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Himal South Asian Volume 16, Number 10, October 2003 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2003-10

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 OUTH        ASIAN
Jadoo come home
i i   i
WTO Debacle: Now wait for the backlash
Lankan women in search of peace
The arid orthodoxy of hydraulic despots
The Enlightenment vs. Hindutva ^d^m
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Vol 16 No 10
October 2003
Sri Lanka: The peace process and
the peace talks india
by Jehan Perera
India: Fishing for trouble
by Syed Ali Mujtaba
Pakistan: Inelastic doctrine
by Mohammad Nadeem Yousaf
Mining uranium in the mountains
by Nava Thakuria
Lumpens in the constabulary
by Subhash Gatade
Cancun-let the games begin!
by Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Collapse of the neo-liberal
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
River of collective belonging
by Ajaya Dixit
Flush funds and family
games in the Maldive Islands
by 'Maldivian'
Paddy, wheat and Punjab
by Sudhirendar Sharma
Globalising anger
by Devinder Sharma
Boyhood and the alien:
Eland Koi Mil Gaya
by Genevieve Lakier
Where are the women
in the Sri Lankan peace?
by Sarala Emmanuel
Hindutva's Hoax
reviewed by Siriyavan Anand
The contemporary
politics of ancient history
reviewed by Rhoderick Chalmers
 Contributors to this issue
editors @
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas J Mathew
ting Editors
Rajashri Dasgupta
Manik de Silva
Afsan Chowdhury
Beena Sarwar
Mitu Varma
Amitava Kumar
Editorial Assistant
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Design Team
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Himal was a Himalayan journal from
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a Smith Asian mcivaziite.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a Rawalpindi activist involved with people's movements.
Abid Qaiyum Suleri is the head of the aSustainable Agriculture and Food Security
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Ajaya Dixit is a Kathmandu water engineer and editor of the journal Water Nepal.
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'Maldivian' is a maldivian who does not wish to be identified.
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Justice Group, Karachi.
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Rhoderick Chalmers researches South Asian languages and cultures and is currently a
Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Kathmandu.
Sarala Emmanuel is with the War-Trauma and Psychosocial Programme, Colombo.
Siriyavan Anand is Outlook magazine's Madras correspondent. He is an Ambedkarite.
Subhash Gatade, a social activist and journalist based in New Delhi, also edits the Hindi
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Cover design by Indra Shrestha. A pristine Maldivian resort against flame from the fire of the riot
in Male on 20 September.
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The ironies of history
IN HER interesting article "A Resting
Place for the Imagination" [Himal September 2003), Parvati Raman discusses the meanings of the term 'diaspora'.
She joins issue with what she interprets as my "questioning of the legitimacy of diasporic identities" in the case
of South African Indians in my essay 'Diasporic dispositions' (Himal December 2002). There is much to both
agree and disagree with in her article and I welcome a
productive and historically informed debate on what
analytical and political meanings the much used, and
abused, category 'diaspora' have today,
Let me start by assuring Raman that mv intention in
the admittedly polemical essay under discussion was
never to question the "legitimacy" of diasporic identities as genuinely held political-cultural identities, and
even less to assume the existence of any "authentic diasporic subject" modelled on the
Jewish experience, as Raman claims.
My intention was to demonstrate the
profound irony that resides in the fact
that those of Indian origin in South
Africa today who most eagerlv embrace a diasporic identity organised
around a central theme of loss, of displacement (not migration) from the
motherland, and of overcoming
hardships in their new land of residence are those who suffered the
Imagined woes
Although the Gujarati passenger Indians suffered under the racist governance in Durban
and elsewhere, their predicament bears no resemblance
to the plight of the indentured labourers from I860 onwards. The nature of the predominantly Gujarati migration to various parts of Africa and elsewhere from
the nineteenth century onwards can best be described
as driven by transnational familial economic strategies
of trade. Gujaratis in the region, including South Africa, have maintained close links with Gujarat through
religious institutions, ties, marriages, regular visits, and
so on.
There is no doubt that India, and more specifically
Gujarat, was, and remains, absolutely vital to the identities of these relatively affluent groups. In fact, that significance is much more than just as a resting place of
the imagination but as the very origin of the cultural
practices, language and moral habitus of these communities. This pattern of sustained contact and interdependence was true of the period Raman deals with,
as well as during the apartheid era and after.
The same environment of transnational Gujaratis
and some north Indian migrants also provided, from
an early point in time, an alert and interested audience
for news of India (still reported on one page in the old
Durban based weekly The Leader). They embraced the
anti-colonial ideology and the new 'Indianness' which
arose in the twentieth century, articulated first and foremost by a Gujarati Hindu, Mohandas Gandhi. The family histories of Gujaratis I know in South .Africa have
not been related to me as storie- cr \" .-"J displacement, but as stories of daring and ad\ c-::::;r\: ^.'rr.u:i".es
under adverse circumstances, crowned by success and
affluence because of thrift and hard work.
Even more interestingly, the framing of such stories
in terms of 'diaspora' is a very recent phenomenon,
conditioned by the fact that the foundational and hegemonic narrative of post-apartheid South Africa is that
of a suffering people. The history of Indians has, accordingly, been framed as a homogenous story of loss,
displacement and suffering, ie, a standardised version
of the history of indentured labourers. There is a further irony in the fact that this version of the South African Indian history, which has been
elaborated and painstakingly documented by generations of progressive
and non-racial intellectuals, today is
eagerly embraced and appropriated
by the most conservati ve and communal, and even racist, forces in the 'Indian' community in South Africa.
The second intention of my essay
was to show how problematic the
encounter with the actually existing
India is for many South African Indians who embark on roots tourism
with only vague ideas of the Subcontinent. Raman is absolutely correct in
pointing out that this is a broader and
more general problem of what I would call transnational populations. It is also true, as Raman suggests,
that a large part of the elite and middle-class in India
and other countries in the Subcontinent have a very
problematic relationship with the realities of their own
There is no doubt that a growing resentment against
the poor, and the 'backward aMusiims', have been central motives in the widespread middle class adoption
of a hard-headed Hindu nationalist rhetoric in India.
However, my intention was to question the existence of
any "authentic diasporic subject". The people described
in my essay (and many other similar accounts) are all
descendants of indentured labourers who left the Subcontinent lured by the prospect of a new life across the
kala pani.
For these people, success in life in South Africa has
been accompanied by a desire to learn about their own
origins. I am not questioning tbe legitimacy of this desire. On the contrary, the search for some kind of authenticity—to be found in a sense of history, in religion,
in music or other practices—is a crucial force in human
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
life and something that needs to be understood and
appreciated by anyone dealing with identity questions.
What I tried to show is that for these South African
Indians, an 'India' of the imagination is a more effective touchstone of authenticity than the physical realities of the Republic of India of the 1990s.
I agree with Raman that instead of assuming
"diasporic sentiments" to be a natural or unproblemat-
ic constant, we need to investigate what the 'homeland'
or 'Indianness' has meant at various junctures. As historians or anthropologists, our job is to bring to light
the complexities and paradoxes at the heart of such
narratives and identities. But we also need to be aware
of the necessary distinction between a language of politics (based on moral and political judgement) and a
language of analysis (based on presentation of evidence,
descriptions and arguments that can lend themselves
to different interpretations). These two languages
can never be separated and 'objectivity' is impossible
except as an always incomplete ^tm^mm^^m^
This notwithstanding, widely circulating terms like 'diaspora', 'identity' or 'culture' mean different things
in the mouth of a political figure, and
in that of a social scientist. The political activist is trying to talk something
into existence (as Gandhi did with
Tndianness', which would have had
no meaning 50 years earlier), while
the analyst is trying to map and de-   	
scribe the genealogy and meanings of a certain term
and its uses. Politicians and cultural entrepreneurs are
extremely attentive to the meanings and connotations
of the terms they use, and social scientists should
be equally attentive to the precision of the terms they
I have strong doubts about the usefulness of 'diaspora' as a noun, as a descriptive category that says
something meaningful about a group of people and their
history. This is not merely because the concept has been
used both by the left and the right, as Raman points
out, but because it implies 'diaspora' to be a 'total identity', a condition that informs and structures many facets of life. This is plainly wrong. Diaspora should be
used as an adjective (diasporic) or as a verb (diaspori-
sation) to describe an aspiration, a fleeting, at times
important, form of imagination that may, or may not,
succeed in providing an effective framework of interpretation of a given social situation.
Raman's example of Indianness of the early decades
of the 20th century was exactly such a yearning and
aspiration that gave a sense of dignity and certainty to
its adherents and yet, as a lived reality, was blocked
and disturbed by countless divisions of class, religion,
language, etc. So, we can use the adjective 'diasporic'
to describe such sentiments and identities that estab-
An 'India' of the imagination is a more effective touchstone of authenticity than the physical realities of the Republic of India of the
land, or point of origin. But to use the term diaspora to
meaningfully describe entire groups of people is a cul
de sac.
I do not believe in an objectivist 'check-list sociology', but one needs to ask what remains of the term diaspora if we remove notions of home/origin, and if we
remove the central trope of loss? We are left with nothing, or a misnomer. Even the most anti-essentialist elaborations of diaspora or hybridity could not escape the
idea of displacement, or of the mixing of cultures—thus
implicitly assuming a place-bound and holistic notion
of culture that most anthropologists have abandoned
quite some time ago.
Instead of scrapping the concept altogether, T suggest that we recognise that there are 'diasporic' sentiments, and attempts at 'diasporisations' that, in our
case, aim at turning various groups of 'brown folks'
into an Indian diaspora, lt happened in the beginning
of the twentieth century as the creation of 'India' as a
^^^.^.^   political project, and it happens now
in the attempt to create a global
Hindu culture.
Indianness sans indianness
Raman's depiction of the importance
of India as a "resting place for the
imagination", and the depiction of
Indian community solidarity needs
some qualification, however. The efforts to make 'Indianness' a common
    denominator in South Africa had a
long and difficult gestation. Gandhi was only gradually persuaded to take up the plight of the indentured
'coolies', and deep-seated caste and community prejudices meant that many Gujaratis were reluctant to see
'coolies' as part of their concern.
There were long-standing efforts in the 1890s on the
part of Gujarati merchants to be reclassified as 'Arabs'
to escape the stigma of being an 'Asiatic'. At that time,
'India' was an idea, not a reality and the bonding of a
Tamil untouchable with a Gujarati merchant was less
than self-evident. There is little doubt that the spurious
racial classification and governance of everybody from
the Subcontinent as 'Asiatics' was fundamental to the
emergence of Tndianness' in South Africa.
Throughout, Gandhi and subsequent Indian leaders stressed the status of Indians as 'imperial subjects'
to be granted certain rights and protections as opposed
to the Africans or 'natives' whose capacity for self-rule
Gandhi never deliberated on or assumed. The racial
basis of Tndianness' was also reflected in later political formations that were all mono-racial (except the
Communist Party after the 1940s). Indians were organised in the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress, while Africans were organised in the
African National Congress and other formations.
In spite of the formal co-operation between these
lish imaginary and practical links with a (lost) home-      outfits in the 1940s and after, their mono-racial charac-
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
ter did not change, even up to the 1980s. The racial
basis for Indian solidarity in South ,<\frica was both
imposed by the sheer force of its government, and derived from deep-seated caste ideologies that, like racial
ideology, are based on ideas of immutable essences
transferred through blood and lineage. This docs not
alter the fact that Tndianness' became a very effective
basis for political and communal organisation (under
leaders like Yusuf Dadoo and others) that was emancipatory and pioneering in the resistance against white
dominance in the country. However, this legacy of
community solidarity has also, as Raman points out
herself, become something of a liability in the new South
India was, however, not merely a resting place of
the imagination among politically alert South African
Indians in the first half of the twentieth century. The
relationship between the two colonial
territories also displays interesting contradictions within the colonial project
itself. During the protracted attempts
to repatriate and relocate Indians in
Durban in the 1920s, the Congress
movement in South Africa sent a deputation to India to mobilise political support for the cause of the Indians in
South Africa. Mass meetings were held
in various parts of India to protest
against the move and the Viceroy of India, Lord Reading submitted an official
protest against the legislation.
Interestingly, the Government of India acted as an advocate of Indian interests in South Africa and pressed for
a round table conference where the issue could be settled and negotiated between the two
governments within the Commonwealth. The conference took place in late 1926 in Cape Town. The Indian
delegation consisted of six civil servants, three Indian
and three British, and was led by Sir Mahomed Habibul-
lah. The South African delegation was all white. After
protracted negotiations, the so-called Cape Town Agreement was signed in 1927. It stipulated a new voluntary
repatriation scheme that built certain financial incentives (free tickets, a fixed sum per adult and child, etc)
into the repatriation procedure.
The more remarkable part of the agreement was that
a review of Indian education was to be undertaken,
with the assistance of experts in education from India,
that the South African government promised to provide better housing and living conditions for Indians
and that Indians should receive "equal pay for equal
work", and that no unreasonable obstacles should be
put in the way of Indian business initiatives. It was
also agreed that a permanent Agent General of the Government of India should be posted in South ,Africa to
oversee the implementation of the agreement.
The repatriation scheme did have some effect in the
Gandhi outside his Johannesburg
law office.
first five years after its implementation, but the worldwide economic crisis slowed down the pace. As stories
of untold hardship among repatriates in India filtered
back into South Africa, the numbers applying for repatriation fell dramatically in the early 1930s.
In 1946, the South African government passed the
highly controversial Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian
Representation Act—an explicitly discriminatory piece
of legislation. The Government of India, still under British administration, protested strongly and withdrew
its High Commissioner in South Africa. ,^n Indian delegation from South Africa met Gandhi in Pune in March
1946, and Gandhi assured the delegation of his unconditional support and that the matter would be taken up
in international fora, and in the negotiations with the
British Government (Bombay Chronicle, 4 March, 1946).
On behalf of the Government of India, the issue was
put before the newly formed United Nations General Assembly as a clear example of discrimination on the basis of
race and culture.
A few years later, India led the international protests against the new
apartheid legislation and in 1949, after the riots in Durban which left dozens of Indians dead and thousands
homeless, the Government of India
tried to flex both political and military
muscle to prevent further abuse of Indians in the country. None of these
measures had any effect on Indian conditions in South Africa, but the examples indicate the depth and vigour of
  pan-Indian solidarity in this early-
phase of decolonisation.
A closer look at these concerns betrays the somewhat paternalist character of this solidarity, however.
Since the 1890s religious and cultural figures in India
had expressed concern about the fate of the expatriate
Indian populations in Mauritius, the Caribbean, Fiji
and South Africa. aMissionaries were sent out by the
Arya Samaj and later by those adhering to the orthodox
(sanataii) interpretation of Hinduism, despite initial
worries about the polluting effects of crossing the ocean.
Also, Muslim organisations like the Deoband madrasah
in Uttar Pradesh and Sufi orders sent missionaries
abroad. The mission was to uplift the lower caste 'coolies' and to prevent conversions to another faith. Beneath the progressive veneer of pan-Indian solidarity,
communal divisions were deepened and the purification of practices and categories commenced. One of the
victims of this work of purification was in fact the celebration of Muharram as a pan-Indian festival, which
ceased to play a role in the 1970s.
Bollywood imaginations
The final issue that Raman touches upon is what India
means to South African Indians today. The brief an-
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 swcr is three things: a site of religious pilgrimage for
some, a site for shopping for others, and for most, the
land of Bollywood and film stars. The need to look beyond South Africa, to identify some sort of 'Indianness'
is still there - today in the face of a sense of marginalisation and non-recognition in the post-apartheid order-
But India is not a destination of migration or a place to
seek education.
Many young Indians leave South Africa and they
go where young whites and coloured are going: Australia, US and the UK. The resting place for the imagination is today in the culture of modern transnational
Indian communities in London, Melbourne, New York
or Toronto. Bollywood products experienced a steady
decline in popularity in South Africa for decades until
a new wave of films targeted a teenage audience and
took up themes around non-resident Indian (NRI) identities, and more importantly, arrived in South Africa
with English subtitles. A new generation which grew
up almost without Indian vernaculars could now follow and understand a new generation of Hindi films.
These films and their stars have achieved an unprecedented global mainstream status, making them perfect
and well-packaged symbols of recognition of modern
Indianness—of an identity as modern Indians, distanced
both from Indian tradition and from an erstwhile 'coolie' status. While this phenomenon can be regarded as a
symptom of a 'diasporic desire'—a certain longing for a
glossy and global Indianness, it coexists with the splintering of smaller groups of South African Indians into
multiple transnational identifications: descendants of
Gujarati Muslims seeing them.selves as parts of a universal Muslim civilisation that converses in Arabic and
English; a global Tamil network that projects Tamil suffering in Sri Lanka onto a global narrative of Tamil loss
and misrecognition; recently converted Pentecostal Christians for whom Jerusalem and Kentucky become more
important than Madras and Jaffna; and of course conservative Hindus whose solidarity with the Indian nation state is reproduced through identification with a
protracted and global conflict with Muslims, Pakistan
and 'Islamic terrorists'.
It is in view of these indisput.ible facts that I propose that we critically rethink whether 'diaspora' is a
useful concept that can help us to understand the complexity of contemporary identity politics in South Africa and elsewhere.
Thomas Blom Hansen, Edinburgh
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HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
IN THE resolution of a protracted conflict,
it may sometimes be necessary to have
visible breakthroughs in order to keep
morale high, both of the negotiators themselves and also the interested public.
Virtually all rounds of the peace talks that
commenced with the first one in Sattahip,
Thailand a year ago, had such moments of
brilliance. These moments were accentuated
by the flamboyance of the LTTE's chief
negotiator at those talks, Dr Anton Balasingham, who had a sure grasp of the Tamil
cause and the LTTE's history.
Whether it was the redefinition of the
LTTF's concept of Tamil Eelam in Sattahip
in September, the Oslo declaration on
federalism in December, or the acceptance
of a human rights framework in Hakone in
February, every round of the peace talks
brought with it news of a positive breakthrough that the international media could
carry to all parts of the world. But with the
aipparent withdrawal of Dr Balasingham
from the scene, and his replacement by less
autonomous negotiators, it is unlikely that
\ isible breakthroughs of the same kind will
take place at future talks.
It is therefore important that those who
arc following the Sri Lankan peace process
should draw a distinction between visible
breakthroughs at peace talks and the overall
strengthening of the peace process that is
taking place. There is a need to bear in mind
that peace talks are, by and large, a matter
between the government and LTTE. But the
peace process is more than peace talks
between the government and LTTE. The well-
being of the people of Sri Lanka, north and
south, should not be held hostage to the
agendas of either the government or LTTE,
or both of them together. The peace process
includes the government and LTTE; but it
also includes the other political forces in
the country, not to mention the 18 million
people who constitute the population of the
country. The peace process should not be
limited or equated only to the presence or
absence of peace talks.
The difference between the
peace process and peace talks
can be seen most clearly in some
of the events of these past five
months. During this period there
were no peace talks between the
government and l.TTF. But a
strong case can be made that the
peace process did not get
weakened even though there
was a hiatus in the peace talks.
Instead, overall, the peace process seems to
have got strengthened.
In the past five months there has also
beena great deal of constructive and positive
work that has been done, both by the LITE
itself and also other parties, to take the peace
process forward. A most valuable contribution in this regard was the LTTE's highly
publicised deliberations in Paris on an
interim administrative framework to govern
the North-East. The LTTE's decision to
include the diaspora community, as well
as leading academics and former senior
government officials in a broad-based effort
to come up with a concrete proposal, has
served to strengthen confidence in their
commitment to a negotiated settlement.
A further strengthening of the peace
process has taken place with the increased
interaction between the LITE and international organisations. An example would
be the action plan drawn up by UNICEF that
the LTTE has endorsed, and is
in the process of being
implemented, under which the
rebel leadership has agreed to
an awareness programme on
child rights to be carried out
in the North-East within the
next few months. The LTTE has
also agreed to the publication
by UNICEF of a monthly child
situation report that would
cover such areas as child
recruitment and rehabilitation
and child labour.
The challenge for UNICEF would be
to ensure by non-confrontational and
problem-solving methods that the LTTE
honours the terms of the action plan for a
restoration of the lost rights of children in
the North-East. The LTTE would also
be aware that an agreement with an
internationally recognised organisation
such as UNICEF has to be taken seriously if
it  is  not  to  suffer  serious  erosion  oi
Have they fallen out?
The well-being of
the people of Sri
Lanka, north and
south, should not be
held hostage to the
agendas of either
the government or
ltte, or both of
them together.
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 credibility. In endorsing UNICEF's action
plan, the LTTE has gone beyond the verbal
assurances that they once gave to the UN's
Special Envoy on Child Rights, Olara
Otunu, which they failed to honour. This
shift of attitude on the part of the LTTE is
evidence of how the peace process is
continually being strengthened even in
the absence of peace talks between the
government and LTTE.
Kumaratunga's commitment
Yet another major contribution towards the
strengthening of the peace process has been
President Chandrika Kumaratunga's rejection of a political alliance with the JVP.
This political alliance would certainly have
strengthened the political opposition to the
government, both at the electoral and
ideological levels. The President's decision
to forego this political advantage was due,
in large measure, to her refusal to agree to
the JVP's demand that the new alliance
should oppose the devolution of power as
a solution to tlie ethnic conflict, and
Norwegian facilitation in the present peace
Had the President agreed to the JVP's
terms, the peace process would undoubtedly
have been seriously jeopardised. With the
mass base of the PA behind it, the JVP would
have organised mass events that had the
potential of generating open confrontation
with the government. In turn, the perception
of a government on the defensive would
have weakened the peace process. But due
to the fact that the President publicly, and
courageously, upheld her commitment to a
negotiated political solution through the
devolution of power and with Norwegian
facilitation, she helped to consolidate public
support for the present peace process and
IN RECENT weeks, the Colombo government has
been announcing massive governmental investments to be made in rural infrastructure, such
as roads and electricity. Not without reason,
government politicians can claim that the employment and ripple effects generated will spark off an
economic boom in the near future.
An element of potential instability in this
optimistic scenario is the continued deprivation
being suffered by the most severely war-affected parts
of the country. These parts of the country are under
LTTE control, and their continuing deprivation would
put the LTTE leadership under pressure to show
economic peace dividends to convince its cadre that
the peace process is worth the silencing of their guns.
The problem for the LTTE is that they seek
economic peace dividends that they alone should
implement and distribute to the people of the North-
East in the manner of sole benefactors. No doubt they
feel that they are the ones who have single-mindedly
fought for Tamil rights over the past two decades at
tremendous cost. But economic peace dividends
cannot be unilaterally obtained. They come from
partnership, and by adhering to the rules of partnership with donors, such as transparency and
accountability, and respect for human rights.
One has only to travel the length of the A 9
highway from south to north to see a different reality
emerge when entering or leaving the LTTE controlled
areas. Here, there is the shocking sight of the utter
destruction of war and spartan conditions of living
bereft of the basic amenities of motorable roads,
electricity and telephone lines. A systematic effort to
reconstruct public buildings, such as government
offices and schools, is yet to commence.
There are two reasons for this unhappy state of
affairs. One is the failure of the government and LTTE
to develop an appropriate mechanism by which funds
can be made available for the development of LTTE
controlled areas. Prior to the suspension of peace talks
in April 2003, the LTTE was on the verge of signing
an agreement to establish the North East Reconstruction Fund (NERF). The government had already
signed it and the World Bank had to sign it after the
LTTE did so. The LTTE decided to suspend peace talks
with the government and the signing of the NERF
agreement was also suspended, presumably as they
did not wish for any more partnership with the Sri
Lankan government at that time.
A second reason for the neglect of LTTE controlled
areas is the LTTE's reluctance to permit foreign donors
to come in directly to those areas. This is not a problem
limited to donor agencies, but extends also to
commercial ventures. For instance, an expatriate Tamil
business venture, led by a person with sound Tamil
nationalist credentials, was unable to make much
headway for a project it had for the Wanni. The reason
was the LTTE's reluctance to provide statistical
information and survey data that were needed for
the feasibility study.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 thereby served to strengthen it.
A final factor that has contributed to the
strengthening of the peace process should
also be noted. This is the ceaseless work
being done by a multitude of civil society
organisations to build bridges between the
ethnic communities and to make them feel
more comfortable about the, political
compromises necessary for a negotiated
peace. Organisations such as the Centre for
Policy Alternatives are developing cutting
edge thinking on issues of federal power
sharing and human rights protection.
Others such as the Anti War Coalition
recalled the events of July 1983 and called
on political leaders to apologise to
the victims. Through such activities the
thinking of people about the ethnic conflict
is in tlie process of transformation.
Overall, there has been a strengthening
of the peace process, one that the suspension
of peace talks has not stopped. So long as a
return to war is kept at bay, the natural
resilience of Sri Lankan society and its
facility for multi-ethnic coexistence, so
easily visible on the streets of any big city,
whether Colombo or Jaffna, will ensure that
the peace process grows from strength to
strength. When assessing the situation in
the country, therefore, it is only fair that the
entirety of the peace process be evaluated
rather than only harp on the suspension of
peace talks. b
-Jehan Perera
THE BURGEONING problems of the
fisher people of Tamil Nadu do not catch
the ears of the powerful, either in the state
or the centre. Madras seems to be far from
Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram, Thuthu-
kudi or Kanyakumari, the hubs of fishing
activity in tlie state. As for New Delhi, it is
almost a distant planet from there. Those in
the corridors of power, instead of solving
the problems of the fisher folk, are asking
them to change their profession.
Their demands have been put up in a
42-point charter, which includes implementation of the 21 recommendations of what
is known as the Murari Committee, which
had been approved by tlie central cabinet
/' Pm Strtiit
I aftm*^'^"''^"'-,K he
mi,    ! /^^SfWiClicr.
w!ti I am,
ec!,avM!chd>Wa •
 »4»PUraY * yfs>n 1
:Kelt<rawa)., ^Habaf
tt<)i<uh'i,   »Habaft
imbulla#    £j^
on 28 September 1997. That 42 member
committee, comprising parliamentarians
from all political parties, was constituted in
order to look into the grievances of the fisher
community arising from Government of
India's (GOI) issuance of licences, in 1991,
to joint venture, lease and test fishing
vessels. Opposition voiced by the national
trade union federations and various
political parties reflected the fear of the
depletion of fish stock in the Indian Ocean,
consequent on unrestrained deep-sea
fishing through the use of mega-machines,
which would quite literally leave the fisher
folk stranded on the shores.
The Murari Committee recommended,
among other things, the formulation of
proper marine fishing regulations in the
exclusive economic zone, a savings-cum-
relief scheme for fishermen, subsidised fuel,
a monsoon trawling ban, and the central
government's withdrawal of the
Aquaculture Authority Bill. This
bill allows for large-scale, intensive
aquaculture by industrial and
tourism lobbies in the Coastal
Regulation Zone (CRZ), which
afterall is the survival mainstay of
traditional fisher folk. The government accepted all the recommendations, only to toss the mandate
about from one ministry to another.
It is an expression of just how much
concern the government had for the
fisher people of the country that the
administration of deep-sea fishing
was eventually entrusted to the
Ministry of Animal Husbandry!
The fisher folk want irksome
fishing regulations to be repealed. As of
now, fishermen are allowed to venture into
the sea between 5 am and 9 pm for three
Since the 1980's,
Sri Lankan Navy
has been objecting
to the Tamil Nadu "
fishermen fishing
near Kachchativu.
Fishermen are
rounded up and
incarcerated. Repatriated fishermen
complain of being
roughed up
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 The faithful at St. Anthony's Church.
The basic
demands of the
fisherfolk pale in
comparison to
the pompous
rhetoric of Tamil
Nadu's political
leaders such as
Chief Minister
J Jayalalithaa.
g days in a week. However,
c bad weather conditions keep
|™ them shore-bound for 45
days in a year. This has led
them to demand financial
compensation, which they
say, should be extended to
their women folk as well.
They had taken these demands to the Prime Minister,
who had promised to accord all facilities to both the fishermen and
their womenfolk. But the President of the
Fishing Labourers' Union, Baluchamy, who
had met the Prime Minister with these
demands, laments that the state governments approach remains lukewarm when
it comes to their implementation of specific
Tamil Nadu fishermen have demanded
an extension in the fishing time, now
restricted from 5am to 9 pm, after the state
government clamp-down owing to the
periodic conflicts between fishermen using
mechanised boats and those in traditional
country boats and catamarans. Fishermen
using traditional methods also demand that
mechanised boatmen should not be allowed
to fish within three nautical miles
of the coast and the ban should
be strictly implemented. They
complain that the use of trawlers
or mechanised boats has created
havoc on the seabed.
There is an international dimension too. One of the demands
of the state's fishermen is the
restoration of their fishing rights
in Kachchativu Island. This is a
small island between the Indian
mainland and the island of Sri
Lanka, which once belonged to
India. Tamil Nadu fishermen
have been using the Kachchativu
Island for resting and drying nets.
Under treaties in 1974 and 1976 between
the countries, the island was ceded to Sri
Lanka but it has since then remained a bone
of contention between Tamil Nadu and Sri
Lanka. The Tamil Nadu government quotes
archival sources to claim that the island
formed part of the zamindari (revenue
territory) of the raja of Ramnad. lt protests
the central government having unilaterally
given it to Sri Lanka.
The waters around the island are known
for their lobster catch. Tamil fishermen use
Kachchativu as a halting point after laying
their nets, before returning to their coast after
collecting their catch. The island is also
known for its religious festivities in which
Tamil Nadu fishermen have participated
since long ago. On certain days of the year,
fishermen throng the island with their
families to worship at the St Anthony's
Church. The site is revered by the fishermen
and a priest from Ramnad goes there to
conduct regular mass.
Since the 1980's, Sri Lankan navy
patrols have reportedly started objecting to
the Tamil Nadu fishermen fishing near
Kachchativu. The Sri Lankan navy round
up these fishermen and incarcerate them.
Related to this is the issue of frequent
detention of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the
Sri Lankan navy for allegedly straying into
Sri Lankan waters. Earlier, the Tamil Nadu
fishermen used to be repatriated back to
India. Since ethnic conflict erupted in Sri
Lanka, however, suspected of being LTTE
sympathisers, the fishermen are also shot
at. Over a hundred fishermen have lost their
lives in such incidents. Even though
shooting incidents have stopped since the
commencement of peace talks between the
LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, tire
accosting and detention of Tamil Nadu
fishermen continues. When the fishermen
raised their concerns, the Indian government told them that the agreement allows
Tamil Nadu fishermen to use the Kachchativu Island as before, even though it now
belonged to Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, repatriated Tamil Nadu
fishermen complain of being roughed up
while in Sri Lankan custody. Protesting
against action by the Sri Lankan navy, a
relay demonstration was held in Rameswaram recently where the fishermen
charged the central and state governments
in India with a callous attitude. Ironically,
the basic demands of the fisherfolk pale in
comparison to the pompous rhetoric of
Tamil Nadu's political leaders such as Chief
Minister J Jayalalithaa, who has gone so far
as to declare that the island be retrieved by
force if negotiations fail to yield the desired
Recently yet one more dimension has
been added to fhe suffering of Tamil Nadu
fishermen who stray into Sri Lankan waters.
They are now first detained by the LTTE,
who levy fines and penalties before the Sri
Lankan authorities even get into the act. ,
The fact of the matter is that LTTE has
intensified its patrolling in the Palk Bay
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
region "If this trend continues unchecked,
soon the Indian government instead of
the Sri Lankan government wilt have to
approach the LTTE for release of the fishermen", says Professor Surinayarana, a Sri
Lanka expert in Madras.
The problem in the Palk Bay is overfishing accompanied by pollution that has
led to the depletion of the fish and the
destruction of the marine ecology. Fishing
by mechanised trawlers has further accentuated the problem. Pearls were once found
in plenty in and around the Gulf of Mannar
till at least as late as the 1960s. But Thoothu-
kudi, the 'pearl city', has witnessed a severe
dwindling in the number of oyster catch
over the years. The age-old diving profession
is in rapid decline.
Another issue which concerns the Tamil
Nadu fishermen is the ambitious Sethu-
samudram project linking Palk Bay with the
Gulf of Mannar on the east coast of India by
creating a shipping canal through the
Rameswaram Island. Doubts were raised
by the green lobby about the environmental
impact of the project, since it involves
extensive dredging of the Pamban channel
where coral fish abound. Because of this
sustained pressure, an initial environmental examination was carried out
through the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur
in 1998. The Sri Lankan Government has
also communicated its opposition to the
project because of the perceived threat to
marine life in the territorial waters along
the Pamban Channel.
Though the NEERI pre-feasibility report
indicated that the project was environmentally safe, with little effect on the ecosystem and on the Gulf of Mannar's Marine
National Park, there is, however, no clarity
as to how much the Sethusamudram project
would help or affect the fishermen. If all the
hype about the shipping activity that the
Sethusamudram project may generate is to
be taken seriously, then it is clear that there
will hardly be any scope for much profitable
fishing in the area.
As always, when confronted with the
problems of livelihood being affected by
state-initiated projects, the bureaucrats
always trot out a stock solution. Tire talk in
the state government is about getting the
fishermen to switch over to some new
profession. And now a feasibility report on
this matter is being prepared by the state
and  the central  governments,  the big
question is will the fishermen be forced to
abandon their profession? And if thev are,
what measures will be taken to ensure that
they will get another source of income. Tlie
paucity of options stare 20 million fisherfolk
in the face.
