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SACW | 18 Feb 2005

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    South Asia Citizens Wire | 18 Feb., 2005 via: www.sacw.net [1] Nepal: (i) Radio Free Nepal Blog (ii) After Nepal s Royal Coup - Making the King see
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2005
      South Asia Citizens Wire | 18 Feb., 2005
      via: www.sacw.net

      [1] Nepal:
      (i) Radio Free Nepal Blog
      (ii) After Nepal's Royal Coup - Making the King see reason (Praful Bidwai)
      [2] The South Asia People's Forum Petition to Secretary General, SAARC
      [3] Bangladesh:
      (i) International Forum for A Secular Democratic Bangladesh
      (ii) It's an attack on progress - The ugly face of extremism again
      [4] India Through Pakistani Eyes - Observations
      on science and society in India (Pervez Hoodbhoy)
      [5] Pakistan:
      - An open letter to the President re
      representation of women and labour in local govt
      - Slashing Women's Representation [In Local Government]
      [6] India: Needed a Tsunami to destroy the Ugly
      relic of Varna system (V.B.Rawat)
      [7] Letter Re Documentary "Born Into Brothels" (Partha Banerjee)

      Upcoming Events
      [8] Book release @ Anhad: 'In the Name of Rama'
      by Aabid Surti (New Delhi, February 21, 2005)
      [9] Montreal International Women's Day 2005 (5th and 8th of March)
      [10] 3rd international festival for experimental
      film in India (Bombay, February 23-26 | Delhi,
      March 2-5)





      o o o o


      The Praful Bidwai Column
      February 14, 2005

      By Praful Bidwai

      Recent developments have put paid to the slender
      hope that Nepal's King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah
      Dev would substantially relax the draconian
      restrictions he imposed on the freedoms of
      expression, political activity and movement on
      February 1, when he dismissed Prime Minister Sher
      Bahadur Deuba and assumed absolute power. The
      executive monarch has banned criticism of the
      security forces "made directly or indirectly",
      prohibited political activities by "public
      servants", and threatened to seize people's
      property whenever "necessary". Telephone
      connections in Nepal remain under tight
      surveillance and protest rallies are broken up
      even as political leaders escape to India to
      evade detention.

      Evidently, strong criticism of the royal coup by
      the international community, including the United
      Nations, major Western Powers and India, hasn't
      yet had much impact. This might appear strange
      considering that Nepal's monarch
      rules-uncertainly and shakily-over one of the
      world's 10 poorest countries, which badly depends
      on foreign aid, and that his writ doesn't run in
      two-thirds of Nepal's 75 districts, where Maoists

      King Gyandendra has probably had tacit or covert
      support from a major Power. Or else, he wouldn't
      have ignored repeated warnings by the US, Britain
      and India against dismissing Mr Deuba. Nor would
      he have reportedly misled New Delhi by sending an
      emissary only a couple of days before the
      dismissal, who delivered the opposite message.

      In all likelihood, the power backing the King is
      China. On January 21, he closed down two offices
      of the Dalai Lama, active in Nepal for 45 years.
      Beijing lavished praise on him for this. China
      refused to deplore the coup despite its grave
      implications for the entire Himalayan region, and
      described it as Nepal's "internal matter". The
      King is probably playing "the China Card". (Nepal
      also plays the "India Card" when that suits it.)

      This is a high-risk gamble. It's unlikely that
      Chinese support alone would see King Gyanendra
      through all the troubles he'll face. Under
      international pressure, Beijing could dump him as
      easily as it backed him. This happened in the
      early 1990s, when Nepal became a democracy. China
      is unlikely to forgo dividends from improved
      relations with India for dubious short-term
      influence within Nepal.

      The King has risked an even more reckless gamble
      by taking a purely personal decision to grab
      absolute power and declare a state of emergency
      for three long years. He has removed the buffer
      between himself and an increasingly restive
      population and thus put the Palace in the line of
      fire. From now on, he won't have the luxury of
      blaming political parties-for whom he publicly
      expresses disdain-for the nation's growing
      problems. His actions will probably further
      aggravate Nepal's multiple crises of
      governability and erode his own authority and
      credibility. The Nepali economy, already in deep
      trouble, could face a virtual collapse.

      The King's takeover is now spurring Nepal's
      parliamentary parties and the Maoists into a
      joint opposition to demand a lifting of the
      emergency and restoration of democratic freedoms.
      The longer the King resists this, the greater and
      more coherent the opposition will become. Indeed,
      a well-focused demand to restore civil liberties
      will energise the crisis-ridden parties. Since
      the King's dismissal of the first Deuba
      government in 2002, more and more political
      leaders belonging to the mainstream have veered
      around to demanding a quasi-republican
      Constitution, to be written by a new Constituent
      Assembly. They include leaders from the Koirala
      and Deuba factions of the Nepali Congress, the
      Communist Party (United Marxist-Leninist), the
      Ekta Mashal Group, and the Terai-based Sadbhavana
      Party. Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai named
      them on January 19 in Kantipur daily.

