SACW | 19 Sept. 2005
- South Asia Citizens Wire | 19 September, 2005
[Interruption Notice: Please note there will no SACW dispatches
between 20 sept - 1st Oct. 2005 ]
 CSFH Urges Responsible Giving in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
 The Poverty of America (Jeremy Seabrook)
 India: Of School Safety and 'National Security' (J. Sri Raman)
 India: Discontinue the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (Sanctuary Asia)
 India: The Aman Peace and Conflict Studies Course (Delhi,
September 26 -- October 26, 2005)
September 17, 2005
For more information, contact: info@...
GIVE WELL, GIVE WISELY!
CSFH Urges Responsible Giving in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH) stands in solidarity
with all those who have suffered an immeasurable loss of life,
property, and livelihood in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We
recognize that while the initial disaster was caused by a
force of nature, the devastation and loss of life have been
intensely exacerbated by the racist negligence of the US
administration, which does not appear to care for the
country's poor and marginalized communities. Once again, the
conflicts that underlie American society stand fundamentally
exposed while the actions of those in power reiterate that the
issues of race, class and gender continue to place people in
hierarchies that determine their value to the system.
President Bush holidayed while New Orleans drowned, the
director of FEMA sought to place the blame on the victims of
the hurricane suggesting that they should have left for safer
places (ignoring the fact that those who stayed mostly did so
because they had no option), while Rep. Baker of Baton Rouge
was reported as telling lobbyists (Wall Street Journal
Washington wire): "We finally cleaned up public housing in New
Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did it."
We are heartened by the fact that millions of people across
the United States have rallied to support those affected by
the floods, reminding us that despite being ruled by a racist
and war-mongering government, we are still bound together by
our common humanity. We at CSFH commit ourselves to
contributing to the efforts all across the US and the world to
provide relief to the victims of the Katrina disaster.
While it is difficult at moments like this to raise a critical
voice, especially against those who claim to be involved in
the task of helping the victims, we would like to place on
record our concerns about some troubling aspects of the relief
and rehabilitation efforts.
1. CSFH has, in the past, pointed out the ways in which
natural disasters have opportunistically been used by
sectarian groups (especially those exploiting religious
sentiments) to create long-term polarizations in society. This
case is no different. We find the prominent role being played
by organizations such as Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing to
be extremely disturbing. Notwithstanding the fact that
Robertson has been exposed in the recent past for using funds
collected for refugee relief in Africa to further his own
diamond mining operations, this organization has been actively
promoted by the U.S. state and is listed as one of the major
charities endorsed by FEMA for the Katrina relief operations.
2. For those who have been following the rise of
religious fundamentalism in India, this unapologetic promotion
of a sectarian religious organization by the avowedly secular
Bush administration reflects the strategy used by similar
groups following natural disasters in India. In the aftermath
of the Gujarat earthquake in 2000, the federal government of
India and the state government of Gujarat (at that time, both
ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party) used the 'opportunity' of
relief work to promote the operation of the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; the violent and sectarian Hindutva
organization) and its service wing, Sewa Bharati. More
recently, the RSS along with its fronts in the US and UK (the
IDRF, Sewa USA, Sewa UK and Sewa International) rode the
tsunami to consolidate their presence in the affected areas.
3. Organizations such as IDRF, Sewa International, Vishwa
Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), which
are part of the violent, hate-mongering Hindutva network are
also appealing for the donation of funds for the cause of
hurricane relief. Given the history of these organizations,
their agenda deserves careful scrutiny.
4. It is also unfortunate that this tragedy is being
exploited by disaster-profiteers among U.S. corporations, just
as war-profiteers are reaping the benefits of the war on Iraq
(with in fact some of the same culprits such as Halliburton
and Bechtel growing rich from both disasters).
