
the productive capacity of existing farmlands and will
most definitely lead to the further marginalisation of
farming communities. Encouraging contract farming,
future trading in agricultural commodities, land leasing, forming
land-sharing companies, allotment
of homestead-cum-garden plots, direct procurement of farm commodities and setting up of special purchase centres, as envisaged by the
blueprint will drive a majority of the
600 million farmers out of subsistence agriculture.
The consequent increase in migration from the rural areas into urban centres will magnify the implications of all the shocking calculations that have been computed so
far. The World Bank had in 1995 estimated that the number of people migrating from the
rural to the urban centres in India by the year 2010
would be equal to twice the combined population of
the UK, France and Germany. With the fundamental
vision of Green Revolution II unfurled, New Delhi
seems determined to compound the socio-economic
chaos. Migration from rural areas is sure to multiply
several times in the years to come, thereby creating an
unprecedented political crisis.
In a country where 80 per cent of the farmers own
less than two hectares of land, and only 5 percent of
farmers have more than four hectares, the biggest challenge is to ensure that agriculture can be made more
Coming soon to a farm near you.
attractive for these small and marginal farmers. At the
same time, within the green revolution areas—primarily in the Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh,
parts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kamataka—
agriculture faces a severe crisis of sustainability owing
to second-generation environmental effects. Intensive
farming has destroyed the ability of the land to produce enough food, and the mining of ground water has
pushed the water table to a precarious level. The green
revolution has already turned sour. As a result, the
Punjab and Haryana are fast heading towards desertification—a process that results in the inability to sustain the production levels achieved at the height of the
green revolution.
aMthough the land holding size
is diminishing, the answer does not
lie in allowing private companies
to move in by way of contract farming that is aimed at reconsolidat-
ing operational holdings with a
view to increasing productivity. Private companies enter agricultural
business with the specific objective
of garnering more profits. These
companies, if the global experience
is any indication, bank upon still
more intensive farming practices,
draining the soil of nutrients and
sucking ground water in a couple
of years, and rendering fertile lands almost barren after
four to five years of operation. The once fertile and verdant landscape will fast turn grey. Once this threshold
is reached, these companies will then simply hand over
the barren and unproductive land to the farmers who
leased them out and move to devastate another fertile
piece of land.
The replenishment of ground water resources
should be an essential parameter for any meaningful
agricultural reform. Unfortunately, at a time when excessive withdrawals of underground water have already become a major political issue, the cropping pattern continues to play havoc with the irrigation poten-
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
tial. The lessons from the other contract farming models are only too apparent. Sugarcane farmers, who follow a system of cane bonding with the mills (where the
quantity of output to be purchased is determined beforehand with the mill), actually were drawing 240 cubic
metres of water every year, which is five times more
than what wheat and rice requires on an average. Rose
cultivation that was introduced in Kamataka a few
years back, required 212 inches of groundwater consumption in every hectare. Contract farming will therefore further exploit whatever remains of the ground
water resources.
Legal recognition of land leasing offers no protection to farmers. Once the productive capacity of the land
has been destroyed what can the farmer be expected to
reap thereafter. Knowing this, the government is talking of homestead-cum-garden plots for those who lease
out their lands. The objective is simple: to pacify those
who question the impact of contract farming on household food security. Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh
on the other hand is not even aware of the basic objective behind his government's support for contract farming. He says that these companies ^^^^m^m^^^
will only be there for helping the
farmers in marketing. What he probably does not know is that nowhere
in the world are private companies
involved with contract farming just
to help the farmers find a marketing
The contractors
Already contract farming has done
irreparable damage to agriculture in countries like the
Philippines, Zimbabwe, Argentina and Mexico.
Punjab's and Andhra Pradesh's foray into contract
farming therefore is a misadventure whose consequences will come back to haunt them in the future. It is
actually accentuating the sustainability crisis on the
farm front by destroying whatever remains of the
farmland's productive capacity with more intensive and
destructive farming systems. The resulting monoculture also destroys the agricultural biodiversity in the
region thereby affecting sustainability. In simple words,
contract farming is the modern version of "slash and
bum" agriculture (jhum cultivation) that the tribals follow in the Northeast of India. There they practise it
because of environmental constraints, whereas now
private industries have embarked on this trajectory for
commercial motive alone.
Other policy initiatives by the Ministry of Agriculture, such as allowing direct procurement of farm commodities, setting up of special markets for private companies to mop up the produce and to set up land share
companies, are all directed at the unrestrained entry of
multinational corporations into the Indian farm sector.
Coupled with the introduction of genetically modified
crops, and unlimited credit support for agribusiness
Contract farming has
done irreparable damage to agriculture in
countries like the Philip
pines, Zimbabwe,
Argentina and Mexico.
companies, the focus is to strengthen the ability of the
companies to take ovrer and control the food chain. Significantly, the state governments have opposed the agricultural reforms on these very grounds. This response
is, in a sense, similar to what happened two year ago,
when the state governments had opposed the government's plan to decentralise the food procurement
system, terming it an effort to dismantle the procurement structure.
Agribusiness companies are in reality hostile to
farmers, the appearance of synergies between the two
notwithstanding. Nowhere in the world have agribusinesses worked in tandem with farmers. Even in
North America and Europe, where agriculture is
supported and sustained through beneficial government policy, agribusiness companies have managed to
push farmers out of agriculture. As a result, today there
are only 900,000 farming families left in the United
States. In the 15 countries of the European Union, the
number of farmers has come down to 7 million. The
underlying message is crystal clear: farmers should get
out of agriculture. In India, the same prescription will
^^^^^^anKtHHK,, lead to an unforeseen catastrophe.
The plan to have farmers collectively mobilise land resources to facilitate access to modem technology
and professional management in the
farm sector, a concept being floated
in the name of land sharing companies, is aimed at corporate control of
the farmland. Tn India, except for a
handful of cases, farmers do not have
the ability to pool land resources unless backed by a private company. In other words, land
sharing is another name for contract farming. All such
experiments will force farmers to shift from staple foods
to cash crops like cut flowers, tomatoes, strawberries,
melons and so on, which do not meet the food security
needs at the macro level. At the same time, the intensive
nature of cash crop cultivation, requiring more external inputs, will do more damage to the environment.
The flawed understanding of harsh ground realities leads policy makers to the misguided belief that
private companies can provide the much-needed impetus for increasing food production. If private companies could actually do the job on their own, there surely
would have been no need for the first green revolution,
let alone a second one. If private companies really had
the capacity and the inclination to provide farmers with
income support and an assured market, there would
have been no need to set up the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) to work out the cost of
production for farmers. Likewise, would there have been
any need to establish the Food Corporation of India
(FCI) to mop up the food surplus? It is a given that private trade has historically been exploiting farmers at
the time of harvest by giving them low prices. a
change of mindset has taken place unbeknownst, pri-
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
vate trade cannot be expected to rescue the farming community out of a sudden and new-found magnanimity
of outlook. Their motives become starkly obvious and
clear in the context of the sustained lobbying to dismantle the public food procurement system of the government. Without minimum support and a guaranteed
floor price, farmers abandoned to the guiles of the market and those who control it through their state-supported monopoly will be forced to enter in distress into
contract with the large companies, lt does not require
any great capacity for prophecy or foreknowledge to
predict the outcome.
The current inefficiency in the food procurement
system is not the fault of farmers. The inability of the
government to extend the purchase centres to areas beyond the Punjab and Haryana, is again not the fault of
farmers. Instead of coming to the rescue of farmers by
setting up purchase centres in other parts of the country, the government, on the grounds of market-driven
efficiencies, has decided to dismantle altogether the system of procurement. Farmers are be-   	
ing forced to face not only the vagaries of the monsoon but also the ruth-
lessuess of an unfair market. Already, among those who opted out
of the food procurement system and
went in for cash crops are thousands
upon thousands who have either
chosen the drastic option of committing suicide or are resorting to the
pathetic alternative of selling their
body organs. For all practical purposes they only have the choice be- """""" "™
tween killing themselves instantly or killing themselves
in instalments. The number of people to whom the market offers only such wretched choices, while the shopping malls bulge with brand options for the consuming classes of urban India, is bound to swell in the years
to come. And like the governments of Andhra Pradesh
and Kamataka, which are planning to send teams of
psychiatrists to consul and offer life-affirming advise
to despairing farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture in
New Delhi will do well to think in terms of setting up
plant clinics throughout the country, staffed by faith
healers and counsellors instead of agricultural scientists.
The Future
But even that thoughtful if pointless gesture is not on
the cards. To farmers in such pitiably reduced circumstances, the ministry has contrived the sophisticated
alternative of future trading. In a country where only
43 per cent of the rural households have electricity, and
where the average land holding size is too low, to expect farmers to engage in future trading is no more than
a clever ploy to deprive them of state support and ask
them to fend for themselves. Future trading requires a
level of understanding of demand, price movements.
Crop diversification
from staple foods to
cash crops is not only
an environmentally
unsound practice but
is also economically
and market forecasting that is simply beyond the scope
of most farmers in their current condition. As many as
60 per cent percent of the farmers are so much beyond
the pale of the institutionalised support system that
they are dependent on private money-lending sources
to meet their credit requirement and most of them cannot identify a spurious pesticide from a genuine one.
These are the kind of people the government expects to
comprehend all the complicated nuances of future trading.
Like the 'farmers' who shifted to the cultivation of
cut flowers to feed the export trade, we are likely to see
a new breed of educated traders take over the reins. It is
an unfortunate fact that a majority of those who ventured into cut flower farming were not farmers but businessmen. The National Multi-Commodity Exchange
(NMCE) that has been set up in New Delhi recently, and
which claims to have had a cumulative turnover of Rs
40,000 crore by November, 2003, has, so far, only 214
traders participating in its network covering 48 loca-
    tions. Sadly for the ministry, farmers
are conspicuously absent from future
Future trading or no trading,
farmers by the millions in any case
are gradually abandoning agriculture in search of menial jobs in urban centres. Agriculture has not only
become unremunerativebut also unproductive. The process of corporate
control of agriculture that will accompany the socio-economic change in
„ - -^^ demographic composition of
agrarian society, will destroy the ability of the land to
sustain harvests. Crop diversification from staple foods
to cash crops is not only an environmentally unsound
practice but is also economically suicidal. But in the
brave new world of corporate remedies, empirical proof
is not sufficient to dissuade the studious theoreticians
who manage the globe. Perhaps that is the reason why
the World Bank has so strenuously been advocating
for over a decade now the transition to commercialised
agrarian monocultures. And in submitting to the coercive recommendations of the World Bank, the new agricultural reforms on the anvil will push more and more
farmers of India to the cities. Migration from rural to
urban centres is turning into a deluge that the city cannot withstand. Complementing the socio-economic
change in village demographics is the stress on urban
employment capacity and the imbalance in the employment profile. Most rural immigrants end up as rickshaw pullers or daily wage labourers.
For the techno-managerial class of India, farmers
have become a burden. They are to be displaced from
their roots because the market savvy elite of the country
finds it too irksome to deal with the burden. The petulance of the affluent is now expressing itself in the
pauperisation of the impoverished. b
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
Mocking the digital divide
by Teresa Joseph
The World Summit on the Information Society
(WSIS) held in Geneva from 10 to 12 December
2003 was the first international summit to focus
on the global information and communication system.
Ironically, the presence of 54 heads of government at
the summit, including contingents from all the countries of Southasia, failed to attract much attention in the
region's mass media. With a total of 10,808 participants
at the summit and 176 countries signing the official
declaration, the organisers hailed it as a historic step to
bridge the digital divide. The reality, however, is more
The WSIS traces its roots to 1998 when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) resolved to take
steps to place the prospect of holding such a summit on
the agenda of the United Nations Administrative Committee on Coordination. In 2001, the UN General Assembly asked the ITU to assume
leadership for the preparation of
the WSIS. According to the terms of
the UN General Assembly resolution, the aim of the WSIS was to
bring together governments, nongovernmental organisations, civil
society entities, industry leaders
and media representatives to
shape the future of the global information society. The WSIS was officially aimed at harnessing the
potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to promote the development goals of the UN General Assembly. It was to frame
policies as well as practical measures to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor countries. A pre-sum-
mit press release stated that the WSIS would focus on
how to close the 'digital divide' in key areas of connectivity and computerisation.
The summit in Geneva was the culmination of the
first leg of a two-phase process which began over two
years ago, involving international conferences at the
regional level as well as preparatory committee meetings at the global level. The two years of preparatory
meetings concluded in November 2003, with the advanced capitalist countries and third world countries
holding conflicting views on how to bridge the 'digital
divide' (The second phase of WSIS is scheduled to be
held in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005). Political
wrangling threatened the success of the summit to the
extent that, as a last ditch effort, an extra preparatory
session was called immediately preceding the summit
Prescription for the developing world.
to salvage the situation. The major points of discord
included issues of funding, internet governance, the
role of communication media in society, the limits to
intellectual property rights and issues relating to copyright and free software.
The question of funding was a major cause for controversy. Senegal, leading an African delegation, had
suggested that the United Nations develop a "digital
solidarity fund" to finance IT projects in third world
countries. Other suggestions included a token contribution of one dollar from ever}' purchase of a computer
software package or network equipment to the fund,
taxing international telephone calls and the commercial use of the radio frequency spectrum. The United
States and other Western countries, however, opposed
any suggestion of UN involvement, preferring to channel aid for such projects through existing development
schemes, or by establishing an
environment in which the private
sector could develop the needed infrastructure—for instance
through deregulation. The European Union also proposed a "digital solidarity agenda" which,
however, did not include any commitment to funding.
Another contentious topic that
came up for discussion was internet governance. Governance of the
internet includes issues like spam
(unsolicited advertisements and unwanted messages),
cybernetic crimes, security, taxes, privacy issues, etc.
Flowever, the issue became reduced to the question of
Domain Name Systems (DNS) and Internet Protocol
Space allocation. The internet is currently managed by
the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
Numbers (ICANN), which is formally a private nonprofit California based corporation, created in response
to a call by US government officials. In June 1998, the
US Department of Commerce and an inter-agency task
force responded to concerns about DNS with the
'Statement of Policy on the Privatisation of Internet
Domain Naming System'. This called for the creation
of a private non-profit corporation to take over the DNS.
Soon an international group, meeting in secret, formed
ICANN as a non-profit corporation with an international board of directors.
It is ICANN that manages the Internet Protocol Space
allocation, domain names and root server system functions, without which the internet cannot function. It
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
does not, however, have control over content or security. ICANN is popular with the US and the EU owing to
its free market orientation and commitment to the values of commerce and free speech, and more importantly,
the fact that the US itself maintains a direct influence
over ICANN's activities.
The very fact that the US is basically in control of the
internet emerged to be a matter of concern with the international community, particularly in view of the lack
of accountability and transparency of ICANN. There is
also a perception among various countries that effective control by the US of the country code system and
the generic top level domain names restricts each
country's sovereign right over its own space on the
internet. Consequently, there emerged a strong movement, particularly among third world countries for international control over the internet, with calls for a
recognised international body to take over its management. Supporters of global governance contended that
the internet should be administered by a governmental
body with uniform standards for security and better
access for poorer countries. Such efforts were led by
China and Brazil, which called for
the UN to regulate the internet, and
were endorsed by Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, South Africa, Russia, India and
Saudi Arabia.
Western countries, however, opposed any such move on the grounds
that this would give more power to
governments and would politicise
technical decisions, which could affect the free flow of information. De-
fending the status quo, ICANN's president, Paul
Twomey, argued that the net represented a partnership
between various stakeholders, of which world governments were only a single component, others being the
business, engineering and technical communities.
A major obstruction to the spread of information
technology and particularly computers to the third
world is the high cost of basic software like the Microsoft
Windows package. However, a switchover to free and
open source software like Linux, which can be updated
or modified by anyone, helped by a global community
of programmers, would ease the financial burden in
this regard. Here again, differences of opinion reflected
a North-South divide, with allegations that the delegates from the United States and the European Union
were spokesmen for proprietary software. However, the
draft for the WSIS declaration itself saw a shift, in principle, from an outright "support" for open-source software for third world countries to merely "promoting
awareness" about "different software models, and the
means of their creation, including proprietary, open-
source and free software".
The other controversies in the two years of conferencing prior to the summit were also resolved in last
minute efforts before the WSIS. An understanding was
Kofi Annan and Yoshio Utsumi at WSIS.
reached on putting off decisions on issues regarding
funding and internet governance. The final declaration
of principles titled "Building an Information Society: A
Global Challenge in the New Millennium", signed at
Geneva stressed the importance of the private sector in
the development of the internet and called on the UN
Secretary General to set up a working group on internet
governance, incorporating governments, the private
sector and civil society to frame proposals for the
governance of the internet by 2005.
As regards funding, the plan of action advocated
that developing countries increase their efforts to attract
private investments for ICT through the creation of
conducive investment environments. A review of the
adequacy of existing financial mechanisms by a task
force, under the auspices of the UN Secretary General,
should be complete by December 2004, and submitted
to the second phase of WSIS in 2005, where the feasibility
of creating a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund is to be
The official declaration is in fact seen to strongly
support neo-liberal policies and with the global media
system being intertwined with the
neo-liberal global capitalist economy, there are allegations that talk
of digital divide and knowledge dissemination is used to justify the continued use of information to protect
and advance the interests of global
capital. Eduardo Doryan, the Special
Representative of the World Bank to
the UN, addressing the WSIS delegates, stated that experiences over
the past 10 years have shown that national policies
fostering effective competition for inclusive access are
the most powerful instruments to reduce the digital divide. He emphasised the World Bank's commitment to
supporting such efforts so as to deepen and broaden
reform and development pertaining to this sector. A
memorandum of understanding was also signed between the World Bank and ITU. the ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi, observed that, "These partnerships
are important first steps toward achieving the goals of
the summit, which aim to ensure that the benefits of
ICTs are available to all, not just a privileged few".
