SACW | May 7-8, 2009 / Crisis: Nepal & Sri Lanka / Kabul's Elite / Bangladesh: Women's rights / India: Elections as market / Obit: Marilyn French

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Thu May 7 16:52:57 CDT 2009

South Asia Citizens Wire | May 7-8, 2009 | Dispatch No. 2623 - Year  
11 running

[1] Nepal: Press Release by Progressive Nepali Forum in Americas
     -  India’s Nepal policy in disarray (Siddharth Varadarajan)
     -  What India does for Nepal...after the polls (Manjushree Thapa)
[2] Afghanistan: Living High on the West's Largesse - Kabul's New  
Elite (Patrick Cockburn)
[3] The Bi-Polar Perspective and the Sri Lankan Crisis (Asoka Bandarage)
[4] Bangladesh: What Women Want (Hameeda Hossain)
[5] India: Women in Political Process
    -  Not Easy For Women in Politics (Monobina Gupta)
    -  Q&A:  Anuradha Talwar interviewed by Monobina Gupta
    -  Indian politicians finally notice women (Anindita Sengupta)
[6] Pakistan: Karachi’s women: Persecuted or paranoid? (Huma Yusuf)
   - In Pakistan, 'Great Rage, Great Fear' (Pamela Constable and Haq  
Nawaz Khan)
[7] India: Election 2009 - A race for power for power’s sake (Gyan  
[8] Marilyn French, feminist and novelist, dies at 79
[9] Announcements:
   (i) Women to Reclaim Public Spaces (Karachi, 8 May 2009)
   (ii) Seminar: A Nepal at Cross Roads : Struggle for Democracy  
under the Shadow of Class Rule
   (iii) USA: Committee of Concerned Scientists Calls for Urgent  
Action to Free Dr. Binayak Sen


[1] Nepal:

Progressive Nepali Forum in Americas
2779 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5N 4C5
Tel: (604) 506 9259, Email: pnefacc(at)

Press Release - 5 May 2009

Progressive Nepali Forum in Americas (PNEFA) is deeply concerned over  
the unfortunate political developments arising out of the civilian  
coup staged by President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav in connivance with the  
Nepal Army General Rukmangad Katwal, who was fired by the Maoist led  
government for his insubordination to civilian authority.

PNEFA believes President Yadav’s move has not only violated the  
constitution but also seriously undermined the legitimate mandate of  
a democratically elected civilian government. While reinstating the  
fired Chief of the Army Staff the President has overstepped the  
boundary of the constitution. He has acted in a regressive and  
reactionary way, a move reminiscent of Ganendra Shah’s assumption of  
executive power through dismissal of the elected government in  
February, 2005.

We further believe that the President has become a pawn at the hand  
of conniving military generals, foreign stooges, and anti national  
elements positioned inside different political parties. As a result,  
President Yadav has lost the moral as well as constitutional ground  
to lead the office of highly respected institution of Presidency. We  
urge all Nepalis who believe in democracy, rule of law, and civilian  
government to condemn this unconstitutional act and demand immediate  
withdrawal of his illegal move.

We also strongly condemn the act of certain foreign powers, whose  
interference in Nepal’s internal political dynamics encourages the  
regressive forces to turn the country back to the sad condition that  
existed before the last elections.

We also condemn United Marxist Leninist (UML), Nepali Congress (NC)  
and other forces who sought foreign help and made themselves  
available to be played at the hand of foreign power. This tactic  
might have served these opportunist parties’ political expediency but  
it has hurt the patriotic sentiment of the people of Nepal.

PNEFA welcomes the decision of Prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to  
resign and congratulates for his bold action. We urge CPN Maoist to  
act proactively and to carry forward the agenda of writing the new  
constitution. The peace process must be allowed to work to its  
logical end of full democracy.

We urge the Supreme Court to nullify the President Yadav’s  
unconstitutional action and restore civilian supremacy. Failing to do  
so, we urge the members of Constitution Assembly to impeach the  
President, safeguard national independence by saying NO to foreign  
meddling in internal affairs of Nepal. We believe in the unflinching  
unity among patriotic and republican democrats to safeguard national  
unity and independence.

o o o

The Hindu
May 7, 2009


by Siddharth Varadarajan

By going along with the undemocratic machinations of the Nepal army  
brass, New Delhi is undermining the peace and stability it helped to  
bring about in South Asia’s newest republic.

After siding with Rookmangad Katawal in his brazen defiance of the  
civilian government in Kathmandu, India has predictably washed its  
hands of the consequences by claiming “what is happening in Nepal is  
internal to Nepal.” The reality is that South Block is up to its neck  
in the crisis that has emerged there and India is likely to suffer  
the consequences if the imbalance in civil-military relations that  
has been recklessly introduced in yet another part of South Asia is  
not corrected quickly and amicably and the peace process unravels.

Indian officials acknowledge interceding on Gen. Katawal’s behalf as  
the confrontation between the Nepal Army chief and the elected  
government began escalating last month. Even before the Maoists, who  
emerged as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly last  
April, took charge of the coalition government, the army chief had  
placed himself on a collision course with the former rebels. However,  
despite him publicly opposing the integration of Maoist combatants in  
the NA — a key principle of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which  
ended the nine-year civil war between the People’s Liberation Army  
and the state — the Maoists made it clear they had no objection to  
Gen. Katawal serving out his tenure so long as he recognised the  
supremacy of civilian authority. In reality, the army chief never  
respected this understanding. He remained firmly opposed to the  
democratisation of the army and did his best to scuttle integration.

Matters came to a head in recent weeks when he disobeyed specific  
orders from the government on matters central to the implementation  
of the CPA. For one, he went ahead with a drive to recruit new  
soldiers, a move calculated to stir trouble within the Maoists, whose  
combatants have been cooling their heels for more than two years in  
anticipation of their integration into the national army. He also  
defied the government by pushing to extend the tenure of eight senior  

With Pakistan and Bangladesh still suffering the consequences of  
khaki over-reach and New Delhi harbouring reservations about the  
‘militarist’ mindset in Sri Lanka, one would have thought the last  
thing India should want for Nepal is an army that refuses to  
implement the orders of a duly constituted civilian authority. Yet  
India did little to get the NA to back off and focussed its entire  
efforts on urging Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to  
swallow the rank insubordination of the army brass. When the Maoist  
leader said he would strive for political consensus before taking the  
drastic step of dismissing Gen. Katawal, New Delhi queered the pitch  
by sending clear signals to parties like the Unified Marxists- 
Leninists and the Nepali Congress that they should oppose the Maoists.

The end result: the Cabinet went ahead and exercised its prerogative  
to replace the army chief, while the Unified Marxist-Leninists walked  
out, thereby reducing Prachanda’s government to a minority. At this  
stage, the President of Nepal, whose role as Commander in Chief is  
meant to be exercised strictly in accordance with Cabinet  
instructions, overstepped his constitutional authority and  
“reinstated” Gen. Katawal. As a result of which Prachanda took the  
moral high ground and resigned.

The exercise of presidential power in this manner violates what is a  
settled principle in democratic systems where parliament is  
sovereign. One only has to think of the consequences of what might  
have happened if Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, who was unjustly sacked as  
Navy chief by the Vajpayee government in 1998, had been reinstated by  
President K.R. Narayanan over the objections of the Union Cabinet.  
Parliamentary systems often provide for the head of state to be  
commander in chief of the armed forces. But the head of state is not  
allowed to use that authority against the advice of a lawfully  
constituted government.

Even as they deny any involvement in the denouement of the crisis,  
Indian officials defend the actions of the Nepal President, Ram Baran  
Yadav, citing the lack of consensus within the governing coalition as  
reason enough for the dismissal order to be countermanded. South  
Block also believes that the Maoists were out to gain control of the  
NA and, thereby, turn Nepal into a “one-party state”, an allegation  
closely mirroring the arguments the Nepal army brass itself made in a  
recent presentation to defence attachés stationed in Kathmandu.

If replacing one 60-year-old Army veteran with another is all it  
takes for the Maoists to establish a monopoly over the instruments of  
force in Nepal, then the situation there is clearly much more fragile  
than anyone has ever imagined. The reality is far more prosaic. The  
Maoists are a divided house. Pragmatists like Prachanda, who led the  
transformation of the party, are under fire from hardliners who still  
command the loyalty of the PLA. The only way to resolve this tension  
is to implement the promise of integration so that the PLA no longer  
remains a standalone entity. Far from leading to the capture of the  
Nepal army, integration would essentially help complete the  
transformation of the Maoists into a purely political force. Which is  
why a responsible section of the Nepal brass sees some merit in this  
process; but not so Gen. Katawal or his backers inside and outside  
the country.

