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SACW #1 (2 Dec. 01)

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire | Dispatch #1 2 December 2001 http://www.mnet.fr/aiindex ... #1. Women, Rights and Afghanistan: Dr. Sima Simar Tours Canada #2.
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      South Asia Citizens Wire | Dispatch #1
      2 December 2001
      http://www.mnet.fr/aiindex

      ------------------------------------------

      #1. Women, Rights and Afghanistan: Dr. Sima Simar Tours Canada
      #2. Radical Salafism (Bernard Haykel)
      #3. Pakistan: Xenophobic collective state of mind (Manzur Ejaz)
      #4. India: History a la Joshi (Kuldip Nayar)
      #5. India: The Problems of Plenty (Joanna Slater)
      #6. New York Times disinformation on India (Mike Marqusee)
      #7. India: Press Note - Public Hearing by the Dam oustees
      ________________________

      #1.

      Women, Rights and Afghanistan:
      Dr. Sima Simar Tours Canada
      When: 1-Dec-01 to 15-Dec-01

      Dr. Sima Samar has been selected as this year's John Humphrey Freedom
      Award recipient for her courageous efforts towards strengthening the
      human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan and in refugee camps
      in Pakistan.

      As part of a cross-Canada tour, Dr. Samar will be visiting nine
      cities: Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal,
      Fredericton, Ottawa, Toronto and Guelph.

      For further details, see these Websites:
      Rights & Democracy
      http://www.ichrdd.ca
      and
      Women for Women Afghanistan
      http://www.w4wafghan.ca/

      _____

      #2.

      The Hindu Saturday, Dec 01, 2001
      Opinion

      Radical Salafism
      By Bernard Haykel

      Military victory in Afghanistan will not end the problem of radical
      Salafism... moderate Muslims are the only forces that can ultimately
      defeat the extremists.

      RADICAL SALAFISM is the ideology of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda
      organisation. Its particular world view can be understood by looking
      at the roots of this ideology in Islamic intellectual history and by
      realising that its teachings have been marginal to and opposed by
      mainstream Islamic thought. Muslims in the modern period are either
      Sunnis (90 per cent) or Shias (10 per cent). The distinction pertains
      to a dispute over the spiritual and political leadership of the
      Muslim community after the death of Prophet Muhammad. In matters of
      politics, two principles are strongly identified with the Sunnis: 1)
      they are loath to declare fellow Muslims infidels, a practice called
      takfir; 2) they prohibit war against Muslim rulers, however
      tyrannical these may be, so long as Islam remains the religion of
      state and Islamic law is enforced. Sunnis argue that adherence to
      these two principles is crucial to maintaining social order and to
      avoid warfare amongst Muslims which might lead to the demise of Islam
      itself.

      Osama and his followers are Sunnis of the Salafi branch. Salafism is
      a minoritarian tendency within Islam that dates back to the 9th
      century - under the name of Ahl al-Hadith - and whose central
      features were crystallised in the teachings of a 14th century
      scholar, Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Ibn Taymiyya's
      importance lies in that he was willing to hereticise fellow Muslims
      who did not share his views and, more importantly, he declared a
      permissible war against Muslim rulers who did not apply the Shari'a
      (he advocated war against the Mongols who had declared themselves
      Muslims but did not apply Islamic law).

      Salafism's hallmark is a call to modern Muslims to revert back to the
      pure Islam of Prophet Muhammad's generation and the two generations
      that followed his. Muslims of this early period are referred to as
      al-salaf al-salih (the pious forefathers) whence the name Salafi.
      Salafism's message is utopian, its adherents seeking to transform
      completely the Muslim community and to ensure that Islam, as a system
      of belief and governance, eventually dominates the globe (Osama bin
      Laden quote?). Salafis are not against technological progress nor its
      fruits; they do, however, abhor all innovations in belief and
      practice that are not anchored in their conception of the pristine
      Islamic age. They refer to such reprehensible innovations as bida, a
      term of deligitimation in Islamic law or the Shari'a.

