It is heartening to note that the Supreme Court has ordered retrial of Gujarat riots’ cases by fast track courts. Some may argue that “Justice delayed is justice denied”, and indeed the delays thus far in the process are inexcusable. However, what is worth celebrating is the fact that the rule of law has triumphed once again and there is hope yet for the riot victims.
When the fast track courts deliver their judgment, it would be interesting to see what sentences are handed out. Arson committed in communal riots is often only a mask to cause economic ruin of a business competitor. The fear and intimidation imposed on the victims during rioting is often intended to make the victim leave his residence and business, for the competitor. In other words, most communal riots are calculated political acts designed to illegally gain economic advantage.
Therefore, the Supreme Court should amend the Criminal Procedure Code to include the following provision. “Whenever an individual is found guilty of rioting and concurrent crimes, in addition to prison sentences etc, all his assets shall be confiscated and liquidated by the state and the resultant proceeds shall be distributed as appropriate as compensation to the victims of the riots”.
The fear of total economic ruin will kill the enthusiasm of many a rioter. The business of orchestrating murder and mayhem for the sake of Business has to end forthwith.
(This is a post by Jacob Kuncheria. Cheri, as he is known to friends, works for Reuters in Delhi and is interested in development issues, Satyajit Ray films and Hindustani music.)
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has suddenly woken up to the gross underestimation of poverty in India. In Rajya Sabha on Thursday Murli Manohar Joshi asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if the current definition of poverty in India was not a joke on the poor and whether this was not a means to mask the extent of poverty. A noble sentiment indeed, but let the record also show the BJP made no effort to improve upon the faulty schema of identifying the poor when it ruled between 1999 and 2004.Worse, that government, of which Joshi was a cabinet minister, presided over a major fudging of poverty measurement, tweaking the process of data collection to falsely show poverty had fallen under its regime.
It is certainly true that the official poverty estimates in India do not indicate the true extent of deprivation in the country. The poverty line is the cost of the cheapest foods that can supply the barest minimum of energy a person needs. Currently, if a villager earns over 12.26 rupees a day, or an urban citizen earns over 18.36 rupees daily, she is above the poverty line. That sum would not buy a McDonald’s burger even at their happy price menu, to make a rather cruel comparison.
Man cannot live on calories alone, he needs proteins and vitamins and minerals too, but the standard does not see the need to incorporate that. If a person sold her cow, her pots and pans or her land to make buy food, the income increase would actually push her above the poverty line. To add pain, the norm does not concern itself with the question of whether the supposedly un-poor actually eat the food supposedly purchasable at that income.
Studies have shown that the lack of state-provided health care, housing and education lead poor households to spend an increasing amount of their income on private providers. This reduces food consumption, and invariably, the deprivation is pronounced in women, girls and children. It is no wonder India is home to 40 percent of malnourished children, and its record is worse than sub-Saharan Africa. The amount of anaemic women and girls and the ensuing high rate of maternal mortalities, among other damning health statistics clearly point to the inadequacy of the measure. Hence, the poverty line is not just a line under which one is poor. Rather, it is an indicator which says: if you earn below this, it’s a miracle you’re alive.
THE BJP’s “MIRACLE”
Now to the BJP and poverty. The estimation of how many people are poor is done by measuring household income, which is the subject of a survey conducted every five years. Households are quizzed on their spending in the month, and a rise in this indicates increased income. If more households spend more, it means the number of the poor as a percentage of the total population has fallen.
In the 59th round of this survey in 2003, when the BJP was in power and painting rosy images of India Shining, an additional question on weekly spending was asked of households. A minor change, but when posed right before the question on monthly spending, led the respondent to quadruple the weekly answer to give the monthly figure. This number was clearly incorrect, for there are weekly variations in income and consumption, given the fact most of India’s poor have no fixed jobs or wages.The data that emerged gave an inflated consumption number, indicating incomes had risen under the BJP’s rule and the government had been successful in fighting poverty.
The easiest way of ending famine, it seems, is expunging the word from the language itself! And the poor have no idea of their great fortune, they know not how many tears are being shed in their name.
Watching at least four English news channels surfing from one another
during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of
another kind. The terror of assaulting one’s mind and sensitivity with
cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have
been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called – Hotel Taj
the icon of India.
Whose India, Whose Icon ?
It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not
bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from
terrorists – the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station.
CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station
hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal
and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming
themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with
the Marathis and Kolis
But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise
the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No
Barkha dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to
show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards.
