South Asia Citizens Web Dispatch
2 October 1999
#1. RSS website
#2. Temple workers turn to Communist party for relief
#3. Karnataka woman awarded for battling domestic violence
#4. Indian Journalists essay on Kashmir
#5. An Australian report on Arundhati Roy. . .
#6. 'Earth' offers a snapshot of India's partition
#7. Dhaka forced to face sex taboos
Chatroom overflow mars launch of RSS website
from India Abroad News Service
New Delhi, Sep 26 - The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the powerful
ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has launched a
website with the intention of forming a worldwide network of those
ascribing to their philosophy.
On the inaugural day, however, the chatroom where people could talk
directly with RSS chief Rajendra Singh `Rajju Bhayya' did not function
well since it was "overflowing," making it impossible for the hosts
themselves to log on, The Hindustan Times reported.
Though the inaugural turned out to be a fiasco, the organisers said that
glitches would be sorted out. Singh could not make use of the chatroom even
though the webmaster in New York tried to boot out many entrants.
Even as organisers were trying to get the website in order, the rest of
the gathering at the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan in New Delhi sang
The RSS chief used the occasion to issue a warning to the Pope saying that
his forthcoming visit to India would be opposed if he insisted on saying
that only Christianity could save mankind. "The Pope must show equal
respect to all religions," Singh said.
Pope John Paul II is scheduled to arrive here on November 6 on a two-day
state visit, which comes at a time when opposition parties have been
castigating the BJP for attacks on minorities. The RSS is viewed with
suspicion by parties like the main opposition Congress party which has
often said that the cultural wing propagates anti-minority sentiments.
The RSS is considered the spiritual parent of the BJP and is believed to
have exercised huge control over the ruling party's policies during the
13-month term of Atal Behari Vajpayee. A section within the RSS is known to
strongly oppose the opening up of the Indian market giving rise to the
`desi' (native)-'videshi' (foreign) debate within the ruling party.
The website is seen as part of an effort to unify the global Indian Hindu
--India Abroad News Service (credit mandatory)
Temple workers turn to Communist party for relief
from India Abroad News Service
New Delhi, Sep 26 - The functioning of one of India's most popular Hindu
temples has been threatened by staffers who have joined a Marxist trade
More than 250 workers of the famous Lord Venkateshwara Temple in
Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, considered Hinduism's Vatican, have demanded
reduction of workload and recruitment of more workers, The Hindusthan Times
These workers are involved in making 'ladoos' (a popular Indian sweetmeat)
which are given to more than 30,000 Hindu pilgrims who visit the hilltop
temple every day. The 'ladoos' are given to devotees as the temple
'prasadam' (offerings blessed by the deity) is much in demand.
Over 100,000 'ladoos' are made every day in the temple premises but the
workers, who have joined the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) backed by
the Communist party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), have said that only 60,000
'ladoos' can be made every day by the existing staff.
The shortage of 'ladoos' has resulted in a thriving black market in and
around the temple, the paper said. Temple authorities have said that they
are helpless since the workers have threatened to completely stop
production of ladoos if their demands are not met.
The 'ladoos' were supplied to the Tirupathi temple by traditional cooks
and sweet-makers called 'mirasidars' for whom it was a hereditary trade.
After the Supreme Court abolished the system the authorities appointed the
sweet-makers as temple staff.
Devotees from all over India, neighbouring countries and south-east Asia
visit the Tirupathi temple to pray to Lord Venkateshwara. Offerings made to
the temple in cash and kind amount to nearly Rs 3 billion a year.
Karnataka woman awarded for battling domestic violence
from India Abroad News Service
New Delhi, Sep 20 - Hers would have been a story of domestic violence
common to many an Indian woman, except that she chose to give the tale a
V. Gowramma, a native of the southern state of Karnataka, has just become
the recipient of the Neerja Bhanot bravery award for battling it out in
court for 10 years to get her brutal husband suspended from his job and
translating this victory into one for other women as well. The award
carries a cash prize of Rs.150,000, apart from a citation and a trophy.
Gowramma, now 37, began her fight at the young age of 18 when she was
married off to a police officer, who would "physically and mentally torture
her," The Indian Express newspaper reported. Two years later Gowramma could
take no more and walked out of the marriage in spite of having given birth
to a child.
