SACW | 24 April 03
Thu, 24 Apr 2003 01:37:21 +0100
South Asia Citizens Wire | 24 April, 2003
#1. Scared of peace? (Mubashir Hasan)
#2. Take him at his word (Praful Bidwai)
#3. Would Vajpayee Be Third Time Lucky? (Bharat Bhushan)
#4. Battle between 'Islam' and 'kufr'
#5. India: Interview with Githa Hariharan the author of In Times of
Siege (Vaishna Roy)
#6. Time Magazine Asian Heroes 2003
- Good Women of Gujarat (Meenakshi Ganguly Bhavnagar)
- Asma Jahangir: The pocket protector (Tim McGirk)
#7. Indo-Pak border mines pose risk to millions
#8. Conference on The Indian Diaspora and Its Cultural Politics (2-3
May 2003, UCLA)
DAWN, 23 April 2003
Scared of peace?
By Dr Mubashir Hasan
The partition of the subcontinent into Pakistan and India in 1947 was
accompanied by a very large traumatic exchange of population and
horrible massacres. That these events should cast long shadows over
the attitudes of the peoples of the new countries towards each other
was only natural. Not natural, however, was that the two governments
should have confronted each other for more than a few years.
Countries go to war but with signatures on a peace treaty, normal
intercourse at government level is quickly resumed.
Today, over fifty-five years after independence, the governments of
India and Pakistan can still be quite articulate in justifying the
uninterrupted hard policy stand they adopt to confront each other. At
times, each government's logic may seem unassailable, but considering
the opportunities they have missed of ushering in peace and progress
in their respective lands, their policies appear nothing short of
tragic. They have gone to wars but peace has eluded them. They have
remained in a state of no war, no peace.
After fourteen years of promoting peace and friendship between the
two countries, I have come to conclude that both the ruling elites
are genuinely scared of peace breaking out between them. They seem to
recognize enormous dangers that peace in the subcontinent may bring
to their political power and the flow of wealth that comes with
power. Strong vested interests for the two elites have developed to
maintain the status quo.
In India, politicians, the civil apparatus of the state, its army
protectors, big traders and businessmen make up the elites. The
Pakistani elites comprise the officers of the military and civil
services, their client politicos and supporting feudal and business
Internally, by using the authoritative administrative structure built
by the British to deny democratic governance at the grassroots level,
the elites have maintained their political hegemony. No social
contract between the state and the people has emerged. Governance is
based on arbitrary use of coercive power. The elites have legislated
draconian laws giving wide powers to the police, paramilitary legions
and armed forces in the name of maintaining law and order.
Externally, by adopting a policy of confrontation with the
neighbouring country, the two elites have indulged in an open-ended
arms race and recruited division after division of armed personnel.
Large armies, paramilitary legions and huge intelligence apparatuses
have immensely helped the elites to maintain their political power,
simultaneously threatening their neighbour. They have built weapons
of mass destruction along with delivery systems by spending vast
amounts from national budgets.
By maintaining confrontation towards each other and building massive
armed power and often violating the rule of law and sanctity of basic
human rights, both elites have done fabulously well for themselves
during the last half a century. They have amassed riches through
legal and illegal means which will be the envy of the Mughal princes
should they come to life. Their vested interests have vastly grown in
size, exacting an enormous amount of wealth from poor farmers,
industrial workers and other labouring classes - all in the name of
national security, irredentist ventures and a deliberately distorted
view of history.
To maintain their hegemony and to secure the support of the masses,
the two elites have stoked the fires of communal hatred and
intolerance to intensify the gulf between communities and nations.
They have failed to settle disputes such as that of the transfer of
assets relating to partition, Kashmir and Siachin among others. They
would do all they can to widen existing cleavages and to create new
ones by reneging on settled issues such as that of the division of
the Indus Basin waters. They have gone to wars and now claim the
right to pre-emptive military action against their sovereign
However, there are elements among the two elites who, time and again,
have made unsuccessful efforts at bridging the gulf. Towards the end
of the eighties, foreign secretaries - Rasgotra of India and Niaz
Naik of Pakistan - had agreed on the draft of a peace deal. The
Indian side blames Pakistan for going to sleep over it. India and
Pakistan had come to an agreement on ending the confrontation over
the Siachen glacier. Pakistan blames India for not solemnizing the
During his first term as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif desperately
wanted to start negotiations but Prime Minister Narsimha Rao would
not agree. As soon as Benazir took over as prime minister, Narsimha
Rao greeted her assumption of office but she would have none of the
talks that the Indian wanted. After a meeting with the Indian prime
minister, when this writer approached Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
for an interview, she loudly said in the presence of press reporters
and photographers: "Dr Sahib, come and talk to me on any issue but
not about relations with India. They will think that I had sent you
A mysterious unwritten understanding seems to exist between the
permanent establishments of the two countries to discourage taking
any measure that will bring the two nations nearer. I learnt on good
authority that on one occasion Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaking
to a high-level Indian diplomat, said that visa restrictions between
India and Pakistan should be removed. The diplomat politely responded
that it was a good idea but also pointed out the difficulties in the
way. When the Indian diplomat told a high-level Pakistani diplomat
what was in the mind of the Pakistani prime minister, the Pakistani
responded to the Indian, "I hope you tried to dissuade him".