David Gross, the US State Department's Coordinator for International Communications and Information
Policy and leader of the US delegation to the summit,
pointed out that the US believed that developing
countries needed to focus first on improving the rule of
law and their commitment to free-market economics
before launching into internet projects.
As critics point out, the WSIS was clearly not just
about making IT available to poorer countries, but also
about selling them equipment and software, privatisation of national communication industries, investment and infrastructure, and maintaining power over
the internet. Allegations of the summit helping to serve
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
the interests of the telecommunication industry appear
to be supported by the introductory paragraph of the
Plan of Action, which calls for advancing the achievement of internationally agreed development goals by
promoting the use of ICT based products, networks,
services and applications. WSIS appears to have been
an opportunity for massive corporate sales promotion
to the third world. The acronym ICT4D has conventionally been used to refer to the use of information and
communication technology for development, through
better governance (e-governance), more transparency
and easier access to information on government policies,
programmes and performance, and for ensuring better
social services. The ICT4D hall at the summit, however,
resembled a trade show, featuring stands from various
corporates demonstrating their latest technology.
Hopes that WSIS would address a wide range of
information and communication issues received a major setback. The digital divide is merely a symptom of
the inequality that already exists between the advanced
capitalist countries and those of the       	
third world. Building a people-
centred, inclusive and development
oriented information society cannot
oe achieved by focusing merely on
providing the countries of the third
world with the technical means of
participating in the digital revolution. Of more significance in this limited context is the need to create the
necessary conditions to facilitate the
effective use of ICT. Prospects for the
development of the marginalised and poorer sections of
society through access to new information technologies
appear remote, given the basic obstacles like access to
education, electricity supply, and cost of equipment. UN
Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in his opening address
stressed that the so called 'digital divide' is actually several divides, a technological divide in infrastructure, a
language divide with most content being in English, a
gender divide for women in many countries, and a commercial divide where e-commerce reaches only some. In
countries like India, it is not only technical rigidities, but
also socio-economic distinctions of class, caste, gender,
education, rural-urban differences etc, which limit communication. As the information society relies on skill
and knowledge networks, with the existing inequalities
there is every possibility of entrenching the gap between
the different sections of society.
The Geneva phase of WSIS had in reality witnessed
bland statements by political leaders on the potential
of the internet and the need to expand its benefits to all.
The ambitious calls to expand the benefits of IT to the
poorer countries of the world did not include any specific detail as to the measures to be taken towards this
end. The separate declaration issued by civil society
participants reflected their disillusionment with the
WSIS. Civil society participants who had been invited
The so called 'digital
divide' is actually several
divides, a technological
divide in infrastructure, a
language divide, a gender divide, and a commercial divide
to work alongside governments and the private sector
maintained that they had been marginalised and excluded from meetings. The last round of preparatory
talks was totally closed to civil society. Ultimately civil
society delegates were only able to prevent a backsliding on such issues as human rights and freedom of
expression. Inclusion of references to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights in the final documents of
the WSIS had been strongly opposed by some governments. Freedom of expression, particularly, turned out
to be a contentious issue with countries like China,
Egypt and Vietnam being reluctant to see the right to
freedom of expression enshrined in the WSIS declaration.
On the other hand the United States and the European
Union perceive free speech to be a fundamental
principle of the information society. The final declaration, however, affirmed Article 19 of the UN Declaration
on Human Rights. The disillusionment of civil society
groups with the process found expression in the declaration "Shaping Information Societies for Human
  Needs",  which  focuses  on  the
themes of social justice and people-
centred sustainable development,
and was in effect a critique of the
techno-centric vision of the official
WSIS could have been an opportunity to raise critical issues regarding the larger questions of information and communication, and the
underlying causes for the digital di-
—      vide, as well as issues regarding
media ownership, structure, content and access.
Weaker sections of society are becoming more and more
marginalised, with fewer programmes covering their
concerns and lesser opportunities to make their voices
heard. However, official preparatory processes, as well
as civil society consultations focused largely on computers and the internet, ignoring the enormous implications of mass media for society. In fact, there had even
been divisions on whether or not the media itself is a
stakeholder in the information society. It is also interesting to note that there were no references to the earlier
struggles for a New International Information Order
(NTIO) by third world countries. This had-once upon a
time been a part of the broader struggle to address the
global economic inequality, which was seen to have
been a legacy of colonialism. This campaign, particularly within UNESCO, gradually faded out in the midst
of political conflicts and controversies, and the onslaught of globalisation. As far as the third world is
concerned, WSIS - Geneva seems to have been a re-enactment of those summits and conferences of the 1970s
and 80s which focused on N1IO.
Ironically, the mass media in Southasia for its part,
seemed oblivious to the WSIS itself, let alone the wider
questions involved. b
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
A Fatal Love
by Suketu Mehta
To understand what happened in Kargil you have
to go back half a century, to the colossal and
premature sundering of the Subcontinent known
as Partition. The men who killed each other over Tiger
Hill and Drass and Batalik were dealing with the
unfinished business of Partition. I have no personal
experience of Partition; my family is Gujarati, from
Calcutta and Kenya, and I have no relatives in Pakistan
or Bangladesh. My own partition was at the age of 14,
when I immigrated with my family to New York. I am a
novelist. What I try to do is to get to the struggling human being underneath the massive foot of history. The
greatest scholar of Partition was a fiction writer, Saadat
Hasan Manto, a man who died in Lahore mourning
his separation from a whore named Bombay. "Uper di
gur gur di mung dal...", chants the madman in "Toba
Tek Singh". Fiction writers and lunatics have their own
truth. Our enemies are the
writers of school textbooks. As
the Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert
said: "for anybody else, not to
tell the truth can be a tactical
manoeuvre. But a writer who
is not telling the truth — is
My family borders are not
subcontinental; they are international. But Partition, like the
Big Bang, has echoes that will
forever permeate the universe
of people 1 write about. In my
work, in my fiction as well as
in my non-fiction, I have been looking at riots, at
communal conflict, in Banaras, Punjab, and especially
Bombay. Most of this conflict has its roots in Partition
"batwara", which in different circumstances could also
have meant "sharing". It is a family quarrel, as when
three brothers live side by side in the same house,
walling up the rooms, always conscious of the others
in the rooms beyond. Kargil is only the latest battle in
that endless property dispute; the brothers have come
to blows in the street. There will be more to come, before
the children grow up and say to their fathers and uncles:
There are millions of Partition stories throughout
the subcontinent, a body of lore that is infrequently
recorded in print or on tape, and rarely passed on to the
next generation. All over the map of Southasia, there is
an entire generation of people who have been made
poets, philosophers, and storytellers by their experiences
=s= -dssK-:- .;r.
Anxious crowds at the time of Partition.
during Partition. Any person over 55 or 60 in Delhi or
Amritsar or Lahore has stories to tell of that period,
even if they were not themselves dislocated then. And
for those who have been displaced from their birthplaces against their will and at an early age, the
impression of home is all the more vivid and sharp; it
haunts their dream-lives, and their minds are the
battleground between the desire to forget and the need
to remember.
In the summer of '97,1 travelled to the Wagah border,
and then on to Lahore. It was through Wagah and the
nearby town of Atari that most of the Punjabi refugees
came through, crossing east to India or west to Pakistan.
It was here, in a dingy tourist hotel room on the border,
that two 70 year-old Sikh men, Santokh Singh and
Harjeet Singh, told me what they did one afternoon 50
years ago, when their minds went mad.
One day in August 1947,
Santokh Singh said, an old
Sikh man in a village near
Atari, out on a walk to buy milk,
was murdered by some
Muslims. Santokh Singh was
a student then, a "leader-type",
as he refers to himself. Ten Sikh
men gathered to take revenge.
Before they went on their expedition, they went to the
gurudwara and took an oath
not to kill or molest women and
children. Then Santokh Singh
put on his armoured vest. He
took a revolver. They went to the Muslim part of the
village. One member of their band grabbed a Muslim
woman, but he was reminded of his oath by the others.
Santokh Singh did not tell me what happened next.
"My mind went mad for one day", is all he would say.
"We took revenge here, they took revenge there", he
shrugged. He did not seem to be much affected now by
whatever he did then. But on the day after they took
their revenge, Santokh Singh's father asked him why
he, a strapping 21 year-old man, looked so sad. He had
been watching the Muslim women and children going
over the border, people he had grown up with. "Mere
jigar ke tukde jaa rahe hain", he said. "Parts of my heart
are going across".
The next morning, he brought along a friend Harjeet
Singh was another of that band of ten men. He looked
at a map in the lobby of the hotel. It was a large map of
undivided Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Punjatb.
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
"Even now the heart...", he started saying, and his eyes
reddened, his voice thickened. He was a thin, dignified
man who has done well with his wheat and rice farms.
He has a daughter in the US, and a son in Toronto, and
has travelled there, marvelling at the friendship
between Canada and the US, the free trade over the
Harjeet Singh repeated, as a prelude, what Santokh
Singh had stressed. "When the old man was killed,
nobody could hold back. But we didn't touch any
woman or child".
"There was much junoon (madness), lt lasted 15 to
20 days. When we heard that injured bodies, dead
bodies were coming in the trains people were going
crazy. Then when the old man was killed, nobody could
hold back". They got guns, swords, spears, scythes.
Then they went to the Muslim village. "It lasted just a
few hours. At most two people killed the old man, so
we should only have looked for them". Harjeet Singh
knew some of the people in the village — they were his
classmates. He was looking out for them, to save them,
but they were not there. The Sikhs rounded up the
Muslim men, and gathered the women and children to
one side."We killed one third of the people in that
village. About 50 to 60 men were killed in those few
hours. The women and children were put to one side
but they were watching; they were screaming. In some
places there was fighting, but they weren't begging for
mercy — by that time everyone knew that asking for
mercy was meaningless, there wasn't much being said".
Harjeet Singh was weeping profusely by now, his
handkerchief going now to one eye, now to the other. It
was obvious that he was saying some things for the
first time; at this point, he was not even talking directly
to me. Every journalist knows that this is when the really
important stories come out, when the person you are
interviewing stops talking to you, and is really
explaining things to himself. "I don't get angry on
anybody else but myself. I did not sleep all that night, I
did not stop thinking about it for a single minute. That's
the worst memory for me".
What happened to the survivors, I asked him.
"Then they walked to Pakistan. I've never met any
one of them after that — not even mv classmates, the
ones who got saved".
How does a man live with having murdered his
neighbours? Harjeet Singh's way of atonement has been
through a constant searching out of the 'other', a series
of highly emotional meetings with his former enemies.
He has crossed the border no fewer than three times
since then, a feat whose magnitude can be appreciated
by any Indian trying to get a visa at the Pakistani
embassy in Delhi. On his trips, he tries to meet his former
neighbours, the Muslims from Atari whom he had a
hand in dri\ring out.
The first time Harjeet Singh went to Pakistan was
1956, and he went with his wife. An entire convoy of
vehicles came to the border to receive the Atari group,
25 to 30 trucks, five to seven buses, cars. They were the
Muslims who had been driven out. The group from
attari had to stay at each of their houses in turn, and
nobody took money for lunch or dinner, or for petrol.
But on the 1956 trip, he says, "The younger generation
looked at us with a certain amount of hatred".
Harjeet Singh's wife's village was in Pakistan. When
they went back, he said, "They knew I was the son-in-
law of the family; they just held me and burst out
crying". He met the people who had worked in the
household of his wife's family. "Whatever money they
had, they just emptied their pockets and gave me". He
was, after all, the returning son-in-law. After all these
years, he says, "my wife was still a daughter of the
In 1980, one of Harjeet Singh's cousins went to
Pakistan, and Harjeet asked him to look up his best
friend before Partition, a Muslim who was so close to
him that he would eat a chicken that Harjeet had
cooked, even if it was not halal. The Muslim friend
received the cousin with great hospitality, and then
asked him a favour. Would he bring Harjeet Singh to
the border? He wanted to meet him, just once.
The cousin went back to Atari and passed on the
message. Harjeet Singh went to the border at the appointed time. "All the security men said, you must be
mad. You can't meet". Across the fence, Harjeet Singh,
after 33 years, saw his friend, who rushed forward, only
to be pushed back by the Pakistani security men far
beyond the fence. Harjeet saw that his friend was straining against them, weeping. At first Harjeet turned back,
but a relative who knew the soldiers intervened on his
behalf. The Indian major talked to his Pakistani counterpart. So Harjeet Singh went forward with two of his
youngest children beyond the fence and his friend came
forward to meet him. They embraced each other; they
were overwhelmed and there was no point in talking.
What could be said? How does one condense the highlights of three decades? His friend was crying, but
Harjeet Singh was determined not to. Harjeet Singh
apologised — for not having brought all of his children
to show his friend. "I said I'm sorry. My two girts are
married in different villages; I did not have time to get
them all here to show you".
Then the soldiers separated the two men and his
friend went back into Pakistan and Harjeet Singh
started walking slowly back into India. He was stopped
by agents from the Intelligence Bureau, and they asked
him, "Who were you talking to?" "To my brother",
Harjeet Singh answered. How can that be, they
demanded, he was Sikh, the man who came to meet
him was Muslim. "I said that is exactly what I mean, he
is my brother. He has land on that side, I have land on
this side, that's why we're separated". The Intelligence
men said, "Don't fool us". I said, "I have told you what
I told you, I have said what I have said, he is my brother".
Again, in 1982, Harjeet Singh crossed the border.
He went with his daughter to a village on the other side
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
where a group of Muslim brothers from Atari had
settled. Some of them were wrestlers; they had gone
there and become sweet-sellers and made three good
houses. But now there was only one of the brothers left.
Harjeet Singh and his daughter went to the old man's
house for dinner, and talked with the sweet-merchant's
entire family late into the night about the village. If the
border were opened up tomorrow, said the old man to
Harjeet Singh, his children would drive there, because
they had cars. "But", said the old man, "I will still beat
them because I will run so fast". In the morning when
they woke up the old man said, "I am going to tell you
something...", and then all his grandchildren rushed
forward and interrupted him. "We are going to tell
you what he was going to say. He will say I had a
dream last night that I was in Atari. Uncle, every morning
when he wakes up he says he has met this person in
Atari, that person in Atari". This was in 1982, 35 years
after the old man had left his village. At least in his
waking life.
It is a common desire among those   	
displaced by Partition to make the return crossing, to try to go home again.
The Pakistani writer Intizar Husain,
whom I met in Lahore, told me that for
30 years he had tried to get a visa to go
back to India, particularly to the village he was born in, Dibai, near
Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. Although he
has been" living in Lahore since 1947,
most of his fiction is set in Dibai. Like
the old sweet-seller from Atari, he had
also been having a recurring dream.
"I go there, to my home, and am wandering among the houses. Those lanes, ' ~ ~~
those palaces. The terraces where we flew kites", and
then he described his house for me, constructing it lovingly in the air with his hands. "The Muslim quarter
began at our house. The terraces of the Hindu houses
were so close that at Diwali time I would reach across,
steal oil lamps from their terraces, and bring them
30 years later, at the invitation of a literary gathering in Delhi, Husain was able to get a visa to go back.
He was in Aligarh, and then made an impulsive decision to revisit Dibai, which his visa did not allow him
to do, He persuaded an Indian friend to drive him to
the village. On the way, he saw the trucks all along the
road, the phantom convoys of Partition. As they came
into the village, he could not believe how much it had
changed. There used to be a pilgrim's hostel. Where
was the hostel? Where was the hospital? Everything
had become a bazaar. He looked for his house, but the
geography of home had changed. His companion said,
"Why don't you ask someone?" "I said I have come to
my own town. I am not going to ask someone else for
directions". Husain got out of the car and wandered
the bazaars but could not locate his birthplace, and
50 years is a long
time to live with
trauma, and a great
many of the survivors
have found that the
only way to maintain
their mental balance is
to forgive the
something in him would not let him ask a stranger for
guidance in the territory of his own childhood, his own
dreams. At last, he got back in the car, and drove back
to Aligarh. He never found his childhood home. He
has never gone back.
I asked Husain why there were no museums, no
memorials to that time. He responded, "It is good that
the killings are not memorialised, that there are no pictures of those times". I found this curious, coming from
a writer whose entire body of work deals with "those
times". What tormented him, he seemed to be saying,
was his generation's burden alone. What use would it
be to rake up the past, to keep harping on the atrocities
of Partition? If the current generation could only forget
what his generation went through, then maybe they
could start talking to each other.
Beware of the past: turn back to look at it and the
one you love will be cast into hell, like Eurydice, or you
will be turned into a pillar of salt, like Lot's wife. The
past is a dangerous place, for it is where home lies.
  I respectfully differ with Intizar
Husain. I think there should be museums, memorials, a supreme subcontinental storytelling. I think that recounting the atrocities of Partition
might have the opposite effect from
that feared by Husain: it will inoculate us against repeating them. It is
interesting to compare the experiences
of Holocaust survivors with Partition
survivors. The world has come around
to the notion that the great crime that
happened in Europe in the '40s is
worthy of minute examination — a
_ ..„_ „ jjjajj wave 0f fiims, books, and television shows drive home the point, almost to exhaustion. But it barely has a notion of what was happening
at the same time in Southasia. Among the Partition
survivors, I have found surprisingly little bitterness
against the perpetrators. 50 years is a long time to live
with trauma, and a great many of the survivors have
found that the only way to maintain their mental
balance is to forgive the aggressors. 1 was struck by the
fact that many of the people telling me their stories were
telling them to someone outside the family for the very
first time, and they were astonished that anybody
would be interested.
The strongest need to tell is not that of the victims of
violence; it is that of the perpetrators. What did we do
to each other? Examine your hands: they are covered in
blood long dried. Who made us do this? We can't just
blame the conqueror. "I don't get angry on anybody
else except myself", Harjeet Singh said to me in that
hotel room in Wagah. It is an existential burden. Which
one of us is capable of killing? What authority are we
submitting to, whose orders do we obey when we kill?