That was when the real test of courage began as she vowed that the man
should not go unpunished even if he belonged to the law-enforcing authority.
"When I first lodged a complaint against my husband, his department
shielded him. I had to walk in and out of family courts for 10 years. But I
persevered and got him suspended from his post," she said.
Gowramma believed that her personal victory should be of use to others of
her kind and in 1988, she began to working with a women's organisation in
the Karnataka capital of Bangalore called 'Vimochana.' A study conducted by
the organisation found that "every month 60 to 80 women die of 'stove
bursts' and other such incidents," indicating a high rate of domestic
"Keeping quiet merely encourages the perpetrators. I decided the latter
had to pay for their deeds," she says.
And it was her dedicated campaign against eradicating domestic violence
which had its roots in personal tragedy that brought her the Neerja Bhanot
award, given to "women who overcome personal crisis to make a difference in
other's lives." Gowramma plans to deposit Rs.50,000 from her cash prize in
a bank so that the interest accruing from it can be used for educating
The award is given by the family of Neerja Bhanot, a PanAm flight air
hostess who was killed by hijackers in 1986 while saving the lives of
The Washington Post
Sunday, September 26, 1999; Page B05
Dry Eyes in India's Valley of Death
By Muzamil Jaleel
Muzamil Jaleel is a reporter for Indian Express newspaper in Srinagar.
SRINAGAR, India--Being a newspaper reporter in Kashmir is undeniably
adventurous. There is hardly a lean day for a reporter hungry for news in
this valley of beauty and bloodshed in far northern India, along the
disputed border with Pakistan. Death and destruction are our staple fare,
our necessary thrill. We inhabit a veritable pasture of news; we can graze
at random and unearth fresh horrors.
The Indian government says 20,000 people have died in Kashmir since 1989,
when violent conflict broke out between the army and groups of armed
militants seeking independence. Others say the number is closer to 70,000.
I feel as if I have witnessed more than my share of those deaths, growing
more indifferent with each one.
Aug. 23, 1992, was my first day in journalism. I was 20. My first
assignment was to go to a police station here in Srinagar, the urban
center of the Kashmir Valley, and collect information on six dead bodies
lying there, riddled with bullets. I accompanied several photographers to
the station. They worked as I stared at the mutilated corpses in their
blood-soaked clothes. Their entrails were exposed, their faces,
unrecognizable. That evening, I could not eat. I couldn't sleep for days;
the corpses haunted my dreams.
At the time, I didn't realize that this was a prelude to an unending tryst
with death and mayhem. But as the months passed, and the deadly game
between security forces and militant groups continued, the violence began
to seem mundane to me, almost normal, a part of my daily reporting
routine. There were exceptions of course, days when death was anything but
Oct. 12, 1996, comes to mind: I'm half asleep, sipping my morning tea. The
phone rings. It's my police contact. My mind is racing as I begin to
scribble notes. How many? Where? When? I call my photographer and then I'm
out of my house, riding my bike like a madman. We arrive to find wailing
women and unshaven, huddled men. The dead bodies lie scattered, like rag
dolls discarded by careless children. I feel my legs growing heavy. I feel
incredibly tired. I want to throw down my notebook and sit silently with
the mourners. Then I hear the photographer's shutter clicking. The noise
forces me to remember that I have a story to do. I examine the bodies. I
take out my notebook and start asking my questions. Who? What time? Any
For years, there has been nothing to write or think about in the valley
except the violence. If I manage to avoid doing a news story on that day's
gory details, I inevitably end up writing a feature about orphans or
widows of the conflict. When violence rules the day, there is nothing but
tears to jerk from the reader's soul.
Nietzsche once compared journalists to crows alighting from a wire one by
one to swoop down on a hapless victim. If this is what we are, waiting
with our notebooks and cameras for death to strike again, then the killing
fields of Kashmir offer a feast, even for the most gluttonous birds of
prey. In the evening, no journalist here can think of leaving the office
without scanning the police bulletin on the day's toll of army bunkers
assaulted, houses destroyed by fire, militants gunned down. If we missed
something, our editors would be most unhappy.