And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to
find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were
again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the
dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.
In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers
from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at
CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60
hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in
detail what transpired there.
The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of
India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident
closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them
was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour.
But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack.
Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have
to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman
The so called justification for the hype the channels built around
heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that
Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe
congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not
India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The
Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST
and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power
over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the
haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over
sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever
financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) ,
Political brokers and industrialists.
It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that
the terrorists chose to strike.
The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam
Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains.
He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even
Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels
and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said
Pranoy Roy\\\’s channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same
sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of
the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep be far behind in
this game of one upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience
this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling
The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains
and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the
ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or
manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the
rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be
resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to
protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and
restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and
the ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by
their own ideologies.
The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by
terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government
sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something
he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc are
facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the
middle classes of India learnt about violation of human rights only
during emergency, a cool 28 years after independence.
And human rights were another favourite issue for the channels to whip
at times of terrorism.
Arnab Goswami in an animated voice wondered where were those
champions of human rights now, not to be seen applauding the brave and
selfless police officers who gave up their life in fighting terorism.
Well, the counter question would be where were you when such officers
were violating the human rights of Aam Aadmis. Has there ever been any
24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis of
This definitely was not the time to manufacture consent for the extra
legal and third degree methods of interrogation of police and army but
Arnabs don\\\’t miss a single opportunity to serve their class masters,
this time the jingoistic patriotism came in handy to whitewash the
entire uniformed services.
The sacrifice of the commandos or the police officers who went down
dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists is no doubt heart rending
but in vain in a situation which needed not just bran but also brain.
Israel has a point when it says the operations were misplanned
resulting in the death of its nationals here.
Khakares and Salaskars would not be dead if they did not commit the
mistake of traveling by the same vehicle. It is a basic lesson in
management that the top brass should never t ravel together in crisis.
The terrorists, if only they had watched the channels, would have
laughed their hearts out when the Chief of the Marine commandos, an
elite force, masking his face so unprofessionally in a see-through
cloth, told the media that the commandos had no idea about the
structure of the Hotel Taj which they were trying to liberate. But the
terrorists knew the place thoroughly, he acknowledged.
Is it so difficult to obtain a ground plan of Hotel Taj and discuss
operation strategy thoroughly for at least one hour before entering?
This is something even an event manager would first ask for, if he had
to fix 25 audio systems and 50 CCtvs for a cultural event in a hotel.
Would not Ratan Tata have provided a plan of his ancestral hotel to
the commandos within one hour considering the mighty apparatus at his
and government\\\’s disposal? Are satelite pictures only available for
terrorists and not the government agencies ? In an operation known to
consume time, one more hour for preparation would have only improved
the efficiency of execution.
Sacrifices become doubly tragic in unprofessional circumstances. But
the Aam Aadmis always believe that terror-shooters do better planning
than terrorists. And the gullible media in a jingoistic mood would not
raise any question about any of these issues.
They after all have their favourite whipping boy – the politician the
eternal entertainer for the non-voting rich classes of India.
Arnabs and Rajdeeps would wax eloquent on Nanmohan Singh and Advani
visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at
this hour of national crisis. What a farce? Why can\\\’t these channels
pool together all their camera crew and reporters at this time of
national calamity and share the sound and visual bites which could
mean a wider and deeper coverage of events with such a huge human
resource to command? Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep
harping every five minutes that this piece of information was
exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is
this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician
promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the
duty of the politican is to do politics, his politics. It is for the
people to evaluate that politics.
And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means.
To come to grips with it and to eventually eliminate it, the practice
of politics by proper means needs constant fine tuning and
improvement. Decrying all politics and politicians, only helps
terrorists and dictators who are the two sides of the same coin. And
the rich and powerful always prefer terrorists and dictators to do
Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths
are not even mourned – the taxi driver who lost the entire family at
CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives
working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for
Postscript: In a fit of anger and depression, I sent a message to all
the channels, 30 hours through the coverage. After all they have been
constantly asking the viewers to message them for anything and
everything. My message read: I send this with lots of pain. All
channels, including yours, must apologise for not covering the victims
of CST massacre, the real mumbaikars and aam aadmis of India. Your
obsession with five star elite is disgusting. Learn from the print
media please. No channel bothered. Only Srinivasan Jain replied: you
are right. We are trying to redress balance today. Well, nothing
happened till the time of writing this 66 hours after the terror
South Bombay occupies a special place in the psyche of Bombay (I was born in Bombay, not Mumbai, and Bombay is where my most cherished memories lie). If Bombay is the city of dreams then South Bombay is where the creators of those dreams used to live. South Bombay is familiar to each and every person in this sub continent who has ever watched Hindi cinema. The iconic shoreline of the Queens’ Necklace with Malabar Hills in the background has been used as a backdrop in innumerable Hindi films. This is where prince and pauper come to partake of an experience called Bombay at it most lively. Lovers sit, with their arms around each other or their heads buried in laps and bosoms, on the parapet on Marine Drive facing the sea, symbolically turning their backs on a city that does not, cannot, give them the space to express their feelings for each other. So they expressed it in the open. Not that anyone minded. In Bombay you could walk naked on the streets and no one would give a second glance. It’s that kind of a city.