At a Commonwealth Conference, prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and
Chandrashekar had verbally agreed to do away with visa formalities
for travel between the two countries. Pakistan is alleged to have
gone back on the idea.
When they met in Edinburgh, Scotland, Prime Minister I K Gujral asked
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about progress on the Pakistani proposal
to sell electricity to India. Nawaz Sharif confirmed that Pakistan
was agreeable. Right there, in the presence of the Indian prime
minister, the senior Pakistani diplomat present there told the two
prime ministers that the sale could not take place. Mr Gujral was
dumbfounded at the daring shown by the Pakistani bureaucrat in
contradicting his prime minister.
It is a curious state of relations between the two countries. When
India is ready to talk, Pakistan is not willing and when Pakistan is
ready, it is India which refuses to talk and most of the time both
sides indulge in confrontational rhetoric. On occasions the two sides
seem to reach the brink of a deal or an agreement. However, at the
last minute, as two senior Indian diplomats confided to me, something
or the other happens to thwart the deal - an act of sabotage, an
armed incursion, a murderous attack, an artillery duel on the border,
an irresponsible statement by a leader or an arms deal with another
These days it happens to be India's turn to close all doors and
windows of negotiations between the two countries. Rail, road, and
air communications have been suspended. Representation at ambassador
level stands withdrawn. The high commissions' strength is badly
denuded. They do not allow their citizens to read the newspapers of
the other country.
It takes only one government to refuse to negotiate at a particular
time but the refusal serves the traditional interests of both the
elites. It serves to preserve the status quo. The severity of the
present-day restrictions on normal intercourse is indicative of the
severity of internal and external pressures on the government placing
In the past, confrontation and a semblance of normality could exist
simultaneously. For the moment, the Indian stance has allowed
Pakistan to yield to the internal and external pressures on it and
show its all-out readiness for unconditional negotiations.
The present situation cannot last long. Opportunities for genuine
peace negotiations can arise sooner than later. The forces of
confrontation are at their weakest in both countries. It is important
that personages of high profile and peace activists in both the
countries join together to mobilize their people for peace. The
billion-plus peoples of the subcontinent are ready to learn and be
convinced that confrontation only serves the interests of the two
elites and is against the interests of the overwhelming majority.
The News International, April 24, 2003
Take him at his word
Despite the dampening qualifications and conditions that followed it,
there is simply no doubt that Atal Behari Vajpayee's public address
in Srinagar last Saturday represents something of a landmark. He
became India's first Prime Minister to address a public meeting in
the Kashmir Valley after the "azadi" movement broke out in 1989. And
what he said, especially its tone and tenor -- themselves suffused
with human empathy -- has impressed the Kashmiris and kindled new
hopes. His peace overture must be heartily welcomed -- and
purposively followed up.
I say this despite being an uncompromising and trenchant critic of
the ideology and politics of the party Vajpayee leads, and despite
past experience of his lack of assertiveness against his colleagues
to his own Right. Islamabad should respond to Vajpayee by taking him
at his word and returning his gesture of friendship imaginatively.
In Srinagar, Vajpayee attempted a "double whammy". He held out the
"hand of friendship" to Pakistan and offered a dialogue with
different currents of opinion in Jammu & Kashmir. Of the two
initiatives, the first is both more important and likelier to succeed
far more quickly than the second. There are three reasons for this.
=46irst, Pakistan has responded positively to India's offer of a
dialogue. Foreign Minister Kasuri has said: "Vajpayee is welcome in
Pakistan." Islamabad hopes to work out specific dates for
negotiations "within days". This is not true of J&K, where the
political response to Vajpayee has been mixed.
Second, there is growing recognition within both governments that
they cannot indefinitely sustain their mutual hostility. They are
under growing pressure from the Major Powers to defuse it -- and the
potential for nuclear escalation. Only six months ago, India and
Pakistan were all ready to go to war. The reasons why they didn't,
basically continue to hold today. The global situation emerging after
the Iraq war has discomfited both by highlighting their own
vulnerability owing to the Kashmir and nuclear issues.
Washington, in its most aggressively unilateralist and expansionist
phase today, has threatened to extend the Iraq conflict and also turn
its attention to South Asia. Colin Powell stressed this to the New
York Times (March 31). Russia, France and Britain too have called for
an India-Pakistan dialogue.
And third, a certain momentum favouring a short time-frame for an
India-Pakistan meeting has been created, with the planned visit here
of US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in May. It is likely
that both India and Pakistan will make positive moves just ahead of
that visit. More important, Armitage will probably mediate informally
and "facilitate" a future summit -- just as he brokered peace between
the two twice last year.