As I became more proficient at chronicling this unending cycle of death, I
felt more satisfaction at the end of the day, rather than revulsion and
sleeplessness. Killings meant bylines, headlines, good play. Every day, my
colleagues and I would gather, like vultures on a wire, to await the next
tragedy, hoping we would make Page 1.
Finally, the time came when I lost a close school friend in the
violence--and felt nothing. I wanted to cry, but the tears had dried up.
My friend's was one of perhaps 20 routine deaths I saw that day in the
police bulletin. Because I was unmoved, I felt ashamed and afraid of
What has happened to me? Have I sacrificed normal human feelings to the
thrill of reporting such violence? I am immune to death. I have lost the
ability to mourn. I am numb.
And I watch with horror my own excitement as I launch into the next story:
Ten killed, 14 wounded . . . that is my tragedy as a reporter in Kashmir.
Muzamil Jaleel is a reporter for Indian Express newspaper in Srinagar.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, September 30, 1999
Bombs and dams cop the big stick from Roy
"Silence in indefensible ... Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy.
Photo by PETER RAE
By SHARON VERGHIS
In that great old political tradition, Arundhati Roy speaks softly and
carries a big stick. The author slipped into town yesterday for a bit of
rest and relaxation, but plans to renew her fight against big business, the
bomb and bureaucracy at a lecture to promote her new book, The Cost of
Living, in Melbourne next week.
Like that other Booker Prize-winning author from the subcontinent, Salman
Rushdie, the soft-spoken Roy - whose best-selling debut, The God of Small
Things, won the Booker in 1997 - has attracted death threats and had copies
of her novels burnt. In Roy's case, it's due to her stand against the
Gujarat Government's plans to dam one of India's largest rivers.
"There've been the usual arguments made that a writer of fiction shouldn't
be writing non-fiction about social and political issues, but I think that's
rubbish," Roy said.
In the western Indian state of Gujarat, where the Government plans to build
3,200 dams on the Narmada River, sugar cane farmers - the main beneficiaries
of the massive construction project - have burnt copies of The God of Small
Although she says she will never return to Gujarat for fear for her life,
Roy has just completed a six-day protest march in the Narmada Valley in
solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of villagers who will be displaced
if the building of the main dam - currently stopped under a Supreme Court
order - goes ahead. "It was amazing, it really gave me hope to see over 500
people join me to fight for this river and these people and their way of
life. I think that's hope; that shows there's a current of activism out
there to do what's right," she said. Roy said she was similarly reviled by
the right-wing press and Hindu nationalist political parties for attacking
the country's nascent nuclear weapons industry. But as she writes in The End
of Imagination, one of the book's two extended essays, "silence is
"I believe that as a writer, one's role is to open your eyes and see and to
speak out against things that you know are wrong."
The May 1998 nuclear test explosion in the lunar-moonscape vastness of
Pokhran symbolised the end of India's innocence, she said.
It was an added travesty that "billions" were being funnelled into nuclear
weapons development in a country where more than 400 million people were
illiterate, more than 600 million lacked basic sanitation and 200 million
had no safe drinking water. "The day after the nuclear tests, there were
young men in the streets celebrating the bomb as a national triumph while
condemning Western culture by emptying cans of Coke in the streets," Roy said.
"Coke is Western culture but the nuclear bomb is an old Indian tradition? We
have a long way to go."
Sept. 27, 1999
A Child's View of Chaos
'Earth' offers a snapshot of India's partition
By Anjali Arora
Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta isn't one to shy away from tough
topics. Her controversial 1996 film "Fire" explored the development of a
lesbian relationship in middle-class India. Her latest work, "Earth,"
tackles a politically ambitious subject the 1947 partition of India and
the birth of Pakistan but is devoid of the jubilance that marks the
country's Independence Day celebrations. Rather, "Earth" is a poignant
reminder that India might have lost as much as it gained in the struggle
Based on the book "Cracking India," a semiautobiographical account by
author Bapsi Sidhwa, the film surveys India as the British depart,
approaching the partisan struggle from a neutral standpoint. Mehta's
window to the mayhem is Lenny (Maia Sethna), the privileged 8-year-old
daughter of a Parsee family in Lahore. An only child slowed by a leg
brace, Lenny is doted upon by her young nanny, Shanta (Nandita Das), and
friends including Dil Nawaz (Aamir Khan), an affable ice cream vendor, and
Hasan (Rahul Khanna), a shy masseuse. But something slowly overcomes
Lenny's circle of caretakers: once close friends despite their religious
differences, their relationships wither in the growing heat of communal
tension. Lenny questions the hatred, her naivete disappearing as villages
burn and friends escape. The country's discrepancies in class and culture
only lend a cruel irony to events: when a young Muslim refugee tells Lenny
of his mother's rape and murder, she asks what rape is. When she invites
him home for birthday cake, he has to ask what cake is.
