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Himal Southasian Volume 19, Number 5, August 2006 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2006-08

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 August 2006
Vol 19     No 5
'." ******
Mumbai 52
Naresh Fernandes,
Times of India's
Final Frontier 59
Sukumar Muralidharan
World Bank
Report Critique 75
Faisal Bari
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Unshacking of Bangladesh
The cover image of this issue shows Arafat, 7,
confined for having run away from a madrasa in
Narayangonj, 20 km from Dhaka. This issue of Himal
looks at the great promise of Bangladesh, which has
been shackled by low-grade political competition,
Dhaka-centrism, top-to-bottom corruption and a
cynicism that seems to emerge from the deltaic mud.
But we know that Bangladeshis are made of the stuff
of great nations, and that the country is doing far
better than anyone had expected in 1971. And that
whether or not the upcoming January general
elections provide the release, Bangladeshis are ready
to break free of their shackles to make their country
work for them.
Bangladesh the powerful
Your move
Nurturing the Nepali makeover
Israel and Southasia
Lhotshampa go home
Southasian briefs
Cover story
Roadmap to nowhere
Mohamed Latheef
SEWA, of self-employed women
Renana Jhabvala
The spirit of Bombay
Naresh Fernandes
In the dominion of paranoia
Bombay talkies: the documentary
Corrupted democracy
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
Liz Phiiipson
The crippled caretaker
Photo feature
Ali Riaz
Looking Biharis in the eye
When we dead awaken
Greg Constantine
Time and a place
A taste of berries
Baby-booming India
Rinku Dutta
Anant Sudarshan
Looking to the shadows
Sec 377 and same-sex desire
Book review
Gautum Bhan
New nationalism
The communalisation of censorship
Vijay Prashad
Amardeep Singh
Defocusing, from health to trade
Hari Vasudevan
A fanciful World Bank manifesto
Special report
Faisal Bari
A break in the ridgeline
Prashant Jha
On tlie way np
The embrace of Mumbai
Home and the world
Sonia Faleiro
The Times of India's final frontier
Sukumar Muralidharan
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 Vol 19   No 5
August 2006 | www.himalmagxom
Kanak Mani Dixit
Assistant Editor
Prashant Jha
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Business Advisor
Monica Bhatia
Marketing Manager
Komal More
Editorial Assistance
Kabita Parajuli
As tha Dahal
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo       Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu   Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Kiian Maharjan
Bhusan Shilpakar
Roshan Tamang
Sunita Silwal
Kabita R Gautam
subscrip tion@him a lm a g, c om
Saritosh Aryal
Shahadev Koirala
H i mai S outhasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: ScanPro
Printed at Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors    to    this    issue
Ali Rial is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State
University in the US.
Amardeep Singh teaches postcolonial literature at Lehigh University in the US. His book on
'literary secularism' will be out next year.
Anant Sudarshan is a graduate student in the School of Engineering at Stanford University. He is
currently with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi.
C K ial is a columnist for this magazine and the Nepali Times.
Faisal Bari is an associate professor of Economics at Lahore University of Management
Sciences (LUMS).
Gautam Bhan is a queer-rights activist and writer based in New Delhi, a member of the Nigah
Media Collective, and co-editor of Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India.
Greg Constantine is a photographer based in Southeast Asia currently at work on a long-term
project documenting the struggles of stateless ethnic minorities,
Hari Vasudevan is a professor in the Department of Modem History at Calcutta University.
Liz Phiiipson is at the London School of Economics and is a student of the conflicts in Sri Lanka
and Nepal.
Mohamed Latheef is the founder of the Maldivian Democratic Party. He is currently living in self-
exile in Sri Lanka.
Naresh Fernandes is editor of Time Out Mumbai.
Rajashri is a Delhi-based reporter.
Renana Jhabvala is national coordinator of SEWA and chairperson of SEWA Bank.
Rinku Dutta is a Scholar of Peace Fellow with Women in Security, Conflict Management and
Peace (WISCOMP). She portions her time between Delhi and Lahore.
Rubana is studying for her Masters in Literature at the East West University.
Sonia Faleiro is a journalist and writer based in Bombay. Her first novel, The Gid, was published
in 2006. More of her work can be viewed at
Sukumar Muralidharan is a visiting professor at the Nehru Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta is in the Indian Administrative Service, based in Bombay. Her
writings can be found at
Venantius J Pinto is an artist who moves between Bombay and New York.
Vijay Prashad is a professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College in the US. His
most recent books are Dispatches from Latin America: Experiments Against Neoliberalism and
The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World. (Leftwood Books).
Cover Image: G M B Akash
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August 2006 | Himal Southasian
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August :M- 22 2006'
Himalaya FilmfesHval*
AnstawtarlBW February 10 & 11
Appan Menon Memorial Award for 2006-07
Appan Menon was a journalist who began as an agency
reporter and worked in the print and finally television in its
early years. Anchoring the popular weekly programme called
The World This Week for NDTV he followed International
news and reports through an Indian prospective. Before
joining NDTV. Appan had worked for The Hindu, Frontline,
The Press Trust of India and United News of India. He had
also spent some time covering the United Nations HQ for
Inter Press Service. The AMMT was established in 1996
soon after his untimely death on 28 June 1996.
• The Trust proposes to award a grant of Rs 1 lakh every
year to professional journalists working in the area of
World Affairs or Development news with an Indian
perspective. Journalists from any media with 3-5 years
experience can apply by submitting the following.
• A brief proposal (1000 words) stating in brief the area,
issues and your particular interest.
• A brief account of the proposed use of the grant and the
time frame.
■  Curriculum vitae and one letter of reference.
• Samples of recent work.
The selection of the proposal to be awarded for this year
will be by an eminent jury. The grant will be made in
September 2006.
Applications should reach the address below by August 30,
Managing Trustee
Appan Menon Memoral Trust
N-84, Panchshila Park
New Delhi - 110017
Tel: (Off) 26491515 and 26468150
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Tracking Bollywood
Mahmood Farooqui's article
(Bollywood and the middle-class
nation, July 2006) tracks important
changes taking place in Bombay
cinema. The author has been able
to isolate some trends, but he seems
to have missed the underlying
dynamics that are guiding
these changes.
The first part of the piece,
about Bollywood becoming more
professional, is true. Families are
consolidating, diversifying and
transforming Bollywood. But why
is this happening? Here Farooqui
forgets to mention the industry
status accorded to Bollywood in
1998. The whole rise of structured
production houses started just a
year or two later. The fact that
'Bollywood' is now the 'Hindi Film
Industry' has given professionals
the confidence to enter, finance and
develop this industry. As a result,
the erstwhile murky world of film
financing is fast receding.
The writer's second point, about
films resting entirely on the power
of stars, is a bit of an extreme view.
The best of star casts cannot make a
bad film work. A classic example is
Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan
and Madhuri Dixit in Hum Tumhare
Hai Sanam. And sometimes the most
modest of casts make a great film -
Iqbal, for instance. The question is
whether any movie has failed at the
box office for the lack of a star,
despite being well-written and well-
directed. The answer is, probably
not. Even films like Maqhool or
Hazaron Klrwaishein Aisi did well
through word-of-mouth.
Farooqui has also made a point
about the 'neo-real' being neoliberal. But brushing aside the
jargon, what has prompted the
change? It is a cycle of demand and
supply. Bollywood's success in the
Indian diaspora is because the
expats want to celebrate their
culture, not mope about the poverty
and exploitation. And that's why
you need the movies that a Karan
Johar makes. The same is true for
the well-off Indian of India.
Indian films are a reflection of
the mood of the country. Look at the
nature of the villain in popular
movies. It was the evil munshi or
zamindar in the 1950s and 1960s,
the smuggler and businessman in
the 1970s, the 'foreign hand' that
wanted to destroy India in the
1980s, and the corrupt politician in
the 1990s. Now, it is the everyday
man, with shades of grey, and, of
course, the terrorist. The Indian film
industry will evolve with the
country. Do not expect hungry, ill-
fed men being shown in abject
poverty when the country is
growing at 8 percent. Sure, the
growth is not touching everyone,
and there are additional problems.
That's the reason a movie like
Apharan or Seher or Lajja is
still talked about. And watched
and appreciated.
The reason you see people in
Bhojpur and Moradabad make
their own films is not because they
feel marginalised. They make them
today because they can! Money
and technology is more easily
accessible. What Farooqui fails to
link this back to is the death of the
naach or the nautankis in these
places, which were the mediums
through which the same stories
used to be told, complete with
raunchy songs and the bust-
thrusts. Now local cinema is doing
that job, and the nautanki troupes
have moved operations from 50,000
villages to the 5000 villages in
the interior.
Farooqui has written an
interesting piece. What it lacks is a
deeper analysis of the reasons for
the changes he tracks.
Soumava Sengupta
Gurgaon, India
My July issue of Himal just came
through the post this morning. You
deserve great credit for bringing out
a magazine that is strikingly well-
produced, and full of interesting
and very informative articles. I
learned a lot from them.
The 'Missing Daughters
of Punjab' opened my
eyes. I was aware
generally of what was
going on, but had no idea
about the scale. The Sri
Lankan articles made
absorbing reading, and i
confirmed one of the
rules of insurgencies: the longer
they go on, the bloodier, nastier and
dirtier they become, and the more
difficult to stop. The article on
'Disaster Capitalism' should be
required-reading for a host of
people in the various capitals of
Southasia. And  if they cannot
afford the time, they should read the
fifty lines under 'Phantom Aid'.
Having been to Darjeeling a few
times, I was totally engrossed by
Niraj Lama's article on the truly
awful Subash Ghisingh. Strangely
enough, this was the article which
resonated most strongly
with me about Nepal. If
the powerbrokers and
thrusters in Delhi can
callously entrust their own
people to a despot like
Ghisingh, they are quite
unlikely to put the rural
' poor at the top of their
priorities when working out their
Nepal policy.
Moving back to a monthly issue
must be a big challenge, but already
the editorial team is up to it.
Samuel Conan
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Bangladesh the powerful
Without anyone really noticing, some time
during the 1980s Bangladesh stopped being
regarded as an international basket-case.
This was an appellation that had also coloured the
vision of its Southasian neighbours, and the image
was that of a country devastated by cyclones, tortured
by famine, impacted by floods and droughts, and
inhabited by a mass public that was expected to be
a philanthropic burden to the world, much like the
African Sahel.
As Bangladeshis look to themselves with some woe
in the run-up to January's elections, there might of
course be some justification in the pessimism that
seems to exude from the very earth. Yes, the low-
grade rivalry between Begum .Khaleda Zia's
Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Sheikh Hasina
Wajed's Awami League has all of us frustrated, and
the rise of the Islamic right in politics is worrying, The
all-pervading corruption in Bangladesh, from the highest
of political circles to the depths of the criminal
underworld, is nothing to be proud of. The continuing
levels of poverty leading to labour migration, the
incredible centralisation of power and wealth in Dhaka
city, the statelessness of the Bihari community,
the former Hindu presence now to be recalled only in
place-names,.the arsenic invasion affecting millions,
the impact of the Ganga (Padma) diversion at the
Farraka Barrage, the bureaucratic confusion over
existing natural gas reserves, and the politicisation that
drags down the relationship with India - all of these
point to the massive challenges that face the
Bangladeshi people.
But this is also a Bangladesh of successes, as
achieved nowhere else in Southasia, The mega-NGOs,
such as BRAC and Proshika, have succeeded in
providing sen/ices to the mass population in a way
that has taken place in no other neighbouring country.
The innovation that is the election-period caretaker
government is thought of as something to be copied.
Whether it is the introduction of rural micro-credit or
organic pesticides or traveling libraries, Bangladeshi
NGOs take things to scale - whereas elsewhere
in Southasia, at best we can achieve localised
token successes.
The devastation from cyclones seems to have been
largely curbed by the building of elevated shelters and
evacuation procedures, something that the coastal
regions of India could emulate. As for floods, due to
the impossibility of building embankments in this
deltaic country, unlike the upper-riparians the
Bangladeshis are learning to live with the inundation,
which has always been the course to take. In industry,
though presently in sudden crisis, the Bangladeshi
garments sector has shown its resilience, its ability
to innovate and to deliver the highest quality products
for the world market. The successes achieved by
migrants in the West and elsewhere have begun to
percolate back to the home provinces.
All in all, Bangladesh has shown Southasia and
the world that it has the ability to rise to the challenge,
to deliver a better quality of life to its population of
144 million. Now, it has to actually rise to that
challenge, with the political class utilising the upcoming
elections in January to achieve a level of maturity in
keeping with the expectations of the population. A
less-polarised political landscape will deliver bonuses
in practically every area of the economy, in
governance and in international relations. As far as
India is concerned, with political stability will also come
the ability to engage with New Delhi constructively, to
be able to sell natural gas to the western market at a
premium, and to open up Chittagong as the entrepot
ofthe Indian Northeast. At that point, Bangladesh must
be able to allow a rail corridor from the mainland to
the Indian Northeast, and extract munificent
concessions in the bargain.
Countries become truly powerful when their
population size is matched by economic growth. In
that calculation, Bangladesh is set to become a
powerful member ofthe world community, once it deals
with its difficult issues of malgovernance and
confrontational politics. As such, we feel that this is
the time and reason to wish Bangladeshis well, as
they head for elections in a few months away.        i.
Your Move
errorism' is not a term to be used lightly. The
horrific blasts in Bombay on 11 July, which
left almost 200 train commuters dead and
several hundred more injured, constituted clear acts
of terrorism. Bombay 2006, however, was not an
isolated incident. In the past year itself, innocents in
India have suffered due to the politics of violence in
the bazaars of Delhi, the temples of Benaras and
the fields of Doda.
In the wake of such dastardly attacks, there is a
constant danger that the state and society might draw
the wrong lessons. The US-led 'war on terror' is an
example of the flawed approach that has polarised
societies and created new recruitment grounds for terror
outfits. Southasian states have fared no better. The
political class exerts immense pressure on security
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 agencies to bust terror modules and instantly nab those
involved in such attacks. They are egged on by a media
that publishes endless commentaries on the 'soft'
nature of the state that cannot prevent the killing of
innocents. A defensive police establishment then
arrests people on a mass scale, in violation of every
tenet of law, breeding further discontent.
Six million passengers travel on the Bombay
commuter trains every day, and checking every one
is impossible. However, the intelligence network should
have had its ear to the ground when the terrorist outfits
were planning the operation and amassing explosives,
a process that must have taken several months
involving multiple actors, The Indian government is
suggesting that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba
was involved in the attacks, assisted by the Students
Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). While the Lashkar
claims to fight for the cause of azadi in Kashmir, SIMI
is a banned radical outfit that aims to establish an
Islamic state.
Reexamining motives
The espousal of a certain cause by these groups often
prompts sections ofthe intelligentsia - especially those
belonging to the left-liberal spectrum - to relate every
act of militancy to the 'root causes' theory. This
explanation is based on the premise that attacks would
continue till grievances of discontented groups in, for
instance, the Kashmir Valley, are addressed. This is
a valid proposition, and more complete than other
explanations, but is not totally adequate. Such a theory
neither takes into account the political economy of the
terror network and its close linkages with crime-lords.
nor the realpolitik calculations of the leadership of these
outfits. To believe that granting autonomy to the local
government in Kashmir or creating softer borders
between the two sides is the all-encompassing panacea
to this problem would be over-simplification.
Indeed, militant groups know that accomplishing their
stated goals - be they the independence of Kashmir
or "freeing Muslims from the Hindu yoke" - is not
possible by butchering civilians. If anything, terrorism
only serves to harden the position of the Indian state,
restricting the space for both engagement and
negotiation for a possible solution to the dispute.
If they are under no such illusions, what is the real
motive of these groups who have again and again
I targeted civilians? One part of the answer lies in the
B peace process between India and Pakistan. Although
there is a certain stalemate that has marked the
negotiations between the two sides over the past few
months, the fact that the ceasefire is in place and
channels of communication remain open is remarkable.
Jihadi outfits realise that this process, if sustained,
has the capacity to marginalise them politically. One
of their primary aims is to ensure that the peace
process collapses, which would enhance their
importance and, in some quarters, legitimacy vis-avis the conflict that has engulfed the two states.
The decision by the Indian government to postpone
the foreign-secretary-level talks with Pakistan, while
perhaps understandable as a political necessity,
strikes at the heart of the peace process. South Block
must recognise that the Pakistan government could
not have been involved in planning the attack, and
continue the process of engagement. The fact that
the attacks may have been planned on Pakistani soil
is not enough reason to scuttle the process. For his
part, Pervez Musharraf must act even more firmly on
his commitment not to allow Pakistani soil to be used
for anti-Indian activities, The onus is clearly on him to
clamp down on the militant outfits, which have free
run in Pakistan and are supported by sections of the
military and intelligence agencies. Any failure to do so
will only weaken the detente in Southasia, and help
the terror outfits to attain their objective.
The second part of the answer lies north of Bombay,
in the persona and politics of Gujarat Chief
Minister Narendra Modi. A person complicit in the
massacre of Muslims, Modi is set to lead an anti-terror
march in Bombay. His philosophy, like that of
his ideological parivar, is simple: a Hindu is naturally
patriotic, while a Muslim in India has to prove
his nationalism. Extremists on both sides wish to build
on precisely such sentiments of distrust. Indeed, the
state-sponsored killing of Muslims in Gujarat
is used by SIMI as a motivational tool to get
new recruits.
And therein lies the other, three-fold purpose of these
blasts. First, to polarise the communal situation.
Second, to create a situation wherein Hindu groups
put the loyalties ofthe Indian Muslim under the scanner.
Third, once discontent sets in, to seek to recruit them
into radical Islamist organisations. When security
forces engulf Muslim ghettos and slums to arrest
possible 'suspects', the government plays directly into
the hands of the militants and their strategy.
Unfortunately, this is not the last India has seen of
terror attacks in this particular 'series'. What the state
must do is strengthen its intelligence network and beef
up security measures. At the same time, it must
continue to engage in the peace process with Pakistan,
for that is the most effective way to sideline those
dedicated to terror. Most importantly, India's political
and intellectual community must not allow
fundamentalism to dominate the discourse during these
troubled times. i
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Nurturing the Nepali makeover
It was never going to be easy to bring a violent
insurgency into open politics. The immediate
challenge in Nepal, which is engaged in such an
experiment, is finding a mutually acceptable
mechanism to deal with the military component of the
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). For now, the
entire exercise is euphemistically termed hatiyaar
byabasthapan, or 'management of arms'.
Mature politicians today find themselves
maintaining a carefully calibrated stance vis-a-vis rebel
leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ('Prachanda') and his
colleagues, which could ultimately enable the rebels
to lay down their arms. In doing so, the political parties
are recognising the full extent of Maoist vulnerabilities.
This assumes added significance at a time when the
bravado of the rebels, amidst a honeymoon period
with the Kathmandu civil society
and media, gives the impression
that they are in control of much
of the polity.
Indeed, the Maoist leaders,
who unabashedly claim to
represent the Janata, the people,
have publicly demanded equal
participation with the political
parties in any future dispensation.
This seems unrealistic, for
whether they are indeed speaking
for the people of Nepal will be
tested on the day they contest
elections. Till then, it is only the
political parties who have
democratically proven their right
to represent. Let it be understood
that the Maoist place at the table
has mainly been assured by their
ability to take the country back
to war, and added their stated
willingness to join competitive
politics. While the editors of
Himal are confident about the
Maoist intentions, everyone else
need not be.
The Maoists continue to have the run of much of
the countryside. However, logic dictates that the
subdued nature of the populace vis-a-vis the rebels
can largely be attributed to the gun that remains in
the hand of their cadre. This leaves open the possibility
of a reaction, sometimes violent, by sections of the
citizenry against the Maoists once they are seen to
be losing hold of their gun. It is this fear of reprisal
that probably explains to some extent the
unwillingness of the cadre to disarm, and also the
inability   of  their   leaders   to   utter   the   word
Maoist HQ in Kathmandu Valley
'decommissioning'. It is high time to start a public
information campaign in Nepal to nip in the
bud any trend towards vigilante justice against
rebel activists.
As we go to the printers, there is a sense of dillydallying among the Seven Party Alliance, and
perhaps a hope that the Maoist organisation will
collapse under its own weight in the meantime. That
would be a dangerous gamble, as among other things
it would lead to a fracturing in Maoist ranks and
jeopardise the entire peace process. It is critical that
the unified Maoist command structure remains in
place, so that a confident leadership can lead the
entire rebellion towards peaceful politics. This is a
process that is rarely tried, and seldom succeeds,
but in the Nepali context it might stand a chance.
The way ahead
Like any other nation-building
exercise, the political transition
in Nepal will be cumbersome and
confusing. Even if the Maoists
are currently unwilling or unable
to lay down their guns, in late
July a senior government
minister threw down the gauntlet,
precluding any possibility of
forming an interim government
until rebel arms are managed.
Even if it is not possible to
agree with Mr Dahal's demands
that the Maoist army and the
Nepal Army be merged in toto,
innovative means are required in
the name of 'managing' the
Maoist fighters. This would
include inducting some fighters
into an appropriate unit within the
Nepal Army, sending the
youngest cadres back to school,
arranging for skills-training for
those remaining, and ensuring
that the householder Maoists
are protected as they give up their arms.
Simultaneously, the politicians and society leaders
must ensure that the Nepal Army - plagued with
weak and opportunistic leadership - is significantly
downsized in the days to come, and its structures
altered so that it will never again have political
ambitions. The politicians who have been placed in
the driver's seat by the People's Movement of April
2006 must beware the dangers of the ultra-right,
even as they try to bring the ultra-left into the
political fold. fr
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Israel and Southasia
Israel has done it again. And the governments of
Southasia cannot even bring  themselves to
remonstrate with some volume.
In a display of brute force, Tel Aviv launched
simultaneous offensives against innocent civilians in
the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Under the pretext of
rescuing three of its soldiers - one allegedly kidnapped
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Hezbollah headquarters 250 civilians.
in Beruit West    Asia    is    an
immensely complex
region, with the conflict involving multiple actors, and
analysts differ about the possible reasons for the
present phase of confrontation, Some attribute it to
the assertiveness of the Israeli defence forces, while
others point to the role of Iran and Syria in encouraging
Hezbolla's provocations. Irrespective of the precise
roots of the crisis, certain facts remain indisputable.
Israel's response is vulgar and disproportionate to the
kidnapping of its soldiers. Furthermore, the manner in
which it attacked homes, meted out collective
punishment and tried to cripple life in Gaza and
Lebanon is in violation of even the generally accepted
tenets of war.
As West Asia ignites, all the governments of
Southasia can do is look away in embarrassment.
Despite the immense moral authority the present
government in Kathmandu commands, it has seen fit
to ignore the Israeli excesses in their entirety.
Meanwhile, what of New Delhi? The state that
prides itself on being the next Great Power is too
concerned about defence cooperation with Israel to
worry about the fate of civilian Palestinians and
Lebanese. In the past few years, the Islamic Republic
of Pakistan has slowly awoken to the immense
strategic utility of a partnership with Israel. Official
contacts have been established, and Pervez Musharraf
has mooted the idea of entering into a partnership with
Tel Aviv.
As with New Delhi and Islamabad, Dhaka too has
contented itself with one-off press releases criticising
Israel. There has been no sustained criticism of Tel
Aviv's actions in any of these capitals; the response
of the political class in these countnes has been
muted; and the idea of Southasia taking the lead in
mobilising international opinion against Israel is
dismissed as loony idealism.
The countries of Southasia might think that they
shouted enough for Palestinian self-determination in
the 1970s and 1980s, and that they have done their
share. But Palestinians remain a people deprived by a
coming together of global geopolitics in favour of Israel.
With so many millions of disenfranchised people within
its own borders, Southasia neglects the Palestinians
and supports Israel at its own peril. What goes around
comes around. fr
Lhotshampa go home
The United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kathmandu has
officially broached the subject of third-country
resettlement for the more than one lakh Lhotshampa
refugees from Bhutan, who languish in seven camps
in southeastern Nepal. For the first time ever, an
officiating foreign secretary of the Nepali government
has concurred that the idea can be considered
for certain 'vulnerable' refugees, and will be
allowing UNHCR to conduct a critical census of the
camp's residents.
Ever since the Lhotshampa were discovered on the
banks of the Mai River by a UNHCR official back in
1991, these refugees have been afforded international
protection. Whereas other previous Nepali-speaking
evictees from Burma and Meghalaya had to fend for
themselves, the unpoliticised peasantry driven out by
the government of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of
Druk Yul have been provided food and shelter through
the support of the UNHCR and the World Food
Programme, supported by various governments and
INGOs such as the Lutheran World Federation. But
the support has begun to dip in recent years, with
education of refugee children suffering, and their rations
becoming more meagre.
Thimphu has continuously conducted a farcical yet
eminently successful diplomatic exercise to keep the
Lhotshampa refugees from returning. While succeeding
in depopulating a significant portion of its southern hills
of the Lhotshampa inhabitants, a massive roadblock
arose with the quick recognition of the evictees as
refugees by the UNHCR. But after that initial setback,
Thimphu has, over a series of 13 talks, stalled any
repatriation - sometimes proposing a meaningless
refugee-categorisation   exercise,   another  time
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
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conducting a sample verification from which it
withdrew on the excuse of disorderly conduct by the
refugees. All the while, Bhutan has been aided by the
continuous political turmoil in a Nepal saddled by
commoner politicians new at diplomacy, a Maoist
insurgency and, in the latest instance, a royal
regime that for its own reasons had incipient
sympathies for the Royal Government of Bhutan's
actions against the Lhotshampa.
Fair game?
On the face of it, the call by the UNHCR representative
in Kathmandu, as well as by the recently visiting
UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner, for third-country
resettlement seems a humanitarian response to a crisis
that has gone on for too long. If Nepal and the
international community are unable to do anything over
16 long years to provide a return to Bhutan with dignity
(so the argument seems to go), should not the agency
at least try to seek refuge elsewhere for the refugees?
There are several questions that need to be asked on
this score. Most critically, what do the refugees
themselves want? While it would seem logical that
many refugees would want to opt - like so many
citizens of Nepal would, if asked - for resettlement to
a European country, there are some interesting results
in conversations with the refugees themselves. A
recent series of interviews by the Nepali Times weekly
also revealed that the refugees, whenever asked, all
preferred to return to their homesteads in Bhutan.
There is also the question of how many of the
displaced would really be welcomed by those Western
states that have shown concern for the plight of the
Lhotshampa. It must be kept in mind that the
Lhotshampa have been eminently un-fashionable as
refugees - just some more Nepali speakers in a sea
of Nepali-speaking humanity of Southasia. Even
UNHCR's own public information
bulletins and pictorials have over
the years tended to neglect the
Lhotshampa of Jhapa and Morang
districts, so it is not possible to take
at face value the assurance of any
significant number to be repatriated.
The rest, supposedly, are to be
settled in India and Nepal, with not
even a tiny fraction being allowed
back home to the hill terraces of
Chirang, Sarbang or Samdrup
Zonkhar (where many of the
fields are said to have converted
to jungle).
Against the on-the-face-of-it
humanitarian argument of third-
country resettlement is the fact
that such a policy would provide
success - a decade-and-a-half late
- for King Jigme's policy of
_l~ uprooting and making stateless a
full seventh of his kingdom's
population. He and his Oxford-accented bureaucracy
would thus be rewarded for malice, cruelty and - there
is no other word for it - racism. Even more importantly,
this capitulation by Nepal and the international
community would suddenly make vulnerable Nepali-
speaking communities all over the Indian landmass,
and in particular in the Indian Northeast, which has
already seen more than one instance of evacuation.
Indeed, Indian citizens of Nepali origin are today
nervously eyeing the international - and Indian
government's - response to the call for third-country
resettlement, The message that would go to sons-of-
soil movements in India (and Bhutan itself) is that the
Nepali-speakers are fair game for cleansing.
The initiative for the resolution ofthe Lhotshampa crisis
must come from Nepal, the host country. Fortunately,
today there is a democratic government in Kathmandu.
Although a bit unstable because of the unfinished
business of making peace and writing a new
Constitution, that government must use all the energy
and self-confidence it derives from the People's
Movement to push the refugee issue to the front-burner.
In the coming months, as some stability is achieved
in the polity, the Kathmandu government must - for
both humanitarian reasons and Nepal's internal security
- engage Thimphu in a way that its attempts of
subterfuge and prevarication will not succeed.
It is also time for Kathmandu to bring New Delhi
formally into the picture. For a long time, the
Kathmandu politicians have tried to shake Bhutan out
of its obduracy by threatening to internationalise the
issue, by raising it in the United Nations. It would be
much more effective to 'Indianise' the Lhotshampa
refugee matter. The fact is that India is an interested
party in the Lhotshampa issue, because the refugees
Himal Southasian j August 2006
 used Indian territory - freely available to them - to
enter Nepal. To return to Bhutan, the refugees would
again have to cross Indian territory. Thus far, New Delhi
has pushed back whosoever has wanted to march to
Bhutan from Nepal, across the Mechi bridge at Pani
Tanki. India is also an interested party, for the simple
reason that it holds the key to the Bhutani gate.
It has been continuously unclear why India chooses
not to use its considerable leverage on Thimphu to
take back the refugees. We now believe that it is
because of an extreme lack of consideration for the
largest number of refugees presently existing anywhere
in Southasia, outside the Afghans in Pakistan. The
refugees would even be forgiven for believing that this
neglect reflects a prejudice against Nepali-speakers.
There are also those who believe that Bhutan's
willingness to share its hydropower resource with an
energy-starved Indian electricity grid has New Delhi
holding off on an arm-twisting vis-a-vis the refugees,
as also is the use of Thimphu as a steadfast supporter
in international fora.
However, the most likely reason for this stand-
offishness on the Lhotshampa is the long-held Indian
tradition of not acting against a regime in the 'sensitive'
Himalayan rimland, unless the force of circumstances
dictate some action. 'Don't fix what ain't broke,' has
been New Delhi's attitude. Geopolitically that may be
so, but there are more than a lakh broken lives whose
deprivation will at some point stick on the diplomats
and politicians of Delhi as well. Let them ask one
question ~ what would an M K Gandhi or Nelson
Mandela have said about the Lhotshampa refugees?
Kathmandu must move to make the status quo
untenable. It must ratchet up its public diplomacy and
engage New Delhi in order to resolve the Lhotshampa
refugee issue - not through any kind of resettlement,
but through repatriation to the home country, with
appropriate guarantees given for the continued stability
ofthe Drukpa state. Nepal must therefore promptly tri-
lateralise the issue, and seek Indian presence in a
three-way meeting between Thimphu, Kathmandu and
New Delhi. It is time to send the Lhotshampa home.
Nobody should suffer this much for speaking the 'wrong'
language, or wearing the 'incorrect' dress.
■     ■
II Corinthians 4:8-10'
This image by artist Venantius J Pinto shows
a woman, a Sita perhaps, trapped under a
net cast by a difficult force, Ravana perhaps.
The possible mindset of this lady from Mithila
as she is abducted and transported
southward is encapsulated in the Bible in 2
Corinthians 4: "We are troubled on every side,
yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not
in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast
down, but not destroyed." Amidst the
deprivations and maltreatment faced by
millions every day across Southasia - at
times when even recognition of a tragedy is
not forthcoming, much less an attempt to heal
the wounds - there is still resilience among
the people. That spirit remains due to a belief
in the ultimate triumph of justice and sense
of accountability. This is what we believe
keeps Southasians walking on the road,
even when pumelled by desolation and
melancholy. There is every reason to look
forward to another day, or the rising sun.