This doesn't argue that a Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting will necessarily
happen or succeed. After all, even one terrorist act in India,
whether or not sponsored by Pakistan, can scuttle it altogether. Yet,
today's circumstances are especially conducive to such a meeting. Its
success will depend on how far the two governments are prepared to
move away from their stated "first positions" and explore a new
This, in the first place, means they must accept war is simply NOT an
option. Neither side can win it. According to an official report,
India's conventional superiority over Pakistan has steadily eroded
from 1.75:1 (in the Bangladesh war) to 1.56:1 in 1990, to barely
1.22:1 now. (The winning combat ratio is normally 2:1 or higher). And
their nuclear capability is a "great leveller". Nuclear wars cannot
be won; they must never be fought.
To make the summit successful, Islamabad will have to drop its
conventional emphasis on a plebiscite in Kashmir and on 50-year-old
UN Security Council resolutions. More important, it must verifiably
give up supporting militant violence in Kashmir as an instrument to
coerce India to the negotiating table. Its support to jihadi
militants has done nothing to advance the cause of Kashmir. On the
contrary, it is widely seen to be behaving irresponsibly and
jeopardising its own interests. For instance, State Department head
of policy planning Richard Haass says the US is "disappointed and
frustrated" over Pakistan's failure to stop "cross-border"
infiltration of militants. He warned that Pakistan-US relations "will
never improve beyond a certain point unless this issue is adequately
Equally, New Delhi must drop its stated position that Jammu & Kashmir
is "an inalienable part of India". The Kashmiri people must be
involved in deciding how they reshape their status vis-=FD-vis India
and Pakistan. India must take the Simla agreement of 1972 seriously,
under which all bilateral issues are to be resolved through peaceful
discussion. So far, New Delhi has cited the Simla accord to oppose a
multilateral dialogue -- but never once discussed Kashmir bilaterally
Changing old stances won't be easy. But if a robust beginning is made
on the basis of some mutually accepted principles, the process of
reconciliation could get rolling. At times like these, process is
The biggest obstacles are likely to be the hawkish lobbies in both
countries, which have a stake in perpetrating a state of mutual
hostility. In Pakistan, such elements have long influenced the
Afghanistan and Kashmir policies, and sustained support to jihadi
militants. In India, they comprise the BJP's extreme Right wing,
which is hostile to India-Pakistan reconciliation.
Besides its ideological antipathy to Pakistan, this is an important
election year for the BJP, which will see four crucial state Assembly
elections. Rather than embark on a new, uncertain, Kashmir and
Pakistan policy, it might be tempted to fall back upon its familiar
hawkish line which sells well among the urban upper caste elite.
Piloting a peace process through Hindutva's snake pits will need
statesmanship. Even more difficult will be India's Kashmir
reconciliation agenda. Here, the government has no clarity
whatsoever, although people like Vajpayee sense that J&K today offers
a great opportunity because of its relatively credible election, and
the installation of a state government which has generated hope with
its "healing touch" -- despite the impediments created by a
constantly carping BJP and an uncooperative Central home ministry.
However, they are fumbling at the level of strategy and remain
undecided about inviting the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference to
talks. But the government should know that there is little political
sense in talking only to the people's "elected representatives", most
of whom have accepted that J&K's integration with India is
unproblematic. It is the others it must talk to and win over.
The pertinent issue is what Islamabad can do to speed up progress
towards reconciliation and an India-Pakistan summit. Any number of
"negative" arguments can be constructed for holding an early summit,
including warding off international pressure on "cross-border
terrorism" and preventing Pakistan's further marginalisation in the
context of burgeoning India-US economic relations, etc. However, the
truly powerful and yet worthy arguments are "positive" ones, rooted
in the value of peace and long-term d=C8tente, and the building of an
authentic South Asian social, economic and political community.
It is in this spirit that Islamabad should make a solemn commitment
to ending support to jihadi militants in Kashmir -- in ways that are
transparent and verifiable. That's an offer New Delhi can't refuse.
The Telegraph, April 24, 2003
WOULD VAJPAYEE BE THIRD TIME LUCKY?
TWENTY-TWENTY BHARAT BHUSHAN
As the snows melt in Kashmir, would a thaw also set in the
India-Pakistan relationship? Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has
offered to re-engage Islamabad. If Pakistan were to say that it would
stop cross-border terrorism, Vajpayee has promised to restart the
dialogue process the very next day.
Will Pakistan make such a statement? Pakistan's president, General
Pervez Musharraf, has expressed happiness at the "positive
indications from India which could be pursued to greater interactive
process". But he has stopped short of committing Islamabad to
stopping cross-border terrorism.
On the face of it, Vajpayee's offer of talks is bound to be seen in
Pakistan as nothing more than playing to the gallery and as a
pre-emptive move in the context of the impending visits of the United
States of America's deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, to
New Delhi in May and of the deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, to
Washington later this summer. However, the Vajpayee move may be all
this and more. It may, therefore, be worth taking a closer and less
cynical look at Vajpayee's statement.
His formulation in Srinagar represents a slight shift in the Indian
position - from a verifiable end to cross-border terrorism to one
where a declaration of intent itself would be enough to trigger the
dialogue process. This is a movement forward.