      The King has committed a grave blunder by
      usurping power. The Nepali people, who have
      tasted freedom for 15 years, prefer multi-party
      democracy to monarchy. An August-September 2003
      survey by Tribhuvan University social scientists
      shows that 62 percent of Nepalis say "democracy
      is always preferable to any other form of
      government." (Only 10 percent say
      authoritarianism is acceptable, while 28 percent
      are indifferent.) Seventyeight percent favour
      either a limited monarchy or its abolition-far
      more numerous than the 22 percent who want an
      executive monarchy. The King's rule by proxy
      since October 2002 has produced poor results and
      fresh antagonisms. Ninetyone percent of all
      Nepalis want either a new constitution or
      amendments to the existing constitution.

      Given this, the Maoists' demand for a round-table
      conference, an interim government and a
      Constituent Assembly is likely to gather popular
      support. Many hitherto-hesitant leaders will
      embrace it. In that case, the future of the Shah
      dynasty could itself be in jeopardy.

      The King, then, faces a serious challenge. No
      wonder he's making awkward overtures to the
      Maoists by inviting them to talks. The government
      cites the Maoists' past statements that they
      would prefer talking to the King directly rather
      than his toothless surrogates. The Maoists will
      reject this offer especially after the February 8
      helicopter raids on them. They now regard the
      King as an absolutist and feudal "national
      betrayer," who wants to take Nepal back to the
      15th century!

      A precondition for meaningful talks between the
      Palace and any representatives of the Nepali
      people is release of political leaders, and
      restoration of civil liberties. The King must be
      firmly told this by the whole world, in
      particular, India, which has a special
      relationship with Nepal. This derives from the
      1950 Treaty of Friendship, and a lot else. India
      and Nepal have innumerable family links and an
      open border permitting the free movement of
      people with duty-free access to goods. Nepalis
      can join India's armed forces-where over 30,000
      of them serve-and rise to the highest levels.
      They can also join India's civil services. Their
      two currencies are tied. Many Nepalis would feel
      let down if India doesn't pressure the King to
      restore a modicum of freedom.

      However, New Delhi must be sensitive to Nepali
      concerns and sensibilities about India's
      overwhelming presence and occasional
      high-handedness. The Nepalis resent India's
      perceived political "interference", and its
      proposals for the construction of dams on common
      rivers, as well as India's blockade of their
      landlocked country in 1988-89, which imposed
      great hardship upon them. While stressing
      commonalities and a shared culture, Nepalis are
      also careful to keep their clocks 15 minutes
      apart from Indian Standard Time-a sign of
      independence! India must respect this.

      What should India do apart from deploring the
      coup, which will accelerate the collapse of the
      Nepali state-right on the shared porous border?
      India must translate its words into actions while
      expressing solidarity with the Nepali people's
      democratic aspirations. The best way to do so
      would be to stop supplying arms to the Royal
      Nepal Army and direct aid to the government (as
      distant from NGOs and group delivering services
      to the people). This is the recommendation of the
      International Commission of Jurists, which too
      has expressed serious concern, like many civil
      liberties organisations, about Nepal's systematic
      abuse of human rights, including arbitrary
      detention and beating of civilian suspects.

      In recent years, India supplied Rs 375 crores
      worth of arms to Nepal, including helicopters,
      landmines, riot-control gear, etc. which are
      liable to be used against domestic insurgents and
      peaceful civilians. One reason for this is New
      Delhi's preoccupation with viewing the Maoists as
      a "common security challenge" and its fear that
      they would forge strong links with Indian
      Naxalites. This preoccupation was especially
      strong under the Vajpayee-Advani dispensation.
      (RSS organs Panchajanya and Organiser support the
      King's coup.) Therefore, India didn't adequately
      differentiate itself from the US position which
      encouraged the King to use armed force against
      the Maoists. (The European Union advocated
      ceasefire and talks to address the root-causes of
      the insurgency).

      New Delhi was wrong to cancel the Dhaka Summit of
      SAARC to register its annoyance with the King.
      SAARC shouldn't be held a hostage to bilateral
      differences between member-states. Dr Manmohan
      Singh should have attended the Summit and
      delivered a strong rebuke to the King. India must
      change stance. It must oppose a military solution
      to the crisis posed by the Maoist insurgency. The
      78,000-strong RNA has proved incapable of
      militarily combating it despite its
      disproportionate armed advantage. The Maoists
      only have an estimated 3,000 modern guns. They
      use questionable, indeed deplorable, methods. But
      they are not terrorists. They have support in the
      countryside, which is a cesspool of unaddressed
      grievances and unredeemed injustices.