This is part of a regular series of Himals editorial
commentary on artwork by Venantius Pinto. The
original image of "Unforsaken" is with Amnesty
International. Japanese woodblock print on Fukui
Kozo fiber. Printmaker: Takuji Hamanaka.
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Managing the armoury
The conflict contractors that are
parachuting down on Kathmandu
to partake of the expected peace
dividend tend to be derisive of
the terminology used by the
locals to define the path ahead:
'management of arms', hatiyaar
byabasthapan in Nepali. But this
is just the right term to use at the
moment, when an insurgency is
being cajoled into open politics.
There are many highly motivated
and agitated armed fighters out
there, and in all fairness neither
the Maoist leadership nor the
political parties in government
can utter 'demobilisation' or
'disarmament' without
jeopardising the peace process.
The blurred reference is best.
The need for 'management of
arms' under UN supervision was
agreed to at the time of a
12-point agreement achieved
between the political parties and
the rebels back in November
2005. But all political players felt
this could not proceed unless the
Indian government was agreeable
to international disarmament
experts coming through. New
Delhi provided that signal when
Prime Minister Girija Prasad
Koirala came visiting in mid-
June, after which it should have
been all systems go.
But while a UN observation
mission cooled its heels in New
York, the government in Nepal
suddenly went into low gear when
it came to sending a letter asking
for 'management of arms'
expertise. Some say this was due
to India, which wanted to see the
terms of the letter. Others say it
was the matter of whether to
consult with the Maoists or to
send the letter as fait accompli.
It transpired in early July that
the letter had been sent by Prime
Minister Koirala from his hospital
bed (he had been taken in for a
lung infection). When asked about
the contents of the letter by the
parliamentary committee formed
to monitor peace talks, Deputy
Prime Minister and Foreign
Minister K P Oli said that the
letter was in a suitcase in the
hospital with the prime minister,
and that he had not seen it. The
committee sent Oli back, asking
him to come with the letter, which
he did. The committee, including
Speaker of Parliament Subhas
Nembang, then went all hush-
hush, and said that leaking the
contents would be embarrassing
to the government. The letter was
finally made public on 19 July.
The problem seems to have been
that the letter actually refers to
Independent ofthe letter, for all
their insistence on UN
involvement in the past, the
Maoist leadership in early July
suddenly started giving hints that
such involvement was not
required - that Nepalis could
manage their arms themselves.
It seems that the initial
welcome given to the rebels by
Kathmandu's intelligentsia has
convinced the Maoist leadership
that they can turn the political
situation to their advantage
without 'arms management',
strictly understood. It could also
be the realisation that a UN
accounting of arms and personnel
would expose real strengths and
weaknesses that the Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist) would
rather keep under wraps.   ■
Goodbye Tata ...for now
Citing his "extreme" frustration and
disappointment, Tata Sons
executive director Alan Rosling
announced on 10 July that his
company is suspending its plans
for a USD 3 billion investment in
Bangladesh. The Indian
conglomerate's massive project -
which included steel, coal, power
and fertiliser plants - would have
equalled the amount of foreign
direct investment that Bangladesh
has received in its 35-year history
(see Himal Nov-Dec 2005).
With July as the deadline for a
final deal, the plan had faced
increasingly stiff resistance from
Bangladesh's local steel industry,
as well as the larger business
community. Rather than tackle
the contentious issue, the
increasingly frazzled government
of Begum Khaleda Zia decided to
push off a decision until after the
January 2007 general elections.
That seemed to have been the
final straw for Rosling, who
accused Dhaka of being unable
to "go beyond politics".
For now, the Dhaka
Government would have everyone
believe that the Tata deal is only
sidelined, not abandoned. Finance
Minister M Saifur Rahman, who
has guided the negotiation with
Tata Sons, said that the matter
had merely been "postponed". He
added, rather lamely, 'Tata said
they would come when the
government invites." He may be
right. A week after Rosling's
outburst, Tata's resident director
confirmed that his company would
wait and see what took place in
Bangladesh over "the next six to
eight months".   ■
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Some-parties conference
Everybody knows by now that devolution and
power-sharing is ultimately the answer to Sri
Lanka's crisis, and yet it is so hard to 'get' to the
position to talk about it. The latest attempt, in mid-
July, was when President Mahinda Rajapakse
formed a 13-member all-party committee, dubbed
the Representative Committee on Constitutional
Reforms, to explore options for constitutional
changes. The move came after Indian Foreign
Secretary Shyam Saran urged Colombo to devise a
credible plan for an end to the suddenly escalated
ethnic violence.
But do you really have a committee when the
key players of the political opposition are not there.
and neither are the Tamil Tiger rebels? While the
committee was originally to be made up of lawyers
and intellectuals from all backgrounds, the first
meeting went forward without those who may be
said to be speaking for the rebels, nor the main
opposition party, the United National Party, or even
the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance.
And do you have an effective committee when,
at the very inauguration, you note that the unity
and sovereignty of the country are not open to
bargain? That might very well be true, but does it
need stating at a critical period, when President
Rajapakse needs to begin some sort of
engagement with the rebels? Under such an
atmosphere, how can the committee come up with
"creative options'' to resolving the current conflict,
as the president directed?
Policy Planning Minister Keheliya Rambukwella
said that the committee would be looking at the
details of other countries' constitutions, including
that of India. Well, if the idea is to look at Indian
federalism, have things not gone a bit too far for
that? And, in any case, is federalism in India really
that good to write home about?
More travel, more peace
Around 170,000 people traveled
both ways between India and
Pakistan in the first five months
of this year, according to
statistics released last month - "a
significant increase" from the
previous year, said the Indian
External Affairs Ministry
So what's the breakdown?
From January through May, nearly
84,000 people traveled between
the two countries by air, 47,700
by train and 8000 by bus, In
addition, nearly 28,500 people
crossed the Wagah border by
foot. Those who crossed the
newly opened Line of Control by
foot or by bus numbered around
800. The new Thar Express train,
which began running in February
between Khokrapar and Munabao,
was by June carrying up to 800
people per week.
At the end of June, Pakistani
authorities announced new visa
arrangements for Indian citizens.
Indian businessmen will now be
able to get six-month multiple-
entry visas, while pilgrim and
tourist visas for Indians have been
extended to 15 and 30 days
respectively. Pakistani media
hailed the decision to facilitate
'peopie-to-people" contact, and
called on India to reciprocate the
new measures - and to start
giving tourist visas to Pakistani
citizens, which are not currently
There are many, many fingers
crossed on the two sides of the
border that the Bombay serial
blasts will not reverse this trend of
heartening, increased India-
Pakistan travel.
Poonch to Rawalkot
In mid-June, Sonia Gandhi and
Defence Minister Pranab
Mukherjee flagged off a long-
awaited bus service between
Poonch and Rawalkot, 55 km
apart. This is the second cross-
frontier bus link in Kashmir, after
Srinagar and Muzaffarabad were
connected last April, That first
service, Gandhi noted, 'helped us
break the first wall between India
and Pakistan. Poonch-Rawalakot
helped break the second one."
How many walls are there
between these neighbours,
anyway? The Karvaan-e-Aman
bus will ply this traditional route
just once every two weeks.
Aha, open border!
Good or bad, developments on
one side of the open border
between India and Nepal are quick
to affect those on the other side.
An eye hospital in the Nepal tarai
is flooded with patients from
Bihar, and there is always
massive shopping in Bihar when
the price of any commodity
shoots up in Nepal.
The border town of Birgunj,
south of Kathmandu, has seen it
all. And now that the Patna
government of Nitish Kumar has
managed to visibly improve the
law-and-order situation in Bihar,
Birgunj residents are seeing the
rampant criminality migrate
northwards. Criminal gangs
feeling the heat in districts like
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 East Champaran are now causing
havoc in the neighbouring Nepali
townships of Gaur, Malangwa and
Rajbiraj, besides Birgunj.
Already suffering from the
'donations' demanded by the
Maobaadi rebels, the Nepali
businessmen say they are
extremely distressed, and well
they might be. Chhote Lai Sahni,
described as the 'kidnapping
godfather' of East Champaran,
was just one of quite a few busy
weaving extortion rackets across
the Nepal tarai.
There have been four
kidnapping cases in Birgunj alone
in recent months, with two of the
victims released after paying a
ransom of INR 10 million each.
*wo industrialists were seriously
injured in a bomb blast engineered
by Sahni's gang. Such was his
daring, the godfather even used
Nepal's radio network to his
advantage, making calls to the
local FM station to own up after
each kidnapping case.
As a last straw, the Nepali
industrialists placed their
grievance with the Indian
ambassador to Nepal. Shiv
Shanker Mukherjee. Soon after,
Sahni was nabbed - south of the
border by the Bihar police.
The lesson from the episode: in
the case of an open border, in the
absence of equivalent levels of
law and order, criminals will flow
to the side that has poorer
governance. It used to be Bihar.
For now, it is Nepal. »»
Pakistan studies, India studies
"There should be no visa and passport restrictions" between India
and Pakistan, renowned social worker Abdus Sattar Edhi thundered
in Karachi in mid-June, addressing a newly established Bombay-
Karachi education forum. The programme, to be headed by
professor Tauseef Ahmed Khan, will facilitate crossborder
exchanges of students, teachers and faculty
between educational and research institutes in
India and Pakistan.
When the talk turned to 'Indian Studies
departments', it became apparent that
there were none in the many universities
of Pakistan. The Pakistani participants
agreed to work towards the
establishment of some. Meanwhile,
the Indian side patted themselves
on the back for already having .; '
five departments of Pakistani „
Studies - evidently feeling that -f
five was enough.
The new education forum was
part of an ongoing exchange VL
programme between the two financial
capitals organised by the South Asia Free Media Association
(SAFMA), an organisation that confounds sceptics by relentlessly
using media as a wedge to introduce all manner of issues between
India and Pakistan. Other initiatives on the anvil are said to include
the swapping of technology, medical students, media-related
information and expertise on issues of urbanisation and commerce.
That Bombay and Karachi are talking rather than New Delhi and
Islamabad gives rise to some hope that something lasting might
actually come of this exchange promoted by SAFMA. *
Tibet secret
After months of rumour, it finally
surfaced in the reinstated Nepali
Parliament - a secretive plan to
transfer to the United States
thousands of "vulnerable" Tibetan
refugees currently living in Nepal.
The cat emerged from the bag
when, during a meeting of the
Foreign Affairs and Human Rights
Committee, an MP asked whether
rumours were true that the
government was preparing
documents "to send 5000
refugees to the US".
Foreign Minister K P Oli
responded that Nepal has
recently restarted issuing travel
documents to Bhutani refugees,
and "they are also being given to
Tibetan refugees on humanitarian
grounds and in special cases." He
hastened to note that, "It is not
that we are granting travel
documents to illegal Tibetan
The cautious qualifications
were required because of
Beijing's sensitivities towards the
Tibetan refugee issue, which the
earlier Gyanendra regime had
sought to pander to by, among
other things, closing down the
Kathmandu office of the Dalai
Lama, set up to look after refugee
Despite Oli's guarded
comments, the matter has
enraged Chinese officials, who
will not object to Tibetan refugees
in India but who take particular
pleasure in rubbing Kathmandu's
nose in the mud on the self-same
matter. China has consistently
maintained that there are no
Tibetan refugees in Nepal, only
illegal migrants. As Hima/went to
press, Beijing was said to be
despatching Vice-Foreign Minister
Wu Dawei to Kathmandu to
indicate its displeasure.
Kathmandu is supposed to
tremble at the thought.
Meanwhile, little is known of
the issue that touched off the
controversy. The Tibetan
government-in-exile in
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 Dharamsala confirms that a plan
to evacuate the refugees to the
US exists, but they will not say
more. Refugee representatives in
Kathmandu claim to know even
less. The US embassy is
keeping mum. The Tibetans
wait.    ■
Changing ofthe guard?
Reports out of Burma point to a
resolute move on the part of the
ruling junta to reinvigorate the
country's flagging power structure
and economy. Eight deputy
ministers and a Supreme Court
judge have been relieved of their
positions, and observers have
noted that
appear to be
in the works
- including
resignation of
General Than
Shwe, the
junta head.
of economic liberalisation appear
to be in the pipeline, coming in
the wake of a crackdown on
corruption in Rangoon,
A new Constitution is also said to
be in the works.
The changes and rumours of
change are thought to be an
attempt simultaneously to
strengthen and soften the
Rangoon regime ahead of some
constitutional adjustments. Even
if this does not really mean a
loosening up of the regime, the
military leaders do appear ready
to hand over power to a younger
generation. Such a move,
however, would seem merely to
have the function of extending
the military's hold on Burmese
society and its prospects.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi, in the
meantime, spent her 61st
birthday under house arrest in
mid-June. ■
Refugee, Taliban and Pakistani
Islamabad has appealed for international funding to allow the remaining
2.6 million Afghan refugees currently in Pakistan to return home. It
will not be cheap, with the cost of the exercise hovering at about USD
5 billion.
Adding a twist to sweeten
the pill for the Western donors,
Foreign Minister Khurshid
Mahmud Kasuri added that,
together with the departure of the
refugees, an important staging
ground for Taliban militants would
be eliminated.
According to the office of the
UN High Commissioner for
Refugees, 100,000 Afghans have
voluntarily left Pakistan thus far this year. Although these numbers
are down from previous years, those going back are being described
as more highly skilled than previous returnees.
Which is why it is a shame that the rate of return has suddenly
dipped as the Taliban has stepped up its violent activities inside
Afghanistan. Relations between Kabul and Islamabad have become
frayed as a result, with the latter surely wanting the refugees to
be repatriated.
Since UNHCR began its repatriation operation (its largest ever) after
the fall of the Taliban, more than 2.8 million Afghan refugees have
returned home. It is said that those most desperate to return
have already done so, leaving behind a group that will cost more to
repatriate and reintegrate into Afghani society. Which explains the
high price tag.    ■
Bhutan: frontier matters
The demarcation of Bhutan's
border with India is said to be
nearly complete. Although the
borders were originally defined
back in 1963 and ratified in 1971,
several boundary pillars were
found missing in 2001 and the
process was restarted. By last
December, only eight strips of
territory remained pending, on the
Arunachal Pradesh and Assam
borders. King Jigme Singye
Wangchuck has announced that
these remaining segments would
be finalised by the end of 2006.
In the meantime, looking to the
north, Thimphu's National
Assembly legislators have been
airing worries about the Tibetan
borderlands. In recent years, the
Chinese have constructed a
number of roads up to the Bhutani
frontier, and some are thought to
actually traverse the defined
border. "For a small country, losing
even a small piece of land would
be a big loss," said one official.
All border matters are supposed
to be cleared up in advance of the
unveiling of Druk Yul's new
Constitution in 2008. While
Thimphu does not have diplomatic
relations with China - out of
deference, it is said, for India - the
Bhutanis are on tenterhooks about
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 the goings-on across over the
Himalayan rampart.
The 2003 announcement by
Delhi to open up the Nathula
border point (see related story
later in this issue) for India-China
commerce saw fruition on 6 July,
and Thimphu is extremely alert to
the potential impact on its own
economy and prized sense of
security. The Chumbi Valley,
through which the route
between Siliguri, Gangtok and
Lhasa passes, lies across
Bhutan's western border.
Thimphu believes that Nathula's
opening will greatly increase
pressure within Bhutan to reopen
the traditional trade routes with
Tibet. Bhutan would want to have
more to do and say with China,
and before long India may have to
accede to this Druk desire. ■
Waziristan ceasefire
Unbeknownst to much of the rest
of Southasia, fierce clashes have
continued for several months in
both North and South Waziristan.
However, even as anti-Taliban
fighting continued to escalate
across the border in Afghanistan,
with 80,000 Pakistani troops
stationed along the frontier, a one-
month truce was called by
militants in North Waziristan in
late June. This was meant to allow
tribal elders to negotiate a
settlement with the Islamabad
The fighting was scaled down
abruptly with the mid-June
announcement of a tribal jirga
called by the government. The
jirga, which is made up of 47
members, demanded that the
government dismantle new military
checkposts, reinstate fired local
officials, pay out withheld salaries,
release innocent persons
suspected of militant ties, and
order soldiers back to their bases
to make way for tribal security
personnel. Days later, the
government released 50 tribal men
from detention.
Three weeks after it was
announced, despite two
instances of militant violence,
the new governor of the
Northwest Frontier Provinces
called the ceasefire the first
major step towards restoration of
peace in Waziristan. Despite the
seeming success, however, the
ceasefire period had yet to be
extended. ■
Over to the people
Could control just possibly be
slipping away from Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom, president for
nearly 28 years? It may well be,
if recent actions of the Maldives'
Special Majlis (Constitutional
Assembly) are any indication.
Amidst discussion of
constitutional reforms, during a
mid-June debate on the country's
future ruling structure, an
impasse in the Special Majlis on
the choice between a presidential
or parliamentary system led to
the body voting to go in for a
referendum. The people of the
Maldives are now set for the first
such exercise in nearly four
decades. The vote was carried by
an overwhelming majority opting in
favour of the referendum -
including half of the ruling Dhivehi
Rayyithunge Party (DRP) members
in the assembly.
The opposition favours a
parliamentary system with a
ceremonial head of state, while
DRP members had reportedly been
instructed by President Gayoom to
block any such possibility.
In preparation for the
referendum, three weeks later the
DRP again broke with the
president, releasing a leaflet urging
voters to support a "full"
presidential system. This is in
direct opposition to the 'hybrid'
system that Gayoom has
proposed, which would include an
elected president as well as a
prime minister appointed by the
president. The opposition says that
whatever the referendum's result, it
will be a setback for the longtime
president-autocrat. Although an
exact date has not been set,
opposition leaders suggest a vote
could take place as early as the
end of the summer. ■
Yet another Tibetan frontier
There was still a week to go before the spanking new Qinghai-Lhasa
railway was set to open, and Beijing was already announcing three
extensions to take the railway in the high plateau to the next frontier.
The new projects, which will cost several billion dollars and take close
to a decade to complete, will n
connect Lhasa to three other
Tibetan cities - Yadong in the
south, Nyingchi in the east and
Shigatse in the southwest.
What this indicates is that
Beijing is going full steam ahead
with its plans to convert Tibet into
a new frontier of economic and
natural resource exploitation. Tibetan political activists have feared
that the Golmud-Lhasa line would permit the Han infiltration of the
Tibetan towns to extend to the countryside.
On another plane, the building up of a railway network in Tibet would
seem to enhance possibilities of commerce between it and South and
Central Asia. Those in the know say that this has indeed been Beijing's
plan since 2001. ■
Himal Southasian | August 2006
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The Country Director will have a proven track record in leading and managing institutional development programs
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Roadmap to nowhere
President bayoorn s
new reform plan is not
verv reform-minded.
In the sandy atolls of the Maldives, civil
and political rights have traditionally
been viewed as a privilege bestowed
by a benevolent ruler, rather than as
inalienable rights of the citizenry.
Nonetheless, under intense internal and
international pressure that was
heightened last year in particular,
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was
forced to make some concessions.
This culminated in the announcement
of the much-touted Roadmap for the
Reform Agenda on 27 March 2006.
Since that time, however, the 'reforms'
have remained on paper, while
systematic, targeted violations of
constitutionally guaranteed rights have
ncreased sharply.
In the past few months, the constitutional right to
freedom of assembly was severely curtailed by violent
actions against peaceful protestors by both the police
and pro-government thugs believed to be in the control
of Police Commissioner Adam Zahir. Protestors have
been brutally beaten, arbitrarily arrested and charged
with "disobeying police orders" or "obstructing police
work". Detainees facing trial are typically brought in
through the backdoor of the courts and summarily
sentenced, without recourse to defence procedures.
The police and the pro-government thugs have made
a habit of roaming the streets, storming houses and
indiscriminately arresting family members and
supporters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party
(MDP), Such actions have included the detention of a
girl and her four-year-old sister.
Both the United Nations and the European Union
have strongly condemned the Male government for the
mounting severity of its actions. While President
Gayoom, under international pressure, did allow the
registration of independent newspapers and magazines
earlier this year, media work has been severely
hampered through intimidation, arbitrary arrests and
spurious charges. Almost half the staff of the
opposition-run Minivan, the widest circulating daily, are
either in jail or have court cases pending against them.
Independent journalists in general face similar
persecution, including death threats and intimidation.
' and communism'
Judging from the nature of laws that were passed even
just during the two months following the introduction
ofthe Roadmap, it appears clear that Gayoom's intent
is to maintain his autocratic rule as long as possible.
One piece of legislation, purportedly designed to
'strengthen' press freedoms, in fact
gives legal backing to attempts to stifle
the media. A second law, giving higher
level of immunity to parliamentarians,
was refused ratification by Gayoom on
the grounds that it would strengthen
opposition MPs. The president strongly
rebuked his own party members for
voting in favour of the bill.
One of the reforms previously touted
by the president stipulated that both the
Parliament and the Constituent
Assembly (the Majlis and Special Majlis,
respectively) would include only elected
members. But when the MDP agitated
in support of this proposal, by calling on
Gayoom to remove the 29 members
appointed by him to the Special Majlis,
he balked. His argument was that such a step would
pave the way for the MDP to introduce "Christianity
and communism" to the Maldives.
Other 'innovations' are just as misguided. The
newly introduced system of bail empowers the police
more than it does the judiciary. The police now have
the power to determine the amount of bail to be
imposed, and have discretionary powers to determine
whether the bail has been violated.
The most draconian of all of the newly introduced
legislation, however, is the Presidential Decree
regulating freedom of assembly, passed in mid-May.
This empowers Police Commissioner Zahir to
decide whether citizens can partake in any
protest or gathering. These new powers were
almost immediately put to use, when over 200
demonstrators were arrested during a week of protests
in the capital.
President Gayoom's actions, and those of his
police, belie two particular claims: those of introducing
greater separation of powers, and of strengthening
competing institutions such as the judiciary and the
legislature. In fact, these new laws only further
strengthen the power of the executive and the
discretionary powers of the Maldivian police.
Gayoom's actions following the introduction of the
Roadmap make it clear that, despite the widespread
demand for reforms, he has no intention of diluting
his powers, or of ushering in a more democratic
system of governance. The people of the Maldives
continue to be deprived of their constitutionally
guaranteed civil and political rights. Under
President Gayoom, the Maldives will remain a police
state, irrespective of rhetoric about 'roadmaps',
reform' or 'democracy'.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
A break in the
Despite plenty of false starts, it finally happened: the trading pass of
Nathula was reopened after four decades. Congratulations are in
order. Let us now have some trade.
In the bustling main bazaar of Gangtok, ensconced
in a small shop, lies a slice of history. Sanjeevani
Medicine is the kind of store one would instinctively
walk past, one among the row of outlets that punctuate
MG Road. But its proprietor is quite different from the
other retailers in this line.
Frail and bespectacled, 78-vear-old Ridh Karan is
not your normal pharmaceutical shopkeeper. From a
Marwari family that settled in Sikkim more than a
century ago, Karan is among a tew still alive who were
a part of the erstwhile kingdom's thriving economy
during the 1950s. Those were the days when trade
with Tibet, through Nathula, was still in operation,
forming the backbone of the eastern Himalayan
economy. Indeed, archives suggest that 80 percent of
Sino-Indian trade was conducted on this route, linking
Calcutta and Siliguri to Shigatse and Lhasa via the
Chumbi Valley.
Karan was an active trader, and traveled annually
to Tibet from 1953 to 1959. Looking out at the busy
street, he savs wistfully, "It used to take us two days
on muteback to get to Yadong in Tibet, with a stopover
in Chhangu ... We didn't just engage in commerce at
the border. I had a shop in Yadong, where we took
commodities which were in demand on that side."
these included rice, lentils, clothes, petrol, kerosene,
even motor vehicles and Rolex watches. In return,
the main items of import ranged from raw wool to
Chinese silk.
fhe presence of Chinese troops in Tibet, the Dalai
Lama's escape, and the increasing tension between
India and China gave Karan a sense of the troubled
times ahead. In 1959, the very year of the Dalai Lama's
flight south, he closed his shop and decided to focus
on retail within Sikkim. This political astuteness saved
him from economic ruin. In the wake ofthe Sino-Indian
War of 1962, Nathula was shut down, leading to the
collapse of several large trading houses. The mule
trains stopped plying. And Sikkim was left with little
more than tales of trade and the wealth of Tibet, as
narrated by misty-eyed traders.
At 14,400 feet
It has taken New Delhi and Beijing 44 long years to let
the border communities interact once again. On 6 July
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 this year, Nathula was re-opened for trade amidst great
fanfare. At 14,400 feet above sea level, Sikkim Chief
Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and the Chairman
of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), C Phuntsok,
cut a ribbon, putting into effect an agreement signed
between the two countries in 2003. The opening had
been postponed once already, and there had been
doubts about whether the ceremony would ever
happen. It was only a fortnight before the inauguration
that a high-level Indian delegation finalised the
modalities with their counterparts in Lhasa.
Nathula was windswept, rainy and freezing on the
morning of the opening. With a curious medley of Elton
John, Punjabi Bhangra and soft instrumental music in
the background, people from both sides mingled
happily. The absence of a common language made
conversation difficult, which was possibly why
everyone, including government officials and army
officers, focused instead on posing for photographs.
This was a media jamboree, with television crews in
impressive turnout, As a local newspaper had put it
the day before, there were more journalists in Nathula
than traders.
Not that the traders were any less enthusiastic. 100
elated Sikkimi men and women proudly showed their
trade licenses, which would enable them to journey
across the border and up to the Renqinggang trade
mart 15 km away. 89 Tibetan traders had been granted
similar passes, which made them eligible to come over
to the Sherathang border mart on the Sikkimi side,
which, apart from trading facilities, houses the world's
highest cyber cafe and bank ATM. Surendra Kumar
Sarda, president of the Sikkim Chamber of Commerce
and Industry, was gleeful: "We have been looking
forward to this day for years. This will open the door
for prosperity in Sikkim."
The enthusiasm went beyond business leaders and
government officials. An emphatic B Parida, a hotel
owner in Gangtok, asked, "What were they thinking
till now - that terrorists would cross the pass if it was
opened? This should have happened a long time back."
Chamling, who had long pressured New Delhi to
agree to the re-opening, appeared satisfied that it was
Sikkim citizens who would stand to benefit more than
others, But, he added, "The people in Sikkim must work
hard and engage in active manufacturing and trade,
harnessing our natural advantages. We have entered
the global market now, and must be competitive." The
Nathula commerce on the Indian side is initially
restricted to Sikkim residents, and vehicles that make
the 56 km journey from Gangtok to Nathula need to be
Realpolitik in Beijing
To find the cause of Nathula's opening, one must look
not to the provincial capitals, Gangtok and Lhasa, but
to New Delhi and Beijing. Following almost three
decades of open hostility, India and China succeeded
in carving out relatively cordial ties after Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing in 1988. Through the
1990s, these ties were strengthened through several
high-level visits, treaties and the opening of border
trade between Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh.
Simultaneously, India-China bilateral trade boomed,
and there was some progress on the boundary disputes
between the two countries.
It was in 2003, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit
to China, that New Delhi and Beijing agreed to resume
trade across Nathula. The significance of the step lay
in China's implicit recognition of Sikkim's merger with
India - a fact that Beijing had consistently refused to
accept before then. For its part, India reiterated its
recognition of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.
In terms of policy calculations regarding Nathula,
analysts point to a multi-pronged, long-term Chinese
strategy. Even as eastern China's 14,000 km-long
coastline has participated in an economic boom, the
western region, with its 3500 km of land frontiers, has
not reaped the benefits of the boom. Mahendra Lama,
of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and author
of an authoritative study on trade across Nathula,
notes, "The major driving force for China to open its
border for more trade and investment is the need to
bring its own periphery provinces, mainly the western
region, into the national mainstream."
Beijing's calculation also revolves around its
broader strategy vis-a-vis Tibet. China last month
inaugurated the Golmud-Lhasa rail link, which
connects Beijing directly to the Tibet Autonomous
Region. The strategy of opening up Beijing in the
northeast and Nathula in the southeast seems aimed
at promoting economic growth that will once and for
all close the chapter on any meaningful Tibetan
autonomy that the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile
in Dharamsala demands. More prosperity is seen as a
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 "Delhi has posed unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and has been reluctant to release
funds for infrastructure. But economic logic wil! ensure that Mathula trade here will
take off."
surefire way of subduing Tibetan nationalism, which
is where Nathula's opening finds its uses for Beijing.
Even as the opening of the Lhasa railway has some
Indian traders excited about the possibility of greater
market access in the future, the line to Golmud has
caused consternation among Tibetans in exile. The
fact that Nathula opened on 6 July, which also
happened to be both the Dalai Lama's birthday and
'World Tibet Day', may have been a coincidence. But
it has only served to reinforce the impression
regarding Beijing's hard-line stance on the issue
of Tibetan autonomy, and India's acceptance of
China's position.
Interestingly, Tibetan activists are not critical of the
possible impact of the re-opening of the pass itself,
given that it marks restoration of a trade link that
preceded the Chinese takeover of the 1950s. In fact,
they argue for even greater movement between the two
sides. "This will only revive historic links, though it
is important to be careful about the impact of trade on
our environment. What we are more worried about is
the rail link, which might facilitate further Han influx
into Tibet," says Kasur Tenpa Tsering, the Delhi-based
representative of the Tibetan govcrnment-in-exile.
Activating the Nathula trade route is thus seen as
a part of Beijing's broader strategy to stabilize Chinese
frontiers. The opening of the pass could also add
'strategic depth' by giving China easier access to the
Bay of Bengal. This would complement its control over
the Gwadar port off Pakistan, and create, according
to one analyst, a "new maritime security paradigm"
for the country. Besides these strategic calculations,
the sheer economic potential of Nathula would
explain Beijing's interest, for the route could provide
everything that the Chinese authorities have had to
provide from the distant mainland to date. Production
is today concentrated beyond the eastern frontiers of
Tibet, and the cost of distribution is high; border trade
could fulfil local demand at reasonable rates. More
importantly, China also senses a future opportunity
to access the billion-strong Indian market, even if
the present infrastructural limitations make this a
distant proposition.
Dilemma in Delhi
It is not clear if China's strategic thinking is matched
by a similar long-term plan in New Delhi. For South
Block, the single most important consequence of the
Nathula re-opening seems to be China's explicit and
seemingly irreversible acceptance of Sikkim as an
Indian province. However, Lama believes that from
initial scepticism, New Delhi bureaucrats have slowly
awoken to the other purposes that Nathula's re
opening can accomplish. "Besides the strategic and
economic gains, the Indian state can hold up the reopening of the pass as an example to its other
northeastern states about the benefits of maintaining
peace," he notes. "Nathula can also provide a lesson
on how border areas can develop."
At the same time, India has not yet been able to
figure out what it really wants from the Nathula
route. Would it be happy with a symbolic step, one
with strategic meaning but little economic impact?
Or is the central government looking at more definite
gains? One policymaker admits, "It is true we have
been hesitant about the way ahead, due to both
security and economic considerations."
The security concern essentially stems from the
cautious approach advocated by some senior officers
in the Indian Army who have harrowing memories
of the 1962 war. They express apprehension about
expansion of the road up to the pass, because it
would create a wide access for an invading force
into India's interior. Younger officers, however, tend
to disagree. A captain serving at Nathula says,
"A healthy relationship based on trade and
interaction between people is the best way to one's security."