In any democracy governed by a multi-party coalition, the principal  
check against the biggest coalition member taking unilateral  
decisions is the assembly of legislators. No doubt the Maoists acted  
hastily, perhaps even irresponsibly, in allowing the current crisis  
to come to a head. After all, Gen. Katawal is due to retire three  
months from now. The Nepali Congress and the UML argue that the hurry  
was prompted by the fact that Lt General Kul Bahadur Khadka, the  
army’s second in command who is said to take a more benign view of  
integrating the PLA than Gen. Katawal, has just four weeks to retire.  
And once he does, Lt. Gen. Chhatra Man Singh Gurung, an officer in  
the traditional conservative mould, would become army chief upon the  
retirement of Gen. Katawal. Though rumours about the individual  
inclination of these top officers have been swirling around Kathmandu  
for weeks, the three generals made a joint appearance on television  
on April 30 to emphasise their unity.

In defence of their action dismissing the army chief, the Maoists say  
the issue at stake was not the fate of this particular army chief but  
the principle of civilian control. Allowing Gen. Katawal to get away  
with his defiance of the government would set a bad precedent for his  
successors. And in a fragile democracy emerging from a conflict in  
which the army had been the principal agent of the monarchy, such an  
unhealthy tendency had to be nipped in the bud.

As a coalition itself, the Manmohan Singh government is not unaware  
of the checks and balances that Parliament as an institution  
provides. The Congress went ahead and concluded the nuclear deal  
despite knowing it had just lost its majority but when opposition  
leaders met the President to complain, they were politely told it was  
up to Parliament to reject or accept what the Prime Minister had  
done. A vote of confidence was convened which Dr. Singh duly won.  
Similarly, in Nepal, the forum to undo the Maoists’ decision to  
dismiss the army chief was the CA. The UML could have moved a vote of  
no-confidence and, if Prachanda was unable to win support from other  
quarters, his government would have been voted out. A new government  
would then have been formed which could have immediately reversed the  
dismissal order. This is the way a democracy would have functioned.  
There was no need to resort to extra-constitutional manoeuvring,  
certainly not in order to defend an army chief who clearly has no  
respect for the boundaries of his authority.

By involving itself in this unseemly process, New Delhi has  
sacrificed the prospects of long-term democratic stability in Nepal  
for the short-term satisfaction of undermining the Maoists. That  
India played a signal role in helping the Maoists make the transition  
from a guerrilla force to parliamentary party in the first place only  
shows the extent to which the authorities here seem to lack a  
consistent or coherent approach towards their northern neighbour.

Earlier, in the midst of Jan Andolan II in April 2006, New Delhi sent  
Karan Singh on an ill-advised mission to see if the monarchy could  
somehow be saved. And now, again, it has erred in backing the  
military over the civilian side. For the present, an all-party  
national government without the Maoists can easily be formed. But the  
crucial task of integrating the PLA with the Nepal Army will remain  
unfulfilled and this will slowly eat away at the innards of the peace  

o o o

Mail Today
May 7, 2009


by Manjushree Thapa

Timing they say, is everything. Nepal has decided to plunge into its  
most serious crisis since the start of the peace process just as  
Delhi readies to go to the polls. Trouble had been brewing for  
months, and mistrust between the Maoists and the centrists — the  
Nepali Congress, the Unified Marxist- Leninists and the Madheshi  
People’s Rights Forum — had been mounting palpably. Paranoia was  
rife; the Nepal army was becoming politically active; the peace  
process lay in tatters.

There was an urgent need for a corrective in Nepal. But India was —  
understandably enough — too busy campaigning to pay its neighbour  
attention. “ After the elections” was the general response to Nepal.  
“ We’ll get to it after the elections are over.” But of course, no  
one knows what India will look like after the elections are over.

There is no single ‘ India’ where Nepal is concerned.

India’s Nepal policy is as varied as the personalities of its actors,  
among whom rank seasoned statespeople, the bureaucrats of South  
Block, the defence ministry and the army, the who- is- who of the  
border states of UP and Bihar, politicians of all hues, academics,  
journalists, specialists, cranks… Which actors will shape India’s  
latest Nepal policy after the elections? For Nepal, a BJP- led  
government in India would be disastrous.

United with Nepal’s right- wingers by marriage, caste relations,  
religious affiliation, and a common disdain for minorities, the BJP  
would undoubtedly escalate the crisis by supporting the Nepal army as  
the best alternative to the Maoists.

Nepal has never been under military rule. The Nepal army has  
historically backed the monarchy, yes; and yes, the monarchy has  
ruled with the implicit threat of military might. Now, with the  
monarchy gone, the army must be made to follow civilian rule — as it  
does, in exemplary fashion, in India — if Nepal is to avoid the  
course of Pakistan or Bangladesh. The Nepal army does not enjoy a  
popular mandate; quite the contrary. A 90,000+ force aided by India,  
the UK and the US, it was unable to contain the 8,000- strong Maoist  
army. What the Nepal army needs, and urgently, is reform. What it  
needs is discipline. But the BJP — for whom even the rather unhinged  
idea of reinstating the monarchy through a ‘ baby king’ seems  
reasonable — would not be convinced…. Delhi wallahs do say, maybe  
more hopefully than analytically, that the Congress will return to  
govern India in one or another coalition. For Nepal, this option is  
neither here nor there — unless the coalition partner includes the Left.

IT WAS the UPA government that brought Nepal’s Maoists into talks  
with other political parties in Delhi in 2006. It was the UPA  
government that helped the Maoists to wake up from their dream of  
armed revolution to the reality of peaceful politics — a reality they  
have only half accepted even now.

Had the Left not been in government in India in 2005, Nepal might  
still be mired in the patronising monarchist- twinpillar- Hindu-  
kingdom- simplehill- folks- these- Nepalese thinking that the  
Congress seems prone to. The king might still be on the throne. The  
country might still be at war.

As for Mayawati, it is as hard for a Nepali to judge what her Nepal  
policy would be as it is for Indians to judge what her India policy  
would be. Again, if the Left were in a coalition with her party,  
there would be some hope for Nepal.

After all, it was a major foreign policy achievement for India to  
persuade Nepal’s Maoists to end their war and embrace politics in  
2006. That achievement needs to be built on if it is to last.

No one is better suited to engage with Nepal’s Maoists than India’s  
Left. The Maoists in Nepal claimed in 2006 to have diverged from the  
path of the Communist Party of India ( Maoist) or its component  
parts, the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Center. They  
claimed they were adopting the path of India’s parliamentary  
communist parties.

But their utterances since have often indicated otherwise.

Whether it is Baburam Bhattarai acknowledging the tactical benefits  
of sowing anarchy, or Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘ Prachanda’ bragging, on a  
recently leaked video, about the party’s willingness to use all  
available means to capture state power, Nepal’s Maoists still seem  
all too comfortable with theatrics. They say one thing to one  
audience, and another thing to another. It has proven impossible for  
even the most sympathetic non- Maoist to take them at their word.

The Left in India is wellplaced to ask the Maoists to clarify where  
they really stand — and to prove their democratic credentials. Till  
the Maoists come clean with their intentions, the fear that is  
driving the other political parties ever closer to the Nepal army  
will not be assuaged. That fear is real. Nobody — nobody who is not a  
Maoist, that is — wants to see Nepal become a Maoist state, after all.

For the hope is that even with the Maoists heading the government,  
Nepal will settle into the West Bengal model, rather than the  
Cambodian model.

Given the Maoists’ ascendance at the grassroots, that is the best  
Nepal can hope for right now. This is what India must help ensure —  
after the elections are over, of course.

Manjushree Thapa is the author of Tilled Earth and Forget Kathmandu


[2] Afghanistan:
May 1 - 3, 2009


by Patrick Cockburn


Vast sums of money are being lavished by Western aid agencies on  
their own officials in Afghanistan at a time when extreme poverty is  
driving young Afghans to fight for the Taliban. The going rate paid  
by the Taliban for an attack on a police checkpoint in the west of  
the country is $4, but foreign consultants in Kabul, who are paid out  
of overseas aids budgets, can command salaries of $250,000 to  
$500,000 a year.

The high expenditure on paying, protecting and accommodating Western  
aid officials in palatial style helps to explain why Afghanistan  
ranks 174th out of 178th on a UN ranking of countries' wealth. This  
is despite a vigorous international aid effort with the US alone  
spending $31bn since 2002 up to the end of last year.

