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SACW | 30 June 2006 | Sri Lanka's Displaced; UK: Forced Marriages; India: Honour Killings; Nuclear Proliferation; In memory of Vijay Kanhere

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire | 30 June, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2266 [This issue of SACW is dedicated in memory of Vijay Kanhere, who passed away recently. Vijay was a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2006
      South Asia Citizens Wire | 30 June, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2266

      [This issue of SACW is dedicated in memory of
      Vijay Kanhere, who passed away recently. Vijay
      was a well known progressive activist who spent a
      life time working for the defence of labouring
      people in Maharashtra, India.]

      [1] Sri Lanka: 560,000 displaced people suffer
      effects of intensifying violence (Amnesty)
      [2] UK: No one defends forced marriage, but then
      those who practise it don't recognise the label
      (Rahila Gupta)
      [3] India: Love and death: Honor killings in
      Muzaffarnagar, north India (Rati Chaudhary)
      [4] India: Bad News for Nuclear Proliferation -
      Indo-US Nuclear Deal Clears First Hurdle (Praful
      [5] India: Obituary - Vijay Kanhere - 1951-2006 (Vinod Mubayi)
      [6] Book Reviews:
      (i) Desire denied, desire defined (Gautam Bhan)
      (ii) A future beyond sacred cows (Soumya Bhattacharya)




      AI Index: ASA 37/017/2006 (Public)
      News Service No: 158
      29 June 2006

      Embargo Date: 29 June 2006 00:01 GMT


      The increasing violence in Sri Lanka is creating
      new waves of displaced people and adding to the
      fear and insecurity felt by the hundreds of
      thousands of people who already have been forced
      from their homes by the conflict and the tsunami.

      "The state's failure to provide adequate security
      and to ensure that attacks against civilians are
      prosecuted has resulted in widespread fear and
      panic," said Purna Sen, Asia Director at Amnesty
      International. "Almost every major attack in
      recent months has had a devastating ripple effect
      as people flee from their homes and villages in
      search of sanctuary."

      Many of those displaced -- including those living
      in organized camps -- continue to be extremely
      vulnerable to violence and harassment by the
      Tamil Tigers, other armed groups, and even
      members of the Sri Lankan security forces.

      On 17 June, one woman was killed and 44 others
      injured when grenades were lobbed into a church
      in the northern village of Pesalai, where
      thousands of people had sought refuge from
      fighting between the Tamil Tigers and government
      forces. Consistent eyewitness accounts have
      identified members of the Sri Lankan security
      forces as responsible for the attack on the

      A total of 39,883 people have been displaced in
      the north and east of Sri Lanka since 7 April
      2006, according to UN figures.

      A report released today by Amnesty International
      also describes how as insecurity increases,
      people who have already been displaced several
      times are being forced to move yet again. Many
      have been unable to return home for decades and
      the increase in military activity is a major
      barrier preventing them from resettling and
      rebuilding their lives.

      "It is the government's responsibility to protect
      the rights of these displaced people -- and
      numbering over half a million they make up a
      shockingly large constituency. The worsening
      security situation makes it imperative for the
      government to provide them with increased
      protection," said Purna Sen.

      Manikkam Maniyam, a 62-year-old Tamil man, is one
      of the many Sri Lankans who has had to move
      between several temporary homes within the
      country and abroad over the last 25 years. He
      first fled his home in Trincomalee in 1990
      because of fighting and because his thatched
      house was burned down. He and his family paid a
      local fisherman to take them to India, where they
      lived in various refugee camps. In 1992 they were
      advised that the security situation was improving
      and moved back to Sri Lanka, living in a welfare
      centre in Alles Garden. Their shelter at the
      welfare centre was then destroyed by the 2004
      tsunami. There are many other thousands of
      displaced people who are still waiting to return

      Fighting between government forces, the Tamil
      Tiger rebels and other armed groups has been
      intensifying for the last six months, with more
      than 700 people killed this year alone according
      to the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission. Civilians
      face killings, abductions and 'disappearances'.
      Children are being recruited as soldiers.

      Displaced people are particularly vulnerable to
      these abuses because they lack the support
      networks of their communities and local
      authorities. The violence also hinders
      development and aid agencies in their work with
      internally displaced people. In separate
      incidents in May a Norwegian Refugee Council
      employee was shot dead and three NGO offices were
      hit by synchronised grenade attacks.

      On top of the insecurity, displaced people have
      to cope with a lack of employment opportunities
      and limited local health and education services.
      Alcohol abuse and high levels of domestic
      violence continue to cause concern.

      While most tsunami camps are well-funded and of a
      reasonable standard, camps for those displaced by
      the conflict often lack electricity, transport
      and proper drainage. Residents in some camps say
      they fall ill from drinking dirty well water.

      More than 639,400 people are estimated to remain
      displaced in Sri Lanka. Latest UN figures state
      that 314,378 people were displaced by the
      conflict. Around 325,000 people are estimated to
      remain displaced by the tsunami.