      Another salient feature of Salafism is an obsession with God's
      oneness while condemning all forms of polytheism (shirk) and unbelief
      (kufr). Certain Sufi practices (Sufis are mystics of Islam), such as
      visiting the graves of great Sufi masters, are condemned by the
      Salafis as diminishing true belief in Allah. The world according to
      the Salafis is unequivocally divided between the domains of belief
      (iman) and unbelief, and it is incumbent on Muslims to be certain
      they remain in the domain of belief. This they can do only if they
      are Salafis. In its radical form Salafism leads to the practice of
      takfir. This is exactly what Osama did in his November 4 statement:
      Muslims who are not with him are, by definition, infidels.

      The mantle of Ibn Taymiyya's teachings was most famously taken up by
      a movement in central Arabia in the 18th century. Known to its
      enemies as the Wahhabi movement, its adherents called themselves the
      Muwahhidun (believers in the oneness of God). The Wahhabis had a
      powerful reformist message and were able to galvanise the tribes of
      central Arabia into a powerful military force that allowed them to
      conquer much of the territory of present-day Saudi Arabia for a short
      period. So great was their zeal to focus all the beliefs and
      religious practices of fellow Muslims on God alone, that the Wahhabis
      destroyed in 1805 tombs in Medina. Such excesses, including the
      declaring of fellow Muslims as infidels whose blood could be shed,
      horrified the wider Muslim world leading the Ottoman Sultan to send
      an Egyptian military force and destroy the fledgling Wahhabi state in
      1818. The example the Wahhabis set, however, left an indelible mark
      on Islamic world and like-minded Muslims would look to their
      experience as a model to be emulated.
      King Abd al-Aziz ibn Sa'ud, commonly known as Ibn Sa'ud, founder of
      the present Saudi kingdom, based his rule and conquests on Salafi
      doctrine, and this remains the ideology of Saudi Arabia today.
      However, it is important to know two features that distinguish the
      official Salafism of the Saudi kingdom from the teachings of these
      radical Salafis. The Saudis believe that: 1) war against an Islamic
      ruler is not permitted, and 2) declaring fellow Muslims to be
      infidels is also not permitted. For this reason, the Saudi Minister
      of Islamic Affairs stated on October 19, in the aftermath of the WTC
      attacks, that ``obedience to Islamic rulers is obligatory for
      Muslims''.

      A principal reason radical Salafis like Osama advocate violence
      against the Saudi state is in relation to the presence of U.S. troops
      on Saudi soil. By permitting this, says Osama, the Saudis are no
      longer adhering to Islamic law and consequently war against them is
      permissible.

      Such differences in abstruse legal opinions, however, do not explain
      Osama's massive appeal among Muslims. It is his genius at
      manipulating images and symbols, as well as his ability to tap into a
      wellspring of legitimate Muslim and Arab resentment at U.S. foreign
      policies, that explains his success. Muslims live under the yoke of
      authoritarian regimes. Regimes that have succeeded in destroying the
      fabric of traditional Muslim education and networks of knowledge and
      socialisation.

      What Muslims react to enthusiastically is Osama's role as a leader
      and symbol of Muslim resistance to domestic and Western oppression.
      This reaction is fuelled by a century of arguments promoted by the
      Arab regimes that all the problems of the Arab and Muslim worlds are
      due to foreign intrigue, and are not due to any policies taken by the
      Arab and Muslim leaders themselves. This reasoning explains, for
      example, the eagerness with which so many Arabs and Muslims have
      accepted the theories that the September 11 attacks were the work of
      Jews and Zionists.

      So far, moderate Sunni Muslims have been reluctant to condemn Osama
      in the light of the September 11 events. This is a consequence of the
      quiescent political culture Sunnis subscribe to: pointing fingers at
      fellow believers might lead to the state of chaotic disorder they
      fear most. Moreover, the present conflict involves unbelievers
      (Christians and Jews) and Muslims prefer not to air their differences
      in public.
      Another reason for this conspicuous silence is that moderates feel
      the evidence incriminating Osama in the attacks has not been provided
      by the U.S. Finally, fear of violent retaliation by the radical
      Salafis has kept many silent. Moderate Muslims, many of whom have
      been and continue to be oppressed by Arab and Muslim Governments, do
      exist and must be encouraged to take centre stage.