Harjeet Singh did not explicitly say that he keeps
travelling to Pakistan to atone for what he did. But when
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
he told me his story, weeping, wailing, it was evident
that it was in the nature of a confessional. In drawing
out such narratives, I have found strong initial resistance; but once the telling begins, it is nearly impossible to stop it. It comes out in a flood. The perpetrators
were not professional murderers or rapists. They were
village folk, by and large. Farmers, grocers, neighbours.
In Punjab they call it the "junoon". It was a period suspended in time, separate from what came before and
what came after. It was a mad time, and madness is
their excuse for what they did. "Uper di gur gur di mung
dal...". They have lived the past 50 years with the moral
responsibility for what they did. At an individual level,
these human beings who murdered other human beings are perfect fictional characters. Fiction, as Faulkner
said, is about the human heart in conflict with itself.
For 50 years the telling has stopped. A whole generation did not want to talk about it to their sons and
daughters; a whole generation did not want to hear
about it. The telling is for the grandchildren. Now there
is a generation of grandchildren in al] three countries
that is coming to power, and they have the luxury of
forgiving, a luxury their parents did not enjoy.
But there are two competing forces in the telling: the
grandparents and the governments. The governments
have their own ideas of the story, and they have the
power of the state to spread their version, through
textbooks. School textbooks on both sides, written as
always by professional liars, gloss quickly over
Partition, preferring to concentrate on the struggle for
independence, a much more noble chapter in the
Subcontinent's history. When Partition is dealt with at
all, it is portrayed as a massacre of our people by their
people. The way we gained independence is something
to be proud of, an example to other nations. What followed is our shared secret shame. But surely Partition,
the splitting up of the Subcontinent and the mass transfer of populations, was a far more important historical
event than independence from a foreign power which
ruled parts of the region for less than 200 years, an eye-
blink in Southasian history.
The history of Partition and the independence
struggle, points out Husain, gets distorted in both
countries. "I was seeing episodes of the freedom struggle
on Indian television. I was surprised to see that
Maulana Muhammad Ali, Shaukat Ali were completely
absent. Jinnah also. Why had they disappeared?" The
results of this willed amnesia are apparent in a poll of
urban youth aged 18 to 25, commissioned in May 1997
by the newsmagazine Outlook. When asked which state
was most affected by Partition, 59 per cent said Kashmir;
only 39 per cent identified Punjab. When asked to identify places associated with Partition violence, the majority (53 per cent) picked Jallianwala Bagh.
So the child growing up in Lahore or Delhi or Dhaka
shuttles between two tellings: what he is instructed at
school, which he will have to leam by rote and regurgitate in the examinations, and what his old grandmother
tells him in the last room of the house about the days of
the junoon.
Who is the telling directed towards? Why is it necessary? The new generation has no sense of Partition.
We have grown up, and our parents have grown up,
with the reality of three separate states and most of us
are satisfied with the arrangement. We do not want to
merge into one colossal super-state. I ask those who
want to undo Partition: have we really managed India,
Pakistan, and Bangladesh so well from Delhi,
Islamabad, and Dhaka, that we want to push it still
further to fold everything back into one? What is needed
is far greater decentralisation, not the opposite. Perhaps
a future in which the various states of the Subcontinent
split off into autonomous entities is not so bad, is inevitable and even desirable. Kashmir has as much right to
self-government in local matters as does Kamataka or
Karachi. What is possible is a common market, free
movement of people across open borders, even a
common currency. Everything else should be radically
What still brings us together? Paan (betel-leaf) and
music. On the Samjhauta Express between Delhi and
Lahore I saw everybody carrying baskets of betel-leaf. It
is among the biggest items of trade between the two
countries; a Southasian bad habit. Through the three
wars, through the problems over Kashmir, through
cricket matches, through Thackeray and the Jamaat,
people have needed to chew paan. India grows it;
Pakistan chews it. People in Lahore will curse the Indian
army through a mouthful of paan grown in the enemy
country. As for music, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb,
who after 1947 shuttled restlessly back and forth
between the two countries, unable to find home, put it
best. He said, "If classical music had been taught in
every home in India and Pakistan, there wouldn't have
been a Partition".
The first time I met the enemy people, Pakistanis,
was when I went to New York. We shopped together,
we ate together, we dated each other and had each
others' babies. A phenomenon I have been noticing
lately is that of the young NRI student coming to Delhi
for the Christmas holidays, and saving a week to go to
Karachi or to Lahore, to attend the wedding of a college
roommate. It is there, abroad, where exiles gather, that
there arc signs that Partition might not be irreversible. I
used to shop at a store in Jackson Heights, Queens,
advertising "Indo-Pak-Bangladeshi-Afghan Groceries". I know of a gang in the high schools of Flushing,
comprising of juvenile delinquents of Southasian descent — Muslim, Sikh, Hindu kids fighting together,
united against the Koreans, the Hispanics, the aAirican-
Americans. The cafeteria below where I used to work in
Manhattan sold rice and dal to taxi drivers from all
across the Subcontinent; turbaned cabbies sporting
Khalistani slogans on their cabs stood next to Punjabi
Hindus with VHP stickers on theirs, and ate together
and talked about the mustard fields of their villages.
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
Tliere are an astonishing number of Pakistanis dating
Indians in Wembley and in Jackson Heights. It is almost as if the 'enemy' is deliberately sought out, wooed.
These are by and large children of very conservative
parents, who have raised them on a diet of patriotic
hatred. So teenage rebellion travels hand in hand with
repudiation of their parents' hatreds. The young people
are determined to transgress the ultimate boundary with
the 'other', by accepting them into their bed.
Most progressive organisations in North America
take pains to call themselves "South Asian", rather than
Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi. It is always when
the quarrelling family leaves its house that it comes
back together again. These walls, these fences we have
put up on our borders: they are of recent vintage, and
they are flimsy. We have watered them with our blood,
and they have come up weeds.
The massacres of Partition were the first act of a
great love, an illicit love, worthy of a Sufi qawaali or a
Bhakti bhajan or a Bollywood blockbuster. The three-and-a-half wars we
have fought since then comprise the
second act. We are nearing the last act,
the logical and mythic end.
We, the peoples of the Subcontinent, respect illicit love; we know that
the most powerful love is the hidden
love, the secret longing of the individual soul for an absent god. I have a
Sindhi friend in Bombay whose father,
a doctor, left Karachi only in 1965.
Well after independence, he kept on
his practice in Karachi. Among his clients were the women of a brothel. His
wife always knew when he had treated
one of them, because the notes he
brought home that day would be
scented. For some reason, the prostitutes preferred
Hindu doctors — they thought the Hindus would not
take liberties with them. They were also quite shy around
the doctor; when he would go to examine them, thev
would unveil only the affected part; so he saw their
bodies only in segments, never whole. One day one of
the prostitutes, whom he had now known for a long
time, asked him if he would come to her room. He was
not sure what she wanted, and was hesitant, but she
insisted. Come to my room, doctor, she said. And she
led him inside when no-one was looking, and locked
the door. Then she opened the atmirah in the back of
the room, and showed him her secret inside. He came
closer, and saw what she was pointing at: it was a small
shrine, with a statue of Lord Krishna. Lifting her veil, the
prostitute told him that she prayed to Krishna every day.
She was a Hindu woman who had been kidnapped
during Partition, forced to convert, and then sold to this
brothel. But she maintained, in the silences of her room,
this illicit lover, Krishna, through all these long years.
That was all the prostitute was asking of the doctor: to
Through the three
wars, through
the problems over
Kashmir, through
cricket matches,
through Thackeray
and the Jamaat,
people have needed
to chew paan. India
grows it; Pakistan
chews it.
bear witness to her love, to the truth of her love.
Love can still be mythic in Southasia. There is a reason that Southasian writers are suddenly in vogue in
the West. It is because we are a storehouse, a seed bank,
of myth. Our leading exports are software, jewels, and
myths. Is there any such thing as forbidden love in Paris,
in New York? There, the greatest tragedy possible with
love is that it can end in marriage and divorce; here, it
could end in death.
I am thinking now about Kunwar Ahson and Riffat
Afridi in Karachi. In Pakistan in 1998, a Pathan girl
dared to love a Mohajir boy. It was because of Partition
that the boy was bom in Karachi, but there were other
borders which could never be crossed. The girl's relatives, her tribe, went gunning for the boy; and they were
prepared to kill their own daughter. The entire city went
up in riots; two people were killed, dozens injured. The
police arrested the boy and beat him badly in the prison.
The girl was brought to court to repudiate her love; she
came in her wedding dress. She
addressed the judge from behind her
veil; lifted her eyes and said her truth:
that she loved Kunwar Ahson. She
had taken him as her husband. The
bloodthirsty mob bayed its sentence
outside. When the boy appeared in
court, the girl's relatives were waiting
for him, with the compliance of the
police. They riddled his body with
bullets. Kunwar Ahson now lies in
some hospital, paralysed for life,
unable to consummate the love he
nearly lost his life for (and this, too, fits
within the story; for such a love should
always be the love of angels, a chaste
love, in which lust has no part). The
. . ^.^ .^ y1jl(j(jen w[fa hjg parents, unable
to meet her lover. Both of them are now begging the
world to give them safe shelter somewhere else, for such
love is dangerous in a region where love still has power.
I find their love important, metaphorical. Against
great odds — against the tyrant father of the State — we
the peoples of the Subcontinent love each other. It is an
adulterous love, an illicit love. When we want to live
together safely, it has to be outside, in some other country, in someone else's house. It is still a land where love
means something, because we are ready to die for love.
We are ready to kill for love. Such is the strength of our
passion for each other that we have no other way of
proving this love than to die for it. Any lesser climax
would be to mock the vastness, the wholeness, of this
love; could it be tested, satiated, by mere exile or maiming? We are determined to die, for love; we have made a
collective suicide pact. Each one of us will kill the other.
We will show the whole world what love is; we will all
go out in a grand gesture, all together at once, in the
space of 15 minutes. This can be the only fit ending to
such a great love. b
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
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developing innovative strategies and its implementation,
networking, capacity building of staff and partners, and engaging
with governments, international agencies, NGOs, movements and
networks, private sector and media for leveraging resources,
policies and practices in the campaigns and issues above.
Candidates will have a thorough understanding of the social,
economic and political issues related to HIV/AIDS, Food Rights,
Education and Peace Security in Asia. They will have relevant
higher education and a minimum of ten years of direct
campaigning and advocacy experience in at least one of the
campaign themes and active experience of campaigning and
lobbying at a regional and international level.
Regional Coordinator-Partnership Development
The Regional Coordinator for Partnership Development will lead
the region in a coordinated effort to generate resources both from
international official funding sources as well as from Trusts and
Foundations. The successful candidate will be responsible for
developing and implementing strategies for resource mobilization,
collaborative action, will deepen relationships with official funding
sources for engagement on policy influencing beyond money and
open new relationship and avenues for diversifying income.
Strengthening capacity of partnership and fundraising teams based
in country programmes will also be an important part of the
Candidates will have a higher degree in social sciences, marketing
or economics and minimum of eight to ten years relevant working
experience in the development sector including demonstrated
success in resource mobilization with ethically tuned donors, trusts
and foundations, and having a proven ability in managing effective
working relationships with them, possessing an ability to design
proposals and be successful at raising hinds.
General notes
We are interested in self-motivated people with ability to work independently and in teams, who can work across distances and
committed to working on issues of poverty and rights. They should be value driven, have excellent interpersonal, networking
and communication skills. Fluency in English both written and spoken is essential and knowledge of languages spoken with
the a\ctionAid Asian countries would be an asset. Experience of working in multicultural environments in Asia and
internationally within the development sector would be highly advantageous. The jobs would involve travel of minimum
30 % within the region and to wider parts of ActionaAid.
Pl&tse email your application with a recent CVandnames oftwo referees to: by 8th of February 2004. Please
indicate the position title in the subject of your email application. We will only be able to respond to tlxslx/rt listed candidates for tlie selection
Ontheedge of lunacy
British foreign aid is now targeted
at countries willing to sell off their
assets to big business.
SPARE A thought this bleak new year for all those who
rely on charity. Open your hearts, for example, to a
group of people who, though they live in London, are
in such desperate need of handouts that last year they
received £7.6m in foreign aid. The Adam Smith Institute, the ultra-rightwing lobby group, now receives more
money from Britain's Department for International Development (DflD) than Liberia or Somalia, two of the
most desperate nations on Earth.
Are the members of the Adam Smith Institute starving? Hardly. They work in plush offices in Great Smith
Street, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament. They hold lavish receptions and bring in speakers from all over the world. Big business already contributes generously
to this good cause.
It gets what it pays for. The institute's purpose is to devise new means
for corporations to grab the resources
that belong to the public realm. Its
president, Madsen Pirie, claims to
have invented the word privatisation.
His was the organisation that persuaded the Conservative government
to sell off the railways, deregulate the
buses, introduce the poll tax, cut the
top rates of income tax, outsource
local government services and start
to part-privatise the national health
service and the education system.
"We pro-pose things," Pirie once
boasted, "which people regard as
being on the edge of lunacy. The next
thing you know, they're on the edge
of policy." In this spirit, his institute now calls for the
privatisation of social security, the dismantling of the
NHS and a shift from public to private education. It
opposes government spending on everything, in other
words, except the Adam Smith Institute.
So what on earth is going on? Why are swivel-eyed
ideologues in London a more deserving cause than
starving refugees in Somalia? To understand what is
happening, we must first revise our conception of what
foreign aid is for.
Aid has always been an instrument of foreign policy.
During the cold war, it was used to buy the loyalties of
states that might otherwise have crossed to the other
side. Even today, the countries that receive the most
The solicitor Madsen Pirie and
the 'afflicted'.
money tend to be those that are of greatest strategic use
to the donor nation, which is why the US gives more to
Israel than it does to sub-Saharan Africa.
But foreign policy is also driven by commerce, and
in particular by the needs of domestic exporters. Aid
goes to countries that can buy our manufacturers' products. Sometimes it doesn't go to countries at all, but
straight to the manufacturers. A US government website
boasts that "the principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United
States. Close to 80 percent of the US Agency for International Development's contracts and grants go directly to American firms."
A doctor working in Gondar hospital in Ethiopia
wrote to me recently to spell out what this means. The
hospital has none of the basic textbooks on tropical
diseases it needs. But it does have 21 copies of an 800-
page volume called Aesthetic Facial Surgery and 24
volumes of a book called Opthalmic Pathology. There
is no opthalmic pathologist in training in Ethiopia.
Tbe poorest nation on Earth, un-surprisingly, has no
aesthetic plastic surgeons. The US had spent $2m on
medical textbooks that American publishers hadn't
been able to sell at home, called them
iatfSt*?;- aid and dumped them in Ethiopia.
In Britain the Labour government claims to have abandoned such
practices, though only because they
infringe European rules on competition. But now it has found a far more
effective means of helping the rich
while pretending to help the poor. It is
spending its money on projects that
hand public goods to corporations.
It is now giving, for example, £342m
to the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
This is a staggering amount of money,
15 times what it spent last year on the
famine in Ethiopia, Why is Andhra
Pradesh so lucky? Because its chief
minister, or "chief executive" as he
now likes to be known, is doing to his '
state what Pinochet did to Chile:
handing everything that isn't nailed
down, and quite a lot that is, to big business. Most of
the  money  DflD is giving him  is being  used  to
"restructure" and "reform" the state and its utilities.
His programme will dispossess 20 million people
from the land and contribute massively to poverty. DFID's
own report on the biggest of the schemes it is funding
in the state reveals that it suffers from "major failings",
has "negative consequences on food security" and does
"nothing about providing alternative income for those
displaced". But it permits Andhra Pradesh to become a
laboratory for the kind of mass privatisation the
department is seeking to encourage all over the world.
In Zambia, DflD is spending just £700,000 on improving nutrition, but £56m on privatising the copper
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
mines. In Ghana, the department made its aid payments
for upgrading die water system conditional on partial
privatisation. Foreign aid from Britain now means giving to the rich the resources that keep the poor alive.
So there are rich pickings for
organisations like the Adam Smith
Institute. It is being hired by DflD as a
consultancy, telling countries like
South Africa how to flog off the family
silver. It is hard to .see how this helps
the poor. The South African government's preparations for privatisation,
according to a study by the Municipal Services Project, led to almost 10
million people having their water cut
off, 10 million people having their
electricity cut off, and over 2 million
people being evicted from their
homes for non-payment of bills.
What we see here, in other words, is a revival of an
ancient British charitable tradition. During the Irish
potato famine, the British government made famine relief available to the starving, but only if they agreed to
lose their tenancies on the land. The 1847 Poor Law
Extension Act cleared Ireland for the landlords. Today,
the British government is helping the corporations to
seize not only the land from the poor, but also the water, the utilities, the mines, the schools, the health ser-
The Adam Smith Institute, the ultra-rightwing
lobby group, now
receives more money
from Britain's DflD than
Liberia or Somalia.
vices and anything else they might find profitable. And
you and I are paying for it.
All this was pioneered by the sainted Clare Short.
Short's trick was to retain her radical credentials by
publicly criticising the work of
other departments, while retaining
her job by pursuing in her own
department policies that were far
more vicious and destructive than
those she attacked. Blair's trick was
to keep her there, to assure old
Labour voters tliat they still had a
voice in government, while ensuring that Short did precisely what
his corporate backers wanted.