On November 26 that changed, perhaps forever. On that day terrorists came and ripped the heart out of Bombay. They killed indiscriminately, wantonly, without mercy or compassion. Once again, my beloved city was trampled upon, abused and ill-treated. This time the targets were the landmarks of Bombay, especially Taj Mahal hotel and Victoria Terminus.
My old office, Exress Towers lies just behind the Oberoi-Trident Hotel.
Leopold’s café, which was sprayed with bullets, serves the best beef steak in town. I’ve been there so often with friends, sat on the same tables that were spattered with blood now.
Gokul bar (the cheapest bar in Colaba), adjacent to Bade Miyan hotel is where 8 kg of RDX was recovered from. I’ve eaten so many times at Bade Miyan after a binge with friends at Gokul.
Boarded so many trains at Victoria Terminus (now CST).
Seen so many films at Metro theatre, where Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Kamte were gunned down for the audacity of taking on AK 47s with service revolvers.
An 80 year old family friend lives right next to Nariman House, where the terrorists held hostages. Amazingly, she went for a walk with bullets flying all around. She wanted to see what the commotion was all about!
Been inside the Taj hotel many times…
The last one is especially poignant. Why do they target hotels? The same thing happened in Islamabad when the Marriot Hotel was blown up by a suicide bomber. I called up a dear friend in Pakistan that evening. He answered the phone with a weary hello. He sounded tired and depressed. He explained that he had been inside the Marriot many times and there were no words to describe the sense of loss he felt. My phone call cheered him up, if only to reassure him that his friends were with him.
He called me up the day the Mumbai terrorist struck. This time my voice was tinged with sadness. He provided the succor while I listened. We both discussed the futility of violence and the nihilism of terrorism, just like we had in an earlier phone conversation. The only difference was that this time I was listening while he talked.
Rage, frustration, sadness, melanholy, helplessness, anger…
This is what I feel. But they will not destroy Bombay or Mumbai. They will not be allowed to succeed. We will stand united. For ultimately, blind hatred is self defeating.
Today, I am angry and ashamed.
Angry about hypocritical ‘hindu’ politicians, the uncaring society we live in, the heartless middle class that inhabits this country and the fate that awaits India if the above three continue on this trajectory.
Ashamed about hypocritical ‘hindu’ politicians, the uncaring society we live in, the heartless middle class that inhabits this country and the confluence of the above three.
Yes folks…welcome to the new Hindu rashtra!!! How long will we continue to sit silent while those Muslim behenc__ds rape, pillage and explode bombs? Of course, we too are proud Hindus. We cannot sit silent. The blood of the Aryans, Europeans, Rajputs, and Huns flows in our veins. We are the descendents of Shivaji, who held the might of the Mughal empire at bay. Hindu samaj is the possessor of all the worldy truths and all the knowledge that has been invented by western science. Our sages discovered the airplane, the atom bomb, fusion and fission technology and plastic surgery long before the white man.
Our seers invented 0, chess, algebra, arithmetic, geology, psychology, philosophy and zoology thousands of years ago.
Our ancestors dabbled into the depths of ontology and the heights of epistemology. Our Vedas, Shastras, Purans, Gita and Upanishads contain all the knowledge that is needed for this world.
We were the masters of dance, drama, art, literature, erotics, and aesthetics when the barbarians of Europe and the Middle east were foraging around in bear skins and loin cloths.
We are the inheritors of the proud Hindu culture….
How can we produce TERRORISTS?
Impossible, incredulous, lies, conspiracy, out to malign Hindus.
Of course, what ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Singh and Armyman Purohit did is not retaliation or Hindu terrorism (gasp!!!)