      In short, the battle being waged today is at heart an internal
      Islamic one and may take a very long time to end. It is part of a
      larger battle about the very nature of Islamic society and politics,
      and one in which there are many sides (moderate Muslims,
      state-sponsored Muslims, radical and moderate Salafis, secular
      nationalists, and Shias). The U.S. is not, and cannot be, the primary
      actor in this ongoing drama.
      Military victory in Afghanistan will not end the problem of radical
      Salafism and more Osamas are available to continue the misguided
      struggle begun by him. The U.S., however, can participate as a
      catalyst for those moderate Muslims who are the only forces that can
      ultimately defeat the radical Salafis and promote a version of Islam
      that is neither extremist nor intrinsically antagonistic to the West.

      (The writer is Assistant Professor of Islamic Law, New York University.)

      ______

      #3.

      The News International 25 November 2001

      Washington Diary
      Xenophobic collective state of mind

      Dr Manzur Ejaz

      We, the Pakistanis, living home or abroad, have become
      master-monologues, despising or ignoring the value of a dialogue
      among ourselves and with others. We have convinced ourselves of prime
      target of persecution and discrimination by others without any
      realization of our infinite propensity to do the same in our own
      society and to others. In the course of time, instead of recognizing
      the historical and socio-political realities we have started living
      by cliches. Such a xenophobic collective state of mind is,
      inadvertently, serving the interests of our misplaced state and the
      ruling elite that have consistently undermined the rights of common
      citizens for personal gains.

      These days, the prized cliche is the American abandonment of Pakistan
      after the Soviet forced withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistani
      expatriates, interacting with the US politicians never miss a chance
      to remind them of their infidelity. Most of the time such questions
      are raised to prove patriotism among their selected peer groups.
      There is nothing wrong in bringing up this subject because the
      Americans did leave the region without fulfilling their
      responsibility. However, American infidelity has become a cliche that
      is excessively used to cloak many debacles of our own making.

      Most Pakistanis believe that Pakistan has always stood by the US in
      difficult times. A common perception is that despite joining US lead
      SEATO and CENTO agreements Pakistan was not helped when it needed it
      the most in its war against India. Fact of the matter is that the US
      gave Pakistan arms, worth billions of dollars, to fight Communism.
      Wisely, Pakistan did not actively participate in any anti-Communist
      war other than jailing a few of its own left leaning activist
      intellectuals and retired military officials.

      The SEATO and CENTO agreements were specifically designed to fight
      Communism and did not call for members' intervention if they are
      engaged in wars against non-Communist countries. Therefore, from the
      American angle, Pakistan misused its resources to fight India.
      Furthermore, if these were unfair agreements, Pakistani negotiators
      should have reviewed them closely before signing them. And, after it
      had been shown that the US is an unreliable ally, Pakistan should
      have terminated its close links with Americans and devised an
      alternative foreign policy. But, our governing elite, having vested
      interests in the US and its auxiliary international institutions,
      carried on their servile attitude with the richest superpower.

      Overwhelming majority of Pakistanis also believe that their country
      fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union for the US. It is an
      interesting episode. If one argues that the Soviet Union was defeated
      in Afghanistan with mammoth infusion of American (and Saudis)
      resources only, Zia-lovers start fuming. Quoting unpublished
      suspicious classified intelligence reports, they fervently assert
      that Zia had started anti-Soviet crusade much before the Americans
      showed any interest in Afghanistan. If this is true then the US
      helped Pakistan in its war against the Soviets and not the other way
      around. Nonetheless, it is amazing that the same Zia-lovers are
      usually in the forefront of accusing the US betraying Pakistan.

      Many enlightened Pakistanis were warning the Zia government of the
      pitfalls in its religious crusade in Afghanistan. Many scholars had
      predicted that Pakistan's indulgence in the Afghan war would result
      in social anarchy, religious bigotry, and prevalence of drug and
      Kalashanikov culture. Pakistan's ruling junta was not willing to
      listen to any dissenting voice. Ziaul Haq and his Islamic
      comrades-in-arm were determined to drive the pagans out of
      Afghanistan and cleanse the Pakistani society of 'impure' Muslims. A
      record number of enlightened Pakistani activists were forced out of
      the country during this period. Ziaul Haq and his cronies had a free
      hand to use Pakistan for their immature ideas.