      It's this that has allowed the Maoists to wield
      growing influence and win legitimacy. These
      iniquities and grievances can only be addressed
      through land reform, popular empowerment and
      minimum needs programmes in health and education,
      and a sweeping drive against corruption. India
      must encourage this, not a military approach.

      In this, India shouldn't expect much help from
      the US. The US sabotaged talks with the Maoists
      in the past by putting them on the "terrorist"
      list (April 2003). Earlier too, its "tough"
      post-9/11 militarist posture had a negative
      impact in Nepal and derailed talks. The US has
      recently encouraged the RNA by training its
      personnel and supplying M-16 rifles: However,
      India can count on the support of many other
      states-and above all, large numbers of



      The South Asia People's Forum Petition to Secretary General, SAARC


      [3] [Bangladesh]



      A broad group of Bangladeshi expatriates have
      formed an organization named 'International Forum
      for A Secular Democratic Bangladesh'. Based in
      New York and dedicated to the ideals of
      secularism and democracy this forum has been
      formed after extensive contact with like-minded
      Bangladeshi expatriates the world over. While
      discussions have been going on for many months
      about the need for such a platform, the recent
      alarming developments in Bangladesh resulting in
      the killings and maiming of secular intellectuals
      and activists, opposition leaders and supporters,
      violence against minorities, and the reports
      about spreading tentacles of and upsurge in the
      violent activities by fanatic and extremist
      religious groups gave impetus to the forum's
      urgent launching.

      At a well attended meeting held on February 6,
      2005, at the offices of Bangladesh Human Rights
      Watch at 23-63 Steinway Street, Astoria, New
      York, the forum's structure, agenda and a
      declaration was approved.

      URL: http://www.sacw.net/Bangladesh/IFSDB15022005.html

      o o o


      The Daily Star
      February 18, 2005


      The bombs attacks on Brac and Grameen Bank
      offices were tell-tale attempts at destroying
      anything that stood for progress, modernity,
      empowerment of women and the like. The way bombs
      and grenades are being hurled right, left and
      centre suggests that the attackers were
      emboldened by the culture of impunity feeding on
      lack of results in the previous investigations
      into high profile bombing cases. Society is
      passing through a grave crisis with the slide in
      law and order.

      The most worrying aspect of the recent incidents
      is that the terrorists are targeting people at
      the time and place of their choice least bothered
      about where the police might be. This is somewhat
      surprising since all the suspected arrestees have
      confessed to having mentors and blueprints for
      the extremist exploits. So the connections should
      not be particularly difficult to detect. The
      ideological slant of the assaults on select
      individuals and institutions is far too obvious
      to be overlooked.

      Unfortunately, the elite anti-crime outfits have
      not proved themselves effective in countering
      this particular sort of violent crime against
      society. Obviously, here they have to go beyond
      catching 'listed criminals'. The modus operandi
      of the fanatic groups is different and so is the
      nature of the crimes perpetrated by them. All
      these are now known facts.

      The overall picture is grim, to say the least.
      News of vicious eruptions is pouring in from
      different directions. It seems certain groups
      have made inroads into the heart of important
      academic institutions and other organisations,
      calling for thorough investigations into the
      violence-prone situations for necessary
      corrective actions.

      Strange things are happening. It is not without
      reason that some people believe that the
      criminals and killers are getting support from
      some invisible quarters who might not be that
      faceless after all. This is a vital question
      which needs to addressed if we really want the
      force of extremism to be checkmated. The
      government should be tough on the issue, for it
      cannot maintain law and order if killers enjoy a
      freehand and forward-looking institutions are
      targeted by the dark forces.



      Subtitle: Observations on science and society in India

      by Pervez Hoodbhoy, [To be published in the Sunday Magazine section of
      Dawn (Karachi)]

      Few Pakistanis get to visit India, the so-called "enemy country", and
      fewer still to independently assess the development of science and
      education across its hugely diverse regions. I had the exceptional good
      fortune to make such a visit recently, made possible by the award of
      UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for the popularization of science. One part of the
      Prize included a 4-week lecture tour that took me around India: Delhi,
      Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhubhaneswar, Cuttack,
      Calcutta, and then back to Delhi again before I returned home to Islamabad
      in mid-February. Although the Prize was awarded in 2003, frosty
      Pakistan-India relations had made my tour impossible until 2005.