Vajpayee's objectives in making the new peace offer seem to be
three-fold: attempting to loosen the grid-lock in the India-Pakistan
relationship, preparing the Indian public for the peace talks and
taking the initiative for regional peace before being subjected to
In saying that there are lessons to be learnt from the Iraq war,
Vajpayee is telling the Indian masses that if a nation refuses to
address issues that impinge on regional and global peace, then it
should be prepared for external intervention. Wary of US pressure, he
wants to seize the initiative while there is still time.
His statement in Parliament on Wednesday seeks to re-emphasize the
seriousness of his peace initiative and attempts to mould
parliamentary and public opinion for peace. This is necessary because
the communal atmosphere within the country is extremely adverse. A
recent opinion poll by a television channel has shown that people are
not jumping with joy at the prospect of dealing with Islamabad again.
However, Vajpayee seems to believe that India has made several
mistakes in relation to Kashmir in the past. Perhaps he also realizes
that successfully settling the intractable Kashmir issue is the only
way he can earn a place in history - otherwise in the last two
decades, prime ministers in India have almost been a dime a dozen.
Several factors would determine a Pakistani decision to disavow
cross-border terrorism. In fact, there are good reasons for Islamabad
not to end cross-border terrorism. The machinery to do so has been
put together painstakingly over the years and from Islamabad's point
of view, promoting cross-border terrorism has worked very well. Even
more importantly, Pakistanis believe that by ending cross-border
terrorism, they would lose the only effective lever for persuading
India to negotiate.
Also, if Pakistan wants to continue to meddle in the internal affairs
of Afghanistan through its proxies - the mullahs and the jihadis, it
needs to keep them and their seminaries alive. After 9/11, it is only
the struggle for Kashmir which provides it the excuse for keeping the
Islamic terrorist factories going. Not too long ago, those fighting
in Afghanistan under the taliban were turned towards Kashmir after
the fall of Kabul. Those who are ostensibly being trained for
"liberating" Kashmir can also be used to tighten the screws on
Afghanistan when the need arises. To demobilize this "irregular army"
of jihadis would mean losing this flexibility.
The Pakistan army also may not want to give up its Kashmir policy.
The anti-India stance fuelled by the Kashmir issue helps it to
maintain both its privileges and its primary importance in Pakistani
polity. The military in Pakistan is the largest employer, the biggest
contractor and the number one business corporation. Why should it
give up its primacy for the sake of peace with India when to maintain
it in the past it has not hesitated to muzzle democracy within?
However, the most important factor in determining the outcome of
Vajpayee's peace offer would be Washington's attitude to it. Despite
the US refusal to link the political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir
with cross-border terrorism, it is nevertheless interested in
bringing about an India-Pakistan settlement - as it sees Kashmir as a
nuclear flashpoint. But the point is that the US does not see
Pakistan-sponsored terrorism lending Kashmir this potential.
As long as Washington makes a distinction between terrorism aimed at
America and that which is aimed at others, Pakistan will not decide
to end cross-border terrorism. It is true that the outgoing US
ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, has said that "the fight
against international terrorism could not be over until terrorism
against India ends permanently. There could be no US compromise
whatsoever on this." This, however, is more an expression of American
sentiment than of the US policy.
Washington is making the same miscalculation as it did in Afghanistan
- it supported the mujahedin to oust the Soviets and expected them to
continue to do its bidding. The result was the birth of the most
potent anti-American force in recent times - a politicized,
obscurantist and militant Islam.
In Pakistan too, Washington seems to think that it can induce the
military-run establishment to act on its command by keeping it afloat
through various means - bailing out the Pakistani economy,
legitimizing the hobbled democracy that the army has introduced and
buying the argument that Islamabad is doing its best to curb
cross-border terrorism. General Musharraf paints a picture of an
Islamic fundamentalist deluge after him, and the US willingly gets
It would be tragic if Washington were to wake up to the dangers of
its South Asia policy only when a nuclear Pakistan is ruled by
avowedly fundamentalist mullahs. They are getting there - they are a
significant presence in Parliament and rule two out of the four
Pakistan has not as yet become unmanageable, General Musharraf has
not become too big for his boots, and the Islamic fundamentalists can
still be forced to retreat. A change towards peace which would
strengthen the Pakistani democratic forces in the long run - and
settling Kashmir will do just that - can still be induced. There is
no logical reason to wait till the situation becomes hopelessly
If wise counsel prevails in Washington, then it is likely that
Islamabad may be nudged to settle with India. As for its choices in
India, the US can do little but to support the Vajpayee initiative
and strengthen him politically - all the other significant political
forces are anti-American. At a time when anti-Americanism is
spreading, the US would not like India to end up leading the pack. So
there could be pressure on both Pakistan and India to settle their
disputes and make the region a safer place for everyone who resides
here. Who knows, having failed after Lahore and at Agra, Vajpayee may
yet prove to be third time lucky.