The high degree of wastage of aid money in Afghanistan has long been  
an open secret. In 2006, Jean Mazurelle, the then country director of  
the World Bank, calculated that between 35 per cent and 40 per cent  
of aid was "badly spent". "The wastage of aid is sky-high," he said.  
"There is real looting going on, mainly by private enterprises. It is  
a scandal."

The dysfunctional reputation of the US aid effort in Afghanistan is  
politically crucial because Barack Obama, with strong support from  
Gordon Brown, has promised that a "civilian surge" of non-military  
experts will be sent to Afghanistan to strengthen its government and  
turn the tide against the Taliban. These would number up to 600,  
including agronomists, economists and legal experts, though  
Washington admitted this week that it was having difficulty  
recruiting enough people of the right calibre.

Whole districts of Kabul have already been taken over or rebuilt to  
accommodate Westerners working for aid agencies or embassies. "I have  
just rented out this building for $30,000 a month to an aid  
organisation," said Torialai Bahadery, the director of Property  
Consulting Afghanistan, which specialises in renting to foreigners.  
"It was so expensive because it has 24 rooms with en-suite bathrooms  
as well as armoured doors and bullet-proof windows," he explained,  
pointing to a picture of a cavernous mansion.

Though 77 per cent of Afghans lack access to clean water, Mr Bahadery  
said that aid agencies and the foreign contractors who work for them  
insist that every bedroom should have an en-suite bathroom and this  
often doubles the cost of accommodation.

In addition to the expensive housing the expatriates in Kabul are  
invariably protected by high-priced security companies and each house  
is converted into a fortress. The freedom of movement of foreigners  
is very limited. "I am not even allowed to go into Kabul's best  
hotel," complained one woman working for a foreign government aid  
organisation. She added that to travel to a part of Afghanistan  
deemed wholly free of Taliban by Afghans, she had to go by helicopter  
and then be taken to where she wanted to go in an armoured vehicle.

There have been numerous attacks on foreigners in Kabul and suicide  
bombings have been effective from the Taliban's point of view in  
driving almost all expatriates into well-defended compounds where  
living conditions may be luxurious but which are as confining as any  
prison. This means that many foreigners sent to Afghanistan to help  
rebuild the country and the state machinery seldom meet Afghans aside  
from their drivers and a few Afghans with whom they work.

"Risk avoidance is crippling the international aid effort," said one  
aid expert in Kabul. "If governments are so worried about risk then  
they really should not be sending people here and having them work  
under such restricted conditions."

The effectiveness of foreign advisers and experts in Iraq is often  
further reduced by the very short time they stay in the country.  
"Many people move on after six months," said one expatriate who did  
not want to be named. "In addition some embassy employees receive two  
weeks off work for every six weeks they are in the country, on top of  
their usual holidays."

Some officials working for non-governmental organisations in  
Afghanistan are themselves troubled by the amount of money which  
foreign government officials and their aid agencies spend on staff  
compared to the poverty of the Afghan government.

"I was in Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan which has a  
population of 830,000, most of whom depend on farming," said Matt  
Waldman, the head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam in Kabul. "The  
entire budget of the local department of agriculture, irrigation and  
livestock, which is extremely important for farmers in Badakhshan, is  
just $40,000. This would be the pay of an expatriate consultant in  
Kabul for a few months."

Mr Waldman, the author of several highly-detailed papers on the  
failures of aid in Afghanistan, says that a lot of money is put in at  
the top in Afghanistan but it is siphoned off before it reaches  
ordinary Afghans at he bottom. He agrees that the problems faced are  
horrendous in a country which was always poor and has been ruined by  
30 years of war. Some 42 per cent of Afghanistan's 25 million  
inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day and life expectancy is  
only 45 years. Overall literacy rate is just 34 per cent and 18 per  
cent for women.

But much of the aid money goes to foreign companies who then  
subcontract as many as five times with each subcontractor in turn  
looking for between 10 per cent and 20 per cent or more profit before  
any work is done on the project. The biggest donor in Afghanistan is  
the US, whose overseas aid department USAID channels nearly half of  
its aid budget for Afghanistan to five large US contractors.

Examples cited in an Oxfam report include the building of a short  
road between Kabul city centre and the international airport in 2005  
which, after the main US contractor had subcontracted it to an Afghan  
company, cost $2.4m a kilometre – or four times the average cost of  
road construction in Afghanistan. Often aid is made conditional on  
spending it in the donor country.

Another consequence of the use of foreign contractors is that  
construction has failed to make the impact on unemployment among  
young Afghans which is crucial if the Taliban is to be defeated. In  
southern provinces such as Farah, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul, up to  
70 per cent of Taliban fighters are non-ideological unemployed young  
men given a gun before each attack and paid a pittance according to a  
report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. By using these  
part-time fighters as cannon-fodder, the Taliban can keep down  
casualties among its own veteran fighters while inflicting losses on  
government forces.

Some simple and obvious ways of spending money to benefit Afghans  
have been neglected. Will Beharrell of the Turquoise Mountain  
charity, which is encouraging traditional Afghan crafts and  
reconstruction of part of the old city, says tangible and visible  
improvements are important. He said: "We went in for rubbish clearing  
because it is simple and provides employment. We brought the street  
level down by two metres in some places when we had cleared it away."

A striking feature of Kabul is that while the main roads are paved,  
the side streets are often no more than packed earth with high  
ridges, deep potholes and grey pools of dirty water. New roads have  
been built between the cities, such as Kabul and Kandahar, but these  
are often too dangerous to use because of mobile Taliban checkpoints  
where anybody connected to the central government is killed on the spot.

The international aid programme is particularly important in  
Afghanistan because the government has few other sources of revenue.  
Donations from foreign governments make up 90 per cent of public  
expenditure. Aid is far more important than in Iraq, where the  
government has oil revenues. In Afghanistan a policeman's monthly  
salary is only $70, which is not enough to live on without taking  

Since the fall of the Taliban the Afghan government has been trying  
to run a country in which the physical infrastructure has been  
destroyed. Kabul is now getting electricity from Uzbekistan but 55  
per cent of Afghans get no electricity at all and just one in 20 get  
power all day. Money can be distributed more swiftly by the US  
military but this may not undercut the political support of the  
Taliban to the degree expected.

Afghans themselves are unenthusiastic about President Obama's plan  
for more US military and civilian involvement in Iraq. And the  
failure of foreign aid to deliver a better life to Afghans also helps  
explain plummeting support for the Kabul government and its Western  
allies. Oxfam's Mr Waldman believes better-organised aid could still  
deliver the benefits Afghans hoped for when the Taliban were  
overthrown in 2001, but he warns: "It is getting very late in the day  
to get things right."

Go figure: The West's spending in Afghanistan

$57 The foreign aid per capita to Afghanistan, compared with $580 per  
capita in the aftermath of the Bosnian conflict.

$250,000 Typical salary of foreign consultants in Afghanistan,  
including 35 per cent hardship allowance and 35 per cent danger  
money. Afghan civil servants typically receive less than $1,000 a year.

$22bn The shortfall in donations compared to the international  
community's estimate of Afghanistan's need – around 48 per cent.

40 per cent Share of international aid budget returned to aid  
countries in corporate profit and consultant salaries – more than  
$6bn since 2001.

$7m Daily aid spend in Afghanistan. The daily military spend by the  
US government is around $100m.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance  
and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics'  
Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His new book  
'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for  
Iraq' is published by Scribner.


[3] Sri Lanka:, 6 May 2009


by Asoka Bandarage

The Sri Lankan conflict, like many other political conflicts around  
the world, is interpreted from a very limited bi-polar perspective as  
a primordial ethnic conflict between two groups. In the Sri Lankan  
case, it is seen as a Sinhala versus Tamil conflict: Sinhala majority  
as oppressor and Tamil minority as victim. Accordingly, it is argued  
that Sinhala government discrimination against Tamils gave rise to  
Tamil resistance, separatism and LTTE terrorism. LTTE’s record of  
suicide bombing, forcible child recruitment, assassination of  
political leaders, killing of journalists and dissidents, narcotics  
trading and other illegal activities is well known. However, even  
those governments that have banned the LTTE as one, if not the most  
sophisticated terrorist organization in the world, still subscribe to  
the limited interpretation of the Sri Lankan conflict as an ethnic  
conflict and support ethnically based solutions, be it outright  
separatism or extensive political devolution in favor of Tamils.