-Syed Ali Mujtaba
PEOPLE CAN be charged for blasphemy
under section 295 A, B, C and 505 of
Pakistan Penal Code. Recent instances of blasphemy cases have once
again brought the issue into the public sphere and prompted a discussion on whether or not blasphemy-
is an Islamic concept. Blasphemy
laws have been severely misused in the past. One such tragic
case was that of Gul Masih who
was sentenced to death in 1992
for allegedly passing a remark
on Prophet Mohammed. In a
more recent case, Munawar
Mohsin, a subeditor of the Frontier Post was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of PKR
50,000 in July 2003, for publishing a letter to the editor titled "Why Muslims Hate
Jews", which contained allegedly derogatory references to Prophet Mohammad. Most
recently, an accused in a blasphemy who
had been released on bail was killed early
last month. In another instance, a Lahore
shoemaker also attracted charges under the
blasphemy law. And in one of the most celebrated cases in the country, which attracted international attention, a medical
lecturer in Rawalpindi, Younus Shaikh,
was sentenced to death in 2001. In 1998,
High Court Judge Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti
was shot dead in Lahore for reversing the
death sentence against two people charged
for blasphemy. The number of blasphemy
cases is on the rise but the level of insecurity is now so high that many lawyers are
afraid to take them on.
At the root of the problem is a small segment of religious hardliners who exploit
religious sentiments and inflame popular
passions using any excuse available. Blas-
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
Younus Shaikh: a
victim of the laws.
phcmy cases are useful instruments for
them and they use religious hypersensitivity to add to the general climate of sectarian
intolerance accompanied by violence and
death. The hardliners have been consistently exerting pressure on the government
to strengthen blasphemy laws. They ignore
the historical fact that blasphemy laws were
introduced by the British back in 1860 in a
misguided attempt to reduce tension between Hindus and Muslims. The laws were
instituted for purely administrative reasons
and do not have any basis in religious tenets.
Pakistan maybe a theocratic state, but
socially the country is variegated in its ethnic, cultural and religious composition. The
Muslim hardliners do not want to accept
that   contingent   factors   such
as education, cognitive ability
and personality traits influence
peoples' interpretation of doctrines. Therefore, the interpretation of Islamic codes will vary and
in many instances differ from that
of the small segment which proclaims itself the sole authority on
the subject. This group wants to
impose its views on society by agitating for laws that restrict the elasticity of doctrinal interpretation
Section 295C of the Pakistan
Penal Code pertains to the use of derogatory remarks—"...whoever by words, either
spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or
insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles
the sacred name of the Holy Prophet
Quran, relevant verses:
6:107 If it had been Allah's plan, they would nothave
taken false gods: but We made thee not one to watch
over their doings, nor art thou set over them to dispose of their aflairs.
64:2 It is He Who has created you; and of you are
some that are Unbelievers, and some that are Believers: and Allah isees well all that ye do.
88:22Thou art not one to manage (men's) aflaire
English: Yusuf Ali translation
[http: //www.felamicity.ccm]
Such is the hold
of hardliners
these days that
even those
proposing moderate reforms
have to tread
with caution.
Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with
death, or imprisonment for life, and shall
also be liable to fine".   Many have argued
that this section is against the teachings of
the Prophet. Works of legal luminaries like
Justice Shafiq L'smani endorse the view that
the concept of blasphemy is unknown to
Islamic jurisprudence. Many cite the fact
that there are only three verses in the Quran
(7:180, 41:40 and 33:57) that are actually
relevant to concept, as distinct from the act,
of blasphemy. None of these verses says that
people can be charged and brought to trial
for blasphemy. The Quran does not confer
any authority or despotic power to any individual, community or state to act as the
guardian of the religion. In fact, there are
explicit proscriptions on the arrogation of
such powers, which are to be found in the
Quranic yerses 6:107, 88:22 and 64:2.
But such is the hold of hardliners in Pakistani society these days that even those
proposing moderate reforms have to tread
with caution. In 2000, President-General
Pervez Musharraf had announced that
measures would be taken to amend the procedure for the registration of blasphemy
cases to prevent misuse. However, nothing
came of it owing to the protests by religious
groups. That the political leadership of the
country and the government should step
around this issue so gingerly is not surprising. The relevant law that concerns blasphemy was introduced in 1986 by General
Zia-ul Haq. This was the period when the
state had embarked on an overtly theocratic
vision of itself and was working in close cooperation with the religious lobby which
viewed the law as its special creation and
instrument of control.
The mainstream polity of Pakistan, in
moments of competitive populism, cultivates the hardliners by pandering to their
special interest in the blasphemy laws. In
1992, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,
went so far as to make capital punishment
the only possible sentence that could be
awarded for those convicted under blasphemy law. So long as this end of the political spectrum—the religious extreme— retains influence, little change can he expected
in the current status of the law and its use
or misuse. ■::•-
-Mohammad Nadeem Yousaf
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
Continuing the debate on the river linking proposal of the Government of
India, a Kathmandu-based water engineer-turned-social auditor
examines the history of the emergence of the hydraulic technocracy in the
Subcontinent and the principles on which it operates.
by Ajaya Dixit
Hum us desh ke vasi hain jis desh main Ganga
baheli hai ("we are dwellers of that land
through which the Ganga flows") is a line from
the melodious song sung by the late Indian playback
singer, Mukesh. The song transcends the nation state
because its motif—the river Ganga—cannot be contained within boundaries either physically or symbolically. It is a pan-South Asian emblem for all that is life-
sustaining and sacred in rivers. What for the science of
hydrology represents merely one more immense mass
of moving water, is for a population of a billion and a
half a cultural metaphor for life itself. For the present
day Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, or Indian, the Ganga is a denominative absolute, be it the
Burhi Ganga of Bangladesh, the Trisuli Ganga of Nepal,
the Mahaweli Ganga of Sri Lanka, the Sindhu Ganga
of Pakistan, or the Cauvery Ganga of peninsular India.
The Trisuli Ganga hurtling past the gorge evokes in the
Nepali villager the same sentiment as the Ganga entering from upstream to join the Bay of Bengal does in the
Bangladeshi farmer. The priest solemnising puja in the
Himalayan foothills recites the invocation, "Gangecha
Yamunechaiva Godavari Saraswati, Narmade Sindhu
Kaveri, Jaiesmin Sannidhimkuru" signifying a deeply ingrained sense of collective belonging, tied to a common
coordinate. Hum us desh ke vasi hain captures this simple
but pervasive ethos of freely flowing water encapsulating within its hydrological cycle, life, livelihood, sustenance, culture and identity.
The Ganga is, however, more than just a cultural
metaphor. It had in time become an arresting allegory
for engineering progress as well. The American 'Wild
West' invoked the Ganges in precisely this way. According to the historian, Donald Worster, "In the West,
Americans wanted Colorado to become an American
Ganges". American engineers believed that they lagged
far behind their counterparts in India in harnessing
rivers for irrigation, and wanted the New Ci\rilisation
to outgrow the Old Empire. In their more detached
perspective, the flowing river was a resource to be exploited for the glory of science and the profit of capital,
which together augmented the power of the nation and
the state, with little heed to the consequences for the
people and the environment. This was an echo of the
same impulse that drove the engineers of colonial South
Asia to conquer the Subcontinental and Himalayan rivers. This vast difference between the popular and the
engineering perceptions is evident in the very different
conceptions of use of water and exploitation of water.
Historically, human intervention in addressing
water problems has seen attempts to adapt to climatic,
hydrologic and socio-economic conditions. As water
increasingly passed from the hands of local users to
engineers, there was a concomitant elaboration of new
concepts, categories and definitions. One of the fundamental ideas on which the new paradigm of hydraulic
engineering rested was a functionally defined notion
of 'waste'. This functional definition, invested with an
absolute meaning, is substantially different from the
relative idea of 'surplus' or 'excess' that informed traditional water-management practices. Because water
is in excess quantity where it is not needed, when it is
not needed, and to the extent that it is not needed, appropriate modification of the stock and flow to suit different needs in space and time has been a part of human history. Consequently water transfers and diversions through open channels is not a new or recent
invention of civil engineering.
However, there is an important difference between
interventions based on the contemporary paradigm and
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
those of the past. In present times, climatic, hydrologic
and socio-economic conditions, which are even in the
natural course subject to extreme variability, are susceptible to much greater stress because of the sheer scale
of the technology available to unleash potentially fundamental change. This makes the task of .achieving
water security that much more complex than in the past.
Colonial science
Egypt of antiquity build dams and Roman engineers
brought water to the imperial cities via aqueducts. The
Chola kings of ancient south India built anicuts to irrigate fields far from the sources of water. Communities
in the Nepal hills resorted to similar techniques and,
even today, a six-hundred-year-old irrigation system
diverts water for irrigation. These engineering works of
the past were based on the idea of surplus. Today, the
language of 'waste' has become the dominant principle
in the development discourse and has become the
dogma of the engineering profession to justify intervening in rivers for commercial ends.
This language of waste has introduced new stress
points. The use of the term 'waste' began in colonial
Punjab, as well as in the frontiers of western United
States in the middle of the 19th century. In the western
US, the Colombia Basin Development League asserted
that "Every drop of water that runs to the sea without
its full commercial returns to the nation is an economic
waste". Rivers had to be put to work, by first damming
and storing the natural flow, "until not a single drop
escaped control".
The belief in this idea runs deep, not just within the
engineering fraternity but among the intelligentsia and
the publicists of progress too. In his book, We, The People,
whose 14 reprints is a testimony
of its popularity among the En- ,-- -- " ■ ■-,
glish reading public, the late In- '"'   w-:^vr..- -
dian constitutional lawyer, Nani
A Palkhivala, reiterated the argu- ,., ■-;•■    .--^..V.J"
ment of commercially-oriented en- 	
gineering that, "Three-fourths of
the total flow of our rivers is waste-
fully emptied into the seas". The
historian, David Gilmartin, observes that in 19th century India,
the term 'waste' was central to
professional irrigation-engineering theory, and was critical to the
structure of the British colonial
state's revenue collection apparatus. This convergence of science
and the financial interests of the "OH^-.
colonial empire expressed itself in
the relentless effort to salvage the
'wasted' potential of rivers and to
recover the financial promise that
was hitherto being squandered.
This enterprise of averting waste
not only increased the power of the state but also gave
its capitalist clients greater control over land and resources and, hence, also over local communities, which
were left with little choice but to succumb to the dictates of the new commercial logic.
Repeatedly, the colonial Indian government invoked
the idea of waste to initiate grandiose projects designed
to increase agricultural productivity and yield greater
revenue. In 1911, the government of the United Province pushed through the Sarada Irrigation Canal, which
had been pending for 40 years, by using precisely this
formula. The proposal for this canal was first made in
1869, but its implementation was held up due to local
opposition, particularly by the influential tahikdars of
Awadh, landowning magnates on whom the British
depended to maintain their rule in the region. In 1911,
the government decreed that the waters of the river
Sarada, which were being 'wasted' because the people
of Awadh were not using it optimally, would be transferred to Punjab via the Agra Canal. The talukdars objected to this proposed transfer and consented to the
construction of the Sarada Canal.
This notion of waste was based on the implicit assumption that when water was not earning a return, it,
for all practical purposes, was flowing from a source to
a sink and down the drain. In a strictly utilitarian sense
this may have been a valid point of view, but from a
more scientific perspective this amounted to hydrological imprudence, because water is indisputably part of
a continuous system that circulates in its different forms
on a periodic basis. From ancient times, the hydrological cycle was treated as the basic unit for comprehending water in its totality, as is attested to by references in
puranic literature. The Brahma nanda Puran traces this
^ S'~-\      -      s    cycle of water, its different mani-
v .---.-.'.._._'      |    testations like lakes, rivers,
.•■ »    groundwater, sea, and the cycli-
y s    cal change in its forms from wa
ter to vapour and back to water.
For several millennia there was
no change in this basic conception.
in fact, the US Academy of
Science's definition of the hydrological cycle is extraordinarily similar to the puranic idea. It
defines hydrology as "the science that treats waters of the
earth, their occurrence, circulation, and distribution, their
chemical and physical properties, and their reaction with
their environment, including
their relationship with living
things". Whereas the hydro-
logical definition sees water in
all its multifaceted functions,
roles and forms, the dominant
( .A-e.\re. is no ocl-ie^rnoctIve^.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
form of putatively scientific water use has reduced it to
a single dimension, capable of being looked at discretely
and therefore amenable to manipulation along fiscally
rewarding lines. In this scheme of things, the prudent
conservation of the substance is precluded by the possibilities of limitless exploitation of its properties.
The practice of colonial science, in fact, reflects the
contradiction between its conception of the hydrological cycle and its reckless pursuit of optimising the efficiency of water use. Thus, whereas optimum use
minimised the waste that running water represented,
floods did not fall within this mandate. Referring to the
inundations in the Orissa floodplains, British engineers
argued, "the not how to prevent floods but
how to pass them as quickly as possible to sea". The
paradox of utilitarian thinking is obvious and stark.
How could, on the one hand, riparian flows be conceived of as 'waste' to be averted through productive
redeployment while, on the other hand, flood waters,
which are its inextricably a part of the hydrological cycle
as the fluvial rhythm of rivers are, become so undesirable that they had be conveyed to the sea with utmost
In other words, flowing water in one context was
viewed as a commodity whose optimal exploitation is
predicated on minimal waste, but     aMilMJ1
which, in another less controllable
context, became eminently 'wastable'.
This conception of flowing water renders the hydrological cycle into a discrete phenomenon that is made up of
separable components whose utility
and value can be distinguished by criteria that serve social, political and
commercial purposes and needs and
therefore classifiable into categories
like low, medium and excess flow, and '	
so on, The integrity of water has been broken into its
constituent parts, in a way that it has not been done to
some of the other forces of nature. Is it conceivable to
speak of the sun or the wind in the same fashion? Is
there 'wasted' wind or sunshine?
In this sense water has been a special victim of commercially-oriented science. A canal transferring water
from a river to new locations became an end in itself,
justified by the promise of greater revenues. For the colonial bureaucracy, the irrigation canal was a machine,
which used human skill and expertise within organisations to manipulate water for commercial returns. But
these machines were rather inefficient. British-built canals had an overall efficiency of only 28 per cent. As
much as 72 per cent of the water fed into the system did
not reach its intended destination, namely the commercially viable crop.
More than a hundred years later, and despite the
refinements in technology, the improvement in efficiency
has been negligible. Even today, canal efficiency is just
30 per cent of its projected 'command area'. Water lost
For the water bureaucrats the problem was not how to
prevent floods but
how to pass them as
quickly as possible
to sea
in seepage causes head-end and tail-end asymmetries,
besides water logging and salinisation. This level of
loss has prompted some water experts to claim that the
water lost within the canal system is actually recycled
back into the natural system. If that is indeed the case,
then it is not at all clear why so much expenditure and
effort is incurred to avoid waste, if the net result
has only been to put water back to where it was going
Spurious assertions cannot conceal the fact that canal irrigation systems have always faced problems of
allocation. The tail-end reaches of many large-scale irrigation systems have not once seen a single drop of
water in them. If it were not for groundwater pumps,
food production would have dwindled in areas where
the cropping patterns have changed on the tall promises of canal-delivered water. But then the pervasive
use of pumps has led to the depiction of groundwater,
to water transfers from rural to urban areas and to high
fiscal costs for sustaining power-pricing that favours
prosperous pump-owning commercial farmers.
Engineering godhood
Specious claims have ruled the hydraulic roost for too
long and the canal, solution has still not been discred-
■Mminnmirm nu      'tec^ 'n policy circles, perhaps because
of its long pedigree. The first law of
technocracy is that failed solutions
must be persisted with if the fact of failure has to be concealed. Therefore,
failed solutions have long histories,
and the longer their history the greater
their credibility. Canal systems are
perfect examples of this logic. The first
integrated proposal to link the rivers
of India had come from Major Arthur
Cotton, under whose guidance the
Grand Anicut in peninsular India had been rehabilitated. When he first drew a map of India showing the
possible links of rivers, he was concerned primarily
with navigation, though irrigation was also a part of it.
According to the India Public Works Department's, Triennial Review of Irrigation in India, 1918-21, Cotton's
plans involved "a navigable line 4,000 miles long, from
Karachi via Cawnpore, Calcutta and Cuttack to Bhatkal,
Mangalore, and .Madras".
Cotton's plans did not remain unchallenged. His
contemporary in the north, Probey Cautlcy disagreed
with the idea of using canals for navigation. Instead he
advocated the construction of canals for irrigation, a
view that Cotton himself subsequently campaigned for
following the Madras Famine of 1876. The Kurnool-
Cuddapah Canal in Andhra Pradesh, which took water from the Tungabhadra at Kurnool to Cudiapah on
the Pennar, 300 kilometres south, is a product of
Cotton's grand plan. Not coincidentally, and more than
just incidentally, the Madras Irrigation Company,
which built and operated the canal, was promoted by
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Cotton himself and its chief engineer was his brother.
The canal was the first effort at privatisation of irrigation in India. The Kumool-Cuddapah canal was an
unmitigated disaster. Financially it was a drain on the
company that built it. The company went bankrupt in
1866. Eventually, the government of Madras had to
purchase the canal from the company at a price that
could not be recovered from the canal's users. As an
irrigation system it was an outstanding failure. Designed to irrigate some 120,000 hectare of land, the canal in its early years fed only 5 percent of its projected
command, and decades later achieved a peak efficiency
of only 30 percent. As a navigation system it failed so
spectacularly, because of problems at its head-end, that
the Indian Irrigation Commission's report commented
that it "runs from nowhere to nowhere in particular
and consequently there is nothing and nobody to carry".
This failure was not sufficient to deter more ambitious plans. The colonial government opted for more
schemes guaranteed to fail and this policy was carried
forward in independent India with even more vigour.
Presently, India has 13 water transfer arrangements for
augmenting irrigation and meeting drinking water
needs. To add to this, the Government of India has now,
through the National Water Development Association
(NWDA), formulated a proposal to link    	
all the rivers of India, on the rationale
that there are floods in some areas even
as droughts affect other regions. The
linking of the rivers will allegedly mitigate the effects of both by transferring
water from the flood-prone regions to
the drought-prone regions.
This is a novel argument. A new and
more convoluted dimension has been
added to the idea of waste. Whereas hitherto, unused
running water was a waste, which had to be retrieved
and put to use for commercial ends, now 'waste' is
sought to be reallocated to restore the hydrological balance that nature in its folly had omitted to provide. Until
now, the engineer was merely facilitating capital.
With the new scheme, the engineer has reached
godhood. When British engineers argued that the, "the not how to prevent floods but how to pass
them as quickly as possible to sea", they were at least
recognising the limits imposed by nature on their profession and its technological capacities.
With godhood has come a new level of conceit and
the water technocracy, confident in its own prowess
that a long history of failures has done nothing to undermine, has decided it can make India a land of plenty
by simply eliminating drought and flood simultaneously. It has evidently not stopped to ponder why
nobody thought of implementing this visionary solution before, even though there has been no dearth of
creative thinkers who have come up with specific proposals for maintaining a perpetual harmony of water
in the country.
Failed solutions
have long histories,
and the longer their
history the greater
their credibility...
According to MS Reddy, former Secretary for Water
Resources, Government of India, "in all the existing
inter-basin transfers, the flood-drought syndrome never
figured". Since the current proposal has the explicit
objective of mitigating floods and droughts, it is important to track the history of ideas and institutions that lie
behind this unprecedented venture. What configuration of forces has led to revival of a 200 year old concept
of supplementary irrigation as a source of revenue with
the objective of mitigating the adverse impact of flood
and drought? And why did it acquire such a stranglehold on the official imagination?
In the latel960s, KL Rao, then Union Minister of
State for Irrigation and Power, proposed the idea of the
Ganga-Cauvery link. A few years later, in the early
1970s, after he left the Union Council of Ministers, he
converted his proposal into a National Water Grid Plan.
The proposal did not move forward because of its technical limitations and the high costs involved. The
NWDA's recent proposal is of a similar nature and is
based on achieving supply augmentation through bulk
From an engineering point of view, while Rao's proposal did have its drawbacks, it also did have some
technical foundation. The Garland Canal plan put forward by Dinshaw J Dastur, however,
was so 'visionary' in its sweep that it
abandoned engineering fundamentals altogether. This whimsical plan,
so completely devoid of any trace of
scientific thinking, never quite
dropped out of the establishment's
fantasies. That the logic behind this
preposterous plan is at the heart of
~ India's water technocracy's river link
ing plan reflects poorly on the country's scientific scholarship.
Dastur was a pilot who used to fly DC-3 Dakotas
between Kathmandu and New Delhi, which is what
must have given him this idea. His plan was to tap the
rivers flowing from the Himalaya in a 2400-kilometre
long contour canal that would extend from Meghalaya
in the Indian Northeast to the river Ravi in Punjab in
the Northwest at an elevation of about 400 metres above
mean sea level (msl). The objective was to transfer the
water so collected to the region south of the Vindhya
mountain range via pipe systems or aqueducts, which
would connect the northern and southern canal systems. If built, each of the proposed aqueducts would be
about 400 kilometres long, and at Patna would be situated about 380 metres above the ground level.
The plan had several technical flaws, all of them
fatal. When a canal is built at a constant elevation, it is
without a slope, which is a necessary precondition for
water to flow. A canal of constant elevation would essentially have been a 2400-kilometre long reservoir to
intercept and store the waters of the Himalayan rivers.
If the 400 msl contour in the hills that Dastur suggested
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 was to be literally followed, the alignment of the canal
would be serpentine along the northern face of the
Siwalik or the southern lower slope of the Mahabharat
According to the latter alignment, the canal would
intercept the Arun river at Tumlintar, the Marsyangdi
river at Gopling Ghat, and the Karnali river at Kasara
Ghat. If the canals were to be aligned along the 400 msl
contours on the southern slope of the Siwalik (Chure),
then its bottom would be 300 metres higher than the
Kosi river at Chatara, 250 metres above the Narayani
river at Narayanghat and 200 metres above the Karnali
river at Chisapani. Water would have to either jump
into the canal or would need to pumped up on a
massive scale to keep the canals running.
Siphons and aqueducts would have to be built to
route the canals over numerous streams and rivers.
Building them would be a feat in itself and the cost
would be astronomical. The canals would be a maintenance nightmare, which itself would be a massive budgetary drain. At each section where the canal intercepted the river a dam would have to
be built to transfer water into the canal.
The dam building would need to address the question of cost and benefits,
including the social and environmental impact.
The matter of dams
Buildinga dam for storing water is more
straightforward than making one for
the purpose of complex reallocation
through canals to ensure a constant
supply of water annually. A major limitation that applies equally to canals and
dams is the sediment load whose high
volume is unique to the Himalayan rivers. In his critique of the Garland Canal scheme, KL Rao did point out many
of its technical incongruities but left out '
the problem of sedimentation that would be encountered.
Furthermore the kind of bulk transfer of water that
was envisaged would not be possible without storage.
Take the Himalayan rivers, for example. The lowest flow
of a river could be as little is 150 cubic metres per second (m!/s). The instantaneous monsoon peak flood can
be as high as 26,000 m-'/s. By contrast, the proposed
canal capacity was 2,000 mVs. In short, either the flow
falls far short of the proposed installed capacity, or the
volume is far too large to be accommodated.
In the circumstances, only storage can make the wet
season excess flow available in the dry period. But building storage projects brings social, economic, environmental, and technical challenges, which are neither
new nor have been overcome in the case of existing
facilities. They also bring in very fundamental questions about riparian rights, community resources and
the principles of end-use that might justify diversion to
the detriment of communities living around the rivers,
including the displacement of marginalised people by
storage facilities to meet the interests of capital- and
water-intensive activities elsewhere. None of these
questions have been answered satisfactorily to date.
The proposed layout of the so-called Himalayan
canal, when transferred to the present map of Nepal
shows the utter disregard for good sense in its
conceptualisation. The canal would enter the country
somewhere around 11am district in the east, traverse
the midland region to the neighbourhood of Parasi district and head west to exit Nepal in the vicinity of
Pancheswar at the western end, carving though the
Himalayan landscape. In South Asia, bureaucratic civil
engineering may have been swayed by gigantism but
the discipline itself has a scientific basis to which the
plan is oblivious.
Not surprisingly, KL Rao, in an article in World Water
questioned the proposal's many incongruities. He
wrote, "The Garland Water Project should warn the
i,„      nation that all fanciful projects should
be given up". Incidentally Rao's critique was based on purely technical
considerations and did not include
social and environmental dimensions.
As a result, he too ended up proposing that the northern rivers be linked
to the southern. Even judged on
purely technical feasibility, some of
his arguments, too, contradicted his
own logic.
This is the pedigree of the river-
linking scheme that the Government
of India and its NWDA have now
placed before the public as the panacea for the country's water problems.
Projects usually proceed from first
principles to the drawing board. In
judging the feasibility of projects,
therefore, it is usually a good idea to work backwards
from the drawing board to first principles. From an engineering perspective, the most significant drawing
board indices are maps and drawings. For one, they
allow a better understanding of the physical context
and geography. Secondly, they are the instruments that
translate concepts into projects.
River-linking entrenchment
The river-linking proposal formulated by the NWDA
follows the disoriented logic of Rao's and Dastur's
fanciful schemes. One glance at the maps prepared for
the scheme suffices to show how superficial, slipshod
and unprofessional the technocratic planning apparatus has been in translating a foolhardy concept into an
ill-advised project. When the NWDA map is juxtaposed
with the map of Nepal, the two of ends of the northern
canals connecting the Gandak and the Karnali rivers
For the engineerer,
unused running water was a waste, to
be retrieved and put
to commercial use.
Now 'waste' is
sought to be reallocated to restore the
hydrological balance
that nature in its folly
had omitted to provide
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 fall well within Nepal. This is anomalous because both
the Gandak and Ghagara barrages arc situated much
to the south.
It could be argued that the map is only indicative
and therefore the complaint amounts to nothing more
than nitpicking. Yet, it could equally be argued that the
cartographic lapse is itself indicative of the morass into
which hierarchic civil engineering practice has fallen.
A discipline as old as industrial civilisation should
show better judgment because the location of the intake
as plotted on the map will involve the trans-boundary
dimension. This presumably is an important aspect of
project feasibility. Such a basic error notwithstanding,
the multi-billion rupee proposal has obtained sanction
and secured the endorsement of influential
organisations in India.
lt is not just that the most basic technicalities of the
project are flawed; even the financial projections are
way off the mark. The budgetary calculations are naive
at best or misleading at worst. Working out the preliminary arithmetic of the river-linking proposal, the economist, Nilkanth Rath, assuming a 7 percent interest rate
and a 5 percent rate of inflation during the construction period, estimated that at the end of 20 years the
project will require an outlay of INR 2,017,468 crores,
This is four times higher than the estimated expenditure of INR 560,000 crores and involves an annual allocation of one lakh crore rupees. An economy as large as
India's may well be able to spare this amount, but it
begs the obvious question: wil! spending that money
secure the future? Doubtful.
Perhaps it is for precisely this reason that tortuous
arguments are increasingly being put out to justify what
is, on the face of it, a patently absurd proposition. So we
have the misfortune of reading, in the pages of Himal
South Asian, the convoluted justification by a member of
the Task Force on Linking Rivers, no less, that connecting the rivers of India will promote "gender equity". At
a seminar in Kathmandu on "Social Science and Resources" organised by the Social Science Research
Council, New York earlier in the year, this writer, while
commenting on the proposal, had jocularly remarked
that gender equality was the only missing factor in the
litany of benefits that the implementation of the scheme
would allegedly lead to. Some eminent participants then
seemed to think the joke was in bad taste.
We are thus being fed improbable fables about incidental spin-offs that have nothing to do with the ostensible reasons that prompted the river-linking project,
like the flood-drought dichotomy, and have everything
to do with all the other ailments of Indian society. Perhaps we will soon be told that linking rivers will bring
about, inter alia, peace on earth, an end to domestic
violence, child labour and trafficking, the abolition of
the caste system and all the other recalcitrant problems
that otherwise refuse to go away. Is the Task Force looking seriously into the technical issues or is it simply
immersed in politically correct public relations
The latter is quite obviously the case, and one of the
gambits of this exercise is to make the time tested plea
that there are no alternatives to a course of action that
has already been decided. Of course, alternatives do
exist and the choices lie at both the institutional and
technological levels. The question of technological
choices brings in what the historian of technology,
David Collingridge labels the "control dilemma". At
the early stage of a technology's use we do not know
enough about it and by the time we know enough about
it, it is too late to make a shift. The result is an entrenchment, as we find ourselves locked into a particular
course of action and less and less able to switch to
another possible path because of technological
When it comes to technology, is it possible to identify, distinguish and separate flexible options from the
inflexible choices? The evaluation process called Technological Assessment says it can be done. Technological Assessment is relevant more in the case of a developing technology than an entrenched technology, but
it can nevertheless be used to assess the flexibility of
the bulk water transfer proposal of the Government of
India. The procedure employs eight indicators to separate the inflexible from the flexible. Four of these indicators are technological and four are organisational. The
technical indicators are: a) large-scale, b) long lead-time,
c) capital intensive and d) require major infrastructure
investment early on in the instituting of a particular
technological regime. The four organisational indicators are, a) single mission outfits, b) immunity to criticism, c) hype (every thing under the sun will happen
by doing this or that), and d) hubris. If the selected technological option shows red on all eight indicators then
the chosen trajectory is littered with obstacles and the
end result is an impasse.
Fhe river linking proposal fails against every indicator. Publicly available information shows that the
scale is large. It involves 30 systems stretching over several hundred kilometres of canals. The project will take
a long time to complete, a minimum of 20 years if noth-
The outlay for the river linking proposal spread over 20 years, as computed by an economist.   	
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
ing goes wrong along the way. It will incur enormous
costs, realistically estimated at INR 2,017,468 crores at
2003 prices. It will entail massive infrastructure, not
the least of which is a conveyance system that will have
to be put in place before the water can even begin
to flow.
The organisational inflexibility is equally stark.
Pushed by the single mission outfit, the NDWA, its promoters have displayed a high degree of contempt and
intolerance for critiques and alternative suggestions.
Hype surrounds the project and is reflected in the numerous statements by politicians and policy makers
about the omnipotence of engineers who have "found
the perfect solution to simultaneously solve the problem of flood and drought". The hubris is evident in the
denial of alternatives as seen in the response in Himal
that sought to justify the proposal.
Despite such ingrained inflexibilities the proposal
has emerged as the preferred choice. Why was the proposal selected? The answers lie at several levels. The
first is the belief that water problems have supply side
solutions and those espousing this view are committed
believers in the tenet that the road to prosperity is technocratic. Anyone questioning this technocratic vision
is dubbed an irrational romantic. Second, it allows the
source of the problem and the solution, be it for flood or
drought mitigation, to be located outside one's own
domain. A lower riparian state can always claim that
the upstream state did not release enough water in the
dry season, thereby creating scarcity, or that it released
too much water in the wet season and so causing floods.
Third, it circumvents the need to address the messy
business of water management or equitable reallocation or social and economic upliftment by simply asserting the claim that once this or that link is completed
every problem will be solved. Fourth, it makes political
sense to offer the extravagant promise to farmers facing
drought that extra water will be made continuously
available. This is particularly significant given that the
region has faced consecutive drought in the last few
The Supreme Court of India's directive on river linking (which requires of the government to complete the
project in 10 years) is an opportunity for the resource
starved water hierarchy of Tndia to implement projects.
As the environmental critique beginning in the late
1970s gathered momentum and gained in public influence, the water establishment has been without major
projects. It has for some time now been on the defensive
and has reacted apologetically to its critics, but it has
steadfastly refused to move up the learning curve. But
it is not just the water establishment that wishes to create monuments in its own honour. National level leaders also have a propensity to have their names associated with large projects. After some of the Punjab canals were built, colonial administrators had boasted
that they had created greater monuments than those
constructed by the Muslim and Hindu rulers of India.
Within this overall milieu that determines public policy
choices, the challenges this proposal brings to the fore
are both conceptual and practical. How water should
be managed or how the world ought to be fifty years
from today is not the prerogative of any single entity, be
it the technologists, the political establishment, the market, or even the greens.
Hierarchic engineering and the new era
The way forward needs to emerge from a more creative
engagement among 'social solidarities', based on normative models of resource use predicated on a clear
conception of fundamental categories like 'benefit' and
'progress'. Today's real challenge lies in defining what
constitutes a benefit, how it will be distributed and to
whom. Standardised 'solutions', with their familiar institutional and technological matrices, cannot yield the
same results in different contexts and over time under
different conditions. The challenge is also to develop
and institutionalise sets of governance principles that
will enable society to organise effective and equitable
responses to water problems when and where they are
The problems that pose themselves today are not
engineering puzzles concerning soil mechanics or the
behaviour of concrete in the construction of dams or
canals. Problems of that order were solved through techniques perfected in the 1930s with the execution of the
Hoover Dam in 1936. The challenge in fact is to find a
way out of the problems created by purely technological solutions. From the 1930s to 1970, the United States
Federal Government built hundreds of dams on every
major western river. They laid the foundations for the
powerful, modern and economically prosperous West.
But, the deficits of that prosperity have been immense:
irreversible ecological damage, the concentration of
power with economic elites, the accentuation of socioeconomic conflict, the annihilation of native Americans
and their cultures, and social injustice legitimised by
the ideology of triumphalism and 'success'. By the end
of the twentieth century, that logic of development has
also led to the rise of the military-industrial complex
with its extraordinary capacity to influence the state to
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 the detriment of the citizen.
Not only native Americans, but also unsuspecting
all-American Americans have paid a heavy price for
this prosperity. Hollywood's Erin Brokovitch dramatises
the story of one such injustice in rural California, how
small city, predominantly White America, exemplified
by the town of Hinckley, is slowly poisoned by industrial effluvium. Thanks to a persistent social auditor,
the residents of Hinckley were awarded USD 330 million in damages because thev had been drinking
groundwater polluted by toxic plume from the boilers
of the conglomerate Pacific Gas and Electric. Unregulated capitalism, driven by the ethos of accumulation
has caused and will continue to unleash adversity.