The Daily Times (Pakistan), April 23, 2003
EDITORIAL: Battle between 'Islam' and 'kufr'
General Pervez Musharraf told an international conference at the
Aiwan-e-Iqbal in Lahore that, despite the fact that Pakistan was 98
percent Muslim, certain quarters had unleashed a battle between Islam
and "kufr" (non-belief). He said in reality there was no conflict of
the believer and the infidel in the country and those who fanned it
simply sought to restrict the meaning of Islam. He said such elements
monopolised the religion and wanted to block any advance in modern
knowledge. He was no doubt referring to the clerical high tide in the
country represented by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) which
threatens to sweep him from power by rejecting the Legal Framework
It would only be fair to General Musharraf to recall that he began
objecting to the aggressive politics of the clerics in 2000 when he
saw the national strategy on Afghanistan and India falling apart. He
had earlier scared the religious leaders by announcing his "secular"
credentials, putting together "a government of the NGOs", publicly
praising Kemal Ataturk and being photographed with his pet dogs. The
clerics responded by threatening to march on Islamabad and enforcing
their version of "true Islam". He showed patience but hit back after
9/11 by clearing the decks within the army, sidelining the so-called
"Islamist" generals among his corps commanders. The religious
leaders, thinking that "sympathetic" officers within the army might
still react in their favour, tested him further, but were despatched
to house arrest one by one.
But the cruel war in Afghanistan after 9/11, coupled with his
hostility to the mainstream parties, also upset General Musharraf's
expectations of the "engineered" 2002 general election. The religious
parties, united for the first time in the country's history, won a
remarkable number of seats in the assemblies and were able to form
their government in the NWFP. His own "chosen" party, the PML-Q,
managed, with much help from the army, to win only a paper-thin
majority in the National Assembly. The struggle with the clergy was
It is hard to say who spawned whom. The power of the clergy and the
paramountcy of the military were established almost simultaneously
when the Pakistani politician decided that the new republic had to be
Islamic and that India had to be taken on as the country's eternal
enemy. Both were opposed to the fundamental spirit of democracy but
the army got its chance of ruling Pakistan first. In fact, when it
was time for General Zia to rule Pakistan, he united the army and the
clergy under the banner of "shariat". The political party he
fathered, the PML, doffed its secular vestments and became
semi-ecclesiastical. The PPP was persecuted for being an ideological
"security risk" and the nation was subjected to massive
indoctrination. More clearly, the army spawned the jihadi militias to
fight its deniable wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The militias in
turn empowered the religious parties who then threatened the army
itself when General Musharraf came on the scene. Tragically, however,
after the war in Iraq, the nation seems to be thinking more on the
lines dictated by the clergy than ever before in the past.
The army is now witnessing the whirlwind it sowed. The battle between
Islam and "kufr" in Pakistan is manifest in many areas. A bad law and
order situation and insipient sectarianism are two aspects of it. The
madrasa culture is daily increasing the number of those who make
intolerance a way of life. The minorities are under threat and there
are terrorist actions that an indoctrinated state machinery is unable
to cope with. In Karachi today, two entities created by the army are
at each other's throat. After an unprecedented outbreak of violence
between the students wings of the Jama'at-e-Islami and the MQM,
almost all the colleges and universities of the city have closed down.
Therefore General Musharraf is right when he bemoans the environment
of religious intolerance in Pakistan and the violence that takes
place in it. Indeed, no one can deny that Pakistan needs to improve
its secular and pluralist credentials and climb out of poverty by
shunning aggression of all variety. But General Musharraf must see it
all in perspective.
General Musharraf behaved tentatively when he had the nation fully
behind him. He did not disarm the militias and he gave up half way
after beginning a drive against the Kalashnikov culture of the
religious leaders. He also shrank from the madrasas after beginning a
drive to register and monitor them for sectarianism and illegal
funding. He allowed the loud-mouthed leaders of the defunct jihadi
militias to fulminate in public for too long. They undermined his
credibility and lured the public opinion away from his "reforms".
Today, we have the spectacle of a small PML-N leader bad-mouthing
General Musharraf and getting mysteriously roughed up while the
banned jihadi leaders are on the rampage saying unprintable things
about General Musharraf with impunity. He willy-nilly continues to be
a part of the theory in sections of the army that wants to boost
religion in order to postpone democracy and fight wars that no longer
suit the people. Now the army is on the verge of being upstaged. And
all General Musharraf can do is wail about the misplaced battle
between Islam and "kufr" and continue to remain aloof from the
liberal and secular elements that should have been his proper
Web | Apr 23, 2003
'The Siege Of The Mind'
The author of In Times of Siege on its contemporary theme, its
relevance, inspiration and how a 'writerly slogan' is necessarily
nuanced, complex, structured, and does not remain on the street or
even in the living room of the house.
Githa Hariharan's latest offering In Times of Siege is a stark story
of a history professor whose warts-and-all portrayal of the 12th
century Basavanna earns the wrath of self-appointed protectors of
history. The contemporary relevance is obvious and the book reflects
the claustrophobic sense of oppression as ordinary lives are besieged
by all-pervasive hatred. Hariharan talks here to Vaishna Roy about
her book's attempt to tackle our own times of siege.
Has fundamentalism been reduced to just an 'obvious' plot line?