The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate wishes to place on record
its opposition to organizations that promote hatred in the US,
India or other parts of the world. It demands that FEMA stop
endorsing groups like Operation Blessing and asks socially
responsible groups to ensure that charity inflow is duly
monitored so that relief organizations are held accountable
for the ways in which funds are being spent. We urge donors to
make an informed decision about how they want their
contributions channeled and ask all those committed to broad
values of secularism, pluralism and justice to oppose the
forces that use the pretext of relief operations to further
their sectarian agendas.
THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP FUNDING HATE [http://www.stopfundinghate.org]
 Received from <sansad@...>
The Poverty of America
[Date and publication source missing]
The human toll of Hurricane Katrina is still being
counted as the fetid waters that drowned a city recede
or evaporate in the hot sun. Much has been written
about how the 'war on terror' diverted spending from
the defences of New Orleans. The absence of large
numbers of the National Guard, on duty in Iraq,
further delayed help to the stricken. The lack of
clarity in responsibility between federal, state and
local authorities exacerbated the disaster.
The somnolence of George W Bush, deep, no doubt, in dreams
of redistributing yet more wealth from poor to rich on
his long holiday in Texas, made him slow to react to
the enormity of what had happened. It has also
uncovered unexpected vulnerabilities in this, the most
powerful country on earth. It has laid bare, in the
starkest and most tangible form, what is well known in
theory: that this society is constructed upon a
celebration of inequality, ingrown violence and great
historic wrongs, which, for their sustenance, require
continuous human sacrifice.
People in India often ask me whether poverty exists in
the West. I tell them it is widespread. They accept
the truth of this, but look puzzled. They find it hard
to reconcile the ubiquitous imagery of abundance and
luxury from the West with what they know of poverty as
they experience it-the emaciation of extreme want. Do
people labour in the fields for less than a day's
wage? Do they suffer hunger? Must they work 16 hours a
day? Do they send their children to work? Must they
wait till evening for the money that
enables them to eat?
The effects of Hurricane Katrina have made it easier
to explain, since it has demonstrated to everyone the
nature of exclusion and resourcelessness in a country
whose prodigious wealth inspires both envy and desire
in the peoples of the earth.
No, it isn't like that. Poverty in the West is,
assuredly, a violent visitation. But it has a
different face from the poverty of India. It is hard
to describe to those who have never been out of India
the face of poverty in the richest societies in the
For the waters that swept through New Orleans did more
than inundate a beautiful and historic city. Among the
debris of buildings, stores, churches, casinos,
factories and fields, a human wreckage was deposited
on the desolate streets. Pictures of used-up
humanity-the shut-ins and the locked-aways, an
incarcerated populace, a concealed people, those who
pay the true cost of the expensive maintenance of the
American Dream -have been beamed into the gilded
dwelling-places of wealth.
A majority of those unable to flee the city are the
victims of success, the failures and losers of a
competitive, individualistic society which chooses to
dwell only on achievement, celebrity and glory and to
hide away its hopeless and the disappointed in the
cellars and attics of forgetting; from which they were
brutally flushed out by the raging waters of the Gulf.
Rarely had they been seen in such multitudes;
understandably, because concentrations of so many
infirm and vulnerable, elderly and weak, unhinged and
disordered people make visible the ugliness of
America's terrible social injustice.
They speak to us of the nature of poverty in rich
societies. Many commentators observed that the poor of
New Orleans were, overwhelmingly, black. This is true
of the urban area of New Orleans-two-thirds
black-which is one of the poorest in the US. But this
tells us more about continuing segregation in America
than it does about poverty.
Of course, no-one in the path of the violent storm
that gathered such intensity from the overheated
waters of the Gulf could have resisted its violence.
But the spectacle of lives washed up on hard city
pavements was instructive of how far the poor of
America are, in the ordinary conduct of their daily
lives, without resources. If this seems a statement of
the obvious, it shows nevertheless the dissimilarity
between poverty in rich and
poor countries. The stranded survivors of New Orleans
were devoid of basic skills for survival, since
survival in America depends totally upon money.