Given that the current system of decision-making is
such that this adversity is never anticipated in advance
and is only brought to light post facto, after the victims
have already suffered the consequences, how can those
who are responsible for other peoples
misfortunes be penalised? Will there
ever be Bollywood parallels of Erin
Brokovitch? lt is hard to imagine
Aishwarya Rai playing Medha Patkar,
or Shah Rukh Khan playing Chandi
Prasad Blvvtt or Hrithik Roshan cast as
Sundar Lai Bahaguna, in films that
portray the social consequences of unbridled technological arrogance and
Even if Bollywood ignores these issues, and even if the polity imposes no
penalty on those who wreak havoc on
others, the critique of orthodox engi-    ' ' ~
neering has nevertheless gone too far in society to be
disregarded by engineers. In the past, civil engineers
did not have to worry about questions of benefits and
their distribution, but now there is a persistence with
which they demand answers through stubborn social
movements. Those on the social and physical margins,
the romantics, the tribals, the eco-freaks, and the lumpen
proletariat, who throughout the long years of industrial civilisation could safely be neglected, cannot be
ignored anymore in the age of information and popular democracy.
Hierarchic civil engineering faces the choice of a
transition to a new era. But this ossified establishment
shows no signs of making the appropriate choice, responding as it does in the same old defensive and apologetic manner when it has to, and bludgeoning its way
to dominance when it can. But civil engineers cannot
evade confronting the problem and modifying their in-
ter-nalised understanding that has served them so well
for so long. That understanding is increasingly out of
step with the social reality and it is no surprise that
mechanical, electrical, instrumental engineers and even
medical practitioners chide civil engineers for still being so profoundly dominated by the gigantism, shackled to age-old concepts that have remained unchanged
River linking:
The maps prepared
for the scheme
show how slipshod
the technocratic
apparatus has been
in translating a foolhardy concept into
an ill-advised project
since the days their predecessors erected the pyramids.
The manner in which the river-linking proposal
surfaced also shows the deep-rooted stress facing
civil engineers dealing with water and working in
centralised management structures. The traditional
definition of civil engineering is the harnessing of the
forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. One of the
benefits that civil engineering provided came from manipulating stock and flow of water. Historically, the
benefits were obvious. It ensured the regulated supply
of water and energy. But with these solutions came
many technical hurdles as well. Early civil engineering
attention was focused on the science that allowed it to
understand and explain the forces of nature with a view
to using engineering skills to overcome the hurdles that
stood in the way of obtaining benefits. But there are
civil engineers and there are civil engineers. A civil engineering that serves the benefits of a few is one that
colonises nature and leaves in its
wake more problems than it solves.
This unfortunately is the kind of
civil engineering that has come to
dominate South Asia and reflects a
hierarchic ethos that denies the plurality of interests in society and therefore rejects the need to examine alternatives that better accommodate the
needs of a greater diversity of people
and livelihood forms. No alternatives
please, because the sine qua non of hi-
erarchism is, "There is No Alternative". This is deemed to be a self-evi-
dent axiom that requires no proof.
So, averting water problems, we are told, can happen only through augmentation of supply and the manipulation of stock and flow on a scale that exceeds the
limits of a reasonable engineering of nature. We are
further told that the burgeoning population, fifty years
on, will face an unimaginable water crises, and hence
the bulk transfer of water must be initiated now. Those
who have been trained to exploit nature also believe
that they can anticipate the future with unerring accuracy, and since they can where others cannot, their
judgement on the choice of solutions cannot be faulted.
This allegedly faultless choice is based on the simplistic and entirely ignorant equation that an increase
in the number of people translates into a proportionate
increase in water consumption. But is that what really
happens in human societies characterised by enormous
differences in consumption patterns and practices? In
the 1970s, the physicist, John Holdren and the biologist, Paul Ehrlich popularised the 1PAT (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology) model to explain environmental crises. Environmental impact, the model
suggested, is the combined outcome of population, affluence and technology. The model assumed that people
everywhere are same and behave in similar fashion and
this behaviour is positively related to standard of liv-
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
ing and technological growth.
But this is an assumption neither physics nor biology can prove. For one, neither affluence nor technology is uniformly distributed across this increasing
population, and per capita water consumption has increased disproportionately among a smaller group of
more prosperous users than it has among the larger
group of less affluent users. But that in itself does not
add up to the full picture, for, though water consumption is income elastic, there are also numerous instances
of net water use having stabilised even at higher income levels, in part due to the development of relevant
technology. There are technologies of conservation that
have come to play an important part in mitigating the
effects of the technologies of consumption.
Simplistic assumptions and equations often lie at
the heart of so-called scientific forecasts about future
demands. To that extent, the solutions chosen for the
future by the present have little justification, and the
denial of alternatives in the name of knowing the future have even less. Doomsday
predictions are usually invoked to
provide the rationale for ambitious
technological innovations, and invariably the cause of the projected
doom is always attributed to ordinary people going about their everyday lives. The engineer watching with alarm then comes up
with mechanisms that will solve
the problem and save people from
their own follies.
Hazard and vulnerability
In the course of implementing solutions that save the
future of the planet, natural resources pass from the
hands of the users to those of the experts. Thus, the
peasant depletes water and to secure the future the engineer must take it away elsewhere to ensure rational
use. The villager depletes the forests and so the forester
takes it over and puts it to more efficient use. The poor
destroy the commons and hence it is handed ewer to
commercial developers so that its potential is not
wasted. Nature and society, however, are not reducible
to such self-serving equations that portent doom unless engineers get down to the urgent task of saving
But they are routinely invoked for reasons that
legitimise the technocratic establishment by creating a
narrative justifying intervention. This is how the idea
of 'waste' articulates itself with the idea of 'mitigation'
to produce excesses such as the river-linking proposal.
Using unsound predictive tools, large problems of grtfttt
urgency are forecast, for which large solutions are then
posited. These solutions usually affect large numbers
of vulnerable people. Even if we ignore the flimsv ethics that rationalises the ousting of so many people from
their meagre resources just to secure the future for an
abstract humanity, there are still the consequences of
the intervention to be dealt with, because these process
introduces destructive externalities, which, in ever-increasing spirals, demand greater doses of the same
therapy that invited the problem in the first place.
The engineering solution to an ill-diagnosed problem gradually inserts itself into the cycle of what has
conveniently come to be labelled 'natural disasters'. The
idea of a natural disaster is very appealing to the technocratic establishment for this very reason. The utilitarian idea of 'waste', having unleashed its own developmental wasteland, reinvents itself in a compassionate and heroic guise, by proposing the humanitarian
idea of 'mitigation'. Hedonism and humanism now
become indistinguishable. Technological hedonism
first defines 'disasters' as natural and then sets about
mitigating them. Profligate solutions set up extravagant
problems to address, so drought and flood become the
obvious targets of the kind of engineering self-indulgence that culminates in the plan to link all rivers.
Will the bulk transfer of water
mitigate drought and flood, and
avert water-related natural disasters? To asses that it is first necessary to outline what these so-
called natural disasters actually
are. Natural disasters, in reality,
are not any more natural than the
hole in the ozone layer, or the rapidity of climate change in the
20th century. A growing body of
research has persuasively demonstrated that disasters are outcomes not only of natural hazards, but also of socioeconomic structures and political processes that make
individuals and families vulnerable. This perspective
focuses on the various ways in which social systems
operate to make people susceptible to disasters. The
capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recuperate
from the impact of a natural hazard determines the impact. Those who are more vulnerable are at greater risk
of being stricken by disaster.
In South Asia, people live in vulnerable conditions
even during normal times, and it is hardest for them to
salvage their livelihood immediately after being affected
by a hazard. But is the solution to this technological?
Vulnerable people do not live in vulnerable conditions
out of ignorance about natural hazards or poor assessment of the risks. It is because they have little freedom
to choose how and where they live. Low-income families often have no alternative other than to live in vulnerable locations such as flood plains, and the vulnerable conditions contrive to keep them economically on
the margins. They are forced to live in such conditions
not because regulation or planning of land use is poor,
but because prevailing agrarian relations, and the attendant procedures of social and economic exclusion,
deny them sources of livelihood in safer areas.
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
The propensity to disaster, whether from flood or
drought, is the outcome of hazard acting on vulnerability. When social vulnerability is accentuated, the scale
of loss and destruction increases. Conversely, strengthening social institutions that conduce resilience reduces
vulnerability. Therefore, the idea of mitigation in the
river-linking proposal is vacuous, since the solution
relies on manipulating the hazard and not on
minimising vulnerability. As a justification for
the project the idea of mitigation is limited in its
conceptualisation because it simply does not admit that
disasters are the unresolved problems of societies during 'normal' times. Disaster is the latent complement of
the South Asian normalcy. Misplaced 'scientific'
enthusiasm has reduced the problem to a set of static
factors that science can comprehend, leaving out causes
that lie within socio-economic relations and are therefore outside science.
Even if we were to grant that the solution lies in
controlling the hazard, there is not much that can be
done with a hazard that is not even understood, let
alone controllable. In 1998, floods _—»^_
caused extensive damage in eastern
Uttar Pradesh. Mitigation of the hazard,
had the idea been entertained, would
have been pre-empted by the fact that
the flood was caused by a massive
cloudburst along the region south of the
Chure range. What is the possible technological response to such a deluge?   	
The floodwaters could not have been stored in dams
because there are no sites where they can be built. There
is no option but to let the floodwaters drain. The hydro-
meteorological characteristics of the region and the social conditions of agrarian society in the affected region compel a re-conceptualisation such that there is a
transition from hazard mitigation through drainage
control and risk management to flood-disaster mitigation through strengthening resource capacities among
vulnerable people.
The Supreme Court
Given the corpus of knowledge about the physiognomy
of disasters and about water management, drought-
and flood-impact mitigation, why did the Supreme
Court of India succumb to the unqualified technological exuberance exhibited by the NWDA in preparing its
proposal? Judicial activism has in the past helped address many social issues, including creeping environmental problems. Flowever, in recent times courts have
allowed themselves to answer questions about matters
that lie outside the ambit of jurisprudence. These include ruling on questions of historical interpretation,
the veracity of mythology or the development paradigm.
This is especially a problem when facts involved are
uncertain, when values systems differ drastically and
the stakes are high. In venturing into such areas the
judiciary risks lowering its own dignity and credibil-
How are those responsible for other
people's misfortunes to be
ity. The long-term consequences for the authority of the
judicial system are adverse and self-defeating. Courts
that compromise their judicial dignity by making questionable decisions and recommendations cannot command respect.
In this particular case, the court acted in breach of
its own mandate. A court of law can pronounce on questions of law or of fact. A bench of judges can make decisions based on the laws, protocols and proprieties of
evidence. Private opinion, personal prejudice and
articles of faith, even irrational faith in science and technology, are inadmissible in the working of the courts of
law. Most importantly, courts must function with the
laws given to them. They cannot create laws in accordance with their views. Court systems are created for
different purposes—to adjudicate, and to provide a systemic check on violations of the law by the executive.
The courts can direct the executive to perform necessary acts that it is required to perform and to proscribe
acts that it is not authorised to perform. It can order the
government to ensure that suffering caused by drought
in or floods be mitigated. But it cannot,
under any circumstance, dictate to the
government what specific methods it
should adopt in attaining this objective. Most certainly, it cannot prescribe
remedies of a technical nature about
which it has no technical expertise and
also institute a timeline for the techni-
  cal 'fix' that binds society. The Supreme Court in the present instance explicitly decided
that the macro-method of bulk water transfer was the
solution to India's problems. Macro-responses do not
address micro-level concerns at the household, family
and community levels, where flood and drought respectively have a highly visible but differential impact. The
court has voluntarily ventured into an arena of knowledge, politics and dispute that is far beyond its competence.
Modification of stock and flow of water is a practice
that goes back to the dawn of human history. That is in
itself not the problem. It is the assertion bv the technocracy and the judiciary that the linking ol rivers is the
deus ex macliina to simultaneously solve the problems of
flood and drought once and for all that constitutes a
deep conceptual threat to the emergence of a plural intellectual environment for the formulation of public
policy. This is all the more so since, in the current political-economic milieu, at least some part of the river-linking project will be implemented, vet the vulnerabilities
to flood and drought will remain. And when problems
come home to roost decades hence, there will be no
mechanism to ensure that irresponsible and hasty conduct on the part of the judicial and technological bureaucracies will be penalised.
Hum us desh ke vasi hain echoed a sentiment that runs
deepin the Subcontinent. Are we living with the banality of listening to a preposterous remix of the song.       ;\
HIMAL 16 10 October 2003
Flush funds and family
games in the Maldive Islands
by 'Maldivian'
The combination of feudal patriarchy, big business and re
ligious extremiaSm that exists
in the Maldives is not only lethal
for the future of the country and its
people but also has serious implications for the South Asian region.
The milky white and spotless
beaches of the archipelago can give
the casual observer the impression
that all that there is to those beaches
are the white sands by tire blue lagoons. What they do not see are the
numerous crabs with sharp claws
that live in the sand. This is an apt
metaphor for the political scene of
the Maldives. The government rules
unopposed with no political strikes,
demonstrations or agitation. Tliere
is a seeming air of serenity in which
it is easy to miss out the resentment
against the government. At least,
that is how it was until a few weeks
ago when the popular image of a
tranquil and placid archipelago
was shattered by the sound of gunfire, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. aAngry rioters ransacked government buildings and burnt the
office of the Election Commissioner
in Male, only a day after Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom submitted his application to remain President for a
sixth consecutive five-year term.
Suddenly, the myth of a peaceful
polity and stable society was being
shattered and without any warning
at that. International correspondents were as baffled as regional
governments were by the brutal turn
of events in the islands' capital.
Atolls of repression
On 20 September 2003, the dead
body of a young prison inmate from
the Maafushi Jail, in the South Male
atoll, was brought to Male for burial.
The body was covered with burn
marks and other visible signs of torture and beatings. Even as the grim
evidence of police brutality was just
sinking in, the city's residents got
news of a prison riot and shooting
of inmates by guards. Many young
people who knew the victim went
on a rampage, leading a spontaneous riot unseen for decades in the
country. Riot control police were
deployed on the streets as news and
rumour spread, and the mobs began
Suddenly you had protestors out on the Male streets
Inset: Deceased inmate from Mafushi Prison.
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
:i ft-- .-;■  -
to burn and ransack public buildings. Their anger was clearly directed at the government. As the
hours passed it became clear that
the prison riot at Maafushi broke out
following the beating and killing of
the first victim. But to add insult to
injury, the police had used live ammunition to quell the protesters in
prison, killing at least two more and
injuring several others in the process.
Police brutality and torture is
nothing new to many Maldivians.
"The killing of at least three prisoners by the National Security Service
(NSS) and the injury of a dozen more
in Maafushi Prison, is only the latest chapter in a catalogue of human
rights violations in the country by
NSS personnel who function under
the President's command",
said Amnesty International.
Over the years, many people
have died in prison. Others
have managed to survive.
Some of the survivors are
still struggling with the
physical and psychological
effects of torture. Those who
were forced to stay in stocks
for weeks live with excruciating pain in their joints and
spine. Their stories are told
only in confidence for fear
of inviting further reprisals,
but history will tell the gruesome facts of torture and killings carried out by a government that is supposed to
protect and defend the civil
rights of the people and
which tries to projects the
image of a benign authority
to the rest of the world .
The repression by the
authorities in the Maldives
has, as its backdrop, a long
history of denial of basic human rights to its citizens by
the state. The totalitarian
government that has sustained this repression has
concealed itself behind a
veil   of  what   President
Gayoom calls a "model democracy". This version of
democracy has no conception of individual freedoms. The freedoms of expression, assembly or
political association have been denied to the people. It this veil
which was finally lifted on 20 September 2003. Thanks to those who
expressed their anger and pent up
frustration despite the certainty of
violent response, the world now
knows the reality of Maldivian democracy.
Amnesty International put the
responsibility squarely on the government. It said, "By repeatedly dismissing reports of human rights violations in the country, the Government of President Gayoom has allowed perpetrators to continue to act
with impunity. This has effectively
perpetuated a cycle of repression,
eroding people's confidence in the
state's institutions to protect their
fundamental rights. It is high time
that government authorities accept
their own responsibility and failure
to protect and promote human
Serial dictatorship
Why should the world be concerned
about this small nation of under
300,000 people? For one, it can serve
as an important lesson for many
other nations. The state of Maldives
is not a singular or unique entity, lt
resembles the autocratic states of
West Asia. Posing no obvious threat
to any other country and with the
proscription of any independent
press, including the foreign media,
the government is largely insulated
from external scrutiny. This is perhaps the first time in the country's
history that it has attracted such
negative attention, having revelled
for the most part in the reputation
of being a pleasant and attractive
tourist destination.
The unfolding of contemporary
Maldivian politics can be understood by examining the political,
economic and cultural factors that
affect its society. Arab socialism,
international tourism, cultural and
educational integration, and Islamic
extremism have all contributed to
the formation of the social and cultural fabric of the Maldives. The current political system was installed
nearly 50 years ago by the first generation of Arab-educated elite. Its
perpetuation and maintenance is
guaranteed by another generation
of Arab-educated elite who took
over the government in 1978.
The politics of Maldives has
been dominated by one dictator after another. President Gayoom
came to power with the promise of
a new age of political and cultural
freedom. The socialist rhetoric of the
early days of his regime resembled
that of any revolutionary leadership.
This sharply contrasted the quiet
and very private style of the previ- t
ous president, Ibrahim Nasir, who
ruled the Maldives for 20 years, first
as Prime Minister and then as President. President Gayoom was hailed
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 as the only hope for the Maldives,
with his advanced university education and as a scholar of Islamic
studies. In contrast Ibrahim Nasir
had barely completed his secondary education. However, unlike
Gayoom, Nasir was a visionary and
a pragmatic, who it was that introduced Western style education and
opened the country to international
When Gayoom took command
25 years ago, most Maldivians did
not understand the political background of the new leadership, including that of Gayoom's friends,
the Foreign Minister, Fathulla
Jameel and the Youth Minister,
Zahir Hussain. They had contributed to pan-Arab and Islamic socialism and had aspired to rule the
Maldives ever since they were students at the Al-Azhar University in
Cairo in the 1960s. They were
heavily influenced by Arab Socialism and the teachings of the likes of
Libya's leader Muammar Qadhafi
and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser,
This background is important to
understand the political history of
the Maldives.
If Maldivians expected a leader
to introduce democracy and individual freedoms in the country,
Gayoom could not have been the
one to do that because he did not
believe in individual freedoms any
more than Hafiz Al-Asad of Syria
or Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
Gayoom and his Arab educated
friends have operated as a close-knit
group, very similar in its functioning to a politburo, while denying the
privilege of political association to
their potential opponents. They demand absolute loyalty and anyone
who challenges the political system,
let alone the legitimacy of their authority, is treated as an enemy of the
state. By not allowing formal political parties, the ruling politburo ensures that legitimate opposition to
the government cannot be expressed
in peaceful ways.
The inner mechanisms of this
autocratic system are controlled and
operated by an intricate network of
family and friends who occupy po
sitions of power, with President
Gayoom playing the role of the godfather. In a system like this, absolute and unquestioned allegiance
is a must. Family connections
and friendships are everything.
Gayoom's younger brother,
Abdulla Hameed and, until recently, brother-in-law llyas Ibrahim
are family members who wield extraordinary power and play a critical role in the maintenance of this
regime. It is they who have been instrumental in securing absolute
power for President Gayoom.
They were once close confidantes of the previous President
Ibrahim Nasir and therefore knew
the tricks of manipulating the pub-
Past and present: Nasir and Gayoom
Gayoom and his Arab
educated friends
have operated as a
close-knit group, very
similar in its functioning to a politburo,
while denying the
privilege of political
association to their
potential opponents
lie vote. They controlled the Majlis,
the parliament. It is not in their interest to reform the age-old political
system in the country. Until today,
Hameed is the Speaker of the Majlis,
appointed by Gayoom and in addition he holds the sensitive and strategic post of Minister for Atolls Administration. His primary responsibility is to secure votes for Gayoom
from the rural islands through the
aegis of the island chiefs appointed
by him. His other task is to control
the Majlis so that any non- government bill submitted to the parliament will never get through unless
it has the blessings of the President,
Hameed is his elder brother's biggest political asset.
Like Hameed, llyas has held strategic positions in government. He
was Deputy Defence Minister and
head of the NSS for many years (The
President always reserved the defence ministry portfolio for himself),
llyas, an old time Nasir protege,
knows only the power of money and
the police. Gayoom used llyas to
maintain law and order. The latter's
close friend Adam Zahir, an Australian trained schoolteacher, was
appointed chief of police immediately after Gayoom came to power
in 1978. Adam Zahir and llyas perfected the art of torture and repression for Gayoom's government.
The Maldives is too small a place
and the position of the President as
head of the police and armed forces
is so visible, it is inconceivable that
he would be unaware of the gross
violations of human rights in the
prison system. Following the recent
killings, Adam Zahir has been removed from his post. He quickly left
the country for the United Kingdom.
Gayoom is hoping that the entire
blame for the killing of prisoners can
be put on Zahir and a few prison
guards. However, it is essential that
responsibility be borne by all who
have condoned such brutality over
the years.
Handout islands
The senior figures in the Maldivian
government have all enjoyed full
immunity from investigations and
prosecution. It is widely believed
that in addition to being accomplices to human rights violations,
many of them have misappropriated
large amounts of public funds,
transferred huge amounts of foreign
exchange to offshore banks and engaged in shady business deals with
overseas companies, especially in
the fisheries sector and the airline
industry. Following major corrup-
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 tion scandals among senior officials,
the government did set up an anti-
corruption board. But, when the ruling elite are bound by such powerful political and economic ties, and
the judiciary is just an extension of
the executive branch, such anti-corruption initiatives and investigative
committees have little chance of ever
getting started.
The international community
may not have heard of torture and
repression in the Maldives until
now, but it is common knowledge
in the country that gross violations
of human rights are a standard feature of the prison system. Such practices have continued down through
the last several decades, and the regime of President Gayoom is no exception. Using the excuse of an attempted coup, Gayoom arrested his
opponents as early as 1979, barely
a year after he took office, when a
number of supporters of former
President Nasir were imprisoned.
Stories of torture began to emerge
from then on. Several people have
died in-prison and independent investigation has never been carried
out. The recent riots that began in
the prison, and the shooting of several prisoners by armed guards are
a natural outcome of many years of
repression. Unlike earlier incidents,
however, this time dead bodies were
brought to Male, clearly a grave oversight from the perspective of the regime managers. When the gravity
of the mistake was realised, the rest
of the injured prisoners were flown
out of the country to Sri Lanka for
The existing system of repression is perpetuated through the continuous reproduction of social and
political relations between the political apparatus and the tourism
industry. The tourism sector is the
backbone of Maldives' politics and
economy. In the early 1970's, some
of the Western educated youth who
were then frustrated by Nasir's autocratic rule went into tourism, giving up their dreams of a just society.
Today, they form the crust of the
wealthy class in the country. The
state uses the most important asset
of the country to buy political
Uninhabited islands are dished
out to government supporters, who
in turn rent them out to Western
travel companies. These few families led bv one-time progressives
have now acquired a substantial
stake in the maintenance of the regime. Many members of the cabinet
fall in this category. The revenue
accruing to the government itself
from such handouts is only a fraction of the total revenue being generated from the tourism industry.
The bulk of the national revenue is
skimmed off by this handful
of Maldivians and their foreign
financiers and partners. The few
Maldivians who actually run their
Continued repression will only build
more pressure and
when it explodes, it
will not only pose a
danger to the
Maldives but also to
the security of the
entire region
own resorts are struggling to compete with large international hotel
operators because they have to make
regular payments both to the
government and to members of
Gayoom's cabinet.
The events of 20 September have
grave implications for the tourism
industry. As the European tourism
industry becomes more sensitive to
the human rights abuses of the current regime, they will look for other
holiday destinations. Many Western tourists are no longer willing to
be party to repressive systems or
contribute to regimes that deny basic freedoms of speech, assembly
and political association to their
This feudal system of patronage
and rewards is constructed and reconstructed to maintain absolute
authority. The system is designed
to keep the country's wealth and
sources of income concentrated in
the hands of a few families and to
keep the rest of the population silent. Some of the wealthy resort owners provide the financial backing to
government-supported candidates
in the election to the Majlis. They
also finance the expenses for the reelection of the President. That explains how the entire cabinet gets
re-elected to the Majlis on a regular
basis. The ministers together with
the eight members of the Majlis, and
the Speaker appointed by the President ensure that he remains in his
position for life.
Cultural dichotomies
In addition to political and economic factors, cultural interventions have played an important role
in maintaining state hegemony. The
press is under tight control. The
only newspapers in the Maldives
are owned either by cabinet ministers or by the President's family.
Only state run television and radio
are allowed. Private cable operators
are required to censor sensitive
news on political changes in other
parts of the world.
The events following the riots
demonstrate that the days of information blackout and press control
are numbered. Changes in information technology will erode the walls
of secrecy around the Maldives. The
younger generation is connected
globally through the internet. Most
young people today watch CNN or
the BBC World Service. They identify themselves with youth in other
parts of the world. The internet and
the mobile telephone have become
the tools of communication and inevitably the international community will get to know a different
Maldives from the one that gets projected, that of a beach resort for the
world's rich and the famous.
Another aspect of cultural hegemony is the monopolisation of religious thought. Only those persons
with an Arab education have the
right to express their thoughts on
religious matters. This policy has
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
become a double-edged sword. For
a while, President Gayoom was the
only source of religious opinion and
interpretation. With a growing body
of Saudi Arabia-educated elite in the
country, this is no longer the case.
One dimension of Gayoom's regime that is little Jcnown is its contribution to creating and fostering
extremist Islam in the Maldives.
Having secured his position
as the head of state and head
of Islamic affairs in the country, he instituted strict Islamic education. It was a
source of legitimacy for his
role as head of Islam in the
country  and  a move to
counter the influence of the
pro-Western education introduced by his predecessor.
Islamic schools teaching in
the Arabic medium were in-    SB
troduced at the primary and    mm
secondary level, to function
alongside secular schools where Islam was taught as one of the subjects of study. Mohammed Rasheed
Ibrahim, the Chief Justice of the
Maldives is the patron and champion of this project. Educated in tire
Islamic schools of Cairo and Saudi
Arabia, tlie project leaders promoted
a    version    of    Islam    called
Wahhabism, totally unknown to tlie
Maldives until a few years ago.
Wahhabism is a puritanical version of Islam promoted by a Saudi
extremist called Abdul Wahab. It
calls for a jihad for the establishment
of a Muslim state based on the Sharia
law. Twenty years down the line this
tilt towards fundamentalist Islam
seems to have become a thorn in
Gayoom's side. Many outspoken
young Muslim scholars have been
arrested and tortured but their followers have multiplied throughout
the country and have become a significant political force. The Chief
Justice continues to be the quiet force
behind this movement.
It is important to note that the
majority of the population, however,
has gone through a predominantly
secular education with expectations
of greater political, social and religious freedoms. The resulting divi
sions in education and culture have
thus created a deep schism in the
national society. One group favours
an Islamic state with little or no individual freedom. They are rapidly
converting the women into wearing
the Islamic hijab (veil) and the men
to grow beards. By contrast, the
Western educated youth are demanding greater freedoms, includ-
The existing system
of repression is perpetuated through the
continuous reproduction of social and
political relations
between the political
apparatus and the
tourism industry
ing elimination of gender biases. In
the Male streets, therefore, veiled
women walk side by side women in
short skirts. This is not a sign of
mutual admiration but rather a passive acceptance of a dichotomy
within society, one that is symbolic
and symptomatic of a deeper division.
It is possible that a relaxation of
the existing controls on the freedom
of expression can contribute to the
surfacing of these underlying differences. This is the dilemma confronting the government. Gayoom would
like to keep the system under light
control as long as he can. He does
not have the energy or the creativity
required to fashion a new and open
system. On the other hand, the
longer he insists on control - the
more intense the pressure will become, until it begins to rip society
apart. We have yet to see if the events
in the Maafushi prison and in Male
are the beginnings of a systemic
breakdown or a careless slip that
will be fixed with thicker
layers of 'band aid'.
The rest of South Asia
cannot afford to allow the
Maldives to become a hotbed of religious extremism.
It is incumbent on Gayoom
to take more enlightened
steps to confront that possibility. Continued repression
will only build more pressure and when it explodes,
it will not only pose a danger to the Maldives but also
to the security of the entire
The country has often been seen
as a point of strategic importance to
security in the Indian Ocean. The
Maldivian archipelago extends between the Indian Subcontinent and
the Chagos islands, where a major
US military base is located. It is in
no one's interest to see an extremist
and repressive state in the
Maldives, most importantly the
Maldivians themselves. The peaceful resolution of social differences
requires an open system in which
individuals and organisations with
differing views can freely express
themselves without infringing on
the basic and fundamental rights of
every citizen.
The Maldives is no longer an
isolated beach for recreation. It is
part of a global community and a
microcosm where political, economic and cultural forces are at
play as in other much larger countries such as Indonesia, Saudi
Arabia or Pakistan. What happens
in the Maldives will largely depend
on the extent to which the global
community is interested in the human rights of its people as much as
it is interested in the pleasures, of its
sandy beaches. A
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
by Sudhirendar Sharma
The state of Punjab which has
been literally feeding India,
with its annual contribution
of 53 percent of wheat and 40 percent of paddy to the food stocks of
the country was, at the time of
India's independence in 1947, a
food grain deficit area with only 52
of its area under irrigation. The
1960s Green Revolution changed all
of that. Introduction of dwarf wheat
germ-plasm and dwarf varieties for
paddy crop resulted in quantum
leaps in production. The high tide
of the Green Revolution led to intensive production which then led
to the emergence of crop monocultures, in general, as farmers, enticed
by the productivity of the high yield
ing varieties of seeds promoted by
the agricultural establishment of the
country, switched to rice and wheat
rotation. Pulses and coarse grains
were sidelined - paddy and wheat
was where the money was and to
which over 71 percent of the gross
cultivated area was put. Farm machinery, pesticides and fertilisers
and irrigation dramatically increased the productivity of land.
Today 95 of the net sown area gets
irrigated by a web of canals and
But, land as a factor of production has its limitations to support
the intensity of such agricultural
practises. Crop yields and water resources have started to decline
steeply as a result. Realising that the
ecological threat was real and closer
home, the state government now
plans to wean away farmers from
such paddy-wheat cropping patterns. With stagnant growth rates
of 73 percent, Punjab has been forced
to undertake this shift in farming
practises. It is now seeking a INR
1,280 crore support from the central
government. It needs this money to
compensate its farmers for switching from the traditional cropping
system. By giving an incentive of INR
12,500 per hectare, the state hopes
to be able to relieve some one million hectares under paddy-wheat
rotation to be replaced by alternate
crops like pulses and oilseeds.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 For the central government it is
the bigger question of feeding the
country, should the flow of wheat
and paddy stop flowing from this
machine. However, for Punjab it is
a question of ecological survival, of
sustaining its natural resources like
water and soil in a healthy state.
Politically and economically it is
also a question of the sheer survival
of its farming community. The proposed change in crop patterns for
Punjab will save the country an estimated INR 8,976 crore in procurement, handling and storage costs. It
is also intended to provide some relief from the high incidence of pests,
diseases and a host of ecological
problems, like the alarming depletion in the water table, water logging, soil salinity, toxicity and micronutrient deficiency. These are the
less-talked about afflictions of the
high yielding variety boom, which
was once talked about as the engine
of food security and the driving force
behind farm prosperity.
A reduction in paddy and wheat
production by 30 percent is being
suggested as the antidote to the current stress on the state's water resources. Rice is not a traditional
crop in arid states like Punjab. Rice
fields alone consume some 85 per
cent of all freshwater supply. This
adds up to a total annual consumption of 44 lakh hectare metres of
water. Being a water guzzler, paddy
is the key crop being targeted. Undoubtedly, a shift in the cropping
pattern will ease the pressure on the
already over-stretched groundwater
resources in the state.
Since the prosperous farming
community in Punjab is extremely
influential, this depletion of groundwater in the service of rich-farm productivity has been aided and abetted by successive governments to
gain political mileage. The inevitability of the ground-water crisis was
built into the political-economy of
the state from the very inception of
the Green Revolution. Government
support in the form of virtually 'free-
for-all' electricity for tubewell operation led to the overuse of even poor
quality water (This has added an
other dimension to the burgeoning
ecological crisis by increasing soil
salinity). Statistics indicate that 35
percent of the total electricity consumed in the state is being u.sed to
run 7.5 lakh tubcwells—mostly for
irrigating paddy.
Not surprisingly, water tables
have long dropped beyond the reach
of muscle-driven water lifts, dipping down to as low as 400-450
meters in many places. As a result,
some 84-development blocks out of
the 138 in the state have already
been declared as being in the dark
zone, where the level of groundwater exploitation is over 98 percent,
as against the critical level of 80 percent. Six out of the 12 districts in the
Dipping water tables and rocketing
electricity bills.
state have recorded a groundwater
utilisation rate of over 100 percent.
Consequently, in many parts of
Punjab water tables are falling by
up to one meter per year.
This crisis of overuse is the ostensible reason for the Punjab
government's measure to reverse
the existing agricultural regime. In
his report, 'agricultural Production
Pattern Adjustment Programme for
Punjab', noted agricultural scientists SS lohl has drawn up an ambitious plan to wean farmers away
from cultivating paddy and wheat
on one million hectares. If the state
is allowed to have its way and imple
ment this plan through central assistance, the consequent reduction
in wheat production by 4.7 million
tonnes and paddy by 3.4 million
tonnes will mean a net saving of
14.7 billion cubic meters of water
each year.
There is no doubt that a shift from
the current cropping pattern will
help the state curb the unintended
and unanticipated trade in virtual
water. Each ton of wheat and paddy
sent to the central food stocks entails a virtual transfer of 1200 and
2700 cubic meters of water respectively, as that is the amount of water required to produce a ton of the
harvest. The Punjab government has
realised that in producing food for
the nation it is losing dearly in terms
of its non-renewable natural resources, for which there can hardly
be any compensation.
Howsoever justified from the
perspective of the state, the solution
proposed by the Punjab government
raises some fundamental questions.