I never thought I would hear
myself saying this, and I recognise
that in doing so I may be handing
 ———     ammunition to the rightwing lobby
groups campaigning for a re-duction in government
spending, such as, for example, the Adam Smith
Institute. But if this is what foreign aid amounts to, it
seems to me that there is too much of it, rather than too
little. Britain's Department for International Development is beginning to do more harm than good. ,\
George Monbiot
The Guardian
 pi I
A Subcontinental free
SAFTA has been hyped following the SAARC summit, but will it only help
the trader and not the people? And what of services?
by Joe Thomas K 	
It was unlikely for the plebeians to have missed the
self-congratulatory tide which followed the January 2004 Islamabad SAARC summit. The South Asian
Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement signed by the foreign ministers of the seven SAARC countries was hailed
as the biggest outcome of the summit and the framework for the Free Trade Area (FTA) which SAFTA envisions was projected as the remedy to alleviate the economic woes of the region. While the thaw in the relations between the two 'biggest' players in the area was
a positive step, setting aside the compulsions of an upcoming election in India and the ex-gratia benefits of
good neighbourly behaviour on the part of Pakistan,
the agreement on trade liberalisation and infra-region
free trade in goods needs to be reviewed in the face of
pretentious optimism.
Globally, regional trading agreements (RTA's) have
been proliferating over the second half of the 1990s, enabling many states to gain from freer trade. Depending
on the level of integration, these have ranged from preferential trading agreements, free trade agreements such
as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),
customs unions such as Mercosur (a Latin American
regional integration mechanism with Argentina, Brazil,
Paraguay and Uruguay as full members, and Bolivia
and Chile as associate members), to economic union such
as the European Union (EU). The SAFTA agreement is a
higher stage in the evolution of the earlier SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) of 1993.
Tied down as it was bv various political limitations,
SAPTA proved inadequate to boost intra-region trade
on a commodity-wise basis. The present agreement proposes to address the current low levels of intra-SAARC
trade , which hovers around the 5 percent mark, through
a phasing out of barriers (primarily tariffs and quantitative restrictions) to trade in goods between member
nations over a 10 year period. The operation of the draft
agreement is subject to its ratification by member states
by 1 January 2006.
The agreement requires the 'least developed' countries—Nepal, Bhutan and the Ivlaldives—to reduce tariff rates to the 0-5 percent target over 10 years starting
from 2006. Of the 'non-least developed' countries, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will get five years to implement the new tariff regime while Sri Lanka will get six
years to reach the target. Such purposeful time-frames
and schedules suggest a gung-ho can-do attitude that
does great credit to the Southasian leadership's vision
of common future, but can this vision withstand critical scrutiny? The present visualisation of a free trade
arrangement in Southasia has been endorsed by many
quarters, but is such confidence warranted? The hard
realities on the ground do not, prima facie, inspire much
faith in the possibility of a workable arrangement emerging in the near future. All the 'feel good' chatter that,
has come to dominate the Indian media in particular
must perforce, when it has the time, contend with the
fundamentals of international trade.
Intra-SAARC shares in exports and imports (%)
9 Exports
1 Imports
Source SAARC information
H.wtltirxk WHS SAARC Chamber
ot Cvmrw'ce and i'idf.'i.'S.'ry
Trade primer
International trade is generated when
each country produces that basket of
goods in which it has either comparative
advantage due to the abundance of certain factors of production, relative production efficiency arising from economies
of scale (largely a capital-intensive phenomenon), or the presence of 'unique'
natural resources. Two-factor models
(which consider only labour and capital)
explain how countries which are abundant in labour engage in the production
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 of labour-intensive goods for exports and import capital-intensive goods and vice versa. The complement of
this is that economies which are relatively labour deficit manufacture goods amenable to capital-intensi\re
production and import those which are labour intensive from labour surplus developing countries. While
this explains the trade patterns between developing
countries and their partners in the developed world,
the high level of trade between developed economies is
explained by the high per capita incomes in these countries which facilitate intra-industry trade, especially in
hi-tech goods. The trade in these goods runs up to huge
volumes because of high levels of product differentiation which fuels the demand, for example, for smaller
mobile phones, bigger sports utility vehicles, or flatter
Predictably, the direction and volume of trade from
the South Asian region is largely towards the capital
abundant developed countries of the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), resource rich Oil Producing and Exporting Countries
(OPEC) and East European countries. The export basket
for most of the SAARC member states is composed of
primary goods (agriculture and allied products) or low-
tech labour-intensive manufactures (textiles, garments,
clothing, etc). Their exports are in bulk, which means
that the component of value-added at the country level
is low and hence restricts the export base since the larger
and more lucrative value-added market is not available to South Asian countries. Typically, other countries tend to take advantage of this market. Likewise
their imports are either intermediate goods (resource/
raw material-based) like petroleum and chemicals, or
capital goods (machinery/equipment-based).
For the 'contracting parties' (as SAFTA likes to refer
to its members) to imagine that the engine of regional
growth in South Asia will lie in the trade in goods alone
is highly optimistic. With very few exceptions, where a
country's advantage lies in unique geographical or resource endowments, it is highly unlikely that an upswing in intra-regional trade can result from comparative advantages when all the economies of SAFTA arc
still locked into a labour-surplus and capital-scarce
environment. With low levels of per capita incomes in
most of the member states and fewer numbers of technology driven industries, intra-industry trade based on
verv refined product differentiation does not seem to
have a bright future either. Within the region the only
exceptions to tbe general trend are Nepal and Bhutan
whose trade figures with India run at high percentage
levels, albeit of low value in terms of the region's overall trade with the rest of the world.
Textiles and     Carpets, Gems and
garments, tea, clothing, leather jewellery,
goods, jute
goods, grain
leather and
and other
gems, coconut
Raw cotton and  Fish, clothing
textiles; rice;
engineering        leather
goods, clothing, manufactures
software, cotton
textiles, leather
iron ore
Cotton and        Petroleum
textiles, products,
macdhinery and fertilizer,
equipment,        machinery
food and drink,
Petroleum and Petroleum;
petroleum machinery and
products, transport
machinery,iron equipment;
and steel, edible food
oils, chemicals,
and Capital
cement, fruit,
electricity (to
India) precious
stones, spices
Fuel and
machinery and
parts vehicles,
fabrics, rice
Garments and
frozen fish, jute
and jute goods
tea, urea
leather and
Capital goods,
vegetable oils
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
Major Trading Partners of Nepal
Value In '000 Rs.
F.Y. 2000/01
F.Y. 2001/02
Hong Kong
Sub Total
Other Countries*
Grand Total
Note :- Trade with India for the F.Y 1999/2000 and 2000/01 are
revised and 2001/02 is provisional.
"Including Exports to Tibet, Autonomous Region ot People's
Republic of China
Major Trading Partners of Nepal
Value In '000 R-s.
F.Y. 2000/01        F.Y. 2001/02
45,211,000           45^6430
12,086,307             7,846,372
3,153,903             4,818,356
Saudi Arabia
4,957,819             4,572,797
6,274,683             4,315,803
NR             4,205,776
3,306,230             3,278,165
NR             2,877,654
8,827,202             2,795,392
NR             2,525,603
3,3tD5,209                      NR
5,577,528                      NR
2,898,264                      NR
NR                      NR
Korea R.
NR                     NR
Sub Total
95,598,145           82,600,218
Other Countries*
23,188,464           22,901,579
Grand Total
118,786,609          105,501,797
'Including Imports from Tibet.
Republic of China
Autonomous Region of People's
Direction of Trade
(in Million US $)
Exports, total
1.     United States
2.    Germany
3.     United Kingdom
4.    France
5.     Italy
6.    Netherlands
7.     Belgium
8.    Canada
9.     Hong Kong, China
10.   Japan
Imports, total
1.    India
2.     China, People's Republic of
3.    Japan
4.     Singapore
5.    Hong Kong, China
6.    Korea, Republic of
7.    United States
8.     United Kingdom
9.    Australia
10.   Indonesia
Maldives: Values and Shares of Exports
(in Million US $)
Hong Kong
Sri Lanka
New Zealand
European Union     231.69
United States
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 India's exports to major trade partners
(In US$ million)
.  .
Hong Kong
Total (Incl. others)
Exports from Pakistan
(2000-2002 in Million US S)
2000-2001      Countries
2240.6              USA
617.9                 Dubai
576.4                UK
Hong Kong
503.9                 Germany
494.6                Hong Kong
South Korea
279.0                 Saudi Arabia
265.2                South Korea
232.8                 Netherlands
231.3                Italy
192.0                 France
5633.7(61.2%) Sub-Total:
5888.1 (64.59%)
3567.9(38.7%) Others
3235.6 (35.5%)
9201.6 (100%) G-Total
9123.7 (100%)
Even if it is suggested that investment decisions do
not necessarily follow the patterns that text-book 'theories' have worked out, it would still seem doubtful that
investor risk-taking will substantially increase or that
outcomes from the consequences of SAFTA will be equitable. For example, it might be argued that differences
in the level of unionisation of workers, the relative ease
of imparting the necessary skills to labour, and wage
rate differentials could lead to geographical distribution of investment to the benefit of other less ind ustri-
ally developed member states like Bangladesh or Pakistan in relation to India. Product-specific relocations of
production units cannot be ruled-out, as in the case of a
tyre-manufacturing plant shifting base to the Pakistan
Punjaib to service the demand in both the Pakistan market as well as the north-western sector of India since
the costs of setting up manufacturing and training new
India's Imports to major trade partners
(In USS million)
■■■   ■
ifif     2000-2001
Korea (Rep.)
Total (Incl. others)
Source: Federal ministry of Commerce. India
Sources of Imports in Pakistan
(2000-2002 in Million USS)
S. Korea
591424 (55.1%)
6643.8 (643%)
4814.68 (44.9%)
3695.7 (35.7%)
10728.92 (100%)
103395 (100%)
workers for an essentially mechanised industry will be
evened out by the long-run gains from a larger market.
Even so, the number of instances of such new investments flowing into non-industrialised areas is likely to
be small. To the extent that negative factors impeding
investment flows into the less industrialised countries
and sub-regions of Southasia override the possible positive factors that could attract investments into these
countries, some degree of caution in estimating the likelihood of such 'horizontal' shifts is called for.
India the Big
A large economy like India has a large reserve army of
unemployed semi-skilled and unskilled workers. It also
has relatively better infrastructure (transport, communication) and far more robust financial systems in place.
Given the circumstances, it is doubtful that production
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
 Average Share of Countries in Total FDI
Inflows and Total FDI stock in South, East
and South East Asia: 1991 to 2001
Average share in
Average share in
Total FDI Inflow
Total FDI Inward
Stock 1980-2001
China, Hong Kong
China, Taiwan
Sri Lanka
Total South, East
& South East Asia
Computed from UNCTAD 2003
Nepal's Inward FDI: industrial
breakdO\A/n*(Millions of dollars)
Agriculture, hunting,
forestry and fishing
Hotels and restaurants
Transport, storage
and communications
Business activities
Other services
* Approval data.
structures using these as inputs would forgo these relative advantages to set up shop in Nepal or Bangladesh
merely for the sake of regional co-operation, especially
when there are no other advantages to be accrued from
making such move. Additionally, the high initial costs
for 'horizontal' relocation are discouraged by the politico-economic systems in place in many of the member states. With the 15 January statement by the Pakistan Information and Broadcast Minister, Sheikh
Rashid dM-tmed that, "Nobody should expect that free
trade would be held without seeking a resolution of
Kashmir problem", the climate for cross-border investment flows is not set to make much headway. Besides,
Pakistan: Foreign Direct Investment
(Millions of dollars
Economic Group
Chemical, Pharm. & Fertilizer
Mining & Quarrying - Oil explor.
Food, Beverages & Tobacco
Transport and Storage & Comm. IT
Machinery other than electrical
Electrical Machinery
Financial Business
Petro-Chemical & Refining
Tourism / Paper & Pulp
Cement / Sugar
Bangladesh: FDI By Major
Industrial Groups (Millions of dollars)
Name of Industrial group
Agro based industries
Food & Allied Industries
Textile Industries
Printing & publishing
Tannery, leather & rubber
Chemical Industries
Glass, ceramics & other
Engineering Industries
Service Industries
the region was never known for capital movements between the countries of the region in the first place. Businesses that are known for risk-taking are few and far
between in these economies.
However, as mentioned earlier, this scenario does
not rule out in toto the benefits to sm,iller countries such
as, for example, Sri Lanka gaining from increased investments in the rubber-tyre manufacturing sector or a
new tea blending segment emerging in Sri Lanka to the
detriment of Dubai, or India's further investments in
hydro-electric projects in Bhutan and Nepal with buy-
back arrangements. But such developments need not
necessarily be attributed to the special effects of SAFTA
and the freeing of the regional trade arrangement. Such
activities, to the extent that there have been any, have
already been going on because they were being facilitated by the bilateral and/or free trade arrangements
that already exist between India and these countries.
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
India: FDI approvals with inflows
(During August. 1991 to October. 2002) Amount Rs. crore (US S million)
Rank Sector
Amount ot FDI
of total FDI
Amount of FDI
of total FDI
Inflows as
percent of
(i) Power
(ii) Oil refinery
Total (i+ii)
43.481 (11,855)
33,964 (9,060)
77,445 (20,915)
7,475 (1,813)
Telecommunications (Radio Paging,
Cellular mobile. Basic telephone
56,273 (15,197)
9,300 (2,259)
Electrical equipment (including
Computer software & electronics)
27^53 (7,027)
10,058 (2.,488)
Transportation industry
20,981 (5,512)
7,800 (1,984)
Services sector (Financial &
18,416 (4,932)
5,968 (1,573)
Metallurgical industries
15,453 (4,253)
991 (252)
Chemicals (other than fert)
12,852 (3,677)
4,840 (1,316)
Food processing industries
9,379 (2,715)
2,884 (788)
Hotel & tourism
4,902 (1,385)
3,466 (1,006)
546 (138)
1,059 (290)
* Percentage figures do not take into account the amount of FDI inflows for ADRs/GDRs/FCCB's, RBIs -NRI Schemes,
acquisition of existing shares and advance pending for allotment of shares, as these are not categarise sector-wise
Source : SIA (FDI Data Cell), Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion Ministry of Commerce & industry.
This is a factor that tends not to be considered. Any
expansion of scale in such investments therefore need
have nothing to do with SAFTA and the further freeing
of trade arrangements.
A\\ this is not to suggest that SAFTA will have no
beneficial consequences whatsoever. The 'premium'
(products unique to the region) categories, for instance,
stand to gain so that more of Darjeeling Tea, Sri Lankan
blend, Nepali carpets, high-quality Pakistani cotton,
Bhutani handicrafts and Maldivian tuna may well
make their way into each others' market. However, if
the scope of the agreement pretends to be addressing
regional economic growth, one would have expected
the visioning exercise to be big as well. The market for
'premium' goods is limited, and fears expressed by countries like Bangladesh, of being swamped by Indian
goods, could well become reality. Apart from the limited gains to a limited range of 'premium goods', cheap
imports from larger partners (and the largest partner)
are bound to affect industries in the relatively smaller
economies. These countries are doubly constrained by
the fact that higher input expenditures and inferior infrastructure might raise the costs of production and
make their goods less competitive.
What the Chinese goods did to the footwear and toy
industry in Pakistan could as well be replicated for other
goods from bigger partners of Southasia. The point bears
repeating that the gains can reasonably be expected to
be loaded in favour of big economies. Moreover, the
draft SAFTA agreement is not even categorical in addressing itself to member states about restricting the
use of anti-dumping measures against the lesser developed members. Even the limited benefits to smaller country exports could be manipulated with the options for
all countries to prepare a list of 'sensitive' exports and
with an ambiguity that does not categorically bind member states to phase out the list. This is what the draft
agreement has to say on the sensitive list:
Article 7
3. a) Contracting States may not apply the Trade Liberalization Programme... to the tariff lines included
in the Sensitive Lists which shall be negotiated by the
Contracting States (for LDCs and Non-l.DCs) and incorporated in this Agreement as an integral part. The
number of products in the Sensitive Lists shall be subject to maximum ceiling to be mutually agreed among
the Contracting States with flexibility to Least Developed Contracting States to seek derogation in respect
of the products of their export interest; and
b) The Sensitive List shall be reviewed after every
2004 January 17/1 HIMAL
India Bangladesh
I Agriculture
] Industry
I Services
I Agriculture
: Industry
I Services
I Agriculture
I Services
I Agriculture
i Industry
I Services
I Agriculture
! Services
I Agriculture
! Services
four years or earlier as may be decided by Safta Ministerial Council (SMC), established under Article 10,
with a view to reducing the number of items in the
Sensitive List.
Added to this are gaping holes in the definitions of
basic terms and caveats that could render the entire
agreement meaningless if any of the so-called 'contracting states' chooses to invoke them. There is, for instance,
Article 14, which renders SAFTA redundant. Titled General Exceptions, Article 14 says,
a) Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to
prevent any Contracting State from taking action and
adopting measures which it considers necessary for
the protection of its national security.
Discrepancies such as these arc ideal for manipulation by trade-law experts to be used to according to the
whims of the contracting countries and to the possible
disadvantage of the least developed.
Trader lobby
It remains to be seen how the volumes and value of trade
in goods, aimed at "regional development" through intra-regional trade will move once SAITA as it is currently
envisaged, is put in place. But it is clear that capturing
the markets without actual physical shift in industrial
production that could diversify the manufacturing base
of the smaller countries—by, among other means, horizontal investments that could effect development
through knowledge spillovers (expansion of the skilled
labour workforce), backward (supply-side benefits) and
forward linkages (high-income spurred investments)—
could still be done through the trader lobby in each country, particularly in the small countries.
Typically, the trader has a keen interest in the free
trade in goods and unlike the manufacturer will profit
from the flooding of domestic markets with the goods
from the larger economies, While this would ensure
that goods make it to their destinations, how much the
traders spawn backward-forward linkages to the benefit of sizeable numbers of people is anyone's guess.