The economic insecurity, meanwhile, is born out
of the fear of Chinese goods flooding the market if
trade is flung open beyond its present limitations.
Nonetheless, there is a realisation in India about
the inevitable economic engagement that lies ahead,
and how Nathula could be used in this regard.
Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has said, "There is
certainly the potential to develop this into a border
trade crossing through which even normal trade can
take place in the future."
The ambivalence of New Delhi's stand on
Nathula, and how far it is willing to go, is a matter
of acute concern in Gangtok. For this reason, Chief
Minister Chamling spares no effort to thank every
concerned ministry in Delhi for its support. locals,
meanwhile, voice apprehension about the intentions
of the central government. "China has been far more
flexible than India in terms of actual trade rules and
procedures," says Pema Wangchuck, a prominent
Gangtok journalist. "Delhi has posed unnecessary
bureaucratic hurdles and has been reluctant to
release funds for infrastructure. But economic logic
will ensure that Nathula trade here will take off."
For now, optimism
things have not proven quite that straightforward,
however. A fortnight after the opening of the pass,
trading activity had yet to begin between the two
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Gangtok: Ridh Karan remembers
sides. The problem: the fact that Indian rules require
traders to have an import-export code number. To get
that code, however, it is essential to have a Permanent
Account Number (PAN), issued by the national Income
Tax Department. But Sikkimi residents are not issued
this number, because the state does not come under
the central taxation regime, It seems that in the
innumerable meetings, workshops and awareness
programmes in the run-up to the Nathula
opening, the bureaucrats had forgotten to mention
this requirement.
Gangtok traders are resentful that this formality has
been waived at the two other India-China border
trading points, at Lipulekh in Uttaranchal and Shipki
La in Himachal Pradesh. Some believe that India has
developed cold feet after seeing the Nathula route's
potential, which far surpasses the limited trade
possibilities at the other two points. But perhaps it is
too early to hatch such theories. "This is a procedural
matter - merely a reflection of the inefficient system we
have in place. It will be sorted out," assures Lama.
The historic background of the trade link,
geographical proximity to Calcutta and Lhasa, the
efforts being made by the state government - all these
give Nathula a distinctive edge vis-a-vis the other
routes. But does it truly have the widely discussed
economic potential? Modern trade is about multi-lane
highways, high volumes and container traffic - none
of which is currently in place in Sikkim. The only way
to Nathula is through a narrow 143 km road from
Siliguri, via Gangtok. P)espite repeated promises, the
central government has not yet released funds to
improve the road across the difficult terrain. Some
reports did suggest that INR 900 crore had been
released for the purpose, but no official notification
has been received in Gangtok.
Sikkim is currently allowed to export 29 products
and import 15 others, including various livestock,
While this is not exactly a recipe for high-volume trade,
and while the state's weak industrial base does not
help  matters,  the  local  business  community  is
nonetheless convinced there is immense potential.
Returning from Tibet after receiving orders for
commodities, traders claimed that they had found an
overwhelming response. Indeed, the challenge is to
understand the needs in Tibet and capitalise on local
strengths. On the import side, Sikkimis are allowed to
purchase wool from their Tibetan counterparts, which
in itself could reap rich dividends.
The optimism is also borne out by a glance at the
map, A fully operational route across Nathula has
the potential to change the way trade takes place in
this corner of Asia, primarily because the distance from
Calcutta to Lhasa through this route is less than
1200 km. The Calcutta-Kathmandu-Lhasa route,
meanwhile, is more than twice that, at 2600 km.
The Calcutta dimension brings forth the
possibilities of competition between Sikkim and West
Bengal for the trading pie. This also raises broader
questions about whether crossborder trade can be
exclusive, or if it needs to accommodate other regions
as well. The fact that trade is restricted only to Sikkimi
residents has caused resentment in Siliguri. O P
Agarwal, secretary of the Siliguri Merchant
Association, says, "Unless Siliguri is included in the
entire scheme of things concerning Nathula, the
exercise will be partial." Sikkim officials confide
that doing this would enable outsiders to take
over the entire process, leaving locals with little more
than crumbs.
Irrespective of whether Gangtok likes it or not, it is
clear that the business community of North Bengal
will play a key role once the trade picks up. Sikkim
simply does not have either the manufacturing or
agricultural base to supply Tibet on a sustained basis.
In addition, a pattern visible from other zones with
such restrictions is of outsiders setting up businesses
under the name of local residents, and this is bound
to be repeated here as well. Even if trade is restricted
to border provinces for now, it is best for all actors to
recognise that, sooner or later, a more inclusive
framework is inevitable. The logic of Nathula trade is
bound to go beyond Gangtok, and rope in Siliguri and
Calcutta - not to mention dMongla in Bangladesh in
the slightly extended future.
For the moment, the important point is that Nathula
has re-opened. What is critical now is getting the
route activated, and learning from the experience over
the next few years - even as trade through the
pass, both in terms of quantity and reach, expands
to another level. More than anything else, it is
the true power and enthusiasm of individual
entrepreneurship that will drive Nathula trade. More
than four decades after he last engaged in border
commerce, the septuagenarian Gangtok businessman,
Ridh Karan, understands this point well. With a glint
in his eye, he says, "Do you think exporting dry fruits
to Tibet is a good idea? 1 have just submitted my
application for a trade license." &
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Bangladesh's worsening
problems are the result of
systemic political failure. Even as
anger mounts in the midst of preelection jockeying, however, the
truth of the matter is that little
will change after Bangladeshis
head to the polls in January.
Regardless of who wins, it won't
be the people.
This coming January, Bangladesh will go to the
polls to elect a government for the fifth time since
military rule ended in 1990. During each past
election, apart from the discredited February 1996
poll, strong anti-incumbency sentiment has resulted
in a change of government, thereby allowing the two
main parties, the Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), to alternate in power. Despite
a strong record of formal democracy, both Bangladeshi
and international analysts are expressing strong
concerns about January's polls. Many fear that the
results will be so marred by violence and corruption
as to render them unacceptable. Some even worry
that the existing situation
may disallow the
possibility of an election
at all.
Politics, like much
else in Bangladesh, has
always been characterised by
violence.   After the bloody War
of Independence in 1971, the
country's first two prime ministers,
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur
Rahman, were both assassinated.
Between 1974 and 1990, the country
was governed largely under states
of  emergency   or   martial   law.
Intertwined political and familial
histories  have  subsequently
blighted the country's political
landscape.    Even    as    the
upcoming election looms, the
leaders of the two main
political parties - the AL's
Sheikh Hasina (daughter
of   Mujibur   Rahman)
and the BNP's Begum
Khaleda Zia (wife of Ziaur
Rahman) - are not able to so
much as have a talk together about the national state
of affairs.
The past three decades of deep personal animosity
between the two leaders has stifled political discourse
in Bangladesh generally. The Parliament is routinely
boycotted by the opposition, so issues are fought
out street-side through anti-government general
strikes. Though these have become increasingly
frequent, and perhaps more violent, in recent years,
the pattern of the opposition eschewing dialogue in
Parliament in favour of confrontation on the streets
has held true no matter who sits in power.
Despite the uncertain political climate, Bangladesh
has enjoyed an enviable growth rate averaging five
percent over the past several years. However, rising
economic performance has also resulted in an
increasing polarisation between the country's rich and
poor- an inequality that potentially adds to instability.
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Penniless beggars stand outside Bashundhara
City, the mega-mall in central Dhaka that is claimed
to be the largest shopping complex in Southasia.
In rural areas, meanwhile, the situation has
changed little.
Bangladesh is doing better than other countnes in
the region at achieving the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) set by the UN in 2000. The World Bank
in Bangladesh states that the country "has made
remarkable progress on several MDGs and is already
on the verge of achieving the targets in gender parity.
It also has a good chance of reaching other targets in
areas such as under-five mortality and consumption
poverty." Many Bangladeshis are openly astonished
when they hear of such 'successes', however, being
aware of the high levels of insecurity experienced by
people of all classes in the country. At the end of the
day, economic growth has not resulted in any increase
in physical security for Bangladeshis; indeed, it may
have promoted increasing insecurity through a rise
in criminality and impunity.
In recent times, Bangladesh has come to
international attention through the lens of Islamic
extremist violence and terrorism. However, the threat
posed by systemic corruption of the political, business
and justice structures poses a greater and more
immediate threat to the security of Bangladeshis, and
to the integrity of democracy in the country.
Bangladesh is a very politically aware country, but
one where survival requires political patronage at all
levels, The politics that is practiced is complex, multi-
layered and opaque, and political relationships
frequently include protection' that reaches into both
the criminal sector and the justice system itself.
Mastaans and godfathers
Corruption is not so much endemic as systemic in
Bangladesh, and the country has now topped the
Transparency International corruption index for
several years running. Corruption is also directly
linked to criminality, violence and impunity. The social
system in Bangladesh remains somewhat feudal, and
both social and business relations are based on
patronage - relationships that have assisted
organised crime to capture many aspects of the state
and governance, law enforcement and the judicial
system. It also pervades business practice.
Mastaans, organised criminals, run wide-ranging
'protection rackets' through a complex system
of payment and collection. Even street beggars pay
for protection.
Mastaans have developed relationships and
linkages with politicians, who in turn benefit financially.
Some of these politicians, known as 'godfathers', hold
high-ranking positions, and extend political and judicial
protection to the mastaans. Some mastaans have
become legitimate businessmen, while others have
themselves entered politics - each maintaining his
own coterie of goondas. As such, the lines between
politics, business and organised crime have become
increasingly blurred in Bangladesh. Honest
businessmen and politicians are often isolated and
powerless, as the prevailing atmosphere makes
it difficult to remain unsullied by corruption
and patronage.
The success of the political-criminal nexus in
Bangladesh is underpinned by impunity. The godfather-
mastaan system enforces endemic corruption, and
protects those engaged in its organisation.
Furthermore, protected mastaans enjoy impunity from
both police and the justice system - though in recent
years this safety has been threatened by other
extrajudicial means.
In October 2002, police claimed that 10 people were
being killed every day by crime syndicates with links
to politicians. The government subsequently launched
Operation Clean Heart, an army programme that
arrested over 11,000 people, of which only 2400 were
listed as alleged criminals. There were 44 deaths
reported during the operation, which ended in January
2003. The government immediately passed an
ordinance granting indemnity to all the security
personnel who had been involved in the excesses.
Although there was a strong outcry from human rights
organisations and Western governments at this use
of the army and lack of due process, Operation Clean
Heart was an immediate popular success. Dhaka
thereafter instituted the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),
a paramilitary force almost entirely composed of
military personnel but reporting to the Home Affairs
Minister. The RAP operations were legalised' by
investing it with the powers of civilian police.
Numerous criminals have been killed in 'crossfire'
by the RAB, to the extent that 'being taken to the
crossfire' is entering the language in much the same
way as 'being disappeared' did in Latin America in an
earlier era. The RAB still enjoys high popularity, as
many Bangladeshis view it as their only hope against
preying criminals. Many RAB officers have been on
UN peacekeeping missions, and therefore fully
understand human rights norms; in the war against
the mastaans, however, they do not see these as
applicable. Currently, the RAB seems to be efficient,
disciplined and relatively incorrupt, but their actions
offend every precept of due process and rule of law.
Even within some parts of the army itself, questions
are being asked as to who will ultimately be able to
control this proud, elite, popular force.
Impunity and enforcement of the rule of law are key.
issues to many of the country's governance, security
and business ills. Unfortunately, many of those
benefiting from the system are also those to whom
one would look in the fight against impunity, criminality
and corruption. A more successful process needs to
be systematic, long-term, and one that harnesses the
will of Bangladeshis.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 The RAB seems to be efficient disciplined and relatively incorrupt, but their actions
offend every precept of due process and rule of law.
Turn to conservatism
Unlike other parts of Southasia, Bangladesh was
converted to Islam by the Sufis prior to its incorporation
into the Mogul empire during the 17th century. The
more spiritual, rather than clerical, approach of the
Sufis resulted in a blended, syncretic Bengali culture.
Though Islamic by religion, these cultural forms
celebrate singing and dancing from the Sufi tradition,
and also' incorporate many aspects of Hinduism.
This traditional Sufi-based faith has been
increasingly challenged, however, by both Deobandism
from Pakistan and India, and some Wahabism from
West Asia - both of which are stricter and more
clerically based. The West Asian influence has been
strengthened by investment of oil money in Bangladesh
since the 1970s, as well as by Bangladeshis returning
from work in the Gulf. Increasing worldwide Islamic
consciousness and geopolitical events have also
played a part in introducing more clerically based trends.
Thousands of Bangladeshis are believed to have fought
against the USSR in Afghanistan, subsequently
returning home after the Soviets left.
The increasing conservatism of Islam in Bangladesh
is noticeable in the transformation in dress of women
and men, as well as in the conspicuous pious acts in
which political leaders of all parties increasingly engage.
The AL is traditionally seen as the party of secularism,
while the BNP, which removed secularism from the
Constitution, is perceived as more favourable to Islam.
This is particularly so in the current context, as the
present BNP-led government is an alliance that
includes two Islamic parties, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and
Islamic Oike Jote.
Jl's percentage of the popular vote has remained
below 10 percent in successive elections. After allying
with the BNP in 2001, JI secured 18 out of 300 seats
in Parliament, and now holds two cabinet ministries.
This is the first time that the party has been in
government, and the advantage it has been able to
garner from this exposure will only be clear after the
2007 election results are known. The acrimony between
the two major parties has left the population
disillusioned with almost all their political leaders. As
such, there were fears that Jl's image as a party with
a clear agenda and relatively free of financial irregularity
would attract disillusioned voters. However, it seems
that the activities of violent Islamist groups may have
boomeranged against the party, and a JI election upset
now appears unlikely.
International headlines, meanwhile, have focused
on the threat of violent extremism, particularly in the
wake of the bombings between August and December
2005 associated with the militant Jama'atul Mujahideen
Bangladesh (JMB). Despite widespread media reports,
however, the government continued to deny JMB's
existence for months, until strong international pressure
forced Dhaka to ban the group in February 2005, one
day before a high-level international donor meeting was
slated to take place. After the JMB was suspected in
the 459 near-simultaneous countrywide explosions in
August that year, it was again international pressure
that resulted in the incident being taken seriously.
During subsequent attacks that targeted members
of the judiciary, investigations and arrests did indeed
proceed. This resulted in several long jail sentences
being handed down in February, and two leaders being
sentenced to death in May. However, recent reports
state that other trials have been frustrated by the
authorities failing to produce the accused in court.
Furthermore, during the judicial process links have
been discovered between the accused and Shibir, the
student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, as well as with JI
itself. In addition, there have been reports of strong
links with leading politicians in both the major parties.
Some Bangladeshis believe that the JMB leadership
has had 'godfather' protection, particularly in its earlier
activities in northern Bangladesh.
In 2004, the leader of the terror outfit JMJB (Jagrata
Muslim Janata Bangladesh) known as 'Bangla Bhai',
whose real name is Siddiqui Islam, held a press
conference in a local government office in Rajshahi.
Locals also observed cooperation between the police
and the JMB, who were hunting down supposed
communists and leftists. However, the actions by the
security forces against the JMB have convinced most
Bangladeshis that the Mujahideen has, for the
moment, been broken - although few believe that they
are finished.
Prior to August 2005, there was much confusion
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 about the extent of support that groups such as the
JMB might have. The public reaction to the exhibitions
of violence that month, however, indicated a clear
rejection. Indeed, Jl's profile has suffered badly as a
result of the-JMB's activities. This bodes well for
countering further threats of Islamic violence in
Bangladesh. However, the underlying spectre of Islamic
conservatism 'laying the foundation' for an Islamic state
appears to be one that Bangladeshi political parties
are unwilling to publicly take on board, lest they offend
Islamic sensibilities among the electorate. At the same
time, the international community is simply unable to
do so, constrained as they are by a mixture of
excessive liberalism on the one hand, and judicious
caution that they may inflame sensitive anti-imperialist
and/or Muslim sentiments among Bangladeshis on
the other.
New popular will
It can now be seen that Bangladesh's formal democracy
has been gradually undermined by the impunity and
failure ofthe rule of law inherent to both the godfather-
At the end of the day, economic growth
has not resulted in any increase in
physical security for Bangladeshis;
indeed, it may have promoted increasing
insecurity through a rise in criminality
and impunity.
mastaan system and the politics of patronage. Yet
over three previous elections, the first two were thought
to be free and fair, while a third reflected the will of the
people despite overt violence in some areas; a fifth
poll was dubious, but was rejected by the people, and
a new government was installed within five months.
Critical to this has been the non-party caretaker
government system, which has been held up as a model
for other countries in democratic transition. Recent
irregularities surrounding this system, however, have
led to a wide coalition of opposition parties drawing up
an Electoral Reform Agenda (See accompanying story,
"A crippled caretaker").
The AL has threatened to boycott the election if the
reforms are not adopted. The government agreed in
principle to a discussion, and for a while it looked as if
the absence of dialogue in Bangladeshi politics might
suddenly be broken. But that hope was short-lived.
The AL wanted direct talks with the BNP, and stated
they would not hold discussions with the government's
alliance partners, the JI and Oike Jote. The BNP
subsequently put forward a dialogue team that included
members from all alliance parties. As such, there has
still been no dialogue, leading commentators and
activists to believe that the government and opposition
are on a collision course that can only end in violence.
Meanwhile, most of the country's voters appear to
be disillusioned with both of the major parties, and
harbour an active distrust of all politicians. The parties
themselves have ignored the people's needs between
elections, other than to use the public against each
other. In the villages, there is an increasing polarisation
between those who seek solace and social welfare
from the new mosques, and those who cling to the
traditional Sufism and embrace NGO programmes.
But as the political parties swing into election mode
over the spring and summer of 2006, the people have
begun to take things into their own hands. Popular local
demonstrations, neither orchestrated by nor linked to
any political party, have occurred spontaneously around
a variety of non-political issues. In the volatile political
atmosphere of present-day Bangladesh, these could
continue to grow.
Though there had previously been some popular
protest around energy and environmental issues -
particularly in those areas that were devastated by gas
blowouts and fires in the country's northeast - these
had always been utilised by opposition parties for their
own purposes against the government. For many, no
electricity means no water; the high level of electricity
outages has subsequently caused huge frustration,
resulting in these large and public protests in Kansat
and Demra villages during the first four months of this
year. The national press estimated that over 1000
people were injured at Kansat, forcing the government
to issue a public apology. Regardless, there is little
that Dhaka can do to improve the electricity situation
in the short term.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
The United Nations Development
Programme in  Nepal
is looking for dynamic, results-driven Nepalese
citizens for the position of
Procurement Associate (Level GS-5/GS-6)
Under the direct supervision of the Deputy Resident
Representative (Operations), the Procurement Associate ensures
execution of transparent and efficient procurement services and
processes in CO. The Procurement Associate promotes a client-
focused, quality and results-oriented approach in the Unit.
The Procurement Associate works in close collaboration with the
operations, programme and projects' staff in the CO and UNDP
HQs staff for resolving complex procurement-related issues and
information exchange.
Responsibilities include:
• Full compliance of procurement activities with UN/UNDP rules,
regulations, policies and strategies; implementation of the
effective internal control, proper functioning of a client-oriented
procurement management system.
• Preparation of procurement plans for the office and projects
and their implementation monitoring.
• Organization of procurement processes including preparation
and conduct of RFQs, ITBs or RFPs, receipt of quotations,
bids or proposals, their evaluation, negotiation of certain
conditions of contracts in full compliance with UNDP rules and
• Implementation of the internal control system which ensures
that Purchase orders are duly prepared and dispatched. Timely
corrective actions on POs with budget check errors and other
• Presentation of reports on procurement in the CO.
• Implementation of joint procurement processes for the UN
Agencies in line with the UN reform.
• Development and update of the rosters of suppliers,
implementation of supplier selection and evaluation.
• Synthesis of lessons learnt and best practices in Procurement.
• Sound contributions to knowledge networks and communities
of practice.
Minimum Qualifications
• University Degree in Business or Public Administration
with specialized training in procurement;
• Minimum of three years' relevant work experience;
• Excellent advanced computer skills (especially MS Office);
• Experience in procurement and/or inventory management
is an asset;
• Excellent verbal and written communication skills in English
and Nepali languages; and
• Demonstrated interpersonal skills in client relations and in
achieving client satisfaction is an asset
Applications should be submitted no later than 21 August 2006
by email, to: or in a sealed envelope to
UNDP Operations Department (Ref:  PA/PBS), UN House,
Pulchowk, P.O. Box 107, Kathmandu, Nepal
(Only applicants who are short-listed will be contacted)
Applicants must submit the updated standard UN Personal
History Form available from the UN House Reception or
the UNDP webpage
In late May 2006, the protest focus turned from
electricity to industry, when workers across the
garment sector violently rioted in what began as a
dispute over dismissals in a single factory and quickly
spread to engulf whole industrial areas (See Himal
June 2006, "Inflation and the garments worker"}. This
is another example of the extreme volatility of
contemporary conditions in Bangladesh. With no
political party having the credibility to give leadership
or direction to such protests, street turbulence lacking
in any national leadership is likely to increase.
Little will change
Getting through the next election is a necessary but
not sufficient condition to stabilising Bangladesh.
Despite the widespread disillusionment with the
political parties, without doubt it is important that
January's elections take place and, as far as possible,
are conducted freely and fairly. The international
agencies in Dhaka are already cooperating with
Bangladeshi organisations to ensure that there is a
good distribution of trained monitors, both local and
international, throughout the country. If the elections
cannot take place and there is no mandate for
governance, the possibilities are all grim.
Bangladesh has a history of military government.
Currently, the armed forces do not seem to have
political ambition - they enjoy some political influence
without any responsibility, and they earn well from
UN missions and business deals. However, if the
civilian political parties are unable to establish a
credible government, their intervention may be
welcomed as a stabilising factor both within
and outside Bangladesh. Previous military
governments originated under a similar guise of
'saving the country'.
As such, the 2007 elections are crucial for
Bangladesh, despite the fact that their actual outcome
will change little. The country's problems are
systemic, and have come about through the lowering
of people's expectations of government and of
political parties. The latter, meanwhile, have managed
to hollow out the state through corruption and
nepotism. Both the AL and BNP are complicit in this
negative process, and both have allowed the
'godfather system' to become so entrenched that it
is questionable whether they can ever totally extricate
themselves from it.
While these problems need to be articulated in the
public domain, that has proven a dangerous task, as
many Bangladeshi journalists have discovered for
trying. But it is not until the corruption of Bangladeshi
politics is addressed publicly that a corrective process
will be able to begin. Only at that point will
Bangladeshis be able to start developing systematic
responses to the governance challenges the country
faces. And only then might the people of Bangladesh
be able to look to a more secure future. fr
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
The crippled caretaker
Bangladesh's system of caretaker government is seen as a successful
exercise in allowing free and fair elections, but the country's current
political crises can be traced back to this hasty, imperfect arrangement.
A dark cloud of uncertainty hangs over the
upcoming electoral exercise in Bangladesh.
With less than five months to go before the
parliamentary elections, the fifth since the new
democratic era began in 1990, there are serious
doubts as to whether the exercise will be held on
time - and if so, whether it can be fair, and with
participation by all political parties. Three of the four
institutions crucial for the general elections are either
in some sort of crisis, or have lost credibility in the
eyes of the public. These four are: the presidency,
the head of the caretaker government, the election
commission (particularly the chief election
commissioner) and the army. Recently, the first
three have been in the news on an almost daily
basis, and for the wrong reasons. The possible role
of the army is yet to feature prominently in the public
discourse. But reading what the politicians and
pundits leave unsaid, it is not very difficult to see
the shadow of the military looming large.
Ever since the passage of the 13th Amendment in
1996, the Bangladesh Constitution has stipulated
that, upon dissolution of the Parliament at the end of
each five-year term, an 11-member non-party
caretaker government will function as an interim
government for 90 days. The country's most recent
Chief Justice is to serve as the head of this
temporary government, which dissolves when a new
prime minister assumes office. The Constitution also
stipulates that, during the term of the interim
government, the defence ministry is to remain under
the control of the president, who otherwise is the
titular head of state. Accordingly, the term of the
current Parliament and the Bangladesh Nationalist
Party (BNP)-led coalition government will end this
October. The election, therefore, is required to be
held by the end of January 2007.
All elections are important for democratic
processes. However, both at home and abroad, the
upcoming polls are seen as 'crucial' for Bangladesh.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 The 13th Amendment was hastily drawn-up and passed in a marathon session on
26 March 1996, the night before the dissolution of Parliament. At the time, it was
regarded by almost all political parties as a panacea.
These are the first elections since the sudden rise of
political violence in the country, as well as an
organised Islamist militancy  There is ample
evidence to suggest that militant groups have
received moral and material support from members
of the ruling coalition government over the last four
years. A fair election would provide an opportunity to
gauge whether Bangladeshi society at large
acquiesces to this ongoing trend, which is building
towards a crisis of governance, weakening of the
rule of law and a rise in violence against the people,
particularly the minorities.
Elections and political practices since 1991
demonstrate that, while there has been some
progress in the formal aspects of the country's
democratic system - such as the electoral process
- little progress has been made on the substantive
issues like political freedom and inclusiveness
of processes.
During the last couple of years the international
community has expressed concern about the law
and order situation, particularly the rising tide of
militancy, and the attacks on minorities, opposition
activists and journalists. Yet Bangladesh is also
viewed by many as a possible model for democracy
in Muslim-majority countries - that despite the
negative factors, democracy is better than chaos.
Members of the international community have often
expressed the view that, in the absence of the
formal democratic process, Bangladesh will
inevitably plunge into such a chaos, leading to either
a 'failed state' or an Islamist state. Neither of these
would be a welcome development in a volatile region
such as Southasia.
There is also another crucial element linked to the
upcoming polls - the election exercise will
demonstrate whether having a stake in the system
has moderated the positions of the mainstream
Islamists. Of course, participation in elections does
not necessarily produce democratic Islamists -
Bangladeshi Islamists, too, tend to express disdain
for democracy, declaring an intent to use elections
merely as a means to power. If they make a credible
showing in the polls, will the Islamists decide to
work with the institutions of democracy and abide by
the rule of law? Or, with adequate power in their
hands, would they seek to institute legal and
constitutional changes so sweeping as to practically
unmake democracy?
Electoral free-for-all
The current political uncertainty in Bangladesh
cannot be ascribed to the campaign by the
opposition political parties, particularly the Awami
League (AL), having demanded the resignation of
the government for over four years. Instead, the
uncertainty is. largely the result of the supercilious
behaviour of the ruling coalition, led by the BNP.
Take, for example, the government's 2004 decision
to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court
judges. This was evidently intended to ensure that a
certain individual would be able to head the
caretaker government. That person is former Chief
Justice K M Hassan, who has in the past held a
position in the BNP hierarchy.
Extending the judges' retirement age was followed
by the appointment of a new Chief Election .
Commissioner (CEC), M A Aziz, allegedly chosen j
for his loyalty towards the ruling government. While
this appointment in early 2005 followed the letter of
the law, it represented a missed opportunity for the
government to respond to the opposition's demand
for reforms. The opposition grudgingly accepted I
Aziz and concentrated on its other demands, I
particularly on the issue of the head and jurisdiction
of the caretaker government. ,
Beginning in September 2005, the Election
Commission (EC) began to take prejudicial action.
Despite objections voiced by two election
commissioners, CEC Aziz unilaterally decided to
draw up a new voter list, beginning the process with
hardly any preparation. After opposition parties filed
writs, the High Court instructed the EC to base the
new rolls on that drawn up in 2000. The government,
for its part, responded by appointing two new
commissioners, considered close to the party
hierarchy. In addition, two opposition
commissioners, appointed during the time of the
AL government, finished their terms and left the
EC in April.
The CEC first flouted the High Court's
instructions, and then lost an appeal when the
Supreme Court upheld the previous verdict. In the
meantime, a list containing more than 91.3 million
voters had been prepared at a cost of BDT 640
million (USD 9.2 million). The number baffled local
demographers, as their projections had showed less
than 76.7 million eligible voters, while at the same
time tens of thousands were complaining of being
left out.
Despite the public demand that the enlistment of
new voters should be carried out through houses-to-
house visits, CEC .Aziz decided to allow corrections
to the list only if individuals appeared in person at
local EC offices during the month of July. Even
though it took more than five months and more than
272,000 workers to compile the now-rejected list, the
Commission insisted that a list that is now more
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 than five years old can be updated within a month
with the support of less than 6400 officials. All this
has prompted a call for Aziz's resignation even from
a section of the ruling BNP, and the opposition has
declared its refusal to participate in any elections
under the present CEC.
As if these events were not enough to create
doubts about the election's being on schedule,
controversy surrounding President lajuddin Ahmed
that began in May also jeopardises the process.
When he had a heart attack and was taken abroad
for surgery, rumours spread that the BNP was
planning to replace with him someone more loyal,
who could be particularly proactive during the
caretaker government. The president returned after
surgery in Singapore, and while he was in recovery,
the Speaker, Jamiruddin Sircar, began performing
the presidential tasks, claiming for himself the title
of 'functional president' - a term not provided in the
Constitution. Rumours of President Ahmed's health
fuelled rampant energy-sapping speculation until 6
July, when the president resumed office.
While the uncertainty in relation to the presidency
has subsided, the controversy      s
has not. The opposition is
demanding that the defence
ministry, and therefore the army,
be placed under the head of the
caretaker government so that, if
necessary, they can be
mobilised to ensure free and fair
elections. This, however, will not
be possible unless the BNP-
controlled Parliament amends
the Constitution.
Unlucky amendment
The immediate causes of the
current crisis are the ruling
coalition's uncompromising
attitude, manipulation of existing
institutions and rules, and deliberate efforts to sway
tried and tested procedures in their favour. The
roots of the current situation, however, can be
traced back to the 13th Amendment of the
Constitution. It is important to bear in mind that, of
the four elections held between 1991 and 2006,
three were remarkably fair, while the fourth was the
exact opposite. The election of 15 February 1996
was not only boycotted by all political parties except
the BNP, but was also blatantly manipulated. The
seeds of the current problems were largely sown by
the Parliament that grew out of that election.
The 13th Amendment was hastily drawn-up and
passed in a marathon session on 26 March 1996,
the night before the dissolution of Parliament.
Interestingly, at the time it was regarded by almost
all political parties as a panacea. In 1995, when the
AL had demanded that the notion of a caretaker
government be included in the Constitution, the
then-ruling BNP had opposed the motion, terming
the request unconstitutional. Many analysts have
subsequently questioned the wisdom of both. Some
have further warned that the system of caretaker
government itself cannot guarantee fair elections,
but that the Election Commission should instead be
strengthened and made free from the influence of
the executive branch. AL leaders were not amiable
to the idea at that time, and the BNP has had no
time to pay attention to any proposal for reform.
Over the last few years it has become evident
that the 13th Amendment, meant to guarantee free
and fair elections, has had the unintended effect of
politicisation of the judiciary, hurt the presidency,
and made the army dependent on partisan
politicians. Since political expediency was the
driving force behind introducing the system, the
long-term consequences of the system of caretaker
governments and how it would impact the aims of
government were scarcely contemplated.