Even the poorest people of Bangladesh, Niger, Brazil
or India are not poor in the same way. The poor of the
US have been remade in the image of wealth; that is to
say, their lives have been fashioned by the same
values, influences and expectations as the rest of
society, which are those of the well-to-do. They are
just as dependent upon money as the rich are, only
they do not have the wherewithal to participate in a
society constructed on the assumption that all human
needs, wants and comforts must be bought in from the
market. Nothing is grown, made, invented or created by
the people for themselves and for others. Wealth means
simply the ability to buy; to be cut off from this
fundamental activity is to excluded, exiled from the
society, an exile dramatically made worse when they
were unable to move out of the path of the swirling
When disaster strikes in the poor world-as it so
regularly does-people do not loot and steal. They do
not fire guns at rescue helicopters. They do not rob
the hospitals of their drugs. They do not barricade
themselves inside their rough shelters and write in
white paint on their walls, Loot and Be Shot.
In the developing world, poor people have learned to
cope with what is lacking in their lives-not always
successfully, it is true, but they have not yet
learned the superior wisdom of the West, that nothing
can be done without money. This is why the urban poor
in Dhaka, Mumbai, Nairobi and Lagos still build their
own shelters, create their own livelihoods, seek out
their own fuel and grow food on any small parcel of
land they can find.
But it is at times of catastrophic suffering and loss
that the difference is most visible. That people in
New Orleans left bodies unattended in the putrid
waters of the Gulf and plundered the dispossessed is
shocking and incomprehensible to the poor of India,
Bangladesh or Africa.
The instinctive response of the poor in the
'underdeveloped' world is to succour those weaker than
themselves, to share with them such meagre resources
as they possess, to show a fundamental solidarity: the
dereliction of others is not seen as an opportunity
for gain. This is why they feel a bewildered
compassion for the destructive rage of deprivation in
Some commentators in America described scenes in New
Orleans as 'reminiscent of the Third World.' They
could not have been more wrong. This was an entirely
'First World' phenomenon: gun battles between looters
and the National Guard, who operate a shoot-to-kill
policy against predators, bloated corpses abandoned on
riverbanks and sidewalks, or simply floating,
unclaimed on the toxic flood-these are scenes which
occur only in the lands of privilege.
This is what the poor of India and all the other
hopeful countries of the world have been taught to
envy and to long for. This is the supreme achievement
of the richest societies the world has ever known; and
it is the model, not merely preached, but actually
imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the World
Bank, the World Trade Organization and the governments
of the G8. That they are in no position to tell anyone
else what to do is the enduring lesson from the
disaster which has befallen, not merely Mississippi,
Louisiana and Alabama, but American society itself, as
it has demonstrated to the world its indifference
towards those for whom the designation 'loser',
'no-hoper', 'failure' is applied as a stigma of moral,
as well as material, incapacity.
It has long been clear that the West could easily
provide a comfortable sufficiency for all the people
of its own societies, if it chose to do so. It does
not, for the simple reason that the fate of the poor
must be maintained, as a warning and example to all
who might otherwise be tempted to drop out, to relax
their vigilance, to withdraw from the competitive
ethos that drives people on to accumulate.
It is not ambition that drives the creation of wealth
but the coercive fear of this ghastly version of
poverty, this human-made construct that creates
outcasts of plenty, human scarecrows brandished at
dissenters to urge them to conform with this, the
American or Western Dream. An indispensable component
of its promise of wealth and affluence is its threat
of a desperate, contrived and brutal form of poverty,
of which the poor of India remain, at least for the moment, still innocent.
16 July 2005
Of School Safety and 'National Security'
By J. Sri Raman
India is observing the anniversary of one of its cruelest
tragedies. Last July 16, about a hundred very young children perished
in a school fire in the temple town of Kumbakonam in the southern
state of Tamilnadu. From July 9, the country has been recalling the
gruesome spectacle that traumatized millions on television a year ago.