Trade revenues tend to eventually reach far fewer
people than manufacturing revenues. Therefore, the
setback to the economy from an overall decline in the
manufacturing sector will not be offset by the boost to
the trader lobby, because the benefits simply do not
reach far enough.
The agreement in its present form also needs to be
scrutinised from two other angles. First, the agreement
includes only trade in goods and excludes the crucial
services sector. Regional development is claimed to be
the ultimate goal, and what makes the draft SAFTA
agreement such a surprising document is that it chooses
to overlook the existing and potential national competitive advantage that the SAARC member states have
in sectors like tourism and hospitality (Nepal, Maldives,
Sri Lanka), retailing of electricity (with Pakistan's surplus power, Nepal and Bhutan's hydel-power capacities), transmission/distribution of gas (Bangladesh),
and health services (India), and so on and a host of
other services which make up one-third (and growing)
of Nepal's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and close to
50 percent (and above) of that of the other SAARC member states. This is particularly important since the crucial issue of financing infrastructural investment has
not been resolved yet it is quite possible that the task of
financing infrastructure investment—should the government undertake infrastructure development or will
joint-sector arrangements work themselves out for all
countries to be equally attractive to investment (foreign
or otherwise)—has not been settled yet.
This issue would not have been quite as daunting
as it appears since services by and large are not as dependent on heavy infrastructure as manufacturing is.
HIMAL 17/1 Januan/ 2004
Sri Lanka
IM Agriculture
'.". I Industry
n Services
I Agriculture
I Services
The further advantage of focusing on services is that
they are largely more non-competing in nature as between countries. Hence lifting of barriers to their trade
may spur the engine of 'regional growth' as opposed to
the possibility of uneven development arising from imbalances in the trade in goods. In this sense, the trade
in services would have been a relatively safer exercise
from the equity point of view. The point is not about
doing one before the other but of a mix of phasing out
barriers to key competitive sectors whether in goods or
services. As of now SAFTA does not address lifting of
barriers to trade in services.
The second angle from which the agreement needs
to be examined is the presumed effects of foreign direct
investment (FDI). The idea of a free trade agreement is
being hyped on its prospective linkage to greater FDI
inflows from outside Southasia. The 2004 Index of Economic Freedom drawn up by the Heritage Foundation
still classifies India as "mostly unfree" and with the
second generation of economic reforms in most of
Southasia still far from implementation, the catch-line
of 'magnet of investment' should be cautiously used in
the context of Southasia. The region attracts only about
2 percent of the total FDI inflows to developing countries and even that is shared largely between India (close
to 75 percent), Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Even with relatively lower wages, Southasia has not
seen the kind of results that planning commissions and
finance departments project in terms of actual FDI inflows. Observers have pointed out that low wages are
offset by many factors, including the low productivity
of labour and the time and cost overruns resulting from
poor infrastructure. Interestingly, the actual FDt inflows
to the SAARC member states have been in energy, telecom,
health, banking and tourism—which make the arguments for removing barriers to trade in services even
more urgent.
I Agriculture
: Industry
I Services
■ Agriculture
.! Industry
I Services
I Agriculture
: Industry
I Services
I Agriculture
j Industry
I Services
The modalities of the SAFTA agreement would have
to work themselves out over the next 12 years when
finally the goal of an FTA would be reached. Will the
goods-first model that EU and NAFTA adopted deliver
for Southasia? lt will be safe to say that the optimal
levels will not be achieved. For the sake of promoting
'regional development' through greater trade in goods,
are there mechanisms in place for improving the condition of unequal infrastructure levels of the least developed members within SAARC akin to the European Regional Development Fund (which was meant to redress
regional imbalances of the least prosperous regions)?
The text is conspicuously vague on this issue. It phases
out lowering of barriers over a 10-year period for the
least developed members and suggests a fund to compensate for loss of customs revenues arising from the
reduction of tariffs. As for correcting actual regional
imbalances which could then leverage their competitiveness, the text is silent on this count.
Does the agreement recognise the presently high levels of illegal labour migration which could be further
accentuated towards manufacturing pockets within the
bigger economies such as India? The text has nothing
to say on the matter. Likewise, a host of other technicalities are left to the trade-experts to finalise, from "rules
of origin" (the criterion which merits the "made in x"
label on any country's export item) to "sensitive lists"
to "areas for technical assistance", notwithstanding the
absence of a timeframe for many modalities. As the
SAFTA agreement prepares to undergo ratification by
member countries over the next two years, it can only
be hoped that a more informed and sustained debate in
the region takes place over such issues of trade which
affect close to a quarter of the world's population. Needless to say, the need to rework the finer points in the
SAFTA agreement is ever more imperative. The idea is
regional development, after all. b
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
 Is the largest market
in the making?
The prospect of free trade in the subcontinent is expected to stamp-
out illegal trade and the routing of goods through third countries
leading in the long-term to benefits for all in the region.
by Farhan Reza
Just seven months prior to the
summit meeting of the South
Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) member
states, a Pakistan National Assembly member, Saleem Jan Mazari, asserted at a conference at the Indian
Merchants Chamber (an apex body
for trade, commerce and industry in
the western region of India) that, "if
the three countries, namely India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh, came together they would be the biggest consumer market in the world". In the
light of the January 2004 SAARC
summit in Islamabad, the thaw in
the relations between neighbours
and arch rivals India and Pakistan
is expected to give a tremendous
boost to bilateral trade activities. The
resulting environment is projected
to be cut-throat in terms of the competition between the producers of
the two countries in the long run,
while trade balance is expected to
be in India's favour in the short to
medium term.
Based on the idea of a unified
'South Asian market', a businessman of Indian origin based in Singapore, AR Jumabhoy, prepared a
document a month before the SAARC
summit in which he claimed that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with
a total population of close to 1.5 billion people and with a fairly impres-
sive combined GDP, can offer larger
sized markets for trade and industry. The SAARC meet also endorsed
the observations and finalised the
South Asian Free Trade Agreement
(SAFTA). This treaty binds all seven
nations to reduce their tariffs in
phases. Many analysts and business people feel that the two main
economies which can make the treaty successful are India and Pakistan. "The two countries enjoy a fairly large amount of informal trade,
and also face smuggling", says Rais
Ashraf Tar Mohmmad, a Pakistani
commodity trader. He cites the example of a very popular tobacco
based product, Pan Parag, which he
says can be found at almost any pan
shop in Pakistan even though it is
among the banned items in the
Businessmen in Pakistan
say that the demand and supply
equations compel them
to find extralegal routes to
bring in commodities which
can be profitable. Like Pan
Parag, many
other products
find their way
into Pakistan via
a third country..
The products are first shipped to
Colombo or Dubai, a favoured conduit for traders from both countries,
and are then brought to Pakistan.
"Third country trade is estimated to
be nearly USD 1.5 billion per annum", says Siraj Qasim Teli, president of the Ka rachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Interestingly,
animal trade makes up a large proportion of the smuggling. It is estimated that more than INR 200 million worth of animals (largely cattle) make it across the Indian border
to Pakistan each year. The volume
might be several times more than
this figure due to the undocumented nature of the trade.
Ironically, in contrast to the robust illegal trade, official trade between the two nations remains
nominal. According to official figures, Pakistan exported goods
worth USD 70.7 million during the
fiscal year 2002-03, while it spent
foreign exchange worth USD 166.6
million for importing goods from
India. Besides the relatively low volume of this above-ground trade, the
balance clearly was
in India's favour.
The official
list of items exported to India
consists of vegetables and fruits,
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
Pakistan's balance of trade with
India (in million US$)
-168.47 '
i 145.83 :
■2.38.33 *
Source: Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry
1 ne visionaries of the common market.
poppy seeds, raw cotton, wool,
waste wool, fine animal hair, textile
yarn and fabrics, leather and leather manufactures, petroleum crude,
plants for perfumes, pharmaceuticals, copper waste and scrap, articles of apparel, cloth accessories,
rock salt and rice.
Commodities officially imported
from India are ginger, tea, cardamom, soybean meal, carbon electrodes, iron ore, tendu (bidi) leaves,
vegetable seeds, zinc, magnesia, refined lead, manganese ores and concentrates, books, betel leaves, sports
goods, phthalic anhydride, tamarind, dyeing and tanning materials,
cement, sewing machine, oil-cakes,
residue of, onion, organic
chemicals and sugar-cane.
The trade balance in favour of
India has prompted fears among
certain members of the Pakistani
business community, especially industrialists, of losing the domestic
market to Indian manufactures resulting in a process of deindustrial-
isation. Cement manufacturers
were the first to raise concerns. "The
Indian cement industry will make a
major dent in our business because
they have an edge over their Pakistani counterparts due to differences in the tax structures of the two
countries", maintains Tariq Saigol,
chairman of the All Pakistan Cement Manufacturers Association.
According to him, tax per tonne of
cement in India is INR 500 while in
Pakistan the government collects
PKR 1600 for the same quantity. Pa
kistani researchers are also of the
view that Indian pharmaceutical
goods will develop a major market
presence in Pakistan because drugs
are priced low in India.
However, optimistic voices are
not totally absent in Pakistan.
Where fear prevails amongst a section of the business community
about the possibility of Indian goods
driving them out of business, a large
number of businessmen and people
in government see the opening-up
The short term may
see a flooding of Indian
goods into the Pakistani market, but in the
long run Pakistani
goods will be able to
penetrate India.
of borders as a good opportunity for
Pakistani goods to capture a market share in India. "The opening up
of the border will provide us access
to the largest market of Southasia",
says Zubair Motiwala, an industrialist. Likewise, Tariq Ikram, minister of state and chairman of Pakistan's Export Promotion Bureau,
feels that the country's exports to
India could reach USD 3 billion after the freeing of trade from current
restrictions. According to him, Pakistan could get a reasonable share
in the Indian market for value-add
ed goods, besides diversifying the
current export portfolio vis-^-vis
India by adding commodities like
cotton, sugar and rice to the existing list. Members of the business
community and researchers alike
believe tliat the short term may see a
flooding of Indian goods into the
Pakistani market but in the long run
Pakistani goods will be able to penetrate India, turning into a mutually beneficial situation for both countries. According to them, the trade
pattern in normal times will, in all
likelihood, remain in favour of Pakistan as in the 1979-1980 period
when the overall trade balance was
INR 940 million in Pakistan's favour.
Even more recently, in 1988-89, the
balance was INR 326 million rupees
in favour of Pakistan.
Energy Game
The interests for both countries are
not just confined to exporting commodities and other goods, but also
in sectors such as oil and gas. Islamabad is already working on the
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline project. At a
December 2003 meeting of the steering committee, comprising members
from all three countries, a Asian Development Bank funded feasibility
study of the USD 3.2 billion TAP
project was presented, in which India was earmarked as the end-user
of the gas. The project also envisaged gas storage facilities in Pakistan and the establishment of an independent security agency to take
2004 January 17/1 HIMAL
±              The proposed TAP gas pipeline
f ^Afghanistan /      /—«—-^     7
^-1 Pakistan       J?                    ^^PaT*^
i\      -y              S.                      Ind'a
Major items of exports to India (In million USD)
Commodity Description
Vegetables and ^its
Textile yarn and fabrics
Leather and leather manufacture
Petroleum crude
Plants for perfume, pharmaceuticals
Source: Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and I
care of the 1,700 kilometre-long gas
India currently requires five to six
billion cubic feet (Bcf) of gas per day
and the demand is expected to grow.
This indicates that perhaps India
will need gas intake not only from
Turkmenistan, but also another one
from Tran that is under consideration.
The tri-nation ministerial steering
committee on the TAP gas pipeline
project had ultimately to reject the
feasibility study conducted by the
project consultants because the report was prepared viewing India as
the buyer, but the steering committee
had not received any formal reply
from the Indian side. The committee
decided to go ahead with the project
sans India, and the project consultant, Penspen Consulting of the United Kingdom, was directed to revise
the feasibility report. The TAP project
cost is estimated at USD 2.6 billion
with the exclusion of India and USD
3.2 billion if the pipeline services
•New Delhi as well.
Pakistan is keen on acting as a
gas conduit to India, for the money
which it plans to charge from India
for the privilege of transit. The estimated charge varies from four to six
cents per cubic feet. India, on the
other hand has been reluctant on
political grounds, as well because
of the cost factor. Some industry analysts see the present positive economic development between the
two countries in SAFTA as a "levelling of the terrain" for the TAP gas
pipeline. To the surprise of many in
Pakistan, M Abdullah Yusuf, Member Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum
and Natural Resources began vis
its to New Delhi just a week after
the conclusion of the S-AARC summit to discuss Pakistan's purchase
of diesel from India. Many oil sector
analysts believe that Pakistan's
move is aimed at softening the Indian side into progress on the gas pipeline project. Speaking to newspersons in New Delhi, Abdullah went
on to add that, "Diesel imports to
Pakistan from India are on our negative list, but we are willing to review this".
Pakistan, which currently imports 4.5-5 million tonnes of diesel
annually, mostly from Kuwait, has
initiated talks with the state-run Indian Oil Corporation which has surplus refining capacity and is keen
to export diesel to Pakistan from
pipelines that run close to Pakistan's border. Indian officials say
diesel exports will help India utilise this surplus refining capacity,
while Pakistan will benefit from the
lower cost of fuel imports. Oil and
gas sector observers believe that India may join in the TAP gas pipeline
project, if not immediately then at
least by the middle of this year,
when tlie steering committee of the
project meets again.
Many businessmen are of the
view that though the new phase of
SAARC, SAFTA and the India-Pakistan romance has just started, in the
past good relations have soured on
issues ranging from terrorism, the
hawkish rhetoric in the media of
both countries, to insidious speech-
campaigns at multilateral fora. Indian-origin businessmen like Jum-
abhoy have aclcnowledged that political factors have tended to dominate the economic agenda in Southasia and that trade generally is often
held hostage to the improvement in
the relations between India and Pakistan, particularly on the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The events
in the coming months, especially
with elections to the lower house of
parliament in India on the cards,
will reveal the nature of progress
made on the trade front. For now,   j
businesses on both sides of the
border are keeping their fingers
crossed. t>
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 The child rights machinery
by Suhas Chakma
The United Nations Committee
on the Rights of the Child,
convening for its 35th session
from 12 -30 January 2004, examined
the most voluminous report in the
history of the United Nations treaty
bodies, the first periodic report of the
government of India. The report is
about 500 pages long. After the pre-
sessional hearing, the government
of India submitted another 62 pages
by way of responses. With over half
a dozen alternate NGO reports, the
members of the Child Rights Committee have an uphill task if they are
to effectively examine the implementation in India of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child.
The most striking aspect of the
government of India's first periodic
report is that it has reportedly been
written with the financial support
of the UNICEF. This practice is not
specific to India since UNICEF does
provide financial support to hire
professionals to write the periodic
reports of governments all over the
The problem does not lie with
financing per se but with what
UNJCEF financed. It would appear
from the document that India is a
model state when it comes to the
rights of the child. The report maintains a stoic silence on the torture of
children. It instead restricts the depiction of the violation of the right
to life in India to female infanticide,
presumably because it is practiced
by society and the state's role is to
heroically resist such obscurantist
practices. And despite the Union
Home Ministry providing information about internal armed conflicts
in 14 out of 28 states, there is not a
single reference to the effects of
armed conflicts on children. The
only reference in the report to armed
conflict is about Punjab where the
problem ended almost a decade
The Delhi-based Asian Centre
for Human Rights in its alternative
report, "The Status of Children in
India", as well as in its oral submission on 9 October 2003 before the
CRC Committee, raised the ethical
issue of financing a report which,
despite its volume, fails so comprehensively to address the issue of
child rights and the violations
thereof. UNICEF's representatives
stated that the organisation only facilitated dialogues between the
NGOs and governments. As some
UN agencies hide behind a veil of
secrecy, only UNICEF officials in
Delhi are aware as to whether it financed the hiring of professionals
and publication of the report. Till
such time as a full public disclosure
is made, there is no option but to
accept the official version. In the
meanwhile all speculation on the
exact nature of UNICEF's involvement that is bound to come up cannot do the organisation much good.
The chairman of the CRC Committee, Jacob Egbert Doek, in his oral
reply on 9 October 2003 argued that
the submission of a periodic report
is better than "no report" at all in
evaluating the implementation of
the Convention on the Rights of the
Child by a state party. Therefore, in
his view, UNICEF should continue
with the process of financially assisting governments in the writing
of the periodic reports.
This is not a particularly satisfactory point of view, given the magnitude of the consequences, in particular the nature of the relationship
between governments which renege
on their commitment to implement
the convention and a UN agency
that is mandated to oversee the status of children the world over.
UNICEF and the Committee on the
Rights of the Child need to make
ethical choices based on past practices with regard to the periodic reports. This is all the more important
in the context of UNICEF's direct
responsibility and involvement in
evaluating states' record in the
implementation of the convention.
Article 45 of the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the
Child provides that "in order to foster the effective implementation of
the Convention and to encourage
international co-operation in the
field covered by the Convention, the
specialised agencies, the United
Nations Children's Fund, and other
United Nations organs shall be entitled to be represented at the consideration of the implementation of
such provisions of the present Convention as fall within the scope of
their mandate. The Committee may
invite the specialised agencies, the
United Nations Children's Fund
and other competent bodies, as it
may consider appropriate to provide expert advice on the implementation of the Convention in areas
falling within the scope of their respective mandates. The Committee
may invite the specialised agencies,
the United Nations Children's
Fund, and other United Nations organs to submit reports on the implementation of the Convention in areas falling within the scope of their
What has UNICEF's performance
been in this regard? UNICEF primarily remains a service-providing
agency, akin to the humanitarian
organisations which provide assistance in non-controversial but
important areas, such as the
realisation of access to the highest
attainable standards of health, right
to education, right to food, and so
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
on. Fourteen years after the adoption of the CRC, UNICEF is yet to develop ways to address many of the
civil and political rights issues like
juvenDe justice, torture, extra-judicial execution, rape and the status
of children requiring special measures of protection. UNICEF does address some of these problems especially in countries which are in crisis, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and
Liberia, but it is yet to develop methods to address such problems in
countries like India. UNICEF rarely
reports on these issues before the
CRC Committee.
well versed in the techniques of presentation only provides a more effective cover to negligent governments, by dressing up their reports
in appropriate ways and enabling
them to evade international censure.