Meanwhile, crucial details have remained
unexplained, such as the modus operandi of
selecting the members of the caretaker government
(described as 'advisors'), and
the relationships between the
executive branch, and the EC
and the army. It is some of
these ignored 'details' that
have now come back to haunt
the country.
President Ahmed back at work, 9 July
A way out?
Some analysts dismiss the
concerns, saying that political
crisis is nothing new in
Bangladesh, and that in the end
a solution is always found. Such
a fatalist attitude is based on
viewing the present situation as
reminiscent of previous 'crises'
- the last days of the military
regime of General Hussain Mohammed Ershad in
1990, or the political crisis during the Khaleda Zia
regime of November 1995 - March 1996, both of
which were resolved peacefully. On the surface, the
argument is simple and forceful: however difficult it
may appear, or however self-centred the political
leadership may be, the Bangladeshi elites have a
stake in the current system and will find a way to
keep it running.
Missing in this perspective is the presence of
forces - international, regional and domestic - with
agendas detrimental to the national interests of
Bangladesh. It does not take an alarmist to
underscore the possibility that, with the overall
governance in disrepair and a badly organised
general election, the country may be dragged into a
situation that could demonstrate the weaknesses of
multi-party representative democracy. The inability
of leading political forces to resolve the crisis would
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 The 13th Amendment, meant to guarantee free and fair elections, has had the unintended
effect of politicisation of the judiciary, hurt the presidency, and made the army dependent
on partisan politicians.
then benefit a small but lethal force. Saving the
healthy practice of representative government
through a clean and effective poll exercise, one has
to be proactive rather than waiting for some divine or
happenstance intervention. It is imperative that
solutions to the current crisis are explored in the
weeks ahead, before it is too late.
At first glance, the current situation appears
nearly impossible. The country has a chief election
commissioner bent on ruining his commission; a
reliable electoral roll is unlikely to be in place before
the caretaker government takes over in late October
- and therefore will not be available for the election
in January; unless Chief Justice K M Hassan
declines the appointment, the caretaker government
will be headed by the person least acceptable to the
opposition parties; and the army will remain under
the jurisdiction of the president.
To these elements should be
added the highly politicised
government officials who are in
a place to jeopardise the
conduct of free and fair polls.
Added to this is the presence of
a huge amount of illegal small
arms in the market, and the
presence of various militant
networks. None of this seems to
be conducive to a fair election
exercise, and yet the options to
improve the situation are
apparently limited, chiefly
because of provisions in the
Constitution itself.
The relevant constitutional
stipulations in play are as follows. The CEC holds a
constitutional position [118(5)], and therefore cannot
be removed by executive orders, despite violating
the court orders. In appointing the head of the
caretaker government, the president will have to
exhaust a number of options [58C (3) and 58C (4)]
before turning to "a citizen" in consultation with the
political parties [58C (5)], or assume the functions of
the Chief Advisor [58C (6)]. Finally, the term of the
caretaker government is not clearly articulated in the
Constitution [58C(2) and 58C(12)], but it has been
made contingent on the election of the Parliament,
which is to be held within 90 days of the dissolution
or expiration of its term [123(3)].
While following the letter of the Constitution might
ironically result in a level of despair, there do exist
options to accommodate extraordinary
circumstances. Additionally, and perhaps more
importantly, the spirit of the Constitution should be
taken into cognisance. Concerning the removal of
the CEC, the president can seek the opinion of the
Supreme Judicial Council, which consists of the
country's three seniormost judges and which can
investigate the CEC's conduct. The proceedings of
the Council can be initiated by the president upon
receipt of complaints that the CEC or any of the
commissioners have acted improperly. In late June,
a government minister clarified that any citizen can
lodge such a complaint.
To invoke the option regarding the appointment of
a citizen as the chief of the caretaker government,
the retired judges would need to decline the job. A
complete electoral roll can be compiled if the term
of the caretaker government is extended beyond 90
days, and other impediments towards a free
election, such as the law and order situation and
politicisation of the civil
administration, can also be
addressed effectively in the
interim, In any case, the term is
not set by the Constitution; it is
intrinsically tied to the holding of
the election.
Interestingly, the Constitution
has no provision for a situation in
which, for whatever reason, the
election cannot be held within 90
days. It does, however, say that if,
"for reasons of an act of God", the
election for a vacant seat of the
Parliament cannot be held within
90 days, it will have to be held
within the following 90 days. If the
spirit of this provision is taken in
conjunction with the spirit of the entire Constitution
- that the fundamental aim of the state is to secure
the rule of law, equality and justice for all citizens -
a fairly logical solution subsequently offers itself.
Not a divine document, the Constitution of
Bangladesh is meant to be a guide for effective
governance with the consent of the people, and to
ensure that citizens are able to exercise their rights
freely and devoid of fear. A Constitution that does
not fulfil these responsibilities, quite simply, needs
to be changed. Needless to say, the measures
outlined above would only be able to bring
temporary relief. For a long-term solution to a crisis
of this nature, there is no escaping from the fact
that the caretaker government system needs to
be revisited, and the independence of the Election
Commission ensured. The sooner this is done,
the better for all. But first, there are elections to
be held.
August 2006 j Himal Southasian
When we dead awaken
Close to noon, while I grope for colours to paint
my Bangladesh, I look at a daily that habitually
sells well with Boschian human deformities and
negative news, and I smile. On 21 July 2006 - 35
years, seven months from when we first happened -
Bangladesh has covered the graph from all angles,
and has ended up being a positive quotient in most of
its challenging equations. It is not the line that identifies
us today, it is the people here who sketch the
character of the land. Perhaps a cartoon by 'Ranabi',
from way back on 9 January 1971, best explains the
psyche of the people's power in Bangladesh.
The cartoon's aptly captioned: Protiggya Nobayon,
and it stands for renewing a pledge. The map boasts
of a strong fist, shooing the profiteers, black marketers
and smugglers away from the land, while the people,
barefoot and lungi-clad, are positioned in their soon-
to-be-won freedom land - Bangladesh. We had won
or, to say the least, we had bought our right to
independence at the cost of our blood, sweat and tears.
The UNCTAD LDC report 2006 reflects the land's
improvement in 15 indicators, which include average
national labour productivity, birth, death, infant and
under-five mortality rates, life expectancy, population
growth, school enrolment, per capita energy
consumption and a few others. Areas which have been
touched by the masses have experienced dramatic
growth and recovery. If there are any specks of dirt
and disillusionment on the page, let it be known that
these blemishes are all products of the Political
Midases. In this land, at their touch, gold turns to dust,
and fables and myths lose their magic within an instant.
Yet Bangladesh is free today. Every face down the
alley sweats today and labours towards a more
successful tomorrow. A lower-middle-class household
has at least a couple of children going to school. Some
of them even have house help. With their kettles
boiling, they hurriedly prepare their cha and leave for
their workplaces. One actually hears a spoon clinking
in a mug at such a home. One actually enjoys the
luxurious sight of at least a 12-inch black-and-white
television there. The people live in this land, perhaps
*Henrik Ibsen
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 not with cushioned lives, but at least with the bare
minimum hope of getting a better job in the next lane,
which has newer factory buildings coming up.
This place smells of opportunity. There may be
floods, there maybe strikes; roadblocks may be a
fortnightly affair. But for the masses, these are speed-
breakers that temporarily slow their pace. These do
not deter the common vision or even impair the dream
of 1971.
Controversies are regular in this country. The
Election Commission may have spent an unhealthy
sum on the most wasted voter list of the century;
the Finance Ministry may strategically ask for an
explanation from the CEC; there may be rebels within
the government voicing their frustrations, there may
be popular slogans promising nothing short of a
'golden Bengal'; there may be waves of criticism in
revenge rags which attempt to mesmerise the simple
folk - but underestimating the power of History and
the strength of democracy, even if imperfect.
The people of Bangladesh have shadhinota
(independence) in their veins. They need no lessons
on war and freedom. Survivors in this topography of
corruption and dispensable beneficiaries, who benefit
from the current administration in their everyday lives
of commerce, the people have all learnt their lessons.
To them, desh ranks way above the conniving 5000
ill-meaning hands, through whom the balance of power
sways every five years. This sway does not bring in
fresh air for the crowd - it rather ensures a selfish
survival seeped in wealth and greed for those in
position. And every five years, the amusement park
thrives with politicians queuing up for
their next ride.
Third-world disconnect
'Freedom' in Bangladesh has turned
out to be a household concept. It's
a space that ensures my bread,
my breath and my peace. The
space that lies between me and
the well-mounted 24-inch plasma
screen has mountains I cannot
cross. The apparent shots at
'apparent' objective reporting of
burning scenes in the busiest
areas of Dhaka, or the rapes
happening at the most distant
corners of Kurigram, are all part
of the simulation game.
As a woman, as a mother, as a
conscious Bangladeshi, I feel that
we are placing images way above
their qualifying range. Media moguls controlling the
scene have a silent say in all our discourses. Private
channels try being progressive and often test our
senses. Even the hyper-conscious T gives in at
times, thinking ... maybe, just maybe, it's time to
turn a new page. Perhaps the mogul doesn't stink
so much, perhaps the opposition will at least play
Renewing a pledge: Rafiqun
Nabi. Weekly Forum,
9 January 1971
the cards right for strategic reasons, maybe there will
be a lesser evil springing up from the rungs of hell.
However, it takes me a nanosecond to pinch myself
and lead my senses back to sanity. It isn't happening.
The hyper-reality of seminars, symposiums,
conferences and dialogues is quicksand and ... 35
long years of being Bangladeshi has smartened us
up, and we all know better than to give in to the fagade.
For us, Bangladesh still offers opportunities of
minimum employment, transport, habitat, health,
education and oxygen. For us, even the few factories
that shut down following the recent labour unrest are
opening, once again, at 7:00 every morning; the retailers
are still hanging on to the supplier chain. The FDI inflow,
though at a nominal level of USD 400-plus million,
spells hope. The IT sector, though late, today is
operating through a submarine cable; the pharmacies
are selling comparable made-in-Bangladesh medicines;
the supermarkets have packaged food. Banga Bazaar,
the market that sells the export surplus of the
readymade garment industry, stands for a respite to
our closet; every second woman, a skilled homemaker
for years, attempts micro-entrepreneurship in the form
of a vegetable garden, a small boutique, poultry or a
beauty salon representing an urban economic rescue.
And at the end of a fatigued day, every second family
in town comfortably settles in the living room couch
and watches the day go by in hypnotic electronic slides.
My colleague who just got beaten up in the morning
becomes a part of my news quota. I follow his story
through the screen, through the letters in the
press. Perhaps this is the disconnect that a third-
world democracy should be dreading,
rhaps we should all wake up and make
e unrest in the next street over
our business.
After all, paraphrasing Amartya Sen,
identity does become a complicated
business when we ourselves haven't
been friends with our own entities in
a long time. As a woman trained to
believe that silence is the most
desirable complicity of all, I propose
that we shed our passivity, rebel
along with Adrienne Rich against
being "a table set with room for the
Stranger", against "being a woman who
sells for a boat ticket", and not stand
there in a poem: "unsatisfied".
Just because two women leaders are
playing with our political sensibilities and
subjecting us to infinite derogatory female
jokes, doesn't mean that we give up our
road. Rather, our roadmap should have more female
voices emerging from the ruins of our political scene,
resorting, if need be, to a lifetime of Philomela's
The air of Heaven will hear, and any god.
If there is any god in Heaven, will hear me. &
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
in the eye
They are another souvenir of
Partition, the Biharis - or
stranded Pakistanis - of
In 1947, one million Muslim Biharis migrated from India,
like so many others, to Pakistan - East Pakistan.
Educated and fluent in Urdu, the Biharis were treated
as part of the elite, filling major bureaucratic and
private-sector positions, all the while remaining separate
from the 'local' population. As a result, the Bangla-
speaking populace grew resentful, viewing these
migrants as supporters and symbols of unjust West
Pakistani domination. The Biharis drew even more
Bangladeshi.ire during the liberation war of 1970-71.
Since the group regarded itself as Pakistani, the
majority sided with West Pakistan, some joining the
armed movements.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 After India's intervention in December 1971, Pakistan evacuated
Bangladesh. Left behind, in a country that had formed around
them, were over one million Urdu-speaking Biharis. Persecuted,
their property and houses seized, their jobs terminated, by 1972
1,008,680 Biharis were interned in camps across Bangladesh.
While these 'temporary' camps were being constructed, officials
from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the international community
committed themselves to finding a solution.
Of these three, the first agreed to repatriate
the Biharis, the second to tolerate them for
the time being, and the third to support them.
The agreement is now decades old, but
Islamabad accepted only a few of those it
had promised to repatriate, while Dhaka let
them sink to the absolute margins of
society. The international community turned
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 its attention to new challenges, and the
Biharis became stateless.
And there, in the camps, the Biharis
remain. Over half (600,000) accepted
Bangladesh's offer of citizenship in 1974,
while 539,000 registered with the
International Community of the Red Cross
as refugees, to "return to their country of
nationality - Pakistan". Since 1972, Pakistan
has accepted back around 175,000 Biharis. 300,000, meanwhile,
have continued to live in the camps for more than three decades.
Camp conditions are deplorable, characterised by chronic
shortages of clean or running water, undependable electricity,
communal kitchens and hour-long queues for squalid bathrooms.
The majority of Biharis held university degrees in 1947; today,
while primary enrollment in Bangladesh nears 100 percent, less
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 than 20 percent of Bihari children are
in schools. The refugees are refused
admittance into most government
public schools and universities,
and are prohibited from joining
civil service, the police, the
military or holding political office.
Unemployment and extreme poverty
are rampant, as two generations
have been denied the resources,
knowledge and skills needed to
improve their lives.
In 2001, 10 Biharis born after 1971
successfully petitioned a court for the
right to vote. Hundreds of thousands
of others, however, have been
stripped of even the most basic of
human rights. Both Pakistan and
Bangladesh refuse to recognise their
suffering and grant them citizenship.
All but forgotten by the international
community, the Bihari wait, desperate
for attention, afraid to dream of a better
future for their children. £
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
A taste of #»
"-. cxif
■o-7: m>*   : l       tOv
riving down Mall Road in
Lahore this morning on the
way to the 1 lome Ministry
Office to apply for a visa extension
- sweaty palms, dry throat - I fail to
appreciate the sunshine, bouncing
gaily off the orange funnels of tiger
lilies colouring the median divide.
A puff of cotton, hovering over the
cars ahead, catches my attention.
Hoping to escape the anxious
wlhitifs in my mind, I latch onto the
white-haired seed, following its rise
and fall through the air ... now just
missing the raised white glove of a
traffic policeman, now gliding
behind the young motorcyclist
whose t-shirt logo inspires me this
morning: "Think DONE!"
The traffic light turns green. As
the car speeds forward, I crane
my neck to catch a last glimpse
of the white puffball rising
above the blue smoke of the
spluttering autorickshaws. What a
din of mufflers!
Soon, 1 discover the source of the
cotton: the tall shimul trees (Bowbtu
ceibti) bordering the road, with
powder-puff seeds still attached to
their split pods. A few months ago,
these branches were a glorious
crimson, sporting the fist-sized,
fleshy flowers that also speckled the
grounds below. Now the bloody
tiger-claws   of  En/thrina   indien
cheerlead the summer blooms.
We pass the Avari Hotel, which
recently hosted its first Hindu
wedding in 18 years. A couple had
tied the knot and walked the sat
phern (seven circles) around the
sacred fire. What were their names?
Rama and what? Come to think of
it, I haven't met or heard of a single
renowned, extant Hindu in the two
years that I've been frequenting
Lahore. Considering the fact that
this was once a major Hindu and
Sikh city (1 haven't met a Sikh yet
either), that is a sad reminder of the
legacy of Partition.
Further along, I spot another of
my favourite plants, the rain tree,
Albizin lebbeck. My heart wells with
sad-sweet memories of evening
strolls with my mother, the air
perfumed by the cream pompoms of
shirish, as they are called in Bengal.
1 am delighted that I should
find all of these old friends here:
the tiger lilies that used to border
the driveway of our house in
Dishergarh, a small settlement on
the banks of the Damodar River in
West Bengal; the shimul, the grand
monarch of our garden; the shirish,
which lined the road outside. So far
north and west from my childhood
home, 1 never expected to find them
here in Lahore. As we continue to
cruise, I even spy a paulash tree
Paulash, or flame
of the forest
rearing its spectacular head from
hehind a compound wall - the flame
of the forest (Bitten nioiiosfwriim), the
flower that symbolises the onset of
spring in Bengal.
Putting down roots
One familiar shrub and tree after
another, my ride along Mall Road
is like a trip down memory lane.
Before long, I forget my visa fears. I
begin to enjoy the drive, amidst the
companionship of the ancient trees
- peepul, neem, arjun, seesham,
amaltaas, al.stonia - old trees with
gnarled and knotted branches that
mesh overhead in a green, leafy
canopy. Many of these were
growing more than 60 years ago.
How ironic that the people they had
grown with were uprooted, while
they have held their ground!
We pass the High Court, a
beautiful reef brick building that
harmoniously combines design
elements of Mughal and Gothic
architecture. Above the plaster-
raised design of the Scales of Justice
waves the green Pakistani flag. I
Himal Southasian | August 2006
look at it with interest. Tomorrow,
if I were to seek a permanent
solution to my visa issues in order
to live in Pakistan, I might need to
change my citizenship. For while
other foreigners (except Israelis) can
opt for a seven-year residency
permit as a relative of a Pakistani, I,
as an Indian, can only stay here on
temporary month-long visas,
despite being married to a Pakistani.
I can try to prolong my stay by
pleading for extensions, but
the length of stay appears to
depend mainly on the discretion
of members in the upper echelons
of the Home jMinistry.
The Indian spouse of another
Indo-Pakistani couple managed to
obtain a six-month residency
permit from Islamabad. They were
told that that was the maximum
length of stay allowable for an
Indian spouse; if she wishes to
stay longer, she must apply for
Pakistani citizenship.
The Indian laws, concomitantly,
are no less stringent. Restricting
long-term residency permits and
requiring the sacrifice of birth
citizenship make settling down
in any one country - India or
Pakistan - a huge impediment for
crossborder couples. The duo
mentioned earlier eventually
became so frustrated with
manoeuvring through the red
tape   that   they   opted   for   an
unconventional marriage. They
now maintain parallel homes in the
two countries; they meet whenever
the visa regime is merciful, or else
plan one rendezvous or another in
neighbouring lands like Nepal or
Sri Lanka. This, however, is an
option that few would be able to
exercise. After the initial resistance,
most couples eventually yield, and
one partner sacrifices both passport
and citizenship.
For Siddiqa Faruqi, a Karachi
lady married to a Lucknow
cousin now residing in Delhi,
changing citizenship was a
traumatic decision, put off until
circumstances made it absolutely
unavoidable. Predictable grief
ensued: Siddiqa was not able to get
a Pakistani visa in time to attend
her brother's funeral in Karachi.
Chakh ke dekho
The car slows and we swing left at
Kim's brass canon, Zamzama,
made famous by Rudyard Kipling.
The Lahore Museum, whose first
curator was Rudyard's father
Lockwood, is on the right. The other
day I met Naheed Rizvi, the
museum's present director, at a
lawn party. She has undertaken
significant renovation work in the
museum, uncovering the original
ceiling, which had once held glass
that had naturally lit the halls.
We spoke of the Bengal School
of Paintings, part of the museum's
most treasured assets and
a reminder of an important
cross-Subcontinent connection.
Abanindranath Tagore, the
school's founder, had taught at
Shantiniketan, which is about 150
km from my hometown of
Dishergarh. As an amateur artist,
1 had been profoundly influenced
by what he had instructed: "If you
want to paint a tree, look at it, sit in
its shade, observe it change
through the seasons. Then, go
home and paint it." The celebrated
Lahori painter Abdul Rehman
Chugtai had trained at the Mayo
School of Arts, now renamed the
National College of Art, and was
taught by Samarendranath Gupta,
a Bengali artist. His paintings use
both the Bengal School techniques
and Persian miniature styles.
We arrive at our destination, a
typical matchbox office building.
'The Education Department', a
signboard announces. I walk up
to the Section Officer's desk,
housed in a dark room off a long,
cramped corridor. I know the man.
I frequent this place. He smiles and
says: "\ thought you must have
left!" I am assured a two-month
extension this time, but warned
that for any further extensions I'll
have to go to Islamabad.
We are driving back. Released
from yet another immediate visa
crisis, we give in to a traffic-light
vendor selling falsas (Grewia
asiatica berries). S buys a packet
of the magenta-coloured fruit for
10 rupees. Taking the small
newspaper cone through the car
window, he asks the youngster,
"Are they sweet?" He replies:
"Munh ka zaiqa badal dega" (They'll
change the taste of your mouth). I
pop a salt-sprinkled berry in my
mouth and wince. It's tangy!
The next time someone asks me
why I opt for all this trouble, what
holds me here in Pakistan
(S aside), I'll steal this falsa-seller's
line and challenge: "Chakh ke
dekho. Munh ka zaiqa badal jaegal"
(Sample it. It'll change the taste of
your mouth). A
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Baby-booming India
A 'youthful' India will inevitably age. There must be creation
of wealth and productive employment today, to prepare for
tomorrow's dependency.
As with any region of similar size, scope and
history, it is difficult to characterise 'Southasia'.
Common threads do run through this part ofthe
world: shared histories, common religions, entwined
cultures, interlocking geography. Yet any one of
these is inadequate in defining a binding, region-
wide character.
Perhaps an answer lies not just in the past that
southasia's people share, but in the common
challenges they face in the future. The creating of
asting and well-functioning democracies, eradicating
Illiteracy and poverty, finding development approaches
that are sustainable in terms of both energy and
environment, and battling terrorism and sectarian
, idence - all of these are problems for the region as a
.vhole. One particularly crosscutting question is how
oest to tackle population growth, how to draft policies
:hat are sensitive to the realities of population character,
change and trend - referred to collectively as the study
of demographics.
While the size and structure of a population - as
well as how this is expected to change - affects virtually
every aspect of a society, in general too little attention
is focused on demographic factors when framing
national policy. This is particularly true, and critical, in
the case of India, where significant population
growth is inevitable, making it particularly important to
invest in the young people of today. While the focus
here is India, it is important to realise that much of
Southasia is undergoing and facing similar processes
and questions.
Population bomb?
That India has a huge and growing population is hardly
a secret - indeed, the argument that 'we just have too
many people' has been part of popular debate
throughout modern times. Unfortunately, the ability to
constrain population growth is necessarily limited by
two factors. The first is what demographers like to call
'Population Momentum'. This refers to the fact that
Sri LanKa
The Southasian Fertility Transition
.., 1
n ■
1952      19S7      1362      1967      1972      1977      1982      1387      1 S92      1997      M02      2007      2012      2017      2022      2027      2032      2037      20«2      2047
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 even after a country reduces its fertility to replacement
levels - a rate at which successive generations remain
about the same size - population continues to grow for
a while before finally stabilising. In essence, the cause
of Population Momentum is the birth of large numbers
of children when fertility is still above replacement.
These children then go on to reproduce, driving
population increase. This means that even if India
dropped to replacement levels overnight, it would still
end up with a lot more than a billion people,
The second factor is the mixed, heterogeneous
nature of India's society. In terms of demographics,
there is a world of difference between, say, Kerala and
Bihar. India's populous BIMARU states* lag far behind
the national average when it comes to controlling
population size, and these state-level disparities have
a large impact on overall population growth, Taking
these facts into account, projecting population size into
the future reveals that India will in fact grow even
faster than what most estimates (such as the United
Nations projections) based on average national
statistics suggest.
Back in the 18th century, English political economist
Thomas Malthus published a famously pessimistic
prediction: "The power of population is so superior to
the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man,
that premature death must in some shape or other visit
the human race" - in essence, that the human
population will eventually outstrip the food supply. While
Malthusian theories on the effects of population growth
and fears of a population bomb may well be unfounded,
it would be foolish to deny the importance of
understanding what India is going to look like in the
years to come, It is, of course, not impossible to reduce
the country's final stable population through
development, with quicker drops in fertility and
mortality, and an increase in the age of marriage. In
order for this to happen, however, careful attention
needs to be paid to the few, yet populous, states that
have resisted substantive change.
Age Pyramid in 2010
Age Pyramid in 2050
Millions      Woman
Age distribution of India's population in 2010 and 2050. Note the
bulge at the bottom moving up, and the distortion of the pyramidal
shape with aging.
*Bihar  Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh
The rising tide
India, and indeed all of Southasia, is undergoing a
transition from a state of high fertility rates to one of
stable population (see Table 1). This decline normally
occurs only once in a country's history, and will have
a number of significant implications over the next few
decades. The decline from a high fertility rate to one
low enough to stabilise the population is referred to as
the fertility transition; in such a situation the
replacement level is a little above 2.0, whereas the
figure for India is currently about 2.7. Fertility transitions
are associated with growth and opportunity, but also
represent severe challenges for the future.
Countries that are undergoing a relatively sudden
drop in fertility tend to experience what is referred to
as a 'baby boom'. India, where over 60 percent of the
population is under 30 years of age, is seeing precisely
this phenomenon (see Table 2). Over the next few
years, the country has the rare luxury of a large and
youthful workforce, as well as decreased old-age
dependency in the population. This 'bulge' in people
who are young and productive is a wonderful opportunity
to grow quickly, and has certainly played a part in India's
recent increased growth.
However, a country that is primarily young today
will also be largely old tomorrow. A population in which
a large number of people are either too young or too
old to work places a heavy burden on the relatively
fewer numbers who must support them. The graph in
Figure 3 highlights the timeframe when the dependency
levels in India's population are expected to be low:
beyond about 2025, India can expect to see a rising
number of dependents.
To understand the pressures that aging can place
on a nation, we need only look around the world. The
United States, for example, is currently struggling to
ensure that its social security system will be ready to
cope with the impending retirement of its baby-boomer
generation. As a large fraction of American society
prepares to leave the workforce, the implications on
state finances, policy and public life are
enormous. In Italy, for every ten workers
there are a staggering seven pensioners,
and over a third of pre-tax annual
earnings by the working population is
being used to pay pensions.
Fast growth, and the creation of
wealth and productive employment
today, is therefore more important than
ever before in India's history. How
well the country does in the next three
decades is not merely about solving
current problems, but also about
insuring against the inevitable
future challenges.
One such challenge that has not been
confronted is education funding.
Successive Indian governments have
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 talked for years about the need to increase spending
on education. Spending at least six percent of the
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education has
been held up as the ideal. But India continues to spend
under four percent of its GDP on education, and within
that, a little under 1.8 percent of GDP on elementary
education. This would be an unfortunate state of
affairs at the best of times, but when looking at the
age distribution ofthe country's population, it makes
for particularly poor public policy.
The 2001 Census of India reported that over 22
percent of the population was between 5 and 14 years
of age. As can be seen in Figure 3, which starts at
2001, the percentage of children who must be
educated in schools will remain high for the next few
years, before declining gradually as the population
ages. Correspondingly, there will be an increase in
jemand for college and university education,
.jcational schools and technical training centres. An
nsufficient investment in education today will
translate into an under-skilled workforce in the next
few decades. The last thing that India can afford is to
let this young workforce be held back by a lack of
sufficient educational funding and opportunities.
Retirement and marriage
-; life expectancies have risen over the last half-
century, societies have worked to define a reasonable
retirement age that makes economic sense for their
citizens. In India, 93 percent of the economy lies in
the informal sector, and consequently the concepts
of'retirement' and 'pensions' are less significant here
than in many other countries. Even so, the formal
sector remains important, particularly as a middle-
class employment option. Already, Indian retirement
ages have been moved up from 58 to 60 in many
sectors, and there is serious discussion on the
possibility of raising it further. In higher education,
for instance, allowing people to work longer might
mitigate teacher shortages,
In the near future, it is certain that a significant
fraction of people over 60 will also be under 65. An
ncreasing retirement age is therefore likely to have
significant short-term effects. Some of these might
be regarded as generally positive, such as a reduction
in pension payments and an increase in experienced
workforce. Others, such as the holding back of a
younger workforce and the resulting unemployment,
are much more worrying. In the case ofthe education
sector, the availability of experienced teachers and
a larger quantity of available teachers might be a
very good thing. In other areas, however, the
consequences of unemployment among the next
generation could outweigh any short-term good that
might result. It is therefore crucial to consider the
Dalance of such effects across age groups, sectors
and regions.
Then there is the issue of marriage, for the problem
oaa- .. .	
Reduced Dependency in Near Future
■j Fraction of Dependents
2 Fraction Crjer 60
3 Fraction UnrJer 5
4 Fraction in Compulsory School Age
201 & 2S30
The changing face of India: Change in the fraction of
dependents (under 14 and over 60 yrs) with time.
Also note the demographic window of low
of finding a mate, too, is a 'policy' issue. 'Marriage
policy', for example, is crucial if the state is to work
towards reducing the increasing imbalances in India's
sex ratio. The 2001 census in India reports a child
sex ratio of 927 males for every 1000 females, with
the figure being far worse in many regions (See
accompanying story, "The absent daughters of
Punjab"). Shameful as this statistic is in itself, it is
even more worrying when we look a little further into
the future.
A skewed sex ratio at birth today, combined with
higher female mortality rates, inevitably results in an
even more imbalanced situation 20 years in the future.
This is also the time when people look to get married,
and, in a monogamous society, a lack of women tends
to have uniformly depressing consequences. Several
recent studies have found that the presence of a large
number of men who are unable to find a mate is a
driving force for prostitution, increased crime
(especially against women), the spread of HIV/AIDS
and so on. In states like Punjab, for instance, women
are already brought in from other parts of the country
to make up the deficit that exists today. Yet as sex
ratios continue to change in the wrong direction, this
is a problem that is only going to get worse.
India ts currently at a very significant stage in
its demographic history, and the deep-rooted
ramifications of its fertility transition are being realised
too late and too slow. The fact is that, over the next
decade, people will become both India's most valuable
resource and its greatest challenge. As such, India's
policymakers in New Delhi and the individual states
must confront the issue and study the trends
realistically in order to make intelligent decisions that
will take the second most populous country in the
world into the future
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Looking to the shadows
India's unorganised labour has always played a critical part in the economy, but
the only time New Delhi has paid attention has been to pass largely employer-
friendly legislation. Two important draft bills are currently being considered.
They work in almost every conceivable situation,
along with th'eir entire families. They do
agricultural labour in season, and are artisans,
head-loaders and construction workers. They sweat in
brick-kilns and quarries, glass- or brassware operations.
They toil for far more than eight hours at a stretch, yet
they do not have the luxury of either weekend holidays
or social-security benefits. They number around 300
million, yet they are not part of any organised system
of work. They constitute the bulk of the workforce in
independent India but are rarely written about. They
are not on any list; register or muster roll. They are the
anonymous contributors to the national income. They
are, in short, the survivors of the other India at work -
invisible to the glitzy, high-tech environs of the new
India-on-the-move. Unorganised-sector workers
contribute nearly 45 percent of the national income,
and produce nearly 40 percent of industrial
products. And their ranks are growing, in accordance
with the omnipresent emphasis on short-term
contractual employment.
According to the National Sample Survey
Organisation report of 1999-2000, workers in the
unorganised sector in India total 369 million; the
corresponding figure in the organised sector is just 28
million. Within this category of unorganised work, those
employed in agriculture take the lion's share at 237
million; construction numbers 17 million; manufacturing
activities, 41 million; and 37 million each in trade and
transport, and communication and services.