The anniversary has come as a reminder - if ever one was needed -
of the pathetic state of primary education in India, indeed in South
Asia. It, however, has yet to remind the people and the policymakers
of the distorted priorities of development that made the calamity
possible. Lost upon the analysts is the large and obvious fact that a
developing society of extravagant and disproportionate obsession with
'national security' cannot just afford safe schools for its children.
The fire that singed those tender skins, and charred 20 of the
children beyond recognition, came from a makeshift kitchen for making
a mid-day meal for the students. The fire spread rapidly to a
thatched roof of dry palm fronds over the first to third classes. The
children, in the five-to-eight age group, could not escape in time
through an extraordinarily narrow exit in a concrete building.
The mid-day meal had been introduced two decades ago as a way to
persuade poverty-stricken parents to send their wards to school
rather than to fields and factories. And schools preferred thatched
roofs not for environmental reasons, but just because they cost less
than concrete structures.
Tons of newsprint and reels of footage have been used to heave a
collective sigh over the avoidable calamity. What now deserves note
is the fact that the schools in Tamilnadu are a model of safety
compared to their counterparts in several other states, especially
the Hindi-speaking north. An conservative estimate done the day after
the tragedy put the number of similarly ill-equipped schools across
the country at 8,000. Any one to have glimpsed even parts of India
would know this for a gross underestimate.
The unspeakably sorry situation was brought home five years ago
in a People's Report on Basic Education (PROBE), the product of
pooled non-governmental efforts. To mention only a few of the
findings in the voluminous report (available on amazon.com): over
half of the schools inspected had leaking roofs, 89 per cent lacked
functioning toilets, and half of them had no drinking water. Some
schools did duty as cattle sheds, police camps, teacher residences or
places for drying cow-dung cakes, while sham schooling was provided
to children in extremely unsafe and unhygienic spaces.
There is nothing to suggest any change in this depressing scene
over the past five years. There is much evidence, in fact, that
non-existent school facilities are the national norm - unless one
notices only the urban public schools catering to the offspring of
the privileged alone.
Over the past week, enterprising reporters attempting a reality
check have discovered yet more illustrations of the educational
wasteland into which the elite has turned India.
Among the pictures from the candid cameras were entirely roofless
classrooms in the state of Uttar Pradesh, scorched under a median
temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). With
parents preferring not to let their children be fried alive, the
classrooms remain empty through the hot season. Another bizarre
spectacle was of naked children carrying books and school uniforms on
their heads and wading through waist-deep waters of rivers in the
state of Bihar.
If covered classrooms are a dim and distant dream, it would be
absurd to think of such luxuries as benches, blackboards, maps and
globes for the children of the poor who constitute the country's
largest community. Only a minuscule minority of the primary schools
have such a thing as a playground.
Little wonder that most of the schools in the countryside and the
less affluent urban areas turn out school graduates almost without
teachers. Even in the capital city of New Delhi, an estimated 170,000
students in schools run by the municipal corporation have no
teachers. And, if there are teachers, there is generally only one to
about 60 students.
Even less wonder, then, that over 35 per cent of India's one
billion people remain illiterate. That India occupies the 105th place
in UNESCO's educational ranking, in a list of 127 countries. That
Pakistan occupies the 123rd place in the same list, a poor
consolation. This piece of statistics only illustrates the insecurity
of all of South Asia under the rule of competitive militarism.
For, the same India threatens to emerge as the third largest
importer of military goods in the world. It became the fifth during
1997-2002, when it became a nuclear-weapon state. Its allocation for
defense (over $19 billion) in its latest annual budget is arguably
ten times higher than that for education at all levels - and,
remember, much more is spent on higher education than on basic
schooling for India's barefoot boys and girls.
There is no way to prevent Kumbakonams until and unless the
people compel the elite to abandon militarism, with a nuclear
dimension, as the mantra of national development.
June 26, 2005
GANDHI'S BAD FAITH
- The opportunism of the Khilafat movement alienated Muslims
Politics of mobilization
Gandhi returned to Indian politics in 1915. While trying to
understand his politics, we should bear in mind that he was forty-six
years old and had been an NRI for nearly a quarter of a century. He
had served his political apprenticeship in South Africa, not as a
nationalist, but as a civil rights activist, fighting for civic and
racial equality on behalf of South Africa's Indian community.