When we have to identify and grapple with an enemy I don't think you
can stop in the middle of the grappling and say 'is this subtle
enough?' or 'Is my view of the enemy complex enough?' You just
grapple. And that's what the novel is doing.
The world in In Times of Siege is all too real. How difficult was it
not to be able to escape into a world of imagination; where you could
find your own solutions?
As a writer, because I have in my earlier novels used invented
landscapes and magic and so on, to look at very real things or
problems of real men and women it was a temptation (to look into
imagination). But I was absolutely determined that I would have a
hard-hitting, straightforward narrative strategy.
How afraid are you really of Hindu fundamentalism, about it growing
out of hand?
I don't know that I would use the word 'afraid'. I think that we need
as many warnings as possible, in all kinds of ways possible. Whether
it is through art or literature, or journalism or in the classroom or
courtroom. To say that any kind of prejudice, bigotry, warspeak,
fundamentalism, obscurantism is going to diminish our lives,
impoverish our lives. And this applies to a range of fundamentalism,
whether Hindu, Christian, Muslim=8A
You have said earlier that writing this book was like 'shouting a
slogan'. How effective are slogans against real problems?
That's why I said a 'writerly' slogan. Which is not to belittle the
kind of slogans shouted on the streets. That does one sort of thing.
Everything can't be solved on the streets. Similarly, everything
can't be solved in the courtroom. Every monster has to be taken on in
a variety of settings -- classrooms, homes, books, literature,
Parliament. But a writerly slogan is necessarily nuanced, complex,
structured, and most of all it does not remain on the street or even
in the living room of the house. It goes to the most personal part of
an ordinary life. Whether in a workplace or in the bedroom or into
So the state of siege I am talking of - of course there is a typical
siege and all the kind of problems we know only too well whether it's
mobs or violence or hatred or murder, or Gujarat or so on. But there
is the siege of the mind as well. So, the siege in the mind that the
novel is actually shouting a slogan about is this: That if even in a
university minds are not safe against fundamentalism -- just as we
say that even Ehsan Jaffrey and others were not safe in Gujarat --
then that's a measure of how horribly unsafe the ordinary mortal is.
How did you feel when Modi came back to power in Gujarat?
Deeply depressed. Deeply frustrated. I think this is going to be a
long haul. We cannot be carried away by romantic woolly-headed
notions of how neatly the Modis of the world will be got rid of with
one election. It would have been wonderful but they won't. Because
there is a whole history there. Gujarat has been worked on for long
enough and while the voices of dissent are necessarily patchy, there
are lots of different voices. We are celebrating the differences and
coming together and saying that you cannot have this sort of thing.
So it's going to be difficult but I think it is happening in a modest
way and will continue to happen.
In that sense, fundamentalism cannot ever have a neat solution, right?
Most of us, as we're growing up, without our awareness, we pick up a
little baggage of prejudice, most of it received wisdom. But as you
grow, as you are exposed to different ideas, meet people, as you
read, learn, as you live, experience teaches you that some of those
prejudices are false. So what is the answer? The answer is to get to
know each other better. The answer is to fight prejudice at all
levels, certainly starting with the youngest minds.
Rewriting history has always been the prerogative of the victors in
any war. What's really so surprising about a resurgent Hindu
nationalist movement wanting to rewrite or colour history?
You are absolutely right. Whoever is in power wants to put out a kind
of authorised version. In our Indian case=8A you have people saying the
Left has also put in its historians in cartels and universities and
so on. But I must counter that with a question of my own.
Maybe some historians can be accused of being high-handed or
authoritarian but the point is that it's very difficult to think of a
whole breed of historians who are not equipped as historians. You
might have people disagreeing with historians but you cannot say they
were ill equipped as historians. Whereas if you have the likes of
someone like P. N. Oak who says the Taj is really a Hindu monument...
it's very difficult to fathom what the qualifications of a lot of
these historians are--those who have been put into councils like ICHR
As you know, the British imperialists did their own spot of rewriting
our history, but they were hardly challenged. Is our intelligentsia
now more on its guard against this sort of fictionalisation of
I think there have always been layers of narratives. It's not as if
only the official, big-stage version exists in splendid isolation. I
think there have always been voices of dissent who have been heard=8A
Basavva in the novel sounds so contemporary and he wrote in the 12th
century. That's your answer.
Time Magazine, April 28, 2003 / Vol. 161 No. 16
Asian Heroes 2003
Good Women of Gujarat
A sisterhood nurses the wounds of a battered state
By Meenakshi Ganguly Bhavnagar
When the slaughter of Muslims in India's Gujarat state began last
year, murderous Hindu mobs descended on Muslim neighborhoods with
torches, swords and tridents. Only after four days and the calling in
of the army did the brutal pogrom cease.
But even after the violence had ebbed, most aid workers were
reluctant to visit the remote villages of central Gujarat. The
exceptions were four remarkable women: Jahnvi Andharia, Sejal Dand,
Nita Hardikar and Sumitra Thacker. Together, these four run Area
Networking and Development Initiative (ANANDI), a voluntary group
whose main mission is to bring education, health care and microcredit
schemes to small hamlets. Initially, just after the riots, ANANDI was
the only crusader for justice for the rural victims of the Gujarat
massacres. "These girls were incredible," says Jaya Srivastava, a New
Delhi-based activist who organizes relief for Gujarat's victims.