With the advancement of technology, the
fragmentation of work has allowed for separate
activities to be carried out in different places. The
necessity of using skilled labour has also decreased,
as each task can comprise of simple operations that
can be performed by non-regular workers. For instance,
over 50 percent of bangle production is done at homes
by women and children - indicating the clear cost-
advantage to the employer. Firozabad, in Uttar
Pradesh, is famous for its bangle production - an
unorganised-sector industry that is more than 200 years
old. Here, workers used to learn on the job, working for
free until they acquired the necessary skills. There
was no formal process of recruitment or training. Even
a significant amount of the furnace-related activity was
done manually, although now motors ensure that
workers produce more in eight hours than they used to
in twelve.
Meanwhile, it has been a long-standing demand of
trade unions that comprehensive legislation is required
to cover unorganised-sector workers. Little, however,
has emerged so far. The recommendations of the
second National Labour Commission, constituted by
the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA)
government, did not come out with any concrete
provision for guaranteed minimum wage, social security
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 or employment regulation. In fact, it was not until
around the eve of the national elections in 2004 that
the NDA government finally floated a social-security
scheme whose coverage, while not grossly inadequate,
was found wanting. Even this, however, was
subsequently shelved.
Similarly, without any consultation with trade unions,
the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government introduced a labour bill in 2005 that seeks
to exempt employers from filing various returns,
registers and statements, mostly pertaining to
employees and employment conditions. Trade unions
have opposed the draft bill. While two significant pieces
of comprehensive legislation for unorganised-sector
workers were introduced last year, both currently
remain in the draft stage, requiring a significant amount
of improvement.
The other India
The informal sector accounts for around 93 percent of
the total working populace in India. A large section of
these workers consist of women workers and child
labour, and most belong to the socially 'backward'
sections of society. Nonetheless, they have been
dubbed the "ultimate entrepreneurs" by none other than
the International Labour Organisation for their ability to
sustain a livelihood with very little capital. This is an
entrepreneurship that need not be envied, as the norms
of 'decent work' do not apply to them.
A 2005 ILO report titled "The Other India at Work"
visited 74 small- and micro-enterprises (a sophisticated
.srm used to denote work in the unorganised sector) in
ten clusters spread over several states of North India.
The report's focus was on the informal manufacturing
and artisan clusters that made up the "original
manufacturing hubs", which have subsequently been
diversified into a piecemeal variety of jobs. There is
every reason to believe that their number is increasing.
While many of the advantages of globalisation may
have been taken up by the new manufacturing and
service clusters - knitwear in Tiruppur, automotive
components in Delhi and Madras, IT and back-office
work in Bangalore and Gurgaon - the ILO report found
that the bulk ofthe informal sector remains languishing
in abysmal working conditions.
Although around half of the locations surveyed were
found to be officially registered, employers preferred
to remain unregistered to avoid government
interference (read: labour inspection) and tax liabilities.
In fact, 75 percent of the owners of unregistered
ventures stated that they expected higher incomes by
operating within the informal economy. In addition, the
survey also found that much ofthe work subcontracted
to the micro-enterprises was from larger, generally
registered enterprises. This is a relatively recent
development, having sprung up over the past decade-
and-a-half. Whether this was done as cost-cutting or
to escape labour legislation is not clear, but these small
enterprises have clearly been discovered as a pool of
cheap, casual labour for larger businesses.
This is an entrepreneurship that need not
be envied, as the norms of 'decent work'
do not apply here.
Of those labourers whom the ILO surveyed, nearly
two-thirds were from micro-enterprises employing from
one to five workers; over half of these also had a system
of subcontracting work. The quality of employment was
found to be poor in terms of wages, social protection,
and conditions of employment and work environment,
while the level of skills and technology was also low.
Although no employer reported child labour, the
researchers found many instances of child workers
engaged in hazardous work. While most employers
and employees appeared unaware of the adverse
impact of the poor work environment and occupational
safety, both employer and employee showed a
keenness to improve working conditions.
For the moment, however, this is a working
population almost completely devoid of any social-
safety net. For most of these workers, there was no
arrangement compensation in case of disability due to
work-related accidents. Salaries were deducted during
sick days, and medical expenses had to be covered
by the workers (or their families) themselves. Only four
percent were covered by the Employees State
Insurance Scheme, which is stipulated for any
employer with a certain number of employees. Not a
single worker expected to receive unemployment
benefits in the event of joblessness. Labourers said
that they would work until the age of 51, after which
they expected their family members to support them.
Slow attention
In September 2004, soon after the UPA government
took over power, the National Commission for
Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector was set up,
keeping in line with a commitment spelt out in the
National Common Minimum Programme four months
earlier. This body was supposed to examine the
Unorganised Sector Workers Bill of 2004, which had
been  prepared  by the
previous government. The
commission itself, which is
not a statutory body but
rather an initiative from
Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh's office, was a
response to a longstanding
demand by trade unions
for protective legislation
for the unorganised-sector
In the meantime, the
National Advisory Council,
the body set up in 2004 to
oversee the Common
Minimum Programme, had
7-year-old Asif, packaging
for Nestle in New Delhi
Himal Southasian [ August 2006
 also drafted a social-security bill aimed at the
unorganised sector. That bill was found wanting on
several grounds, particularly in terms of the very limited
number of people it sought to cover. The commission
subsequently decided that instead of a single bill, two
separate bills were needed to deal with what it called
the "heterogeneous and highly differentiated universe".
Thus, in mid-2005, there emerged two pieces of draft
legislation: the Unorganised Sector Workers Social
Security Bill, and the Unorganised Sector Workers
(Conditions of Work and Livelihood Promotion) Bill.
Together, an estimated 300 million workers could be
covered within five years.
The first bill, dealing with social security, is more or
less comprehensive in that it will cover all workers in
the unorganised sector with a monthly income of INR
5000 or below. This will include wage-earners, self-
employed (including small and marginal farmers) and
home-based workers. In addition, coverage will be
extended to casual unorganised-sector workers. The
only problem with this legislation had been its approach
to the identification of employers. Here the suggestions
of some of the trade unions have been accepted, such
that wherever the employer is not identifiable and the
worker is compelled to change jobs frequently, the
contribution of the employer should be borne by the
appropriate government or board (state or central), or
shared between the state and central governments.
More troubling has been the second bill. Since this
draft was made public, the Communist Party of India
(Marxist)-aligned Centre of Indian Trade Unions has
suggested several improvements. These include more
specific and concrete provisions on "protection against
retrenchment/dismissal", appropriate compensation,
working hours, labour inspection, appropriate dispute/
grievance settlement machinery and punishment for
contravention. It has also demanded that workers in
the unorganised sector be given the benefits that have
already been mandated under other industrial
legislation, such as the Trade Union, Minimum Wages,
and Maternity Benefit acts.
The hope for these two draft bills is in creating what
is called the 'social floor', for providing a measure of
social security and ensuring a core of minimum
acceptable standards of decent work. Though it may
be that the unorganised sector in India is being taken
up seriously for the first time, much depends on how
keen the government machinery is to implement even
the minimum currently envisaged. While the bills were
postponed last December, it is now hoped that they
will be taken up during the monsoon session. If
anything, the hurdles are the financial burden the
government would have to bear in terms of enforcement
and monitoring. With the existing labour-law
enforcement machinery, after alt, simply passing this
new legislation would be the easy part. »
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August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Movement profile
SEWA, of self-employed women
The 'informal' sector in India actually comprises 93 percent of the country's
workforce, 40 percent of whom are women. As the Self Employed Women's
Association has discovered, such overwhelming numbers are sure to offer significant
opportunities - and frighten the establishment.
Laxmiben lives in a slum area
in Ahmedabad with her four
children. She supports her
family by carrying cloth parcels on
her head in the downtown cloth
market. She inherited this work
from her mother, and has done it
all her life. Although Laxmiben's
earnings are small and insecure,
she is well respected among her
fellow workers and the market's
shopkeepers-because she is the
vice president of SEWA Bank - a
women's cooperative set up by
the nationwide Self Employed
Women's Association. SEWA has
been gaining strength in its work of
helping to lift women out of poverty
since 1972.
Laxmiben is part of India's vast
informal economy, which includes
door-to-door vegetable vendors,
rickshaw pullers and rag-pickers, as
well as garment and paperback
makers, beedi rollers and food
processors. In rural areas, the
landless agricultural labourer, the
woman crafts-worker, the silkworm
farmer or the forest worker are
all part of the crucial informal
economy, which accounts for nearly
93 percent of the total workforce in
India. And over half of them, 53
percent, are self-employed. Women
constitute roughly 40 percent of this
part of this economy, although
official statistics often report
significantly less. At the same time,
informal-economy workers are
extremely active economically,
accounting for about 60 percent
of India's GDP, over 50 percent
of national savings, and about 47
percent of all exports.
In spite of these significant
contributions, however, these
workers remain at the bottom of the
social and economic pyramid. Their
earnings are low, just one-third that
of formal-sector workers; their
employment is insecure; and,
especially in rural areas, they are
often without work for several
months every year. Unlike workers
in the organised economy, they also
have access to neither social
security nor pension plans. Within
the informal sector, women fare
worse, earning the lowest amounts.
Out of the entire female workforce
in India, 94 percent toil in the
informal sector.
It was as in an attempt to
organise these workers that, in
Ahmedabad in 1972, trade union
leader Elaben Bhatt founded SEWA
on Gandhian principles. Functioning
as a trade union, SEWA operates
through a joint strategy of struggle
and development, with goals of full
employment and self-reliance. Full
employment includes four types
of security: work, income, food
and social. Today, SEWA has a
membership of nearly 800,000 in
nine states. By and large, SEWA
members are poor women,
traditional and deeply rooted in their
communities. Throughout her life,
a woman faces multiple needs and
risks; Ela Bhatt believed that both
the needs and the risks must be
addressed if a woman is to emerge
from poverty. Through SEWA,
members struggle for their rights by
building a mass movement of
workers, grounded in the everyday
issues of the women themselves.
Local and national collective
bargaining is subsequently able to
take place with employers,
contractors, municipal authorities,
police, forest departments and
the like.
Mandal services
SEWA has also promoted about
100 women-owned cooperatives.
The largest of these is the SEWA
Cooperative Bank, with whom
Laxmiben works, but also include
initiatives for artisans, agricultural
and dairy farmers, and others. In
addition, the organisation has
initiated more than 5000
membership-based organisations,
which include village-based
savings and credit groups, as well
as producer groups. Owned by the
women workers who put up the
capital, and managed by an elected
board, these organisations are
sustainable in terms of both
finances and decision-making. In
the rural areas, the self-help groups,
or mandals, have formed their own
district federations, with which the
government has been working
closely for the past 15 years, in
order to channel developmental
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 projects aimed at poor women.
Over the years, a host of
programmes have been set up to
focus specifically on the many
needs of SEWA's members. The
Bank, set up in 1974, prioritises
asset-creation for its members. It
has established over 20 types of
savings accounts and 15 types of
loans, tailored to the worker's
immediate or long-term needs.
While the women themselves are
the Bank's owners and board-
members, day-to-day operations are
conducted by a team of qualified
professionals, along with a large
number of 'Bank Sathis' who are
'mini-banks' in themselves. In rural
areas, banking operations are
conducted through self-help groups
and district federations run by the
rural women. At present, there are
300,000 depositors in SEWA Bank,
with a capital of INR 950 billion.
Of necessity, self-employed
workers depend heavily on market
systems and structures. The
process for poor, rural, self-
employed workers' organisations to
enter national markets is a long and
slow one, however, facing endless
constraints, cutthroat competition,
and constantly changing tastes and
requirements. The SEWA Trade
Facilitation Centre, started in 2000,
helps local organisations develop
their own infrastructure to meet
market demands, linking the local
district federations and cooperatives
with national and even global
markets. A related project, the
SEWA Gram Mahila Haat, aims to
eliminate middlemen and provide
market-oriented services to its
members, so that they can be in
direct contact with their local-level
customers and clientele. The Gram
Mahila Haat sells such items
as salt, gum, agricultural products
and handicrafts.
Beginning in the 1970s, one of
the earliest SEWA focuses was on
health. Today, SEWA Health
provides a wide range of primary
healthcare services, emphasising
disease prevention and promotion
of well-being, including both mental
and physical health. Additional
curative initiatives include health
centres,    mobile    clinics,    and
programmes for tuberculosis, AIDS
and occupational health. All of
these are particularly dependent
on local women, especially
traditional midwives (dais), who can
subsequently become the barefoot
doctors of their communities. Two
critical related concerns were
childcare and insurance, both of
which are now widely available to
SEWA members and their families.
Finally, for more than a decade
a SEWA sister organisation has
offered technical and financial
housing services, having built over
5000 low-cost houses and
undertaken large-scale slum
upgradation programmes. With the
understanding that training, research
and communications are vital to
building a movement, an academic
institute, the SEWA Academy,
also offers several specialised
courses, as well as a basic training
programme for members who are
identified as potential leaders. At
present, the Academy has
undertaken a campaign to make
every SEWA member literate,
Too successful?
In the last five years, SEWA's
membership has increased fourfold, and has gone from working in
just Gujarat to having operations in
eight additional states. Perhaps
because of its emerging size, the
organisation has recently come
under attack from the Gujarat
state government. After the
devastating earthquake of 2001,
SEWA supported its members in
the worst-affected districts, through
both relief work and long-
term rehabilitation focusing on
livelihood restoration. Taking
note of these efforts, the UN's
International Fund for Agricultural
Development approached SEWA
and Gujarati officials to undertake
a holistic, seven-year rehabilitation
For three years, the project went
well, with notable accomplishments.
Slowly, however, official attitudes
towards SEWA changed in
Gandhinagar, Gujarat's capital.
First, the government began to
withhold payments to the women for
work done. At one point, the total
outstanding amount was a
staggering INR 20 million, a sum
that was impossible for SEWA to
work around, resulting in a
complete cessation of all project
activities. This situation naturally
caused immense hardship for the
local people, and more than 12,000
poor women's livelihoods came to
a grinding halt. In addition, it caused
a loss of credibility for SEWA and
its sister organisations, since local
suppliers were owed thousands
of rupees.
Instead of heeding SEWA's
request for reimbursement, the
government slapped a special
audit on the organisation and
began to leak disinformation
to the newspapers. SEWA
subsequently decided to withdraw
from all projects with the Gujarat
government. Nonetheless, the
government has continued to
attack SEWA, in both the media
and the villages,
In October 2005, some of what
the organisation took away from the
experience was recorded in the
SEWA newsletter:
What we have learned is that
when a mass-based organisation -
and that too of poor, working women
of all communities and castes -
grows and expands its base, it
becomes a strong political force.
This undoubtedly attracts both the
attention and ire of politicians,
bureaucrats and others. A feeling
of competitiveness, of being
threatened to some extent by this
collective strength develops ...
Also, the fact that SEWA organises
women of all faiths and castes is
not acceptable in all quarters. And
it is these poor women who take
the lead for social change in
their villages.
SEWA's strength - indeed, its
most crucial asset - has always
been its membership. And in spite
of all the setbacks, SEWA
membership continues to grow,
while new services continue to be
added. As Gauriben, a member
from rural Gujarat, says: "We are
used to the cycle of drought and
plenty. When there is a drought, we
just tighten our belts and continue
our work."
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
It has been long anc
painful, but gay      m
rights in India is finally
becoming a powerful - and
integrated - political fore
sex desire
For many years, the struggle in India of lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transsexual (LGBT), hijra, kothi
and other non-heterosexualities - what this
writer terms as 'queer' sexualities - has been fought
along the silent margins of both mainstream society
and 'progressive' politics. Things have begun to
change in recent years, but there is still a long way
to go. While certain sections of Indian society have
opened up due to the activism of the queer-rights
movement, the spaces that queer lives must
negotiate in India today remain difficult - in their
everyday lives, as well as in their struggle to
articulate sexuality as not just as an aspect of
identity, but as a deeply held political language in its
own right.
Society repeatedly tells us that there is only one
kind of acceptable desire - male, heterosexual,
within marriage. Social structures further define and
defend what can be referred to as the 'hetero-
normative ideal': rigid notions of what it means to be
a man or a woman, how the two should relate, and
the family unit that should result from such a
relationship. This dynamic creates a unique kind of
universe. A certain type of family is privileged -
heterosexual men and women of the same caste,
class and religious backgrounds - while any other
realities outside this ideal (think single women,
widows, sex workers, inter-caste and inter-class
couples, along with LGBT-identified people) are
punished, subtly and not-so-subtly, through law,
medicine, social norms and religion. There is a
fundamental principle at work here: those in power
create rules and structures that enforce their vision
of what is acceptable, and penalise all those that fall
outside of these structures. This play of power will
sound familiar to those in other political movements,
but unlike in the case of gender, caste, religion or
statehood, for example, the acknowledgement of
such marginalisation on the basis of sexuality is
relatively recent.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 Hijras are allowed neither passports,
ration cards, nor the right to vote. On the
margins of gender, they are literally
bereft of citizenship.
For people desirous of same-sex relationships,
the boundaries of this regulation are unashamedly
clear - Sec 377 ofthe Indian Penal Code, written in
1863, criminalises "voluntary carnal intercourse
against the order of nature", effectively criminalising
homosexual activity even when it occurs between
consenting adults in private. In an unfortunate
shared-neighbourhood legacy, most Southasian
countries carry similar laws.
Few cases tend to be brought to the court under
Sec 377. Yet both documented evidence and the
lived realities of thousands of queer people in India
testify to the fact that the law creates an
environment that justifies violence, stigma and
discrimination against same-sex desire. In the name
of the law, there is widespread police abuse,
violence and sexual assault, especially against
transgender hijras and non-middle-class LGBT
people. Activist groups in Delhi have documented
tales of leading hospitals and mental-health
professionals ordering 'conversion' therapies that
include years of electric shocks and psychotropic
drug prescriptions to 'cure' people of their sexuality.
In 2001, the offices of an NGO working on sexual
health and HIV/AIDS prevention were raided, and the
members were charged under Sec 377. More
recently, in Lucknow, several gay men were set up
in a fake encounter and then arrested, publicly
humiliated and charged under Sec 377 - simply
for the crime of trying to meet a partner of the
Hijras - indigenous transgender communities
that have some recognition, however fleeting and
negative it may be, in Southasian history,
mythology and culture - are allowed neither
passports, ration cards, nor the right to vote. On
the margins of gender, they are literally bereft of
citizenship, for the nation demands that citizens be
classified according to binary gender systems.
Over the past few years, there have been more
than a dozen cases of lesbian couples committing
suicide together when either faced with or subjected
to forced separation and marriage to others. Same-
sex couples do not even have the dignity of having
their relationships acknowledged for what they are,
let alone receiving any of the legal entitlements
and rights that married heterosexual couples take
for granted.
The stories are endless. LGBT people are unable
to live their lives openly or with dignity out of fear of
discrimination, arbitrary loss of employment, or
violence. Activists must work with hands tied
behind their backs, since any action can be
construed as aiding a criminal offence. Human
rights organisations refuse to recognise the
discrimination, citing the law. Nearly every
institution, from hospitals to workplaces to places
of worship to schools, cites the existence of Sec
377, as a fig leaf behind which to hide and remain
silent on an issue that affects hundreds of
thousands of Indian citizens.
Fear of the alleyway
How do we understand the true impact of Sec 377?
Law does not simply live within the walls of the
courts - it actively shapes the social, moral and
ethical fabric of our society. It can challenge as well
as enforce the boundaries of what is imaginable,
and what is acceptable. The existence of Sec 377
shapes much of the public discourse around
sexuality, in a context that is already marked by a
deafening silence.
Given this, what has been the queer movement's
response in recent years? The advent of HIV/AIDS
made it easier for activists to talk, albeit indirectly,
about (male) same-sex desire. For LGBT activists
in the late 1990s, the only means to garner
attention or support was to speak of queer persons
as the victims of human rights violations and/or
HIV/AIDS. Though the disease has undeniably
opened up spaces to talk about sexuality, many
activists question the longer-term effect of using
HIV/AIDS as the entry point for what are some of
the first conversations on same-sex desire in the
Subcontinent. They argue that the 'bodies' of LGBT
people and their desires have thus been pushed to
the periphery of the discourse, and in their place
has emerged an acceptable dialogue of rights,
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 violence and disease prevention. This new rhetoric,
however, leaves unchallenged the hetero-normative
structures that legitimised social conceptions of
queer people as (at best) the concern of a small
minority, or (at worst) that of the deviant, abnormal,
perverted and/or mentally ill. Put simply, one did not
fight for LGBT people to live lives of respect and
dignity - one simply fought for their right not to be
subject to public and extreme violence, and not to
die of HIV/AIDS.
Just a few years ago, when sexuality was first
articulated as a matter of politics - largely by using
human rights language to speak of 'gay rights' - it
was given little legitimacy. Sexuality, as gender
used to be, has long been placed at the bottom of a
hierarchy of oppressions - it is seen as a 'lesser
polities', one less important than those of poverty,
caste, religion and labour. In India, alliances with
progressive movements were all the more precious
for the few activists that could afford to lead open
queer lives and organise around sexuality. This fact
was made abundantly clear to this writer while
attending a planning meeting for the World Social
Forum in Bombay this past year. While trying to get
gender and sexuality included as a thematic focus of
the forum, one of India's most respected trade-union
leaders said that the WSF was a space to "discuss
serious issues of development and society, not
to traverse through its dark alleyways and
shadowy corners".
Intersectional interests
Fortunately, the face of the queer movement has
changed in recent years, as has the perception of
the movement in both larger society and within other
political groups. A legal challenge against Sec 377 is
currently traversing the corridors of the Delhi High
Court. This is riding on supportive recommendations
against the law by the Planning Commission of
India, the National Commission for Women, and the
Law Commission of India. Each of these shows
cracks in the state's monolithic and homophobic
response to the legal challenge to the law.
Outside the courts, several queer groups have
begun to articulate a notion of 'intersectionality' -
that discrimination based on race, class, caste,
religion and gender all intersect with homophobia,
and therefore could not be fully understood without
taking sexuality into account. An example of this
approach was the 2004 formation of Voices Against
Sec 377, a broad coalition that consists of
human rights groups, women's groups, child-rights
and LGBT organisations. The coalition was created
to show the courts that Indian citizens beyond the
LGBT-identified community cared about gay rights
and were against the law. The success of the
coalition in bringing together a broad alliance to
fight for sexual rights, however, was the result of a
longer process.
Many queer activists are, after all, parts of other
World Social Forum, Bombay, 2004
political movements. Using the language of
intersectionality, they demanded inclusion in these
other groups, arguing that these interests were
incomplete without an understanding of sexuality. It
was not about homosexual or heterosexual,
therefore, but about how patriarchal understandings
of gender, race, class and religion impact all
sexualities. With this new articulation, a broadening
of the queer spaces occurred, to bring in non-LGBT-
identified people who were still able to see and
speak of queer rights as their issue, rather than as
the issue of a small minority community.
Certainly, an increasing presence in media, films,
books and other forms of popular culture have also
increased the visibility of queer communities and
helped such alliances, as has the rising numbers of
vocal queer activists. These have inevitably led to
the emergence of a more confident, self-conscious
and positive articulation of queer lives by queer
people themselves, as a new generation of activists
increasingly finds more spaces in which to be
themselves, as well as a more expansive set of
voices that feel comfortable and confident in
speaking about queer issues.
This new sense of freedom, however, is still
hesitant, for few of us can afford to forget how
fragile are the accepting spaces we inhabit, or how
few of us truly have access to them. Yet this new
freedom is a heady feeling, and it cradles within it a
hope that seemed distant just a few years ago. .As
long as this hope persists, the movement will
continue to fight for the rights of all Indians to live
lives of dignity, and be free of the oppressed labels
of despised sexuality. fr
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Salaam Mumbai
As a salute to Bombay, we present a variegated run
of three articles on the city of contradictions.
The spirit
of Bombay
At the end of June, as Bombay anxiously
scanned the skies for evidence of the
monsoons, the metropolis was drenched by a
cloudburst of self-righteous indignation. Evidently irked
by a survey by the US-based Reader's Digest on urban
etiquette that placed Bombay at the very bottom of a
36-city stack, the city's bold and beautiful mounted
an enthusiastic defence of the metropolis.
"You realise this is only on the surface and people
here have a heart," a prominent advertising-filmmaker
named Prahlad Kakkar pronounced. His exasperation
was echoed by actor Makarand Deshpande, who told
journalists, "Mumbai has heart and soul, and those
who think otherwise lack it."
The battle was even taken global by my friend
Suketu Mehta. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal,
he quoted a lyrical, locomotive allegory from his
wonderful book, Maximum City:
If you are late for work in Mumbai and reach the station just as the
train is leaving the platform, don't despair. You can run up to the
packed compartments and find many hands unfolding like petals
to pull you on board ... They know that your boss might yell at
you or cut your pay if you miss this train ... Come on board, they
say. We'll adjust.
Mehta's enthusiasm can perhaps be attributed to
the fact that he hasn't lived in Bombay for at least six
years, since he finished researching Maximum City.
While there is much to be admired about the bovine
way in which we allow ourselves to be packed into
the local train each morning (about 4700 of us in each
nine-coach train meant for just 1700), it is evident to
anyone who actually travels by train that our capacity
to adjust has been worn very thin.
Not so long ago, a man clinging to the footboard of
a moving local train was pushed to his death by fellow
passengers in a scuffle about space. It was an
unusually violent conclusion to the sort of disputes
that break out at rush hour every day, when
passengers on trains bound for the furthest stops
blockade the exit against those doing short trips.
Those who live closer to the Churchgate and
Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus starting points pay the
price for taking up precious space in the trains traveling
to the end of the line instead of taking shorter-haul
trains, and are taught a lesson by being allowed to
alight only several stops after their destinations.
As for those hands reaching out, many of my
women friends think they are actually like octopus
tentacles. They may unfold like petals as the train
leaves the station, but as it pulls into a stop, they
most often dart out to grope women on the platform.
The others who have taken it upon themselves to
protect Bombay so passionately from the insults do
not even have Mehta's state of expatriation for an
excuse. Both Kakkar and Deshpande imply that even
if Bombay does not do the little things, like hold doors
open for the people behind us or say 'thank you' to
strangers who have afforded us random acts of
kindness, we have actually got the big things right.
After the bomb blasts of 11 July, we were reassured
by the sight of thousands helping out to offer aid to
strangers. But that's human nature: adversity brings
out the best of everyone. Bombay's problem is that
we've failed to show such generosity and engagement
with our neighbours in times of normalcy.
That's exemplified in the debate about Bombay's
civility. Etiquette, after all, is a measure of our
sensitivity to people around us, and Bombay barely
has any. Many visitors are shocked by how little we
care for the small courtesies: most working days, we
do not make way for ambulances in traffic, we honk
at old people crossing the street, and it sure as hell
isn't in our DNA to say thanks.
Bending backwards
Still, it would be possible to ignore the relatively
insignificant acts of rudeness if India's commercial
capital was really doing the important things correctly.
But it is impossible to believe that a city with real
heart would allow 60 percent of its residents (that's
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 more than seven million people) to live in slums. If
India's most affluent city really had a soul, it would
not countenance the inequalities that allow children
in the shanties to grow up malnourished, in mid-June,
31 of 41 children surveyed in a slum in Bhandup, in
northeastern Bombay, were found to have inadequate
levels of nutrition.
If we really were sensitive to the people around
us, we would be demanding that the government
restore subsidies to public hospitals rather than
ensuring that we all have place to park our cars. In
March, residents of the posh Walkeshwar area
physically attacked policemen towing away cars from
a no-parking zone. "Each household has three to four
:3'S and parking is already an issue in this city,"
one resident plaintively told journalists. "Where do
we go?"
Early in July, Bombay ground to a halt for three
days after a relatively small amount of rainfall caused
floods across the city - including in such elite
neighbourhoods as Breach Candy. The newspapers
were filled with the usual feel-good stories about how
strangers had helped each other to safety through
waist-deep floodwater, They also used the
opportunity to bash the Digest survey, one of the
criteria for which was whether citizens were likely to
help strangers pick up scattered papers, Bombay
'doesn't bend to pick up a pile of papers but
bends backward to lend a helping hand", proclaimed
one article.
If only that were cause for reassurance. The floods
were a replay of similar events exactly a year ago.
On 26 July 2005 an astonishing 37.2 inches of rain
pounded down within 24 hours. The downpour left
447 people dead and damaged the homes of tens of
thousands of citizens, rich and poor. That deluge
brought into focus the years of wilful damage the city
had suffered. Politicians and bureaucrats, in their
eagerness to appease builders, have completely
subverted the city's development plan. Skyscrapers
have been sanctioned without considering the ability
of the sewage and storm-water drainage to cope.
Meanwhile, the 'reclamation' of mangrove swamps
reduced the area available for the rainwater to drain.
Many suburban areas were flooded because the
Mithi River spilled over its banks, A highly polluted
channel in central Bombay, the Mithi soon emerged
as a symbol of all the misguided development that
has been visited upon the city over the last decade.
Many members of the middle class piped up to claim
that the river channel had been narrowed by the slums
that have sprouted along its banks. In reality, it was
the government-approved reclamation work that has
reduced the Mithi's capacity to carry monsoon water
to the sea. The extension of a runway at the airport
diverted its course by almost 90 degrees; the
hypermodern Bandra Kurla Complex office district
squeezed it some more; and the Mithi's mouth has
been blocked by the construction of a grandiose
Sealink that will carry vehicles across the bay
between Bandra and Worli.
Faced with a catastrophe of the magnitude of last
year's flood, citizens of most other cities would have
swarmed unto the streets to demand immediate
remedy from the politicians and administrators. But the
residents of Bombay were content with passing around
SMS messages that thundered about the government's
misdeeds. That was slacktivism at its best - and yet
another sign of just how unconcerned Bombay's
citizens are about our crisis, and how
willing we are to point an accusing finger at those
less fortunate.
Though those floods should have been a wake-up call,
over the last year the city silently acquiesced to two
decisions that will only deepen our malaise. !n May,
the Supreme Court of India ruled that owners of 52
mills in central Bombay could sell their land as they
wished, ending a decade-long debate. Activists
had pointed out that if a portion of these lands (which
form a geographically contiguous 600-acre chunk) were
acquired by the state, Bombay would finally
have the opportunity to create parks, build
broader roads and other infrastructure so as to
decongest itself.
With this court decision, developers have now
received the green light to build skyscrapers throughout
central Bombay, with no thought given to the city
infrastructure's ability to respond to such pressure.
Shortly after, in the middle of June, the government
announced plans to allow construction on 5500 acres
of salt-pan land - coastal tracts that allow monsoon
waters to drain. Neither of these decisions caused as
much outrage from the city's elites as did the results
of the Reader's Digest survey.
Bombay's middle classes have attempted to blame
our crisis on political forces beyond our control, but
we're working overtime to add to the problems of our
already burdened metropolis. We're now the fifth-most
polluted city in the world, but the eagerness ofthe middle
classes to buy vehicles (in a city at which traffic moves
at 12 km an hour) continues unabated. Bombay adds
just over 200 vehicles to its narrow streets every day.