When Gandhi arrived, he found a Congress riven by two readings of
nationalism. Early Congress nationalism was one particular response
to the challenge of organizing politically within the constraints of
colonial rule. The strategy the early Congress favoured was pluralism
powered by the rhetoric of economic grievance.
This pluralist style had been challenged by an Extremist faction that
favoured popular mobilization in the name of a Mother India defined
by a Hindu cultural nationalism. The Swadeshi movement was the first
fruit of this Extremist style. By 1915, the Moderates were in some
disarray, with many of them deserting the Congress to join the Indian
Liberal Federation, while the great leader of the Extremists, Bal
Gangadhar Tilak, was busy trying to establish a Home Rule League, to
press the colonial state to grant Indians self-government.
On the face of it, Tilak should have been Gandhi's mentor and model.
They shared a willingness to deploy a "Hindu" idiom in political
discourse; both wanted to invent a politics that transcended the
polite, petitioning politics of the early Congress; both men tried to
forge instruments for popular mobilization and pan-Indian agitation.
Gandhi even used the Home Rule League networks created by Tilak to
give structure to the Non-Cooperation movement. And yet Gandhi
steadfastly maintained that his mentor in matters political was not
Tilak but his great Moderate contemporary, Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
The fundamental difference between Tilak and Gandhi is this. Tilak
wanted to confront the raj on behalf of a nation imagined in a
broadly Hindu style. To this end, he was willing to use Shivaji and
Ganesh symbolically to raise nationalist consciousness. Gandhi's
political ideas and anti-colonial strategies were designed to extend
Congress pluralism to the new epoch of mass politics. Mass politics
to Gandhi meant adapting the style of civil disobedience he had
learned in South Africa to the vastness of India. This posed two
challenges: one, creating a politics that overcame the urban
alienation of Congress politics from the rural Indian hinterland. And
two, consolidating the representative claims of Congress pluralism by
drawing into its politics a substantial Muslim presence.
Gandhi's homespun make-over, his populist folk-religious idiom, his
assertion that he was a sanatani Hindu, obscures an essential
difference between him and someone like Tilak. Unlike the Extremists,
Gandhi, with one fatal exception, never mobilized around religious
symbols or issues. His great mobilizations were centred on issues
that were secular in an almost doctrinaire way: the suspension of
civil liberties in the case of the Rowlatt satyagraha, the right to
make untaxed salt later and a strictly civic micro-politics based on
constructive work, sanitation and spinning. Gandhi, in his
dhoti-wearing, ashram-centred avatar had learnt more from Tolstoy's
romantic identification with Russian peasant life and its traditions
and Henry Thoreau's Walden than he had from any specifically "Hindu"
Looking back, Gandhi's South African apprenticeship seems a
controlled experiment where he implemented and refined ideas of civil
disobedience and passive resistance derived from his reading of Henry
Thoreau's essay, "Resistance to Civil Government", written in 1849
and posthumously published in 1866 as "Civil Disobedience".
Similarly, after his arrival in India, Gandhi's leadership
initiatives in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Khera can be seen as
five-fingers exercises, undertaken in preparation for the
anti-colonial struggle ahead. The agitation he launches against the
Rowlatt Bill, the first all-India satyagraha, seems, in retrospect, a
dress rehearsal for the premiere of Gandhi's first truly pan-Indian
movement, the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation struggle.
The Khilafat-Non-Cooperation is generally regarded as the Part I of a
trilogy, the Civil Disobedience movement and the Quit India movement
being Parts II and III. What's more, it has a special place in the
history of Indian nationalism as the high-water mark of Hindu-Muslim
cooperation in the course of the anti-colonial struggle. Parts II and
III, as Gyanendra Pandey pointed out in a clever book, were notable
for the relative meagreness of Muslim participation.