To cite one instance, in the report
just submitted by the government of
India, some of the initiatives undertaken by NGOs have been presented
as if they were bona fide government
initiatives. Such claims are the more
ironic, because it is a well known
fact that the government actually
uses repressive measures to impede
the activities of dedicated NGOs
A Kurdish girl and a Manila slum in a UNICEF child rights campaign.
Instead, the agency seems to
have developed mechanisms to
work in tandem with states on matters which, though important, are
incidental in their consequence
compared to the job that it has been
entrusted with. Specialised agencies such as UNICEF or the Secretariat of the United Nations bodies
may well be required to train and
increase the expertise of government
officials to enable them to submit the
periodic reports. However, hiring of
individual professionals or professional agencies to collate information and write the periodic report
subject to final approval of the government concerned is an altogether
different issue. Most governments
typically tend to hide behind jargon
when discussing issues on which
they have clearly failed to deliver in
accordance with internationally accepted norms. Hiring professionals
working with children caught in
armed conflict situations. Such deliberately misleading claims cannot
but raise the ethical question of
whether it is proper for UN agencies to finance or support government's that are so economical with
the truth.
CRC Committee and
other treaty bodies
But it is not just UNICEF that needs
to examine the merits of its own actions. The Committee on the Rights
of the Child needs to evaluate its
own functioning before it goes
through the motions of evaluating
the performance of governments.
The Committee can, of course, claim
to be bogged down in work because
of the universal ratification of the
CRC, which means that an extraordinarily large number of reports are
submitted to it for its consideration.
But the fact of the matter is that most
states default in submitting periodic
reports, which itself is a sign of how
ineffective it is as a monitoring body.
Most other UN treaty bodies such
as the Human Rights Committee, the
Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination (CERD), the
Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW) and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
are not as fortunate as the CRC Committee because they lack the requisite support from UN agencies. As
a result many governments have not
submitted their periodic reports to these
committees for years. It
does appear that the
submission of periodic
reports to the CRC Committee has more to do
with UNICEF's support
rather than the governments' commitment to
implement the CRC or
the effectiveness of the
CRC Committee in ensuring the submission.
It is difficult to be rid
of the suspicion, in the
light of the non-submission of reports before
other treaty bodies, that UNICEF's
role in ensuring compliance with
the CRC is to ensure adherence by
states to the bureaucratic requirement that reports are submitted by
providing incentives. That in the
process of doing this duty it ends ,
up compromising its credentials
by pushing through reports that
grossly misrepresent the status of
the child does not seem to be of
much concern. A part of the solution to this problem lies with the CRC
itself. It must evolve suitable guidelines that will ensure that sufficient
pressure is brought to bear on governments to submit their reports. The
CRC Committee should also develop
a General Comment on Article 45 to
ensure that even if UNICEF funds the
writing of periodic reports under exceptional circumstances, the true
situation of children is properly reflected. i>
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
inmates the Tihar way'
by Subhash Gatade
"We have sometimes to take tough
decisions—even infringing some of
our freedoms"
—Prime Minister AB Vajpayee,
November 11, 2002.
Jails are supposed to be reforma
tory in nature. But the gap be
tween precept and practice is nowhere as evident as in jails, especially their Indian versions, which
have stood this conventional wisdom on its head. There are often
tales of the impunity with which
notorious criminals run their empires from the confines of the jail or
'celebrity' criminals suddenly developing chest pain and spending
the period of their sentence in some
super-speciality hospital. The
nexus between the criminal, police
and the politician, at times aided by
the judiciary, is so blatant as to be
completely transparent. On the
other hand, ordinary prisoners get
brutalised regularly with the due
connivance of the police and 'senior
criminals'. And now comes the
news of the police force in one of the
'best' jails in India, New Delhi's elite
Tihar Jail (venue of many reformist
exercises by the high profile cop
Kiran Bedi) behaving as if they were
foot soldiers of the Hindutva
A recent letter by India's leading human rights activists to the
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to "probe the communal policies of the Tihar authorities"
[The Kashmir Times, 11 January,
"Victims may forget torture but not
verbal abuse") has once again
brought into sharp focus the malady
which afflicts the custodians of law.
In a written complaint to the NHRC,
prominent socialist leader Surendra
Mohan, on behalf of the All India
Defence Committee for Syed Abdul
Rehman Geelani (the Delhi University lecturer who was acquitted by
the Delhi High Court in the December 2001 parliament attack case),
has demanded to "institute a probe
into the deplorable conditions inside
Tihar jail", making a pointed reference to the alleged practice of communalism inside the jail perpetrated
by prejudiced jail authorities.
It is worth noting that these
leading human rights activists have
based their complaint on a letter
written to the All India Defence
Committee chairman, the scholar
Rajni Kothari, by Syed Abdul
Rehman Geelani about the conditions in Tihar jail where he spent
two years before his acquittal in
November last year. According to
the report, "The letter has pointed
references to the torture meted out
to jail inmates in the high-risk ward,
where he was lodged, specially the
Kashmiri inmates and the Muslims". According to the Defence
Committee, "this discrimination
against Muslim detainees in general
and Kashmiris in particular is in
violation of the basic tenets of International Human Rights Law". It has
called upon the commission to set
up a committee to visit the jail and
document the problems and difficulties faced by the detenues in the
'high risk cells' and indicated that
it would like to be associated with
the enquiry.
A cursory glance at the letter
written by Geelani to Rajni Kothari
is an eye-opener for anyone who is
concerned about Indian democracy
and the future of secular values. The
letter states:
"Throughout my time in jail I was
in an area that is called the 'high-
risk ward' in jail parlance. I do not
know whether there is a provision
for such a special category under the
law. In my understanding it would
be highly illegal to categorise any
detainee as a high risk even before
he has been convicted.
...The detainees do not have an opportunity to go outside unless someone visits them... The jail authorities can and do impose all manner
of illegal punishments on the detainees and prisoners lodged in the
high-risk cells. I have witnessed the
beating of several prisoners. The
prisoners in the high-risk cells complained that the jail authorities, on
the smallest pretext, punished them.
Apart from beating, jail authorities
have even tortured the detainees by-
pushing poles up their anus, making the men drink urine and depriving them of drinking water for several days at a time.
The Kashmiri detainees are the
special targets of the jail authorities.
It would seem that they think they
can contribute to solving the conflict by subjecting the Kashmiris to
indescribable brutality. Many of
these men have been undertrials for
many years without even a hope of
getting a trial at all. Some who have
been convicted have not got a fair
trial and have been falsely implicated by corrupt police officers, like
I was.
In addition to the physical abuse
is the verbal humiliation heaped on
the detainees and prisoners in the
high-risk cells. The majority of the
men are Muslims and the jail authorities vent their prejudices and
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
hatred without any hesitation. They
also instigate the convicts to follow
their example and their communalism defies description. Even if their
victims forget the torture, the verbal
abuse cannot be wiped out of their
memories...The dehumanisation of
the jail authorities is best seen when
they do not allow the detainees to
offer Namaz on the occasion of Id..."
There is no doubt that torture of
inmates on communal lines can be
construed as an extension of the
dehumanising behaviour of the police towards the people outside the
confines of the jail. It can be argued
that there has been a 'normalisation
of brutality' or 'brutalisation of normality' which comes into full play
in the spheres of life where the reach
of the police and the life of the ordinary citizen intersects. The killing
of minorities duly 'sponsored' by the
Hindutva brigade in Gujarat two
years ago is a reminder of police
brutality, which surpassed all previous limits. It was the first riot in
the country where the state promoted 'retribution' as a matter of
policy. Many victims of the riot reported categorically that the police,
instead of protecting them, handed
them over to the rioters.
Of course that was not the first
instance when the police abandoned its 'neutrality' and lent its
support to one of the 'warring factions'. The degeneration of the police force is palpable at every level.
Social scientist Sumanta Bannerjee,
writing recently in the Economic and
Political Weekly ("Human Rights in
India in the Global Context") underlined how the Indian government's
skewed policies and lack of transparency in all such cases has raised
the spectre of exponential growth in
cases of gross human rights violations in police custody. According
to him, "India has rejected the
demand of accountability, not only
by expressing its hostility to the
International Criminal Court, but
also by refusing to support the
adoption of the 'Optional Protocol'
to the UN Convention Against
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punish
ment". This is not surprising,
because the protocol wants to
"establish a system of regular visits
undertaken by independent international and national bodies to
places where people are deprived
of their liberty, in order to prevent
torture and other cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment".
It is disturbing that the torture of
persons in high risk cells is not an
exception but a generalised phenomenon. Figures collated by the
NHRC corroborate that the treatment meted out to the Tihar inmates
is not an isolated instance of misdemeanour. The number of complaints with India's prime human
rights body has gone up from 500
in the first year to 70,000 every year
today. Significantly, of the complaints received by the commission,
The Kashmiri detainees
are the special targets
of the jail authorities.
over 40 percent are against the police, followed by those against
jails—a reflection on the state of the
penal system in the country. As far
as the appeal drafted by leading
human rights activists is concerned,
there is as yet no indication of the
reaction of the NHRC. But looking at
the backlog of more than 40,000
cases with the commission which
have been awaiting disposal for several years now and the government's deliberate refusal to vest the
body with adequate authority and
resources, rendering it a toothless
and inept institution, it will be too
much to expect any significant move
from its side. If at all it takes cognisance of the appeal it would
be more in the form of window-
dressing, absolving the powers
that be of any involvement in this
planned discrimination against the
Some urgent steps are needed to
correct the situation. As things
stand today, with the increasing
disregard for accountability in cases
involving violations of human
rights and international humanitarian laws, the task at hand may appear difficult. .Apart from putting
pressure through all possible channels demanding greater transparency and accountability from the
powers that be, it is necessary for
human rights activists to continue
to intervene at all possible levels for
redressal of grievances. It is also
necessary to examine the social
composition of the police force to
establish whether it has adequate
representation of different communities and sections of society in it or
not. A glance at a few of the recent
figures does not seem encouraging.
According to Omar Khalidi, an independent scholar and author of
Khaki and the Ethnic Violence in India: Army, Police and Paramilitary
Forces During Communal Riots, "For
decades there was little or no recruitment of Muslims in Delhi police, so
much so that they were a mere 2.3
percent of the total force in
1991...The National Minorities
Commission gives the figure of 1446
Muslims out of a total of 51,683 in
its annual report, 1995-96".
Geelani's letter to Rajni Kothari
has rekindled the memories of "My
Years In An Indian Prison' written
by the British national, Mary Taylor. Taylor who was married to an
activist of the revolutionary left
movement, had to languish in Indian jails for more than five years
for her allegedly 'seditious activities'. Her experiences brought into
sharp focus the processes of brutalisation and dehumanisation which
targets, particularly, the deprived
and the marginalised and also
raised a lot of debate about the
conditions inside Indian jails in the
late '70s and early '80s.
It can only be hoped that the petition by the All India Defence Committee succeeds in focusing on the
condition of detainees in the high
risk cells of Tihar jail and jails elsewhere, and thus turn attention to the
wider problem of how communalism leads to certain dehumanisation of the society and polity of
the country. b
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 SAARC: fish don't fly
Hold tight, each one of you
Snake-tails of your own
Country, religion, convictions
The way people hold each other
On a sinking boat.
—Noman Shauk, Dubati Nau Par
AFTER THE Islamabad tamasha, it is clear that SAARC
is yet to grow out of the shadows of infantile rivalry
between India and Pakistan. The regional grouping has
failed to evolve into an independent identity. It has not
come of age, despite having crossed 18, the age at which
most Southasians become eligible to vote. As expected,
the now-on-now-off India-Pakistan peace parley
hogged the headlines. The summit that had given General Pervez an opportunity to play host to Premier Atal
was pushed to the background. Before the heads of the
Seven Sisters meet next in Bangladesh, SAARC runs the
risk of another spell of uncertain hibernation.
After the third try, medley of SAARC leaders did agree
to establish the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA)
by 2016, but the mechanism to achieve that seems to
have been left deliberately vague. Other than that, the
Islamabad meet will be remembered more for the sher-
vanis that Vajpayee ordered with the tailors of Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto than anything else. Trade may open doors
ajar, but for a true Southasian Community to develop,
some politics needs to be introduced into the frail organisation.
Apolitical outfit
SAARC was established by the heads of state and/or
government of countries with autocratic leanings—back
then Bangladesh and Pakistan had military rulers
(Ziaur, Ziaul), Bhutan and Nepal had autocrat mon-
archs (the kings Birendra and Jigme), and India and Sri
Lanka were led by democratic but domineering personalities (Rajiv and Premadasa). There were no surprises when the regional grouping was designed as a
convivial club, a sanitised organisation sans politics.
The administrative nature of the organisation has
proved a mixed blessing. It has helped the Secretariat
of SAARC remain operational, though far from fully functional, even when its members have squabbled in extremis. But the secretariat cannot do much else than survive. The secretary generals and seven directors working at the gloomy headquarters of the organisation in
Kathmandu lack the mandate as well as the standing
to intervene in anv constructive way on any issue.
Colin Powel it was who convinced Vajpayee that
there was no alternative to holding talks with Pakistan, with the summit providing a good cover. Beijing
had to use its leverage with Islamabad to make the ruling junta relent and allow Musharraf to respond to overtures from New Delhi. Christina Rocca has had to periodically travel to the Subcontinent to ensure that the
various Southasian establishments keep talking to each
other. Meanwhile, all that the secretariat of SAARC could
do was wait for yet another summit to materialise.
If SAFTA is to gain momentum within the given time
frame, and if any other regional programmes are to be
added to the SAARC agenda, the very philosophy and
structure of its secretariat has to be reformulated. From
a centre of well-paid file-pushers lacking in agency, it
must be transformed into a proactive institution with
the ability to influence events and trends.
The vision presented by the Eminent Persons Group
to the SAARC Heads of Government in 1998 was an
attempt to redefine and restructure the organisation for
the challenges of the new century. Frankly, it was not
bold enough to address the aspirations of new generation of Southasians, but even that seemed to have been
too forward-looking for our unimaginative leaders.
Subsequent summits have refused to discuss the Eminent Persons' recommendations, but the need to re-invent this umbrella organisation of all Southasian states
has hardly gone away.
One of the ways of beginning the process of change
would be to turn the SAARC secretariat into a semi-political office with the ultimate goal of establishing a full-
fledged regional Parliament, a Southasian Court of Justice, and even an Executive with trans-border authority
and responsibilities. Someone has to dream it up to set
the ball rolling. More than half of all Southasians are
youths. They are more likely to be receptive to new ideas
than the granddaddies and grand-uncles who control
SAARC's secretariat from the various foreign ministries
of Southasian capital cities.
Media stars
With all due respect to Bangladesh's QAMA Rahim, the
administrative character of the post of secretary-general
is a hindrance to making SAARC a visible organisation.
Rahim may be a competent diplomat, as was the Lankan
Nihal Rodrigues before him, but there is no way he
can call Chandrika Kumaratunga on the phone for
a tete-a-tete. Diplomats are trained never to extend
themselves beyond the decorum of "protocol, alcohol,
and no-toll". The reform has to begin at the top, and it
is hard-boiled politicos like Benazir Bhutto, Laloo
Yadav, Sheikh Hasina, Sharad Pawar or Sher Bahadur
Deuba who should be leading an assertive SAARC
secretariat- They will not hesitate to throw their weight
around and create enough media interest to sustain
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
regional agendas of the organisation.
When a phalanx of Indian politicos visited Pakistan some time ago, it was Laloo who kept the cameras
tailing him wherever he went. Now suppose, if the Yadav from Bihar were to be the SAARC secretary-general,
would he not follow-up the issue of the forgotten Biharis of the Dhaka camps with the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh in a completely different way?
Imagine a Shekhar Suman take on the La loo-speak calling the 'President' of Pakistan on SAB TV "Arre Mush-
harraf Sahab, kuchh to Allah ka Kaufkariye, history me nam
likhbaiye ...". Or to Begum Khalida, "Arre Behana, hamko
aapse kuchh kehna hai ...". The echo of laughter all over
Southasia would be strong enough to force them generate a smile, and do something that their predecessors
have consistently refused to do for decades.
The Track II crowd that has made the Wagah-Atari
border a celebrated destination has not been able to
bring about tangible change in the relationship be
tween the two countries, but they have been phenomenally successful in establishing a line-up
of names and faces familiar all over Southasia.
Ayaz Amir graces the pages of The Himalayan
Times in Kathmandu, Kuldip Nayar gets pride
of place in the Dawn of Pakistan, both of them are
carried on the pages of The Daily Star of Dhaka,
and all of them are talked about in the semi
nar-circuit from Colombo to Bombay to Calcutta. Lahore's human rights volcano, Asma
Jehangir is lapped up by TV cameras
wherever she travels. The secretariat of SAARC
can show its gratitude to them by declaring them
citizens of Southasia.
There is no reason why member countries of
SAARC would object to a common Southasian
passport for 'eminent regional persons' like
Madhuri Dixit, Ghulam Ali, MJ Akbar, in addition to
all the current and previous heads of central as well as
provincial governments in the region. The prospect of
Narendra Modi drawing his Southasian passport with
a flourish at the Karachi Immigration Office to prove
that he doesn't need a visa to enter the country of a
common region is too attractive not to think about. Imagine him calling SAARC Secretary-General Buddhadev
Bhattacharya from his cellphone if he were to encounter any difficulty ...!