      It was a relentless schedule from the first day onwards with several
      lectures daily at schools, colleges, universities, research institutions,
      and peace groups. I chatted with children from excellent schools as well
      as those from rather ordinary ones; had long sessions with students and
      professors from colleges and universities; met with the "junta" (cooks,
      taxi drivers, and rickshawallas); and was invited to see ministers and
      chief ministers in several states, as well as the president of India.

      Some observations follow:

      · Many Indian universities have a cosmopolitan character and are world
      class. Their social culture is secular, modern, and similar to that in
      universities located in free societies across the world. (In Pakistan, AKU
      and LUMS would be the closest approximations.) Male and female students
      freely intermingle, library and laboratory facilities are good, seminars
      and colloquia are frequent, and the faculty engages in research. Entrance
      exams are tough and competition for grades is intense. Some universities,
      "deemed universities" and other research institutions I visited (TIFR,
      IISC, IITs, IMSC, IICT, IUCAA, JNCASR, IPB, Raman Institute, Swaminathan
      Institute,...) do research work at the cutting edge of science. A strong
      tradition of mathematics and theoretical science forms a backbone that
      sustains progress in areas ranging from space exploration and
      super-computing to nanotechnology and biotechnology.

      · The rural-urban divide, and the class divide in education, is strong.
      Schools and colleges in small towns have a culture steeped in religion.
      Here one sees hierarchy, obedience, and even servility. The national
      anthem is sung in schools and religious symbols are given much prominence.
      Some students I met were bright, but many appeared rather dull. Although
      most Indian colleges are coeducational (unlike in Pakistan), male and
      female students sit separately and are not encouraged to intermingle. It
      is sometimes difficult to understand the English spoken there. Where
      possible, I spoke in Hindi/Urdu. This enhanced my ability to communicate
      and also created a certain kind of bonding. There is an evident desire to
      improve, however, and at least some college principals go out of their way
      to organize events and invite guest speakers. My lecture at the
      Basavanagudi National College, a fairly ordinary college in Bangalore, was
      the 1978th lecture given by academicians over a period of 30 years!

      · Independent thought in India's better universities is alive and well.
      Office bearers of the Jawaharlal Nehru University students union in Delhi
      were requested by the university's administration to present flowers to
      President Abdul Kalam at the annual convocation. They flatly refused,
      saying that he is a nuclear hawk and an appointee of a Hindu
      fundamentalist party. Moreover, as young women of dignity they could not
      agree to act as mere flower girls presenting bouquets to a man. Eventually
      the head of the physics department, also a woman, somewhat reluctantly
      presented flowers to Dr. Kalam but said that she was doing so as a
      scientist honoring another scientist, not because she was a woman. Bravo!
      I have not seen comparable boldness and intellectual courage in Pakistani
      students. Student unions in Pakistan have been banned for two decades and
      so it is a moot question if any union there could have mustered similar
      independence of thought.

      · Taking science to the masses has become a kind of mantra all over India.
      My columnist friend Praful Bidwai - a powerful critic of the Indian state
      and its militaristic policies - counts among India's greatest achievements
      the energisation of its democracy and refers to "our social movements,
      with their rich traditions of people's self-organisation, innovative
      protest and daring questioning of power". These movements have ensured
      that, unlike in Pakistan, land grabbers in Indian cities have found fierce
      resistance when they try to gobble up public spaces - parks, zoos,
      playgrounds, historical sites, etc. Praful should also include in his list
      the huge number of science popularization movements, sometimes supported
      by the state but often spontaneous. These are sweeping through India's
      towns and villages, seeking to bring about an understanding of natural
      phenomena, teach simple health care, and introduce technology appropriate
      to a rural environment. There is not even one comparable Pakistani
      counterpart. I watched some science communicators, such as Arvind Gupta at
      IUCAA in Pune, whose infectious enthusiasm leaves children thrilled and
      desirous of pursuing careers in science. Individual Indian states have
      funded and created numerous impressive planetariums and science museums,
      and local organizations are putting out a huge volume of written and
      audio-visual science materials in the local languages.

      · Attitudes of Indian scientists towards science are conservative.
      Progress through science is an immensely popular notion in India, stressed
      both by past and present leaders. But what is science understood to be? I
      was a little jolted upon reading Nehru's words, written in stone at the
      entrance to the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Advanced Research in
      Bangalore: "I too have worshipped at the shrine of science". The notion of
      "worship" and "shrine of science" do not go well with the modern science
      and the scientific temper. Science is about challenging, not worshipping.
      As a secular man, Nehru was not given to worship but his metaphorical
      allusions to industries and factories as temples of science found full
      resonance. Indeed, science in India is largely seen as an instrument that
      enhances productive capabilities, and not as a transformational tool for
      producing an informed, just, and rational society. Most Indian scientists
      are techno-nationalists - they put their science at the service of their
      state rather than the people. In this respect, Pakistan is no different.