The problem with this perspective and this seductive sequence of
roughly decennial agitations, is that the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation
movement is a massive aberration in Gandhi's political career,
different from any movement he participated in, before or afterwards.
The Khilafat-Non-Cooperation movement is singular because it is the
only movement led by Gandhi that was centred on a religious issue:
the preservation of the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph of all Muslims.
We can see its aberrant nature in the uneasy hyphenation of its name:
Khilafat-Non-Cooperation. As a schoolboy, I used to think that the
Khilafat part had to do with Muslims and the Non-Cooperation part
with the Congress, till Francis Robinson, in his fine book,
Separatism Amongst Indian Muslims, set us right. Both the agitation
to save the Turkish Sultan on account of his claim to be the Muslim
world's Khalifah and the scheme of Non-Cooperation were initiatives
of the Khilafat leadership, not Gandhi or the Congress. Gandhi made
these two issues his own by presiding over the All India Khilafat
Conference in Delhi in November 1919, well before the Congress had
anything to do with the Khilafat issue. By September 1920, Gandhi in
an extraordinary political coup, had gotten himself elected president
of the All-India Home Rule League and steered a resolution in favour
of Non-Cooperation to preserve the Khilafat and wrest swaraj in the
Congress session in Calcutta.
Gandhi's decision to choose the Khilafat movement as the occasion for
his all-India debut, seems even odder given the Khilafat leadership.
Maulana Abdul Bari was a conservative Barelvi alim. The Ali Brothers,
Mohammad and Shaukat, were Young Turks from Aligarh, impatient with
the loyalism of Sir Syed's politics and openly admiring of the
intransigence of Extremist politics during the Swadeshi movement. In
fact the leaders of the Khilafat movement are best understood as the
Extremist tendency in Muslim politics. Gandhi, Gokhale's disciple,
had chosen as his allies a pair of populist demagogues: the
Lal-Bal-Pal of Muslim politics. The irony of this is sharpened by the
fact that the greatest critic of the Khilafat movement and the
Congress's part in it was Jinnah, once Dadabhai Naoroji's private
secretary, and, at the time, the outstanding representative of the
Moderate tendency in Muslim politics.
Why did Gandhi do it? For two reasons. One, he saw it as a quick,
cheap way of getting the Muslims on board. What Gandhi was doing here
was trying to repopulate the Muslim enclosure in the nationalist zoo
by manipulating a Muslim version of Tilakite populism. When Gandhi
described the Khilafat cause as the "Muslim cow", that is, a sacred,
sentimental cause, his analogy was off the mark. The Turkish Sultan
was for the Ali Brothers what Shivaji was for Tilak: a lonely symbol
of defiance in the face of a hostile empire. The Khilafat stirred
them in the same way as the idea of Hindu Padpadshahi stirred the
Gandhi's second reason for espousing this curious cause was that it
allowed him to take over the Congress. By promising to deliver the
Congress, he secured the support of the Khilafatists, and by
promising to deliver the Muslims, he effectively took over the
Congress without being a member or ever standing for election. In the
short term, he succeeded brilliantly. In the long term, this
adventurist coup did the anti-colonial movement incalculable damage.