Money matters
To establish its legitimacy with the masses, SAARC
needs to come down from its pedestal. Summits are great
photo-ops, Track II meets are glamorous diversions for
the intelligentsia, and SAFTA holds enormous promise
for the emerging business classes, but how about the
absolute poor who constitute nearly half of the 1.4 billion population of Southasia?
Deeply enmeshed in security and trade controversies, Southasian leaders have failed to do anything other than paying lip service to the issue of poverty so far.
To tackle it, the countries need to pool their resources,
and SAARC is a framework that already exists to
implement the dream. A mechanism is required to
create a common fund to create job opportunities.
Something needs to be done, and urgently, to make
children of Southasia a common responsibility of all
the governments in the region. While UNICEF has had
them mouth the slogans, it has not been able to generate
commitment among the governments.
The idea of touching the poorest was indeed floated
by the Eminent Persons Group, but it chose to limit itself to the LDCs of the region—Bangladesh, Bhutan and
Nepal. Their main concern was how to make "the disadvantaged three" benefit from the regional trade. That
is an important issue. But traders everywhere are quite
capable of taking care of their interests, by arm-twisting their own governments if necessary. SAARC must
concentrate its anti-poverty efforts on the pockets of
backwardness in every country of South Asia.
Literacy, health and infrastructure projects must
be run from a common fund. In the same way,
border regions need investments from a common fund that would be free from internal politics of either size.
Imagine a SAARC Development Fund is
created where every country of the region
devotes a small percentage of its national
budgets. This budget is then administered
by a secretary-general who is unafraid of
j taking bold decisions because of who he is
(a politician). Part of the fund goes to create
a string of ponds to conserve rain-water in
the Deccan. Schools are funded in Balo-
: chistan. Health posts are built in Motihari.
Mini hydroelectricity plants are financed in
Kumaun. Suppose the fund also has a mechanism—institutions, funds, and authority—for dispatching immediate relief in case of a disaster anywhere
in the region.
Aiming for a common rupee and building a trading
block are not original ideas. The challenges before
Southasia are much more complex and enormous. And
fortunately, so are the opportunities. More than one-
fifth of humanity, with so much in common, is in dire
need of political innovations for the common good. For
how long can we keep living, with the clock ticking
towards mid-night, without doing something about it
The leaky boat that we are on—Southasia—cannot
be protected by the Islamic Bomb or Hindu missiles. It
cannot be kept afloat by—horror of horrors—Buddhist
hatred. And it cannot be saved by our heads meeting
once in a while to smile and pretend that everything
will ultimately turn out just right. In 1986, even SAARC
was a bold idea—a huge fish that would carry the sinking boat along for a while. Now is the time to design
something else that can fly. Fish don't fly. r,
-CK Lai
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
Towards a
feminism of
In recent years, the intricate
interconnections between gender
and caste in Indian society has been
recognised and explored by more
and more academics and those
involved in struggles for social
change. The result has been the
emergence of a vast corpus of
literature of variable quality, characterised by multiple perspectives,
depending on where each argument is coming from. While the
corpus is large it is scattered so that
a systematic overview of the research so far would be difficult to
obtain. Gender and Caste, in a sense,
addresses this problem to some
extent by bringing together a collection of historical and contemporary
analyses, reports, manifestos and
testimonies that bear on the theme
and tries to align academic inquiry
with contemporary political developments. This anthology is an
important addition to Kali for
Women's series Issues in Contemporary Feminism, particularly because
it seeks to exorcise the ghost of
'monolithic identity' which the
Indian feminist movement has cast
itself in. Issues pertaining to dalit
women and their oppression look
like they are being addressed, although the reality points elsewhere.
It is for this reason that the volume
underlines the need to address
the 'caste-deficiency' in Indian
The year 1995, with The International Women's Conference in
Beijing as the backdrop, was a
significant moment for the feminist
movement in India. The editor of the
volume, Anupama Rao begins her
introduction by referring to Gopal
Guru's 1995 essay, "Dalit Women
Talk Differently", and the discussion that sprang up around it.
Women who had thought of themselves as bearing the torch of Indian
feminism now found themselves
challenged from a new direction.
Dalit women in India were
questioning whether the feminist
movement in India had paid sufficient attention to the caste basis of
women's oppression and whether
the mainly upper-caste women's
movement had any right to speak
for dalit women. Guru's essay
speaks with approval of the setting
up of the National Federation of
Dalit Women (NFDW) at that junc-
Gender and Caste
edited by Anupama Rao;
series Issues in Contemporary Feminism
Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2003;
Price:   Rs 325
reviewed by
Wandana Sonalkar
ture. As Rao points out, this was
also an attempt to place the concerns
of dalit women in a transnational
setting, a project which has
continued with the NFDW issuing
its declaration on gender and
racism at the World Conference
against Racism held at Durban,
South Africa in 2001. This has been
included as an appendix at the end
of the book. The NFDW has also been
vocal and assertive in insisting on
the inclusion of 'caste' in official
statements debated in the preparations to the World Social Forum in Bombay.
Caste issues have become the
subject of various kinds of political
activity in India in recent times.
These range from the identity poli
tics of dalits and other lower castes
in trade unions and other organisations, to the formation of new
parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party,
which seeks power through forming
its own alliances and refuses to
assimilate itself into coalitions led
by the Congress party or those
claiming secular or socialist credentials. These developments are
usually traced back to the acceptance of the recommendations of the
Mandal Report by the VP Singh
government in 1990, which extended reservations in government
posts and seats in state-run educational institutions beyond the
dalit castes to a much wider section
of "other backward castes". The
new political associations initiated
by dalit women can be seen as a part
of this scenario.
The editor's choice of an ongoing new political assertion by
dalit women as the central focus for
this book is one of its strengths. It
charges the relation between gender
and caste in Indian society with an
actuality in terms of linking a self-
conceptualisation of their situation
by dalit women with broader political concerns of democracy and
representation. This guides the
reading of the various texts. There
is, on the one hand, a live and
immediate contestation of terminology and conceptual frameworks.
Pranjali Bandhu quotes Ruth Manorama characterising dalit women as
being "Thrice alienated on the basis
of caste, class and gender". Her
piece, as well as that of Gopal Guru,
speaks of the challenge dalit
women pose both to the 'mainstream' women's movement and the
male-dominated dalit movement.
Sharmila Rege draws a parallel
between contemporary assertions
and organisational initiatives by
dalit women and the questions
posed by black women in the feminist movement in the US. She calls
for a dalit feminist standpoint as a
means of revitalising the feminist
agenda in India.
According to Rao, the introduction "is an attempt to illustrate
how the categories of 'caste' and
2004 January 17 1   HIMAL
'gender' have been understood by
scholars embedded in diverse disciplinary configurations, and to suggest methods of reading such work
as a genealogy for considering
feminism's political futures". Further, she calls for "recognizing caste
as a critical component of studies of
political modernity".
Such readings are still comparatively rare. There is even now a
degree of reluctance to incorporate
these considerations into the most
basic concerns of Indian feminism.
In a recent set of articles in the
Economic and Political Weekly re-
valuating the Indian feminist movement in the contemporary context
of globalisation and aggressive
Hindu majoritarianism, for
example, the challenge posed by
dalit women is barely mentioned in
the contributions from Maithreyi
Krishna Raj and Sharmila Rege.
Gabriele Dietrich—who, in her
article in the volume under review,
looks at various readings of the
relationship between dalit movements and women's movements,
and ends by saying that, "the dalit
movement keeps reminding us that
caste cannot be wished away but
needs to be faced squarely"—is, in
the EPW article, severely critical of
recent dalit attempts at political
assertion. She speaks of the opportunism of political players such as
Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, and
refers to the participation of dalit
organisations "and especially the
dalit-supported NGO sector" in the
anti-racism conference at Durban as
"a deflection of issues". In her view,
"the whole debate on whether caste
is race, created more confusion than
clarity". These recently published
views of Indian feminism show that
the challenge posed to it by dalit
women is still very much a controversial issue. This book plunges into
the middle of the controversy, so to
speak, and emphasises a particular
point of view that is not widely
In the same set of EPW articles on
the Indian feminist movement,
Shilpa Phadke quotes Mary John as
stressing "the need to focus on caste
and communalism as modern forms
of inequality and to stop focusing
solely on poverty and disadvantages as the women's movement has
been doing for far too long". However, in her treatment of how the
women's movement has dealt with
the issue of sexual violence, there is
no mention of the caste aspects of
sexual violence, or how dalit
women's sexuality is regarded as
being 'available' for upper-caste
men. Rao, in contrast, has included
articles on sexual violence against
dalit women that raise a number of
troubling issues.
Rao starts with the beginning of
political self-assertion by dalit
women, which raises complex
questions for political and social
theory as well as for the political
Issues pertaining to
dalit women and their
oppression look like
they are being addressed, though
the reality points
practice of feminism. Her selection
of articles and extracts is intended
to serve as a guide through this
complexity, rather than an attempt
to simplify it. One aspect is the need
to look again at the history of
political struggles. Rao represents
this concern through a selection of
articles and extracts evaluating the
contribution of Jyotiba Phule in 19th
century Maharashtra, and Ambedkar and Periyar in the 20th century.
Rao admits that this selection has
something of a regional bias toward
south India and Maharashtra, but
she justifies this by pointing out that
"caste and social reform (are) articulated in very explicit ways in these
regions", and that "such regional
histories give pause to any attempts
to generalize about either caste or
gender relations across India". We
are thus presented with these histories and invited to ponder on them,
without any claim that they are
"representative" of India as a whole.
Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar
were all non-Brahmin political
leaders who questioned the values
of the upper-caste-dominated independence movement. All of them
were much concerned with gender,
and underlined the links between
caste oppression and the oppression of women. Uma Chakravarti's
essay on "Phule, Brahmanism and
Brahminical Patriarchy" deals with
the processes of social change in
western India in the 19th century,
She writes, "the upper castes
(primarily, Brahminical caste
groups) sought to adjust to the
colonial situation and grasp the
opportunities provided by it to form
a professional middle class", while
there was at the same time, "a
contestation of such a process from
the non-Brahmin castes". Phule
constantly joined issue with the
brahminical reformist leaders, exposing their reluctance to give up
their caste privileges and their
monopolistic hold over education.
He also worked relentlessly against
gender inequality, whether by
starting a school for girls in Pune
which, unlike those established
much later by upper-caste social
reformers of this region like DD
Karve, opened its doors to dalit and
shudra girls, or providing a shelter
for high-caste widows and an
orphanage for their illegitimate
There are two articles on Periyar
E Ramaswamy Naicker, one by S
Anandhi, which deals mainly with
the self-respect movement in Tamil
Nadu and Periyar's revolutionary
views on marriage, and one by V
Geetha, which compares Periyar's
struggles against caste and gender
inequality both with the politics of
the Congress Party under Gandhi,
and with the concerns of the
women's movement in present-day
India. There are also three articles
on BR Ambedkar. The first is a short
extract from a book in Marathi on
the role played by women in the
dalit liberation movement, from the
years before Ambedkar assumed
leadership, by Urmila Pawar and
HIMAL 17/1 January 2004
 Meenakshi Moon. The second is by
Eleanor Zeltiot, which traces the
importance of gender issues in
.Ambedkar's organisational work
and choice of issues for struggle, his
insistence on the participation of
women in the movement and his
encouragement of dalit women
activists, his work on the Hindu
Code Bill, his choice of Buddhism
as the religion he converted to, and
his writings on other subjects. She
concludes by saying that Ambedkar
was ahead of his times in that he
"pointed out the relationship between the caste system and the
position of women", and that it is
up to scholars to explore this issue
in practice and to organise dalit
women to pursue it in practice.
Pratima Pardeshi's piece (surprisingly placed in the section on
"Land and Labour"), again translated from the Marathi, takes up the
same issues, and calls for the
development of a non-brahminical
feminism based upon the ideas of
Phule and Ambedkar, in which
identity politics and struggles over
culture play an important part. She
says, "Identities are not created
overnight.,. The crux of identity
politics must be progressive. Identities are real only if they are rooted
in the struggles to end the vested
political, social and cultural
interests". She speaks of a non-
brahminical tradition of struggle,
which goes back to the days of
Jyotiba Phule and had figures like
Shiram Janoba Kamble, who initiated a campaign against the
devadasi tradition in late 19th
century Maharashtra, and Narayan
Meghaji Lokhande, who fought for
the interests of dalit workers in the
early years of the trade union
movement in Bombay. This is the
tradition within which she would
want Indian feminism to go forward; so that "the programme for
the liberation of women (may) be
seen as an intrinsic part of the
struggles against the social, religious, cultural and political exploitation of the caste system".
Uma Chakravarti also shows
how Phule came into contact with,
and publicly supported, the struggles of some remarkable women
who challenged caste and gender
orthodoxy in their time: Pandita
Ramabai, a brahmin woman who
made waves in the atmosphere of
liberal reformism when she converted to Christianity; Tarabai
Shinde, the non-brahmin author of
a fiery tract on gender inequality
which was largely ignored at the
time but has recently become well-
known; Savitribai Phule, who
worked with her husband Jyotiba
for the education of lower-caste girls
and courageously faced social
wrath; and Muktabai, a fourteen-
year-old pupil in Phule's school,
whose essay on the social oppression of the Mang and Mahar castes
Phule constantly joined
issue with the
brahminical reformist
leaders, exposing their
reluctance to give up
their caste privileges
and their monopolistic
hold over education.
is also  now justly famous.
These texts offer a different view
of social reforms and anti-colonial
politics in Maharashtra and south
India in the 19th and early 20th
century. The next section has three
pieces on dalit women's "voice"
and literature. Whereas 'dalit
literature' written by men has
become a widely practised genre of
protest writing in several Indian
languages, and has been translated
into English, and occasionally even
earlier into French, autobiography
and fiction written by dalit women
is still only a trickle, and very little
has been translated.
Rao therefore provides an extract from Sumttra Bhave's "Pan on
Fire: Eight Dalit Women Tell their
Stories". One of these women describes in detail what conversion to
Buddhism actually implies in the
daily life and religious practices of
dalit households, and talks about
what it means to her. Ambedkar's
own acceptance of the Buddhist
faith was the culmination of decades of thought and a political act
intended to allow his community to
break with an oppressive and
humiliating Hinduism. Since many
thousands followed him in embracing Buddhism (Ambedkar himself died less than a year after the
conversion), the cultural practice of
the new faith has borne the contradictions of a political act in a social
milieu that is still slow to change.
Elsewhere, we have a dalit woman's
sexual life described with frankness
and humour, a theme that Rao tries
to draw attention to in two, shorter,
pieces as well. These are reviews of
dalit women's autobiographies
which also raise questions about
consciousness of gender issues, the
extent to which these women accept
their situations or rebel against
them. One of them stresses how the
writer Bama's narrative, "to a great
degree, does not deal with herself,
but the context of dalit life in which
she grew up and acquired a certain
The selection, though small in
volume, is a cautionary statement
about the need to be careful in
making easy generalisations about
dalit women's consciousness, their
sexual freedom or their identification with their community and
their politicisation. The 'voice' of
dalit women is only now beginning
to be heard, and we are being
invited to listen to it attentively, with
an ear to its nuances. But "Dalit
Women Talk Differently" is, in a
sense, a major theme of this book,
and their different sexuality, their
political awakening, their self-
assertion, their experience of work
and of violence, their identification
with their caste and its organisations, their encounter with patriarchy within the community, are
certainly its concern. Not all these
find expression in this section. But
the theme of violence and sexuality
is explored elsewhere at length and
in a nuanced fashion.
2004 January 17/1   HIMAL
 Patriarchal inquiry
In a long contribution in which she
explores the conceptualisation of
gender and caste from a feminist
perspective, Gabriele Dietrich
narrates two incidents of violence
against dalit women in rural Tamil
Nadu in which some redressal was
sought by the dalit men on an
individual and organised basis. She
points out the fundamental asymmetry regarding gender and caste.
Violence against dalit women is a
routine occurrence and serves to
reinforce the caste hierarchy, while
even a speech by a dalit man
expressing fantasies of rape of
upper-caste women in retaliation, is
seen as a heinous crime since it
seeks to overturn the hierarchy. At
the same time, the dalit men seeking
redressal of the violation of one of
'their' women are often tempted to
use abusive patriarchal language,
and, indeed, they usually see the
injury in patriarchal terms. Dietrich
expresses anguish about the difficulty of organising any collective
response to such incidents that goes
beyond the patriarchal logic of the
caste system.
Vasanth and Kaipana Kanna-
biran in their submission bring out
the contemporary context of such
incidents, as dalits in the post-
independence period have gained
a certain degree of upward social
mobility, acquired education and
improved their standard of living
and mode of dress. These improvements are resented by the upper-
castes, especially in rural settings.
According to them, "what we witness today in the increasing violence
that enforces the maintenance of
'order' in relations of caste and
gender is the weakening of an
absolute power that did not allow
or permit the space for the articulation or even the awareness of
grievance or a sense of wrong and
the consequent blurring of carefully
drawn lines of (caste) demarcation".
Included in the section on "Violence and Sexuality" is a thought-
provoking paper by Susie Tharu.
She juxtaposes two stories about
widows: one by Gita Hariharan
about a rebellious old brahmin
woman on her deathbed, and the
other about a dalit widow, narrated
through the eyes of her young son.
The second story is by Baburao
Bagul, one of the most powerful dalit
writers of fiction in Marathi. Tharu
says, "The widow is a figure whose
very life is marked by a specific
death. She is 'vidhava'—without
husband—and consequently in
need not only of public protection
but also of regulation, governance.
Widow stories are invariably also
subtly modulated historical engagements with questions of govemmentality and citizenship".