Undoubtedly, subsidies and incentives on crop inputs during the
Green Revolution era have brought
about significant changes in the
cropping pattern and the crop harvests in the state. Can the same technique be used to reverse that trend
now? Albert Finstein once remarked
that, "you can't find a solution to a
problem by employing the same
thinking that moved you into the
problem in the first place". This principle ought to inform the debate in
today's context. The present subsidy being sought from the central
government will be used to encourage vertical integration through
"contract farming", wherein private
companies tie up with farmers and
ensure a buyback arrangement for
their produce. Considered innovative, this farmer-corporate partnership is likely to open the floodgates
of corporatisation of agriculture on
the one hand and marginalisation
of farmers on the other.
Contract farming, defined as a
system for the production and supply of agricultural/horticultural
produce under forward contracts
between producers/suppliers and
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
buyers, rests on the commitdmenl of
the producer/seller to provide an
agricultural commodity of a certain
type, at a time and a price, and in
the quantity required by the buyer.
Contract farming by large private
groups such as Rallis, Mahindra,
United Breweries and Tropicana is
permitted in Punjab. Already in the
state, 90,000 acres have been shifted
to alternate crops like basmati,
mai7.e and pulses in the past one
year, alongside the involvement of
private companies in marketing tie
ups with farmers.
Though this move will gradually ease the pressure on the state
by way of eliminating farm subsidies on the one hand and the onus
of minimum support prices on the
other, Punjab's farmers will be at the
mercy of uncertain markets driven
by global corporate interests. It
makes for fallacious reasoning that
such contract farming policies in
any way address the ecological
threat they were intended to avert.
What is the incentive for a private
player to ensure that over-use of
fertilisers and pesticides is avoided,
that water should be used in moderation, that cultivation cycles
should follow soil-recharging principles and not market values? There
is every reason to doubt the claim
that the proposed policy intervention will reverse the trend in resource
Punjab's proposal to replace the
government-farmer relationship
with a corporate-farmer relation-
slrip does not seem to take into account other, less uncertain, alternatives that have been suggested. Daler
Singh of the IDM Foundation in
Ladhowal, Ludhiana, has been
working on the concept of a low
water-use variety of paddy. During
the last four years, Singh and his
colleagues have demonstrated to
farmers in several locations in
Punjab that paddy can survive and
thrive on much less water. The innovation is simple: Rice seedlings
are transplanted onto the ridges
spaced 24 inches apart by furrows
that are filled with water. While the
crop is irrigated daily for the first
week after transplantation, subsequent irrigation is at weekly intervals, with special attention during
the tillering and grain setting stages.
Since less water is used in the ridge-
furrow system of paddy cultivation
than in flooded rice fields, the crop
requires about 30 per cent less
fertiliser application.
Sadly, the idea of corporate farm
ing seems to make more sense to the
authorities than these alternatives.
The innovation does not seem to get
the desired official patronage primarily, it would seem, because the government is already committed to resolving the crisis through private
companies providing inputs and
buying back the harvest as envis-
The Punjab government has realised
that in producing food
for the nation it is
losing dearly in terms
of its non-renewable
natural resources, for
which there can
hardly be any compensation
aged under the crop diversification
Agriculture as a production industry depends on inputs from several industries, and additional services like transport. In a situation
where competition amongst the
multi-national firms has led to price
wars, it is not difficult to visual them
resorting to various undesirable
methods of cost-cutting. It is very
likely that price stability will be compromised, leaving farmers in the
lurch. Besides, there could also be
managerial arm-twisting to undercut the flow of inputs to rival companies, and other profit-only strategies. These are legitimate causes of
worry in the case of agriculture.
Whatever gains accrue to Punjab
in the short run will be counter-balanced by significant problems in the
long term. And these problems are
unlikely to be very different from the
one that has prompted the state
government's proposal in the first
place. Developing country farmers
are already fighting a losing battle
because of the global imbalance in
the volume of farm subsidies as between them and their counterparts
in the developed countries. By losing the cushion of subsidy from the
Indian state, farmers may well find
themselves under the total control
of corporations, which will not only
decide the type of crops to be grown
but will determine the procurement
price as well without being constrained by the factors that prevented the government from pushing the floor price below the sustenance level.
The government of Punjab seems
to have taken a blind plunge into
the unknown. In effect, it might be
(un)intentionally setting a trap for
itself. A series of questions await the
state government's clarification:
What has prompted the state to encourage contract farming? Why has
the government not adopted a coherent and competitive marketing
strategy for crops other than paddy
and wheat? Why have minimum
support prices for pulses and coarse
grains not been announced?
It is apparent that in the haste to
reverse the ecological degradation
in the state, the government has overlooked some of the serious dimensions of its proposed solutions. Indeed, there may be problem in the
very idea of providing an incentive
to get farmers to change their cropping pattern. As things stand, farmers are not only getting negative returns on their current investments
but are also witnessing a decline in
markets for their present harvest as
well. Therefore do farmers need the
financial inducement of subsidy
support to switch over from the
paddy-wheat rotation? Or is there
some other motivation behind the
scheme? Perhaps there is more to
Punjab's ambitious crop diversification plan than meets the eye.     b
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
Applications are invited from citizens and residents of South Asian countries for the ASIA Fellows Awards 2004-05
awarded by the Asian Scholarship Foundation (ASF) which is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. Its
office in Bangkok administers the ASIA Fellows Awards in the region with assistance from partner offices in Beijing,
New Delhi, Manila, Hanoi, and Jakarta. The ASIA Fellows Awards offer opportunities for outstanding young and mid-
career Asian scholars and professionals to conduct research in a participating Asian country for six to nine months.
The ASF Board of Directors selects the Fellows, oversees the program and makes policy decisions.
1. Citizens and residents of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Republic of Maldives, Sri
Lanka. The program is not open to applicants from countries in West and Central Asia, Afghanistan, Singapore,
Japan, Hong Kong, North Korea, South Korea, or Taiwan, and projects cannot be carried out in these countries/
territories. Applicants who are not residing in their own country at the time of application are disqualified.
2. Research proposals must be in the humanities, social sciences and policy sciences only. Projects must be
designed to be carried out in 6-9 months in the People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong), Myanmar,
Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines or Indonesia, or in any of the seven South
Asian countries above.
3. Master's or doctoral degree or equivalent professional training and experiences.
4. Minimum of 3 years of university teaching experience for academics or 5 years of work experience for
5. Applicants must be forty five years of age or younger at the time of application.
6. Proficiency in English or in the language of the host country appropriate to the proposed research project.
7. Projects must focus on an Asian country other than the applicant's own. Under no circumstances will the
Fellowship support research in the applicant's own country even for the own-country part of a comparative
study project.
8. While an applicant from South or Southeast Asia may propose a project in a country within his/her own region,
preference is given to applicants who propose to conduct research in a region of Asia other than their own
(e.g., an award to a South .Asian scholar or professional for research in China/Southeast Asia).
9. Applicants are cautioned against planning to conduct their research in a country with which their home country
has a difficult diplomatic relationship because of the uncertainties of securing an affiliation and obtaining a visa
for research for a long-term stay, though such proposals are not ruled out.
10. Preference will be given to projects that focus on one country. Applicants may not propose to carry out their
projects in more than two countries.
11. Fellowship awards are not for the purpose of completing doctoral dissertations or for any degree program
whatsoever. Those who are currently enrolled in any degree program, or have just completed a degree program
less than one year ago will not be eligible to apply.
12. Those who have recently completed their graduate studies or training abroad may apply for the ASIA Fellowships
only after a year of completing their studies or training and should be residents in their own country at the time
of application.
13. For persons who have been on leave from their employers on any research grant/fellowship, a minimum period
of one academic year in service with their employers is necessary before being eligible for applying for the ASIA
14. For persons who have held awards funded by the Ford Foundation there should be a gap of at least two years
before they can apply for the ASIA Fellowships.
For Application Forms and further information, please access the Asian Scholarship Foundation
Website <>
All application materials must be received by : January 9, 2004  at:
University of Pennsylvania
Institute for the Advanced Study of India (UPIASI)
India Habitat Centre, Core 5A, 1st Floor
Lodi Road, New Delhi-110 003
Tel: (91-11) 2460-4126/27  Fax: (91-11) 2469-8201
E-mail: upiasi@de!2.vsn]
Prospective applicants are requested to read this advertisement carefully because the program is not
obliged to respond to inquiries which violate the eligibility criteria or to inquiries which ask for information
given somewhere in this advertisement.
 Mining uranium in the mountains
by Nava Thakuria
In Domiasat, in the West Khasi
hills of northeast India there is
trouble brewing. The story dates
back to 1976, when the Atomic Minerals Division (AMD) of the Atomic
Energy Commission set up its Northeastern Circle Office at Shillong, in
Meghalaya. The AMD, known successively as the Rare Minerals Survey Unit and the Raw Materials Division and currently renamed the
Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER),
soon commenced uranium exploration in the state and discovered large
deposits of uranium oxide in Domiasat and Wakhyn, both in the West
Khasi Hills, not far from the border
with Bangladesh, in 1984.
The Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), a state-owned company under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy, and the only body authorised
to mine uranium in India, soon formulated plans to set up a uranium-
processing unit at Domiasat. This
naturally enough provoked protests
by various local organisations,
which were conveniently ignored by
the company. An assessment of the
deposits was completed in 1992 and
exploration activities carried on till
1996. By this time public opposition
to the project had become strong
enough to force AMDER and UCIL to
terminate the exploration and abandon the location.
This retreat is clearly only temporary, and plans for mining operations have not been shelved. As the
UCIL's website puts it, "[t]he large
sandstone type deposit discovered
in cretaceous tertiary sedimentary
basin ... has been planned for commercial exploitation. Different mining methods and extraction techniques have been studied to find the
most suitable alternative keeping the
cost and the environmental impact
as low as possible". Mining has not
commenced till date but that is no
reason to believe that attempts will
not be made in the future. The only
factor that has come in the way of
extraction is the strong local opposition.
The discovery in Domiasat is far
too important for the nuclear estab-
lishment in India to give it up
merely because of popular objection. For one, this is reckoned to be
the largest and richest deposit to be
discovered in the country so far. For
another, the deposit is very near the
surface and therefore will be more
economical than the other UCIL mining operations, which are at some
depth below the surface. The ore
in Domiasat is spread over a 10-
square-kilometer area, in deposits
varying from eight to 47 meters from
the surface. The significance of this
can be gauged from the fact that at
Jadugoda in the state of Jharkhand,
the site of the UCIL's largest uranium mine has been prospected
to a depth of about 800 m below
the surface and it is expected that
it would continue further in
More importantly, the uranium
ore at Domiasat and Wakhyn is
much better than at Jadugoda, in
Jharkhand, which supplies the bulk
of India's uranium requirements.
According to AMDKR's regional director in Shillong the recovery percentage in Domiasat is 0.1 percent,
which compares favourably with US
and Canadian recovery percentage
of between 0.2 and 0.5. By contrast
the deposits at Jadugoda are of relatively poor concentration, with the
recovery percentage being as little
as between 0.02 to 0.06. This grade
is generally considered too low to
be worth extracting.
"Yellow cake" bounties
Since India had very early decided
on building up capacity in nuclear
power, an extensive geological survey had been undertaken in the
1950s to identify the domestic availability of nuclear materials. These
exercises suggested that India had
limited and poor quality uranium
reserves and vast quantities of thorium deposits. Accordingly the Indian nuclear programme while relying primarily on thorium, envisaged the creation of reactor systems
that would use to the maximum possible the limited stock of uranium.
Hence the heavy investments made
in Jadugoda, Bhatin, Nawapahar
and other places.
Consequently, the Domiasat deposit introduces a different complexion altogether in the overall capacity of the Indian nuclear environment. Such mineral bounty — an
estimated 10,000 tonnes of double
grade uranium — gives it second
place in the aggregate availability
of the "yellow cake" (U,PK), after
Jadugoda. But the Domiasat and
Wakhyn deposits have by far the
best concentration in India so far,
thereby giving them an importance
that is not lost on the nuclear establishment, particularly since, currently, all the uranium for India's
Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors
(PHWRs), comes from the lower-
grade Jadugoda facility.
Both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the Domiasat deposit are significant in the overall
context of the 15-year plan formulated in 1985, which proposed a
mammoth expansion in capacity so
as to increase the total national generating capacity to 10,000 MWe
(megawatt electrical) from 1360
MWe being generated then from
six nuclear units. This was to be
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
achieved through the establishment
of eight 235 MWe units and ten 500
MWe units.
Since this entailed the production of additional uranium, the plan
envisaged increase in mining capacity, with a gross production of
1700t/y (tons per year) to meet the
purified U,Os need of all the reactors. By 2000, 18 additional plants
that were to have come online. Of
these, by the year 2002, nine had begun operating, while another nine,
were reportedly under construction.
Given this expansion in requirements it is not difficult to see why
the UCIL has made a strong pitch
for the ore in Meghalaya, which
alone has, at current levels of identified deposits, roughly 16 percent
of India's reserves.
The UCIL has applied for a mining lease to execute a USD 100 million project. But since 1992, when
mining was supposed to commence
on completion of the assessment report by the AMD's regional division,
UCIL's attempts have so far not been
successful, largely because of the
scale of local opposition to it. This
resistance to the UCIL's proposed
activities are the result of both direct experience with the consequences of the company's activities
and familiarity with the effects of
three and a half decades of mining
in the nearby state of Jharkhand.
Domiasat has registered an extraordinary increase in child ailments and deaths, miscarriages,
cancer and asthma- or tuberculosislike conditions of dry cough and
severe chest pain ever since UCIL operations commenced in the area.
This is despite the fact that, as yet,
the company has been able to undertake only very limited activity.
This has given rise to justifiable fears
among residents of the fear of radiation effects and boosted the resistance to mining. The even more
damning evidence from Jadugoda
only confirms the public's reservations about giving permission to
UCIL for full-scale mining.
Repeating Horrors?
Jadugoda has suffered horrific costs
in terms of both human and ecological health. It has witnessed disproportionately high incidence ot ameer (especially leukaemia), congenital deformities, sexual impotence
and reproductive sterility becatise
of prolonged exposure to low-level
radiation (see Himal May 2003).
A 1998 survey in seven villages
in Jadugoda located within a
kilometre's distance of the waste impounds from the mines, found that
47 percent of the women reported
disruptions to their menstrual evele,
18 percent had suffered miscarriages or given birth to stillborn babies in the previous five vears and
30 percent reported fertility problems. Nearly all women complained
of fatigue, weakness and depression. It also found a high incidence
The nuclear establishment is now eyeing the Indian Northeast for mining uranium after having
caused extensive
damage around its
existing mines in
Jharkhand sate
of chronic skin disease, cancers, TB,
bone, brain and kidney damage, disorders of the nervous system, nausea, blood disorders and other
chronic diseases. As a result of genetic damage caused by radioactive
exposure children have been born
with skeletal distortions, partially
formed skulls, missing eyes or toes
and fused fingers or limbs, often accompanied by brain damage.
Conscious of this legacy and its
influence on the Domiasat opposition, UCIL chairman-cum-managing
director Raminder Gupta is quick
to allay fears about the hazards of
radiation. He maintains that reports
about the health effects are baseless.
Speaking to reporters at a seminar
organised by the Northeast India
Council for Social Science Research
in June at the Raitong Building in
Shillong on the "Environmental
..!.J Sociological Implications of
Mining of Minerals and Oil Exploration in North-east India" Gupta
said, "these are rumours designed
to prevent the development of
Domiasat". In keeping with time-
honoured UCIL tradition, he emphatically denied that UCIL's activities in Jadugoda had affected residents. Instead, he added, the tribal
population in the vicinitv of the
mine has greatly benefited from the
project because of the development
it brought to the area.
Human Rights groups, NGOs
and political figures in Meghalaya
remain highly sceptical of these
claims, and with good reason. UCIL
has a notorious reputation for concealing facts and concocting data.
For instance, in Jadugoda, following the 1998 report of an investigation by the environment committee
of the state legislative assembly, the
then UCIL technical director had
written to the state government, regarding 54 people suspected to be
suffering radiation-induced disorders, saying, "As regards the cause-
effect relationship of these diseases
with radioactivity, we can neither
establish nor exclude the same at
this stage". Other institutions in the
nuclear establishment joined the
fray to endorse this whitewash. A
medical survey recommended by
the legislative committee was blatantly rigged. It was conducted by a
medical team dominated by doctors
from the Bhaba Atomic Research
Centre, Bombay and which included the UCIL chief medical officer.
To nobody's surprise it found that
the diseases in Jadugoda were not
related to radiation, but to poor nutrition, malaria, alcoholism and genetic abnormalities.
Civen this history of dereliction
it is not surprising that there are few
takers for the UCIL view on the development benefits to Domiasat. According to Dino DG Dympep, a
Shillong-based human rights activist, "neither the government nor
UCIL has done any health and environment impact assessment study".
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
The Rongbhasnong or the village
headman of Domiasat says many
villagers were suffering from mysterious diseases now, which were
never reported earlier. His observation is endorsed by Hopingstone
Lyngdoh, the local legislator to
Meghalaya legislature and president of Hill State People's Democratic Party, an ally of ruling Congress government in Meghalaya,
adding that radioactive pollution is
a serious possibility.
Meghalaya and Jharkhand
The resistance in Meghalaya to mining is active, vocal, articulate and
well-informed. But in India, these attributes are not sufficient to ensure
even a modicum of efficacy or success against projects undertaken in
the "national interest" on lands belonging to people who do not belong to the cultural mainstream of
the nation. In Jadugoda, the mining
continues in blatant disregard of
civilised norms despite a strong local movement involving organisations- like the Jadugoda Organisation Against Radiation, the
Bindrai Institute for Research, Study
and Action and other NGOs, besides
left political groups. The fraternity
that serves the Indian nuclear interest has not only been dumping radioactive waste there for the last 35
years, but have also since then extended the scope of their activities,
the latest in the region being commencement of mining at Turamidh
in the same district.
One of the reasons why UCIL can
continue its activities with impunity is that the affected people are
adivasis (tribals) of the Chhotanagpur plateau, mainly Santhals
and Ho, 'indigenous' peoples who
have been historically exploited and
expropriated by successive centralised regimes run by the cultural and
economic mainstream of India.
Even the political forms that allegedly guarantee protection from this
kind of expropriating dominance
has also not been particularly useful for the adivasis. The creation of
Jharkhand state was ostensibly to
rectify the historical domination of
the adivasis, but the structures and
systems that modulate the politics
of the state are such that the procedures of exploitation remain substantially the same. The difference
is only in form. Today, an adivasi-
elite, articulated to the incentive
schemes of Indian politics, presides
over the misappropriation of
lharkhand's resources and the coercive subjugation of its people.
The lands on which the uranium
deposits in Domiasat have been
found belong to people of the Khasi
tribe. In the more cultured conception of the Indian nation, tribes are a
deplorable incongruity, useful at best
for some ethno-tourism, but otherwise of such little merit that subjecting them to prolonged radiation in
the national interest is a trivial issue
compared to the immeasurable benefits to India from the additional generation of a few thousand megawatts
of power, and perhaps even the detonation of a bomb or two. Jadugoda is
proof of this attitude and the same
fate may befall Domiasat's Khasis.
But before that happens there arc
still some hurdles in the way of UCIL.
Domiasat has some advantages that
Jadugoda lacked. As a relatively
more recent target of the UCIL, it had
the history of Jadugoda before it to
evaluate the company's many claims
and promises. This is all the more so
since Meghalaya is a far more literate society than Jharkhand, or the
bulk of the lowland plains for that
matter. Consequently, groups from
Domiasat were able to mobilise opposition on an empirically demonstrable platform based on the history
of destruction that UCIL left in its
wake. This is important since early
UCIL activity did not witness any
organised opposition until much
later when mining operations were
well underway and had become part
of an entrenched way of life. Generally speaking, it is a little easier to
thwart or delay a project than it is to
dismantle one that is already in operation.
The most significant factor in
preventing full-scale mining activity in Domiasat so far is a st-emingly
small constitutional advantage that
some hill areas in tbe Northeast
have. Domiasat is in the Khasi Hill
District, The sixth schedule of the
Indian constitution provides for the
autonomous administration of
"Tribal Areas in the States of Assam,
Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram".
Under these provisions Domiasat is
administered by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council. Under
paragraph 3 (a) of the schedule, the
district council has the power to
make laws with respect to the allotment of land.
As a result of this provision, neither the central government in Delhi
nor the state government in Shillong
can acquire the land for the mining
lease, since that right rests exclusively with the district council. The
UCIL's lease application pending
with the state government cannot
move forward until the permission
comes from the council. In fact, in
2000, the Meghalaya government
admitted that it had in principle
given the sanction for mining in the
Domiosiat-Wakhyn area. But the
Khasi district council members
staged a protest as soon as UCIL
brought earth-moving machinery
into the area, forcing them to withdraw. When asked about the latest
initiative from UCIL to push ahead
with mining, David Langwi, Chief
Executive Member of the district
council said that mining must not
be at the expense of the health of the
people and the sensitive environment of the Khasi Hills.
The danger to Domiasat still remains for more than one reason.
While the district council, being a
smaller body, is more connected to
the area than a distant legislature
or executive would be, it can also be
subject to arm-twisting by higher
authorities. The council has not categorically ruled out the possibility
of giving permission for mining. It
has in fact has granted UCIL the
authorisation to "conduct exploratory surveys". Though for the
present this stops short of permission to undertake commercial mining, there is no saying what the final decision will be. The provision
relating to land in the sixth sched-
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 ule also sates that the council can
allot land for "any other purpose
likely to promote the interests of the
inhabitants of any village or town".
Devils advocate?
Coincidcntally, the UCIL's spin doctors have launched a publicity offensive, harping on the benefits of
the project and the safety measures
that the company will be putting in
place. The company says that the
open-cast mining that is proposed
for the site is safe. It has also pulled
out the old Indian argument that
popular protests against projects are
obscurantist since they are motivated by disruptive elements to prevent development of the region. The
promised development benefits include the rapid socio-economic
progress of the entire West Khasi
Company officials claim that
UCIL has an outstanding track record
in employment, health care, education, environment protection and
upgradation over a period of 36
years. Therefore the company would
create model mining practices, establish good hospitals, good schools in
the area. It would also bring along
good roads, banking facilities,
telecom services, and postal services
among other benefits. The chairman
of the company also made it point to
emphasis that the project would also
generate employment opportunities
for local people not only in the UCIL
but also in auxiliary and ancillary
services as well as self-employment
in trade, transport and other services. Endorsing all this is the Khasi
nuclear physicist, Mary Jwyra, who
concurs with the official view and
feels that the tribal leaders are overreacting. According to her, "If done
scientifically, and if all care is taken
for proper waste disposal, there will
be no threat to the environment or
the local people".
Local organisations are not in a
mood to buy these claims about the
environmental precautions and the
merits of open cast mining. As one
representative of the Peoples Movement Against Uranium Mining, a
parent body of NCOs in Meghalaya,
put it, "We have seen the negative
impact of coal mining in |aintia Hills
of Meghalaya. The environmental
hazards have affected all the water
bodies, land and air in the locality.
At least 50,000 indigenous people
have been affected in Jaintia hills despite all the assurance and promises
made to them. These have not materialised. We do not want the repetition of another disaster".
But such resolve may not suffice
in the face of determined lobbying
by the UCIL. In the circumstances, it
is difficult to predict whether the district council can hold out in the long
run, especially since UCIL has promised development benefits to the entire West Khasi hills. Rhetoric of this
kind usually has a larger appeal, so
that the health of Domiasat residents
may well be sacrificed for the larger
welfare of the Khasi hills. Even if the
district council does hold out, there
are other provisions in the schedule
which circumscribe its authority. The
governor of the state has certain extraordinary powers that he can invoke to bypass the district council
should it prove stubborn.
Thus, under paragraph 1 (3) of
the schedule, the governor of the state
can by public notification exclude or
diminish "any area" from within the
purview of the autonomous district
council or "define the boundaries of
any autonomous district". Paragraph 14 empowers the governor to
appoint commissions of enquiry into
the administration of such districts,
particularly on the need for any new
or special legislation, besides allocating to a minister of the state government the charge for the "welfare" of
such districts.
In addition, paragraph 15 makes
the validity of the acts and resolutions of the district councils contingent on the satisfaction of the governor. If the governor believes that a
decision of the council is "likely to
endanger the safety of India [or is
likely to be prejudicial to public order], not only will the decision be
annulled, but additional steps may
be taken to prevent the "commission
and continuance" of such decisions.
And all else failing, the governor can
by public notification simply dissolve the district council, subject only
to the condition that the dissolution
is on the recommendation made by a
commission of inquiry.
Whatever the final outcome, the
spin-offs from the project look good
only on paper. Although the UCIL has
promised to provide 85 percent of the
jobs to residents in the area, the fact
is that about 30,000 people are likely
to be displaced by full-scale mining.
And it mav not have to reach the stage
of misuse of constitutional powers by
the governor, since many families,
frightened at the prospect of what
is in store, have started leaving
Domiasat and have settled in nearby
villages like Allawarng, Pandeng
and Kuboit. Only the poor remain
since they have nowhere to go. This
is the ideal condition for UCIL to make
a strong pitch for mining on the
grounds that the number of displaced will be very small. And since
the remaining inhabitants are few
and poor they are unlikely to mount
any effective opposition to the project.
For the UCIL there will be added
advantage of compensating fewer
people, should it come to that.
To what extent the environmental and anti-nuclear movement in India can make an intervention in
Domiasat remains to be seen. The latter in particular is restricted to the
'heartland' of the country and therefore its efficacy will depend on its capacity to expand its base to otherwise
neglected corners, like the Northeast
which has been the victim of the central governments policies of national
integration. Even now, despite the
protests that have been going on in
Meghalaya, Domiasat does not figure very much on the agendas of
India's urban-based anti-nuclear
movement. Issues such as mining
and accidents at nuclear plants have
been left to environmental activists,
while anti-nuclear activists concentrate on issues of weaponisation and
war. Unless they are able to include
'remote' areas inhabited by the people
who do not matter, there is very little
likelihood that they will get very far.
Meanwhile, Domiasat's future hangs
in balance. ,i
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Lumpens in the constabulary:
by Subhash Gatade
It was in the mid-1950s that Jus
tice AN Mullah castigated the
police, calling it the "biggest
organised goonda (goon) force" in
India. Many events have occurred
since then to reinforce that perception, and the sentiment expressed
by Justice Mullah is probably shared
by a broad cross-section of the
people. News about the atrocities
committed by the police, supposedly in the course of maintaining
law and order is regular fare.
And the worst manifestation of
organised police misbehaviour is
on display when they are left to deal
with communal conflagrations.
Successive commissions of enquiry into communal riots have reprimanding the police in no uncertain terms for the weak First Information Reports (FIRs) it lodges or for
the dereliction of duty on its part in
not assisting the aggrieved parties.
Over time, from merely being standoffish during communal tensions
the police has graduated to playing
an active role in vitiating the social
atmosphere during riots.
Just a few instances will illustrate
the degeneration of the force. Soon
after the first major communal disturbance in Madhya Pradesh in
1961 the Justice Shrivastava Commission found that during the riots
in Jabalpur, Sagar, Damoh and
Narasinghapur, "the intelligence
department... [was! entirely inefficient and the law and order authorities were responsible for a laxity
in investigation and prosecution
which resulted in large [numbers of)
acquittals". Thirty years later the
situation had deteriorated. The police was no longer just inefficient
and lax, it had begun to participate
enthusiastically in the violence. The
Justice Sri Krishna Commission,
which looked into the Bombay riots
of 1992-93, found specific police officers to be "utterly trigger happy",
"guilty of unnecessary and exces
sive firing resulting in the deaths of
innocent Muslims", "extremely
communal" and "guilty of inhuman
and brutal behaviour".
Another 10 years on from the
Bombay of 1993, the reputation of
the police as protectors of the law
has plumbed new depths. During
the pogrom of Gujarat last year, police brutality 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, had handed them over
to the rioters. And now there is a
news report of tlie ultimate travesty
of justice—Gujarati Muslims it is
who are being targeted under extraordinarily harsh legal provisions.
A report filed by the Agence
Francc-Presse agency, datclined
New Delhi, 15 September, says that
of the 240 people booked under the
Justice delayed and denied: Uttar Padesh
Can a government declare members of its own Police
Force or Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) who
are still on the duty rosters and receiving regular pay,
'absconders'? Can non-bailable warrants issued by
competent courts against these accused be returned
unserved, not once or twice but 18 times? Further,
would it dare to ignore the court's orders to have their
property confiscated?
To witness such absurdities one does not have
look very far. It can be found in Uttar Pradesh. And
the event in question that invited the court's actions is
the massacre at Hashimpura- all of 16 years ago- and
its investigation. It was only in 2002 that the Supreme
Court had asked for the immediate transfer of the case
pertaining to the Hashimpura massacre from the
Ghaziabad Sessions Court in UP to the Delhi Sessions
There was good reason for the Supreme Court's
sense of urgency. The massacre at Hashimpura, when
42 innocent Muslims were killed in cold blood by the
UP police had taken place 16 years ago. The circumstances of the massacre are telling. There was communal violence at Meerut, in 1987, when the Congress Party
ruled both in the state and at the centre. Both police and
PAC pickets were posted in the town to bring the situation under control. A 1994 confidential report of the
Centra! Bureau of Investigation sheds light on the sordid turn of events:
On 22 May 1987 around 8.00 p.m. they herded 40-
42 'rioters' in PAC Truck No. UR 1493 at Hashimpura,
overtly for taking them to Meerut Civil Lines or Police
Lines. However, the Platoon Commander SP Singh
drove to fhe Upper Ganga Canal, Muradnagar
(Ghaziabad) ignoring their protests. On reaching there,
they started unceremoniously shooting them down.
When a few tried to escape they were shot down on the
spot and their bodies were cast into the Canal. Rest of
them were taken to the Hindon canal and there the sordid show was re-enacted.
This action of the police was basically to terrorise
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA),
which carries a death penalty, 239
are Muslims. (The sole exception is a
Sikh.) Gujarati Muslims have been
booked for three different attacks
on 'Hindus'—the burning of the
Sabaramati Express at Godhra last
year, the attack on Ahmedabad's
Akshardham Temple and the murder of former Gujarat Home Minister, Haren Pandya. This report comes
immediately after the Supreme Court
of India's unequivocal criticism of the
Gujarat government for the way it
handled the 'Best Bakery case' (sec
Himal, September 2003). The court
had gone so far as to observe that it
had no faith that the administration
would bring to justice the fanatics
responsible for the killing of Muslims.
It is worth noting that while the
state government did not deem it fit
to invoke POTA in cases where some
of the worst massacres of Muslims
had taken place (which involved
many Hindutva cadres and leaders),
it did not show a commensurate leniency in cases where the accused
were Muslims.- It may be recalled that
the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in its report, had
investigated and focussed on a few
of the worst massacres that took place
in Gujarat—the Naroda-Patiya massacre, the Gulberg Society massacre,
and the Best Bakery killings, among
others. In none of these cases were
the people involved charged under
The dubious role of the police
was also exposed in the way it
handled the Akshardham Temple
case. The mythology that the Gujarat
police has built around the case says
that five people from Gujarat were
involved in the attack and charges
under POTA were duly levelled
against them. But, with the arrest of
one Chand Khan, by the Jammu
Kashmir Police, a new version of the
whole story has come out. Khan gave
details of the way in which the operation was conducted and also
made it clear that no local person
was involved. The Gujarat police
has not even bothered to listen to
Chand        Khan's       confession.
To make matters easier for a viciously communalised and lumpen
police force, the state government recently passed the Code of Criminal
Procedure (Gujarat amendment)
Act. This legislation is aimed at doing away with the "formality" of
producing an accused in court "in
person" while in police custody
and, instead, enabling cross-examination through "video conferencing" facilities in jails. This latest
addition to the armoury of the police does not bode well for the future of criminal jurisprudence in India. Given the antecedents, it will
not be unwise to presume that it will
be used with impunity by the police
against members of a certain religious community. They can now be
put in jails on false charges and
subject to extra-judicial punishment,
and then be cross-examined not in
court, but while under the physical
control of the police.
As a significant aside to one of
the cases under which Muslims are
being targeted, Vithalbhai Pandya,
father of the slain ex-minister, Haren
Pandya, had at the very outset held
Chief Minister Narendra Modi responsible for his son's death and had
charged that it was a political murder. Tie reiterated his allegations at a
rally on 15 August in Patan, Gujarat.
But looking at the way the police has
been domesticated by the political establishment under Modi and trained
to be selective in its investigations,
no further enquiries in this direction
are expected to be launched. b
and brutalise the minority population, as pointed out
in an article on the massacre in the Peoples Union for
Civil Liberties' Bulletin of February 2001. Iqbal A
Ansari, Secretary-General, Minorities Council, observed
that the massacre took place "while there was no rioting in that area of the city".
That was more than 16 years ago and the delay in
judicial proceedings has threatened to make it the "forgotten massacre". The Supreme Court in its judgement
had chastised the concerned authorities in no uncertain terms, because despite the fact that a decade and a
half had passed no charges had been framed.
This long history of delay smacks of an administrative cover up. The state government had initially directed that the incident be looked into by the Criminal
Investigative Department (CID). This internal investigation was completed in 1993, six years after the massacre. Its findings were drawn up a year later. Then
there was procrastination in implementing the action
recommended. Orders on the matter were issued only
in 1995 and 1997. Even these delayed orders were limited in scope since action was only recommended
against 19 officials as against the 66 named in the CID
Report. Finally, the matter was taken up by the National Minorities Commission, which made its recommendations to the UP government on 12 October
1999, directing it to give adequate compensation to
the families of the dead, and to ensure that all those
found guilty are punished.
Even this had no effect, and eventually the Supreme Court had to intervene to try and expedite the
matter. But even this is no guarantee that the guilty
will be punished or that the next of kin of those killed
will get adequate compensation. The bitter fact is that,
while the accused responsible for the killings of
Hashimpura are openly moving about, the few surviving witnesses constantly face danger to their lives.