      Much before the US abandoned Pakistan after the Soviet withdrew from
      Afghanistan, Ziaul Haq had successfully subverted Pakistani society.
      As a result of Zia's Islamization, religious fundamentalists had
      usurped the entire social space for themselves. Ethnic divisions had
      hardened because of warlike conditions in Karachi and Sindh.
      Corruption was rampant and state institutions had become empty
      shells. Nonetheless, many army men and inventive business people had
      become millionaires and billionaires during this period.

      Inflow of huge foreign funds in the name of the Afghan war and
      billions of dollars transmitted by overseas Pakistanis created an
      economic boom in Pakistan. Means of their wealth notwithstanding,
      several hundred Pakistanis
      were added to the list of notorious thirty richest families. The
      situation was further exacerbated when the hungry politicians
      accelerated the process of loot and plunder. The banks were emptied
      and state-run institutions were robbed mercilessly. The irony is that
      the rich continued getting richer while the US had allegedly betrayed
      and abandoned Pakistan. However, common Pakistani citizens got the
      short shrift in the entire process that benefited the selected ones
      in the last two decades. One can, and may be should, blame the US for
      abetting the ruling elite that ruined Pakistani society.

      Of course the US abandoned Pakistan and Afghanistan like it left its
      other poor allies after the Cold War ended. Of all, Afghanistan has a
      very genuine grudge against the US for abandoning it after the
      devastation of a prolonged war: The US was a party in the war and had
      a responsibility to rebuild it. Pakistan's economy also suffered
      because of lamentable penalties imposed by the US. However, most of
      Pakistan's problems were of its own making and had started much
      before the US changed its colours. But our evergreen ruling elite has
      cleverly shifted the entire responsibility to the US betrayal.

      The elite of many poor countries uses such mischievous techniques to
      cover its tracks. The colonialists were blamed for every societal ill
      for a few decades after independence. Now, the US is blamed if
      anything that goes wrong. Even the road accidents and electricity
      breakdowns are considered to be the misdeeds of Uncle Sam.
      Anti-Americanism has become opium of the masses, often used to delude
      the people for covering sins of the ruling elite. This is
      duplicitous: As if this so-called indigenous elite would create a
      heaven for the common citizens had the US remained engaged. What did
      they do for their people when the US was throwing money at them? And,
      did the ruling elite stop looting national wealth while the US choose
      to remain disengaged? No one, having direct or indirect access to
      state power, stopped allotting residential and agricultural lands to
      themselves or looting the nations and its people. Of course the US is
      the big boy in the block who uses unfair and highhanded tactics to
      get its way. But, the main responsibility lies with the ones who are
      at the helm of the society.

      _____

      #4.
      The Daily Star (Bangladesh) 1 December 2001
      Between the lineS
      History a la Joshi

      Kuldip Nayar, writes from New Delhi
      Proposals are afoot to abolish history books and replace them with a
      treatise on culture. One can imagine the hacking job Joshi will do.
      He is too biased and too fundamentalist to take any objective stand.
      He does not even understand what our composite culture means, let
      alone appreciate it... Joshi's exercise reminds me of the mess that
      Pakistan has made of history. It has started history with the arrival
      of Muslims in the subcontinent, nearly 1400 years ago. The
      Mohanjedaro and the Taxila relics in Pakistan testify to the culture
      of thousands of years back. But their mention has been deleted
      because that was the Hindu period...

      IT all began with a question on the 'Policy for Writing Text-books'
      in the Rajya Sabha. Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar
      Joshi was not even present in the House to give reply. He had left it
      to his minister of state. Leader of the House Foreign Minister
      Jaswant Singh was equally indifferent. He did not even come to the
      House during the uproar which lasted for more than an hour after a
      senior MP characterised the policy as the Talibanisation of education.

      Talibanisation may be a strong word to use for the deletion of
      certain portions from school history text-books. But what the
      National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the
      Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) have jointly done to
      mutilate history is in no way less than what the Taliban have done to
      disfigure human heritage. Since the ruling National Democratic
      Alliance and the opposition are so apart and politically so tense,
      particularly due to the coming UP election, that a sharp expression
      by either side throws parliament out of gear. It is not what is said
      is unbearable; it is the attitude which has become overbearing. The
      Taliban have come a cropper because of their fundamentalist outlook.
      It is only a matter of time when Joshi, under whose orders history
      has been communalised, will become a relic of the past and relegated
      to a footnote in history books. A person who refuses to accept
      anything which conflicts with the interpretation of his beliefs is
      too rigid to fit into the modern society. The tragedy is that the
      harm Joshi is doing to the country's ethos of pluralism may be
      difficult to erase.
      Joshi initiated the debate that some 'distortions' had crept into
      history books because the communist-minded teachers had authored
      them. But he never spelled out the distortions. Without any debate on
      what he found objectionable, he ordered the deletions.

      Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has said that they are willing to
      have a debate on what he has described as 'one-sided history'. But
      should there have been deletions before the debate? It is of little
      consequence now when Joshi has presented the country with a fait
      accompli. His fiat goes to the extent of saying that no class can
      even discuss the portions his ministry has found to be twisted.

      The deletions suggest that Joshi is annoyed mainly over the
      references to the killing of cows and the eating of beef. For
      example, one expunged portion is that cattle wealth was decimated
      because cows and bullocks were killed in numerous Vedic sacrifices.
      Another is that "beef was served as a mark of honour to special
      guests in the Vedic times" and that "in later centuries the Brahmins
      were forbidden to eat beef". Yet another is about the feeling of
      'antipathy' among the Brahmins towards Asoka and Buddhism because of
      'their anti-sacrifice attitude'.
      Such deletions smack of religious bias, not of concern over the
      accuracy of history. That Hindus do not eat beef (even the Kashmiri
      Muslims do not) is a well-known fact. There have been demonstrations
      by the sadhus in the past to demand a ban on cow-slaughter. They were
      once able to surround the Parliament House. Some of those who are
      presently at the helm of affairs were behind the agitation at that
      time. Still Mrs Indira Gandhi's government was able to resist the
      pressure and endorse the views of the Nehru-appointed committee that
      a total ban on slaughter of all cattle would not be in the best
      interest of the country as it was merely a negative approach.

      Joshi has also expunged one reference to the caste system as if the
      deletion will absolve Hinduism for the man-made differences. Why
      should he fight shy of students knowing that the caste is the worst
      kind of slavery that the upper castes have been sustaining for
      centuries? The portion deleted states a fact which cannot be wiped
      out even if its reference is dropped from history books.

      The expunged text is: The rigid bind of the caste system which
      started out as division of labour but was then 'made hereditary by
      law and religion'. The lower castes worked and toiled in the belief
      that they 'would deserve a better life in the next world or
      birth...What was done by slaves and other producing sections in
      Greece and Rome under the threat of whip was done by vaishyas and
      shudras out of conviction formed through Brahminical indoctrination
      and the varna system."

      Whom are we trying to fool when we shut our eyes to the reality? The
      caste into which one is born is the result of one's past life, Hindus
      believe. One will be reborn in a future life in accordance with one's
      behaviour in this life. This record of behaviour through former lives
      is a man's karma. A man rises in caste through life after lifeor
      through incarnation after incarnationas his karma shows a record of
      increasing virtue.
      True, the constitution of India today outlaws 'untouchability', and
      makes it a criminal offence to discriminate against anyone because of
      his caste, colour or creed. But the caste system is still very strong
      because of its basis in religion. Joshi or his party the BJP does not
      want to effect reforms in Hinduism and prefers to stay content with
      the rewriting of history.