      · India's nuclear and space programs are nationally venerated as symbols
      of high achievement. This led to India's nuclear hero, Dr. Abdul Kalam,
      becoming the country's president. When Dr. Kalam received me in his
      office, after the usual pleasantries, I expressed my regret at India
      having gone nuclear and causing Pakistan to follow suit. Shouldn't India
      now reduce dangers by initiating a process of nuclear disarmament? Dr.
      Kalam gave me a well-practiced response: India would get rid of its
      nuclear weapons the very minute that America agreed to do the same. He
      displayed little enthusiasm for an agreement to cut off fissile material
      production. However, he did agree to my suggestion that exchange of
      academics could be an important way to build good relations between
      Pakistan and India.

      · Indian society remains deeply superstitious, caste divisions are
      important, and women still have a long way to go. While I found myself
      admiring the energetic popular science movements, I was disappointed that
      they pay relatively little attention to the anti-scientific superstitions
      widely prevalent in Indian society. After I had given a strong pitch for
      fighting irrational beliefs at a meeting of science popularization
      activists from villages in Northern India, a young woman asked me what to
      do if "koi devi aap pay utr jayai" (if a spirit should descend upon you).
      The jyoti (astrologer) dictates the dates when a marriage is possible, and
      even whether a couple can marry at all. When I was in Bangalore, hundreds
      of thousands had thronged to be cured by an American faith-healing quack,
      Benny Hinn. Inter-caste marriages are still frowned upon, and usually
      forbidden. In local newspapers one typically reads of tragic accounts such
      as that of a boy and girl from different castes who jointly commit suicide
      after their families forbid the match. Although Indian women are freer,
      more visible, and more confident than their Pakistani counterparts, India
      is still a strongly male dominated society. However, the rapidly
      increasing number of bold and well-educated young women gives hope for the

      · Muslims in India remain at the margins of scientific research and higher
      education. Hamdard University in Delhi is distinctly better than the
      university bearing the same name on the Pakistani side. Jamia Millia, a
      largely Muslim university, appears to be doing well and probably better
      than any Pakistani university in the field of physics. But, although
      Muslims form 12% of India's population, I met only a few Muslim scientists
      in leading Indian research institutes and universities. Discrimination
      against Muslims does not appear to be the dominant cause. A professor at
      Jamia told me that an overwhelming number of Muslim students were inclined
      towards seeking easier (and more lucrative) professions in spite of
      special incentives offered to them at his university. In general, Muslims
      in India appear more modern and secular than in Pakistan. However,
      Hyderabad astonished me. Is it a total exception? In the lecture that I
      gave at a government women's college, there was only one young woman
      without a burqa in an audience of about a hundred. These women were
      surprised to learn that Pakistan - at least in most places - is more
      liberal than Hyderabad. The extreme conservatism in the Muslim part of the
      city reminds one of Peshawar.

      · There was a remarkable lack of hostility towards Pakistan. Indeed a
      desire for friendly relations was repeatedly expressed in every forum I
      went to. This is not to be taken lightly: many of my public lectures were
      either about (or on) science, but others dealt with deeply contentious
      issues - nuclear weapons, India-Pakistan relations, and the Kashmir
      conflict. Various Indian peace groups and NGOs organized public
      discussions and screenings of the two documentaries that I had made (with
      my friend Zia Mian): "Pakistan and India under the Nuclear Shadow", and
      "Crossing the Lines - Kashmir, Pakistan, India". To be sure, my views on
      Indian policies and actions in Kashmir occasionally provoked knee-jerk
      nationalistic responses and accusations of pushing "a Pakistani line". But
      these were infrequent and even heated exchanges always remained within the
      bounds of civility.

      · Ignorance about Pakistan is widespread. In most public gatherings, and
      certainly in every school that I spoke at, people had never seen a
      Pakistani. A puzzled 12-year old girl asked me: "Sir, are you really a
      Pakistani?". Many Indians have a misconception of Pakistan as a medieval,
      theocratic state. In fact, only a few parts of Pakistan are really so. I
      also encountered the belief that Pakistanis have been totally muzzled and
      live in a police state. This is untrue - articles in the Pakistani press
      are often blunter and more critical than in the Indian press. An Indian
      friend hypothesized that knowledge of the other country is inversely
      proportional to the geographical distance between our countries.
      Unfortunately this will remain true unless there is a substantial exchange
      of visitors.