So far, the Sessions Court in UP had exhibited a
strange reluctance to summon the police top brass in
the state. Now that the case has finally been transferred to the Sessions Court in Delhi, how soon justice will be done remains to be seen. Given the tendency on the part of the state administration to brazenly ignore judicial summons, there is little hope for
a hapipy ending.
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Cancun -let the
games begin!
: i^gmmiM.
by Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Ernesto Luis Derbez
In Doha, you were either with the
free-traders or 'terrorists'. The
equation had changed by the
time the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) got to Cancun. The developing world upped the ante at the
"fifth ministerial" of the WTO at
Cancun, Mexico. The meeting was
declared a failure, lt was the occasion when developing countries finally said 'no' to a top-down mode
of negotiation and agreement with
respect to reforms in agriculture,
trade, market access, improvement
for non-agricultural items, and the
launch of negotiations on competition, investment and so on. The
unity in the negotiating positions of
the developing countries, forged
strictly on economic lines, was a
surprise to many on both sides of
the North-South divide. For these
three-fourths of the WTO membership, entertaining the 'hope' of benefits purportedly accruing at some
stage of their economic growth from
decisions arrived at in multilateral
fora, was not particularly 'rational'
when contrasted with the perennially suffering domestic constituency
back in their countries.
From day one of the Cancun
meeting, the WTO member nations
disagreed on practically all items on
the agenda. The European Union
(EU), the main demandeur for the
inclusion of these issues, was more
interested in bundling the issues of
competition policy, investment,
trade facilitation and transparency
in government procurement (collectively known as the 'Singapore issues') without actually wanting to
give up its 'mothering' of the agricultural lobby back home. Despite
the EU and japan trying their best
to start negotiations on these issues,
the G-21 (the group of developing
countries led by India, Brazil, China
and South Africa) made it clear that
they were not ready to start negotiations on any of the new issues unless there was tangible progress in
the areas of agriculture, implementation issues and review of provisions for Special and Differential
(S&D) treatments for developing
countries (Pakistan joined the G-21
at a later stage in the conference).
First discussed in 1996 in Singapore (from which it gets its name),
these issues were again brought up
in Doha in 2001, after the failure of
the Seattle Ministerial in 1999.
However, India took a strict position and it was on the insistence of
India that the Doha Ministerial Declaration mandated the members to
decide in Cancun by "explicit consensus" whether or not to start negotiations on the Singapore issues.
Following the Doha procedures, the
chair of the conference appointed
group facilitators or "friends of the
chairs" who had to moderate the
discussion and report back to
Heads of Delegations (HOD). The
facilitator for the Singapore issues,
Canadian Trade Minister, Pierre
Pettigrew, reported to the HODs that
Robert Zolleick
there was no consensus among the
members and suggested that the
way forward should be to find a
compromise solution somewhere in
between. While the majority of the
developing countries remained firm
on their stance, the EU continued to
insist that negotiations had already
been launched in this area in the
Doha Declaration, and did not agree
to the definition of "explicit consensus". It was clear to many that the
EU appeared to be backing out of its
previous commitment.
The G-21 kept demanding the
elimination of agriculture subsidies
in rich countries. In a press memo,
the Chairman of the US Committee
on Finance expressed disappoint-
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 VV"i'< J
ment with eight G-21 members who
were in the process of seeking Free
Trade Agreements (FTA) with the
US. "This makes me question their
interest in pursuing the strong market access commitments required to
conclude the FTA with the US", he
noted. This was an indirect threat
that proponents of G-21 may be deprived the US FTA. There were reports that the EU and USA had tried
their best to split the G-21 members,
clearly their best efforts were not
While the outcome of the ministerial was seen as a victory for civil
society groups and representatives
from hundreds of NGOs, at the
Cancun Convention Centre, NGO
representatives were in realitv not
allowed to enter the premises where
the actual negotiations were taking
place—not even as observers. All
that these groups could do was to
organise parallel sessions at the
NGO centre (Hotel Sierra, a kilometre
and a half away from the Convention Centre). The conditions at
Cancun were worse than they were
at Doha. The maximum number of
representatives from each NGO was
restricted to three, and only one representative was allowed to enter the
Convention Centre at any given time.
However, civil society organisations did manage to protest during
the inaugural session of the Cancun
meeting. On day one, about two
dozen representatives stood up during WTO Director-General, Supa-
chai Panitchpakdi's inaugural session, with tape-sealed mouths and
placards critical of the WTO and its
procedures. Chants of protest greeted Panitchpakdi's insistance that
WTO was working for the benefit of
developing countries. Amidst the
civil society protests, more than
10,000 farmers were stopped by the
local police and were not allowed
to enter the Conference Zone. It was
then that a South Korean farmer, Lee
Kyong Hae read out his protest
statement and stabbed himself in
the chest. He was later pronounced
dead at the local Cancun hospital.
Hae's sacrifice was a demonstration
enough to the conference participants that WTO can be catastrophic
for small farmers, many of whom
cannot compete with the heavily-
subsidised commercial farming of
the USA and. the EU.
The Mexican Foreign Minister,
Ernesto Luis Derbez, also the Conference Chair, felt that though the
conference was being closed without an agreement on the Ministerial
Text, this outcome was actually a
reflection of the transparency in
the WTO system. Director-General,
Supachai Panitchpakdi, on the
other hand, described the failure as
a huge loss for the developing countries and poor nations. His request
for members to restart the process
in Geneva by keeping multilateral
interests over national interests can
only be sympathised with, since it
has been evident for some time that
the big players from the OECD are
doing anything but that as far 'national interests' are concerned.
Not surprisingly, the developing
world was seen to be asking for the
moon. EL Trade Commissioner,
Pascal Lamy repeated his controversial remarks about the WTO (delivered earlier at Seattle) to the effect
that the failure of Cancun negotiations once again proved that the
WTO was a medieval organisation.
To him, the EU had gone out of its
way to be flexible so as to accommodate the developing countries, an act
of magnanimity that was not reciprocated by the other side. "They (the
developing countries) attended the
meeting with a set-mind and never
wanted to get the benefit of the EU's
generous offers", observed Lamy.
He proposed a revamping of the
"decision making process" in the
WTO. The US Trade Representative,
Robert Zolleick claimed that US had
done its best to broker a deal,but he
accepted that failure of the Cancun
meeting was the collective responsibility of all concerned and remained reluctant to put the blame
on any single party.
The positive outcome from
Cancun was the inclusion of Cambodia and Nepal, raising the WTO's
membership to 148. The rest of the
agenda items were derailed due to
the failure of the talks. In a sense,
this derailment reflects significant
changes in the international geopolitical environment. The Doha
conference was successful largely
due to the effects of 11 September
2001. Then, it had been possible to
link the two questions together and
posit false equations. In Doha, it was
a question of being either in favour
of trade liberalisation or being on
the side of the 'terrorists'. This time
the developing countries backed by
civil society protests, both in their
respective capitals as well as in
Cancun, were able to neutralise the
pressure tactics of the powerful
trading blocs.
Cancun failed. What is next? The
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Islamabad to civil society: get lost
The official delegations from Bangladesh, India,
Nepal, and many African countries included representatives from civil society organisations who were
able to give inputs to their governmental counterparts. In the case of Pakistan, offers from similar
groups to be on Pakistan's official delegation were
ignored by the Ministry of Commerce. And this was
not a cost-cutting measure either, because the groups
who offered their services already had their accreditation to attend the Cancun Conference and had
pledged their own expenses towards the arrangements. Instead, representatives from trade and industry were included. In the absence
of civil society representation, it was
one of the presidents of the Chamber
of Commerce and Industries who attended the "green room" meeting (typical of the exclusive meetings structures
of the WTO Ministerial) on the Agreement on Agriculture. The services of
the Sustainable Development Policy
Institute and Action Aid, groups that
had been working intensively on the
Agreement on Agriculture at the national level and the international level, were never
sought. At least for Pakistani critics of the global
organisation, the conduct of the Pakistani government was not very different from that of the WTO
Secretariat in excluding NGOs and civil society
organisations from the process.
In Cancun, Pakistan, which was a member of G-
21 as well as the Strategic Product Group (comprising 23 developing countries that were demanding
special measures in support of their food security
and rural livelihood), actually showed a willingness
to start negotiations on the Singapore issues, provided they were linked to progress in agriculture.
This was one of the main reasons Pakistan could not
take a leading role among the G-21 partners. In fact,
Pakistan's stance in Cancun on various issues was
kept a secret, without a single public briefing by the
official delegation during the whole conference. This
time around, unlike in Doha, the negotiations on agriculture were not left to the Ministry of Commerce. In
fact, for the first time a senior representative of the
Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (M1NFAL)
was part of the official delegation. He, however, did
not seem to have the time to consult representatives
from outside the government, trade and industry
circles present in Cancun.
The Sustainable Agriculture Action Group (SAAG),
a network of civil society organisations working on
agriculture and related issues, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute
(SDPI), and Action Aid were present in
Cancun. Four representatives from
these Pakistani NGOs, including this
CANCUNI    writ:er' were denied the opportunity to
meet the Pakistani Minister of Com-
;      ft.  ft    0-      merce. Even an early morning meeting
";■■: was denied.
■;/ At least in Doha, the then Trade
:y.. ;ft: 'ftftftft Minister was able to hold a press conference on the Development Box, along
with various other trade ministers from developing
countries. There, Islamabad emerged as the champion
ofthe food security rights of the developing world. At
Cancun, Pakistan squandered an opportunity of enhancing its image at the international level. The performance of the official delegation disappointed many
who had looked forward to a progressive stance.
There is an increased awareness about WTO among
major stakeholders in Pakistan (including government
officials, trade representatives, media, as well as
NGOs). Sadly, as the future rounds of negotiations with
a belligerent OECD promise to be tough and demanding, the Pakistani government does not give the impression of preparing seriously to participate in what
may well be a historic encounter between the 'developed' and the 'underdeveloped'.
agendas have been sent back to
Geneva, and it is left to negotiators
at the WTO headquarters to find a
consensus on starting the negotiations on the Singapore issues as
well as on the modalities of the
Agreement on Agriculture by 15
December this year. Will the members feel sufficiently equipped to
negotiate on these issues in Geneva
in bilateral talks? Will it be easy for
the developing countries to pass on
quick feedback as well as instructions from their capitals to their negotiators in Geneva? Will the negotiators be invited to attend the exclusive meetings of the working
groups in Geneva?
The answers to these and many
more questions will determine the
real meaning of the failure of
Cancun, and how much of a triumph of Third World economic solidarity it was. Cancun was about the
unity of the economically weak.
Geneva will show whether that
unity can be sustained in the face of
certain attempts by the EU and the
US to split the developing countries.
All said, if the WTO is to survive, it
must remain a rule-based
organisation working on the will of
the majority of the members. That is
not the case today, and Cancun's
failure represented yet another attempt to make it so. />
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
Globalising anger
Developed countries trying to exploit the South were suddenly
confronted by a roadblock in Cancun, put up by developing country
delegations that had suddenly grown wiser.
 by Devinder Sharma	
Cancun joins Seattle
as the venue of two
failed ministerials of
the World Trade Organisation (WTO) since it came into
existence on the first day of
1995. The WTO, whose stoic
exterior is designed to block
the views and positions offered by civil society organisations, had to face an abject collapse instigated by-
its own members from the
South. Determined to stand
up against the unilateral outcomes of multilateral forums, member states from the
developing world refused to accept the draft declaration. The so-called 'Quad' of international trade—the
US, the EU, Japan and Canada—were taken aback by
the vehemence of the Southern resistance as they
realised that this time around they could not muscle
their way through and engineer declarations to suit
their convenience. The failure of the Cancun Ministerial, however, may generate a backlash and strengthen
the Quad's determination to engage in more ruthless
manipulations to get its way.
Developing countries have learnt the dictum of international trade the hard way, for having been tbe victims of hard-headed lobbying, coercion and deft manipulations. Having learnt the lesson, they gave an exemplary demonstration of their will not to be browbeaten into global agreements that work to their disadvantage. Their anger and 'insubordination' has already
caused the biggest derailment so far of the market-led
development agenda. And rightly so. Developed country agriculture has so far enjoyed a unique 'special and
differential' treatment that was in reality meant for the
developing and least developed countries. Tlie impregnable wall that was being built since the days of the
Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94), is not so easy
to scale.
Just before the Cancun Ministerial, President
Amadou Toure of Mali was a co-signatory to a letter to
the New York Times condemning the cotton subsidies in
America that have been so
devastating for West African
countries — Burkina Faso,
Mali, Chad and Benin. His
colleague, President Blaise
Compaore of Burkina Faso,
had spoken in a similar vein
to the Trade Negotiating
Committee of the WTO in
June. They voiced their concern at the way direct financial assistance by a number
of exporting countries, including US, European Union
and China, to the tune of 73
percent of the world cotton production, destroyed millions of livelihoods in West African countries. .A.s a result, African cotton producers realise only 60 percent of
their costs, although their cost of production is less than
half of that incurred in the developed countries. More
for mollifying public sentiments than for rectifying its
fraudulent economics, the WTO did consider the contentious issue of cotton subsidies, as if it was an isolated case of exploitation of developing country farmers,
The lack of fairness can be gauged from the quantum of state support that goes into this industry alone.
In 2001, the 25,000 odd US cotton growers received
roughly USD 3.9 billion in subsidy payments, for producing a cotton crop that was worth only USD 3 billion
at world market prices. One Arkansas cotton grower
received USD 6 million, equal to the combined annual
earnings of 25,000 cotton farmers in Mali. The story is
similar in the case of the European Union (EU). The
new EU Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals, announced prior to the Cancun Ministerial, made
no attempt at radically reducing commitments, which
is what is needed. Operating on the same principle as
the US docs, it too has shifted most of the 'blue box'
subsidies (the category of government support which
allows direct payments under production-limiting
programmes) to the 'green box' (which allows government support with no or minimal trade distorting
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
Intractable, the WTO delivered its obtuse verdict—
West African farmers should stop growing cotton. The
text of the Draft Cancun Ministerial says: "The Director-General is instructed to consult with the relevant
international organisations including the Bretton
Woods Institutions, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Trade Centre to effectively
direct existing programmes and resources towards diversification of the economies where cotton accounts
for major share of their GDP". In simple words— there
is nothing wrong with the highly subsidised cotton
farming in the US, EU and China,
the fault rests with millions of
small and marginal farmers in
West Africa. The Cancun draft
had instructed the WTO director-general, the FAO and the
World Bank/IMF to make available adequate investments for
suitable programmes that enable these farmers to diversify from
cotton to other crops. Now that the
ministerial has collapsed under the
weight of its own overweening conceit the draft obviously and thankfully
became a dead letter.
The lesson for the rest of the world
from the Northern 'masters' is crystal
clear. The developing world should
stop growing crops that negatively affect the monumental subsidies that the
rich and industrialised countries provide. For the G-21, consisting of the
largest economies of the developing
world, that created a lot of noise and
dust over the USD 311 billion in farm
subsidies that the richest trading
bloc—the Organisation for Economic	
Cooperation and Development
(OECD)—provides for its agriculture, the writing is on
the wall. And this is exactly what independent critics
have been warning all these years. The process of transferring the production of staple foods and major commercial commodities to the OECD had in fact begun
much earlier. WTO is merely legitimising the new farming system.
The World Bank and IMF have, under the Structural
Adjustment Programmes (SAP), very clearly tied up
credit with crop diversification. They continue to force
developing countries to shift from staple foods, which
are crucial for food security needs, to cash crops that
meet the luxury requirement of Western countries. The
SAPs have, therefore, been forcing developing countries
to dismantle state support for food procurement, withdraw price support to farmers, dismantle food procurement, and relax land ceiling laws, thereby enabling
corporates to move into agriculture. Under this perspective, Southern farmers are to be left to the mercy of the
market forces. Being 'inefficient' producers, they need
to be replaced by industry and its management and
production methods.
The same prescription for farming has never been
suggested for the rich and industrialised countries. And
yet, and this needs to be very clearly understood—the
one part of the world that needs to go in for immediate
crop diversification is the industrial world. These are
the countries that produce mounting surpluses of
wheat, rice, corn, soybean, sugar beat, cotton and a handful of other crops, and that too under environmentally
unsound conditions. These are the countries that
inflict a dual damage. First they destroy their
own lands by highly intensive crop practices, pollute ground water, contaminate the
environment, and then receive massive
subsidies to keep these unsustainable
practices artificially viable. These are the
countries that are faced with the tragic
consequences of massive farm displacements, and are in the grip of food
calamities arising from industrial
If the WTO has its ways, and the
developing countries fail to understand the insidious politics that
drives the agriculture trade agenda,
the world will soon have two kinds of
agricultural systems. The rich countries will produce staple foods for the
world's six billion plus people, and
developing countries will grow cash
crops like tomatoes, peas, sunflower,
strawberries, vegetables - and cut
flowers. The dollars that developing
countries earn from exporting these
crops will eventually be used to buy
food grains from the developed nations. In effect, this means going back
to the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence.
Central America is a case in point. The debt crisis
that affected the Central American countries in the 1980s
was very conveniently used as the appropriate opportunity to shift the cropping pattern to non-traditional
exports. Egged on and generally encouraged by the
United States Agency for International Development
(USAID), farmers were fed the illusion of the great market that existed in the developed world and lured to
produce for it. They shifted to crops like melons, strawberries, cauliflower, broccoli and squash that were
shipped to the supermarkets, mainly in America. Simultaneously, these Central American countries disbanded cultivation of staple crops like corn and bean,
and today they are major importers, that too from the
United States.
With regard to India, which only three decades ago
emerged from the shadows of massive food imports,
the strategy is the same. The World Bank and the IMF
The process of
transferring the
production of
staple foods and
major commercial
commodities to the
OECD had in fact
begun much earlier
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
have forced successive governments to adopt
policies that force farmers to abandon
staple crops like wheat, rice and coarse
cereals, and diversify to cash crops.      7
Punjab, the country's food bowl, is presently engaged in a desperate effort to
shift from wheat-rice cropping pattern
to cultivating cut flowers and the likes.
Andhra Pradesh has already embarked
on a misplaced rural development vision that aims at industrial agriculture
at the cost of its millions of small and marginal farmers. As if this was not enough,
biotechnology companies are being
generously granted state largesse and
prime real estate so as to encourage corporate farming.
What the developed countries are
therefore trying to sell to the world as
the "development round", following
the undemocratic conclusions arrived
at Doha 2001, is in reality a political
exercise (under the garb of trade and
commerce) for their own economic development. Through a variety of instruments, the rich countries have ensured
complete protectionism. Whether it is
the case of special safeguards, reduction in tariffs, removal of non-tariff bar-
riers and the- like, the developed countries have manipulated the commitments in a way that suits their
own narrowly conceived objectives. Trade policies
therefore have remained highly discriminatory against
the developing country farmers.
Unfortunately, the developing countries are making no concerted effort to demolish the wall of protectionism that the rich and industrialised countries have
erected around their highly subsidised agriculture.
Even the G-21, in the final stages, was busy trying to
work out a compromise formula to save the Cancun
Ministerial from going the Seattle way. They did not
seem to realise that there was no way
such a bad agreement on agriculture
could be reformed. For millions of
toiling farmers in the majority world,
the failure of the Cancun Ministerial
does not signal the end of the
struggle. It is merely a step in their
long and bitter journey to retain control over their own food security
needs, and to protect their own livelihoods from the robber barons of international trade.
The move towards a sustainable
farming model that functions on the
principles of equity and justice must
be taken forward with double the intensity with which the 'Quad' can
The WTO has
successfully managed to pit the
farmers of the
developing world
and the
countries against
each other
be expected to retaliate after the Cancun
fiasco. For a few million farmers on either
side of the Atlantic, the cause is no different. Only the scale and home turf is
different. Developed country farmers
have much in common with the poor
farmers in the Third World. What the
WTO, however, has successfully managed to do is to pit the farmers of the
developing world and the industrialised
countries against each other. Unless farmers' association in the developed countries
come to the rescue of their less blessed
■*"    cousins  in  the developing  world,
agribusiness companies will continue
to have the last laugh.
The Cancun logjam does not mean
that the big players will make any significant cuts in their subsidy support.
Although the Western countries have
blamed the G-21 for "asking for the
moon", the fact remains that they have
got too used to being parasites on
the developing world. The plight of the
farming community, following the
Marrakesh agreement (the agreement
establishing the WTO, signed on 15
     April 1994) — from Chile to South Korea, and from India to Brazil—has failed
to move the industrialised countries to bring in any
meaningful reforms in international trade.
The suicide during the Cancun Ministerial of the
Korean farmer, Lee Kyong Hae, illustrates the devastation that WTO has wrought on the farming communities all over the world. Ignoring the voice of the
marginalised and the poor farmers will not only be suicidal, but catastrophic for the powers that be. The message from Lee's sacrifice is loud and clear. Ignoring the
growing discontent and frustration that prevails on the
farming front, accentuated through the trade reforms,
will only globalise anger. t>
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walan Ext, New Delhi 110001. Tel; +91-11-3670532, 3670534,
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Readers in Pakistan wishing to subscribe should send PKR 900/1700
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Abdullah Haroon Road, Saddar, Karachi 74400 Tel: +92-21 -5650623/
5213916 email:
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
taking sidesl
LUCKY THAT Cancun failed, you might say. A notice
sent out by the Third World media support group named
WACC in London, which works for the "democratisation
of media", had cautioned that at the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) meeting in Mexico, the US Trade
Representative would attempt to expand the WTO's
power over communications and audiovisual services.
This includes film, radio, television, video, and music
production, as well as media distribution services such
as satellite, cable and broadcast. Writes WACC, "The
result could spell disaster for vibrant media systems worldwide: US regulations
that favour media diversity, localism and
the public interest could be attacked as
'barriers to trade'. Media ownership
limits, as well as federal and state
programmes that encourage diverse media, couldbe considered outright trade violations. A massive wave of public pressure is essential
to move Congress to block Big Media's power grab at
the WTO." As I said, lucky that Cancun failed. Go to
BAREFOOT IS a shopping centre-cum-gallery (pronounced Byar-fut by all citizens south of Pollanaruwa)
in downtown CMB which puts up avant garde art ex-
hibits and installations. Sometimes excitement, seems
to get the better of taste. ,An exhibition of paintings, photography & sculpture put up in May by Phoenix Ogilvy
and Mather (an advertising agency), had the accompanying poster to pull in the art-lover. At the risk of being
charged of being just as insensitive on the exhibitors,
Chhetria Patrakar is reproducing the poster, which says
"Wouldn't you like to see the other side?" on the bare
back of tlie model. Nice try, O&M, but does not quite
THE MILLI Gazzette is a magazine brought out twice a
month, whose claim of speaking for the 1.2 billion strong
Ummah of Islam may be reaching too far, but certainly
it speaks with commitment
and strength for the South
Asian Muslims. Subscribe
by going to their website at A recent issue lists all the reasons why Indians should
have protested the Israeli
Prime Minister's visit to India in mid-September. The
note cites Sharon's violation of human and civil rights
of the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, his excessive use of the latest arms against an unarmed people, his intransigence on the question of Jewish settlements in Arab Palestine, the assassinations of
political leaders and reprisals against civilians, and
making a virtual hostage of Yasser Arafat. The note
further states: "We protest against Sharon's visit because it cannot be rationalized, except in terms of the
envisaged strategic alliance between the USA, India
and Israel... There can be'no meeting point between
India, a Secular Democracy, and Israel, a Racist Theocracy. We see this visit as an official seal on the reversal
of India's traditional support for the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people, indeed as a slap
in the face of Gandhi and Nehru."
THERE IS an appeal letter that is doing the rounds
among Pakistanis for the release of human rights activist Rasheed Azam of Khuzdar in Balochistan. Since
Pakistan is part of South Asia, there is no reason why
all South Asians cannot send appeals to General
Pervez Musharaf, President of Pakistan, on behalf of
Rasheed Azam. So, send a note to the Chief Executive
at While you are at it, also send a note
to Barrister Shahida Jameel, Minister of Law, at
molawl ©comsats
The background: Rasheed Azam 26, is a law student as well as a journalist and human rights activist.
Based in Khuzdar, he works as a reporter for two national dailies, Intikhab and Asaap. He also works as a
joint editor for Roshnai a quarterly magazine focusing
on development and civic rights issues. He has also
been associated with several community development
organisations, and for the last four years was active as
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
a member of the organising committee of
Balochistan National Party (BNP). On 15 August,
2003, Rasheed Azam was picked up by a contingent of local police supported by their counterparts
from Quetta. His friends obtained a copy of the First
Information Report (FIR) which states, "It is intimated that an anti Army Poster was distributed in
Khuzdar by an individual namely Rasheed Azam son
of Moula Bakhsh by caste Gazgi Mengal resident of
Khuzdar affiliated with Balochistan National Party
(Mengal Group). The distribution of such like calendar
depicting Army personnel beating Baloehs amounts to
sedition against Army which is an offence of a grave
Dear reader of Himal, go for it. Write to the Chief
Executive of Pakistan on behalf a fellow South Asian
and Pakistani Baloch. For more information, write
to South Asia Partnership Pakistan in Lahore at
SOME JOURNALISTS have been murdered over the
last month. Ameer Bux Brohi was shot and killed on 3
October by three unidentified men in Shikarpur, Sindh.
Brohi, 27, was a correspondent for Kawish Television
News and The Daily Kawish, the largest Sindhi-lan-
guage daily newspaper in Sindh province. While the
motive for the homicide was unclear, local journalists
believe it was in reprisal for
Brohi's reporting on sensitive
local issues. Binod Sajana
Chaudhari, considered a pro-
Maoist journalist, was shot
and killed on 27 September
by security forces in Kailali
distrit, western Nepal. A reporter for the Nepalgunj Express, Chaudhari was shot by
plain-clothes security men.
Chaudhari used to be associated with the weekly
Janadesh, a pro-Maoist publication that has been closed.
Also in Nepal, on 7 September, a journalist who worked
for the national news agency and a national daily, was
brutally murdered by Maoist rebels in Sindhupalchowk
district east of Kathmandu. The Maoists tied Gyanendra
Khadka's hands to a school groimd volleyball pole and
slit his throat with a khukuri, while his wife watched
the gruesome affair unfold.
THOSE WHO KNOW Kali for Women (KFW) as
India's premier feminist press, publishing works
by fearless writers on Indian and South Asian
women, will be saddened to hear that the
founders Ritu Menon and Urvashi Butailia have
parted ways, as of 1 July 2003. Kali for Women
is no more. But you will be happy to note that the
demise of KFW, has spawned two new publishing
houses - Menon has started
Women Unlimited (WU) and
Butalia has got going with
Zubaan. As Menon says of WU,
the plan is to "continue to explore
new issues, anticipate trends, develop new perspectives; and offer the best of feminist
scholarship, activist material and creative writing, at
affordable prices".
ANOTHER GEM from WACC: "Scepticism is the basis
of justice". Journalists are (or should beborn) to be sceptics, says its website. Writes the columnist Sean Hawkey:
"If Your Mother Tells You She Loves You...Check It Out!
This is the first challenge for journalists, to make scepticism their profession, to question everything they are
told, to probe, corroborate and verify everything, whoever the source. That's what journalists are meant to
do, to reveal secrets, lies and deceptions, to expose the
truths that hold the powerful to account and control
corruption and exploitation". I will second that, and
recommend tlie lines to journalists - particularly those
who strut the stage and hog the podium - in all of our
South Asian capitals.
MARK ABLEY is an amateur linguist, a Canadian who
has just published Spoken Here, a book on the sad fate
(death) that awaits thousands of languages around the
world. Of the roughly 6,000 languages spoken in the
world today, Abley writes, "a maximum of three thousand are likely to be heard at the century's end, and
fewer than six hundred of those appear secure". But I bring him up here
because he refers to the Boro of Northeast India as a rich tongue with elaborate terms for specific meanings. Thus,
reports Abley, anzray means "to keep
apart from an enemy or wicked company", gobdobdob is for "slightly
humpbacked", and gabkhron refers to
"to be afraid of witnessing an adventure". And there are many ways to
express love: One can love from the
heart (onguboy), pretend to love (onsay)
and love for the last time (orisra).
FINALLY HERE, the first album release of the multitasking culture group from Lahore, Mattcela. The album is called Awazay, and the compilation focuses
on the poetry and music of Punjab and Sindh
sung by not-yet-known artists singing the
poetry of Madho Lai Hussain, Guru
Gobind Singh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai
and Khawaja Farid. Says filmmaker
Farjad Nabi, who with journalist friend
Mazhar Zaidi and a few others started the
venture to bring modern high-end listening and viewing to a mass audience, "It is
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
hard work to fight the music giants that rule the market
and be able to produce music in ways which are beneficial for both the listeners and the musicians". The
Awazay CD is available only through the website at
present, so sales depend on word of mouth and e-pub-
licity (go to to listen to the music
THE FOOD and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is always good for press releases that tickle. On 24 September, the UN agency announced that 82 live piglets were
airlifted from Britain to Bhutan with a stop-over in
Bangkok, in what was termed a "significant logistic
operation". Himal readers will be interested to note that
"all the piglets survived the transport and arrived in
Bhutan in good health". Said FAO: "Arriving yesterday
„ in Bangkok from London,
via Frankfurt, on Lufthansa
flight 0772 were 82 pigs. After a one night rest at Dong
Muang's cargo terminal,
the beasts continued their
journey to Bhutan with
Druk Air flight 1202A
which left Bangkok today at
09:00 hours and arrived in
Thimphu at 11:30". Apparently, the Druk Air aircraft
was modified to accommodate the valuable cargo - essentially the fuselage bacame
a pigsty. The pigs were selected on the basis of stringent criteria. Says FAO: "Experience shows that white
coloured pigs suffer from sunburn at high altitude. Pigmented or black-skinned pigs were the preferred options for farms at 3000 metres above sea-level, a high
altitude environment with strong ultraviolet radiation".
The transport of live animals was needed "as pigs presently available in land-locked Bhutan are largely inbred and too small to act as a resource for an expanded
breeding programme".
WE HAVE had trainings and
booklets and talk fests on "conflict sensitive journalism", up to
our ears. What next? How about
a handbook on Suicide Sensitive
Journalism? Well, such a handbook is actually now available on
the website of the Centre for Policy
Alternatives in Colombo, at This
is a first, we are told, in the effort "to address the
specific issue of reporting suicide in the media
in Sri Lanka and South Asia".
THE SOUTH Asia Tribune website, out of
Washington DC, is where you would go for
vituperative and occasionally investigative
pieces targeted at the Musharraf regime in Islamabad.
Here is the roundup of a recent edition of the webzine:
Pakistani Generals prepare to grab the country's only
Fortune-500 company * Roadmap to removal of General Musharraf in 180 days * Pakistani Experts present
their case before UN panel * Ar\ Indian ,  »Hbuffl:
Doctor is Jailed after Pakistani '- --•■•■'■ >';-s*
Doctor fled US * The truth about
Pakistan's over-blown Stock Exchange * The Telling Tale of Little Pakistan in New
York * The Official Secrets Act cannot be applied to
Benazir Bhutto.
WHEN INDIAN publications inadvertently and igno-
rantly refer to the Sakyamuni Buddha as being born in
'India' rather than Lumbini-which-is-in-Nepal, that
sure gets the goat of Katlimanduwallahs who tend to
believe that tbeir nationalism is tied to Buddha
having been being born in what today
happens to be Nepal, that too more than
2.5 millennia ago. Oh well, and so the
Times of India - which gets the most readership in Nepal for an Indian English daily  ''*<***?
- created an unforgivable boo boo when in an article
about climate change on 3  October, suggested thus:
"Mount Everest, India - Khumbu Glacier has retreated
over 5 km since 1953", That was worse than Madhuri
Dixit claiming not so long ago, upon deplaning at
Tribhuvan International Airport, that Nepal was once
a part of India. "If Mount Everest is in India", said an
incensed Nepali nationalist, "shall we go claim
Kanyakumari as ours? Who cares that we are landlocked!"
CP HAS had many things to brood over without one
more worry being thrust on him. *And this one is about
M.K. Gandhi. In India, Gandhi usually looks down on
you from the walls of government offices. In the other
South Asian capitals, you can catch him at the Indian
embassy. This is an unfortunate fate for a universal
man, which they once said he was. It is still ocassionally
necessary to acknowledge him
in rituals, but for the rest you can
safely forget about him, particularly if you are not from India.
CP learns that Himal's sister
publication in Nepali, Himal
Khabarpatrika carried the accompanying poster of Gandhi in
a recent special issue, with a
caption querying "Where is
Gandhi?" Either the public in
Nepal is still looking for the answer or they could not care less.
The fact is, and the tragedy is,
that in South Asia today, the Mahatma is taken to be an 'Indian'.
—Chhetria Patrakar
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
Boyhood and the alien:
ET and Koi Mil Gaya
by Genevieve Lakier
Given the perduring distance between Bollywood
and Hollywood, two of the largest and most
prolific film industries in the world, the recent
release of the Bollywood film Koi Mil Gaya, loosely based
on Steven Spielberg's science fiction clas.sic, ET the Extraterrestrial, provides an excellent opportunity to compare this most current of Bollywood products to the
original, a classic of contemporary American cinema,
re-edited and re-released on its 20th anniversary last
year. What is striking about the comparison is how different the films manage to be, despite sharing all essential elements of the plot. Placing these two versions of
one story side by side thus helps elucidate the different
tropes through which Hollywood and Bollywood succeed in capturing popular desire (and making a buck
off it) and in particular, the heroes they construct to do
so. The bittersweet paths we see boys take to become
men in both ET and Koi Mil Gaya express more than
anything the anxieties which underlie the norms of
adult manhood in both contexts. It is these anxieties
which the films work to redeem, by resurrecting the
ancient hope of the hero who can overcome the' dreadful binds we all fear to be caught in.
It is indeed a testament to the imagination of Koi Mil
Goya's film makers that they could take such highly
atypical material - a science fiction tale of an abandoned alien and the lonely boy who helps him make
contact with his home world - and Bollywood ise it.