"They took any vehicle they could, sometimes even walking, to reach
Today, ANANDI is helping pursue court cases against alleged killers
and rapists, and rebuilding destroyed homes. But Gujarat's religious
violence has so scarred psyches and twisted political life that
nationalists have branded ANANDI anti-Hindu, even though all four
founders are from Hindu backgrounds. "For years," mourns Andharia,
"we were sure in the knowledge that as Hindus, as Gujratis, we don't
do this sort of thing. After the riots, that idea has been
shattered." Their state has been torn apart; they are part of a very
small minority trying to pull it back together.
0 0 0
The pocket protector
By Tim McGirk Islamabad
At 152 centimeters tall, Asma Jahangir is a mere sparrow of a woman.
But she's got a big voice, which she isn't afraid to use. Jahangir
and her colleagues at the Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan, an independent body of lawyers and activists, defend
Christians and Muslims sentenced to death by stoning under harsh and
capricious blasphemy laws. She shelters women whose families want to
murder them-only because they deserted cruel husbands. She
investigates the fate of prisoners who vanish in police custody and
battles for their release through the courts and in the press. In
short, Jahangir rails against the myriad injustices that plague her
homeland, a type of cage rattling that doesn't always get popular
support. "People aren't willing to believe that these injustices
happen in our society," says Jahangir, 51. "But it's all going on
Jahangir's father, Malik Jilani, was a politician who spent years in
jail and under house arrest for opposing a string of military
dictatorships, so his daughter grew up in Lahore with secret
policemen at the garden gate. "Asma was always charging off against
bullies," says Seema Iftikhar, a childhood friend, "or challenging
the school's silly rules." She earned a law degree in 1978 and
managed in the mid-1980s to overturn a death sentence against a blind
woman who was gang-raped and then, grotesquely, charged with
adultery. Since then, she and I.A. Rehman, director of the Human
Rights Commission, have defended thousands of hopeless cases.
Yet many Pakistanis wish Jahangir would just shut up. President
Pervez Musharraf occasionally explodes into fury against her, saying
she is unpatriotic. Eight years back, five gunmen burst into her
house, searching for her and her young son; fortunately, neither were
home. Five years ago, a policeman was caught creeping up to her house
with a dagger.
Today, in addition to her work for the Human Rights Commission,
Jahangir serves as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on
extrajudicial killings, a job that has taken her to Afghanistan,
Central America and Colombia. "There have to be principles, justice,"
she insists. "Otherwise, we fall into a cycle of revenge." And back
home, people are starting to recognize that a voice capable of
challenging authority is invaluable. Checking in at the Lahore
airport recently, she was asked by fellow passengers to confront an
immigration official who was harassing passengers for bribes. She
did, and the official swiftly backed down. "I couldn't resist,"
Jahangir says with a laugh. She's a small lady-with a large job.
Indo-Pak border mines pose risk to millions
KT NEWS SERVICE
SRINAGAR, Apr 20 : The laying of landmines on the 1800-mile long
Indo-Pak border during the recent heightened tensions in the
sub-continent has put at risk the lives of millions of people. Even
the complete de-mining would still leave around two lakh uncleared
Leading experts on the issue today came out with these startling
revelations and resolved to initiate a public compaign to pressurise
India and Pakistan for signing the particular treaty banning the
They were speaking at a seminar entitled "Landmines - Challenges to
Humanity and Environment" organised by Global Green Peace, Kashmir, a
non governmental organisation.
Some of the dignitories who delivered their speeches included Dr B K
Kurvey, president Indian Institute of Peace Disarmament &
Environmental Protection & national coordinator Indian Campaign to
Ban Landmines (ICBL), Louis Simard, Counselor Canadian High
Commission, New Delhi, Lt General (rtd) G Mann Singh from
International Red Cross, Benon, incharge ICRC, J&K. Muzaffar Hussain
Beig, state finance minister, presided over the function.
During his speech Dr Kurvey said more than one million mines were
planted on this side of the border during the recent Indo-Pak crisis.
"They have and will take heavy toll of civilians. Even after
de-mining, some 20 percent mines would remain there", he said.
With a purpose to increase awarenwess in the field, he said, they are
unveling a three point programme. "In every such affected village, we
will start this programme where people would be educated not to touch
such suspicious elements and inform police if they find any. We would
also start collecting and documenting data of civilian casualties of
landmines and then rehabilitation and income generation of the
landmine victims. The programme would help in minimising losses and
providing the much needed help to the affected people", he said.
The finance minister, in his speech, said these weapons cause
considerable damage to the life and property of people particularly
those poor innocents living near border. He regretted that
materialistic approach has gained ground, the reason that people who
enjoy power or are behind the production of these weapons are
respected more than those who project human values.