Tharu's subtle reading of the
two stories probes questions which
Ambedkar's own acceptance of the Buddhist faith was the culmination of decades of
thought and a political
act intended to allow his
community to break with
an oppressive and
humiliating Hinduism.
have been hinted at, but not explored, in earlier accounts where
dalit women are murdered, implicated, or become the subjects of
various kinds of misinterpretation
and exclusion, in different incidents
of caste violence. The dalit
woman's beauty and sexuality are,
as she says, for the dalit man "not
sources of joy but of anxiety and
emasculation". Through the dalit
woman, power is exercised over the
dalit man. Tharu says of Bagul's
narrative: "Yet there is in the story a
new kind of movement: from the
never-ceasing shuttle between the
extraditions and deaths that comprise her impossible life, to
a struggle to leave, and in that single
act to re-notate the world". Of
course this is fiction, written by a
dalit writer who displays in his
work an extraordinary power to
portray the ravaged sexual life of
dalit men and women in our society.
Here is a feminist reader who cares
to take from him what it implies for
us; the juxtaposition of the story
about the brahmin woman rules out
our reading it as a dalit story only.
The issues of govemmentality
and citizenship mentioned by
Tharu are dealt with more explicitly
in Rao's own contribution to this
volume. She also narrates a particular incident of caste violence
involving dalit women, but chooses
to investigate the issue through
the juridical records of the case.
The incident, which took place in
1963, involved the stripping and
parading of dalit women in a village
following the molestation of a dalit
woman labourer by an upper-caste
man, and a protest by her husband
which was seen as an insult to her
molester's wife. As is usual in such
incidents, the actual sequence of
events is variously reported by
observers, but Rao is interested in
the judge's view of the case.
In the case, those responsible for
the stripping incident were found
guilty and sentenced. But Rao
points out that the outrage
expressed by the judge in his
comments emphasises the insult to
women, and plays down the caste-
sexual dimensions of the case. There
is even a suggestion that the 'real'
reason for the dispute between dalits
and upper-castes that forms the
background of the case involves
access to village water sources,
which is often the occasion for
violence against dalits even today.
As for the law as it stood at the time
of this trial, Rao draws attention to
the fact that when the Indian constitution bans 'untouchability' it does
not define what untouchability is,
and the whole complex of caste
hierarchies and practices finds no
mention. She also hints that the
introduction at a later date of a law
banning 'atrocities' against the
dalits does not really help matters
either. It remains a fact that the way
citizenship and citizen's rights have
been written into the Indian constitution abstracts from the reality of
caste as a social practice, and its
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 denial of the dalit's equal rights on
a daily basis. The way in which
sexual attacks on dalit women are
perceived, by villagers, by the police
and judiciary, in the various incidents narrated in this book provide
ample evidence of this. Ambedkar
made attempts to correct this lacuna
when he was on the Constitutional
Committee, and when he was
opposed on this, he fought another
unsuccessful battle for the Hindu
Code Bill.
So we come back a full circle to
contemporary attempts to 'bring'
caste into the discourse on gender,
as well as other public discourses:
that of human rights, of race and the
rights of ethnic minorities, and even
the Marxist discourse on mode of
production, as the dissenting
communist party activist and theoretician Sharad Patil has tried to do.
As remarked above, there is still a
prevalent tendency to 'forget' about
caste, which is why this book,
nudging us to look at the questions
relating to gender and caste in
different contexts, is so welcome.
Land and labour
The last section is titled "Land and
Labour". There is an interview with
a dalit woman agricultural labourer
with a commentary by Gail Omvedt,
dated 1975; an account by Kancha
Illaiah of how dalit women led a
struggle for rights over common and
public land against the upper-caste
reddy landlords in a village in
Andhra Pradesh; and two pieces by
P Sainath. All of these portray dalit
women workers in an active role,
where they are, at least potentially,
agents in bringing about change in
their working conditions. Even the
early piece by Omvedt, where the
interviewer, accompanied by a dalit
student activist from a labourer's
family, is trying to elicit reactions
from the woman that express her
consciousness of gender inequality,
the woman's militancy is forcefully
expressed. She is aware of the
difficulties in initiating any organised resistance by dalit labourers in
the presence of widespread unemployment. She is somewhat dis
missive when asked about specifically caste aspects of oppression.
One of Sainath's accounts
draws attention to an area in which
dalit women have been playing an
increasingly active role: in village-
level local government bodies
where, after a constitutional amendment enacted in 1993, seats are
reserved for women, and for dalit
women. It also shows how they are
resisted by entrenched holders of
economic and political power,
whose reluctance to accept a dalit
woman in a position of power has
specifically caste-cultural aspects.
The other piece talks about what
happens after the carrying of "night-
soil" or human excrement in head-
Rao draws attention to
the fact that when the
Indian constitution bans
'untouchability' it does
not define what untouchability is, and the
whole complex of caste
hierarchies and practices finds no mention.
loads (of course, by dalit women) is
legally banned.
Alt these are different contemporary situations and contexts in
which dalit women, struggling
against their work conditions,
inevitably challenge the political
and cultural configurations of the
caste system as well as patriarchal
relations and the economic order
of class-based exploitation. The
political self-assertion on a national
level by newly-formed associations
of dalit women is thus echoed
by struggles in different local
Tlie final extract is something of
a manifesto for an anti-brahminical
women's liberation by Pratima
Pardeshi. She outlines Phule and
Ambedkar's analysis of patriarchy
and caste, and calls on the dalit
movement to develop its own theory
and strategy on the question of
women. She does not, at least in this
extract, directly address what she
would characterise as brahminical
feminism. Rao elaborates on brahminical feminism in her article as "a
shorthand for referring to a highly
selective understanding of women
and their lives which has been
unable to incorporate significant
mediations (in this instance, caste)
that inflect the structures of living
in and through diverse patriarchies
in the Indian context. If caste makes
for a difference in the kind and
quality of patriarchal control, it does
so not only for those dalit women
who are seen to bear the excesses of
such caste patriarchy, but also for
those feminists whose caste specificity is seen to be elided through
the adoption of the term "feminist".
Hence Brahminical feminism is the
possibility of occupying a feminist
position outside caste: the possibility
of denying caste as a problem for
Caste politics has become much
more visible in India in recent years.
The formation of caste-based parties, caste groups within trade
unions, and now in the women's
movement is largely deplored as
divisive even by those on the left
who have sympathy with the cause
of dalits, in the face of the major perceived threats from globalisation
and Hindu fascism. Rao's anthology questions these perceptions by
thinking about how caste and gender together deeply inflect the reality of democracy, citizenship and
nationhood. The self-assertion ofthe
lower castes and the workings of
identity politics have revealed disturbing cracks in the modernity of
India's democratic institutions.
Challenges to the power of dominant groups, in a complex polity
with shifting regional, religious and
caste equations, too often release
emotions which express themselves
in violence against women. Dominated groups often respond with a
tightening of patriarchal control
over "their" women. The self-assertion of dalit women, as yet embryonic in practical terms, has a revolutionary potential because their bod-
2004 January 17/1 HIMAL
ies are marked by upper-caste patriarchal authority as available for the
display of male sexual power.
The conceptual framework of
diverse patriarchies, however, may be
problematic in as much as it implies
a countervailing force of diverse
feminisms. It is unquestionably
important today for upper-caste
feminists to confront the inherent
importance of caste for gender, and
the fact that their right to speak for
all women is being questioned.
Rao's approach is very welcome
here. But there are also dangers for
dalit women's organisations who
engage in a form of dalit politics that
echoes the diverse male-led groups
that are claiming to speak for the
rights of dalits and the lower castes.
One of the problems is that identity
politics often adopts the language
of aggressive male superiority, of
"our" and "their" women. Dalit
women's organisations need to
struggle against becoming an adjunct of this politics. As several of
the writers in this volume, notably
Pardeshi, point out, lower-caste
leaders of the past like Phule and
Ambedkar were also sharply aware
that caste politics has no edge unless
it takes up the goal of gender
equality. In a political environment
dominated by fundamentalist
Hinduism, women's issues are often
sidelined as diverse dominated
groups struggle to assert their
cultural identity. The fact that right-
wing Hindu parties have mastered
the art of forming coalitions, while
relentlessly pushing forward their
own agenda, contributes to this.
The entry of dalit women's organisations into the international level
of debate, the flow of foreign funds
into dalit women's NGO's, could
also possibly lead to a blunting of
their radicalism. But this would be
no more than a repetition of what
has happened to many feminist
groups led by upper-caste feminists.
We can find more contemporary
instances of radical action by
groups in which dalit women's
participation is crucial. In a political
atmosphere in which many
working-class organisations are
passive and weak in the face of
a real erosion of earnings and
workers' rights, new unions of
domestic workers and of urban
waste gatherers have been active in
many cities in Maharashtra. Dalit
women are prominent in both these
types of organisations. In fact if
we take these two developments
seriously, we would have to rethink
several aspects of middle-class
"lifestyle" feminism. Demanding
the right to relative freedom from
domestic chores is often seen as a
man-woman conflict. In middle-
class Indian households, in practice
it means finding reliable (female)
domestic help. Similarly, the
contrast between clean and well-
kept homes and civic squalor in
Indian cities is a consequence of the
"invisibility" to upper-caste eyes of
those who experience the space
outside the home in a radically
different way. This is a matter of
culture as well as of division of
labour. The feminist slogan "the
personal is political", in short, can
attain a radicalism in this situation
only if it is remembered that the
person has a caste as well as a
gender specificity.
This is the kind of work that
should be included in women's
studies courses. Women's studies
centres in Indian universities are
today embattled, with a right-wing
central government seeking to
exercise control over their curriculum and research. A book which
raises many questions, avoids simple answers, and above all which
tries to align academic enquiry with
contemporary political developments, may well be helpful in injecting them with a new energy.        ,*>
Maritime Neighbours
As WT Jayasinghe describes it,
"Kachchativu is known as a
parched and almost barren island,
uninhabited, with no source of
drinking water and covered with
thorny shrubs". If this is the case,
the interesting question is—what
makes it so important that it becomes the central core of an entire
The reason is obviously because
this "barren island" figured prominently in the negotiations on deciding where the maritime boundary
between Sri Lanka and India was
to be drawn. For Sri Lanka it was a
matter of national importance that
the island of Kachchativu belonged
to Sri Lanka and hence should be
on the Sri Lanka side of the maritime boundary.
In other parts of the globe there
have been enough instances where
claimant countries have gone to war
over similar barren real estate. But
in the case of India and Sri Lanka
this matter was peacefully settled
Kachchativu: And The
Maritime Boundary Of
Sri Lanka
by WT Jayasinghe
Stamford Lake Publication, Colombo, 2003
reviewed by
John Gooneratne
through negotiations between the
leaders of the two countries. That is
the first important feature that
stands out in the narrative of this
Jayasinghe is eminently qualified to examine this issue in depth
as he was the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Foreign a^ffairs
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
 at the time the negotiations
were successfully concluded.
This book provides, for the first
time, an insider's account of the
prolonged negotiations between Sri Lanka and India over
Kachchativu, and the resulting
boundary that emerged.
What comes across in a very
constructive way is how an
issue of national importance
was handled by the two prime
ministers coming from two different
political parties on the Sri Lanka
side. Talks over Kachchativu spanned the premierships of Dudley
Senanayake and Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The cooperation and consultation that took place across party
lines is something remarkable for
those in whom a sense of pessimism
has been induced, not just by the
present political scene, but also by
the political history that has preceded it for several years.
The progress made in the negotiations during the Dudley Senanayake period was built on and used
during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike
period. The demarcation of the maritime boundaries and the location
of Kachchativu was not made a
matter of political competition between UNP and the SLFP. A national issue was handled as a national
issue should be, with the fullest cooperation between the government
and the main opposition party.
A third feature that the book
highlights is the very professional
way in which the preparations for
negotiations were handled on the
Sri Lanka side. Whether it was on
the part of the Senanayake government or the Bandaranaike government, the officials responsible for
the negotiation were given specific
assignments and there was nothing
of, what in the Sinhala idiom is
called, "the dog trying to do the
donkey's work". Expert groups
were formed to work out the draft
texts of the agreement and the background on the substantive issue.
The net result was that the bilateral
negotiations were conducted in an
efficient manner from the Sri Lanka
This book provides, for
the first time, an
insider's account of the
prolonged negotiations
between Sri Lanka and
India over Kachchativu,
and the resulting
boundary that emerged.
All these aspects are covered in
the book, especially in the two chapters titled "Dudley Senanayake-In-
dira Gandhi Talks (1968-1969)" and
"Mrs. Sirirmavo Bandaranaike-In-
dira Gandhi Talks (1973-1974)."
Jayasinghe's account, in addition to giving the details of the official talks, also on occasion, offers
insights into the close personal relationship that existed between Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira
Gandhi, which played a significant
part in the successful conclusion of
the Maritime Agreement. On the occasion when the talks between the
officials of the two sides were locked
in stalemate, Jayasinghe recounts:
"I suggested to Bandaranaike that
she seek a one-to-one discussion
with Indira Gandhi, as the entire negotiations were now in jeopardy.
He recalls that the Indian prime
minister was relaxing after her
lunch when she met with Bandaranaike and Jayasinghe "in the
rear verandah" of her residence. He
goes on to mention, "I remember Indira Gandhi telling Mrs. Bandaranaike, almost complaining, that
neither of her sons was interested
in politics...".
The UN Law of the Sea negotia
tions, in which Sri Lanka
played a prominent part, also
fed into the Maritime Boundary negotiations between Sri
Lanka and India. The new
concepts that arose during the
■s4 "    UN negotiations, and how
they were used by the Sri Lan-
";*p    kan and Indian negotiators
f!       find their place in the book.
*' There is something in Ja
yasinghe's style of writing that
shows very clearly that style comes
naturally and fluently to him. His
is an unadorned, direct approach.
He gets to the essence of the book
in the very first sentence: "I was
prompted to write a book on
Kachchativu, in order to dispel a
misconception that India "gifted" or
"ceded" Kachchativu to Sri Lanka
through goodwill and in the interest of our bilateral relations".
Is the story of Kachchativu just a
story of something that happened
30 or 40 years ago with little relevance today? Politicians of Tamil
Nadu incessantly talk of the need
to "get back" Kachchativu. It is all
tied up with South Indian fisherman
poaching in Sri Lanka's waters, and
regularly being arrested by the Sri
Lanka Navy. As if that is not complicating enough, Indian fishermen
are now beginning to be arrested by
the lite also. AH sorts of remedies
are being suggested by some Indian
academics, including one that was
used by the Indian side during the
negotiations—for Sri Lanka to permanently lease Kachchativu to Tndia. It is important for current decision-makers of Sri Lanka to be aware
of the negotiations on Kachchativu
to be able to recognise old ghosts in
new shapes and forms, jayasinghe
refers to these current problems and
suggests a simple solution— that
those in positions of responsibility
for this area seem to have missed in
their wisdom. To solve current problems you do not have to tinker with
the hard-won Maritime Boundary
Agreement of 1974.
2004 January 17/1  HIMAL
rnerious' magazines have a high mortality rate every-
U where in the world, and so it is with some self-
satisfaction that Himal Southasian can claim to have
achieved more than fifteen years of living. It has been
a struggle every step of the way, from being a Himalayan magazine from 1988 through 1996, and then as
a magazine of the Subcontinent (and Sri Lanka) since
then. But every step of the struggle has been invigorating, for we have been pioneering journalism all
along, seeking to think beyond boundaries and edit
'regionally'. Though a small magazine, we can claim
to have had a share of influence on how people conceptualise our region and the transformations that its
1.4 billion people confront.
Speaking of transformation, the magazine you
hold is about to go through one, and which is what I
would like to communicate to you, our reader. Rather
than fold up, which is what the majority of periodicals do after years of trying, Himal Southasian is actually going to mutate into two publications. In March
2004, Himal Southasian will spawn two magazines.
Himal and The Southasian.
'Himal' will revert to being a Himalayan magazine, which it was before 1996. After a hiatus that is
required to organise and plan, it will bring intensely
meaningful journalism to the Himalaya like it did of
old, covering the life and times in the 2500 km Himalayan chain—Hengduan to the Karakoram—and
contiguous areas of the Indus-Ganga plains and the
Tibetan highlands.   Himal will remain a magazine
published by the Himalmedia group in Kathmandu.
'The Southasian' will be the successor publication
to the magazine which you hold, and it will dedicate
itself with new energy to covering the Southasian
region amidst the roller coaster period in which we
live. Forces both terrible and promising are swaying
<* Ladakh
this region, and The Southasian
will strive to give meaning to
all that is happening, seeking
to chart a course that is independent of economic determinism, ideological straitjackets,
and chauvinistic nationalism.
The Southasians editors will
continue to be guided by what
is good for the people in the
long term, rather than what is
good for the establishments in
each of our countries. We will
strive to help define Southasia
of the future in a way that is
different from the SAARC
organisation (though we
appreciate it and understand
its need), helping define an
identity that is inclusive and
provides unifying energy to
the people of the Subcontinent
and Sri Lanka.
As you may have noticed
in this column and elsewhere
in this issue of Himal Southasian, the editors have
decided that it no longer makes sense to spell 'South
Asia' as two words. If we are to internalise this geographical signifier whose origins lie in Western
media and academia—we of the region are late converts to its usage—then it is best that we give it more
cohesion in the spelling. Whereas 'South Asia' is the
way an outsider would see our region, 'Southasia' is
how we need to see it (as long as the language is
English, of course). This is one small step to move out
of the identity rigidity created in the era of the nation-
state for a region which is actually one vast penumbra of intermingling cultures and identities. South
Asia is the region of sharply defined borders and
nation states. Southasia, if you will, reflects more
closely what we all are, beyond our certitudes as
modern-day Indians and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis,
Sri Lankans and Nepalis.
So, welcome to Southasia, dear reader. And watch
out for our March issue, when we emerge as The
Southasian and continue the traditions of Himal
HIMAL 17/1  January 2004
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