And Bollywoodise they did! Adding a romantic story
line, six songs, an hour to the plot-line, and an ending
that thankfully did not involve flying bicycles, motorbikes, or pedal scooters (as it easily might have), but
did involve a certain volume of tears shed, a space ship
landing and taking off, and the reassurance from our
alien friend that "he would be there, watching over"
our hero forever, Koi Mil Gaya is nonetheless a profound -
ly different film from the original. While both movies
tell a story about childhood, families, and bridging
these, about tlie struggle to be a man, they reveal very
different children, families and men. Both are designed
as family entertainment, which distinguishes them from
other blockbusters of male adventure. Not only do they
include women in major roles, but they show us heroism at its sweetest, ie, when performed by boys, who we
are supposed to love for their innocence and vulnerability as much as for their power. Tlie sweetness of the
boy is what excuses the violence of the man he becomes;
it is what marks out our heroes as heroes in the first
place. The emotional neediness of the central figures is
what motivates their friendships with the aliens in both
films, and it is this relationship which then forces them
to act within a world which opposes and threatens it.
Both films are thus coming-of-age stories marked by
a certain nostalgia for boyhood and its mysteries, even
if in both films, growing up is marked by loss as well as
gain. But this trajectory is presented as inescapable.
The hero must save his alien - and willingly participate in his own separation from what he loves - or else
his newfound friend will die. Adulthood thus makes
irrefutable demands. One of these demands is the self-
sacrifice of love, an Interesting metaphor for manhood.
The films thus conscript us into the grand adventure of
becoming a man but they place, at its centre, a wound.
Koi Mil Gaya nonetheless ameliorates that wound with
an entire social realm and the possibilities of manhood
- love and family and power - whereas ET concludes
only with its young hero's tear-streaked face, looking
up at tlie stars. This makes one movie a triumph and
the other a tragedy, even if neither entirely and without
The plots centre on a family which has lost its father
and the boy who has to struggle with this absence. In
ET, the boy, Elliott, played by Henry Thomas, is a very
ordinary kid: a prepubescent middle son, overshadowed by his older brother, sol icitous towards his younger sister and distant from his mother in the absence of
lus dad. In Koi Mil Gaya, on the other hand, the hero,
Rohit, played by Hrithik Roshan (the son of the director, Rakesh Roshan, who also plays his father), is instead a man-child, forever stunted mentally by the accident which saw his father's death and which resulted
directly from an earlier visit of the alien spaceship to
earth. He is a large man, if skinny, and for the first half
of the film the contrast between his size and those of his
classmates and compatriots is highlighted to great effect. If the pathos here is visually written in the contrast
between Rohit's largeness and his childish clothes,
behaviour, possessions, the pathos of the original is
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Left to right, Jadoo. Hrithik, ETi
Elliott's smallness. Elliott is constantly being
placed in adult situations and practices he is
not quite ready for - getting drunk, kissing a
girl, directing the van his brother Mike drives to
get ET away from his captors, the state scientists. It is the charm of his size which makes
these adventures so appealing, a common theme
in American movies and one of the reasons
child actors have such difficulty when they
grow up. The cinema finds touching the figure
of the child too wise for its years, signalling
perhaps recognition on the part of Hollywood's
filmmakers of how immature and incapable even
the largest can feel in industrial society. Whereas in Kot Mil Gaya, Rohit captures the spoils of
victory with the tools of youth and with the help
of his youthful compatriots but he is always,
visually, a man doing so. While ET speaks of
the necessity of growing up, fast, Koi Mil Gaya
resurrects the possibility of the boy in the heart
of the man, even, by the end of the movie, in the
bulgingly muscled, tight-pants-wearing sex
symbol, Hrithik Roshan.
Divine payback
The difference in our heroes is paralleled by a
difference in their histories. In Koi Mil Gaya, we
find ourselves set down in a world of return
and recurrence and in a family which is the site
of the extraordinary. Rohit is marked from before his birth with the legacy of a tragic past.
His father, we learn in the opening scenes, was the
space scientist who first discovered the means to communicate with the aliens and drew them to earth. While
driving home from a visit to the Space Agency (filled
with foreign and comprador Indian scientists, who
laugh and insult him for making up his discovery) he
sees the spaceship that he has called to earth, that vindicates his work, in his wonder - and perhaps victory?
-he pays insufficient attention to his driving and crashes the car, killing himself and throwing Rohit's mother
on her stomach, which injures her foetus and leads to
Rohit's arrested mental development. Therefore the return of the aliens signals not only the redemption of the
son, through their gift to him of special powers and
intelligence, but also the redemption of the father,
through the son, and of the family itself. It is in many
ways divine payback that Rohit becomes a man who
can outwit those very scientists who once ridiculed his
father and who can return the alien safely to his spaceship, and hence deprive them of what they, too late,
desire: the knowledge the father once freely offered.
Elliott in contrast is an entirely normal boy in an
entirely normal family which, although shattered from
within, is not fateful like Rohit's. The reason the father
has left is never made clear. Like the child, we are in the
realm of the present, alone with the inconsolable fact of
the given. More importantly, the family is not connect
ed in any way to the coming of the alien spaceship: this
is not a case of predestination, of divine interconnection, of the mysteries of heredity and family repeating
an unfulfilled past. Rohit, in Koi Mil Gaya, plays the
song his mother taught him as a young boy - the song
she learnt from her husband - to call the aliens back to
earth, in an unknowing but nonetheless overdeter-
mined imitation of his long-dead father. But, ET enters
our small hero's world by luck. Indeed, the point about
Elliott is his lack of specialness, his anonymity in a
suburbia in which each house looks, and we see shots
several times to remind us, exactly alike. Elliott's only
mark of distinction is his possession of an alien. He
himself understands this well. When it becomes clear
that ET must go back to his planet, Elliott resists. "He
came to ME! He came to ME!" More than the alien per
se, that the alien found HIM, and not only that, loves
him, saves him from his insignificance in all other ways.
The families in the two films are very different as
well. In Koi Mil Gaya, it provides the safety from the
storm which lies outside, the larger social world Rohit
must, but cannot quite, inhabit. Rohit's mother, played
marvellously by the experienced actress Rekha, is a wise
and benevolent guide who wants only the best for her
son and who accepts the alien once she understands
the role he plays in her son's transformation. But in
Spielberg's ET, the storm lives within. Elliott's father,
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 nd Henry.
during the movie, is vacationing in Mexico with his
new girlfriend; a fact that, when Elliott brings it up,
reduces his mother to tears. It is unclear here where
Elliott's sympathies lie. Mike, his older brother, takes it
upon himself to protect his mother. Elliott, by far the
youngest and smallest of all the boys, is more concerned
with his place in the children's pecking order. His mother (played by Dee-Wallace Stone), who the kids call
Mary, in Spielberg's comment on modern American
family mores, is a distant figure. She is incapable of
participating in the central adventure (Mary quite literally fails to see ET even when he is right before her eyes)
and is not sufficiently powerful to protect her kids from
either the intrusion of the alien or the also mysterious
but far more threatening violation of the state and its
scientists, who take over the family's house towards
the end of the film despite her threats and protestations.
In one movie therefore, heroism involves a certain
alienation from the family, or at least the mother, who
cannot understand the banality of the miraculous before her (much humour is made of ET's domestication,
his encounter and entanglement in the very ordinary
stuff of family life). In the other, heroism serves in the
name of and as the resurrection of the family. In the
former, it requires the demarcation of the individual
outside of the domestic world, but in tlie latter, the hero
is reconnected to a lineage of descent and meaning in
which he must find his place. And in both, this implicates larger society as well, insofar as it is the problem
within the family in both films which forces Rohit and
Elliott onto their own devices and out into the world.
But these worlds are very different.
Inside, outside
In ET the Extraterrestrial, the relationship between home
and society is portrayed as one of synecdoche, the part
standing in for the whole, whereas in Koi Mil Gaya,
home and world are connected causally, interrelation-
ally. The family in one mimics society; the family in the
other stands within it, is made up and penetrated by .it,
dependent upon it and eventually redeemed by it. In
Elliott's story, the family is not connected to a social
world in which inside and outside interpenetrate, but
is representative of a world in which the alienation at
home signals only a larger social alienation. The secrecy Elliott is required to maintain before his mother he is
also required to maintain before the state and scientists
who hunt and eventually find his alien. Neither his
mother nor the state understands themselves to be his
adversary. But Elliott perceives them in their adulthood,
to be profoundly dangerous to the mystery of ET, The
good intentions of adults are not enough to overcome
their ultimate insufficiency and betrayal, because adults
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
in this film are the repositories of loss. Indeed, the scientists who eventually track ET down, and watch him
die think they are saviours (although failed ones). The
nameless man who has been shadowing the boy and
the alien throughout the movie congratulates Elliott on
his care of ET, and tells him he could not have done it
better - that he too has been wishing for this since he
was ten years old. But, "What more could we do that
we are not doing already?" he asks. The scientists in
fact arrive too late to manage to do much at all. ET's
sickness is not after all the fault of the state or its scientists but a condition of his estrangement from his true
home. Tt is simply their cold, adult reason - the reason
that says death is final, that there is no magic, that science is the only hope - that must be avoided. This classic Spielbergian theme is nonetheless dark, insofar as
the magic he shows us cannot redeem the larger world;
it can only make it bearable, and then fly away.
In the face of an authority which tries to do well but
can only do harm, the child is left with nothing but his
own determination. The failure of the mother to protect
her home is only a larger indication of her failure, to
understand what fives within it. Even as it resurrects
the essential necessity of home ('ET go home' the central mantra of the movie), ET the Extraterrestrial destroys
the sanctity of domestic and social authority. Elliott's
relationship with ET, his truest source of intimacy and
emotional connection, is doomed to lie in the stars, outside the realm of the known and the familiar. Home is
that which one is bound to, but it cannot contain one's
true desires.
The family does what it can, coming together at the
climax of the film, to bid ET goodbye. Mary, crying, lool<s
from afar at her child watching his alien partner walk
away and we are meant to celebrate how the adventure
has brought everyone closer together. But this closeness is predicated on the essential independence of the
child from the mother, his need of something which is
not found at home, indeed, which cannot live on earth
itself. Manhood here is about breaking away from the
smothering realm of the domestic to find one's own
true self, a theme repeated over and over in Hollywood,
but not through external break but inner. It is as such
about the development of a private life. In the face of an
alienating society and the inevitable loss of that which
he most truly connected with, Elliott has no option but
to retreat into the private realm of meaning and memory, the deep inside of intimacy, and to protect this at all
costs from the world of adult reason.
If one were to understand Elliott therefore to be left
at the end of the film with the memory of his amazing
adventure and with the comfort of ET looking down on
him, nonetheless his life has not structurally changed.
ET is not about external transformation but about inner. Elliott is forced inward by manhood; while Rohit
is pushed outward. One would go so far as to say that
the alien in the Spielberg film represents the essential
'alienness' of society, whereas the alien in Koi Mil Gaya
represents exactly the opposite: the possibility of re-
connection with it. Elliott's relationship with ET is an
essentially private story. The plot as it unfolds takes
place within the protected, and then clearly violated,
realm of the house. Meanwhile the connection between
boy and alien is an interior one. What transfers from
ET to Elliott is his experience and emotion, *^
not his powers. But Jadoo functions
in Rohit's life to transform his
position in the social order
through the gift of very visi-   jm
ble magic, strength and intel-   t
ligence. Koi Mil Gaya takes   j
place to a great deal outside,
in the public spaces of the  j
hill-station Rohit lives in, and
among those he loves, competes with and overcomes.
Rohit's problem is that of
the reproduction of the family; this drives him out of the
nest to prove himself. He is the
only child; his retardation makes    v
the continuation of the family impossible. Only after he meets the
alien, who he names Jadoo, or magic,
can he gain his adulthood and his virility and capture the hand of Nisha, the love
interest, played well if rather blandly by Preity
Zinta. The intelligence and magical strength Jadoo gives him allow Rohit to take his place socially, in the competition of manhood which is the
struggle for respect and marriage as it is portrayed
here. This is a profoundly public competition: Rohit
shows off his stuff on the dance floor, in the classes
and playground of the school, and most extensively
during the true climax of the movie which takes place
not in the escape of Jadoo from earth, but on the basketball court. The goondas who combat and make fun of
Rohit, and most essentially, their leader, Raj Saxena
(played by Rajat Bedi), who competes for Nisha's hand,
face Rohit and his young friends in a basketball match
whose prize is a kiss. That Nisha has not been consulted on this particular question is not an issue here; she
participates willingly, sitting on the side of her hero
in a clear echo of an earlier occasion when she
cheered his opponent to victory. With Jadoo's help,       ,!
good triumphs, the people applaud, the magic used
to achieve this ignored or accepted for what it is
and, Rohit kisses the girl - who he will, we under-     j
stand, eventually take home. The climax of the film,   1
when Rohit almost single-handedly rescues Jadoo >
from the clutches of the state and returns him to his  Km
spaceship, signals the full maturation of his powers
as a hero. But the film itself ends in a far different   ,
place than Spielberg's: not with the departure of the   i
alien but with a shot of Rohit and Nisha, walking
away hand in hand. This is the true victory.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
World and the home
The larger political world of the two
films is thus very different as well.
Both films are sceptical of authority,
to a degree, and paint the state and
its scientists in unflattering terms.
Boyhood would not be boyhood without a moral quest and in both films,
that moral quest is to protect the magic of what is unexplained and mysterious from a kind of authority that
seeks to know, in order to control.
Dramatic tension is built through tlie
race to evade the state and its blazing glare of light - a glare that will
extinguish the very tiling it seeks to
find. The faceless scientist who
tracks ET from the very beginning of
the film is the one true enemy, and
we, the audience, all know this well.
This is also, but to a lesser extent, true
in the Bollywood version, when Raj
takes up a lot more screen time. The
state is rather bumbling and late on
the scene and anyway, in a very nice
take on neo-liberal India, is already
in the pocket of capital - the developers of the up-market hill station,
who think the discovery of extraterrestrial life would be a boon for business. This scheme is cooked up, not
coincidentally enough, by Raj's father, one of the major investors in the
hill station. State reason is thus not
an inhuman force but plays into human and very familiar power struggles wmich have far more to do with
money than with science.
It is for this reason that Koi Mil
Gaya is far more violent than ET and
also far more hopeful. In a more human and social world, confrontation
is inevitable but victory is possible.
Although both stories tell a child's
fantasy of the triumph of the small
over the large via the sudden gift of
extraordinary powers, these reach
very different ends: Rohit gets to keep
his magic, in tlie end, and the social
achievements, most noticeably
Nisha, that he has acquired. Elliott
does not. If one were to .sum up the
Hollywood version, it would be to
say that it is about how one becomes
a man through individuation and re-
presasion - through the exquisite pain
of loving enough to let go, and knowing enough to keep this inside.
Whereas Koi Mil Gaya, suggests that the innocent too
may be powerful, that good itself can also triumph. Like
many Bollywood films, it is a paean to the beauty of
this earth - the song sequences showing doves and
beautiful mountains and a beautiful girl - and a tale
which still keeps possible the hope of social victory.
Rohit, at the end, may be sad to see his alien friend
leave him, but he is not bereft. He has proved his heroism, he has gotten his girl. His love is neither dangerous nor fragile. It must simply be defended, from the
outside rather than within. Spielberg's ET can be
grouped with a plethora of children's classic mourning the demystification of tlie world. But if Koi Mil Gaya
presents us with a predicament and an adventure, it
leaves us with the possibility of a healed world from
which magic has not departed.
There is something very sad about how alienating
the portrayal of home and the world is in ET, one of the
most famous and beloved of American childhood fantasies. All the advanced wonders of Hollywood are on
display here and Spielberg leads the story to a firm and
rousing conclusion. And yet its hero, the little boy Elliott, is an expression of wishes that do not get fulfilled
outside the movie hall and of a suspicion of authority
that places meaning always outside the realm of the
social. The Spielbergian injunction to dream is also a
suggestion of the fundamental disappointment of the
world outside of dreams. American audiences have
been presented with a tale in which they can mourn yet
again the loss of magic from the world as they know it.
Meanwhile Indian audiences are being sold - and are
buying - a story in which they empathise with and
redeem the tough guy, not because he is tough but because deep in his heart he is a little child, an innocent
boy, someone worthy of love. It is not magic that we
watch disappear but the innocence of the boy. And yet
the audience is not supposed to mourn. The coming
into adulthood presented here is an exciting and hopeful passage which leads to something beyond itself,
which indeed makes the social itself possible.
One still confesses to loving ET, and to a lesser extent - for it is less daring in its form - Koi Mil Gaya as
well. The movies depict male love and men's vulnerability in the face of love as a productive, generative force.
They present hegemonic males, males who act, who
connive, who win and save the day, but they reveal these
hegemonic figures to be, in reality, young boys imagining themselves into men as we watch. Tlie films offer us
forgiveness for men - for the violence and stupidity of
those they fight, mirror, become (it is of course a separate question whether or not we should give it). But they
provide no alternatives. Manhood in both is a necessity, imposed from outside. It cannot be avoided, or else
love itself will die. The sacrifice at the centre is what
keeps both stories sweet, and perhaps also terrible. Both
reveal a terrible truth: that it is hard to grow up as a
man. Even if tliat occludes so many other terrible truths,
it is still one that is important to remember. £
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Where are the women
in the Sri Lankan peace?
If and when peace comes to Sri Lanka, the new
structures of political relations must be designed
to preserve and advance the gains made by
women in the last two decades.
by Saraia Emmanuel
The two parties to the separatist conflict in Sri
Lankan—the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) and the federal government—have been
negotiating the political future of the country since a
ceasefire agreement was signed by both parties on 22
February 2002. This adds a new dimension to the work
of the women's movements in Sri Lanka. Though these
movements have been active in confronting the conflict
over the last two decades, the transition to a potential
military and political peace poses new dilemmas in
framing women's concerns. The Sub-
Committee on Gender Issues that has
been instituted within the negotiating
mechanism is only one such forum for
articulating and placing these concerns
within the framework of constitutional
and political rights. In addition to this,
they will have to consider other important issues that lie outside this framework of rights which will inevitably surface in the post-conflict period.
In countries around the world that
have been stricken by protracted con-'
flict, women have been actively involved in campaigns
for peace. In Northern Ireland, feminist writers have
documented the efforts of women's groups from both
sides to organise on working class lines, while the 'men'
were negotiating a 'settlement'. Similarly, one of most
striking peace campaigns, the "Women in Black", is
active in the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as in the
former Yugoslavia. In Peru, women's organisations persistently lobbied the state to end the war and establish
democratic processes. They used the media and other
networks to promote peace, and were also directly involved in humanitarian work. In South Africa, women
campaigned actively against measures that restricted
their mobility in addition to struggling against the apart-
ln its own perverse way, conflict opens up the
scope for greater
women's role in
the society and
heid regime.
Sri Lankan women, too, have been campaigning for
peace since the early stages of the conflict. Women's
activism in Sri Lankan has involved multiple organisations representing different agendas and identities,
which have sometimes come together strategically to
lobby for certain common causes. Kumudini Samuel,
the human rights activist and a co-ordinator of the
Women and Media Collective in Colombo, has documented in detail the activities of the Mother's Front of
the early 1980s, (which campaigned
for peace and demanded the return of
their sons who had disappeared in
the North), and of the left-oriented
Women's Action Committee, formed in
1982, which took up issues such as tlie
Prevention of Terrorism Act (1979), the
release of women political prisoners
and the rape of women in the North
and East. Since those early efforts, with
the repeated failure of peace negotiations, the demand for peace by women's
groups has only grown stronger, and
their activism over the past two decades has varied from
lobbying for legal reform to following up individual
cases of wartime violence against women. Mothers in
the North have come together to demand tlie return of
their 'disappeared' sons and mothers of the soldiers in
the Sri Lankan military have actively sought information about their sons missing in action. Groups have
also been working on the special humanitarian needs
of women living in the conflict areas. These groups have
developed links across ethnic communities and expressed and demonstrated solidarity with each other's
demands. In many ways, women have been negotiating peace for years in Sri Lanka, even during the worst
periods of violence.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 Despite this history of activism, women have been
excluded from the official peace process. Since the 1980s
there have been six attempts to resolve the North-East
conflict through negotiations. In 1984 there was the All
Party Conference in Colombo. This was followed by
the talks held in Thimpu in 1985. In 1987 the Indo-
Lanka Peace Accord was signed on the initiative of the
then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In 1989-90
talks were held between the President, Ranasinghe
Premadasa and the LTTE, which resulted in the expulsion of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The last round
of negotiations was initiated by the current President
Chandrika Kumaranatunge in 1994.
After a gap of eight years the sixth attempt was launched by Prime Minister
Ranil Wickramasinghe in February
2002. In all these attempts, women have
been excluded from any key negotiating role. (The only woman who has
been present at every round of the current peace negotiations has been Adele
Balasingham, the wife of the former
chief LTTE negotiator. However, she has
not claimed to represent a women's
agenda for the LTTE at the peace table.)
Only the parties responsible for war and
its accompanying atrocities are negotiating the terms of the peace, while those
who have been lobbying for peace and
campaigning against human rights violations over the past two decades find
themselves marginalised in the formal
This is of a piece with historical
trends across the world, of course. In
more recent years, however, there have
been encouraging examples of women succeeding in
securing a place in formal negotiations. In Liberia,
women forcibly intruded into the all-male negotiations
in Accra in 1994. The six women who stormed the Accra
conference won official observer status by the second
day of talks, and later succeeded in having a woman
included in the five-member Council of State. Subsequently, this council was headed by a woman, Ruth
Sando Perry, the first African woman head of state, as
part of the revised Abuja Peace Accord of August 1996.
Women have also used international agencies such as
UNIFEM to facilitate their participation in formal peace
processes, as in Burundi. In the case of Northern Ireland in the 1990s, women's groups came together to
form the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, a political party which participated in negotiating the Good
Friday .Agreement of 1998 and which was allocated
representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps the most significant example of women's involvement in formal negotiation processes in a "Southern"
conflict comes from South Africa. Women were party to
the negotiations and three formal bodies were put in
Muted presence: Adele with Anton
Only the parties
responsible for
war and its accompanying
atrocities are
negotiating the
terms of peace
place to represent women's concerns—the Office on the
Status of Women in the Presidency, a Joint dVlonitoring
Committee in the Parliament, and an independent Committee on Gender Equality.
The sub-committee
Though in the current Sri Lankan process women have
been excluded from any negotiating role, one development of significance was the establishment of the Sub-
Committee on Gender Issues (SCCI) during the fourth
round of talks between the government and the LTTE in
Thailand in January 2003. At the third round in December 2002 in Oslo, both the LTTE and
Sri Lanka government agreed in principle to establish a women's committee to explore the effective inclusion of
gender concerns in the peace process.
During in the fourth round, the representatives to the committee were agreed
upon and it was officially constituted.
The Sub-Committee is composed of five
members nominated by the government
of Sri Lanka and five by the LTTE. However, the SCO has no mandatory power
and its role is to provide advice to the
main negotiators. Curiously, it was
given few formal instructions from the
negotiating table. It is also the only subcommittee associated with the negotiating mechanism to be given the freedom to formulate its own terms of reference. This unusual autonomy was
also reflected in the choice of the government nominees, who are not members of either the Sri Lankan adminis-
tration or of any political party. Their
Tamil counterparts, however, are all members of the
LTTL, and it is not yet clear what degree of autonomy
they enjoy. Significantly, SCCI members have decided
to work as a unified body, lobbying unanimously with
other entities in the negotiating mechanism to include
gender concerns.
The apparent independence of the SCCI could be
seen as providing valuable freedom for the women in
the committee to formulate their agendas. However, as
the women nominated by the government have noted,
this has also meant a very limited interaction with the
state and the formal negotiation process. There are as
yet, no formal mechanisms for the SCGI briefing the negotiating parties about its concerns, and the real influence that the Sub-Committee has on the overall peace
process is questionable.
It is also important to look at the issue of ethnic representation in the SCGI as, among other things, it goes
to the core of the conflict in the island. Among the five
government nominees, three women are publicly perceived to be ethnically Sinhala and two to be Muslim.
(It is another matter that these women may not neces-
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 "Post-conflict history"
In the post-conflict situation in Sri Lanka, how will
the conflict of the last two decades be represented in
historical accounts? If there is one victor, usually the
history of the conflict is written by victor. In the Sri
Lankan case, both parties play a somewhat equal
role in the negotiation process. If the negotiations
establish two separate units of governance, will there
be two separate accounts of history written by the
two key parties? Currently, in areas controlled by the
LITE, the historical accounts of the conflict have been
shaped by their ideology. LTTE cadres have been exalted and elevated to martyrs to be commemorated.
Schools have photographs of the LTTE leader
Velupillai Prabhakaran in their classrooms, accompanied by a map of Tamil Eelam. There are also accounts that documents the history of the 'cause' of
the liberators and narrations of the conflict, have
been given to many schools by the LTTE in the East.
In similar fashion, state supplied textbooks have
pointedly omitted any account of the current North-
East conflict. And, the 'official' history of Sri Lanka
in the government-issued textbooks endorses the idea
of the glorious past of the Sinhala-Buddhist
civilisations, leaving out historical accounts of the
Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities.
How will representations of history be recorded
in a post-conflict situation? jAnd how will women
be represented in the historical accounts of the past
two decades? Will the LTTE only record women martyrs for their cause? Will women's activism and peace
movements be forgotten? Will women's struggles
against and triumphs over the brutal realities of conflict be suppressed? Will the human rights violations
committed during the conflict and during the peace
process be erased from the records? lt will be interesting to see what role bodies such as the Sub Committee on Gender Issues have in representing
women's histories and personal accounts of the conflict in its aftermath.
sarilv fit into such neatly simplified categories, but this
is how they have been defined in the public perception.) The LTTE nominees are all recognised as being
Tamil women. The fact that the Tamil representative is
publicly perceived to be exclusively from within the
LTTE ranks is extremely significant, and has led to much
debate within the women's groups in Sri Lanka. Many
Tamil women who have been working for women's
rights in the different women's movements for many
years were irked that the I.TTL cadres had taken on the
role of sole representative of Tamil women, whilst the
government nominees were all "non-Tamil". According to government sources, the LTTE had objected to all
the Tamil women nominated by the government, which
was what led the government to nominate alternative
"non-Tamil" women. Responding to this composition,
some women were of the view that the government nominees should refuse to serve on the Sub-Committee to
protest against the exclusion of non-L i'TL Tamil women.
They argued that there are non-LTTE Tamil women's
groups which understood the needs of the different civilian communities, as a result of decades of experience in campaigning for rights and peace among civilian populations. A strong lobby, however, felt that the
SCGI could be a voice that carried the demands of the
different women's groups (especially Tamil women's
groups) to the negotiating table, and towards this objective it was justified to make a strategic compromise
on the question of representation. .After all, the Sub-
Committee was the only access that women had to the
peace process so far. Proponents of this view felt that
the five government nominees should be accessible and
transparent to all other groups, and should have a participatory open system of discussing issues to be addressed by the larger sub committee of 10, as well as
feeding back details of the sub committee's discussions
to this larger plural constituency.
Some critics began to feel that the government nominees, who are predominantly from women's rights and
human rights backgrounds, were compromising the
strategic interests of the women's movement as a whole
by being co-opted by the two parties to the conflict This
would undermine protests against issues such as child
recruitment and the intimidation of civil society in the
North and East by the LTTE. However, as one government nominee explained in personal communication
with this writer, they have to tread carefully and negotiate sensitively and innovatively with the other members of the Sub-Committee on how such issues can be
addressed in the future.
The class dimension of the body has also been questioned. As one woman pointed out, at a meeting with
the government nominees, the latter are predominantly
Colombo-based, middle class women and there was no
representation of women who have been living and
working through the conflict. She noted that, at least,
the LTrE nominees were representative of the different
regions within the North and the East of the island.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 The strategic and the practical
It is important for the future of women's activism in Sri
Lanka to examine the nature of the compromises entailed by participation in the SCGI and what benefits
will accrue from it. Is it more important to stick to the
principles of human rights, women's rights, representation and participation, and keep influencing the peace
process from the margins, voicing anger and criticism
against the flaws of the peace process? Or is it more
important to try and move into the small spaces emerging within the peace process even if they are flawed
and circumscribed, to try to expand them? A third option would be to evolve innovative strategies and use
as many mechanisms as possible, both formal and non-
Even as these existential questions of purpose and
method remain pending, there are other more immediate matters to be resolved. An important
challenge for the women in the SCGI is
to put forward a common agenda that
addresses the concerns of all the members. As the feminist scholar Maxine
Molyneaux, speaking in the context of
the movement in Nicaragua and the
problems of mobilising women, points
out, in forging common platforms, tensions quickly emerge between the "strategic gender interests" and the "practical gender interests". Strategic interests
are those concerned with underlying
structural inequities, while practical interests are oriented towards more immediate material conditions. As is evident
from the debates and disputes surrounding the SCGI, women's movements
are never homogeneous. Class, ethnic,
religious, caste and political factors influence the work of the different women's groups. The
issues that are most commonly experienced and real to
most women across these divides are the practical gender interests, such as basic needs and economic needs.
And these interests are the ones on which it is easier for
different women's groups to unite. Accordingly, the
SCGI has, to begin with, put forward very practical demands upon which both major groups within the committee could agree.
As put out at a meeting between the government
nominees and women's groups following the first and
second sittings of the Sub-Committee, the concerns of
priority for the women from the LITE are primarily practical gender interests that stem from the realities of
women who have experienced conflict at close quarters for over 20 years. These primarily involved issues
of relief, health, infrastructure and rehabilitation. However, the LTTE nominees have also raised 'structural'
issues that fall into Molyneaux's category of "strategic
gender interests", such as equal representation of
women in decision-making processes and violence
against women. The government nominees have been
guided bv documents such as the Women's Manifesto
2001 and the Memorandum to the Government the WTE
and the Norwegian Facilitators from Women's Organisations
of Sri Lanka, which present a similar combination of
practical and strategic gender interests, but are often
couched in the language of human rights. The question
remains of how far LTTE members and the women's
rights activists nominated by the government can agree
to raise fundamental structural issues (or strategic gender interests) such as the subordinate power structures
in the communities, violence against women by both
the parties to the conflict, issues of justice and accountability, freedom of speech and political activism of
women. How the tension between these two types of
gender interests will play out remains to be seen.
The recent changes in the peace process are also
significant for the Sub-Committee. The
earlier mechanisms for rehabilitation
and governance established by the
LTTE and the government have been
effectively dissolved. The two parties
are negotiating new proposals for an
interim administration to replace
these. It is still unclear where the SCGI
currently stands in relation to these
new proposals and what role it will
have with regard to a future interim
Given this complex background
and uncertain future, it is crucial that
civil society and women's groups actively lobby with the formal systems.
What the conflict resolution experts
calls 'track-two activism', needs to
play a more prominent role in the peace
process. It was when international lobbies demanded some form of involvement of women in
the peace process, that the two parties hastily put together the SCCI. But, the Sub-Committee is just one
mechanism and it only provides a narrow entry into
the forma] peace process. Non-formal organisations
and groups must innovatively include themselves at
the different levels of the peace process, since there arc
many post-conflict reconstruction concerns that require
the participation of the people of the North and East.
After the war
Very often issues of very great significance for the post-
conflict situation are ignored in the process of building
peace and unless these are addressed with the necessary urgency, the basis for a lasting peace will be undermined. Among the realities that must be considered
is the empowerment of women that occurred during
the conflict—such as taking on public roles within the
communitv or becoming the sole breadwinner of the
home. In the post-conflict phase, there should not be a
sliding back. After the Second World War, women were
Among the realities that must be
considered is the
empowerment of
women that occurred during the
conflict. In the
phase, there
should be no sliding back
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
compelled to leave their employment and to renounce
the new status they had acquired in society during the
war. Most went back to being housewives. Even when
reconstruction and rebuilding of conflict-affected communities is framed within a rights-based framework,
these aspects are still thought of within a patriarchal
ideology due to the absence of women with the requisite consciousness in key decision-making positions.
Even though women have taken on kev roles during
conflict, their contributions are seen to 'accidental', 'unusual' or 'anomalous' and in most cases when peace is
negotiated and implemented, it is assumed that women
would go back to their previous subordinate roles.
The failure to validate women's new roies has much
to do with how women are represented as victims. Scpali
Kottegoda of the Women and Media Collective discusses, in her work Female Headed Households in Situations of Armed Conflict, how the state categorises women
who head their own families as 'vulnerable women' or 'destitute women'
or 'unsupported women', not giving
recognition to their own agency or capacity in their new roles. Therefore, it is
crucial that there are women within influential bodies to give a gender sensitive perspective to designing post-conflict policies, so that hard-earned advances made by women made during
the past two decades are not lost. Noted
South African author, Antjie Krog
emphasises this point with regard to the
post-apartheid experience. She notes
that the African National Congress
(ANC) introduced a quota system for
women to all its decision-making bod-
ies as part of the new South Africa, giving recognition
to the decades of women's political activism against
the apartheid regime. It is because of this policy, says
Krog, that South Africa is one of the countries with relatively high levels of women's representation in parliament. In its own perverse way, conflict opens up the
scope for a greater women's role in the society and
economy. It will be unfortunate, if the peace process
reverses this trend in the pursuit of a return to
Another concept popular in liberal civil society discussions at the present time is that of 'reconciliation'. Some
countries where negotiations have taken place only between the warring parties have opted for a policy of
forgive and forget, as in the case of El Salvador and
Nigeria. Scholars such as Ana Ibancz and Murray Last,
who have analysed these situations, argue that this
policy has not worked as intended. The Nigerian civil
conflict was resolved over three decades ago by 'forgetting' the crimes committed by all the sides. As Last observes, "There was no public judgement on what had
The peace process is largely
inaccessible to
civil society actors and lacks
transparency or
people's participation
been suffered, no reparations, no apology; almost no
one was held to be accountable for what they had done".