      In fact, this is befooling oneself. Proposals are afoot to abolish
      history books and replace them with a treatise on culture. One can
      imagine the hacking job Joshi will do. He is too biased and too
      fundamentalist to take any objective stand. He does not even
      understand what our composite culture means, let alone appreciate it.
      I do not agree with those who attribute more importance to
      archaeological evidence than to traditions and writings connected
      with the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and saints like Guru Teg Bahadur.
      Whether they are myths, mere mythology or something else, they are
      part and parcel of Hinduism. They cannot be rejectedhistorian Vincent
      Smith tried to do thatjust because there is no monument to support
      their veracity. If Joshi had allowed a discussion on that, students
      would have themselves rejected the thesis. Hinduism is more a way of
      life than the rituals which are increasingly entangling it. Openness
      is its strength, not weakness. Let it stay that way. The government's
      attitude to parochialise history is, however, only one example. For
      the first time in the last 40 years, when the International Trade
      Fair at Delhi became an annual factor, handicrafts by Muslims and
      Sikhs have been displayed separately at a section called, 'Minority
      Handicrafts'. Handicrafts are either good or bad, they are not tagged
      as minority or majority. During the British rule, earthen pitchers
      were categorised as Hindu water and Muslim water. Joshi's exercise
      reminds me of the mess that Pakistan has made of history. It has
      started history with the arrival of Muslims in the subcontinent,
      nearly 1400 years ago. The Mohanjedaro and the Taxila relics in
      Pakistan testify to the culture of thousands of years back. But their
      mention has been deleted because that was the Hindu period and the
      days of togetherness. What a way to close eyes to facts! History is
      history, you cannot choose certain events and reject the rest. Akbar
      tried to fight against orthodoxy. Pakistan Studies, a compulsory text
      book for the intermediate class in Pakistan, says: "As a result of
      Akbar's liberal policies the very existence of true Islam in South
      Asia was threatened. Those who opposed these policies were either
      martyred or exiled. All of this contributed immensely to the
      resolution of the Hindu nationalists. Imagine their pleasure at the
      Muslim adoption of Hindu dress and customs." Did Joshi take his cue
      from here?

      Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.

      ____

      #5.

      Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong)
      6 December 2001
      AGRICULTURE

      The Problems Of Plenty
      A combination of bumper harvests and high support prices has landed
      the Food Corp. of India with a growing mountain of grain. It is also
      forcing the government to review its policy on agricultural subsidies

      By Joanna Slater/MUMBAI

      ABOUT AN HOUR outside Mumbai, there is a sleepy government warehouse
      that, depending on your perspective, represents either one of India's
      finest achievements or one of its greatest embarrassments. In room
      after room, coarse sacks filled with grain rise toward the ceiling,
      piled on top of each other in bulky towers. The air is thick with
      dust motes and the smell of wheat.

      At hundreds of state-run depots across the country, it's the same
      scene. India's public stock of food grains is at an all-time high,
      and next spring, it will grow still further to a whopping 80 million
      tonnes, or four times the amount necessary in case of a national
      emergency. Yet while that wheat and rice sits idle--in some cases for
      years, to the point of rotting--millions of Indians don't have enough
      to eat.

      At the centre of the conundrum is the Food Corp. of India, whose aim
      is to give support to farmers and stock nourishment for the needy.
      Instead, it acts as a vast holding system for mountains of grain
      bought at fixed prices. Storage costs alone, according to officials,
      touch $2 billion a year.

      Until recently, the government showed little inclination to check the
      waste. Last month, however, it began floating a proposal that would
      vastly reduce its role in the food-grain business by handing over
      much of its existing operation to the private sector. "At the present
      stage of its development, the country can ill afford the continuation
      of such a situation," says Shanta Kumar, the minister for consumer
      affairs and public distribution.
      While the reform suggested by the government is a start, much more
      will be required to fix a food system that is badly broken. Like many
      other older state-run institutions, the FCI is a legacy of a very
      different India. Created during a time when the country's greatest
      worry was famine, the FCI now presides over the opposite dilemma:
      plenty amid deprivation. The shift has been equally dramatic for
      Indian farmers themselves, who must now adjust to a situation of
      increasing global competition under the World Trade Organization (see
      story on page 64).

      In fact, the two phenomena are related. Because the FCI buys grain
      from farmers at such attractive prices, it doesn't "allow agriculture
      to adjust rationally," says Subir Gokarn, chief economist at the
      National Centre for Applied Economic Research in New Delhi. Too many
      acres are devoted to wheat and rice, says Gokarn, at the expense of
      other crops that might develop into profitable export niches.

      Though observers disagree on how to revamp the government's purchase
      and distribution of grain, no one disputes the need for change. The
      problem begins at the busy agricultural markets in the country's
      breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana. As a sop to farmers there,
      the government every year sets a minimum price at which it acquires
      wheat and rice, with no cap on the quantity of grain to be purchased.
      Over the last few years, the amount procured has risen steadily--30
      million tonnes in 1999, 35 million tonnes in 2000--thanks partly to
      generous prices offered by the government.