They were just reacting to those vile Muslim terrorists. So what if a few explosions kill some people in Muslim ghettos? So what if some more explosions kill some random other people? SO WHAT
Hindus cannot be terrorists, That’s only for Muslims.
Today I hang my head in shame and stew in my own anger.
because yesterday I asked liberal Muslims to stand up and take a stand against terrorism, because the day before that I did believe that all the bomb blasts in this country were caused by ‘Muslim’ terrorist organisations.
because today my ‘Hindu’ neighbours tell me callously, so what? so what if ‘our people’ exploded a few bombs. After all, we are paying them back in the same coin..
Where have I heard that before?
Oh yeah…Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said that about shooting innocent people in Nandigram.
Narendra Modi said that about the Gujarat genocide.
Raj Thackeray is saying that about ‘bhayyas’.
So what’s wrong if we say it. After all, they are only *!*@*%# Muslims…
(fill in your own abuses in the space provided)
At a time when commentators were talking of the end of the insurgency and life was returning to normal in the Kashmir valley, the Amarnath crisis and the associated violence this summer of 2008, came as a rude shock to many. The separatist tone of the protests in the valley created a furore in Indian media. If we were to put the facts of the crisis itself aside, the accompanying protests provided a fascinating opportunity to observe the change sweeping the Kashmir valley. Indeed, the Amarnath crisis may have inadvertently acted as a window of opportunity to bring peace back to Kashmir. Policymakers in Delhi cannot therefore afford to miss the positive outcomes generated by the crisis.
Firstly, it is worth analyzing why the protests in the valley against the government’s decision about transfer of land to the Amarnath shrine board started with pro-independence overtones, then acquired religious hues and thereafter a pro-Pakistani tint. The ISI hand if any, was seemingly minimal in these protests. Officials in Islamabad were apparently as surprised as New Delhi to see the pro-Pakistani tenor. In fact, it is entirely possible that the Pakistani flags placed by some elements at Lal chowk in Srinagar on India’s Independence Day were only a ploy to keep the nation’s attention riveted on Kashmir. To get the attention of the Indian mainstream, nothing works better than a Pakistani flag. One only needs to look at how interest in the Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam in early October rapidly rose after some Pakistani flags were sighted. The Pakistan card is a bogey that separatists have used in the past as well to put pressure on New Delhi. While some Pro-Pakistani groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba tried to piggy-back on the protests and gain propaganda mileage with motorcycle riders shouting anti-India slogans, they were soon drowned out by the pro-independence voices.
Therefore, whatever mix of aspirations drove the Kashmiris, one thing became clear from the protests. There is definitely an indigenous opinion within the valley about the future of Kashmir, one that is not driven by external entities like Pakistan. In that sense, these protests were reminiscent of the protests of 1963-64 after the theft of the Hazratbal relic, which were entirely indigenously spurred (before Pakistan began its decades-long covert intervention in the valley with Operation Gibraltar of 1965).
At the same time, the protests in the valley do not signify a boost for the armed separatist movement. In fact, the Amarnath crisis represents a decisive shift in the nature of political protest the valley – from one of armed violence to one of non-violent protests. It will take some time before the valley rediscovers completely the power of non-violent dissent, but the process has begun. Yasin Malik, the former Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front militant turned separatist leader, was quoted by The Economist recently as saying: “[today’s Kashmiri youngsters] are even more angry than my generation, yet committed to non-violence”. Why this shift has happened amongst the youth is worthy of an entire sociological treatise. In short, the collective failure of insurgency to achieve political goals, the progressive marginalization of Kashmiris in Pakistan-backed militant outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the emergence of regional parties other than the National Conference, could have all contributed to it. The latter is particularly noteworthy. Although non- National Conference forces have been active in the valley before, never were they able to influence decision making at the Center as they did during the Amarnath crisis. The triangular struggle to win over public opinion between the National Conference, People Democratic Party and All Party Hurriyat Conference during the crisis represents the coming of age of Kashmiri politics and the end of political monopoly.
Another positive outcome of the protest was that they triggered a debate in the Indian hinterland about the future of Kashmir, something that 18 years of insurgency was unable to do. The Times of India actually ran a poll during the crisis asking if Indians want Kashmir to be retained at all costs. To most Indians, such a question would not have arisen even a year ago.
Even at the Centre, the protests saw a departure in the way New Delhi has handled the Valley at times in the past. The Central government neither enforced a media blackout nor denied the content of the protests as Pakistani propaganda, seeking instead a negotiated settlement. While this is in part due to the realities of coalition politics at the Centre, it is nonetheless significant.