Last notes that the subjects of 'hurt' and 'injustice'
were pushed to the 'private' domain, where the process of memory and recovering went on in churches,
town unions and family networks. Similarly, in El Salvador, not only was 'forgetting' imposed on people,
there was also a condoning of the violence that had
taken place. However, as Ibanez notes, even after many
years the memories never died in people's minds. It is,
on the other hand, heartening that in Peru, after many
years, there has finally been an acknowledgement of
the violence and killings that took place in the 1980s,
due to the conflict between the state and the Maoist
group, Sendero Luminoso. The president of Peru accepted the report of the Truth Commission, which had
worked for two years documenting the disappearances
of over 60,000 people and other human rights violations, and made a public pronouncement that the perpetrators would be
It is still not clear what direction the
Sri Lankan peace process will take—
whether like Nigeria and El Salvador,
the parties to the conflict will decide
not to address human rights violations
or whether like Peru, they will be compelled to admit their accountability to
Within Sri Lankan civil society,
the debates around reconciliation
have both applauded and criticised
the South African experience. Peace
movements, religious movements,
~ human rights activists and psychosocial workers have all been examining the need for
processes of reconciliation. For women activists, it
is important to maintain a feminist perspective
within these discussions. The South African experience itself was clearly designed in such a way that
meant many women were unable to approach the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to narrate their own experiences of gender-related violence.
Many of the women who had suffered such violence
were inducted into important government positions
or were prominent businesswomen. Antjie Krog notes
that they had strong public roles and could not talk
about their very private experiences of sexual violence during the apartheid within the framework of
the TRC. According to Sheila Meintjes, the South Africa Commissioner of the Commission on Gender
Equality, who spoke at the conference on Women,
Peace Building and Constitution Making in Colombo
in 2002, out of 21,000 cases presented to the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission only a tiny fraction
were by women with specific accounts of gender-
related violence. Clearly, specific attention needs to
be given to developing sensitive and supportive pro-
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 cesses for hearing women's experiences, so that there
can be a systematic acknowledgment of these violations as well.
It is not only important to push the two parties to
recognise and put into place a system of accountability and justice, it is also vital that these mechanisms are framed within a gendered perspective.
Therefore, it will be important for Sri Lanka's
women's groups to intervene in the design of processes for reconciliation and/or justice in order to
enable women's specific experiences to be
addressed. Women's understandings of issues of
justice, suffering and what they want in terms of setting to rest past violations, have to be further explored and brought into these debates.
The remains of the war
There is evidence that in post-conflict
situations, violence within communities may actually increase compared
to earlier levels. This has been the experience in Bosnia as well as in South
Africa. This violence also takes on a
specifically 'gendered' dimension,
for example in the rise of domestic
violence or sexual assaults (as in the
case of South Africa). In the Sri
Lankan print media, there are increasing links made between violent
crime and army deserters. It is important to recognise the link between decommissioning when it takes place
and the incidences of violence. Then
there are other questions: If an interim
administration in the North and East
were to be solely controlled by the
LTTE, will there be any decommissioning on their
part? Will the systematic assassination of other
Tamil political figures by the LTTE continue? Given
the increasing level of violence in politics, what
space will there be for women to enter the political
arena in the North and East or the rest of the island?
The complexities involved in decommissioning
women militants or soldiers become apparent when
one examines the current process being elaborated
for child soldiers in Sri Lanka. The current debates
have clearly treated child soldiers only as 'victims'
and have been pushing for the (temporary)
institutionalisation of these children within transitional centres. It appears that this process may completely negate their experiences of 'agency' and
power within the movement, although these may be
central to their sense of competence and self. There
is also a potentially devastating stigma that may be
attached to them in terms of both their temporary
institutionalisation and subsequent re-integration
back into society.
It is  possible that a similar disempowering
Women have
been building
peace during
conflict and
continue to do so
as part of their
daily work, whilst
remaining largely
independent of
petty political
process may be in store for women militants. Ana
Ibanez, describing the experiences of women guerrillas in El Salvador, states that for most women, being
decommissioned was a very difficult process. Most
of the men and women in the movement felt most competent in warfare. They were also used to the regimentation of camp life. Decommissioning meant that
they were separated from their fellow cadres. Reunion
with their families was very difficult. The skills of
warfare (such as intelligence work or use of weapons) which had been glorified during the conflict were
looked down upon once these women re-entered
civilian life. Women combatants in Sri Lanka may
face similar challenges of devaluation of competence
and the renegotiation of entirely new roles in a society from which they had been relatively isolated.
     Although the LTTE's female cadres
seem to look forward to a strong role
for women in future political processes, it is yet to be seen whether
they, through the Sub Committee on
Gender Issues or other fora, will be
able to significantly influences the
policies governing decommissioning
of women cadres. Similarly, the fate
of women in the state military apparatus in still unclear.
Women, more than any other constituency in society, are faced with
the difficulties of engaging with an
evolving peace process that consists
of structures and mechanisms that
have been pre-designed by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.
In the Sri Lankan case, the peace process is largely inaccessible to civil
society actors and lacks transparency or people's participation. The final peace deal is likely to be negotiated between the two most serious violators of human rights in the conflict. However, even though
women have been engaging with a peace process that
has fundamental limitations, this has not stopped
women's activisms outside the peace process. The
lobbying of international donors, political actors and
other community leaders continues. The strongest
contribution the women's movements have made for
peace so far has been the links built across ethnic,
caste, class and political divides. Women have been
building peace during conflict and continue to do so
as part of their daily work, whilst remaining largely
independent of petty political manoeuvrings. However, the real challenge facing women activists is to
find ways of exerting pressure on the government of
Sri Lanka and the LTTE to incorporate their perspectives in forging a just peace - which is one that respects women's rights. t>
(This paper was originally presented at the Peace Studies
Programme of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights)
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Collapse of the
neo-liberal consensus
by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Conciliation and cooperation are the catchphras
es of the liberal world. However, only a short
time ago (even if it now seems like a long time
ago), Western civilisation was busy imploding. It was
only after the Second World War that the Western powers decided to spend more time sharing the spoils rather than fighting over them. Keep in mind that it is Europeans who have been responsible for the most number
of deaths through organised combat through recorded
human history, and have been piling up the dead for
centuries. It just so happens that the new form of global
domination that has been established by the United
States has managed to avoid most traditional warfare altogether (on its own soil
the record is blotched up by that
wretched new enemy, terrorism).
The development of finance has
also radically altered the struggle for
control over the means of production.
While many actions of the empire are
still in the form of direct swoops for
physical resources, there are now signifi
cantly different considerations for the metropolitan capitalist core as compared to even 50 years
ago. For a while there was even talk of the new "knowledge-based economy". However, the crash of the virtual economy in the United States two years ago put
paid to the delusions that money can continue to be
minted in thin air. Even so, the coming to age of financial capitalism has brought a whole new set of 'values'
and corporate 'cultures' to the fore.
In any case, it would appear that the so-called liberal values have started to become as global as capitalism itself. In the 1990s, supposedly ingenious new
means of attacking poverty were devised, including
many of the component practices of community development approaches, based on the notion that poverty
and exploitation should not be discussed in the same
breath. Rather than go on about how poor people are
victims of the prevailing set of social and economic relations, why not directly address poverty through partnership and compassion?
In actuality, the public relations effort of imperialism, as has always been the case, focuses on distracting from the crux of the matter. In other words, let us
forget that thousands of Iraqis have been killed and
maimed as a direct consequence of the US invasion,
and instead let us talk about freedom, democracy, and
importantly for the capitalist in us, reconstruction. The
imperial effort culminates in the glorious fact that certain norms and values start to permeate what can loosely
be termed culture. The question that sticks out like a
sore thumb for the ideologues of capitalism as well as
for those of us who resist is: Are these values and norms
starting to displace previously existing norms and values in the form of a new global consciousness? Or have
these norms and values always prevailed and the only
difference now is by matter of degree?
Ever since Woodrow Wilson, American statesmen have done their best to
depict themselves as humanists.
Through the Cold War, it was not
possible for the liberal perspective
to gain worldwide "acceptance" ais
it were, because of the existence of
another worldview, tind with it another set of values and norms that
were also constructed to be all-encompassing. Marxism in its very basic form
propagates the notion that human history is
characterised by class conflicts, and that the struggle of
oppressed classes against the ruling classes is what
has been, and will continue to be, the reclamation of
humanity. Naturally this view of the world is almost
diametrically opposed to that which proposes microcredit schemes as a viable means of addressing the root
causes of poverty without any mention of power and
And so, the existence of the Marxist antithesis to
liberal capitalism ensured that, if nothing else, the values and norms proposed by the West remained only
one sot of values and norms among many, and not the
only set of norms and values that would seem to have
some kind of mass acceptability. Be that as it may, the
liberal tradition in many parts of the Western world,
and in particular in the United States, is quite deeply
rooted. In Europe, liberalism is generally equated with
a set of values and norms that is somewhat outdated,
and seen as tending toward the right. Indeed, it must be
postulated that the European welfare state that developed over the past century was a direct result of the fact
that the Marxist discourse claimed a place on the main
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 dHiE kmmm
cs. Hav-
Is the
ight across the world after
the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe included.
tV Nevertheless, the distinction
between Europe and the United
States remains, and this explains in large part the strong
protests against US (and UK) foreign policy across the
European continent in recent times. Regardless of
whether there is or there is not a genuine political impetus behind these protests in Europe (and indeed in
many other parts of the world even if on a smaller scale),
the world has seen the maturing of a process of rejection of liberal values and norms—in short the liberal
consensus—over the past few months. This tide
emerged some years ago during the protests against
the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in
Seattle and it has continued to manifest
itself at various meets and celebrations
of the global elite ever since. September
11 provided the impetus for a newer
and fresher regurgitation of liberal
rhetoric by the empire, even though this
'liberalism' resembles fascism more
than anything else. However, George W
Bush's ranting and raving about hunting down those who "hate freedom"
has probably done the imperialist cause
more harm than good, with quite serious questions of credibility of political
leadership emerging in the US and UK.
It is true that the 'liberal' perspective now dominates the political mainstream. One need only observe that the
vast majority of governments around
the world have adopted the Bush-ian	
anti-terror doctrine to confirm this fact.
Nonetheless, much like the manner in which capitalism has taken on a truly global character over the past
decade and a half, even as it excludes greater numbers
of people, so too the liberal discourse is universally accepted though only at the level of the ruling classes.
Within the majority of working class and even white-
collar populations around the world, the liberal language of Bush & Co. is losing ground. This might lead
one to believe that a new counter-hegemony is emerging, at the local, national, regional and global levels.
Sadly, this cannot be claimed with any degree of
seriousness. A genuine counter-hegemony must be
based on what the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci
called "active consent" of the population, so that its
values are exercised in all realms of social relations. As
has been hypothesised by manv scholars, the prevailing feature of social relations at present is the universality of consumption. Consumption of common goods
and services throughout the world lends itself to a "cul-
Neo-liberal economics now
dominates the
discourse in most
of the periphery,
facilitating the
capture of resources and markets in these
countries by multinational capital
tural" hegemony that is unprecedented in human history. Whether it is music, food, sport, and most significantly politics, there is a tendency towards convergence
in the values and preferences of the global consumer
that cannot be understated. It is the uniformity of consumption patterns that thwart any chance of the moral
indignation against the liberal banter of Bush and his
cronies metamorphosising into the political force that
it could so easily become.
The political liberalism that is being propagated by
the ruling junta in the capitalist core is being superseded by a cultural liberalism that is reflected in the
globalisation of consumerism. Naturallv, these consumption patterns, and the accompanying development
of complementary value systems, are founded upon the
expansion of multinational capital. What has come to
be commonly termed neo-liberal economics now dominates the policymaking discourse in most of the pe-
i. mil  riphery, facilitating the capture of resources and markets in these countries
by multinational capital. In the absence
of the necessary economic mechanisms
to permit the free flow of consumer values throughout the world, it would be
impossible to conceive of what is propagated as the epitome of liberal consciousness—the global village. However, this global village faces one basic
contradiction: while trade and financial
liberalisation have permitted any and
every form of capital to rush to the periphery, the workers of the world are not
given free entry and access, and therefore cannot partake in the pickings.
The World Trade Organisation
(WTO) has been touted as the success
story of the post-Cold War "free" world,
  a world in which all nations of the world
can share in the fruits of technological
advancement. As with all of the other liberal fictions
that make up global capitalism's ideology, the WTO too
seeks only to reinforce the inequities of the neo-colonial
regime. Along with the development finance institutions, the WTO is moulding the global economy to suit
the needs of multinational capital and to paralyse meaningful political resistance to the neo-colonial system.
But there is, in fact, quite a bit of resistance. The effort to
derail the WTO has succeeded in creating Cancun. However, there is,at the same time, an acute need to understand that as the global economy becomes more and
more intertwined, simply maintaining the consumption patterns of the present will preclude any serious
challenge to capitalism. As the pre-eminent revolutionaries of the twentieth century pointed out so insightfully,
there must be a direct economic challenge to imperialism, potentially at its weakest link, for it to be
challenged .
The cultural-economic-political foundations of the
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
global system are difficult to distinguish
in each of their separate manifestations.
There is a need, however, to distinguish
between the conflicting roles and consciousness of working people as working people, and working people as consumers. It is only when working people
recognise themselves first as working
people, and then as consumers, and then
embark on the difficult task of
organising themselves as working
people to be able to improve their lot, both
as workers and as consumers, that the
system's contradictions will be fatally
ency has nothing to lose but its chains
because it has, as yet, not been fully engulfed by the consumer tidal wave that
has blanketed the rest of the world. As
the compulsions of over-production
push the capitalist core toward those
markets that it has not yet captured, there
will be direct attacks on the resources of
the people of the periphery. Therefore, it
can and should be expected that
Gramscian counter-hegemony will develop, as cultural resistance to consumerism takes on distinct political form in
countries like those of South Asia. In
exposed. As such, the requisite political   Antonio Gramsci, the philosopher   some cases, there is greater resistance,
impetus may well be lacking for such a   SL counter-hegemony. __             ancj m others, like Pakistan, unfortu-
process to evolve at present. This question must be
asked, debated, and then finally answered by those committed to resisting imperialism within the core countries themselves.
What is more likely is that the working people of the
periphery, and especially those that are found in rural
areas, will face more and more acute forms of oppression in coming times, and that this will lead to greater
and more unified instances of resistance. This constitu-
nately, there is less. However, it is the sum total of the
resistance in all parts of the world that will lead to a
weakening of the global financial elite and to more instances such as those that found "old" Europe and the
United States divided over the invasion of Iraq. If we
make sure that there is that much less to go around, the
age-old alliance of the elite will start to crumble. And
then the conciliation and cooperation farce will be
exposed for what it really is. £>
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HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 Hindutva's Hoax
Taking on the postcolonial postmodernists
and reinstating the Enlightenment
In recent times, there have been
very few intellectual voices from
among the English-using sections
of India with the commitment and
s of secularism in India seem to invest faith in 'good Hinduism' and
its 'plurality' and seem content to
direct their critical energies against
Hindutva, refusing to see the fundamental links between the former
and the latter. But the very rise of
aggressive political Hindutva, since
the 1980s, owes to the shallow secularism which refused to formulate
a strong critique of Hinduism—in
its Brahminical and non-Brahmin-
ical variations—but instead sponsored the practice of upholding various mutations of Hinduism in the
public sphere. Under the guise of
equal respect for all religions and
cultural practices, the Indian state
and society have openly indulged
in and encouraged the celebration
and prioritisation of Hindu rituals
in public institutions, and the sad
part is both secular (left-liberal) and
anti-secular anti-Hindutva (broadly the 'Ashis Nandy camp') voices
have not been disturbed by this. The
crimes of public intellectuals have
found an echo in the pursuits of
their academic kin. Few university-
bound academicians in India have
been angered by the injustices they
are surrounded by.
In such an overall context, Meera
Nanda's Breaking the Spell of Dharma is a passionate plea for secularising India. Though presented as
a collection of essays, the book has
the tone and character of a manifesto. As the title of the lead essay indicates, it is an attempt at "breaking
the spell of dharma". She states in
the introduction: "This book is a
plea for serious and critical engagement with India's dominant religious tradition—Hinduism". What
is refreshing and reassuring about
Nanda's approach is that she locates the resources for this battle
against Hindu dharma and I lindut-
va in Ihimrao Ambedkar's ideas
and the alternatives posited by the
Dalit movement. But first, we need
to come to terms with how Meera
Nanda {who, after completing a PhD
in molecular biology at the Indian
Institute of Technology, Delhi,
worked with popular science movements and as a science reporter for
Breaking the Spell of
Dharma and Other Essays
By Meera Nanda
Paperback 81-88394-09-2 Rs.160 (Iridia) £18.00
Hardcover 81-8839-1-08-4 Rs.350 (India) $2700
Three Essays Collective. New Delhi
reviewed by Siriyavan Anand
The Indian Express, and then went
on to acquire ancither doctorate in
the philosophy of science) views the
construction of modern Brahminical Hinduism during the British
colonial period.
Anti-colonial nationalist fervour, in the context of the attempt
by the British to introduce a modern scientific discourse, resulted in
a Hindu-nationalist reading of scientific reason in Hindu metaphysical terms. Nanda identifies as neo-
Hindus a range of players from Ram
Mohan Roy to Vivekananda, Au-
robindo to Radhakrishnan, Nehru
to Gandhi, and argues that they saw
the naturalism and scepticism of
modern science to be already
present in vedic literature, or as being secondary to "the ultimate spiritual truths of Vedanta". In such a
context, "the only consistent and
uncompromising voices of a rational re-examination of the core values of Hindu metaphysics came
from Dalit and Shudra intellectuals,
including above all, Ambedkar,
Phule and Periyar. The work of Pn-
lightenment that was shouldered bv
the bourgeoisie in the West, fell
upon the most oppressed and powerless sections of the India proletariat". And she castigates the Indian
mainstream left—sparing only MN
Roy and DD Kosambi—for not ever
seriously engaging with religious
questions and taking up the cause
of Hindu reformation and enlightenment. Given that the Indian intellectual classes, dominated by Brahmins and divija (upper or twice-
born) castes, have never seriously
engaged with the ideas of Ambedkar or other Dalit and Shudra intellectuals, the pressure on secularisation was never substantive or serious,
Nanda is not content with critiquing the obviously-Hindutva
voices. She takes to task an internationally influential group she broadly categorises as "anti-Enlightenment/ postmodern", whose indi-
genism, celebration and romantici-
sation of "alternative sciences and
alternative modernities", makes
them no less dangerous in real terms
than Hindutva nationalists who
valorise "vedic sciences and authentic modernity". At various
points across the essays, Nanda
expresses her philosophical irritation with a range of intellectuals.
Gayatri Spivak, Partha Chatterjee,
Dipesh Chakravarty, Ashis Nandy,
Vandana Shiva and Claude Alvares,
who are labelled "reactionary modernists" for seeking to model alternatives on "innocent", "genuinely
archaic", "supposedly subaltern
modes of living and knowing".
Ihis, for the author, amounts to
"epistemic charity" or "epistemic
populism", while in actual fact
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
these local knowledges could be
"patently irrational, obscurantist
and downright oppressive" to the
very subalterns these intellectuals
claim to speak on behalf of.
Seeing herself working in times
when the designation "... 'rationalist' has become one of the worst insults that can be thrown at an intellectual", Nanda is deeply sceptical
of the postcolonial postmodernists
who, in turn, are sceptical of Western intellectual legacies. She considers it irresponsible to simplistically
relate the political-economic aspects
of the legacy of colonialism with the
epistemological baggage of the West
and reject outright modern science
and materialism. "It would be a
mistake to reduce the Enlightenment
to an ideology of capitalism and imperialism alone".
Nanda vs Nandy
The first essay, "Dharma and the
Bomb", examines how the packaging of the nuclear bomb in the idiom of dharma is made possible by
the postmodernist-Gandhian-eco-
feminist alliance—which sniggers
at the grand narrative of modern
science— facilitating the advent
and entrenchment of the reactionary modernism of "Hindu Science".
She argues that the postmodern and
postcolonial denigration of modern
science—in a context where we witness an excess of technological modernism from bombs to dams, but not
the concomitant benefits of secularisation and liberalism—"has provided the philosophical grounds
for Hindu science". Mapping the
common ground that postmodern
and Hindutva/rightwing critiques
of modernity (and Western science)
share, she calls for an Ambedkarite
rejection of "traditional India"
founded on the basis of "integral
humanism" (the philosophy of
Deendayal Upadhyay, one of the
early champions of Hindutva and
ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayam
Sewak Sangh and the Bharatiya
Jana Sangh).
The postmodernist and indi-
genist disregard for the dualism
(separation of the realms of matter
and spirit, nature and culture) of
modern science leads them towards
an affirmation of the holism of the
Hindu worldview, where "the distinctions between human beings are
justified by distinctions in the very
order of nature". This translates into
the inequalities between human beings being naturalised. In other
words, the caste system, the var-
nashramadharrna, is seen as an extension of the hierarchies that obtain in the natural world since the
doctrine of dharma and karma, central to Hinduism, depends on a "unified understanding of nature and
culture". As Nanda points out, "holism lies at the very heart of gender
and  caste hierarchy  in India".
Castes, genders, animals, plants,
and inanimate objects occupy different positions in the karmic chain
of being in a non-dualistic interconnected world where the social order, and the oppression therein, are
naturalised. And Hindu metaphysics "rationalizes injustices and misfortunes as the natural consequence
of the working law of nature". This
hoax, according to Nanda, is best
understood by the Dalits and Shudras (not women?) who have been
"the staunchest supporters of Enlightenment in India", what with
Ambedkar's constant reference to
the ideals of the French Revolution—
"Liberty, Equality and Fraternity".
In doing this, Nanda turns on
the head what Gandhian postcolonial scholars, led by Ashis Nandy,
and feminists such as Sandra Harding have been arguing. For them,
modern, Eurocentric, patriarchal
science is actually an instrument of
oppression and violence on colonised 'victims'. Nandy argues that
it is "the basic model of domination
of our times". From this perspective,
modern science has ceased to be a
source of orgainsed scepticism
against dogma, but is the new dogma which needs to be radically scrutinised. This perhaps explains why
the postmodernist, postcolonial,
Gandhian, ecofeminist critics of Indian origin have refused to engage
with the ideas espoused by Bhim-
rao Ambedkar, Jotiba Phule or Peri
yar Ramasamy and have maintained a deliberate silence on their
distinctly positive attitude to colonial modernity, modern science and
the values of European-style Enlightenment.
Even after the adoption of the
Mandal Commission's recommendations in 1990 brought the issue of
caste out of the upper middle class
closet, even after right-wingers such
as Arun Shourie wrote of Ambedkar as a pro-British colonialist who
did not engage with the "independence movement", and even after
the works of Ambedkar became belatedly accessible following his
birth centenary celebrations in 1990,
the broadly left-liberal (non-Dalit)
intelligentsia in the country refused
to engage with this scholar-intellectual-activist who was, by far, the
only pan-Indian radical-progressive
figure of the pre-Independence period. The few recent engagements
with Ambedkar or the views of
other Dalits that have happened
among Indian academics—notably
Gauri Viswanathan's Outside the
Fold (1998) and Aditya Nigam's
essay on what he chose to interpret
as the Dalit critique of modernity
("Secularism, Modernity, Nation:
Epistemology of the Dalit Critique",
Economic and Political Weekly, 25
November, 2000,)—have indeed
cleverly read Ambedkar and the
larger contemporary Dalit position
into the postmodernist-Gandhian
perspective. (Admittedly, in Nigam's case, Dalit writings are read
against the grain). More surprisingly, a 21-year-old project that calls
itself Subaltern Studies is yet to admit a single Dalit into its charmed
circle of bhadralok researchers. This
calls to mind the structure of Mohandas Gandhi's Harijan Sevak
Sangh, where guilty caste Hindus
were supposed to work for the 'uplift' of 'untouchables', and there
would be no role for Dalits.
Who is Dewey?
It is in this context that Nanda—
who identifies her coordinates as a
liberal humanist of mid-middle
class, upper caste Punjabi Hindu
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
origins—resurrects Ambedkar, the
protagonist of her second essay "A
Broken People Defend Science", For,
it is Ambedkar who led the rebellion in India against the holistic
Hindu universe and turned to the
"'reductionist', 'masculine' and 'violent' sciences of the West for help".
But in the process of resurrecting
Ambedkar, Nanda chooses to read
him through the eyes of John Dewey, whose name surfaces in the odd
footnote in some of Ambedkar's
works and was one of his teachers
at Columbia University in New
York. Nanda casts Dewey in the role
of Ambedkar's 'guru' and goes on
to argue that Ambedkar read into
the Buddha what he imbibed from
Dewey, namely, a progressive, anti-
metaphysical, naturalistic view of
science. Nanda's essay hereon is littered with expressions such as
"Ambedkar's Deweyan scientific
temper", "Deweyan Buddha",
"bears the stamp of Deweyan thinking", "Dewey's presence is most
palpable", "like his hero John Dewey", and "seamless blending of
Dewey and tha? Buddha". She recalls Savita Ambedkar's anecdotal
reference, quoted by the scholar of
the Dalit movement, Eleanor Zel-
liott, that her husband even imitated Dewey's classroom's mannerisms 30 years after he sat in those
classes. Is it necessary to affirm, in
the mythic-puranic tradition, such
lore as knowledge? Does Nanda
have to go the extra Freudian dis-
taince in search of an intellectual father figure for Ambedkar?
Thousands of Indians have read
Ambedkar, in English and in translation, and understood the core of
his philosophical concerns against
Hindu dharma and his investment
of faith in a rationalistic neo-Bud-
dhism without having had to be told
of his indebtedness to Dewey, one
of America's foremost public intellectuals of his time, besides being
one of Ambedkar's several teachers
at Columbia. Also, Ambedkar and
Dewey, Nanda admits, never had
any direct communication. Dewey
died only in 1952 at the age of 92, by
when Ambedkar had written and
published a great deal of his work,
except The Buddha and His Dhamma.
However, we do not see Ambedkar
sharing his work with Dewey—
who was intellectually active even
in his old age—nor any exchanges
between the two. (In personal conversation, Meera Nanda stood by
her reading of Dewey into Ambedkar.) However, while exploring at
such length the Ambedkar-Dewey
connection, it is surprising that
Nanda does not mention KN Kad-
am who perhaps was the first author to deal with Dewey's influence
on Ambedkar at length (The Meaning of the Ambedkarite Conversion to
Buddhism and Other Essays, 1997).
Ambedkar took seriously Buddha's dictum not to treat anything as infallible and
eternal and applied it
right back to the
Buddha's own teaching to create a new
Buddhism that rejected the ideas of
karma and rebirth
She also does not refer to the
scholar of Buddhism, Christopher
Queen's work, Engaged Buddhism:
Buddhist Liberation Movements in
Asia (1996), where he explores the
Dewey-Ambedkar connections,
It is not as if Dewey did not influence Ambedkar. Ambedkar did
tell the New York Times in 19.32 that
"the best friends 1 have had in my
life were some of my classmates at
Columbia and my great professors,
John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin
Seligman and James Harvey Robinson". What is disconcerting is Nanda's attempt to attribute all of
Ambedkar's insights into Buddhism
to Dewey. Her enthusiasm in driving home the Ambedkar-Dewey
linkages could also be a strategic
ploy to (belatedlv) pitchfork Ambedkar into the international intellectual arena, a ploy to attract Western
academic attention towards Ambedkar. But for an Ambedkarite in
India who has read Ambedkar in
the context of Indian thinkers, such
a long-winded and patently digressive reading of his intellectual legacy is disturbing. One is not making
a case here for Ambedkar's "originality". It is not as if he was not influenced by what he read, and he
read widely. Not only does Nanda
seem to be stretching a little thread
too far, she would not have lost
much in considering Ambedkar's
turn to Buddhism and his critique
of Hinduism on their own terms.
Nanda falters again in introducing Ambedkar as "the most influential Dalit intellectual of the 20th
century". She does what most non-
Dalits do, which is to label Ambedkar a purely Dalit intellectual. (This
should perhaps be a reason for Nanda to reconsider her wholesale dismissal of identity politics of all
kinds). This is exactly how the entire 'nationalist' political class of
Ambedkar's time, and non-Dalit
intellectuals of the post-1947 period, looked at Ambedkar. To some,
he was in fact merely a 'Mahar leader'. Most recently, in his much-celebrated book, The Idea of India, Sunil
Khilnani refers to Ambedkar as
"the formidable leader of India's
'untouchables'". But never do we
see Gandhi being referred to as the
foremost Gujarati Baniya leader
(though the construction of his
worldwide fame rests on a Vaishya
subcaste tag - 'Gandhi'), or Nehru
as a leader of the Kashmiri Brahmins, though both of them exhibited unabashed clannishness. (Given this tendency, it comes as a pleasant and welcome surprise that
Queen refers to Ambedkar as "the
Indian civil rights leader".)
It is indeed true that on the issue
of conversion and sometimes in his
field activism, Ambedkar addressed
himself only to Maharashtrian Dalits, sometimes specifically Mahars.
But otherwise his intellectual energies since the Columbia days had
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
been directed at seeking a solution
to the issues that concerned the nation at large. Starting with Castes in
India in 1916 when Ambedkar was
just 25, to Annihilation of Caste, or
his attempts at writing the historv
of the Shudras and 'untouchables'
and at re-reading ancient Indian
history as a battle between Brahmins and Kshatriyas at one time and
between Brahmins and Buddhists
at another, the legislation-related
work on the Hindu Code Bill and
the Constitution, to his work on the
issue of rivers and water (which has
been studied by Professor SK Thorat of jawaharlal Nehru University),
his work on economics (studied by
the economists S Ambirajan and
Narendra Jadhav, currently head of
the Reserve Bank of India's economic research wing), or his reflections
on the idea of linguistic states or the
question of Partition, Ambedkar's
oeuvre reflects the wide-ranging
concerns he had and the different
roles he played.
Dewey's Yankee shadow and
the casual reference to Ambedkar's
location notwithstanding, Nanda
offers a brilliant reading of Ambedkar's approach to Hinduism. After
charting his disgust and disillusionment with Hindus and Hinduism,
Nanda examines why the religious
question of Buddhism that Ambedkar dwelt upon is central to her concerns of science and scientific temper in social life. Juxtaposing a reading of Annihilation of Caste and The
Buddha and His Dhainma, Nanda argues that Ambedkar took seriously
Buddha's dictum not to treat anything as infallible and eternal and
applied it right back to the Buddha's
own teaching to create a new Buddhism that rejected the ideas of karma and rebirth. Ambedkar merely
updates the Buddha and presents
prajna (understanding) as the central theme, as opposed to superstition, Brahminic naturalism and su-
pernaturalism. "Ambedkar's Buddha was reason and scientific method sacralized".
The Satnpata Brahmina claimed
that "God loves the mystic", d^gainst
this, Butldhism and the l.okavata
school of philosophy insisted on a
separation of the social and the natural. But Brahminism ridiculed and
eventually suppressed the anti-metaphysical worldviews that challenged
it. It is this anti-metaphysi'al bent
that inspired ,Ambedkar an which
Nanda tries to hitch with Xb ,-weyan
pragmatism to attack both Hin-
dutvawadis and postmodermsts. For
her, "Ambedkar's Buddhism contains the seeds of Indian Reformation and Enlightenment rolled into
one", and she concludes that "modern science is the standpoint of the
Experience and identity
Nanda also finds useful the Ambedkarite Buddha's position on "experience" as a source and category of
knowledge. Expressing her discomfort with the valorisation of "experience" in identity politics and feminist epistemology, she points out
that despite his love for his long-
suffering community, nowhere does
Ambedkar romanticise the experience of untouchability as "a source
of superior knowledge". She also
seems to have in mind the work of
the "Shudra" intellectual Kancha
Ilaiah (Why I am Not a Hindu, 1996)
where he claims commonality with
the feminist use of experience as a
source of constructing an alternative knowledge-base. She chastises
Ilaiah for his celebratory approach
to Dalit religiosity and his claim that
among the oppressed, Dalit-Bahu-
jans' internal patriarchy is, in turn,
relatively more benign. For Nanda,
experience of oppression alone—be
it Third Worldist, woman's, Dalit's
or black's—cannot enable better
knowledge. All knowledge, she argues, has to be validated bv reason
and rationality. If anti-Sanskritic
Dalit religiosity is steeped in irrationality and unreason, and merely
appears to be relatively democratic
in its spiritualism, compared to
Brahminic religiosity, one cannot
continue to suffer it or posit it as an
alternative to the hegemonic variant
of oppression.
The author illustrates her point
with the self-limiting worldview of
Viramma, an unlettered Tamil Dalit
woman, who ascribes the loss of her
milk while nursing a baby to the
'crime' of having listened to prayers
of 'upper-caste' gods at her master's
house. (Viramma's life has been the
subject of an auto-ethnographic
work rendered by Josiane Racine
and Jean-Luc Racine as Viramma:
Life of a Dalit, 1995.) True liberation,
in Nanda's framework, lies only in
moving towards the universal-rational, and the sources for this universally testable knowledge can come
from anywhere in the world—from
the European Enlightenment to
neo-Bueldhism. Even as she heralds
Dalits at one point as "the agents of
the bourgeois revolution" she is
also quick to warn that, "If dalits
are to serve as the agents of reason
and Enlightenment in Indian society, they will have to accept that reason will expel their own gods, as
well as the gods of the twice-borns
[sic], from social life". This lesson
she draws, she savs, from Buddha.