The reason Gandhi's alliance with the Khilafatists was a form of
adventurism was not because he was trying to do a deal with a Muslim
party. The Congress had always approached Muslims at one remove, as
the Congress-League pact of 1916 so clearly demonstrated. No, the
reason the Khilafat movement was aberrant was because the earlier
deals had been based on rational political bargaining, whereas
agitating for the Sultan was inflammatory posturing in a hopeless
cause. That Gandhi acted in patronizing bad faith, is clear from the
abruptness with which he called off the movement after the Chauri
Chaura violence without even consulting his Muslim allies. If he had
ever believed that Khilafat was the Muslim cow, he cut its throat
The passions he had helped rouse, which were now turned against him
and the Congress, meant that the Congress haemorrhaged Muslims ever
afterwards. Gandhi returned to the secular straight-and-narrow with
the salt satyagraha ten years later and strove manfully to secure the
Moderate aim of a pluralist nationalism in the age of mass politics,
but opportunism of the Khilafat movement haunted the Congress and
helped alienate the one constituency it prized above all others:
India's Muslims. In this season of Jinnah, no sensible account of the
Khilafat movement can be written without acknowledging that on this
issue at least, Jinnah was right and Gandhi, without question, was
DISCONTINUE THE SSCP
Tamil Nadu, August 2005
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs cleared the Sethusamudram
Ship Canal Project (SSCP) connecting the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay
in May 2005 despite strong protests from fishermen and environmental
groups. Supporters of the project have claimed that it will have no
'significant' environmental impact at all. The project, first
conceived 145 years ago in 1860 by Commander A.D. Taylor of the
Indian Marines, hoped to speed up connectivity between India's
eastern and western coasts, so that ships will not have to
circumnavigate Sri Lanka.
Since then, the project has been brought up and reviewed and shelved
by a succession of committees; first by the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet
in 1955, then by committees in 1983 and 1996 without any decision
being made. The exceptionally-long gestation period should have
caused one to question the wisdom of the venture. However, despite
protests from environmental and humanitarian organisations, the
Central Government has suddenly jumped right in and passed the
project with suspicious alacrity. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
himself inaugurated the project in the Bay - 45 km. off the
Kodiakkarai coast in Tamil Nadu along with the Union Minister for
Shipping (and previous Environment Minister) T.R. Baalu. The
Tuticorin Port Trust will be the nodal agency for this project. The
Centre has set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV), known as the
Sethusamudram Corporation Limited, to execute the project.
The 260 km. long and 12 m. deep passage (for two-way traffic) will
require dredging of an estimated 84.5 million cubic metres (mcum.) of
sand and soil but nobody seems to know where this will be disposed
off. The alignment passes six kilometres from the Van Tivu island in
the Marine National Park, violating the 10-km. eco-sensitive belt.
The National Environment Engineering Research Institution (NEERI),
Nagpur, ignores this point in its 'rapid' Environment Impact
Assessment (EIA) report. NEERI was once a credible organisation, but
it has increasingly come to be 'used' by the government, upon whom it
is financially dependent, to rubberstamp ill-advised decisions. NEERI
has had no previous experience with marine projects of this nature,
yet they confidently state in the (shoddy) EIA that the passage will
steer clear of the Gulf of Mannar biosphere reserve and that there
will be "no threat to the coral reefs and marine wealth of the
In any event, the depth will not permit very large crude carriers
(above 30,000 deadweight tonnage) to pass through the canal and will
only allow general purpose and mid-size ships. As larger vessels
become the norm in the years ahead, this channel will clearly be
bypassed. Informally, sources in the shipping industry say that they
find the project to be both whimsical and politically motivated. By
current reckoning, it will take almost 20 years to break even.
The Rs. 2,333-crore project (assuming there is no inflation) has been
justified by project proponents who compare it to both the Suez and
the Panama canals, forgetting that those waterways bypass entire
continents involving thousands of kilometres and many days of travel,
while this destructive canal is little more than a tiny short cut
(400 nautical miles), which most ships may well choose to avoid
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both
Sri Lanka and India ratified in the mid-1990s requires India to brief
the Government of Sri Lanka in advance about the SSCP plans. That
India might utilise the canal for military purposes cannot be ruled
out and this too could be the cause of trouble between India and Sri
Lanka. Apart from mere dredging, small harbours too will need to be
built. This would violate the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules.
But the standard strategy for such ecologically ill-advised projects
is to force a fait accompli on the nation.
This is India's only major biosphere and the canal will adversely
affect fish breeding. It could also intensify the impact of a
tsunami. And it will directly affect over 70,000 families. The
biosphere reserve is home to 17 mangrove species, 3,600 species of
plants and animals including the highly endangered dugong, dolphins,
whales, and over 117 coral species belonging to 37 genera.