      · Indians are deeply nationalistic and may dislike particular governments
      but they only rarely criticize the Indian state. This is not difficult to
      understand: the democratic process has given a strong sense of
      participation to most citizens and has successfully forged a national
      identity (except in Kashmir, and parts of the North East) that transcends
      the immense diversity of Indian cultures. But this has an important
      downside: nationalism is easy to mobilize and highly dangerous in matters
      of war and conflict. I found the Indian elite (especially the former heads
      of nuclear, space, and technology programs) condescending and irritatingly
      smug. Even if India has done well in many respects, in most others it is
      still behind the rest of the world. Fortunately, Pakistani intellectuals
      are less attached to their nation state and therefore more forthright. The
      reason is rather clear: three decades of military rule have dealt a
      serious blow to nation building and firming up the Pakistani identity.

      · Similarities between the two countries exceed the differences. Cities in
      both countries are poisoned with thick car fumes and grid-locks are
      frequent; megaslums and exploding populations threaten to swallow up the
      countryside; electricity supplies are intermittent; and water is fast
      disappearing from rivers and aquifers. The rural poor are fleeing to the
      cities, and wretched beggars with amputated limbs are casually accepted as
      part of the urban scenery. There is little long-term planning, and none at
      all for coping with the inevitable changes that global warming will soon

      India is upbeat about its future and the feeling of optimism is palpable
      down to the lower middle class. The steady improvement in educational
      quality and outreach, the growth of social movements that keep excesses of
      power and authority in check, and a sense of participation among people
      are among India's most significant gains. But its problems are no less
      than its accomplishments. Will India's poor be able to find a voice, get
      help in fighting superstitions and notions of caste, and be spared the
      marginalization that accompanies globalization? Will India's leadership
      have the wisdom to arrive at some reasonable accommodation on Kashmir,
      cease obsessive militarization, and divert resources to pressing social
      needs? These larger issues, and not just advances in science and
      technology, will decide just how high India can rise.

      ------- Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam
      University, Islamabad.



      IN LOCAL GOVT [February 2005]
      URL: www.sacw.net/Labour/lettertoPakPres150205.html

      o o o

      Editorial, Dawn [January 31, 2005]
      URL: www.dawn.com/2005/01/31/ed.htm#3



      www.sacw.net | February 17, 2005
      by V.B.Rawat

      When Tsunami hit the coastal belt of India, one
      question that haunted me was about the
      beaurocracy and caste prejudices. Tamilnadu,
      among all, fascinated my imagination due to my
      deep respect for the leader of self-respect
      movement EVR Periyar. This self-respect movement,
      I still feel, is needed even in the northern part
      of India. One cannot understand Tamilnadu in
      simplistic terms despite a huge success of the
      Self Respect Movement, Tamilnadu, over the last
      few years became a hunting ground of the Hindutva
      brigade, though by a different name. It also
      became a place to use the contrast between the
      backwards and the Dalits. While every political
      leader in India became victim of caste identity
      and hence Periyar was no exception yet the
      vilification campaign against Periyar had hurt
      all those rationalists who knew his philosophy
      was never castiest in nature. [...]

      URL: www.sacw.net/free/vbrawat15022005.html



      insider's point of view

      Below is a letter I wrote to the Academy of Motion
      Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS, the Oscar award
      organizers) on this year's nominated documentary "Born
      Into Brothels," a film I closely worked on. The film
      is based on the lives of some kids of Kolkata's
      (Calcutta) red light district Sonagachhi.

      I waited a couple of weeks after sending in the letter
      and because AMPAS did not respond to my letter (no
      surprise), I decided to publish it in a few listservs
      and send it to a few individuals.

      There's no other motive than letting people know about
      my own POV on the documentary. Having raised in
      Kolkata myself, I think I have my rights to say a few
      things about the "documenting" of the city.

      This is not a typical "critique" of the film. Also,
      the self-indulging comments about myself in the letter
      are only to reinforce to them the notion that the
      views are coming from someone who knows the "art and
      the artists."



      Executive Director
      Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
      8949 Wilshire Boulevard
      Beverly Hills
      California 90211

      February 1, 2005

      Dear Executive Director:

      Subject: Nominations for the 77th Annual Academy
      Awards: Born Into Brothels

      Your announced nominations for the upcoming 77th
      Annual Academy Awards include in the Best Documentary
      Feature section "Born into Brothels" (THINKFilm, A Red
      Light Films, Inc. Production, by Ross Kauffman and
      Zana Briski). I have been actively involved with the
      making of the documentary especially in its
      post-production stage. As a documentary filmmaker, a
      Columbia University-trained journalist-turned-
      activist and an avid admirer of the medium of film and
      motion pictures, I am deeply concerned that the
      nominations committee has perhaps overlooked some of
      the probable, serious flaws contained within the film
      ñ both ethical and stylistic.