The protests in Jammu were equally worthy of attention. While a section of the media sought to cast the protests purely in religious terms, the participation of Gujjars and Dogri Muslims indicates there was a “regional” factor also involved. This in turn may have forced Kashmiri separatist leaders to rethink the costs of secession from India. The Jammu protests hastened the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway for trade. Not only will this move help build better ties between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and J & K, the resultant economic prosperity could transform opinions about the future of Kashmir. This has happened before. Peace returned to Northern Ireland essentially after Britain promoted private sector investment and trade in the province, and paved the way for the Good Friday accord. In the case of Kashmir, Article 370 and the law and order situation have prohibited private investment in the past. The alternative therefore, clearly lies in promoting trade across the border. This also creates the possibility of exposing people in PoK to the possibilities of democratic, non-violent solutions to the Kashmir dispute.
One cannot say that the Amarnath crisis was the best thing that ever happened for Kashmir. In fact, one of the most worrisome fallouts of the crisis is the potential of it being exploited by radical groups in the hinterland. (The Indian Mujahideen had cited the blockade of the valley during the Jammu protests as one of their justifications for the Delhi blasts in September.) But the Amarnath crisis has certainly served to put Kashmir as one of the key issues on the 2009 election agenda. Given the importance of the Kashmir dispute to national security concerns, this would not be an unwelcome development.
(This article was originally published in The Indian National Interest Review, Nov 2008 issue)
While Pakistan came up all too frequently during the recently concluded US Presidential campaign, South Asia watchers sat up when Barack Obama spoke of working with India to deal with Pakistan’s concerns about its security, a prerequisite to bring peace to Afghanistan. This triangular dynamic seems common sense in the subcontinent but attracts only peripheral attention in Washington where Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are seen only from the angle of bilateral relations.
Obama’s statement made many wonder if it implied US was going to step into the role of mediator between India and Pakistan. Although this suggestion was dismissed by both Presidential candidates in the light of the progress of the Indo-Pak peace process, some of the commentary that went with suggestions of mediation hinted at it as being necessary to resolve the schism between the two neighbors.
At least one of the problems with a suggestion of US mediation is that it presumes that the conflicting parties are not rational actors – a notion that subcontinentals find repelling. Of course the US has a long and fairly successful history of conflict mediation from the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel to the Good Friday process that brought peace to Ireland, and the Dayton accords that negotiated peace settlement in Yugoslavia.
However unlike in all these cases, the conflicting parties in South Asia are not inviting the US for mediation. This has to do less with issues of sovereignty and more to do with self-identity. India and Pakistan perceive themselves as rational actors who can resolve disputes bilaterally.
The United States has thus far acted sensibly and even pressed upon by Pakistan and Kashmiri expat groups to intervene, has chosen to say that it supports the Indian stand on the issue, that disputes can be adequately resolved through Indo-Pak bilateral dialog.
But should the US choose to change this policy and attempt mediation, it would have to first start by addressing the South Asians as mature, rational actors. Unfortunately this is easier said than done going by rhetoric in Washington both about Pakistan during the current debates and about India during the ratification of the nuclear deal. India and Pakistan are seen as two trigger-happy children who’ve got hold of dangerous nuclear toys.
I remember a former official in the US’ national security apparatus once mentioning that during one of the post-nuclearisation crises in South Asia, he asked an Indian official whether the nuclear option was being considered. The Indian official said that “Yes, a limited nuclear engagement is possible”. Whether or not the official meant it, the American was stunned…and told the Indian, “You have no idea what you are talking about”.
This is one of the general perceptions that clouds the less seasoned among American diplomats. While this has some roots in the American self-image and exceptionalism, it reminds subcontinentals of Kiplingesque “white man’s burden”.
For instance, doves in Washington often point out how unlike the USSR and the US, India and Pakistan are so close that there would be almost no warning time in case of a missile launch restricting any attempt at protection. Anyone who’s worked in missile defense would tell you that even for ICBMs during the cold war, neither the US nor the USSR had any means to stop or divert a missile once it was launched. Ballistic missile defense systems can hardly shoot down an incoming missile in its boost phase even with the best of technology like the still-born Star Wars program. Hence, the nuclear threat between the US and USSR was comparable and in no way more than the threat faced in the subcontinent. In fact, the Cold war arms race spawned tactical nukes like Davy Crockets and artillery shells which were more lethal than any weapon that has emerged on the subcontinent. Therefore, if the US and USSR could work over their differences without mediation during the Cold war, then so can India and Pakistan.