      During the same period, the amount of grain actually released into a
      national network of subsidized-food shops known as the
      public-distribution system has decreased. Of that, up to 30% may be
      diverted back into the open market, according to one study, thanks to
      rampant corruption. India thus finds itself in "a piquant situation,"
      said the country's comptroller and auditor-general in a hard-hitting
      speech earlier this year. "While more attention is being given and
      more money is being spent, the outcome is the opposite of what we
      expected."

      In September, the Supreme Court agreed, demanding an explanation from
      the central government and certain states as to why the
      public-distribution system had ceased to function properly. Colin
      Gonsalves, one of the lawyers who argued the petition, says that
      globalization is partly to blame for a situation where public stocks
      of grain sit unused. According to the logic of free markets, "to give
      away a sackful of grain to a poor person is bad economics," he says.
      "But what can be more important than feeding people who are starving?"
      The change proposed by the government sidesteps that question. It
      would maintain the policy of setting a minimum price for wheat and
      rice, but abandon the practice of buying and storing unlimited
      amounts of grain. Farmers would therefore sell their harvest on the
      open market; if the market price were less than the minimum support
      price, the government would reimburse the difference. Such an
      alternative "will reduce the stocks and the associated financial
      burden, but it will do little to alleviate hunger," asserts Jean
      Dreze, a professor at the Delhi School of Economics who helped draft
      the Supreme Court petition.
      Experts like Dreze say the root of the trouble is the fixed price
      itself. Initially, the policy aimed to protect farmers from the
      vagaries of the market and ensure the country would become
      self-sufficient in food grains. It succeeded all too well. In recent
      years, the fixed prices have increased faster than inflation.
      Supposedly based on the cost of production, the prices tend to be
      determined by "a vocal lobby with a marketable surplus," says V.S.
      Vyas, chairman of the Jaipur-based Institute for Rural Development.

      SCRAP FIXED PRICES
      Not surprisingly, that economic burden doesn't translate into great
      news for poor consumers, who only access the grain after an expensive
      stint in FCI godowns. Families living below the poverty line can then
      buy it at half the total price the government paid to procure and
      store it--a price that, depending on the region, isn't that much less
      than market rates. As a result, Vyas favours scrapping the
      fixed-price system altogether: The government should buy only the
      necessary grain from the open market, he says, and neither the prices
      nor the quantities should be announced in advance.

      However, behind all the talk of reform looms an unanswered question:
      what to do with the current stocks? Even if the government were to
      buy no more grain at all from farmers, it would still take eight
      years to clear the warehouses at current distribution rates. Various
      attempts to use the stocks in food-for-work and other welfare
      programmes have met with limited success. "All useless," snorts one
      senior government official.
      Exports are an option, but remain small and hobbled by inadequate
      infrastructure. Giving away the grain as aid to needy countries is
      another possible outlet.

      When pressed, however, officials admit they don't know exactly what
      will be done with the burgeoning stocks. "That is the million-dollar
      question," says S.N. Sharma, an executive director of the FCI.

      The dilemma highlights the uneasy coexistence between government
      interventions and the free market. Doing the most obvious thing from
      a humanitarian point of view--distributing the grain free or at
      cut-rate prices--will disrupt the grain market, except where it's
      done on the margin and only to help the poorest of poor.
      Meanwhile, as politicians and experts debate the way forward, the
      bags of wheat and rice continue to sit piled in government
      warehouses, a silent testament to a policy gone wrong.

      ____


      #6.

      New York Times disinformation on India

      LETTER TO GUARDIAN FOR PUBLICATION
      23 November

      Thomas Friedman's New York Times article (Guardian 23 November) on
      Muslims in India exemplifies the kind of disinformation that has kept
      people in the US in the dark about global realities.

      Among the recent events that Friedman omits to report are: the
      desecration of the Taj Mahal by activists of the ruling Bharatiya
      Janata Party, the shooting dead by police of ten Muslim demonstrators
      in Malegaon in Maharashtra, the banning of radical Islamic groups,
      government attempts to impose 'Vedic mathematics' and other methods
      of 'Hinduising' Indian soiciety, and the severe restrictions on civil
      liberties (particularly threateing to Muslims and other minorities)
      currently being rushed through in the guise of 'anti-terrorism'
      legislation.
      Friedman quotes actress Shabana Azmi's welcome critique of the
      reactionary Imam of the Jama Masjid in Delhi but omits any reference
      to her equally forceful criticisms of the attacks on Muslims by the
      Indian government and media. He also omits any reference to the
      persecution of Christians mounted in recent years by forces
      associated with the ruling party.