      In your official synopsis, the film is described as
      follows: "While documenting the experiences of
      prostitutes in Calcutta's red-light district,
      photojournalist Zana Briski befriended many of their
      children and decided to provide them with a chance to
      record images from their own lives. Supplied with
      cameras by Briski, the children present a portrait of
      their harsh world that is both unique and insightful."

      The above is indeed true. And I don't have any
      problems finding credit for Ms. Briski and Mr.
      Kauffman for the time they took to live with and
      befriend the poor children. However, I take issues
      with the often-explicit presumption by both the
      filmmakers and the U.S. media personalities (including
      the nominators at AMPAS) that the efforts by Ms.
      Briski and Mr. Kauffman were able to uplift the
      children from the poverty and destitution they live
      in. In fact, that presumption is not true.

      I visited these children a number of times during the
      last couple of years and found out that almost all the
      children are now living even a worse life than they
      were in before Ms. Briski began working with
      them. The children's despair has exacerbated because
      they'd hoped that with active involvement in Ms.
      Briski's camera project, there would be an opportunity
      for them to live a better life. At the same time,
      their sex worker parents believed that with so much
      unrestricted access to their secretive lives they had
      provided to the filmmakers, and that too, so
      generously (were their written consent ever requested
      and received by the filmmakers?), there would be a way
      their children would also be sharing some of the
      glories the filmmakers are now shining in. Alas, very
      likely, they don't even know that their misery,
      helplessness and traumas are now being
      widely exposed and exploited to find fame and

      Further, the film forgets to mention that Calcutta is
      a city where its red-light district is a safe refuge
      for its sex workers and their trade. With help from
      hundreds of Calcuttan activists, social workers and
      medical practitioners, Sonagachi (the district
      depicted in the film) has become synonymous with many
      struggles won by its inhabitants (for one, the HIV
      rate among sex workers in Sonagachi is remarkably low:
      5% compared to 80% in Mumbai). These sex workers and
      their activist comrades have set up -- however
      rudimentary -- financial institutions, health clinics,
      sex education schools and blood banks in that
      labyrinth of alleys that would otherwise be ignored
      and rejected by the other side of Calcutta and its
      elite doctors, artists, poets, filmmakers and
      politicians (and I must say, I was one of this other
      side for more than twenty five years of my life before
      I moved into U.S.). The conjecture drawn by the makers
      of Born into Brothels that it was only them that were
      responsible for any humanity and benevolence doled out
      to these children and their parents is simply absurd.
      "It takes a village"

      Stylistically, the documentary is in fact a mix of
      real and fictitious shots and scenarios, the latter
      being abundant throughout the film. This makes me
      question the legitimacy of the film being labeled as a
      documentary and not a fiction. A plethora of glitzy,
      Bombay-film-industry (i.e., Bollywood) music has been
      used to editorialize the film, which is troubling.

      The most troubling, however, is the use of the final
      piece of music that ends the "documentary" with an
      apparent melodramatic note. This piece (it was in
      there at the time the film was premiered at New
      York City's Museum of Radio and Television in 2004)
      has been directly "lifted" from the celebrated
      Calcuttan film maestro, Oscar-winning Satyajit Ray's
      Apu Trilogy finale. Is Ms. Briski or Mr. Kauffman
      aware of this serious digression?

      It is not my wish to personally tarnish the directors
      and producers of Born into Brothels and I apologize
      profusely in the event my assertions are found untrue.
      However, I am troubled by the nominations and eulogies
      heaped upon the film without some serious
      re-examination. We Calcutta-born Americans who crave
      for high art and creativity are already
      much-undermined by many other attempts to relegate our
      beloved city into ignominy. My opinion is that the
      present so-called documentary is the latest addition
      to that series of gross misrepresentations.

      Thank you for your kind attention.


      Partha Banerjee
      M.Sc. (Journalism), Ph.D. (Biology)
      URL: www.geocities.com/chokmoki


      [8] [UPCOMING EVENTS ]

      Anhad invite you to meet the writer Aabid Surti
      at the release function of his latest book 'In
      the Name of Rama' on February 21, 2005 at 5pm at
      Anhad, 4, Windsor Place, on Ashoka Road, opp
      Kanishka Hotel, New Delhi-110001.

      Aabid Surti has written over 80 books and won
      numerous awards including the "National Award for
      Literature". His books have been translated into
      over a dozen languages. He is also a renowned
      painter and cartoonist.