"Earth" offers a sadly realistic snapshot of the mixed emotions and
violent chaos that accompanied India's independence. Though the story is
underdeveloped in parts (the central love affair between Shanta and Hasan
feels slightly forced), Mehta's coup is her portrayal of the partition's
specific horrors, detailed as vividly as an old grandfather's memories.
Trains filled with corpses are sent back and forth across the border;
terrified Hindus convert to avoid persecution; neighborhoods of all
religious persuasions are slowly engulfed in flames. In an excellent
performance from Khan, Nawaz embodies the metamorphosis from carefree soul
to hardened warrior, joining the warfare after losing his sisters to
Mehta's sensitive direction is a reflection of her experience. The
44-year-old director grew up in Amritsar, where "every family has a horror
story to tell," she says. The conflicts at Kargil this spring lend a sad
timeliness to her film, but Mehta hopes the movie will offer a glimpse of
the Subcontinent's history. Indeed, with strong acting and a wonderful mix
of characters, "Earth" not only captures the nation's lost innocence, but
leaves the viewer pondering an important irony: how to celebrate the
freedom of a country that lost half its territory amid mind-numbing
Tuesday, September 21, 1999
South China Morning Post: SOUTH ASIA TODAY
Dhaka forced to face sex taboos
BANGLADESH by ARSHAD MAHMUD in Dhaka
Homosexuality, in theory, does not even exist. But in reality,
its practice is creating a dilemma for Bangladeshi authorities,
social workers and medical professionals.
They simply do not seem to know how to deal with it.
The subject has been strictly taboo in this predominantly
So when the daily Manavzamin reported about a police
clampdown on homosexuals in Dhaka, many readers seem to
have been jolted by the revelation of their existence.
The reaction of many, even among the educated, was that
homosexuality in Bangladesh was an absurd suggestion and
that gays plying their trade in public was preposterous.
When police arrested 15 boys and men two weeks ago, they
did not use the word "homosexual", instead describing them as
"perverts" on their charge sheets.
The action, police said, was aimed at curbing "a growing
It is not difficult to find male "sex workers" in the city. Each
evening they can be seen loitering at busy intersections and
parks that are well-known pick-up points.
But the clampdown caused another headache for police
because there is no law on the statute books to specifically
deal with the problem.
So a Dhaka magistrate charged the "perverts" with causing a
"public nuisance" and fined them 500 takas (HK$79) each. All
were released and, as expected, are back in business.
However, that is not the end of the story. What has caused
consternation among various professional groups and social
scientists is the arrest of a worker from a non-government
organisation. He was accused of pandering to the "business".
The Bandhu Social Welfare Society is reported to have been
supplying condoms and providing advice on safe sex to
"This is an issue which exists in every society and we must not
pretend that it doesn't exist here. No amount of intimidation or
arrests is going to solve the problem," said Dr Halida Hanum
Khandker, president of Confidential Approach to Aids
"We cannot turn a blind eye to the problem, rather we should
all try to tackle it in a practical way," said Mushtaque Ali,
executive director of Incidence, a group that provides medical
assistance to male sex workers.
Incidence began its work three years ago after conducting a
study that revealed young boys, mostly poor and homeless,
were being increasingly used as sex workers.
Among male sex workers in Dhaka, two brothers named Kalam
and Lalu are perhaps the best known. Aged 26 and 24
respectively, both are dumb.
An elder brother tried beating them to stop their "horrible
acts", but now others in the family accept the situation. A
nephew said: "Every morning my uncles come home with their
pockets bulging with money. For poor people like us, money is
South Asia Citizens Web Dispatch is an informal, independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run by South Asia Citizens Web