At the time of going to press, fisherfolk in both India and Sri Lanka
are up in arms. Tamil militants in Sri Lanka have issued statements
against the project, which would thus endanger ships that use the
canal tomorrow. The Sri Lankan Government has also expressed concern.
Even without the help of experts, common sense dictates that a touch
of caution be exercised before plunging headlong into a project whose
viability is doubtful. The Coastal Action Network has opposed the
project, but the Ministry of Environment and Forests refuses to pay
heed. Ultimately, it is public opinion and peoples' resistance that
will count. Sanctuary readers are urged to add their voice to
strengthen the movement against this project, which spells death for
dugongs and other vulnerable marine creatures.
Write a letter to stop the Sethusamudaram from any further
progress... explaining why it is so important to keep areas such as
the Marine National park from destruction.
Prime Minister's Office,
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi, India -110 011.
Tel.: 91-11-2301 2312.
Fax: 91-11-2301 9545 / 2301 6857
Chairman, Tuticorin Port Trust
Tuticorin - 628 004
Tel.: 91-0461-235 2290 (50 lines)
Fax: 91-0461-235 2301
Telegraphic code: PORTRUST
Government of India, Ministry of
Environment & Forests,
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex,
New Delhi - 110 003.
Tel.: 91-11-2436 1896, 2436 0721
THE AMAN PEACE AND CONFLICT STUDIES COURSE (In collaboration with Jamia
Delhi, September 26 - October 26, 2005
The course aims at developing and widening intellectual discourse on the
subject among individuals working in NGOs, teachers, journalists,
students and other concerned citizens. The course will make Indian and
South Asian reality a starting point for an investigation of conflict,
violence and its many ramifications. A conceptual approach that will
connect, rather than compartmentalize themes relevant to violence and
conflict will be developed. We believe that philosophical and ethical
inquiry is a necessary element in such a study. Our lectures and
seminars shall examine the relationship between local and global issues,
competing histories and antagonistic polities; and the functions that
link ethnic identity, gender, and symbols to political and economic
The course will be conducted from 26th September to 26th October, 2005.
It will be interactive and residential, with two or three units being
conducted every day, two in the mornings and one in the afternoon/early
evening. Each unit will consist of two hours, and will include a lecture
and a discussion.
Three seminars will be organized over the duration of the course
Prospective participants are required to send the following information
by 20th August 2005.
1) A Curriculum Vitae
2) An essay in 500 - 800 words stating your reasons for applying for the
3) Names and contact details of two referees
Participants' ability to comprehend lectures and other forms of
discussion in English is necessary, although the course is open to those
who wish to speak and submit their coursework in Hindi.
Course Structure: The course will consist of the following six rubrics,
whose contents will be supplied in greater detail to participants over
the weeks preceding the course. The web site can be visited for regular
Rubric 1: Ethical and Philosophical Perspectives on Violence
Rubric 2: Aspects of twentieth century world history
Rubric 3: Gender Violence and Conflict
Rubric 4: The world order and concepts of conflict
Rubric 5 : Issues in the Contemporary History of India and South Asia
Rubric 6: Law, Conflict and Peace Processes
The costs for arranging this course are considerable. AMAN will charge a
minimum (subsidised) fee of Rs. 5,000/- (five thousand) for an
individual and Rs 10,000/- (ten thousand) for participants sponsored by
NGOs,organisations and institutions.
The costs are inclusive of accommodation and food but do not include
Scholarships: A limited number of scholarships are available. Those who
wish to apply for this should send us reasons for their request in no
more than 200 words.
Please ask for more information on the Aman Trust and the Peace Course
from our office, via e-mail, or ordinary mail. Address correspondence
Peace Course, The Aman Trust
C- 651, 1 st Floor,
New Friends Colony,
New Delhi- 110065
Visit AMAN web site for further details on the course and organization
Early applications will be appreciated as the course is limited to 20
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.