"Buddha encourages his followers
not to treat even their own experience as infallible and exempt from
However, Nanda must also be
willing to acknowledge the role that
the experience of oppression plays
in acquiring a perspective against
an unjust social order. In her zeal to
dismount what the postmodernists
and feminists elevate as a source of
knowledge (not necessarily 'superior knowledge'), Nanda tends to set
aside the value of experience without reckoning with how her own
hero—Ambedkar—would have
gained insights from an experience
she herself probably did not have
because of the accident of her birth
as a non-Dalit. The role of d^ttbed-
kar's experiences as an untouchable
was perhaps central to his prajna
(understanding) and his radical
Buddhism. The stakes that an oppressed person brings to bear on his
or her understanding of injustice
and discrimination are crucial, lt is
for this reason that Ambedkar's investment of faith in the values of
Enlightenment and Buddhism have
a different moral value and intellec-
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 tual resonance than a similar investment from a white American male
like John Dewey. It is a matter of
some curiosity as to what Dewey's
position on issues of racial discrimination in the New York of early
20th century was and how the
blacks view/viewed him.
Nanda could have tried to dig
up something on the influence the
African-American situation would
have had on Ambedkar. Given that
Ambedkar lived on the edge of Harlem while attending Columbia University, and his writings feature several comparisons of India's Dalits
and American blacks, this is a connection that would have been worth
exploring. For instance, according
to Jabbar Patel, the filmmaker who
made the biopic Dr Babadasheb
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.
Clearly, Ambedkar would have related as much to the experience of
the oppression of the blacks, and
learnt from them, as he did to the
abstract intellectuality of Dewey. As
Patel said in an interview: "He must
[have been] be walking through
Harlem. So many dramatic things
must have happened to him".
in her keenness to flush the bath
water of postmodernism, Nanda
seems indifferent to the prospect of
throwing the baby of experience
with it. She elides the fact that postmodernism and the academic tendencies that mushroomed around
this core, tended to emphasis different ways of arriving at knowledge.
True, this tendency sometimes led
to a vulgarly patronising intellectual tolerance towards, and even celebration of, inherently oppressive
traditions merely because they belonged to the oppressed people—
what Nanda terms "epistemic charity". However, that is not the whole
story. The focus of postmodern concerns was on 'difference' and not
so much on intuiting to 'superior
knowledge' merely because one was
non-Western, woman or black. And
it is because Ambedkar had a different experience—as a Dalit—that
he propounded a Buddhism that
eschewed conventional Buddhisms
(Hinayana, Vlahayana, Theravada,
Vajrayana) and called it "Navaya-
na Buddhism, literally the "new
Experience in itself need not become knowledge, but certain experiences certainly can lead some people to i ertain knowledges. And to
arrive zt what might be morally and
ethically right knowledge (say,
Ambedkarite Buddhism) can sometimes take a long and tortuous route
in identity and representational
politics that liberal democracy entails. This can be seen in the case of
Dalits in india today engaging even
A 21 -year-old project
that calls itself Subaltern Studies is yet to
admit a single Dalit
into its charmed
circle of bhadralok
with Hindutva in order to wrest
'power'. And such power in a liberal democracy—even in the context
of a mutated modernity as in India—
being a 'modernist' category that a
postmodern intellectual like Michel Foucauit best understood, what
do we do with Nanda's wholesale
dismissal of the postmodernist critiques (though she does not mention
Foucauit in her work)? Should we,
and Meera Nanda, join the progressive leftists and the upper middle
class, and merely chastise a section
of Dalits for such 'wrong strategies'? How can such Dalits be the
agents of a "rationalist bourgeois
revolution" that Nanda wants them
to lead? Does the experience of remaining powerless for hundreds of
years make Dalits sick and tired of
the endless wait and force them to
evolve short-term strategies to take
what comes their way, setting aside
the idealistic, but practically unrewarding, attractions of radical Buddhism even if it was pioneered by
Ambed kar? These are not easy questions to answer and they will remain
with us till non-Dalits are willing
to do something about themselves.
Instant branding
Nanda tends to use labels rather casually, as when Vandana Shiva,
Claude Alvares, Madhu Kishwar
and   Sundar  Lai   Bahuguna  are
bunched together as "left wing indigenists". Nanda also succumbs to
another tendency among (non-
Dalit) academics and intellectuals
engaging with the Dalit movement
for the first time. This is the formulaic utterance of the names Phule-
Ambedkar-Periyar in one breath
(this reviewer too was at one point
a party to this crime)—proudly positing a counter to the mainstream
nationalist Tilak-Gandhi-Nehru
trio. Most are unlikely to have really read Periyar since he is unavailable in English. At a time when
some Tamil-Dalit critics of Periyar
are alerting us to his problematic
perspective on Dalits, it would be
advisable to tread with caution on
what one has not read and refrain
from depending on selective paraphrasing and hearsay. Jotiba Phule
was of course made available in
English only recently. What is also
crucially missing in a book that
looks up to Buddhism is the absence
of any reference to Pandit lyothee
Thass, a Tamil Dalit-Buddhist intellectual-activist of the late nineteenth century, who played a key
role in reviving Buddhism and reclaiming it as the religion of Dalits.
This omission is all the more striking since the scholar G Aloysius
has made available lyothee Thass'
ideas to the English reader (Religion
as Emancipatory Identity: A Buddhist
Movement among the Tamils under Colonialism, 1998).  Besides Thass,
Nanda's project would have benefited immensely had she read Lakshmi Narasu, another Buddhist
from Tamil Nadu (a non-Dalit),
whose fusing of select precepts of
Buddhism with the values of the
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
Enlightenment in the early twentieth century made him a forerunner
of Ambedkarite Buddhism. In fact,
Ambedkar was familiar with Nara-
su's important work, The Essence of
Buddhism, first published in 1907,
in Colombo. He even wrote a foreword to the third edition of this book
in 1948, issued by Thacker & Co.
which published most of Ambedkar's works in his lifetime. Ambedkar perhaps drew more from Nara-
su than he did from Dewey.
A few words about the readability of the work. Nanda writes with
the passion and commitment of an
activist rarely seen among scholars.
However, the book abounds in casual use of language and a tone that
gets too shrill at points, which at
least the copy editor should have
been alert to. Most unforgivable is
the insensitive use of the word 'pariah' as a category in a book that is
otherwise full of moral outrage
against casteism. At several points
Nanda does not substantiate her
claims with examples. While discussing identitarian politics and
feminism vis-a-vis Dalits, she misi-
dentifies V Gcetha as a Dalit scholar. Geetha is in fact a born-Brahmin
who is a keen observer of the Dalit
movement among other things. She
also mistakes Sharmila Rege to be a
Dalit. Nanda's arguments, given
that they are drawn on the moral
ground of citing 'Dalit feminists',
lose their weight since she infers
Dalitness wrongly. For someone
who regards science so highly, such
lack of rigour in basing her conclusions on faulty premises is puzzling. In such a context her regular
recourse to italics (sometimes three
sentences long) to draw attention is
not only distracting, but also makes
you wonder if lack of rigour can be
made up for with intensity of feelings.
In the final analysis, despite the
polemical charge of her work and
its manifesto-like quality, Nanda is
not clear about what needs to be
done. Why does she stop short of
espousing that we move towards
practising radical Buddhism—if not
with the entrapment^ of organised
religion, at least as a political position? Instead of treading on Ambedkar's path, she seems to want to 'secularise Hinduism'. On several occasions in the book she regrets the
fact that there was no true Hindu
Reformation and calls for one. But
given her sharp understanding of
the religion, it is wishful thinking
to hope for the kind of reform she
wants within Hinduism. Ambedkar
did initially talk the language of reform—as did others in their own
limited ways—but he had in the end
to move away from Hinduism. How
then should we go about the reformation? What can be done? Can the
Gita and the vedas be rewritten? By
whom? We will be told they were
never written and pre-existed writing and were passed on orally. Does
not vedic religion claim permanence, immutability? And if Hinduism does purge itself of caste,
Brahminism and its metaphysical
bent, then it will no longer remain
(I thank Ravikumar for sharing some
of his views on the book with me.)
The contemporary
politics of ancient history
How 'Indian' were the vedic people, and why
does it matter so much?
The search for origins lies at the
heart of many current debates.
In India, claims and counter-claims
about nativeness have come to symbolise major political faultlines and
the histories of peoples have been
subjected to intensified scrutiny.
Gradually, such historical probin-
gs have been extended further into
the past, to the extent that the prehistory of the major South Asian
population groups is now inextricably intertwined with the political
status of current communities.
Amidst concerns for demonstrating
enduring historicity and asserting
age-old claims to belonging, the
word 'vedic' has acquired an ever
more talismanic status.
Writing in English on Vedic traditions used to be a dusty corner of
textual scholarship peopled by
some of the more obscurantist Orientalists and characterised by debates that could hardly be translated into a popular format. Now, however, vedic studies has been reinvented and reinvigorated as a field
Their History and Geography
Rajesh Kochhar
Orient Longman, Hyderabad
2000. Paperback, 259 pp
ISBN 81 250 1080 7
INR 275
reviewed by
Rhoderick Chalmers
replete with a rash of new research
institutes and vocal scholars and
commentators divided by their
sharply polarised motivations and
methodologies. To publish today on
the subject of the hymns and rituals
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
of an ancient, migratory branch of
the Indo-European family is to enter into one of the most testing and
politicised of academic arenas. In
such a context, the unpleasant controversy that arose earlier this year
with the appointment of Professor
Romila Thapar as the first holder of
the Kluge Chair in Countries and
Cultures of the South at the Library
of Congress in Washington DC was
perhaps only to have been expected. Tlie petitions against her selection and counter-petitions defending her academic integrity illustrate
only too tellingly that the ancient
history of India is an area as controversial as any contemporary topic.
Or rather, that India's ancient history is a contemporary topic; that the
chronological distance of the subject material is no bar to its ability to
whip up passions.
With The Vedic People, one of India's most distinguished scientists
has decided to navigate a path
through this tricky terrain in a work
designed to be accessible to a general readership. Rajesh Kochhar is by-
profession an astrophysicist but his
interests extend to science policy,
the sociology of science, and ancient history. And the unmistakable
subtext of his title is the quest to
uncover the origins of the vedic people. In short, where did they come
from? Or, in more provocative terms,
how 'Indian' were the vedic people?
For a non-specialist to venture into
the thick of controversies which are
shaped by present-day beliefs and
whose roots must be sought in a
corpus of highly specialised literature is a bold undertaking. So how
does Kochhar fare in his exploration and what does he have to tell
us of vedic history?
From the start, we become aware
that the author is armed with one
important weapon. Schooled in the
methodologies of the exact sciences, he brings to his research an
open-mindedness well balanced by
the rigour with which he evaluates
evidence and its relevance to his
wider conclusions. He weighs his
facts carefully—and accumulates
no shortage of them in a wide-rang
ing investigation—before adding
them one by one to the complex jigsaw that successive chapters piece
together. And this is some jigsaw:
the frontispiece diagram indicates
that he will bring together approaches from archaeology, natural
history, gcomorphology, the history of technology, astronomy and linguistics to centre on the Rigveda itself. With such an array of scientific
or semi-scientific tools to draw on,
one might presume that Kochhar
will take a strict line with more
ambiguous sources, such as the
puranas. But to his credit he does
not rush to dismiss even the more
tendentious of such narratives and
genealogies, but rather mines them
sensitively for any evidence they
To publish today on
the subject of the
hymns and rituals of
an ancient, migratory
branch of the Indo-
European family is to
enter into one of the
most testing and
politicised of academic arenas.
may bring to bear on the data
glean eel from other investigative
The analytical style adopted by
Kochhar is clearly set out at the
opening, one of the few points
where he allows himself to address
broader philosophical qucstions
about the role of history: "Our interpretation of the past depends on
our perception of the present. That
is why history cannot provide
proof; it can only provide illustration. This, however, does not mean
that history is a free-for-all, and can
never be definitive. Uncertainty in
history lies at the level of the significance of events, not at the level of
events themselves". However, any
reader who heipes that the broach
ing of such questions will lead to
further epistemological ruminations or a more probing assessment
of the author's own position as a
scientist tackling materials which
have generally been left to scholars
in the humanities, will be disappointed. On the other hand, those
who appreciate a matter-of-fact
style and a lucid array of factual
nuggets presented in simple prose
will be more than satisfieel
The Vedic People makes neither
pretensions to literary finesse nor
any apology for its down-to-earth
approach. If at times it reads like an
extended report of laboratory findings, that can no doubt be attributed partly to the author's own background and partly to the welcome
desire to free this area from the mists
of ideologically tinted rhetoric and
to concentrate on a logical evaluation of a series of interconnected in-
quiries. We are then taken on a tour
through the landscape of the vedic
people such as it can be reconstructed from available evidence.
Consideration of language and
literature opens up one of the major
avenues for research, while insights
offered by puranic history are cross-
referenced to corroborating data
from astronomy or archaeology. We
learn from the outset that Kochhar
is going to take the Western tradition of Sanskrit studies seriously, so
seriously indeed that we are presented with a dense five-page potted history of the first European encounters with Indie languages and
their development as objects of serious study by outsiders. Here the
strengths and weaknesses of Koch-
har's approach become apparent.
While the weight of detail he assembles is impressive, it may occasionally prove crushing to the more casual reader, especially as it is not
always clear what value the information being presented adds to the
overall argument. The carefully dated and footnoted tales of early Orientalist endeavours may be interesting but until he begins to address
the work of Max Muller, they have
little bearing on the central questions of the book.
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Important issues such as the
emergence of the concept of an 'Aryan race' are, unfortunately, skipped
over rather lightly. This historical
precedent raises particularly pertinent questions for a work such as
this: the temptation to conflate linguistic and racial categories highlights one of the significant dangers
involved in the combining of evidence from divergent disciplines.
Kochhar summarises that: "the
Nazi holocaust brought the whole
concept of an Aryan race into disrepute", but implies that this was on
moral grounds, rather than for
sound academic reasons. He himself continues to use 'Aryan' as a
term to describe linguistic populations, Meanwhile, the brief early-
mention of Aryans may also prompt
readers to ask why the central construct of the book—the idea of a
'vedic people'—is nowhere explained or justified in any detail.
We are left to presume that vedic
people (in fact, the author prefers
'Rigvedic people') are roughly
equivalent to the society that produced the Rigvedic hymns. But
such classifications are notoriously slippery when subjected to closer
analysis: even within the Rigvedic
corpus there are occasional Prakrit
forms which suggest the artificial
preservation of an older language
within a community which was already using a new form of speech.
Similarly the assumption that the
production of these orally-transmitted hymns (and it is worth remembering that these were not originally 'books' or Texts') is enough to define a whole people as a homogeneous unit may be questioned, and
deserves at least to be explained.
Vet it is not surprising if the treatment of early language and literary
sources lacks the insights that might
be brought by a specialist. After all,
the author is constrained to using
English translations of all materials and relying largely on secondary sources for his interpretations.
Given this, a certain lack of feeling
for the subtleties of vedic expression
and the difficulties of interpretation
is both understandable and forgiv
able. For when we move on to more
scientific territory, Kochhar's narrative becomes more intriguing and
his reasoning more compelling. The
ground he covers is immense: we
sweep through reconstructions of
the major puranic dynasties o a scientifically justifiable datin; of the
events of the Mahabharata . nd Ramayana; we are taken on a tour of
the archaeological evidence for prehistoric communities and treated to
an investigation of the 'Indo-lrani-
an habitat', a linguistic-geographical conflation which may be excused for its detailed and convinc-
Even within the
Rigvedic corpus
there are occasional
Prakrit forms which
suggest the artificial
preservation of an
older language within
a community which
was already using a
new form of speech
ing treatment of the mystery surrounding the vedic libation of soma.
And there is little time to pause before moving on to an attempt to
match the rivers named in the
Rigveda to potential historical counterparts in present-day Afghanistan
and Pakistan.
In these areas Kochhar is at his
strongest: the pared down prose
conveys sometimes complex arguments with admirable simplicity
while from a broad array of methods and materials he starts to extract a more identifiable central narrative. Ultimately we return inescapably to the big question of origins. Kochhar's answer is not new
but he has presented a solid enough
case to allow himself the luxury of
stating his findings baldly: "an examination of the evidence in totality leads to the conclusion that india
is not the original home of the
Rigvedic people". No surprises for
scholars here, nor in his rejection of
the almost universally discredited
'Aryan invasion' theory and his assessment that the Rigvedic people
are distinct from the founders of the
Harappan tradition. The details of
his arguments are more likely to provoke limited controversy on certain
geographical points, such as the attempts consistently to identify vedic
rivers with original courses (some
now dried up or shifted) far to the
north-west of the present-day counterparts that bear their names. Yet
the author acknowledges that there
remain specific questions to which
firm answers cannot be given and
he is characteristically careful in distinguishing between reasonable
conjecture and demonstrable fact,
The Vedic People has already
proved popular, having progressed
quickly into a reprinted paperback
edition, and it is not hard to appreciate the reasons behind its success.
Its attention to the value of evidence,
its enthusiastic willingness to engage with a great variety of sources,
and its honesty in declaring the limitations of the conclusions that can
be drawn in the current state of our
knowledge, all offer a welcome
change from the overheated rhetorical claims which have too frequently distorted popular understandings of this important area. Rajesh
Kochhar himself stands firmly on
the side of reason and faith in the
slow accumulation and sifting of
empirical evidence as the best way
to establish a more definitive historical narrative. Yet he does not seek
to devalue vedic and puranic traditions or to cast judgment on the systems of beliefs which have emerged
from them. Established scholars in
the fields of literature or archaeology may not be excited by his findings but nor are they likely to feel
that their collective expertise has
been traduced bv an unthinking interloper. In fact they, and the rest of
us, should be glad that such a measured, thorough, and well-intentioned attempt has been made to
bring sober academic analvsis to a
wider audience. b
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
 Edward Said
Tlie dissenter in exile
Edward Said died in New York on Thursday, 25 September of leukemia.
He was born in Jerusalem on 1 November, 1935, in what was then Mandate
Palestine. Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University since
1970, Said was also well known for his role in the Palestinian struggle and
for being one of the pioneers of post-colonial studies. Said was an archetypal polymath and public intellectual, an accomplished pianist, a respected
music critic, and an outspoken critic of US policies in West Asia.
/ have learned the words of bloodstained courts in order to
break the rules. 1 have learned and dismantled all the
words to construct a singe one:
-Mahmoud Darwish, "/ am from There"
LAST WEEK, a peculiar, if not weird, event took place.
The city was Patan, a centre of urban civilisation for
over two millennia. The setting was an oblong hall remodeled from a garage of horse-drawn carriages—a
baggikhana—that was built over half a century ago for a
prince. People attending the ceremony formed an eclectic mix—an academic, three editors, three teachers, a
few journalists, couple of students, some activists, and
a human-rights activist turned international bureaucrat. People of diverse background, with practically
nothing in common except a surfeit of enthusiasm for
nothing in particular, congregating to discuss something that very few of them knew well; such an intellectual adventure is possible only in Kathmandu. Mountains do something to the spirit that makes you believe
that anything is possible.
The purpose of the meeting was no less strange. The
group had gathered there for a reading in honour of
Edward Said, the iconic figure of post-colonialism. Said
had practically established the creed with his book Orb
entalism, first published in 1978. A group of amateurs
analysing the icon of post-colonialism in the capital
city of a country that was never colonised—this too
could happen only in Kathmandu. Amateurs, as Said
himself had observed in a different context, are free of
fragile egos. Recklessness of the ignorant is emminent-
ly suitable for all adventures, including intellectual explorations.
The stage looked set for some arcane ritual with a
khada-draped picture of the Arab-American professor
solemnly placed on a pedestal. Idol worship is taboo in
Arab culture, but then in addition to being born a Christian, Said was more of an a^merican than an Arab. There
fore, the idolatry perhaps did not matter. The late professor would have approved of the mazmaA'ike atmosphere of the majlis too. After all, he had been a prominent non-conformist himself. Once he even penned a
moving paean in memory of an Egyptian belly dancer.
As the shadow lengthened outside, portions from
an obituary written by Malise Ruthven and published
in The Guardian of London (reproduced in the New-
Delhi edition of The Hindu) were dutifully read out.
Then the obligatory 'moments silence' in memory of
the departed soul was observed. Two readings of Said's
work, one about his observation on the role of intellectual and the other from the obituary that he had written
for his friend and mentor Eqbal Ahmad followed. A
lively discussion then ensued over the role of a rebel,
an activist and a dissenter. This too could take place
only in Kathmandu—capital city of a kingdom in which
rebels, activists, and dissenters are enmeshed in an all-
consuming civil war. There is some merit in the logic
that we remember the dead to celebrate how lucky we
are to be alive.
Even a low-key affair of remembering a life-long dissenter can take place only in places that know their
place in the affairs of the world. Moreover, reflections
on the works of an exile are best done by people who
are at home, wherever they happen to be. Were Edward
Said alive, he would have been amused to know that
he was being read, and remembered, in a country next
to Tibet, the other homeland lost to the twentieth century. However, he would have approved. Said believed
in the universality of ideas even as he understood the
importance of a location for their application. Said's
Orientalism was not merely an intellectual framework;
it became a tool for him to fight the injustice of victims
of the Holocaust victimising innocent inhabitants of
an ancient land.
By virtue of being one of the crown jewels of the US
academia, Said could have chosen to mystify the struggles of Palestinians in academic jargon, and be admired
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 by his fawning peers for being yet another master of a
universal theory. But he broke the box of the academic
calling, and opted to risk crossing the boundaries of
theory and practice as often as he willed. It earned him
more critics than admirers, but the ones whose respect
he valued respected him: the homeless of Palestine, the
people who were, like Mahmoud Darwish, from there.
He championed the cause of a country that has been,
and would certainly be again, but is not here now.
Those who denounced Said as "Professor of Terror"
deny its existence, but their vehement denial itself is a
testimony to its continuous being.
Edward Said's real importance, however, lies in his
persona. Even though he did throw a pebble in the general direction of Israel once, Said was
more of a dissenter than a rebel. ,,.•*"''
His act of stone throwing was a
form of communication, expressing the hopelessness of an orphaned cause—his homeland.
His employers, Columbia University, recognised that gesture
of delivering a message as part
of his academic freedom. On
his part, Said was as critical of
Palestinian violence as that of
the Israelis. To remain engaged and yet maintain equanimity is the mark of a dissenter that separates her  from
die-hard activists. It's much
easier to choose a side—for or
against—but to be for and against
at the same time is no way of earning friends and influencing peo-
Said's unambiguous condemnation of Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran (for his call on his followers
to assassinate the writer Salman Rushdie) alienated
him from the Muslim clergy. He called the Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein "an appalling and dreadful despot"
and made similar statements at times about the Syrian
president Hafez al-Assad, two influential Arab rulers
important to the Palestinian leadership. Said went further than that, he dismissed the Oslo Accord as a sell
out. However, his dissent did not diminish his importance as the premier spokesperson of the Palestinian
cause in the West. He was the only prominent Arab
who had access to the inner recesses of the .American
Mind through his privileged position at a highly reputed centre of learning. He spoke to them with an authority that Yaseer Arafat could envy but never have,
Ridiculed bv waspish Bostonians for having a
"waspish demeanour and preppy dress-sense of a native-born Bostonian," Said was an outsider who knew
the Empire inside out. Its phrases and its rituals were
his own because he belonged to the very priesthood
that ran it. Thus, he was in a unicjue position of influ-
encing it from inside even while he had his hand on the
pulse of the events outside. Perhaps this was what that
made intellectuals of post-colonial societies admire him
more than even Noam Chomsky, the doyen of dissent
in American academia.
Dissent and resistance
Back in 967, Noam Chomsky had observed, "The slogan 'fro a dissent to resistance' makes sense, I think,
but I hope3 that it is not taken to imply that dissent should
cease. Dissent and resistance are not alternatives but
activities that should reinforce each other." His prophetic observation is truer now than ever before. It maybe possible to contemplate dissent without overt resistance, but the vice-versa is impossible to
-•. ._ imagine: there can be no resistance
without dissent. Many movements have failed because they refused to see the logic inherent in
the "manufacture of consent"
ideology—to counter the Empire,
there is no choice but to "manufacture dissent".
Mahatma Gandhi had coined
a catchy phrase to express the
unity of terminological contradictions, "Not 'Opposition' to,
but 'Active non-cooperation',
with the British Empire". Gandhi went on the Dandi march,
Said hurled pebbles, but both
these symbolic acts carried larger messages. They questioned the
very premise on which their acts
were thought to be illegal rather
than contesting the illegality of their
deeds. Perhaps this is another important difference between the approaches of dissent and resistance. Moreover, it offers a dissenter more freedom than the ones
who chose to resist the Empire.
Resistance demands a price that very few can pay—
the Empire simply bombs them into oblivion, be they
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Hanoi, Kabul or Baghdad, The
ones resisting from within—Noam Chomsky's is the
default-name that comes to mind—are even more ruthlessly appropriated. After haIf-a-century of resistance,
Professor Chomsky suddenly finds that he has become
an American icon of sorts, but not in the way he would
have liked.
The Empire has transformed Noam Chomskv into a
name that gives neocons the "legitimacy by negation",
the logic being that if the good old professor is against
something, anything; it is that much easier to mobilise
a phalanx of conservatives, neo-liberals, and all kinds
of wannabes for the cause. Howsoever Chomskv may
oppose the 'War of Occupation' in Iraq; it is funded in
part from the direct and indirect taxes that he pays to
the US treasury. Due to this, Chomskv is not merely
t Edward Said. Public
Intellectual (1935-2003^.
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
tolerated; he is touted as a symbol of the independence
of American academics.
The neocon cabal could never play this trick so openly with Edward Said. Despite his American citizenship,
Said's very presence was a message to the American
public that their government was complicit in the injustice being perpetrated against Arabs in general, and
Palestinians in particular, in West Asia. Said could sip
a cola in Cairo without suffering the guilt pangs of contributing to the Arab war-chest of neocon cabal back in
Boston, because the value of his vocal criticism of Bush-
ism was far higher than the royalties flowing back to
the United States through the transnationals' bottles of
wines served at the swank bars of capital cities of the
Third World.
Washington could ignore the presiding deity of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
with patronising tolerance; after all, the 'cantankerous'
old don was one of their own. But the professor of comparative literature at Columbia was made from a different mettle. His ring echoed in far-away lands. Hence
the vehemence in the vilification of Said by the mainstream media of the United States. One need not scratch
too deep to find traces of biological racism below the
veneer of sophistication that the Boston Brahmins wear.
Resistance may have been an option available to
the concerned citizens like Noam Chomsky, Norman
Mailer, Franz Schurmann, Susan Sontag, Arthur
Waskow, and Howard Zinn during the Vietnam War,
but the Fall of Saigon changed that climate of confrontational scholarship forever. Now, if Arjun Appadurai,
Gayatri Spivak, or Homi Bhabha so much as critique
the conventional Washington wisdom—by definition
conservative—they better be prepared for the alienation
that comes from championing lost causes. For many
otiVrs like them, the Said model of dissent is the only
practical option of resisting the Empire.
The Empire of Propaganda
Once again, the propaganda model of running an empire is a concept that owes its origin to the imagination
of Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky. In their book
Manufacturing Consent, the authors unravel the layers
of He manufactured to conceal the truth that the media
and military of the United States of America act in unison on crucial issues of war and foreign policy. However, the five "filters" that they had identified are no
longer needed. These days, the media looks forward to
being "embedded". Perhaps media moguls do not have
much choice when faced with the Bushy bluster of "either/or" war doctrine. No wonder, after Gulf War 11,
even CNN has come to stand for Centcom News Network.
In the Age of Murdoch—that is the title of a long
essay in the August issue of the Atlantic Monthly—forget resistance, there is very little space left even for the
voices of dissent. Relaxation in media concentration
rules means that now "Rupert is the first one to have
put together an Army, an Air Force, a Navy, and a Marine Corps" of the media. So Noam Chomsky may be
the one who speaks most eloquently about Pentagon's
adventures and misadventures abroad, but the mainstream media in the United States is not ready to host
him any more. The space for dissent is shrinking so fast
that unless innovative approaches are not employed,
the voice of the margins will stop getting even a perfunctory hearing.
This is where the absence of the restrained emotions
and polished delivery of Edward Said will be strongly-
felt. You need to be a professor yourself to make sense
of Appadurai, Bhabha or Spivak. Reading the pamphlets of Arundhati Roy is an emotionally draining
experience—at the end of her tirade, the audience is too
bewildered and exhausted to contemplate a response.
Said gave the language of dissent clarity and respectability that will be difficult to match. Perhaps his mastery over music made Said craft texts of supreme coherence and clarity. Even a bad sentence can make some
sense to some of the people, but a single bad note is
nothing less than a catastrophe in any orchestra. In the
final analysis, it is the cadence of Said's sentences that
makes his call so arresting.
Said's waspish demeanour may have offended the
true-blue Western Anglo-Saxon professionals, but his
respect for "dress and address" gave him a personality
that Irfan Habib and Aijaz Ahmad in their bnndhgal-
lahs and bungalows will find hard to acquire. Haute
culture made Said acceptable in circles that take decisions on our behalf. It is to Said's credit that he did not
lose his moorings despite the opulence of his life. He
has been quoted as exclaiming in an exasperated tone
after a political debate: "I don't understand these
people! Why doesn't anybody speak about truth and
justice any more?" Naive perhaps, but in life, as in
music, one should never aspire for anything less than
Both Rule and Resistance lie in the domain of compromises. It is the destiny of a dissenter to remain in
exile forever. In Said's own words, "The exile therefore
exists in a median state, neither completely at one with
the new setting not fully disencumbered of the old, beset with half-involvements and half-detachments, nostalgic and sentimental on one level, an adept mimic or
a secret outcast on another". What a delicious life, of
Edward Said, the archetypal exile! He is forced by destiny to be at home everywhere, because there is only-
longing for a lost homeland.
Towards his end, Said had begun to imagine Palestinians and jews living in harmony in their ancestral
land. He wrote in a 1999 essay in The New York Times:
"There can be no reconciliation unless both peoples,
two communities of suffering, resolve that their existence is a secular fact, and that it has to be dealt with as
such". Perhaps that is a lesson that Said should be remembered for in South Asia. [>
CK Lai
2003 October 16/10 HIMAL
 Contempt in the air
The relative un-importance of South Asia in the
scheme of the West is to be found in numerous unexpected nooks and crannies - such as the unearthly
hours in which they herd passengers into their aircrafts.
Take Delhi, the most important capital of South Asia.
Invariably, the flights out, whether it is Eufthansa or
British Airways or Air France, are timed between midnight and three! The glitterati of the great nation - India that is Bharat - heading out for European jaunts
are perplexed at this lack of consideration but apparently are in no position to do anything about it. Now
how dare the airlines do this to the second-most-popu-
lous-country-in-the-world's movers and shakers, included among them some of the finest geopolitical analysts that have walked this land since the time of Mahabharata?
If you ask me, the disrespect for our civilisation is
writ large in these aircraft departure and arrival timings. The rest of us in South Asia would be proud if the
power brokers of New Delhi, at least, got given
the time of day. Some respect would then
trickle down to the rest of us as well, one
would think.
Even South Asia's own best-run
airline is not giving due consideration to the body clock of the New
Delhi - to repeat - mover and shaker. I see here listed Sri Lankan's
flight UL 192 leaving DEL (Tue,
Wed, Thu, Fri, Sun) at 2340 hrs to
unload its human cargo at CMB at
3:35 AM. AM? Imagine the plight!
How is the diplomat, the businessman, the
seminarian, to plan his/her life under these cir
cumstances? There is no question of sleep, having to reach the Indira Gandhi International
Airport (IGIA) airport before ten at night,
which means leaving Karol Bagh at 8:30.
Sleep is, of course, impossible during the three
hour flight in the cramped Airbus 320. By the
time you are out of Katunayake and heading down the
highway towards Galle Face, the first rays of dawn are
already lighting up the sky to the left.
It is clear that these Delhi arrival-departure timings
are - as usual - part of a deep-rooted conspiracy to
keep us down, to ensure that the great and glorious era
of Chanakya and/or Akbar will not see a revival in the
twenty-first century.
In Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok, the flights
leave and arrive in the sensible hours of the morning or
evening. You do not see the feverish rush you do at IGIA
on either side of midnight. And, if for some reason you
arrive at dawn or dusk, you will see an airport that is
quiet like as if a calamity has overtaken Haryana, with
only the odd flight to Thimphu or Kathmandu pulling
in the passengers.
Like I said, the West is scared of our potential and
hence intent on keeping us irritable. The airline timings are just one method to achieve this end, planned
by terrible men/women in underground bunkers in
Langley, Virginia.
The proposition runs thus:
• India is the most important country of South Asia.
• New Delhi is the most important (and how odd, the
only) capital of India (Bharat).
• IGIA, serving New Delhi, is the pre-eminent international havaiadda of South Asia.
• The bizarre flight schedules set by respectable international airlines indicate an absence of proper esteem for the Great Indian Nation (GIN).
• Lack of respect for GIN can be regarded as a slight to
all of South Asia.
Alalia (therefore), as the rishimuiiis used to say before the Aryans invaded and confused us all,
we need to eio something about this sorry
state of affairs. We need to do something
because of the incalculable harm to our
self-image as people making up fully one-
fifth c>f the planet, whose representatives
in the form of New Delhi's super-
successful get relegated to red-eye
travel timings.
There are three things that could
be done:
One, is for South Asia to emerge
as such an economic powerhouse
that the tables get turned on Europe.
We want to see a time, within at least
the lifetime of our grandchildren or by the
time WTO gets going (whichever comes first),
when flights depart Frankfurt at two am, arriving at IGIA at 10 am. Let the Germans suffer.
Two, is for Atalji in Dilli, feeling for the suffering masses, to flash one of his nuclear-tipped
missiles so that these unreasonable airlines, fearing loss
of business because of disappearance of South Asia,
start planning schedules that show more respect.
Three, is to turn fatalistic. As they say when you go
to complain about the lack of water at Vasant Kunj,
"Yeh aisa hi hai, kya karein?" (lt is like this only, what to
do?) Let us just continue to sacrifice a night's sleep for
the privilege of travelling to Europe and the rest of the
But, really, the best course is to stop
travelling to the West until Lufthansa
and its siblings begin to see things
our way. Do we have it in us for
this supreme sacrifice?
HIMAL 16/10 October 2003
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