The deeply entrenched dualistic ethnic perspective is clearly evident  
in the interpretation of the current military confrontation between  
the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Right now, some 70 to 100,000  
helpless Tamil civilians are trapped in a less than 20 square mile No  
Fire Zone in northeastern Sri Lanka. The LTTE is forcibly holding  
these civilians from leaving the NFZ and even firing at those who are  
trying to escape to the government held areas. The international  
community - politicians, media, NGOs - influenced by the Tamil  
Diaspora is interpreting the situation from the narrow ethnic  
perspective as a case of Sinhala government ‘genocide’ against the  
Tamil minority. The deeply held ethnic analysis is preventing many in  
the international community from seeing the LTTE’s destruction, if  
not ‘genocide’ of the Tamil community and the fact that Tamils, like  
Sinhalese and Muslims are living in relative safety in 98% of the  
island’s territory under government control.

We need to move beyond the narrow bi-polar perspective to develop a  
broader historically based political-economic analysis. It provides a  
multi-polar approach taking into account the complex interplay of  
local, regional and international factors.

The dominant analysis of the Sri Lankan conflict is focused on a  
limited historical period in the post-independence era, from the  
mid-1950s to the early 1970s when certain linguistic, educational and  
employment policies were introduced by the state. The 1956 Act making  
Sinhala the official language, the language and region based quotas  
for entry into the prestigious science faculties in the state  
university are commonly interpreted as instruments of Sinhala  
discrimination against Tamils.

However, if we widen the historical lens and examine the preceding  
British colonial period, a different picture emerges. During the  
British colonial period, Tamils, specifically the Vellala caste from  
Jaffna, emerged as a privileged elite. They had proportionately  
greater access to Christian missionary schools, English language  
education and professional employment in the fields of medicine, the  
judiciary and the civil service. A small Sinhala elite also had  
access to privileged employment, but the majority of Sinhalese were  
marginalized and victimized: Sinhalese Buddhists became ’second  
class’ citizens.

Post-independence policies were a product of universal franchise and  
electoral democracy in the post-independence era. They were directed  
against English educated elite of all ethnic groups, Sinhalese,  
Tamils and Burghers, not just the Vellala elite. Take for instance  
affirmative action represented by district quotas meant to favor the  
students from rural so-called backward areas to enter the university  
science faculties. These helped increase the numbers of Muslim, hill  
country Tami and Eastern Tamil as well as Sinhala students from the  
rural areas. In fact, more Sinhala students than Tamil students from  
urban prestigious schools lost their chances to enter the science  
faculties due to the district quotas. Yet, the Tamil Vellala elite  
interpreted these developments as simply state discrimination against  
Tamils. They did not call for changes in the social system to widen  
opportunities for all, rather, they wanted to maintain their  
privileges from the colonial era. Their continuing charges of  
discrimination against Tamils overlook that the controversial  
legislation no longer exists. Tamil has been made an official  
language equal to Sinhala. Tamil does not have official language  
status in countries where much larger Tamil speaking populations  
exist. In India where there are some 65-70 million Tamils, Tamils is  
only a regional language. In Sri Lanka, the language and district  
based quotas for entry into the university science faculties were  
done away with just a few years after their introduction.

To understand the emergence of Tamil grievances it is necessary to  
recognize that under the British, the Tamils were considered a  
majority community equal to the Sinhalese. Majority was defined  
politically, not demographically by population size. The British gave  
the Sri Lankan Tamils equal representation with the Sinhalese in the  
Legislative Council. This, despite their small numerical size of  
about 11-12% of the island’s population, the Sri Lankan Tamils, i.e.  
the Vellala elite, developed what came to be known as a ‘majority  

Democratization of politics and enfranchisement of the Sinhala  
majority threatened the political and economic privileges of the  
Tamil elite. Their fear of Sinhala majoritarianism predated the  
introduction of language and educational policies in the 1950s. The  
Federal Party was formed in 1949 immediately after independence. In  
Tamil, it was known as the ITAK, the Tamil state party revealing its  
separatist vision. What started out as a ‘revolt of the privileged’  
Tamil elite, became a wider movement in the 1970s as it incorporated  
discontented Tamil youth from underprivileged backgrounds seeking  
education and employment . Youth disaffection and alienation from the  
central government were interpreted entirely along ethnic lines  
justifying the call for Tamil separatism and even terrorism to  
achieve that goal.

In promoting separatism and terrorism, the bi-polar ethnic  
interpretation undermines the similarities across ethnic divides as  
well as sharp divisions within ethnic groups. The Sinhalese and  
Tamils have a shared ancestry and cultural traditions. The Sinhalese  
and Tamil masses, especially youth have similar grievances and  
yearnings for education, white collar employment and social  
recognition. The Sinhala youth who waged the first armed insurrection  
in post-independence Sri Lanka , the 1971 JVP insurrection shared  
many similarities with Tamil youth militants.

In addition to these inter-ethnic commonalities, the model of dualism  
overlooks significant differences and inequalities within ethnic  
groups. Some of the founders of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka were  
caste fanatics dedicated to upholding extreme caste hierarchy. Yet,  
LTTE cadres have been drawn largely from the most disadvantaged  
groups, such as the so-called Tamil ‘untouchables’ or Dalits as well  
as women. Right now, we see how this inequity is being played out.  
Poor Tamil civilians on the ground trying to escape the clutches of  
the LTTE are being forcibly held back. Instead of calling on the LTTE  
to let the civilians go, the Tamil Diaspora and South Indian Tamil  
politicians seem to be more interested in protecting the LTTE  
leadership holding civilians as a human shield. In other words, the  
intra-ethnic class dimensions of the conflict are overlooked by the  
narrow ethnically based analysis.

Analyses based on the bi-polar ethnic model leaves out other ethnic  
groups who have significant stakes in the conflict. In the Sri Lankan  
case, the Muslim interests have been greatly neglected. Like the  
Sinhalese, the Muslims were ethnically cleansed from the Northern and  
Eastern Provinces by the LTTE. Their opposition to the LTTE and Tamil  
separatism in the North and the East has to be taken into account in  
policymaking. This neglect of Muslims led to the demand for an  
autonomous Muslim area in the Eastern Province during the 2002  
Norwegian facilitated peace process.

Regional Dimension

The bi-polar model tends to see the Sri Lankan conflict as a domestic  
conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka when it  
has been a regional South Asian conflict from the beginning. Today,  
the most vociferous support for Eelam and the LTTE comes from South  
India. To understand, Tamil Nadu support for Tamil separatism, it is  
necessary to go back in history. The call for a separate Dravidian  
language speaking Dravidasthan in South India emerged in the 1920s  
and 1930s in fear of impending Hindi and Northern dominance in India  
following independence from the British. By the 1960s, this  
secessionist movement had become the greatest threat to the Indian  
union. In 1963 a draconian amendment was added to the Indian  
Constitution outlawing secessionism and in 1965 Hindi was made the  
national language and languages, such as Tamil the regional languages.

After the search for Dravidasthan and struggle against ‘Hindi  
imperialism’ was lost, the search for a separate Tamil state shifted  
from India to neighboring Sri Lanka, a smaller and weaker state. From  
the beginning the Eelam movement was nurtured and supported by Tamil  
Nadu politicians. They pressured the central government and the  
Congress Party dependent on their coalition political support to  
intervene on behalf of the Tamil separatist cause in Sri Lanka.  
Today, some of Tamil Nadu parties and politicians are carrying on a  
major campaign to stop the Sri Lankan government’s military offensive  
against the Tamil Tigers. By subscribing to narrow ethnic sentiments  
and refusing to see the intra-ethnic contradiction in not demanding  
the LTTE to release the civilians, they are siding with the LTTE  
leadership rather than the civilians essentially being held as hostages.

Global Dimensions

The narrow ethnic perspective is vigorously promulgated in  
demonstrations by the Tamil Diaspora in capital cities around the  
world from Washington D.C. to Ottawa to London to Geneva. The Tamil  
Diaspora has been carrying on a major effort to establish a separate  
state in Sri Lanka through support of the international community.  
Currently they are calling for a ceasefire and international  
intervention, but, not the release of the Tamil civilians. The  
civilians have become the last weapon in the military confrontation  
with the Sri Lankan government.

There is a large and influential Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora around the  
world who constitutes the LTTE’s base of financial and ideological  
support. The World Tamil movement draws from the Sri Lankan Tamil  
Diaspora as well as Tamils from India, Malaysia and elsewhere. They  
point out that there are Tamils in every state of the world, but,  
there is no state for the Tamils, they are a ‘trans state nation’.  
The desire to establish a Tamil state of Eelam in Sri Lanka rather  
than India, where most Tamils live, goes back to the India’s policy  
against secessionism.