This is not to dismiss the value a mediator can bring to the table. Conflicts often get exacerbated due to asymmetry of information and a respected mediator can play a vital role by acting as a channel of communication between the two parties. Thus, the United States’ value as a mediator cannot be dismissed. But what is pertinent is how the US dons this role and how it treats the two parties once it dons the role – as sovereign states or quarrelling juveniles.
India has tourist destinations that are picturesque and off tourist itineraries. Sikkim is one such. Apart from the regular Gangtok-Rumtek-Nathula circuit, one of the most challenging treks in India lies in West Sikkim. Called the Yuksom-Dzongri-Goechala Trek, this 100 km, 7 day trek through rhododendron forests in the Kanchanjunga National Park (KNP) offers stunning views of the Kanchanjunga range.
The base for the trek is the village of Yuksom, which is the entrance to KNP. The park covers the area from Yuksom (1780 m) to Mt Kanchanjunga (8586 m), the third tallest peak in the world. The KNP covers an area of 2192 sq km and was notified by the Sikkim government in 1977.
Arriving in Yuksom is like taking a train ride back in time. Yuksom means ‘meeting place of three monks’ in the local Lepcha language and it is here that the history of modern Sikkim began. In 1642 AD the first king of Sikkim, Chogyal Phuntsok Namgyal, was consecrated by three Tibetan monks. The stone throne where the consecration took place still exists in Norbugang, near Yuksom. Soon after, the first Buddhist monastary in Sikkim was built in Dubdi to establish the Nyingmapa sect prevelant in Sikkim. Yuksom is also the hometown of Bollywood baddie, Danny Denzongpa.
It is with this sense of history that I began the trek on a warm May morning last year after having shopped for groceries for the trek. A word of caution here: it is risky to attempt the trek without guides or porters because there are no villages on the way to buy food. In my case, the guide doubled as cook.
The first day consists of a 16 km trek through dense temperate forests from Yuksom to the small village of Bakhim (2750 m). There is a spacious trekkers hut for the night’s stay. Day two is easy, just 2 km to a small Buddhist settlement called Tsokha (3050 m). The families here are refugees from Tibet and when offered a choice of places to settle down, they opted for a high altitude village. The trail goes through rhododendron forests. These plants reach 10-15 feet in height and bloom in April-May. The landscape is a riotous display of red, yellow, pink and purple rhododendrons. There are stunning views of Mt. Pandhim, Tenzingkhang, Lama Lamini, Narsing and Jophnu. I spent the rest of the day at Tsokha acclimatizing.
In the eighth century AD, guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim, flew over Sikkim on his way to Tibet. He was invited by the first king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen, to rid his kingdom of the many evil spirits who terrorized his people. On the way he hid many treasures in the Kanchanjunga region. According to legend the treasures are still here, safe from prying eyes. As a result, the entire area around Kanchanjunga is considered sacred. In fact, Kanchanjunga means the five sacred treasures of snow in Lepcha, the local language. The mountain has five peaks which contain the Guru’s treasures: sacred books, gold, silver, gems and grain. As I begin trekking on the third day I cannot help feeling that one of the Guru’s treasures must have been the beautiful landscape. The early morning mist parts to reveal snow-capped peaks reflecting the golden sunlight.
I wonder what this terrain must have been like when Padmasambhava traversed this path: lonely, beautiful, exhilarating and awe-inspiring. The nature around me forms a continuous set of beautiful images in my mind, like an impressionistic painting. I try to imagine myself walking in the Guru’s footsteps, but it is difficult to get a sense of serenity in the crowd of other trekkers.
Dzongri, day three’s destination, is 10 km from Tsokha. The trail affords breathtaking 360-degree views of the entire Singalila range (of which Kanchanjunga is part) at a place called Devrala. Dzongri at an altitude of 3950 m is the place where ‘man meets the mountain gods’. It has a small trekkers hut and a meadow where tents can be pitched. Many people will get some form of altitude sickness at Dzongri. I got a headache because of dehydration caused by drinking the local brew Chang every night for the preceding 7 days at the invitation of the locals. Chang is made from fermented millets and served in a long cylindrical wooden bowl with a bamboo straw. It is smoother than wine and one of the best tipples I’ve tasted. It is a good idea to stay a day or two acclimatizing. Short day trips can be made to the Dzongri viewpoint for views of Cabru, Jophnu, and Kanchanjunga. A 4-5 hour side trek leads to Dzongrila pass. According to local belief this is the entrance to the original Shangri-La, or hidden paradise. Fine views of Rathong glacier, Mt Kokthang, and the Frey peak are afforded from here.