Beig said landmines are such a big menace that they cause destruction
even of peace times. "When these mines are dispersed, more and more
civilians fall in the trap even during peace times", he said.
Louis Simard, counsullor Canadian High Commission, said that he finds
the problem of landmines, in several states of country, larger than
Simard referred to Ottawa (Canada) International treaty (1997) which
makes it mandatory for member states to stop using, transferring,
producing these landmines and subsequent destruction of stock piles.
He urged both India and Pakistan to be signitories of the treaty.
He said there is a long history of hostility between India and
Pakistan and thus the reluctance to do away with such weapons. "But
inspiration can be gotten from other parts of the world", he said.
Others who spoke on the occassion included L K Dadhich,
environmentalist from Rajasthan, Dr Abhdesh Gangwar, coordinator CEE
Himaliya, Shujaat Bukhari from The Hindu and Dr Abdus Salam, director
Regional Composite Centre.
The speakers said these weapons are taking heavy toll of innocent
lives and they stressed to initiate a public compaign and pressurise
India and Pakistan to sign the treaty banning landmines.
The Asian American Studies Center and the
Asian American Studies Graduate Student Association
are pleased to invite you to a conference on
The Indian Diaspora and Its Cultural Politics
on Friday-Saturday, 2-3 May 2003
at Ackerman Grand Salon,
Admission is Free and Open to the Public.
The first 100 participants to pre-register for
Saturday, May 3rd, will receive a complimentary boxed
lunch. Please pre-register via email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 825-2974 during
normal business hours. Please specify if you would
like a vegetarian meal.
The Indian population in the United States has
witnessed a tremendous growth since 1965, and the
global Indian diaspora has now become an important
part of world culture. There are now 1.8 million
Indians residing in the United States, and in
countries as diverse as Fiji, Mauritius, Trinidad,
South Africa, and Malaysia Indians account for
a significant portion of the population, even, in some
cases, constituting the majority of the population.
Though many commentators have spoken of the
globalization of India, others prefer to call
attention to the Indianization of the globe,
pointing to India's export of its samosas, gurus,
sitar music, even beauty queens. Bollywood,
always popular in the Middle East, North and East
Africa, Russia, and elsewhere, is now becoming
globally known. This conference is dedicated, in
particular, to the exploration of the cultural
politics of the Indian diaspora, and though the bulk
of the papers will be riveted on the Indian diaspora
in the US, it is hoped that some of the insights might
be instructive in understanding the complexity of the
How are questions of race and color negotiated? How
are the animosities of the Indian sub-continent
reflected in the diaspora, and what are the
anxieties of a largely middle-class, professional
Indian diaspora in the US? Do notions of Indian
"culture" get reified, contested, transmuted, and in
what ways? Does the Indian nation-state live in its
diaspora as well, does it indeed receive succor
from the diaspora, or can the diaspora become a site
from where the politics of the nation-state can be
productively challenged? These are some of
the many questions that will be explored in this
two-day conference. There will also be poetry and
fiction readings on both evenings.
May 2 (Friday), Ackerman Grand Salon
9 - 9:30 AM
Registration & Introduction to the Conference
Vinay Lal (Associate Professor, History, UCLA)
9:30 - 10:45 AM
Susan Koshy (Associate Professor, Asian American
The White Atlantic: Postcolonial Reinscriptions of
Race & Nation
10:45 AM - noon
Inderpal Grewal (Professor, and Chair, Women's
Thinking Diaspora in Transnationality
1:15 - 2:30 PM
R. Radhakrishnan (Professor, English, Univ. of
Diaspora, Hybridity, Pedagogy
2:30 - 3:45 PM
Sudesh Mishra (Senior Lecturer, English, Deakin
Time and Girmit: The Indian Diaspora in Fiji
4 - 5:15 PM
Kirin Narayan (Professor, Anthropology, Univ. of
and Amitava Kumar (Associate Professor, English, Penn
State) will read
from their works.
May 3 (Saturday), Ackerman Grand Salon
9 - 10:30 AM
Kirin Narayan (Professor, Anthropology, Univ. of
Haunting Stories: Narrative Transmissions of South
10:30 AM - noon
Ravi Rajan (Assistant Professor, Environmental
Studies, UC-Santa Cruz)
Cricket and the South Asian Diaspora: Some
Observations in Northern
California and Trinidad
1:15 - 2:30 PM
Ketu Katrak (Professor, and Chair, Asian-American
'Cultural Translation' and Cultural Politics in
South Asian Americans and the Practice of Bharat
2:30 - 3:45 PM
Vinay Lal (Associate Professor, History, UCLA)
Diaspora Purana: India in the World and the Anxiety
3:45 - 5 PM
Amitava Kumar (Associate Professor, English, Penn
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Nationalist
Poetry Readings: Sudesh Mishra & R. Radhakrishnan
CONFERENCE is funded by Asian American Studies Center,
ASUCLA Waiver Pool.
Conference organized by Vinay Lal, History Department,
SACW is an informal, independent & non-profit citizens wire service run by
South Asia Citizens Web (www.mnet.fr/aiindex).
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.