A number of analysts have documented the operation of the LTTE  
international network, its vast fund raising and funding activities.  
They have shown how this network has been able to infiltrate media,  
academia, NGOs and the policymaking establishments globally and win  
sympathy by equating its cause with that of the Sri Lankan Tamil  
population. Currently this network is imploring the international  
community to intervene in Sri Lanka , stop the ceasefire and meet  
Tamil demands. In other words, it is pushing the bi-polar ethnic  
perspective of Sinhala government as oppressor and all Tamils as  
victims overlooking the LTTE’s continued use of civilians as human  
shields and use of young children to carry arms and build bunds for  

The international community has emerged as the moral authority and  
final arbiter in conflicts conceived as domestic conflicts. But,  
closer investigation of alternative situations reveal that the  
international community is not always an impartial and objective  
entity. Today, many non-state actors including terrorist  
organizations are more powerful than some state actors. While the  
international community, the United Nations and NGOs groups have  
mechanisms to hold states accountable to international human rights  
and humanitarian laws, they have little power to make groups such as  
the LTTE accountable to rules of law and democratic norms.

[. . .]



[4] Bangladesh:

Forum, May 2009


Where is the promised change for women, asks Hameeda Hossain

Din Badal became a buzzword on the road to elections in 2008, the  
promise of change, arousing multiple expectations amongst voters. It  
made a strong sales pitch because it echoed citizens' hopes for  
change -- from the ritual of electoral voting to a meaningful  
inclusion in political decision-making. Once again, hopes were  
aroused that democratic institutions would function, not merely as  
instruments of majority power, but to uphold principles of human  
rights, respect rule of law, and nurture plurality.

Women expected a democratic state to guarantee gender justice and  
equality in our public and private lives, to promote dignity and  
freedom in the community and the family. These concerns were  
articulated in preparation for elections in 2008. When citizens  
demanded an end to impunity for war crimes and extra-judicial  
killings, women agreed but added justice for crimes of rape, violence  
against women, particularly domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Women also joined citizens' campaigns against corruption, but went  
beyond in demanding equal and non-discriminatory access to  
opportunities and resources, irrespective of religion, ethnicity,  
profession, or class. They have pinned their hopes on legislation to  
establish equality and non-discrimination.

These expectations are not exaggerated. They draw upon the many  
commitments made by Bangladesh in its constitution, and in its  
ratification of several international conventions, the most important  
for women being the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of  
Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw). Most recently they were fed by  
the promise in the Awami League's election manifesto of revisiting  
the National Policy for the Advancement of Women, 1997.

This policy was formulated in consultation with many women's groups  
under the Awami League's earlier tenure, and reflected a consensus on  
addressing women's concerns for gender justice and equality. What,  
then, are the chances of these expectations being realised, and when?

There can be no bar in a constitution that guarantees equality, rule  
of law, and justice for all. And if we've followed the international  
debates on women's rights we must realise that Bangladesh has taken  
on obligation to adopt the Beijing Plan of Action (1995), as well as  
to comply with Cedaw.

In fact, Bangladesh is due to submit its five yearly report to the  
Cedaw Committee by next December on the measures it has taken to  
implement the committee's recommendations, which were made in 2004.

The government will need to explain what steps have been taken to  
withdraw its reservations to the convention, to endorse Cedaw  
provisions into domestic law, to adopt a law on domestic violence and  
sexual harassment, to prevent fatwa-instigated violence, to legislate  
on equality in marriage and family relations, enact a non- 
discriminatory citizenship law and law for direct elections to  

In addition, the committee had recommended policy measures to  
increase women's participation in decision-making, for a gender- 
sensitive policy on migration, and to monitor equal wages for equal  
work and maternity leave. These are fairly comprehensive  
recommendations, which should have been acted upon in the last five  

The 1997 Policy for the Advancement of Women, formulated in  
consultation with a large number of representatives of women's  
organisations, made some radical recommendations to ensure equality  
in personal rights, as well as to property, land, and at work, etc.

Unfortunately, it appears that it had not been given the official  
approval by the cabinet at the time, and subsequently it went through  
several metamorphoses. In 2004, many of its clauses were reversed  
with a view to limit equality to traditional boundaries of gender  

In 2008, the caretaker government made an attempt to revive the  
original with a few additional progressive entries, but it went into  
rapid reverse gear in the face of a reactionary response from the  
religious right, and agreed to take on board revisions recommended by  
a committee of imams, many of whom represented religion-based  
political parties.

When the 1997 policy had expected to move forward in the pursuit of  
justice and rule of law, the revisions to the 2008 policy suggested  
by the imams' review committee stipulated that all rights be "in  
accordance with the Qur'an and Sunnah" and that any contradictions be  
resolved by religious experts. The revisionists proposed  
"discouraging early marriage" to water down a deterrent law on early  

In March 2008, as fiery, slogan shouting imams emerged from the  
Baitul Mukarram Mosque brandishing firearms in front of a sleepy and  
inactive police posse, their opposition was made explicit through  
violence. When the government buckled under, the 2008 Policy was buried.

Can we now take the Awami League's electoral manifesto promise of  
reviving the 1997 policy as a serious commitment to gender equality  
and justice, or was this no more than a sales pitch for women's votes?

There has been no reference to the policy for women in the first 100  
days, so obviously this is not top priority. Nevertheless, the 1997  
National Policy for the Advancement of Women must fit somewhere into  
the government's time-lines for change, particularly as it was  
formulated through a consultative process and some of its provisions  
have already become operative through the national poverty reduction  

While such incremental changes may come in as side effects of other  
policies, rights need to be established through legislation, and this  
is where the women's movement must press the state into action.

The presence of a large number of women in parliament (not all with  
credentials for activism on behalf of women, and some as distinct  
proxies for male kin) has been held as a victory of the women's  
movement. It can become so if the members relate to the women's  
movements outside the Parliament, and be persuaded to take up the  
cause of genuine change in women's lives, and not submit too  
zealously to the whip.

Since Bangladesh is ever keen on its image, it is time to put words  
into action, by introducing changes in the next six months, so that  
the country report to Cedaw doesn't repeat (as in previous reports)  
that reforms are still under serious consideration but no changes  
have been incorporated in laws and policies.

Then again, given the contradictory elements that political parties  
need to accommodate in their vote-catching spree, there are reasons  
to worry that the 1997 Policy may be punctuated with many ifs and buts.

The Awami League manifesto is reported to have stated that they would  
not legislate any law contrary to the Quran and Sunnah. How will this  
enable the promise of equal inheritance rights in the 1997 Policy?  
The recent negotiations with the quomi madrassa heads, some of whom  
were active in the violent rejection of the 2008 Policy, is not a  
signal for change, certainly not for women.

In the last two years the issue of sexual harassment in universities  
has been taken forward by the University Grants Commission and  
through judicial cases, but it seems to be suspended in the Education  
Ministry. Will these deterrent measures be neutralised if student  
cadres are given impunity on account of party loyalty?

The 1997 Policy included a commitment to women workers' rights, but  
given the representation of the business community in the Parliament  
and other policy-making forums, how serious can the government be in  
defending the rights of the powerless?

There's a long way to go before women see the promised din badal --  
but this should not stop the government from taking steps now. More  
specifically, it can begin to meet its commitments to the rule of law  
by drawing upon the draft prepared by women's coalitions for domestic  
violence legislation; it can conform with the constitutional  
guarantee of equality for all citizens by amending the citizenship  
ordinance to make it more comprehensive. A petition to the Supreme  
Court against a High Court judgment invalidating fatwas that  
instigated violence is due to be heard, and the government could make  
strong arguments against the petition, that seeks to legitimise the  
power of the clergy.

We need to move our struggle against injustice and inequality beyond  
rhetoric, to set standards that reflect the realities of women's  
lives today, and that are not clouded by perceptions of what is  
customary and what is traditional. Let us not buy the line of  
cultural relativity and religious values, there are many countries  
similar to Bangladesh who have not let these outmoded concepts stand  
in the way of women's rights.

Dr. Hameeda Hossain is a women's rights activist.


[5] India: Women in Political Process

Inter Press Service, 15 April 2009

By Monobina Gupta

Sumitra Mitra: Positive discrimination "did help to provide more  
visibility to women."

Kolkata, Apr 15 (IPS) - Sumitra Mitra has been a Communist for over  
45 years. She has seen the party grow from its days of radical  
activism to its present powerful establishment phase - leading the  
government in West Bengal state for an uninterrupted 30 years.