Day four or five (depending on how well you acclimatize) consists of a 10 km trek to Thangshing (3930 m). The really hard trek begins the day after. Wake up at 2 am and trek 6 km to high-altitude Samiti lake, and then 6-7 hours to Goechala for clear views of Mt Kanchanjunga. This is as far as trekkers are allowed. This is Yak, Snow Leopard and Blue Sheep terrain.
In 1982 the government opened up this area to outside visitors. The early 90’s witnessed mass tourism in the KNP, which led to a host of problems. There was large scale littering in the forest trails coupled with deforestation because trekkers were cutting trees for firewood. In 1996 some concerned locals formed the Kanchanjunga Conservation Committee (KCC) to mitigate the impact of tourism. Since then KCC has formulated conservation strategies for KNP that have helped clean up the place and regulate tourism. For instance, a clean up campaign brought back 350 kg of garbage from inside the national park while workshops for guides and porters impresses upon them the need to keep the park free for the benefit of tourism. Eco-tourism is prominent among KCC’s objectives for a clean KNP. They have formulated a code of conduct called ‘The Eco-Trekker’ that gives pointers on how to be a toxic-free trekker.
Harmony with nature is ingrained in the Buddhism practiced here. The locals believe that every mountain, lake, stream, tree and cave has its own set of presiding deities. One cannot just jump into a lake or cut a tree or climb a peak without offending the deity. Mt. Kanchanjunga is considered to be the guardian deity of Sikkim and if the peak is violated then disaster will befall the state. Which is why climbing expeditions stop a few feet short of the actual peak in deference to local wishes. The bedrock of local belief treats humans as part of nature.
But a lot of tourists, Western and Indian, are either unaware or unwilling to respect local belief. Like the ugly American, the ugly Indian merrily stomps all over local traditions with his/her family in tow. The rich biodiversity has also attracted bio-pirates. Ten years ago KCC apprehended two Russians who were trying to smuggle 30 species of butterflies and numerous other insect and plant species. Numerous other cases of bio-piracy have come to light.
But, this region is also heavily dependent on tourism. Since only limited agriculture is possible and cardamom, the main crop, started declining, tourism is the main income earner. West Sikkim has seen a boom in guides, porters, cooks, hotels, travel agents and other infrastructure that caters to the tourism industry. Pema, General Secretary of KCC says, “ We can’t expect to stop tourism because it is a revenue earner, but we want tourists who respect the local culture and environment.” Chewang, another member of KCC adds, “ We want guides and porters to accompany tourists for their own safety and also so that they can earn money.”
KNP has strict entry guidelines. Foreign tourists have to obtain a Restricted Area Permit from the Sikkim Tourism Department to trek in KNP, which is not required for Indians. However, all tourists have to register with the police outpost in Yuksom and pay an entry fee.
After spending seven beautiful days in KNP it was time for me to return. A couplet by sufi mystic Firdaus, although used in a different but not entirely dissimilar context, comes to mind:
Agar firdaus bar-e-rooh zaminast,
Haminast, O haminast, O haminast
If there is a paradise on Earth,
It is here, it is here, it is here.
How to get there: Nearest railhead: New Jalpaiguri (150 km), nearest airport: Bagdogra (155 km)
Travel Agencies: Mountain Rangers (email@example.com)
Denzong Adventures (contact Norbu Bhutia, 09733098737)
July 2007 – June 2008 was celebrated as the birth centenary of Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi. DD was a multi-disciplinary scholar who made original contributions in the fields of mathematics, statistics, indology, ancient Indian history, Sanskrit literature, numismatics and archeology. Though he was a mathematician by training and profession he is best known for his contributions to Indology.
DD studied history as a product of the socio-economic and cultural influences of times past rather than merely looking at it as a chronological ordering of ‘events’. Although DD used Marxism as his basic historic framework he didn’t follow it blindly, or blandly. His disdain for the ‘official Marxists’ (OM) is well known. According to DD ‘Marxism is not a substitute for thinking but a tool for analysis’. DD’s scathing review of Dange’s (CPI general secretary) ‘painfully disappointing book’, India from Primitive Communism to Slavery, based on ‘facile pseudo Marxism’ shows his rejection of mechanical application of Marxism.