      Friedman's report is one of many efforts to conceal from the US
      public the fact that among the most strident supporters of the US's
      'war against terrorism' are the Hindu fundamentalists who now control
      the central government in India. Sitting on the Indian cabinet are
      individuals, including Home Minister Advani, who are directly
      complicit in the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya 1992 - an
      act of vandalism and intolerance as unacceptabe as the Taliban's
      blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

      With reports like Friedman's, it's no wonder so many people in the US
      find it difficult to grasp the destructive hypocrisy of their
      government's policies around the world.

      Mike Marqusee
      London N16 [UK]

      _____

      #7.
      B-13, Shivam Flats, Ellora Park, Baroda-390007 [India]
      Phone:0265 282232, Email: baroda@...

      Press Note: 1.12.2001

      Public Hearing at Kevadia colony by the SSP oustees and the
      distortion by Media and Government of Gujarat

      The flawed and distorted report on the Public Hearing in Kevadia
      Colony held on 23.11.2001 are not shocking but rather revealing. The
      criticism leveled against NBA by media and ruling party shows the
      well known callousness and lack of sincerity in the oustees issue
      while claiming ideal rehabilitation. While Ex-justice of Gujarat High
      Court, Ex-Chief Justice of Rajasthan alongwith Haroobhai Mehta, one
      of the senior advocate, Kiritbhai Bhatt, senior journalist cum
      editor, and Sohan Singh of PUCL where the judges who thought it their
      duty to hear the oustees of Sardar Sarovar reservoir, Colony, Canal,
      they were unjustifiably attacked and defamed by media and a handful
      of politicians, who are indeed working against the interest of the
      affected people and the project itself.

      The oustees of six villages and others under Narmada Bachao Andolan
      decided to hold a Public Hearing only since their genuine grievances
      are not being addressed over years and decades. What was organised in
      Kevadia colony on 23rd November, was a simple Public Hearing. What we
      saw was a totally distorted and biased media reports through pro-dam
      reporters. Eventhough hundreds of oustees were arrested and prevented
      by police from attending and expressing their grievances in the
      public hearing, many hundreds succeeded in attending the hearing.
      Colony affected ousted in 1961, Canal affected ousted since 1979,
      rockfill-dyke affected ousted in 1985, and reservoir affected ousted
      since 1980s deprived of their life supporting systems who are
      relocated and not resettled. The first 3 groups left out of the scope
      of R&R policy, the reservoir affected entitled for land for land,
      community resettlement, etc. alongwith other amenities but large
      number of them already evicted are yet to get their due entitlements.
      Public hearing became necessary, as the Grievance Redressal Authority
      (Gujarat) have not shown the capacity to solve the main problems of
      land. GRA even refused to give an appointment to the organised
      oustees.

      The arrest of adivasis at 3 am on the previous night, later arrest of
      Medha Patkar inspite of release within 10 minutes due to the presence
      ad intervention of sensible senior police officer and not taking any
      action against the handful of politicians who tried to sabotage the
      public hearing clearly shows the callousness of the state government
      towards the oustees and state's desperation to scuttle the people's
      voice and its incapacity to deal with non-violent people's movement.

      In fact, even the Supreme Court has said in its order that complete
      resettlement and rehabilitation is a must and non-fulfillment will
      lead to stop the dam construction inspite of approval of authorities
      and governments.

      The Public Hearing was successful inspite of all the efforts to
      sabotage it and the years old grievances of adivasis were heard by
      all the judges with sensitivity and understanding.

      The state, various political parties and media need to understand
      that with no possibility of greening Kutch and Saurashtra and extreme
      inadequacies as well as non-implementation in the case of
      resettlement policies, the monstrous Sardar Sarovar Project can not
      be pushed ahead. The political expediency will only boomerang as it
      has been the case. The adivasis and others of Gujarat, already
      affected and to be affected in the Sanctuary in Dadiapada, in Narmada
      district, canal, colony, reservoir are determined to raise their
      voice against injustice.

      M.K.Sukumar
      Geetanjali

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