During this year's floods, as they did last July,
Bombay's beautiful people attributed the city's ability
to cope with disasters to "the spirit of the city", which
the newspapers have variously described as
"indomitable", "never-say-die" and "undying". These are
facile formulations that seek to absolve the elites of
any real responsibility of fixing things. They seem to
believe that the city's capacity to "adjust", as Suketu
Mehta puts it, is so infinite, that they do not really have
to bother reconsidering the path they have chosen for
the rest of us
Even if Bombay's defenders are right in asserting
that the premises of the Digest survey are flawed and
that we aren't as rude as they say, we'd still be in the
running to be declared the most callous, thoughtless
city in the world. .&
Himal Southasian j August 2006
 The embrace of Mumbai
The siren call of Bombay attracts the rich and poor throughout Southasia,
including large numbers of women from Nepal and Bangladesh. While some are
dragged under by the vicious subculture of manipulation and forced labour,
others discover fulfilment.
In a petal-strewn Bombay alley, up a narrow rank of
rusting metal stairs, is the one-room bedroom-
bathrobm-kitchen of social activist Indira Paudyal.
Two bamboo mats are beds; a wall cupboard holds
clothes, paperwork, photographs. A kerosene stove
warms water for lemon tea. A single window overlooking
suburban Thane's envied greenery eases the
claustrophobia. Through this, 32-year-old Indira, who
emigrated from Nepal two months ago leaving her two
children and parents behind, watches a street slowly
flood, hears the comforting clang of temple bells, and,
like the persistent buzz of mosquitoes, listens to
conversations in languages she does not understand.
Indira is among an estimated 300,000 Nepali women
in Bombay. While the majority are housewives who
accompany their husbands, following the push and pull
of political and economic realities, many are employed,
in sectors ranging from domestic and sex work, to nonprofits and small businesses. However, like the city's
estimated 200,000 Bangladeshi women, at least half
have been trafficked, including into domestic and forced
labour, and may spend years trying to regain control
over their own lives. Even those living the 'immigrant
dream' are faced with obstacles, of being both women
and migrants.
Says social anthropologist Rahul Srivastava:
"Migrant women are preferred to men, because they
are cheaper and can be exploited more. In sweatshops,
behind sewing machines and as cheap domestic
labour, they are easily manipulated by the power and
brutality of the economy." As their numbers increase,
Bangladeshi and Nepali women are helping to change
Bombay's migrant face. In the process, they are
contributing to its successes, and concerns.
Dangerous fairy tale
Such concerns are particularly true of women in the
sex trade. Activists agree that up to 50 percent of
Bombay's 100,000 sex workers are Nepali. Triveni
Acharya, president of the Rescue Foundation, which
focuses on migrant girls in Indian brothels, says that
5000-6000 Nepali women are trafficked into
Maharashtra every year. The majority are sold to
brothels for INR 25,000 to 100,000 and upwards,
depending on their physical attributes and age.
Although most girls are between 14 and 17 years old,
a few are as young as six or as old as 40.
For up to three years, sex workers receive no money
except for tips from customers, and it is only after the
brothel manager decides that the girl's debt has been
paid off that she receives a cut of her earnings -
approximately INR 150 for less than an hour, INR 300
for one hour and INR 600-800 for the night. Popular
girls may service up to 15 customers a night. Every
year, up to 10,000 female children are believed to go
missing from Bangladesh, trafficked to India, Pakistan
and the Gulf. "Bangladeshi sex workers were never
taken into account, because they passed themselves
off as Bengali," says Acharya. "But deception is harder
now, and they outnumber their Nepali counterparts in
Mumbai by a ratio of 60 percent to 40 percent."
An investigating officer who participates in brothel
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 raids, and requested anonymity, explains: "During the
first two or three weeks of her arrival, the girl is broken
mentally and physically. Beaten, raped, threatened and
mocked that she can never escape." After a while, he
says, most girls accept their circumstances and forget
about returning home. Years later, there is only one
job that she can do. "So she returns to her village,
impresses the young girls with stories of Mumbai's
prosperity, and beguiles them into running away. After
they do, they find themselves trafficked into the brothel
she has set up for herself."
Bangladesh's porous border with West Bengal, as
well as its sea route, and Nepal's open border with
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, enable this selling, buying
and transportation of women. Poverty and illiteracy are
the primary reasons that women become involved in
sex work, says Acharya, while many also come from
disturbed families. "For example, a Bangladeshi woman
may find herself abandoned when her husband
remarries. In both places, impoverished village girls
and their families hear a fairy tale: in Mumbai no one
goes hungry!'
Last February, 21-year-old Fatima Ali, whose
husband and family of four survived on 15 acres of
petulant land in a village near Dhaka, was cajoled by a
niend into journeying to Bombay. After a week's travel
by boat, train and bus, Fatima was deposited at what
she soon discovered was a brothel. The friend told
her, "I'll be back shortly. Rest." She never returned.
For 15 days, Fatima was mutilated with cigarettes,
beaten and threatened with rape by the brothel's pimp.
She believed that the beatings were meant to abort
her month-old foetus.
On the 16th day, acting on a tip, police and members
of the Rescue Foundation raided the brothel, freeing
Fatima. She now works as a chef in a women's hostel.
Her daughter Khushi is one year old. Back home, her
husband has remarried, and wishes no contact with
her. A dark-eyed beauty with hair falling to her waist, a
baggy blue and white salwar kameez shrouding the
dozens of burn scabs on her legs, Fatima shrugs: "I'll
never return. I was hungry. There was no work."
Rafia and Hameeda
It is not only sex workers who are trafficked from Nepal
and Bangladesh. Female trafficking for forced labour
and domestic work has been traced to 20 districts in
Nepal, including Lalitpur, Kathmandu, Chitwan, Jhapa
and Lamjung. It is more difficult to track the source
areas in Bangladesh because the majority of
immigrants enter India illegally, and hence are unwilling
to divulge details.
"It's never the girl's idea to enter illegally," says
Kavita Saxena, deputy superintendent at the Rescue
Foundation. "Greed is instilled in her. Whether it's greed
of a job, greed of travel, greed for a marriage proposal
- which a young, male trafficker, who is proficient at
this, dangles in front of her... not one ofthe girls knows
what awaits them."
Neither did the family of 14-year-old Rafia Khan, a
domestic worker who moved from a village near
Chittagong to West Bengal, and then to Bombay three
years ago. She and her mother and sister are all
domestic workers here, collectively earning INR 2800
a month for working from 6 am to 8 pm. 'There wasn't
enough food in our village," she explains, simply. The
Khans live in a construction of knitted palm leaves,
with layers of plastic sheet and sacking for a roof, in a
slum in Andheri West. Rafia's father, Shahnawaz, is
unemployed and addicted to country liquor.
In a fortnight, Rafia says, she is to return home to
marry. Shahnawaz, who rarely communicates with his
wife and children but to beat them, has married twice,
and Rafia hopes that her marriage will not tempt him
into a third. 'The fathers get frustrated from remaining
unemployed," explains Shobha Kale, of the National
Domestic Workers Movement. "They want alcohol to
feel better, but don't have any money. So they beat
their children, and extract money from them."
As the monsoon engulfs Bombay, its easiest targets
remain slums like those in Andheri West. Perpetually
wet and cold, with no access to water to drink or bathe
in, their hunger never satiated, the Khans are
contemplating resettling in their village after Rafia's
marriage. "My mother doesn't want to return to Mumbai,"
she explains.
Across the city from Andheri West, South Bombay's
Reay Road is a string of hutments inhabited by
Bangladeshi families. Despite their poverty, with no
identification, they are not entitled to ration cards. Until
last year, Hameeda Sheikh, 38, worked as a steel
polisher in a factory, earning INR 50 a month. After a
hot steel container fell on her foot, corroding it to the
bone, Hameeda was fired, and has since lived on the
earnings of her eldest daughter, who pipes beads on
blouses for INR 1.50 per blouse. Hameeda does not
have the option of returning home. Her wounds have
shackled her to a life of poverty in a city she had
believed would lift that burden.
Both Hameeda and Rafia knew that survival in their
hometown was impossible. They also believed the
stories of the opportunities Bombay proffers. But in a
city already teeming with the hungry, they quickly
found themselves as disadvantaged as before.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 Strength of community
Not everyone is as unlucky. Sita Dhuri, a Nepali acrobat
with the Great Royal Circus, is content with her new
life. Married to an Indian acrobat, Sita's hair is parted
with vermillion, and she is a doting mother to one-year-
old Pooja. Like many immigrants from central Nepal,
Sita entered India via Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh,
initially leaving behind her parents and brother, who
worked in the fields for a living. "My parents didn't want
me to leave," she says. "But I put my foot down. I told
them I'd return after two years, but I never did!" She
traveled to Gujarat, and then Maharashtra, where she
was joined by her family, who she left shortly thereafter.
Sita saw an opportunity to escape a life of drudgery
by joining a circus as an acrobat artiste, a trying
profession that inducts many impoverished Nepali girls
like her. Sita performs five acts in three shows daily,
earning approximately INR 8000 a month. Although she
receives a fortnight of paid leave annually, she chooses
not to visit her family, maintaining contact through
phone calls. 'This is better than home," she says. "Once
my performances are over, I don't have to worry. At
home, there's always something else to do. And here
someone is always looking out for my child."
Nevertheless, Sita says her daughter will not follow
in her footsteps. "Children should be educated," she
says, firmly.
Whatever their work, Bombay's immigrants maintain
strong links with their ethnic communities. This is
particularly true of those who work from home, are
unable to speak Hindi or Marathi, and subsequently
have difficulty assimilating. Gita Sharma, for instance,
is 21 years old but only ventures out of her house with
her husband, Raj, a chef in a Chinese restaurant.
For a city that has six Nepali newspapers and 21
cultural and political organisations, it is not hard for
Nepalis like Gita to occupy themselves. The Nepal
Sahitya Mahasangh, the largest Nepali cultural
organisation in Bombay, celebrates Nepali festivals
throughout the year. Says Shanta T Sharma, a Nepali
teacher in a school in suburban Dahisar: "It's hard for
new migrants, particularly housewives who aren't
educated, to communicate with their Indian
neighbours. So we wait for festivals like Teej,
and sing songs about our lives in Nepali. And if
there's something that's bothering us, whether it's our
husband or mother-in-law, that's included in the lyrics
as well!"
The lives of Bombay's Nepali and Bangladeshi
women immigrants vary significantly - from those who
live mild lives of domesticity, to those whose
experience has been so dark that they cannot bear to
talk about the past, nor harbour hopes for the future.
But somewhere between the world ofthe weary, made-
up women of the cages of Hanuman Tekri, and the
bustling housewives of Thane's leafy green colonies,
are women like Bindu Adhikari. She has struggled and
succeeded in Bombay, but is now ready to settle down
in Nepal.
Bindu moved to Thane from Nepal's Kaski District
in 1991 as a 16-year-old bride. She had heard great
things about Bombay, she says - about the shops,
and how much money a man could earn by waiting
tables at a restaurant, or guarding a building through
the night. "I heard you didn't even have to be educated,"
she exclaims. Unable to speak Hindi, Bindu spent her
first month in Bombay familiarising herself with the
city through the chinks in her blinds. "I didn't like it
first. I saw all the Nepali men working, and all the Nepali
women sitting at home all day. I thought, 'I have hands
and legs; I can work as well.'" She soon opened a
vegetable shop in her house. Within months, business
was flourishing, and Bindu also began selling music
and videotapes to cater to her Nepali clientele. Soon
she was selling albums ofthe Lok Dohoritiuets popular
in Nepal, as far away as Rajkhot, Nasik and Pune.
15 years later, Bindu's business was flourishing.
But she recently sold it, and bought a house in Chitwan,
southwest of Kathmandu, where she will live with her
husband and four daughters. "I've worked with Nepali
women in Mumbai for years, encouraging them to do
something with their lives. I've even traveled to
Gujarat, meeting women in trouble," she explains.
'Then I thought, 'why should I remain here when women
at home need my help even more?' That's why I'm.
going. I don't think I'll ever come back. Bombay has
shown me what I can do." fr
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Bombay talkies:
the documentar
For a city known for its flashy sensationalism, Bombay's everyday stories
seem to get regularly swept away. Luckily, some of these are being caught
by documentary filmmakers.
In the hours immediately
following the Bombay train
blasts of 11 July, we saw
much of the city's generous and
resilient spirit. Ordinary people
briskly took the injured to
hospitals, donated blood, handed
out biscuits and water bottles. We
also saw commuters getting into
the trains again, coming to work,
attending school and returning
to normal life. We cheered:
Salaam, Bombay.
And yes, the city deserves our
salaams. It has always been a
slightly unreal city - heroic, with a
great heart. The city of dreams
and dreamers, the city of
Bollywood. And yes, India's
commercial film industry
has helped to create the myth
of Bombay.
In one familiar kind of film, the
young hero arrives in the city,
struggles for a while and then
achieves success. A variation on
this has the young hero meeting a
girl, romancing her, struggling for
a bit and then winning her over. In
the second kind, the gritty
'realistic' crime film, the young
antihero arrives in the city,
struggles for a bit and then slips
into - well, not quite 'failure', but a
life of crime. Indeed, in such
films, this is just another kind
of success.
In short, one kind of Bollywood
film shows us the Bombay that is
a firmament, studded with stars
and starlets. The other kind,
meanwhile, takes us into a version
of the underworld. As for the city's
24/7 news channels, they are
generally busy on another
battlefield - warring for soundbites
and ratings whenever the city is in
a crisis, unwilling to give the time
and space needed for a deeper
analysis of Bombay's problems.
Million poems
At a time like this, in order to look
for the 'real' Bombay, one turns
instead to documentaries. Take,
for example, Anand Patwardhan's
two-decade-old documentary
classic Hamara Shahar, the story
of the city's four million slum-
dwellers (that number has now
increased to over six million). It is
about their daily struggle for
survival, not only for water,
sanitation and livelihoods, but also
for their space in a city that is
constantly displacing them,
pushing them further to the
This writer thinks of the wet and
grey evening of this past 11 July,
when young men from the same
slums pulled bedsheets from their
shanties to carry the wounded and
the dead,
This writer also thinks of
Where's Sandra?, Paromita
Vohra's search for Sandra, the
goodtime girl of Bombay films -
not the bashful heroine, but the girl
in the dress. On a local train in
Bombay, Vohra finds a happy
group of women, all secretaries,
some knitting, some clapping their
hands, singing: "Darling open the
door / darling open the door / Why
are you angry so?" Surrounded by
the ads of the women's
compartment - the earlobe-
stitching, the work-from-home -
and the sound of the train, they
sing the chorus: "I will take
you to Bandra and show you
my Sandra..."
And the women get off the train,
leaving the handgrips swinging
from the ceiling of the emptying
compartment. As the narrator
reflects, there is a little bit of
Sandra in all of us - the part that
runs to catch the train to work,
makes 'train friends', claps hands
and sings.
Think of Arun Khopkar's film
about Narayan Surve - his mill,
his streets, his poetry and his city.
And also of Paromita Vohra's
Cosmopolis, which tells two tales
about Bombay. The first, "The
Forgotten City", is about the hush
that fell over Girangaon, Bombay's
mill district, when the mills fell
silent. "The name of this poem is
Mumbai," says the poet, for whom
the city itself is a tragic poem:
"Slapping a shawl on his shoulder
/ My father came down the hills /
He stood at your doorstep / Gave
you his labour..."
The camera rushes along the
train tracks, but the mills fall
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 lentanes set sail
i'hese narrators, a^l
silent. We are left instead with
images of frenzied partying at
what is now called High Street
Discrepancies of food
and toilet
The second story, "Defeat of a
Minor Goddess", is about the
defeat of Annapurna, the goddess
of plenty, by her wealthy sister
Lakshmi. Annapurna is charmed
by her first meal of Bomdil curry
and rice in this city by the sea.
But then the facade of easy
camaraderie, the good-
neighbourliness, the 'I love
Bombay' myth begins to crack.
Food habits become an issue.
"The smells are very strong and
the beliefs are very strong," says
one woman, sharply defending the
vegetarian discrimination that
stretches from Nepean Sea Road
to Chowpatty. "Wealth is clout."
Standing on the balcony of her
vegetarian ghetto, she smiles
thinly, conclusively. Even for a
vegetarian, there is something
chilling in her fundamentalism,
this determination to sanitise the
area of "people like that".
And suddenly, we are in the
midst of a political meeting.
Katenge bhai katenge. Machchi
jaise katenge is the slogan being
chanted: "We'll cut them up like
fish." The anger is directed
against the immigrants from UP,
Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, who come
to Bombay to work, One part of
the city, turning upon the
outsiders. Of course.
Paromita Vohra's Q2P, a film
about toilets in the city, notes
that, "The city of the future
appears around us, in pieces, like
a dream." But who is dreaming
this dream, wonders the film,
moving from the glass-and-steel
facades of Bandra-Kurla, to the
refuse lying on the beach, to the
men queuing up at the public
toilet, including the women's
section. "So many men on the
beach," explains the attendant.
In a slum, a young girl takes the
film team to their public toilet.
There is just one light bulb; the
women carry candles and
matches, just in case. Elsewhere.
a Bombay municipal
schoolteacher explains that, while
girls in the second and third
standards still use the toilets, from
the fourth standard onwards they
try to "control themselves", often
going for seven hours with little or
no water.
At a vocational training centre
where they are taught to set hair
and pluck eyebrows, the girls say
that they avoid public toilets. We
go by a system, says one trainee
- the system of self-control,
Would free toilets make women
free, the film wistfully wonders.
Ocean of stories
And finally, Madhushree Datta's
film Seven Islands and a Metro,
her new documentary about
Bombay, uses eminent authors
Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat
Chugtai as interlocutors to take us
through the city. Although Manto
decided to leave for Pakistan after
the Partition-era riots, he loved
Bombay; apart from his film work.
some of his most powerful short
fiction is set here. Although Ismat
did not write about the city, she
lived and died here. Harish Khanna
and Vibha Chibber play Manto and
Ismat. taking us through the
different lives of the city.
Nevertheless, despite the power of
their narration, this framework has
a kind of self-conscious staginess
about it.
But the film works because of
its several other narrators, the
real-life inhabitants of this city.
The bulldozer driver who must
demolish the houses of slum-
dwellers, including his own. The
window-washer who would not
mind staying in his perch above
the city. The chaiwalla who cycles
about the city streets at night, who
came to the city after a failed love
affair with a girl from another caste.
Here, he is making a few rupees a
day; back home in the village, the
girl killed herself.
"It was an ocean of stories,"
Salman Rushdie wrote about
Bombay in The Moor's Last Sigh.
"We were all its narrators, and
everybody talked at once."
What do documentaries like
these do? They set sail on this
ocean of stories to look for these
narrators, and they listen. They are
not perfect, but their commitment
is remarkable. They set out with a
camera, walk into the city's
bylanes, sometimes just filming the
empty street in the middle of the
night. They let the dispossessed
speak, and they stand back. They
deconstruct the facile myths of the
city - not to explode them
altogether, but to discover the tiny,
fleeting narratives of courage and
resistance that are far more
precious. As columnist Girish
Shahane wrote recently: "They
don't pay lip service to the worth of
common people, but instead
present complex, interesting
personalities who make us feel that
worth. In doing this, the
documentary filmmakers take their
place among the inheritors of
Gandhiji's legacy to India."
One image from Datta's film
comes to mind, that of small,
stamp-sized photographs floating in
water. Although perhaps a clunky
image, it is all the more evocative
after the recent train blasts in
Bombay. Life seems so fragile in
this city by the sea, where six
million people travel in the
suburban trains every day, clinging
on by their fingers, occasionally
falling, some dying while crossing
the tracks. Inside the cars, they
travel tightly packed - some
become friends, singing bhajans,
sharing intimate family stories,
even cutting vegetables. When
there is a crisis, they rush to help
each other. Other days, the
moment they separate, they
atomise into the city, as people of
different classes, genders,
ethnicities, eating habits, smells
and stories.
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
The Times of India's final frontier
Emboldened by a history of cosy relationships with advertisers, over the past
decade the Times of India has revolutionised fhe way that Indian
newspapers must compete. With advertisers now making content decisions,
print news no longer considers the reader.
ven for a time when a newspaper is more
spectacle than information source, the Delhi
edition ofthe Times of India (TOI) on 30 January
this year was remarkable, featuring stories on its front
page so outlandish that a reader's first impression would
have been of a day of dedication to tomfoolery, to
compete with the hoary antiquity of All Fools' Day.
Readers who managed to negotiate the length of the
page and arrive at its anchor space were rewarded
with an answer to the mystery. TOI, it transpired, had
engineered a harmless hoax to jolt its readership into
an awareness of the multitude of possibilities that the
'jture held in store. Underlining its intention to think
beyond the limitations of the present, the paper had
datelined its issue for the year 2025.
TOI's stated purpose with the 30 January issue was
to drive the agenda of transforming Delhi from a rather
slovenly, unkempt city, into a true world metropolis.
Together with this foray into the consciousness of the
capital city, the TOI group (otherwise known by its
formal corporate appellation of Bennett, Coleman and
Company Ltd., or BCCL) also announced Times Now,
a satellite television channel covering news and current
affairs, Launched in association with the international
news agency Reuters, Times Now came as the finale
of a rapid process of diversification that had seen the
group venture into FM radio, music publishing and
retailing, internet commerce, and the lifestyle and
entertainment segments of satellite TV broadcasting.
By extending its reach into the final frontiers, the
company was fully geared to consolidate its position
as India's dominant media entity, leveraging its
strengths in print, television and radio for the ultimate
in commercial synergy.
TOI has solidly established credentials for being in
step with future trends. When other newspapers were
mired in old habits of thought, clinging to outdated
beliefs that they served a public purpose, TOI boldly
proclaimed its exclusive devotion to the commercial
calculus. It tided over the storm of derision that followed,
squeezing out the last rupee of advertising revenue
available in the market. And it succeeded not merely
in maximising advertising revenue yield, but even in
sharply boosting circulation and profitability. It is a
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measure of the company's success that it has
managed this entire process of growth and
diversification without diluting its ownership, still
retaining the character of family control that has for
long been an entrenched, seemingly eternal feature of
the Indian media.
Kignt to tn
Freedom of the press is, of course, an inviolable
principle, of benefit especially to those who own one.
In the more enlightened debates that have taken place
around the issue, freedom is necessarily balanced by
a notion of responsibility, And in maintaining the uneasy
balance between information as commerce and
information as a basic human entitlement, the
emphasis has been not so much on curbing the
business of the press as on ensuring the sustenance
of sufficient diversity in the press. A liberal democracy.
though, allows for few institutional restraints on the
functioning of the media, leaving the marketplace of
ideas as the final arbiter.
Yet the issue has cropped up periodically in public
policy debates in India. In 2003, the Standing
Committee on Information Technology in the Indian
Parliament urged the government to prescribe a "ratio
for coverage of news contents and advertisements in
newspapers". This was considered necessary, since,
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 This was not a situation of a newspaper being forced to raise prices because it was
deprived of space to carry advertisements, but of a newspaper able to slash prices and
drive out competition because it had managed to estabiish a pre-eminent position in the
bazaar for advertisements.
"a tendency is being noticed in the leading newspapers
to provide more and more space for advertisements at
the cost of news items."
For its part, the government responded with a plea
of inability, given the judicial precedents on the issue.
For those immersed in the culture of neo-liberalism,
these seemingly outlandish policy options may
seem the exclusive domain of politicians operating in
a milieu of power without responsibility. That would
be a misperception, since the idea of a 'price-page
schedule' (see below) has been a part of the public
debate on the Indian media for decades, and its
proponents have included many with vital interests in
the newspaper industry. The awareness is well-
developed that, unlike in most other industries, price
competition in the media could be antithetical to
consumer interest. So too is the belief that newspapers
as a public institution require the controlling hand of
public policy, when self-discipline fails.
As a policy instrument, the 'price-page schedule'
was put forward by the First Press Commission,
appointed in 1952, which was India's first official
exercise in evolving a theory of the media in society.
Without undue fuss, this body went to the core issue
in newspaper economics, recommending that certain
norms on the allocation of space between editorial
matter and ads be enforced as a means of preserving
the press as a diverse institution. Guided by these
findings, Parliament in 1956 passed into law the
Newspapers (Price and Page) Act, which sought to
regulate the price of a newspaper in accordance with
the number of pages it offered, and to oversee
its allocation of space between editorial and
advertisement content.
In 1962, in the case of Sakal Newspapers v the
Union of india, the Supreme Court found the price-page
schedule to be in violation of Article 19 of the Indian
Constitution, which enshrines the rights to both free
expression and commerce. Handing down its ruling,
the court found that the order took away the freedom
of the newspaper to charge whatever price it chose,
constricted its ability to disseminate news and opinions,
and cut into its commercial fortunes by limiting
advertising space.
With the benefit of hindsight, it could be pointed out
that the relationship between circulation and
advertisement revenue is not quite as neat as the
Supreme Court believed it to be. Ad revenue is
dependent not merely on gross circulation, but, more
crucially, on the demographic composition of the
audience itself. In 1996, the TOI proudly proclaimed
that it had crossed the magical threshold of a million
in circulation. But in the breathless ardour of this
achievement, it did not quite inform readers how its
printing presses were sustaining this output, when
every additional copy was being sold at a price rapidly
plunging below the cost of production. The simple
answer was that the paper had, through its conquest
of the ad market, assembled enough of a war chest to
be able to ramp up its financially draining output, and
to reach those segments of the populace that were of
the most intense interest to advertisers.
The situation was the exact opposite of what the
Supreme Court had considered in the Sakal case: not
of a newspaper being forced to raise prices because it
was deprived of advertisement space, but of a
newspaper able to slash prices and drive out
competition because of the pre-eminent position it had
managed to establish in the bazaar for advertisements.
These particularities of the media market have long
engaged the public, which is part of the reason why
the price-page schedule as an instrument of regulation
retained a significant degree of appeal for years after
it was deemed unlawful, Judgments about its utility,
however, have been influenced by contingent factors.
In 1965, a Committee on Small Newspapers upheld
the price-page schedule as a legitimate device of
protection of the right to free speech. But in 1975, the
Fact Finding Committee on Newspaper Economics
thought it to be of little use. That was a time of acute
newsprint shortage, when the commodity was selling
at a massive premium, Under the circumstances, few
newspapers had an incentive to raise page numbers
to offer a wider menu to readers. Advertisement
revenue was simply not adequate to support the
expenditure involved in printing those additional pages.
Yet the Fact Finding Committee did agree that a
statutory ratio between advertisement and editorial
space would serve the public interest.
The issue was revisited by the Second Press
Commission, appointed in 1978, which argued that
the price-page schedule did not amount to an
abridgment of Article 19 freedoms. On the contrary,
the Commission concluded, the objectives "being [the]
promotion of competition and prevention of
monopoly, the law will advance freedom of speech
and expression".
Marketing 'ail ideas'
This provides the context for grappling with another
significant judicial intervention in interpreting the right
of free speech, one that came in a case involving the
TOI group. At hand was a government notification,
issued in a situation of acute newsprint scarcity, limiting
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 the allotment of the commodity to newspaper publishers.
In October 1972, the Supreme Court decided that the
order was in violation of the Constitution, in that it
imposed unreasonable restrictions on free speech. The
judgment in the case of Bennett, Coleman and Company
Ltd v the Union of India is of historic significance, since
it lays out a whole range of norms on the exercise of
the right of free expression. In addressing the issue,
the court seemed to oscillate between a notion of free
speech as a privilege that is enjoyed by the few, and a
broader conception in which the unreserved exercise
of the right by all would inevitably engender conflicts
in the use of scarce resources.
Without unduly burdening themselves with facts,
the majority of the bench that decided the Bennett,
?:'eman case concluded that "the press is not
exposed to any mischief of monopolistic combination".
Of special significance in this context, however, was
the lone dissenting judgment by Justice K K Mathew.
Rather than blandly ruling it out, Justice Mathew
explicitly conceded the possibility of a conflict between
the public interest and the profit motivations of the
press as a commercial institution. Using a "theory of
the freedom of speech" that essentially viewed it in
terms of twin entitlements-to speak and to be informed
- the judge observed that, as a constitutional principle,
"freedom of the press" was "no higher than the freedom
of speech of a citizen".
What was essential under the circumstances, Justice
Mathew wrote, was to evolve "an affirmative theory
underlying freedom of expression", and to attend to
'he "various conditions essential to maintaining a
workable system". The problem was in bringing "all
ideas into the market [to] make the freedom of speech
a live one having its roots in reality". In pursuit of this
ideal, it was first necessary to recognise "that the
right of expression is somewhat thin if it can be
exercised only on the sufferance of the managers of
the leading newspapers."
In the years that followed, newsprint allocation was
the single most important lever of control that the
government exercised. But in 1995, in response to
persistent pressures from the newspaper industry,
newsprint import was deregulated. The immediate
context was a rapid, 70 percent rise in the price of
newsprint between October 1994 and April 1995.
Cover price dominoes
Whether by coincidence or design, TOI's aggressive
foray into the national capital - which till then had been
considered safe ground for the Hindustan Times (HT)
- happened at a time when newsprint prices were on
an upward trajectory, and already engendering some
commercial distress for even the bigger newspapers.
According to TOI's official story, it had stayed at a
moderate level of circulation in Delhi for a longish
period, and was merely experimenting with changing
price variables. In March 1994, the newspaper sharply
cut its selling price from INR 2.40 to 1.50, except for
Friday's issue. To guard against a catastrophic drain
of revenue, the Friday price was raised to INR 6, but
soon cut back to 2.90.
By early-May, the results were distinctly promising.
But an unexpected hitch arose from another quarter.
Newspaper vendors, a powerful lobby in Delhi, were
worried about a potential loss of income, since their
fees were computed as a fixed percentage of the
paper's cover price. To assuage these worries, TOI
agreed on an ad hoc basis to increase the vendors'
fees from 25 percent to almost 40 percent. It is unclear
whether an assurance to revert to the old pricing
scheme and eliminate these contingent measures was
also conveyed. But three months into the new deal,
vendor organisations, claiming a breach of commercial
agreement, began a boycott of the TOI. For weeks on
end, the street corners where newspapers were bundled
for daily distribution resembled battle zones, and
vendors managed to disrupt every effort to distribute
the TOI. An injunction obtained from the Delhi High
Court served little purpose against raw muscle power.
Editorial columns in both the TOI and the HT became
the medium through which this battle of ideas, such
as it was, was fought.
The newspaper scenario was transformed beyond
recognition by the time the peace was established.
Apart from the HT, two other newspapers, the Indian
Express and Pioneer, felt compelled to match the TOI's
offering by way of cover price. With all newspapers
published in Delhi facing a massive drain of circulation
revenue, the race began in earnest for the conquest of
those demographic segments among the city's
English-reading audience that would be of maximum
interest to the advertisers.
Needless to say, the TOI emerged the winner. It
could not have been otherwise, since by 1994 the TOI
had long since internalised the most significant rule of
competition, Simply put. the advertiser was king, and
the readership, no longer a burden to be borne, a distant
abstraction with little immediacy to the newspaper
except as a shopping entity.
A recent chronicle of the Indian media industry
records that the history of the country's press can be
written in terms of one particularly significant point of
inflection. The print industry, long mired in romantic
recollections of its contribution to the Indian freedom
struggle, was only shaken out of its reverie by Samir
Jain, current TOI boss, who entered his family's
business as a decisive player around the mid-1980s.
According to this account. Jain's achievement was to
use "simple marketing principles and good business
sense to transform a down-in-the-dumps publishing
company into a profit machine".