I will highlight a few of DD’s most though provoking contributions.
Indra and Vritra
DD argued that the tools of violence were curiously absent in the prosperous Indus Valley civilization. The weapons were flimsy and nothing like the sword was found. In the absence of police or an army the unequal distribution of surplus was maintained by deploying religion. According to DD the Mohenjodaro citadel was identical in its function to the Mesopotamian ziggurats while the great bath was a sacred bathing tank dedicated to a mother goddess. Consorting with the temple slaves may have been part of a fertility cult. The picture that emerges is of a fixed class of traders worshipping a feminine deity. The monopoly of the ruling class of traders was secured by the deployment of religion.
This static tradition was broken by the coming of the Aryans. The Rig Veda’s chief war-god is Indra who looted the stored treasures of the godless. DD believed that this was a reference to the Indus Valley people who were defeated by the invading Aryans. The Aryans also destroyed their agricultural system which was the basis of their food production which might explain why the cities went into decline soon after the Aryans arrived. The pre-Aryan system of agriculture depended on damming small rivers and flooding their banks so that silt was deposited which could be ploughed. The Rig Veda mentions that Indra freed the rivers from a demon called Vritra. DD interprets the term Vritra as ‘obstacle’ or ‘barrage’. The Rig Veda says that Vritra lay across slopes like a dark snake obstructing the flow of rivers. When he was struck by Indra’s thunderbolt the ground buckled and the stones rolled away, a good description of breaking up dams.
Flooding would have made the land too marshy for the Aryan’s cattle herds thus leading to conflict between the two groups.
Origin of Brahmins?
Related to this early encounter (whether invasion or not) between the Aryans and the Indus Valley people is DD’s hypothesis that Brahmins belonged to the non-Aryan culture and were probably drawn from the priesthood of the Indus Valley people. To support this view DD drew upon the myth of Indra, the most important of the vedic gods who was later replaced by the trinity of Bramha-Vishnu-Maheshwar. DD attributes this to Indra’s appropriation and subsequent debasement by the Brahmin class who, after negotiating entry into the Aryan fold, would have had the galling task of worshiping and performing rituals to the very god who had destroyed their civilization. For instance, the character of Vritra changes over time and in the Mahabharata he appears as a noble king, magnanimous in defeat whereas the cult of Indra and the Vedic gods was ‘lost’.
Further, this explanation would account for the systematic early development of Sanskrit grammar as the product of studying a complicated foreign language. In the same way the development of religious philosophy in India at a very early age supports the hypothesis of violent assimilation as it speaks of an unhappy existence of the priestly class under the war-like ksatriyas.
The Dark Hero
Of the new gods and goddesses DD’s favourite was Krishna, whose mythos he found inconsistent. Krishna was at once a divine and lovable infant, lover of the milkmaids, promiscuous and yet ascetic renunciate, humble charioteer and omniscient god, man of peace and vilest of bullies in killing his uncle Kamsa and beheading Sishupala, fountainhead of fairness and deviousness personified. Krishna’s popularity had to be understood in terms of his having performed a complex set of socio-economic functions.
In the Rig Veda Krishna is mentioned as a demon. In fact the word Krishna means dark and is used as a generic term for the dark skinned natives that the vedic people encountered. Krishna’s rise to prominence begins with the legend where he holds up mount Govardhan to protect the cowherds who failed to perform sacrifices to Indra from his wrath. This could mark the transition from the vedic cult of sacrifice to a pastoral society. Whether Krishna was a single historical figure or a compendium of people from various points in a historical time line amalgamated into a single godlike figure, for DD Krishna performed a number of complex socio-historical roles.
DD observed that in the 4th century BCE the Greeks who invaded India found that the worship of an Indian demi-god, whom they equated with Herakles, was the main cult in the Punjab. DD concluded that this was Krishna. In Greek legend, Herakles is a machless athlete who is burnt black by exposure to the sun, who had killed the Hydra (a multiple headed snake like Kaliya), and violated or wedded many nymphs (like the Gopikas). Other commentators have noticed more similarities between the two cults: the demon-horse Keshin with Diomedes’ horse and the bull Arishta with Acheolus.
Further, Krishna’s killing of his uncle Kamsa and making love to his wife Kubja is the only instance of an oedipal struggle in the Sanskrit corpus.
Note: Most of the material here is from a series of articles that appeared in EPW commemorating DD’s birth centennial