      The increasing violence is forcing many Sri
      Lankans to flee the country altogether -- more
      than 2,800 people have sought international
      protection in India so far this year, according
      to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

      Notes to editors
      The report, Sri Lanka: Waiting to go home - the
      plight of the internally displaced, will be
      available from 29 June at 00:01 GMT at

      The Sri Lankan government and the Liberation
      Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil
      Tigers, agreed a ceasefire agreement in 2002, but
      attacks by both parties have continued since then
      and escalated in the last six months.

      UNHCR figures state that as at April 2006,
      314,378 people remained displaced by the
      conflict. See www.unhcr.lk for more information.

      The majority of displaced persons in Sri Lanka
      are from the north and east, where most of the
      fighting has taken place. Because of their
      geographical concentration in these areas, the
      Tamil population has experienced by far the
      greatest displacement. According to the most
      recent survey, a census of all displaced people
      in Sri Lanka conducted by the Ministry of
      Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees in
      2002, 80.86% of the displaced population was
      Tamil, 13.7% Muslim, and 4.56% Sinhalese.



      The Guardian
      June 20, 2006


      by Rahila Gupta

      For more than 20 years, ethnic minority women's
      groups have been struggling to get social
      services and other British state agencies to
      recognise forced marriage as domestic violence
      and not as a cultural practice. The tipping point
      came in 1999 when the horrific case of Rukhsana
      Naz from Birmingham hit the headlines. Pregnant
      with her lover's child and refusing to remain in
      a forced marriage, she was strangled by her
      brother while her mother pinned her down.

      When the joint home and foreign office
      forced-marriage unit published its consultation
      paper Forced Marriage: a Wrong Not a Right nine
      months ago, it should have been a foregone
      conclusion that a new criminal offence was the
      best way forward. Yet most women's groups argued
      against it. A law would have the symbolic value
      of saying that forced marriage would not be
      tolerated. But who would we be targeting? Forced
      marriage has no apologists, not even among the
      most conservative sections of our communities.
      One of the problems is definition. Those who
      engage in it do not recognise the label.

      The vast majority of forced marriages manipulate
      the subtlest emotional and financial levers. How
      do you legislate against this? To raise awareness
      about what behaviour constitutes coercion, we
      need to question the very concept of marriage in
      our communities, and acknowledge not just that
      there is a fine line between arranged and forced
      marriage but that the underlying logic of the
      first opens the door to the second.

      Commentators go out of their way to make a
      distinction between arranged and forced marriage
      because they do not wish to be seen as racist.
      But we should not overlook the fact that the
      system of arranged marriage perpetuates caste,
      race and religious purity.

      Of course, arranged marriage, especially modern
      versions, operates on the basis of consent.
      However, its popularity comes from the belief
      that it cements community networks and brings
      social and economic advantage to families, and
      that adults know what is good for young people. A
      little pressure, much as in educational choices,
      must surely be acceptable. But at what point does
      this pressure become force?

      Rukhsana Naz's mother and brother are serving
      time. There are laws to deal with crimes such as
      imprisonment, assault, abduction and murder. What
      is desperately needed is a system that gives
      women such as Rukhsana the option of safe
      housing, a demand of all women's groups. Instead
      the government has engaged in a symbolic exercise
      by consulting on a "resource-neutral" law, as it
      is known in policy circles. It is sending a
      message that it is serious about forced marriage,
      but a law without resources is worse than
      nothing. Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters
      called it "a cynical way of appearing to take
      responsibility while avoiding it".

      Women's groups agree that the central question is
      how to encourage women to escape forced
      marriages. In their experience, young women do
      not want to prosecute parents for assault or
      imprisonment. In fact, many have demanded
      assurances that no action will be taken before
      seeking help. The bonds that tie children to
      parents, even where violence exists, are
      different from those that exist between spouses.

      The government's decision to shelve the
      criminalisation of forced marriage may have had
      more to do with appeasing religious groups who
      argued against it on the basis that a "minority"
      law could cause racial segregation than with the
      protection of women. However, if it is serious
      about protecting women, it should use this
      opportunity to provide much-needed resources when
      it publishes its action plan in the autumn.

      · Rahila Gupta is a member of Southall Black
      Sisters; her book on modern slavery will be
      published next year.



      One World South Asia
      27 June 2006

      by Rati Chaudhary

      Just the other day in Fugana village, a girl lay
      strung on a tree. She was naked, her face burnt.
      This was the price Radha (name changed) had to
      pay for falling in love with a man her family did
      not approve of. This is the price countless
      Radhas pay ever so often in the rough belt of

      And this is the way justice is delivered to youth
      who begin to live on the razor's edge the moment
      they dare to fall in love. Radha's was yet
      another honour killing in Muzaffarnagar, a
      district in western UP that is smeared with the
      blood of innocents. There's never an FIR, hardly
      any action.

      At last count, there were 20 young people dead
      till August this year. An All-India Democratic
      Women's Association (AIDWA) survey maintains that
      in Muzaffarnagar alone 10 were killed by
      villagers in 2002. The number shot up to 24 in
      2003. Villagers say there are those who have been
      left maimed and useless for life.