      In The Name of Rama is a haunting and unusual
      love story inspired by a true life incident
      during the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

      Ms Nafisa Ali will release the book and Prof.
      Kamal Mitra Chenoy would introduce the book.

      Three Youth for Peace activists would read excerpts from the book



      Subject: WOMEN'S DAY EVENTS 5 & 8 march


      Montreal women celebrate INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2005

      On Saturday 5 March, for the fourth year in a
      row, the 8th March Coordination and Action
      Committee of Women of Diverse Origins, will be
      marking International Women's Day. This year the
      day is dedicated to Milia Abrar, the young
      Montreal student of Bangladeshi origin who was
      murdered in October 1998. Milia symbolizes for
      us the desire of women to live our lives on our
      own terms. That her murderer walks free
      represents society's desire to keep women under
      control and to punish those who are seen to

      Our theme this year "Global Reengineering:
      Feminization of Migration and Modern Slavery"
      represents the reality many of us live here and
      elsewhere. We identify the links between economic
      globalization and the controls exercised by
      powerful nations and corporations that continue
      to dominate and control people for increased
      profits. Their policies cause war, death,
      deprivation as well as increasing poverty,
      insecurity, violence and forced migration for the

      The day will kick off with a panel discussion -
      "Modern Slavery -- Working Conditions",
      "Feminization of Migration - Links to Policies,
      Experiences of Different Communities", "Sexual
      Violence as it Relates to Immigrant and Refugee
      Women" and "Women Against Fundamentalism". This
      will be followed with time to visit exhibits and
      information and literature tables and a community

      The highlight this year is a cultural show in the
      evening that will include Montreal performers -
      Tania Nesterovsky of Venezuelan origin,
      Iranian-born singer Homa and Montreal's all-women
      choir Choeur Maha . The special guest
      performance will be The Hunt, choreographed and
      performed by Aparna Sindhoor the Boston-based
      dancer and teacher whose other creative works
      have won rave reviews. Based on a short story by
      Mahasweta Devi, one of India's most revered women
      writers, The Hunt is about a tribal [indigenous]
      woman's battles against the destruction of her
      homeland, the loss of her tribe's traditions and
      her fight against the evils of patriarchy.
      Sindhoor is among a handful of
      dancer/choreographers in India and the West
      creating new movement within the classical Indian
      form, and using it to depict and address
      contemporary themes. The music includes
      Australian aboriginal music, African drumming,
      Indian classical and folk music. Aparna Sindhoor
      will sing and recite text passages throughout the

      Schedule: 2-3pm registration; 3-5pm panel; 5-7pm
      exhibits, literature tables, dinner; 7-10pm

      Venue: Université du Québec à Montréal Afternoon
      panel: Pavillon Hubert Aquin, # AM 050, 400
      Ste-Catherine est; evening Cultural
      performances, Salle Marie Gerin-Lajoie, Pavillon
      Judith-Jasmin, 405 Ste-Catherine est
      [Ste-Catherine and St-Denis; Berri metro]

      Events are open to all. A contribution of $5-$10
      is suggested, but no-one will be prevented from
      attending. There will be simultaneous translation
      during the panel; free childcare also available
      in the afternoon.
      Contact: TESS TESSALONA (514) 342-2111; (514)
      364-4916 15 February 2005



      EXPERIMENTA 2005
      the 3rd international festival for experimental film in India

      India's ground breaking international film festival returns with an
      exciting array of films that explore visions and ideas around
      experimentation with the moving image. Celebrating its 3rd
      successive year, EXPERIMENTA 2005 focuses on the extraordinary
      spirit and radical vision of artist filmmakers, as it offers a
      selection of 36 films that have been meticulously compiled by the
      guest curators, Karen Mirza & Brad Butler (UK), Amrit Gangar
      (India), Adolfas Mekas & Pola Chapelle (USA), alongside the Festival
      Director, Shai Heredia (India).

      February 23-26
      @ the British Council auditorium, 2nd Floor,
      Mittal Towers C-wing, Nariman Point

      NEW DELHI:
      March 2-5
      @ the British Council auditorium, 17 Kasturba Gandhi Marg

      EXPERIMENTA is a Filter project in collaboration with no.w.here
      (UK), and is funded by the British Council, EFX and Kodak India.

      For further information, please contact
      tanya@... or visit www.filterindia.com


      Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on
      matters of peace and democratisation in South
      Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
      citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
      Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
      SACW archive is available at: bridget.jatol.com/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/

      Sister initiatives :
      South Asia Counter Information Project : snipurl.com/sacip
      South Asians Against Nukes: www.s-asians-against-nukes.org
      Communalism Watch: communalism.blogspot.com/

      DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
      necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.
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