It is a testament to its essential simplicity that the
same strategy, when deployed in Hyderabad in 2000,
encountered rather stiff opposition. Both The Hindu
and the Deccan Chronicle, with longer established
bonds in the city, pre-emptively slashed prices to retain
and even increase their market shares. Price
competition had evidently reached the limits of its
potential in expanding market share. The focus then
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 The advertiser was king. The readership,
but a distant abstraction with Sittle
immediacy to the newspaper - no longer
a burden to be borne.
shifted to the demographic character of the audience.
Paradoxically, those segments of the newspaper-
reading public that put much emphasis on price are
relatively less important to advertisers. The TOI
marketing strategy then devolved upon a simple
principle: to bring that segment of the populace with
high purchasing power into the gaze of the price-
sensitive buyer. It was the decade of globalisation,
when the cult of the celebrity acquired unparalleled
proportions, and the celebration of the good life of the
few became a source of vicarious delight for the many.
Instrumental in the creation of this ethos was the TOI.
Majority adspace
The TOI had always been strongly entrenched in
Bombay, home also to most of the country's principal
advertisement agencies. Enjoying a near monopoly in
this market for decades, the TOI by 1994 was estimated
to have an advertisement ratio - measured as the
proportion of total printed area devoted to ads - of 55
percent. In comparison, the HT in Delhi and The Hindu
in Madras enjoyed much more modest ratios, in the
lower 40s. This was the initial advantage that endowed
the TOI with the confidence to launch a price war
against HT in Delhi, The war chest assembled in
Bombay was being deployed in the conquest of the
next most lucrative market in India.
The gains of the price war would have proved
ephemeral, if the TOI had not recognised that celebrity
narcissism was the wave ofthe future. The newspaper's
distinction was in being significantly ahead of the curve
when it came to adapting editorial content to fit
advertiser needs, Beginning in the mid-1990s, the TOI
began a shift of content towards fashion, lifestyle and
entertainment that had its loyal readership thoroughly
flummoxed. But even as many among the older
audience cancelled their subscriptions, the newspaper
succeeded in attracting new readers from previously
unexplored segments of the population. The results
were dramatic.
On 22 December 2003. TOI readers began their day
with a veritable display of triumphalism. Blazoned
across the front page of the newspaper was a message
of thanks to the Delhi readership, which had
supposedly made TOI the city's premier newspaper.
And just as important as the aggregate figures was
the composition of the audience. "Over three-fourths"
of its readers, proclaimed the paper, were in "the
highest socio-economic category"; "almost a fourth"
were "executives, businessmen, [and] self-employed
professionals"; and the newspaper had established
itself as the "clear choice" of the youth, with
an estimated 40 percent of its readers below 24
years of age.
The financial performance of the Indian media is
difficult to monitor, but figures uncovered by The Hoot,
a website specialising in media matters, are little short
of astounding. In 2001, for instance, BCCL was the
"second most profitable unlisted company in India",
recording a net profit of nearly INR 2.1 billion, well over
twice the figure registered the previous year. In
comparison, other media companies turned in distinctly
anaemic performances - and the weakest, expectedly,
came from the newspaper that had suffered the
misfortune of encountering the TOI at its most
aggressive. HT's net profits in 2001 were down by over
96 percent - at INR 5.8 million, the company seemed
to be rapidly plunging into the red.
It took some years before HT found its way out of
the woods. In August 2005, the paper, which had been
among the most ardent naysayers when it came to
foreign direct investment in the print media, came out
with an initial public offering of shares. In an analysis
of the offering, The Hindu Business Line reported that
the HT bottom-line had improved for a variety of
reasons. These included the fact that advertisement
rates had been raised in both March and May 2005,
and that the HT and TOI had agreed on a concerted
rise in cover price of about 30 percent. The "price-cuts
that hurt profitability", the analyst concluded, appeared
"to be a story of the past".
With the declaration of truce, the two media giants
evidently accepted an uneasy coexistence. In terms
of content and target audience, they now seemed
cloned from the same cell. But the media landscape
in which the peace was established was a very different
place. Several of the newspapers that used to offer
competing menus and priorities right up to the early
1990s were now hollowed out financially, compelled to
reach ever deeper to appease politicians and
advertisers merely to bring out a day's edition. BCCL
itself ended its decade-and-a-half of rapid commercial
growth with a much leaner portfolio of publications. Its
daily newspapers in English were far and away the
leaders of their respective market segments. But
several other prestigious mastheads - including, in
English, the Illustrated Weekly of India and
Science Today, and in Hindi, Dinmaan. Dharmyug and
the Navbharat Times edition in Lucknow- had passed
into history.
The transformation of advertisement and circulation
also meant initiating radical changes in the editorial
function, which had to adapt itself to the new
imperatives of providing a hospitable environment for
advertisers to display their wares. Previous editorial
priorities had to yield to demands for entertainment
and celebrity lifestyles. In short, increasing profits
were achieved through a palpable loss of media
diversity and seriousness. That the ends of consumer
sovereignty have not been served by the price war in
the newspaper market, nor by the aggressive
advertisement-oriented strategy of the TOI group, is a
conclusion that, for many, seems unavoidable.
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Kuensel, froin Thimphu, reports a
Dr Ross McDonald from the
University of Auckland suggesting at a media conference in early
July that "Bhutan should consider banning all advertising."
Ummm, okay, nice idea. The
argument that jobs would be lost
if advertising was limited did not
apply to Bhutan, a predominantly non-industrialised society,
said the doctor. "With the national policy to
maximise happiness among people, advertising is a
destructive force ... And while Buddhist culture in
Bhutan aims to undo the desire and control it, ads
inflame the desires to maximum degree." The Kiwi
doc has obviously gotten carried away with
Bhutan-as-utopia, otherwise why would he propose
something drat is so palpably impossible?! Well, we
can always hope, and Chettria Patrakar would not
mind if Druk Yul were advertisement- and commercial-less. Ahem, does that include overseas advertising for Bhutani tourism?
utiii :to .!*: i-i...-■JTi»;:ii :-•■■■
One had expected
better sense from
the gentlemen of
the Associated
Chambers of
Commerce and
Industry of India
who have protested tire allegedly
negative depiction
of business-India
in Madhur
Bollywood film
Corporate. The
problem, says the
body's Secretary
General D S Rawat,
is that the film portrays the "industrial houses as
ruthless, heartless and hand-in-glove with corrupt
politicians." India Ine, he says "has some of the most
respectable leaders to boast", and, "The India
growth story would not have been possible but for
the contribution of a host of corporate leaders",
trotting out the names of N R Narayana Murthy,
Azim Premji and Lakshmi Mittal Steel. Come on
Secretary General, you do protest too much. Going by
your standards, no film would ever be made in the
world. Next, you will have agrarian feudal lords,
bureaucrats, politicians and - why not - underworld
dons following the ASSOC! I AM lead and putting
out press releases against Bollywood productions.
Rinku Dutta is a
never-say-die Bengali
transported by marriage
to Lahore, who is a fine
chronicler of fine
moments and contradictions in her adopted
land (she also writes for
Himal, see her piece in
this issue). She recently
wrote an article in
Karachi's Newsline
magazine about a Kali
temple in the village of
Saidpur, near
Islamabad, from where all the Hindus have evacuated since Partition. Dutta discovered that the
Capital Development Authority had decided to
spend extensively in developing Saidpur as a tourist
village, and that the finely preserved temple, with its
ochre sikhara roof, was to be converted into a
restaurant. Wrote she: "In these promising days of
Indo-Pak peace, has the CDA considered the cultural
implications of its gustatory dreams for the Kali
temple at Saidpur? .., With changing state ideologies, the tides of memory and forgetting leave their
mark not just on shelved government documents but
also on the yaadgaar monuments built by the state.
Often the museum that is created to remember also
becomes a place of forgetting." Well written, and
Chettria Patrakar is glad to report that, following this
article, the director of the Lahore Museum has
persuaded the CDA chairman to abandon the
tcmple-to-restaurant plans.
Egg in the face of the Indian
Ministry of Communications, as
well as Internet service providers
(ISPs) all over tire country. The
Ministry was inept all right in its
initial request for the blocking of 17
websites and blogs preaching
religious zealotry. But then the ISPs
responded to the call by simply
blocking access to internationally
respected domains such as Google's
Blogspot and Yahoo's Geocities,
through which users would have
gotten to the offending sites. The bureaucrats in the
communications ministry left the response to the
public outcry in the hands of a lowly officer, and the
Secretary for Telecommunications simply hung up
on reporters. Minister of Communications
Dayanidhi Maran was keeping a low profile while
on a visit to San Francisco. The world has changed
underneath our feet, and our bureaucrats and
ministers would not even know it!
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Colombo says: pay up
This is probably not the way to protect and promote
the local film industry, but Colombo filmmakers
have hailed a decision taken by the government to
impose a levy on imported films and docudramas
shown on television. It is said that this will be a
boost to the local film industry because, previously,
the airtime and sponsors were all monopolised by
foreign productions. And so the government will be
levying a tax of LKR 75,000 for every half hour of
feature films and docudramas. However, films with
Tamil-language content are exempted because Sri
Lanka has very little Tamil production. Foreign
commercials aired on television stations will now be
taxed a whopping million rupees. All this must
have local producers ecstatic, but the question is
whether the viewing public has been cheated in the
process. We shall see, depending on how the
quality of Lankan production improves in the next
few years.
There were some journalists, as
well as many other supposedly
public individuals, who
believed that, when Gyanendra
the king took over on 1 February 2006, Nepah society was in
for the long haul. If, as with the
case of Gyanendra's father
Mahendra's takeover of 1960,
this occupation were to last for
three full decades, then it was
important to start making
compromises with the state.
Which meant pandering to the
royal regime, and also taking
some of the largess that was liberally spread around
by the royal minister for information and communication. So essentially, there were journalists who
were on the dole from the king. Little did the poor
souls expect that the regime would be overturned by
a massive People's Tsunami in April, and lo-and-
behold the list of journos on the take was made
public by the ministry. Do we feel sorry for these
guys (and a couple of gals), or do we applaud their
Some 'desi' students from the University of Maryland who had decided to take up speaking Sanskrit
in daily life have banded together to promote the
language via the Internet. The group is called
'umd_sanskritam', and on 11 July, the day when
Hindu chelas pay respects to their gurus, it launched
its website at ("The one-stop
Sanskrit place"). In addition to coordinating the
Sanskrit activities in the Washington DC area, the
website aims to function as a repository of Sanskrit
resources, link together Sanskrit activities around tire
world "and also promote Sanskrit through fun, and
such activities as blogging and forums." The website
already has mp3 versions of stories, songs, conversations and videos of skits performed during various
Sanskrit workshops. The group's motto is a mite all-
encompassing - but then everything in Sanskrit is
slightly ebullient and grandiose wouldn't you say? -
"Rachayema Samskrita Bhuvanam" (We shall create a
Sanskrit world).
If one went by the coverage in the New Delhi media,
it would be impossible to know that Bangladesh is in
the midst of political turmoil. There has not been a
single story in the main papers or television channels, let alone any sustained coverage of the systemic
crisis that has engulfed the Dhaka polity. Esteemed
editors seem to pay attention to Bangladesh only if
the story is related to the exodus of migrants, the ISI
network and the rise of 'Islamic fundamentalism'. As
a result, most Indians have little clue about the
impending elections in Bangladesh, the distortions
that have crept into the system of caretaker government, or even the nature of the religious rightwing.
When will Delhi journalists break out of their
insularity, and not merely descend on regional
capitals after a crisis erupts? Chettria Patrakar sees
little reason for optimism there, if the disproportionate space given to fashion weeks - not to mention the
neglect of the periphery within India itself - is
anything to go by.
Wlto says death will be my end? A river
1 am, into the sea 1 shall flow. Nice
lines to remember Ahmad Nadeem
Qasmi, Urdu poet and a 'remnant'
of the Progressive Writers' Movement of 1930s Lahore, who passed
away recently.
- Chettria Patrakar
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
C K Lai
In the dominion
of paranoia
Me Lord
IV<? really don't need such a season.
That keeps converting dreams of commons -
Into oommon cenieteties.
And lhe system stands immobilised.
Its head hung down its chest.
Like a slave
— Gurmeet Bedi in Kathghare mein Mausam
Bring 'em on: photographs of the
first 400 US soldiers killed in Iraq.
The 11 July mayhem in Bombay sent South
Block into a paroxysm of panic, and its
diplomatic reactions became, perhaps
predictably, banal Blame was summarily laid
at the doors of 'terror camps' in Pakistan. A
planned visit of Indian parliamentarians to a
Commonwealth consultation meeting in
Islamabad was immediately cancelled. The
foreign-secretary-level talks between the two
countries have been put on hold. After haying
survived the Delhi bazaar attack and the
Benaras temple attack, the India-Pakistan
peace process was finally derailed by what
happened to the Bombay trains.
General Pervez Musharraf did offer to
cooperate in investigating the minutely
planned and brutally executed terror attacks,
but the fear of public reaction had Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh look the other way.
It may have been hoping too much for India to
accede to such an offer, but it would have been
nice, and would have signalled a new level of
bilateral relations. Unfortunately, what is
known as the 'composite dialogue' evidently
has yet to deliver a level of mutual confidence
to make such a departure possible.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid
Mahmood Kasuri's crude attempt to link the
blasts to the Kashmir question was of course
in extremely bad taste, but everyone in the
know in the Subcontinent understands that
General Sahib's Oxbridge FM is a showpiece.
He has so little to do that he is prone to venting
his frustrations through provocative but
meaningless observations.
Whenever a blast or attack rocks India, it
has also become necessary for Nepal and
Bangladesh to brace themselves. And indeed,
the post-bombing fallout was immediate as far
as Kathmandu was concerned. Two Pakistani
nationals camping in the capital were
summarily arrested from a local hotel in the
dead of the night, allegedly on a tip-off from
Indian security agencies. They have since been
implicated in a four-year-old RDX-possession
case, though their role in the Bombay blasts is
unclear, A part ofthe fallout seems also to have
been apportioned to Bangladesh - a key
suspect is said to be living in Dhaka
Something as devastating as the Bombay
train blasts are also bound to buffet the larger
region and parallel conflict arenas. Tlie newly
rigid stance of India, as evident in the "zero
Himal Southasian j August 2006
 tolerance" rhetoric of Prime Minister Singh, is
bound to impact the Jaffna Tigers. The LTTE's
mea culpa statement over the assassination of
Rajiv Gandhi has incensed a section of Indian
intelligentsia. They are now being portrayed
as an ungrateful lot in the vernacular press,
since they attacked one of their mam, though
surreptitious, benefactors. Hot pursuit may be
out of the question for the moment due to geo-
strategic complexities and the decisive
influence of the Left Front in the Indian ruling
coalition, but there is no mistaking a new
exasperation - if not belligerence - in
statements emanating from New Delhi,
The 'War on Terror' in Southasia is not as
hot as in Beirut, Basra or Baghdad, but the
rhetoric of the brawny Bush and brainy Singh
are beginning to sound frighteningly similar.
What we see is that even gentle sardars will
convert to harsh satraps as exigencies of
strategy and diplomacy create their own logic.
The Bush Effect
Years from now, when academics look back
and study the context of Israel's vicious attacks
on the headquarters of the Palestinian
government and the housing complexes in
Beirut, they will attribute this and other acts of
mindless governmental violence to a new trend
in the diplomacy of aggression, which has its
origins in The Bush Effect (TBE). This
phenomenon must have originated in the
nuclear-proof bunker where the shaken Texan
was packed off to by his Pentagon minders in
the wake of 9/11. Panic reaction is the
fundamental feature of TBE.
A demonstrated disdain for international
agreements, domestic laws and diplomatic
convention is the second most important aspect
of TBE. Fot a while, everyone who looked
brown and 'Muslim' was hounded as a
suspected terrorist in the Land of the Free.
There was never any legal ground for the
ceaseless pounding of Afghanistan, and most
of the charges against Saddam Hussein w-ere
blatant fabrications to justify the occupation
of Iraq. But the world could do nothing to stop
the marauding Bush-Blair duo. Due to TBE,
the emblematic image of the United States of
a^merica is no longer the Statue of Liberty.
Rather, it is the blindfolded Guantanamo Bay
detainee in orange prison garb, being pushed
from room to room by the guarding marines.
The third dimension of TBE is its extreme,
obtuse, black-and-white simplicity: there is no
room for ambiguity in the 'for or against us'
categorisation. Unfortunately, this transforms
even disinterested parties into unwilling
enemies. Americans can take on Iran, Syria,
North Korea and a few others on their own -
after all, they (the Americans) spend more on
weapons than rest of the world combined. But
that is unlikely to make America any safer. It
is the unmistakable lesson of history that most
empires disintegrate due to becoming overstretched. But histrionics rather than
historicism dictate decisions in regimes under
the spell of TBE.
Unilateralism is yet another TBE
characteristic dreaded by all sensible
governments and policymakers on the planet.
This is the diplomatic version of the law of the
jungle, where the strongest is free to feed on
the relatively weak and helpless. The
Unilateralism of Bush implies that all
creatures are equal, but that one of them is more
equal than all others - and is thus empowered
to ignore anything and everything on the basis
of perceived self-interest, from the Kyoto
Protocol to the International Court of Justice
and every other international agreement or
institution that may stand in the way of
America the Good.
The last but not least noteworthy aspect of
TBE is its unpredictability. The Bush Effect can
strike at any moment, anywhere, and without
any warning - like the remote-controlled
drones that land unbeknownst in the centre of
Beirut and the villages of the NWFP. The US
'War on Terror' has no spatial or time
dimension; it is endless by definition. Such a
war cannot be sustained without the
unflinching support of a significant section of
the population; and even as his popularity
meter dives, Bush has been able to maintain
bipartisan consensus for his Wild West
adventures. No country, with the possible
exception of American protege Israel, gives
such a carte blanche to its chief executive to
wage a war that has no likelihood of
demonstrable victory. Nobody in Southasia
thinks that this model of aggressive counter-
terrorism can succeed in one of the most
diverse societies of the world. That is, nobody
but Narendra Modi, who is much more to the
Bush model than Manmohan Singh
The Modi Factor
Some of the most prominent victims of 7/11 in
Bombay were rich diamond merchants of the
Gujarati community, who habitually travel in
First Class compartments on the commuter
trains. Never known for exercising restraint,
the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lai Krishna
Advani immediately dispatched Modi to
Bombay, lhe diabolical director of the post-
Godhra massacre subsequently mesmerised
his fawning followers in the BJP and Rastriya
August 2006 I Himal Southasian
 Histrionics rather than historicism
dictate decisions in regimes under
the spell of The Bush Effect.
Swayamsebak Sangh (RSS) with the merits of
the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the
drawbacks of due process of law, and the
advantages of the politics of revenge.
In the West, Bush personifies American
exceptionalism, a trait not uncommon even
among relatively liberal citizens of the United
States. Deep-seated insecurities of a country
built upon the confiscated continent of an
exterminated population are what have given
rise to an alarmism that makes some
Americans blindly justify everything their
state does, including the Abu Ghraib
misconduct, the Mai Lai massacre, the
aggression in Afghanistan, the occupation of
haq - take your pick.
Antagonism of certain middle-class
Indians seems to be fuelled by a similar guilt,
but one of a different provenance. Some of this
guilt would come from not having
participated in Independence struggles, of
having been supporters of Indira Gandhi's
dreaded Emergency regime, of defending the
Narmada project devastation, of merely being
ostentatious consumers in a dirt-poor country.
Perhaps all of this makes this particular
section of the middle class feel highly
insecure, and there is no dearth of scaremongers to feed on their anxieties. Modi
manipulated these fears and rose as
undisputed messiah of Apnu Gujarat, agavun
Gujarat. (Our Gujarat, Unique Gujarat). Modi
is the messiah of communal exceptionalism
inspired by TBE. But its roots exist in all other
Southasian societies.
Collaborators of the Pakistan Army in
Bangladesh are perhaps progenitors of
militant Islamism, in a country built upon the
idea of cultural rather than communal
identity. Old associates of King Mahendra
were the prime movers of King Gyanendra's
regressive experiments in Nepal. Beneficiaries
of military munificence in Pakistan have
repeatedly thwarted all moves of
democratisation in that country. The
depopulation policies of the ruling dynasty
in Thimphu were probably a direct result of
its implication in the suppression of all
subjects: the pushing out of the Lhotshampa
increasingly appears like an act of
compensation for the sprawling Drukpa
network of cousins, in-laws and sundry other
lackeys. Lhotshampas were doing well and
giving inferiority complexes to royal relatives.
Potential challengers had to be forced out to
keep the dynastic domination intact. Just as
fear begets aggression, paranoia gives rise to
ferociousness and violence.
The problem with TBE and its TMF offshoot
is that these tendencies will further exacerbate
an already tense communal environment in
the Subcontinent. The Southasian response to
acts of terror - and the bombings in Bombay
were unjustifiable, indefensible, reprehensible
and condemnable acts of pure terror - needs
to be much more nuanced. What is required is
a two-pronged approach: creating public
opinion against fear, and strengthening
institutional capabilities of countering rather
than fighting terror.
The paranoid are by nature edgy, ready to
hit or strike back in an unpredictable way.
Gandhi considered it a moral rather than
political problem, and suggested the path of
Satyagraha to cure the social malaise. No
matter how trite and simplistic it may sound
to some, it must be repeated: Satyagraha is the
only long-term solution to social violence. For
the medium term, the media must use its
muscle to create public opinion against all
transgressions of accepted behaviour. The
Modi in Bombay^
short-term answer lies in patient and
painstalcing investigation, and prosecution of
those found guilty of committing such heinous
crimes against humanity. Knee-jerk reactions,
pronouncements of not kneeling before terror,
and make-believe arrests in the country and
elsewhere have no meaning. Gandhi's land
must come up with a better alternative than to
succumb to The Bush Effect. fr
Himal Southasian | August 2006
^ " IS? *f     »      W        $
The com
of censorship
Censorship in India is increasingly out of the hands of government, and in the
grip of self-appointed politico-cultural guardians.
The recent agitations in India against The Da Vinci
Code, the US conspiracy film about the Catholic
church, took some observers by surprise. For
those who have been following the drift of India's media
culture over the past few years, however, the real
surprise was that the film was introduced in the country
at all. Indeed, the movement to ban The Da Vinci Code
comes at the end of a long string of controversies
involving religious communities who claim their
sentiments have been hurt by films - including Deepa
Mehta's 1996 Fire and Rahul Rawail's 2005 Jo Bole
So Nihaaf to name just two examples. Religious
conservatives have also instigated riots over purely
non-religious films, such as the lesbian-themed
Girlfriend, which was also vehemently criticised by gay-
rights groups in India.
Despite the turn to globalisation and liberalisation,
it appears that India is in the midst of a spike in banning
and resultant self-censorship. Censorship continues
to thrive in India - though in a new paradigm, with the
Indian government reduced to the status of an enabling
bystander, as the threat of communalist-inspired
theatre-burnings make directors and producers more
circumspect than they need to be.
This new culture of censorship is cultural rather than
governmental, which is to say that while it tends to be
backed by political parties, it is intensely communal.
In the British Raj, as well as through most of India's
independent era, the main motive of state censorship
in the domain of print was anti-popular: it aimed to
stifle political subversion, whether it was anti-imperial
propaganda in the 191 Os or anti-Congress party writing
in the 1970s. Up until the banning of Salman Rushdie's
allegedly anti-Islamic The Satanic Verses (one month
after its 1988 publication) most works prohibited by
New Delhi were political in nature, and criticised either
a historical nationalist figure or the current
administration - this is why Michael Edwards' Nehru:
A Political Biography was banned in 1975.
Since India became the first country to ban Rushdie's
book, however, censorship has become increasingly
'communal', and works about religious figures and
mythic cultural heroes have had to confront
censorship. When a book or film makes it to the market
past the censors, it is still liable to arouse protests
and violence, forcing publishers and producers to
withdraw the 'offending' work. In 2004. American
religious-studies professor James Laine's book Shivaji:
A Hindu King in Islamic India provoked the trashing of
Pune's staid Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
for helping the author with his research, even after the
book had been withdrawn by its publisher.
As far as cinema is concerned, the official censor
board had historically focused on vanquishing sex on
the screen, rather than what was perceived as political
subversion (though politics was unquestionably also
suppressed). Today, the film industry has also been
dragged down by the new censorious culture. Between
2000 and 2004, the National Democratic Alliance
government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, did
its best to ban any film critical of its policies. The
attitude is exemplified by the prohibition slapped on
two political documentaries, Anand Patwardhan's film
War and Peace, which focused on the nuclear tests
of 1998, and Rakesh Sharma's The Final Solution,
which took on the Gujarat government of Narendra
Modi over the 2002 riots.
With a secular United Progressive Alliance
government led by the Congress party currently in
power, the central government strictures may have
been loosened, but state and non-state actors have
already gotten the taste of censorship and bannings.
And so, even where the Central Board of Film
Certification (CBFC) and the Supreme Court have ruied
in favour of films such as The Da Vinci Code (with
changes inserted in deference to Indian Christians),
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
 The irony is that the threat to security
from censorious religious groups is the
threat they themselves pose.
seven individual states have still found reason to ban
the film. And in what may be the most absurd case of
censorship of all, the state of Gujarat attempted to
ban the inoffensive film Fanaa - not because of any
objectionable content, but rather because actor Aamir
Khan had the temerity to criticise Chief Minister Modi's
government's handling of the relocation of villagers
displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
Helpless censors?
There have been numerous attempts over the years
to reform film censorship. A 1970s book provocatively
called Bare Breasts and Bare Bottoms protested the
incoherence of censors' approaches to representations
of sexuality, seething against the censors' almost
fetishistic concern that hemlines be maintained at a
certain length, or that the camera not linger too long
on certain parts of the female body. After the filing of
an official committee report in 1976, some liberalisation
was sanctioned, but not much really changed for
Bollywood - except perhaps that the word 'censor'
was replaced by 'certification'. In 2002, the chair of
the CBFC, Vijay Anand, tried to initiate another round
of reforms, but he was quickly forced to resign.
Little of substance, perhaps, can be done on the
official front now, anyways. The communalisation of
politics has created an atmosphere where the
expectation of societal censorship is playing a role in
stifling creativity, even more than the post-production
act of the official censor. Most of the time, agitations
by an 'offended' religious community are pre-emptive
efforts - driven by the expectation of insult, rather
than the actual experience. In many cases, what is
deemed offensive is vaguely defined, without regard
to the contextual aspects of a book, film or work of
art, which might explain or mitigate a potentially
insulting image or phrase.
Take Bombay artist M F Husain's work BharatMata,
which was the target of a nationwide campaign and
court case this past spring. The central figure's nudity
is respectful and beautiful, rather than exploitative,
but has nevertheless been adjudged offensive by the
cultural guardians of India's self-image. Some paintings
by Husain that feature Hindu deities in suggestive
poses might admittedly be deemed offensive, but
surely in this painting it is simply the idea of a nude
Mother India that has led not just to criminal
proceedings against the artist, but the threat of violence
as well. One leader of the far-right Shiv Sena has
offered INR 50,000 to anyone who will chop off
Husain's hands and deliver them to the Sena leader,
the fiery but aging Bai Thackeray.
Similarly, the controversy over the film Jo Bole So
Nihaal(a comedy involving a Sikh policeman) emerged
despite the filmmakers' extensive efforts to have the
film approved by the leaders of the Sikh community
in advance of public screening. In the end, the only
objectionable aspect of the film cited by the Sikh
organisations that condemned it was the use of the
religiously-significant phrase in the title. But while that
phrase perhaps suffers somewhat from association
with what is a B-grade spy film, the Sikh faith is neither
criticised nor attacked in the script. The subsequent
agitations inspired a reactivated wing of the Babbar
Khalsa (one of the oldest militant Sikh separatist
groups) to set off bombs in two theatres in New Delhi,
killing one and injuring almost 50.
Censorship devolution
While India as a whole seems to be marching towards
liberalisation on both the political and cultural fronts,
the future of censorship remains uncertain, partly
because of a possible contradiction in the Indian
Constitution itself. The very first section of Article 19
guarantees freedom of expression, but the second
clause subsequently indicates that the government
retains authority "to legislate concerning libel, slander,
defamation, contempt of court, any matter offending
decency and morality, or which undermines the
security of or tends to overthrow, the State." It is this
text that is repeatedly cited by the state when it agrees
to demands by religious groups to ban works of art:
the security of the state. But security for whom, and
from what? The irony is that the threat to security
from censorious religious groups is the threat they
themselves pose. It is hard to understand why the
religious groups responsible for fomenting riots against
offensive works are not being prosecuted, and in their
t    Vd.aaVVd...      aft-*
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 Most of the time, agitations by an
'offended' religious community are preemptive efforts - driven by the
expectation of insult, rather than the
actual experience.
places are writers, artists and filmmakers.
Certainly the question should be asked: What about
images that are specifically created to offend, such
as the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed?
Or, along the same lines, what should be done with a
film that fans the flame of communal hatred? With the
anti-Islamic cartoons, it is always the prerogative of
news organisations to decide whether or not to print a
certain kind of image; the state need not get involved.
Self-regulation could also work quite well in cinema.
One could argue that a number of communally-inflected
films were indeed released in the 1990s and early 2000s
- the worst offender probably being the Partition super-
hit Gadar in 2001, which featured a heavily slanted
representation of Islam and Pakistan. And yet, these
saffronised films were rubber-stamped by the BJP-
friendly censor board of that period. Still, despite the
surge of communally-themed films in the mid-1990s,
it is worth noting that no film led directly to any reported
act of violence against religious minorities. The attempt
to suppress controversial material, on the other hand,
has often had that result.
Though the current shift towards the
"communalisation' of censorship is not driven by the
government, the government will have to take a
leadership role in correcting the trend. An obvious
solution is to abolish the current system of censorship
by government altogether, removing it as an object in
the agenda of religious groups. The maintenance of a
censorship system in an otherwise free society is based
on a paternalistic and oversimplified concept of what
literary and artistic representations actually do. The
paternalism is a holdover from colonialism, and is
gradually declining as the authority of India's old elites
gives way to the new, technocratic, free-market order.
But the misconception of the nature and function of
the work of art remains widespread. It is mistaken to
believe that watching or reading violent films and books
will induce masses of people to commit acts of violence.
In a mature democracy, questions about how to
discuss religion ought to be worked out through public
debate. Instead, what we have seen is the cancerous
growth of a culture of banning and censorship, which
exploits an aspect of the government's paternalism
for communalist purposes - not to maintain an
environment of mutual respect and tolerance, but to
undermine it. h
There are some who live to get settled, some to get rich, some to get lucky.
And then there are the likes of those who once believed we would fly.
They are those who said that we would one day find our way to the moon.
They taught us conviction and they taught us freedom.
They taught us to believe.
Do you have what it takes to be a leader?
BRAC, a small-scale relief operation that started in 1971 ,is today the largest non-profit
organisation in the South, taking health, education and microfinance programmes to
64 districts and over 68,000 villages of Bangladesh and 20 provinces of Afghanistan.
BRAC has recently started its operations in Sri Lanka.