Mitra, 60, is herself a twice-elected municipal corporator from  
Konnagar, a Kolkota (previously known as Calcutta) suburb with an  
overwhelming working class population. Once a thriving hub of  
industries, Konnagar’s factories closed down because of political  
unrest and a militant labour movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

"We are beneficiaries of a policy reserving 33 percent of seats for  
women in the local bodies," says Mitra. Eight of the 18 corporators  
in Konnagar are women.

The affirmative policy was first introduced in panchayats (local  
village councils) in 1993 through changes in the Indian constitution.  
Two years later, the West Bengal government introduced positive  
discrimination for women in municipal corporations.

"It did help to provide more visibility to women, help them have  
their voices heard," says Mitra. "But we still have a long journey  
ahead," she adds.

SHG Route to Empower Women

West Bengal’s Left Front government has put its stamp of approval on  
women’s self help groups (SHGs) as the model for community  
development. The Ganatantrik Mahila Samiti, the women’s organisation  
of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), has spearheaded the  
campaign across rural and urban areas.

"In our municipality we are popularising SHGs … Increasingly women  
seem to want some sort of financial autonomy, instead of turning all  
the time to the males in the family, for money," says Sumitra Mitra,  
a Left Front corporator in Konnagar municipality.

"We run training centres where women are taught to make jute bags,  
dolls, pickles. They are taught zari work (gold and silver  
embroidery), sewing, embroidery. Later we provide them with market  
outlets. Often the women take their stuff to melas (local fairs),"  
she explains. "Many of them have done extremely well," she adds.

The state government extends loans once the SHGs prove they can repay  
the interest. "The basic objective is to see that the women function  
in a group. Once they become self-sufficient, we want them to draw in  
more women into training," says Mitra.

Most SHG members are home-makers from lower middle class families who  
have not studied beyond school.

But sometimes "women get trained and then leave," she confesses. "We  
provide them with resources, training, access to market, hoping they  
would continue with the group!"

According to Mitra, it is easier for women corporators to work with  
the women in the community they are representing. "The women talk  
much more freely with us, share with us their problems - something  
they would never with male corporators," she says.

"All women seem to have same problems. We try to sort out tangled  
domestic disputes, getting both sides to sit and discuss. Often we  
encounter cases where women are misusing the dowry act. In fact these  
are tricky situations where women are abusing the law to get even  
with a mother-in-law or even a husband," she says. In such cases, the  
cases are passed on to NGOs or counsellors.

Only women corporators from the Left Front are mobilising women in  
SHGs. Two of the eight female corporators in Konnagar are from the  
opposition Trinamool Congress, which is "not actively involved in  
this," Mitra says.
Gender-based reservation has not been introduced in state assemblies  
and in the Indian Parliament. "We are going to have to fight more to  
implement the 33 percent reservation bill, pending for a decade in  
Parliament," Mitra warns.

The parliamentary bill provides for one-third gender based  
reservation in state assemblies and in Parliament. Despite  
commitments by three major political parties, Congress, Bharatiya  
Janata Party (BJP) and the Left Front (an alliance of communists), it  
has not been passed, 13 years after it was drawn up. "The truth is  
the men do not want the bill to get passed. They will have to give up  
some of the seats to women," says Mitra.

 From a pro-left family, the gutsy corporator has been exposed to  
political struggle. Her own political life began as a member of the  
Ganatantrik Mahila Samiti, the women’s organisation of the Communist  
Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), fulcrum of West Bengal’s ruling Left  

"In 1969 when I started working with the Samiti there was sheer  
political terror all around me," she recalls. Waves of political  
turbulence lashed West Bengal through the 1960s and 1970s, as a  
succession of fractious coalition governments headed by the Congress  
Party clashed repeatedly and brutally with the Communists.

This was also when India experienced its first armed insurrection by  
Naxals, the radical Left. "Caught in a cleft between terror unleashed  
by Congress and the Naxals, we were part of the resistance that  
fought the onslaught of violence. There were times when the adult  
males in the family were forced to go underground to escape  
repression of the police and political adversaries," narrates Mitra.

But the danger of being on the side of a radical opposition faded out  
as the Left Front government came to power. Mitra’s political life  
turned a corner, taking on a different dimension in 1995 when she was  
first elected to the Konnagar municipality.

A beneficiary of gender-based affirmative action, she believes it has  
the potential to change lives of women and empower them. "After all  
women hold up half the sky," she says, quoting Mao Zedong’s famous line.

At the grassroots or local governments like panchayats and municipal  
corporations, elected women representatives are making a difference.  
Their concerns are quite different from the priorities of their male  
counterparts. Women panchayat leaders, much more than men, focus on  
schools, teachers, tube wells, primary health centres - issues  
directly impinging on the lives of the community.

A sample study of panchayats in West Bengal and Rajasthan conducted  
by Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Dufflo of MIT’s Poverty  
Action Lab says, "Women invest far more in infrastructure that  
relates to rural women's concerns (water and roads in West Bengal,  
water in Rajasthan). Women are more politically active in village  
councils with a female leader."

According to Mitra, "In our municipality we are popularising self  
help groups (SHG) that help women to earn. Increasingly they seem to  
want some sort of financial autonomy, instead of turning all the time  
to the males in the family, for money."

Since the Communists came to power, the Samiti has made SHGs one of  
its main area of activities. Mitra and her female party colleagues in  
the municipal corporation have successfully mobilised the local women.

Women representatives are at an advantage with women in the  
communities they are representing, says Mitra. "The women talk much  
more freely with us, share with us their problems - something they  
would never with male corporators," she adds.

Affirmative action has given this tireless political worker, who  
arrived in Konnagar as a 17-year-old bride, a larger political canvas  
to work on. But the going is tough. Steeped in patriarchy, India’s  
political parties, across the line including the Communists, do not  
make it easy for women to assert their identity as women.

Two years ago the CPI-M brought out a document, which read like a  
complaint sheet against men in the party. "Communist families should  
discourage conformity to stereotypical roles expected of women,  
particularly of newly-wed women, of covering heads, taking to purdah  
(veil,) shouldering the main burdens of domestic responsibility,"  
said the document titled Women’s Issues and Tasks, circulated by the  

Mitra, as a disciplined member of the CPI-M, does not want to air her  
grievances about the indifference of male comrades to the party’s  
women’s organisation. But she does repeat: "We (women) still have a  
long way to travel." (END/2009)

o o o

Inter Press Service

Q&A:  Politicisation Hurts Women in Communist-ruled State

Anuradha Talwar: ‘Women are not getting jobs here’

Madhyamgram, West Bengal, Apr 20 (IPS) - Grassroots activist Anuradha  
Talwar was in the eye of a storm that swept Communist-ruled West  
Bengal state between 2006-08, over the acquisition of agricultural  
land for industries.

The state government decided to hand over 997 acres of fertile  
farmland to the Tatas, a leading Indian corporation, for their  
ambitious Nano, a small car project. Villagers of Singur, an obscure  
cluster of villages, 40 kms from the state capital Kolkota  
(previously Calcutta) fought back successfully.

Fifty-year old Talwar and her organisation Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor  
Samiti (Agricultural Workers’ Union of West Bengal) played a crucial  
role in this protracted struggle, attracting the wrath of the  
Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), which leads the state’s  
Left Front government.

CPI-M activists plastered the walls of her office with posters  
denouncing her as a CIA agent. Talwar who grew up in Delhi and  
Mumbai, moved to West Bengal only in 1981. Together with her husband,  
she has run a commune of agricultural workers in Madhyamgram, a semi  
rural town on the fringes of Kolkota, since 1985.

The organisation is actively involved in implementing the National  
Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) that provides 100 days of work  
in a year to one member of every rural and urban family. In the run- 
up to elections in West Bengal in early May, Talwar talks to IPS  
about her experiences of working in the state.

IPS: You have been working for decades among rural women. Would you  
describe the political system in West Bengal as gender sensitive,  
responsive to women’s concerns?

Anuradha Talwar: Let me tell you gender does not exist as a plank for  
any political party here. The indifference comes through clearly in  
the parties’ election manifestos, which have little to say about  
women’s concerns. The same attitude shows in other issues, from the  
high number of women trafficked from this state to non-implementation  
of reservation of jobs for women under NREGA.

IPS: What is West Bengal’s record in trafficking?

AT: It is alarmingly high. In fact, it could well be said that the  
state leads in trafficking. In March 2009, the government, in a  
statement, said the number of trafficked women stands at 65,000. Out  
of them, 20,000 have been traced. The rest are missing.

IPS: What explains the high incidence?

AT: At the core of the problem is poverty stoked by sluggish job  
creation, rampant unemployment. In 1985, villagers could find work on  
both mono and multi-crop land. With the number of working days  
shrinking over the years, villagers are forced to migrate to Kerala,  
Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam.