Public Affairs & Communication, BRAC I    Photo: © Syed Latif Hossain   |     Design: Aura Communication
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
New nationalism and
neo-liberal cruelty
In February 2005, the Asian
American Hotel Owners'
Association (AAHOA) invited
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra
Modi to headline their annual
meeting. A group of Indian
Americans protested. Modi, after all,
had had his hand on the levers of
power when Hindutva's armies had
killed over a thousand people in
February 2002, in the wake of the
death of a group of Hindutva activists
in Godhra, allegedly by a Muslim
mob. Some held him personally
responsible, either for sins of
commission (he set the forces in
motion and purposefully held back
the police) or for sins of omission
(he failed to prevent the riots or to
stop them once they began). Either
way, Modi did not look good. He was
bad for Brand India.
But not to the leaders of AAHOA.
To them, Modi was Gujarat. M P
Rama, AAHOA's vice chair, wanted
Modi because his organisation "saw
a great business opportunity. We
told Narendrabhai Modi to come and
tell our members about Gujarat's
potential." As it turned out, the US
government denied Modi's visa
application. Gujarat's strongman
stayed home.
Everyone knows about Narendra
Modi, and about the post-Godhra
massacre. But what is astounding
is that, like other modern pogroms,
the guilty go unpunished and
the survivors continue to suffer.
Dionne Bunsha, a correspondent for
Frontline, covered Gujarat's trials for
the magazine and has now written
a book from the survivor's point of
view. Scarredtakes us from the train
fire at Godhra to the refugee camps
across the state. With forensic
clarity, Bunsha shows us how the
BJP and its Jung Parivar unleashed
terror across the country, and
how the BJP-controlled state
government worked its malevolence
against Muslims.
This is not the story of a 'failed
state', but of incredible efficiency:
the carnage went smoothly, as the
saffron forces murdered Muslims
and destroyed their economic base.
Authoritarianism in power faces a
conundrum. It is never good at the
articulation of popular grievances,
or at preparing solutions for them.
Instead, it offers a narrative of the
Final Battle between Good and Evil,
between Hindus and Muslims -
where the ultimate destruction ofthe
latter will inaugurate a Ram Rajya,
in which there will be no want and
justice will reign. The only way to
address the pressing needs of the
people, then, is to enjoin them to
kill Muslims. Bunsha's book shows
us how this political ideology
functions in everyday terms, and
what it means to bear the social
costs of this sort of messianic
Bigotry and haftas
A month before Godhra, the
Federation of Indian Chambers of
Commerce and Industry (FICCI)
hosted Modi for a New Delhi
conference titled 'Resurgent
Gujarat: Business Partnership Meet
2002'. The theme was to celebrate
the shift of the state's economy
"from a predominantly agrarian one
into a major industrial power house".
The businessmen wanted the state
to create "a more business-friendly
environment", which meant less
regulation, no unions and more
profits to corporations.
Beneath the high growth figures,
however, lies a different Gujarati
reality. Unemployment is up, as is
Experiments with violence in
by Dionne Bunsha
New Delhi:
the depth of poverty and agrarian
stagnation. Literacy rates of just 69
percent lag behind neighbouring
Maharashtra (77 percent), not to
mention Kerala (90 percent). Gujarat
also manages to get just ahead of
Bihar for the lowest rate of school
attendees. The state's sex ratio is
in decline, and one-in-four atrocities
against Dalit women takes place
there. The collapse of one lakh
union textile jobs and the growth of
the 'casual' sector create social
frustration that is fodder for the
rightwing mischief-monger.
Bunsha introduces the reader to
Hiren, the son of a retrenched mill
worker from Ahmedabad's Gomtipur
area. Unlike his father, Hiren is an
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 ardent BJP supporter, and the local
bootlegger. "I earn my living through
cheating. ! take haftas," he explains.
"After the BJP government came,
the Hindu bootleggers have more
power than the Muslim ones."
The BJP does not offer union
jobs, but it cultivates gangsterism
and bigotry. The essence of the
BJP economic plan is to give free
reign to major corporations, and to
alleviate social distress through the
cannibalisation of Muslim jobs and
communities. A recurrent theme in
the speeches from Modi and others
is that the Muslim population of
Gujarat is an economic leech. When
asked about the plight of refugees,
Modi lashed out: "What should we
do? Run relief camps for them? ...
We have to teach a lesson to those
who are increasing the population
at an alarming rate."
Many heard those words loud
and clear, and acted on Modi's
wishes. In Naroda Patiya,
Ahmedabad, two Modi followers,
Bhavani Singh and Suresh, caught
Kauser Bano, slit her pregnant
body, pulled out her unborn child
and said, "Look, we have sent your
child to'heaven before he even
arrived in the world." Bigotry is an
easier coin to distribute to the
disenfranchised working-class,
particularly when the ultra-rich
roam free of taxation or any
moral constraint.
Help from abroad
Non-resident Indians (NRIs) play an
important role in Modi's landscape.
Bunsha notes that NRI money
flooded into Gujarat's Vishva Hindu
Parishad (VHP) to facilitate the riots.
"In several villages like Padoli", she
writes, "there were reports of rich
NRIs instigating mobs with the
temptation of money and liquor, and
funding the operation by providing
cash, weapons and gas cylinders."
But the NRIs did not only fund
the pogrom. They have also become
a fundamental contributor to the
foreign investment in the state.
AAHOA's M P Rama noted that
Gujarat's government has been
"rolling out the red carpet" for NRI
investments. Gujarat is desperate
for this capital inflow, banking on the
good feelings of NRIs for their
homeland, and knowing that
commercial capital is loath to enter
a state governed by a man prone to
create social instability for
ideological and electoral gain.
Where the banks fear to tread,
Modi wants the NRIs to come
running in. In October 2002, at the
founding meeting of the Group of
American Businesses in Gujarat,
the state's industry minister, Suresh
Mehta, urged the business leaders
to "re-brand" Gujarat. "Some doubts
have been created in foreign
countries," he noted, as the group's
vice chairman and Motif CEO
Kaushal Mehta urged industrialists
to "create brand awareness
about Gujarat in the US". The post-
Godhra massacre had tarnished
Gujarat's sheen,
The NRI position vis-a-vis
Hindutva is significant, because it
tells us something of the altered
notion of nationalism for neo-liberal
authoritarian regimes. They are
more prone to understand
nationalism as the patriotism of faith
and ofthe bottom line. The rights of
the citizenry are less important than
the imaginary claims of a faith
community, or of capital, upon the
nation state. This is a new kind of
nationalism: a sense of fealty that
transcends the constitutional
identities born out of a long anti-
colonial struggle, and cemented with
the promulgation of a republic.
Modi's India is neo-liberal India -
better able to appeal to the
imagination than to the Constitution,
more prone to violence than to the
creation of well being. The NRI is
no longer a brain drain; it is now a
cash cow.
Of course, the NRI does not do
the actual killing. The assassins are
local, and they come from all castes
and communities. Bunsha offers us
glimpses of the Dalits, Bhils,
Patidars and Brahmins who wielded
the axe and carried the torch. But
we do not hear much either from or
about them. These are the elusive
characters of communal riots, the
ones who act but who do not occupy
the main stage of our narratives
about them. We, the genteel section
of the petty bourgeoisie, tend to
imagine that the less cultivated, the
BJP-types, buy off the loyalty of
Dalits and Bhils with liquorand cash,
and that once plied, they blindly do
the bidding of the masters.
But there is also ideology at work,
or else there is a sympathetic
conjoining of interests. In 1999,
Hindu Bhils killed Christian Bhils in
the Gujarati district of Dangs at the
behest of the VHP and Bajrang Dal,
but also to increase their market
position in a collapsed economy.
Hindutva appeals to oppressed
castes because, on the surface, it
sets aside the vertical caste
hierarchy for a horizontal Hindu
comradeship. The Brahmin-Patidar
alliance in Gujarat is firm thanks to
Hindutva - unlike the far more
honest caste battles in Uttar
Pradesh, which enable the growth
of parties inimical to Hindutva, even
if for opportunistic rather than
programmatic reasons. Cut loose
from the welfare state, other castes
seek patronage from these local
hoodlums, who dole out favours
and operate the new, communal
License Raj.
Bunsha's account is about bad
times, but it is not pessimistic. There
are many heroes here: people who
shielded others, and state officials
who risked their jobs to disobey
Modi's demands. There is also the
memory of another time, of the
important role played by the Majoor
Mahajan Sangh (the Gandhian mill
workers' trade union) during the 1969
riots in the state. The 150,000
members of the union took to the
streets and factories to close down
the aspirations of Hindutva's armies.
The death of the union and the rise
of neo-liberal cruelty removed the
main obstacle to Hindutva. But even
without unions, the people are
not entirely cowed. In October
2002, when Modi traveled to
Surendranagar for an election
meeting, the crowd revolted. They
threw chappals at the chief minister,
who fled the scene behind police
lathis. It is such events, unlike
Modi's contentious Gujarat Gaurav
Yatra, which help to restore
Gujarat's pride. Other histories
in the state are still waiting to
be redeemed.
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Defocusing, from health to trade
In writing about the effects of the World Trade
Organisation on the Indian pharmaceutical industry,
Sudip Chaudhuri provides an incisive account of the
1994 international trade agreement known as TRIPS
(Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).
Through the course of this informative, well-researched
work, Chaudhuri scrutinises how inefficient government
is often what limits the public benefit of TRIPS - indeed,
as much as patent protection itself. In the end, such
analysis makes this work necessary reading for
Southasian supporters and critics of the WTO alike.
Such arguments are particularly
important in the current Indian
context, amidst assertions of the
government's commitment to
rebuilding the country's skeletal health
system. Other Southasian readers will
find interest here as well, for The WTO
and India's Pharmaceuticals Industry
is a warning about how the jeopardy
that India's low-cost drug industry
faces will threaten the health care
industries of Sri Lanka, Nepal,
Bangladesh and others.
Chaudhuri's cardinal conclusion is
that the patent protection demanded
by TRIPS is not necessary for the
stimulation of the international
pharmaceutical industry. Furthermore,
application of such commitments in
the developing world puts public health
at risk without serious economic
benefit in other quarters.
The author analyses the strong
foundations ofthe Indian drug industry
as it stood at the end of the 1980s,
just before the 1994 passage of TRIPS
by 125 countries. Chaudhuri links that
strength with several factors: Indian
public-sector interest in bulk drug production during
the 1960s, a patents regime set up in 1970 that revised
one leftover from 1911, and strong regulation of foreign-
capital Investments in the industry during the
subsequent decade. These developments had
fundamentally altered the prevailing situation, wherein
India used to import life-saving drugs, and local
production was of marginal importance to health care.
While major multinational companies (MNCs) did have
a presence in India, their job was to sell drugs designed
elsewhere - at extremely high prices.
At that time, the country's capacity to produce the
chemical material that lay at the heart of innovative
drug formulations was limited. Poor expertise and
patent laws leftover from colonial times prevented the
growth of sturdy production capacity in low-cost
'generic' drugs, those whose patents have expired.
Even when new processes for drug manufacture were
pioneered in India, judgments on patent issues
favoured the company working with the patent.
Attempts to forge a new approach to the patent regime
were delayed by the lobbying of multinational
companies such as Pfizer.
The Patent Act of 1970
subsequently removed the need
for Indian producers to abide by
international patents. Thereafter,
foreign companies operating in India
had to establish production capacity
in the country itself. Under these laws,
by the 1980s additional research and
reverse engineering (re-inventing a
product that has already been
developed elsewhere) had ied to a
strong output of generics by both
public-sector enterprises and private
companies. Determined not to lose the
Indian market, the MNCs began their
own production, thereby contributing
to local professional expertise.
The WTO and India's
Pharmaceuticals Industry:
Patent protection, TRIPS and
developing countries
Sudip Chaudhuri
New Delhi:
Oxford University Press
Bowing to dollars
This state of affairs has begun to
change, however, due to India's
concessions to WTO demands
regarding TRIPS. Countries did not
need to accede to TRIPS mandates
on all products until 2005. But in the
case of the pharmaceutical industry,
multinationals and others could file
their claims for patent respect from
as early as 1995, which could then be the foundation
for exclusive marketing rights. In 1999, New Delhi
passed an ordinance that enforced respect of
international patents, which has subsequently been
followed up by legislation that amends the 1970 act.
In this context, Chaudhuri is worried about both
access to and the ultimate fate of new life-saving drugs
in India. He argues that new drugs will become
inaccessible, and that the situation gives multinational
companies and their products a dangerous degree of
pre-eminence in India, by diverting them from required
research specific to the region. The author forecasts
Himal Southasian | August 2006
Vacancy Announcment with UNDP
Country Office Kabul, Afghanistan.
Post of: Finance Officer- Level: ALD3
The United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), a leading UN organisation in Finance
Management Unit, wishes to recruit a highly
experienced Finance Officer (International professional)
leading the implementation of the effective delivery of
financial services which aims to carry out capacity
building of staff, implementation of operational strategies,
manage the budget management projects and proper
control of CO accounts and cash management and
ensures facilitation of knowledge building and knowledge
sharing in the CO. Should promote knowledge
management in UNDP and learning environment in the
office through leadership and personal example. Actively
work towards continuing personal learning and
development and development in one or more practice
area, acts on learning plan and applies newly acquired
The successful applicant will build on the major
achievements to date by providing effective knowledge
management and learning; providing development and
operational effectiveness, management and leadership
Transparent utilization of financial resources, analyze
and interpret the financial rules and regulations and
provide solution to a wide spectrum of complex financial
Finance Officer Works in close collaboration with the
operations programme and projects team in the CO, UNDP
HQs staff and Government officials ensuring successful
CO performance in Finance, under the supervision ofthe
UNDPAssistant Country Director(FMU).
Please refer to detailed Terms of Reference in the UNDP
Qualifications:  Masters  Degree in Business
Administration, PublicAdministration, Finance, Economics
(with five years experience) in management advisory
services, managing staff and operational system,
advance knowledge of spreadsheet, data analysis (pivot
tables) and database packages, experience in handling
of web-based ERP management systems, knowledge of
Atlas (UNDP'S ERP System) would be an asset.
Skills: Team leadership; Excellent communication skills,
written and spoken, in the English language knowledge
of Dari and Pashto is an asset Excellent report-writing
skills Extensive knowledge in financial management.
Duration One year
Position: One
Closing date: 06 August 2006
Applications: E-mail a one page cover letter and CVto
Human Resources Officer at UNDP stating post title UNDP/
Finance Officerto: vacancies
a process of subordination and networking that would
suddenly draw Indian private capital into the workings
of the multinational company. This could take place
through the licensing of new molecules, outsourcing
and the like. Not only would the sanctity of the patent
prevent the creation of high-priced multinational-
designed equivalents in India, but circumstances could
deter Indian companies from such a challenge
because of their own interests in the product, both
at home and abroad. Such a situation partly
explains the lack of serious foreign direct investment
in the Indian pharmaceuticals industry, despite TRIPS-
oriented legislation.
There are options available within WTO regimes,
however, to vary and moderate property-rights
protection to ensure prices lower than standard.
Chaudhuri notes that these have been poorly utilised
by both public and private entities in India. Among the
permissible gambits are 'compulsory licensing', which,
once the basic royalty has been paid, entails local
production of a product under license regardless of a
pending patent. This way, such an approach is not
influenced by an MNCs mark-up after producing the
drug elsewhere - although things do get much more
difficult if the low-priced drug is then exported.
A growing number of exporters (especially small
outfits) now have their eyes trained on unregulated
markets in Africa, Latin America and Asia. After gaining
footholds in those markets, however, the ultimate prize
is the US. To all these exporters, compulsory licensing
offers limited rewards, since its basic guaranteed
access is to the domestic market. Chaudhuri points
out that gaining access to the US market is ultimately
a possibility for only a very few.
Meanwhile, the Indian government's compulsions
on small producers to follow WHO 'good manufacturing
practices' jeopardises the future of most of those
producers. The way that the government applies
such policy, together with its failure to use TRIPS
allowances to set aside WTO requirements when
drugs are essential, indicates poor strategy and
public commitment.
But these developments in general, Chaudhuri
implies, are only to be expected from the prevalent
circumstances in India, where the history of the link
between pharmaceutical companies, the state and the
public shows general misuse of popular trust.
According to one recent assessment, India is ranked
below Chad and Bangladesh for health care to the
populace. The poor government commitment to health
services, coupled with the simultaneous outright
manufacture of spurious drugs, indicates a fuzzy sense
of priorities at home - as does the ups and downs in
the history of price regulation before the 1990s.
Past follies should be the signpost to the future.
According to Chaudhuri, and backed by significant
additional research, thoughtless interaction with TRIPS
will be disastrous for India and for developing countries
in general. Awareness of this agreement's loopholes
and pitfalls is absolutely necessary. *
August 2006 [ Himal Southasian
A fanciful
World Bank manifesto
Analysing the growth performance of Southasian
countries, a new World Bank report published
in June argues that, despite some major
roadblocks, the region has managed to maintain fairly
high levels of growth for more than a decade.
Furthermore, that the pattern of that growth has led
directly to a significant reduction in poverty. Attributing
this success to the reforms undertaken by regional
countries, authors Shantayanan
Devarajan and Ijaz Nabi claim that
maintaining a 10 percent rate of
growth for roughly another nine
years is the key to bringing poverty
levels down to single digits. But
achieving steady high growth will
be a challenge. Drawing out a list
of possible obstacles, "Economic
Growth in South Asia" suggests
policy prescriptions to tackle
these constraints.
This is a strange piece of work:
a mix of analysis, hypothesis,
make-believe and wishful thinking.
While it is hard to understand the
purpose of this report*, it does
throw up interesting issues that
must be contested.
First of all, the growth indicators
of SAARC countries are reviewed
only for the last five years. The
timeframe seems inadequate, particularly because the
authors want to attribute high growth rates to policy
reforms that, even according to them, the "governments
undertook in the last two decades". More importantly,
was it really the reforms introduced under the structural
adjustment programmes that led to this growth? In that
case, which specific reforms were the most crucial?
The lack of analysis in terms of connecting the
reforms to the high growth, the extremely short
period under review, the tendency to downplay
other factors that might have helped achieve this
"This report can be found at
SOUTHASIAEXT/Resources South Asia_growth_June 2006.pdf
"Economic Growth in South Asia:
Promising, un-equalizing, ...
by Shantayanan Devarajan and
Ijaz Nabi
World Bank
June 2006
growth - all this makes the analysis more speculative
than anything else.
There is a possible explanation for such a flawed
hypothesis: the Bank was involved in financing most
ofthe reforms under discussion, and both of the authors
are employees at the Bank. Devarajan is the Bank's
Chief Economist for Southasia, while Nabi is Sector
Manager for Economic Policy for the region. It seems
that the authors have carefully
selected the five-year period to
confirm the success of Bank-
sponsored policies. This would
provide legitimacy to the reform
programme, as well as create
the intellectual atmosphere for a
The authors attempt to prove
that, over the same period of
growth, poverty has decreased in
Southasian countries. This seems
to be supported by the data
provided. To take the example of
Pakistan, however, the argument
that poverty has been reduced
cannot be allowed to go
unchallenged. Some argue that,
while the absolute number of the
Pakistani poor may have come
down, the severity of poverty for
some has increased in recent years
- due to the structural transformation occurring as a
direct result ofthe reforms. In addition, the connection
between growth and poverty reduction is surely not
automatic and pre-specified. In other words, there must
be ways of ensuring that growth has the largest
poverty-reducing impact possible, but the work by
Devarajan and Nabi fails to address this issue.
Even with these debates aside, to assume that the
underlying relationship between poverty and growth
would remain the same if similar growth rates were
sustained for another decade requires a leap of
faith. As significant structural transformation occurs,
there is the elasticity of poverty vis-a-vis income
to consider, and negative trends in the pattern of
income distribution.
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 Now that inequality and low productivity are being recognised as constraints to
maintaining growth, the obvious solution is to accelerate the efforts of the state in
improving these conditions.
Ideological blinders
The authors do acknowledge that income, asset and
wealth inequalities have increased substantially over
the identified period of high growth. But conveniently,
they fail to attribute this to the reform process. Given
that the increase in inequality has been even more
persistent than either the sustained high growth or the
reduction in poverty, the connection between 'reforms'
and inequality should be obvious - especially to those
who have a penchant for drawing quick linkages when
it suits them. The authors have predictably chosen
not to comment on this aspect, which can be ascribed
to ideological blindness or institutional loyalty.
The work identifies a number of constraints that
can curtail high growth rates in the future. These include
increasing inequality, an absence of openness and
export-orientation, low technology-intensity, scarcity
of skilled workers, lack of quality infrastructure, high
cost of doing business, and low savings and
investment rates. The authors then derive policy
recommendations that are likely to ensure higher
growth rates. These have to do with increasing
incentives for savings and investment, attracting
foreign capital and technology, reducing inequality,
resolving conflict, upgrading infrastructure,
improving human capital, and increasing openness and
regional integration.
While there are some country-specific suggestions,
the focus remains on this generalised set of
recommendations, which throws up some interesting
issues. For one, many experts have already
enumerated the role of these factors as contributing
to growth. In that sense, there does not seem to be
much added value in this literature. At the same time,
there are many factors that scholars have previously
emphasised but which the Bank authors have chosen
to ignore; for instance, the role of institutions of justice,
and fair and transparent governance. Or, the issue of
land reforms, which has a clear linkage with income
and asset inequality.
It can be instructive to try and understand why
certain areas have been selected by the authors, and
others neglected. For example, while highlighting the
importance of bringing backward regions to the fore,
the authors confine themselves to suggesting growth
and investment strategies. Issues related to distribution
through national taxation, land reforms and social
security networks are not mentioned. Similarly, the
work strongly emphasises the idea of service delivery,
but there is almost no discussion of how services for
the poor are to be financed, and what the responsibility
of the state should be in this regard.
In general, both the procedure for the selection of
issues for discussion, and the policy identified for
addressing those issues, is either whimsical and ad
hoc, or based on criteria that are not shared with the
reader. Once again, it is hard not to ascribe these
lacunae to ideological and/or institutional prejudice.
Unanswered questions
There are other, more critical, problems with this effort,
Growth and poverty reduction are important goals for
all countries, and economic expansion is widely
considered to be a necessary condition for poverty
reduction. But surely there needs to be some debate
on the sources of this growth and its linkage with
improving livelihoods.
Structural adjustment programmes forced
Southasian governments to, among other things, cut
expenditure. More often than not, the cuts happened
in the development sector, which led to relatively lower
investments in health, education, infrastructure and
service delivery. It is important to recognise a possible
link between this reduced expenditure and higher
inequality, and the low human development indicators
across Southasia today. Privatisation, de-regulation
and liberalisation, as well as the other components of
the reform programmes promoted so assiduously by
the World Bank, have in all likelihood contributed to
increasing inequality.
Now that inequality and low productivity are being
recognised as constraints to maintaining growth, the
obvious solution is to accelerate the efforts of the state
in improving these conditions. But will an expansion in
these areas not lead to higher state expenditures,
possibly larger fiscal deficits and some of the very
things that will go against the much celebrated 'reforms'
process of the past? For instance, what if settling
conflicts requires more active intervention in markets,
or more elaborate taxation structures? How do we
square these circles?
The authors ignore the possibility that some of the
'constraints' they have identified might have been
created or exacerbated by reforms themselves. The
more important question is whether addressing human
development, infrastructure needs and inequality is
possible with the policy space available under the
Washington Consensus and the 'structurally adjusted'
economies. There is a fundamental incompatibility
between such social welfare initiatives and the
Bank's prescription of a one-size-fits-all blanket
reform package.
"Economic Growth in South Asia'' can be understood
as an attempt to claim success for Bank-supported
programmes, and as a tool for identifying areas that
the Bank might be interested in financing in Southasia
in the coming years. As an analytical or academic
effort, however, it is quite forgettable.
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
Vacancy Announcment with UNDP
Country Office Kabul, Afghanistan.
Post of: Programme Manager - Level: ALD4
The United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), a leading UN organisation in Urban
Development Group (Promotion of
Sustainable Livelihoods), wishes to recruit
a highly experienced Programme Manager{lnternational
professional) leading the implementation ofthe UNDP
Urban Development Group which aims to carry out
capacity building for regional authorities in monitoring
and evaluation of both foreign aid and government
development projects and leading the strategy
development and implementation of the overall UDG
programme, advise and advocate with the
Government, in particular, the Ministry of Urban
Development on Urtan Policy matters and provide
strategy guidance, apply results based management,
operational oversight, ensure coordination and synergy
with other relevant programmes and ensure effective
system, processes and staff capacity to ensure that
the programme attains to it objectives
The successful applicant will build on the major
achievements to date by providing effective leadership;
providing strategic vision and guidance to the
programme and its senior staff; developing a resource
mobilisation and partnership strategy; advising the
UNDP Senior Deputy Country Director on various
aspects of the programme, working under the
supervision ofthe UNDP Deputy Country Director and
Assistant to Country Director
Please refer-to detailed Terms of Reference in the UNDP
Qualifications: An advance degree (with 10 years
experience) in urban, public administration, management,
architecture or civil engineering.(minimum 10 years of
experience), management/implementation of field based
programmes,(with at least 5 years direct experience) in
urban development or economic regeneration
programmes-within a urban setting. Demonstrable
experience of working or collaborating with government
ministries or agencies in developing countries with a
proven track record of capacity development (preferably
in the urban or related sectors).
Skills: Team leadership; Excellent communication skills,
written and spoken, in the English language knowledge
of Dan and Pashto is an asset. Excellent re port-writing
skids and knowledge of project monitoring evaluation
Extensive knowledge in urban planning/development
policies, organisational administration, institutional
Duration: Six Months (with possibility of extension)
Position: One
Closing date: 31July 2006
Applications: E-mail a one page cover letter and CV
to Human Resources Officer at UNDP stating post title
UDG Programme Manager' to:
The United Nations Development
Programme in Nepal
is looking for  a dynamic, results-driven
Nepalese citizen for the position of
Human Resources Associate (GS-6)
Main Responsibilities
Under the overall supervision of the Deputy Resident
Representative (Operations), and direct supervision of the Chief,
Human Resources Unit, the Human Resources Associate plays a
key role In the team responsible for managing UNDP s Human
Resources services.   Responsibilities include:
1. Ensures administration and implementation of HR strategies
and policies focusing on achievement of the following
Full compliance of processes, records and reports and audit
follow up with UN/UNDP rules, regulations, policies and
strategies; implementation of the effective internal control
CO HR business processes mapping and elaboration of the
content of internal Standard Operating Procedures in HR
management in consultation with the direct supervisor and office
management, control of workloads of the supervised staff
2. Implements HR processes focusing on achievement of the
following results:
■ Organization of recruitment processes including drafting job
description, provision of input to job classification process,
vacancy announcement, screening of candidates, participation
in interview panels Review of the recruitment processes
conducted by projects. Provision of information for elaboration
of recruitment guidelines for the office and projects
Input and tracking of all transactions related to positions,
recruitment, benefits, earnings/deductions, retroactivities,
recoveries adjustments and separations through Atlas
Provision of information on benefits/entitlements to the Slaff
Members and Experts
Maintenance of the CO rosters including e-rosters.
Preparation of cost-recovery bills in Atlas for HR services
provided by UNDP to other Agencies and/or its projects
Minimum Qualifications
Bachelors Degree, preferably Masters Degree in Human
Resources Management, Business Administration or
Commerce faculty;
Minimum of 5 years relevant work experience
preferably with exposure to international HR practices
Excellent advanced computer skills (especially MS
Office and database)
Experience in labor laws. Human Resources policies;
and contract and payroll administration is an asset
Excellent spoken and written communication skills in
English and Nepali; and
•    Outstanding Interpersonal skills in client relations and
in achieving client satisfaction are essential
Applications should be submitted no later than 4 August 2006
by email, to: by mentioning
Application - Human Resources Associate' in the Subject
or in a sealed envelope to UNDP Operations Department (Ref:
HRA/MG), UN House, Pulchowk, P.O. Box 107, Kathmandu,
Applicants must submit the updated standard UN Personal
History Form available from the UN House Reception Qj; the
UNDP webpage
Only those candidates who have been shortlisted will be
contacted for recruitment processes
Himal Southasian | August 2006
 ||Qn ihe__way_ up
Home and the world
The name of Lakshmi, tlie Hindu goddess of
wealth, today identifies the richest Southasian
(male) to the world. Lakshmi Mittal, of Mittal
Steel, is an Indian based in the United Kingdom. He
made his money in the Soviet Union, and is suddenly in
the limelight because he has dared to invade the bastion
of Western Europe, attempting a hostile takeover of the
French steel-maker Arcelor.
And so the name of tlie goddess - depicted in
calendar art with a mouse for a consort, and assorted
swans and white elephants hanging about in a paradisiacal grotto - is one that generates concern throughout
Western industry for the acumen of can-do Indians.
Truth be told, the ten richest men of Southasia, according to this year's Forbes list of the world's most wealthy,
may be Southasians, but they are all Indians - from
Azim Premji of Wipro and Kushal Pal Singh of DLF, to
the Birlas, Godrej's and the Ambani brothers. And there
is a pleasantly disproportionate representation of
Calcutta, rather than of Bombay or Delhi, in terms of the
schools and colleges these heavyweights have attended.
As Mittal and the others make the financial headlines,
the infiltration of the Occident by Southasians continues
apace. In the United States, for example, the robust
dimensions of this presence can now be seen in the
undergraduate college graduation rolls. For example,
the list of the graduates of Columbia College class of '06
in New York shows a significant proportion of what
some like to call 'desi' surnames.
But analysis of this list again shows the great
preponderance of graduates of Indian origin, whether
they are children of US citizens or foreign students.
While Muslim names may be from other parts of the
world as well, it is fair to say tliat Muslim Southasia is
little represented in this list, and there are more
individuals of Bangladeshi than Pakistani origin. Tliere
is not one Sinhala name there, while Nepali and Sri
Lankan Tamil, or Fijian or West Indian names, would be
hidden in their one's or two's, if at all.
The size and weight of the Southasian community in
the US is going to become more obvious by the day,
because the tide of immigration that started in the 1970s
by dint of hard immigrant labour is now rising to
middle- and upper-income categories. As such, they will
become advertising targets. In the New York subway
this summer, there is an advertisement for the La
Guardia Community College, which as a matter
of course shows a man of Sri Lankan origin as the
model student
Today, the Southasian may be over there, sinking
roots deep into Western societies and making good for
themselves and immediate families. But when all is said
and done, those who will do the most good for the
home country and region are the labourers who remit
money - not those from the middle class who go with
the ability and intention to migrate, and gain green
cards and citizenships. Thus, it is not the Nepah migrant
to the United Kingdom or the United States who has
helped the economy of Nepal survive through these
past years of violence and political turmoil. Instead, the
liquidity of the economy has been guaranteed by the
labour - village migrants - working under harsh
conditions in Malaysia, Korea and 'Saudi'.
Thus we have the big name of a Mittal, a Shashi
Tharoor or an Amartya Sen, along with tens of thousands of other Southasians, all seeking success on
Western shores ~ even if some of them may hold 'desi'
passports. They may make us all proud, these
Southasians of the globalising world economy. But it is
the migrant workers traveling east and west who help
keep the home economies buoyant, whether it is in
Kerala, Bihar, Khulna, rural Punjab-Sindh, or the Nepali
midhill and tarai. These unsung, unglamorous migrants
are the ones who will be returning before long to be
the real engines of growth in the backward regions
of Southasia.
The wheel will turn, and the poorest regions of
Southasia, those that export this migrant class, will be
the ones to benefit from the return. The poor shall yet,
we would all hope, inherit the earth. ,   fr
August 2006 | Himal Southasian
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