Modernisation of agriculture has further added to the problem.  
Mechanisation has cut into employment. Migrants from the state are  
driven into forced labour. The link between trafficking and poverty  
can clearly be seen in the fact that Malda and Murshidabad, among the  
poorest districts, have the highest incidence of trafficking.

IPS: What about one-third reservation of jobs for women in NREGA?  
Would that not help in bringing down incidence of trafficking?

AT: Yes, it would. But West Bengal’s record in implementing NREGA and  
reserving jobs for women (the law provides for 33 percent  
reservation) leaves much to be desired. The national average for  
gender-based reservation is 48 percent. Tamil Nadu (south India)  
leads with 78 percent reservation. West Bengal, on the other hand,  
has a chequered record; 16 percent in 2006-07, 18 percent in 2007-08  
and 22 percent in 2008-09. Job cards are given out in names of  
families. Women are not getting jobs here.

Another major area of non-implementation of NREGA is the government’s  
consistent failure to provide compensation allowance. Under the Act  
it is mandatory for the government to provide compensation in case of  
failing to provide work. In West Bengal over 6,000 people have filed  
for compensation - only 35 have received it so far. In fact the  
political leadership is not keen on implementing NREGA, which can  
function without patronage of party intermediaries.

IPS: What has been your experience of working with agricultural  
workers and women? Would you say West Bengal’s panchayats (village  
councils) reflect truly decentralised local governance?

AT: Panchayats are mostly controlled by CPI-M, which restricts the  
scope of independent functioning of elected representatives.  
Panchayat leaders execute decisions taken by the party. Other parties  
including the opposition Trinamool Congress are following in the CPI- 
M’s footsteps. Organisational structures of all political parties are  
geared towards one thing: winning elections.

IPS: In the late 1990s West Bengal government, under pressure from  
CPI-M backed All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA),  
introduced pattas (documents of ownership of land) for women, both as  
single and joint owners of land. How successfully has this been  

AT: I would say it has not really been successful. According to a  
recent statement by the state’s finance minister, Asim Dasgupta, the  
government has distributed 30 lakh (3 million) general pattas so far;  
out of this, 6.01 percent is jointly in the name of women and men  
and, 5 percent only in the name of women. Even here the problem we  
find is politicisation. Pattas are often given on the basis of  
loyalty to the CPI-M. In many cases pattas have been awarded on paper  
but not actually transferred to the beneficiaries. People are  
expected to vote the party, be loyal to it, in the hope of getting  
ownership of land. (END/2009)

o o o

The Guardian
6 May 2009

Previously trumped by factors such as caste or religion, gender  
issues were firmly on the agenda at the Indian elections

by Anindita Sengupta

As India went to the polls over the last few weeks, a small section  
of Indian women exercised their vote to protest against regressive  
gender stances. A recent spate of attacks on women by Hindu  
fundamentalist groups in Karnataka probably brought home the need to  
do so. The vigilante groups are widely believed to enjoy the support  
of the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which explains why  
some women among India's educated middle classes adopted an anti-BJP  
ballot philosophy. A first-time voter said: "Certain parties have  
more absurd ideas about what women should or shouldn't be doing than  
others. The sort of thing that happened in Mangalore worries me and I  
kept it in mind while voting."

Another expressed similar antipathy on her blog: "The one party I  
would absolutely not vote for is the BJP because I believe their  
Hindutva ideology is regressive to the point of slotting women in  
historically repressive domestic roles and they've taken the country  
back to the dark ages, with their heinous crimes and divisive rhetoric."

Noted feminist author Ammu Joseph said: "I did choose to vote for a  
candidate I perceived as on the whole progressive and possibly  
'winnable'. I have long ruled out ever voting for a certain party  
[the BJP] because of the whole package that they represent in terms  
of ideology and attitudes towards women as well as other sections of  

Meanwhile, candidates of other parties addressed issues such as  
women's freedom, mobility and safety this time. Even if this was just  
a way to strike at the opposition's knees, it is a welcome sign that  
such issues found space in political discourse at all. In India,  
there is usually little on women's issues in party campaigns and  
manifestos. Most women vote without taking gender-related needs into  

Among the poor and rural communities, other factors – caste and  
religious affiliations or more basic needs – trump gender. The urban  
and educated seem sceptical about the government's ability to ensure  
safety or freedom, or resigned to the fact that they are a minority  
demographic. In a country where many lack basics like food, water and  
electricity, there is also a certain guilt associated with asking for  
anything more. But given our dismal track record in terms of gender  
development, women's problems need to be given more attention. And  
it's time the country's elite realised that they should take the lead  
in demanding this for all women.

At the other apex of the gender-and-politics conundrum, gender skew  
remained a cause for worry with only 7% of all candidates being  
female. But there was some hope in the form of dancer and activist  
Mallika Sarabhai. Sarabhai, who faced BJP head honcho LK Advani in  
Ahmedabad, was eagerly cheered by liberal intellectuals across the  
country. In the past, Sarabhai has used art to focus attention on  
gender bias and communal hatred. She is careful in her choice of logo  
– the harmonium in red and purple. Purple is the international colour  
of women's rights and red, she explains, is the colour of human  
blood, regardless of faith, caste or wealth. Cast and communal  
politics typically play a huge role in determining who India's  
largely poor, rural and immensely caste-conscious vote bank will  
choose. By putting women at the centre of her campaign, Sarabhai  
departed from the general trend.

These are signs that women in India are engaging more with gender  
issues in terms of their political decisions. It's too early for  
unbridled optimism especially in the context of low voter turnouts  
but perhaps these ripples of change will become a whirlpool at some  
point. One lives in hope.


[6] Pakistan:

May 4, 2009

by Huma Yusuf

by Pamela Constable and Haq Nawaz Khan


[7] India's Elections:

Asian Age
May 7, 2009


by Gyan Prakash

May.06 : The Indian Premier League (IPL) is on the television screen,  
its multicultural teams in multi-coloured uniforms. The camera turns,  
reluctantly, from the scantily-clad jiggling cheerleaders, to the  
owners-actors Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty. During  
a commercial break, you switch to Zoom, hoping for more colourful,  
celebrity-soaked images. Instead, a sombre black-and-white screen  
greets you with a civics lesson. One by one, solemn-faced movie stars  
— Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Kareena  
Kapoor, Asin and Ritesh Deshmukh — hold up their inked index fingers.

You have moved from the images of one set of celebrities to another,  
but the difference is huge. If the IPL’s riot of colours brings into  
view the commerce and media-driven reality of globalisation, the  
sober monochromatic images call to mind the world of nations  
associated with test matches. One paints competition and consumption  
as exciting and polychromatic; the other offers black and white  
instructions on duties of citizenship.

Such instructions have become increasingly vociferous since the  
Mumbai attacks of 26/11. After an orgy of anti-politics rants, the  
urban middle class now gravely intones the dharma of national duty.  
Newspaper columnists and television programmes fulminate about  
votebanks, the criminalisation of politics, corrupt politicians and  
their unprincipled alliances and the absence of policy and  
ideological debate in the current election campaign. With little  
chance of success, educated professionals have jumped into the  
electoral fray to uphold the cherished ideals of liberal democracy.  
But to win, they need to first understand what it is they denounce.

Clearly, the 2009 election is a contest without a real debate on  
issues. There is plenty of meaningless chatter in the media about who  
will form the government and how, and who will be the Prime Minister.  
Analysts treat the contest as a horse race, wagering boxed bets on  
which combination will win.

Underlying the idle speculations are the bewildering alliances forged  
by political parties. That these parties have struck alliances not to  
advance their ideologies, but to maximise electoral wins is not in  
dispute. Even the Left has opted to improve its bargaining power in  
the post-election scenario rather than strike principled alliances.

All this appears distasteful through the traditional lens of liberal  
democracy. Elections are supposed to be democratic exercises to make  
an informed choice from a menu of different ideological and policy  
recipes. Undoubtedly, this is absent in the 2009 contest. Politicians  
do denounce communal rhetoric, every now and then, but this is out of  
habit rather than conviction. However, to define the elections by the  
absence of ideology is to proclaim what it lacks, not what it is. It  
is to judge, not understand, the phenomenon.

To begin with, we should acknowledge that the current electoral  
exercise, its raucous and intensely competitive nature, expresses a  
robust scramble for power. This is to be expected, given India’s  
vastness and diversity.

The scale and intensity of the electoral contest also nurtures a  
plurality of political forces — something overlooked by the analysts  
who prattle on and on about regional versus national parties.

Second, we should view the nakedly political nature of the contest as  
a development of democracy, albeit a novel one. In Tocqueville’s  
classic definition, democracy constitutes politics as a unique arena  
for the representation of different social and ideological interests.  
It functions as an autonomous domain that acts on society,  
transforming it with political actions. This reverses the customary  
understanding of politics as something that exists to express prior  
and pre-existing social interests.

According to the traditional view, then, the Bahujan Samaj Party  
(BSP) appears as an ideological expression of dalits, the Bharatiya  
Janata Party (BJP) as the manifestation of Hindu interests, and so on.

In fact, politics enacts, bringing into existence these diverse  
social and ideological interests. Ideology "happens". Social  
interests are brought into being when Narendra Modi tears into "anti- 
national" forces, the Shiv Sena mobilises the "Marathi manoos", and  
Mayawati pleads for the "dalit daughter". Ideologies and policies  
take shape in the rituals, actions and performances in the political  
arena. And they have effects on society. Politics can reinforce,  
deepen and transform social relations, as India’s modern history of  
caste mobility, for example, shows. This is the gift of democratic  

But what do we make of political alliances and performances about  
nothing? What will be the effect of politics on society when  
electoral alliances are about securing the largest number of seats,  
devoid of ideological coherence? Rather than play the violin, we  
should understand the meaning of the new sounds of politics-as-market.

We are witnessing the operation of a hyper-rational pursuit of power,  
the ice-cold calculations of winning combinations. Gaining  
competitive advantage is all. The election is simply a contest, one  
attempting to free itself from the rhetoric of the past. Instead of  
bygone ideologies, the voters are presented with product  
differentiation — "weak" versus "strong" PM, regional versus national  
parties, Third Front and Fourth Front versus National Democratic  
Alliance (NDA) and United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and so on. It  
is tempting to dismiss these as gimmicks, confirmation of our worst  
suspicions that elections are a meaningless exercise. But look  
closely, and you will identify a desire at work, a desire for the  
acquisition and accumulation of electoral seats. Of course, parties  
and individuals contest elections to win, but something important is  
at issue when winning becomes the sole driving force. Then it becomes  
"pure politics", an exercise that treats elections as a market and  
installs electoral acquisitiveness as the sole meaning of the  
political. There is a parallel between the elections staged as a  
market and the neo-liberal worship of the market. It is too early to  
say if this is lasting, or what will be the effects of the conduct of  
politics-as-market on society. If Tocqueville is right, then surely  
the society and the political parties, even those with an anti-market  
ideology, will be transformed. Then, we will not need civics lesson  
in black and white. The colourful IPL will itself serve as a platform  
for showcasing the elections. The current coincidence of their  
schedules is perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

Gyan Prakash is Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton  
University, US	


[8] The Guardian, 4 May 2009


A new novel by the author of The Women's Room and the memoir A Season  
in Hell will be published posthumously

Marilyn French believed 'a feminist is simply any woman who thinks  
women matter as much as men do'. Photograph: Martin Godwin

The novelist and academic Marilyn French, who captured the  
frustration and rage of a generation of desperate housewives in her  
explosive 1977 debut, The Women's Room, died of heart failure on  
Saturday, the New York Times reports. She was 79.

The story of Mira Ward, a submissive, suburban housewife who  
discovers female friendship and feminism while studying at Harvard  
after a divorce, The Women's Room inspired a generation, selling over  
20m copies worldwide and being translated into 20 languages. French  
was attacked as a man-hater, an accusation she never rejected,  
arguing that men are "to blame for women's position".

Born in New York in 1929, she put herself through university,  
studying English literature at Hofstra College, before working as a  
teacher. After her own divorce she went to Harvard to study for a  
PhD, publishing a thesis on James Joyce's Ulysses in 1976.

She always considered herself to be a feminist, suggesting that "a  
feminist is simply any woman who thinks women matter as much as men  
do". An unhappy marriage, her encounter with Kate Millet's Sexual  
Politics and the rape in 1971 of her daughter Jamie (then 18) gave  
her thinking its radical power.

French went on to create a further seven novels, as well as academic  
writing, political polemic and a moving memoir of her struggle with  
oesophageal cancer, A Season in Hell. A new novel, The Love Children,  
is scheduled for publication in September.

She had little patience with those who argue that there is no longer  
any need for a feminist movement, believing that "the more [women]  
advance, the more the backlash will increase. They will try to take  
it all away."

See also: Obituary Marilyn French


[9] Announcements:


Post Box No. 13804, Karachi- Email: wafkarachi(at)

Women to Reclaim Public Spaces

Come to a Programme of Defiance & Resistance.

Karachi Press Club, On 8th May, 2009, 5:30 – 7:30pm

We invite you to a programme highlighting  the implications of  
Talibanisation for women, artists, and minorities in particular, and  
to our
country in general. The Talibans have created terror through  
slaughtering of people, bomb blasts, kidnappings, and destruction of  
properties which has led to severe restrictions on women, and  
displacements of thousands of people from their homes. It seems their  
militancy has encouraged some men and women in some urban centers of  
Pakistan to admonish and threaten women on their mode of dress and  
their presence in public places. This is a deliberate strategy to  
purge public spaces of women's presence.

WAF believe Talibinsation is a mindset which cuts across all ethnic  
lines and must be resisted by all, and in no uncertain terms. This  
mind-set abuses
Islam by using it to control others. We believe religion is a private  
matter and all citizens of Pakistan are equal citizens We believe  
peace and justice
must be the guiding light for Pakistan to become peaceful and just  
society. To achieve our goal we  must discuss matters together and  
resolve to act
collectively for greater public good, for this is what democracy is  

Following are the  key positions and we invite you to endorse them

1.       One constitution and one set of laws for all of Pakistan
2.       The writ of the government must prevail on the basis of  
moral authority premised on protection, health, education, livelihood  
and security
of all persons equally
3.       Urgent de-weaponisation of society
4.       No special accords that compromise  the rights of any  group  
of citizens of Pakistan .

Please do attend and bring all your friends – women and men – to show  
solidarity with our cause which is also your cause.

Thanking you

Women's Action Forum, Karachi .

- - -


New Socialist Initiative invites you to a public meeting on recent  
developments in Nepal.

A Nepal at Cross Roads : Struggle for Democracy under the Shadow of  
Class Rule

The society and state in Nepal are again at crossroads. The present  
crisis came about due to the refusal of the president to sack the  
army chief. Army chief was accused by the democratically elected  
government led by CPN(Maoist) of creating hurdles in the  
implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006 which had  
ended the civil war and paved the way for the formation of the  
Constituent Assembly and abolition of monarchy. All major political  
parties have ganged up on this issue against Maoists. Why have all  
these parties claiming to be democratic suddenly developed such love  
for an army general appointed by the erstwhile discredited king?  
Class rulership is always deep, it is never symbolic. The king may  
have been removed, but the privileged social classes of his time are  
still privileged. They would rather have the old feudal army than a  
new democratized army, even if this means breakup of the peace  
agreement and a return to civil war.

Developments in Nepal once again highlight the big power intentions  
of Indian rulers. For mass consumption Indian rulers display the  
China card to justify their meddling in Nepal, but their real  
intentions are pure and simple domination of Nepal. Indian rulers  
have always tried to put brakes on social development in Nepal. They  
have supported the feudals, the kings, and are now hand in gloves  
with the army and anti-Maoist political groups.

Why and how was Nepal pushed to the current crisis? What are the long  
terms interests and short term plans of different political forces  
there? Why Indian rulers will not let Nepal be itself?  Why bourgeois  
democracy opposes the struggle for a fuller and true democracy?

New Socialist Initiative, a collective committed to the regeneration  
of revolutionary socialist politics, has organised a seminar on 9 th  
May at 4 p.m. at Indian Social Institute, (Near Sai Baba Mandir), 10,  
Institutional Area,  Lodi Road New Delhi - 110003. Delhi to discuss  
all these and many other related issues.

We are glad to inform you that Mr. Bharat Bhushan, Editor 'Mail  
Today'; Gautam Navlakha, editorial board member Economic and  
Political Weekly ; Anand Swaroop Verma, Journalist and Human rights  
activist and Laxman Pant, an activist closely associated with Nepal's  
struggle for Democracy have agreed to share their ideas on the  
present situation in Nepal.

We will be happy if you can spare your valuable time and participate  
in the discussion on the theme.


- - -

(iii) USA: Committee of Concerned Scientists Calls for Urgent Action  
to Free Dr. Binayak Sen


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