      Even the deaths, they say, are more. Apart from
      the killings, 15 "committed suicide" in 2003, 12
      in 2004 and 7 till August this year. Radha's
      father, meanwhile, has neither remorse nor regret.

      "Mari chori thi maine mar di. Tane kya?" (She was
      my daughter and I killed her. What's it to you?)
      Muzaffarnagar, which is fast acquiring the
      nickname 'Muhhabatnagar', is a hub of honour

      Local residents, still steeped in their age old
      traditions, feel that honour comes before
      anything else and love affairs before marriage is
      a breach of that honour. Everything for them is
      fair as far as long as it protects this wild

      According to local doctor D K Singh, these
      villagers will do anything to protect their
      honour - burn their children alive, push them in
      front of running trains, force them to drink
      urine, eat excreta, shoot them and decapitate
      them. Finally, though, it is death. This is not

      When a TOI team reached village Ukawali, in
      Baraut, and spoke to Rajnath Tyagi, a former
      teacher, he was quick to respond: "Children who
      do not protect our honour should be killed."
      Recently, Tyagi's brother killed his daughter
      Sonika's lover. The girl, however, is missing.
      He, too, justifies the crime.

      "This is not love, it is lust." According to
      Rajesh Verma, another local resident, these
      deaths are a daily incident here. "Rarely is any
      FIR lodged," he says. "Even if it is, there is a
      compromise between the girl's and boy's families.
      It is only after this that the police give a
      final report."

      Community honour is sometimes avenged with
      retaliatory gangrapes. Memories of one such case
      are still fresh in peoples' minds. Sunita was
      gangraped because her brother ran away with the
      girl he loved. She was stabbed numerous times
      after that. Her body still bears those dreadful
      injuries, her mind the dreadful day.

      Police officer Jagdish Vashishth appeared
      powerless. "Almost none of the killings are
      reported," he said. "Villagers tell us that we
      can't interfere in panchayat's decision. They
      have some traditions and they follow them
      religiously, we are kept out of this."

      When the TOI team took a policeman along to
      report the murder of Radha, he just sat there
      sipping tea and eating food at the pradhan's
      house. He said nothing about an inquiry.
      Intriguingly, he, along with the villagers, gave
      the impression that they knew nothing about the
      gruesome incident that took place in the village
      just a day before.

      Brinda Karat, general secretary, AIDWA, said, "We
      have been pursuing the National Human Rights
      Commission to act against those encouraging
      honour killings, and to force the government to
      take suo motu action whenever such killings come
      to light.

      But there is not a single incident in which
      proper action has been taken." There are other
      forms of honour killings. No farmer in this
      village sleeps without keeping a katta (country
      made gun) under his pillow. Just last week, a
      farmer killed another because there was an
      argument over who would tie his buffalo onto the
      village khoonta (peg).

      The issue was not about the khoonta nor about the
      buffalo. It was about the moustache, the honour.
      The government will have to wake up and protect
      the young who have no control over their hearts.
      Because in Muzaffarnagar, elders have no control
      over their knives.



      Inter Press Service,
      29 June 2006

      by Praful Bidwai

      With the House International Relations Committee
      (HIRC) of the United States House of
      Representatives gaining overwhelming bipartisan
      support for a draft bill to allow resumption of
      civilian nuclear commerce between India and the
      U.S., the path is clearer for the controversial
      nuclear deal signed a year ago between President
      George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
      Under the Bush-Singh agreement, India would be
      allowed to keep its nuclear weapons, but must
      separate its civilian nuclear facilities from
      military ones and agree to place the former under
      International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
      No less than 37 members of the 50-member HIRC
      voted in favor of the bill, on Tuesday, while
      only five voted against it. The legislation is
      now slated for a "markup" to the full House of
      Representatives. Thereafter, the Senate Foreign
      Relations Committee is expected to mark up a
      separate version for the Senate.
      With this will begin the final push to get U.S.
      Congress to make a one-time exception for India
      in the global nuclear-military order.
      Significantly, one of the amendments approved by
      HIRC emphasizes that the change in rules for the
      45-member nuclear suppliers group (NSG) would
      apply solely to India and no other country.
      Another non-binding amendment says that the U.S.
      should "secure India's full and active
      participation in U.S. efforts to dissuade,
      isolate and, if necessary, sanction and contain
      Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass
      destruction, including a nuclear weapons
      capability (including the capability to enrich or
      process nuclear materials) and the means to
      deliver weapons of mass destruction."
      Both supporters and opponents of the deal are
      mobilizing themselves hard for the final thrust.
      Among the supporters are administration
      officials, a large number of Republican
      legislators, and the powerful lobby of rich and
      influential nonresident Indians settled in the
      U.S., all backed by sections of the Indian media
      who act as crusaders for the deal.
      Already, a series of stories and articles
      promoting the agreement, based on selective
      back-room official briefings, have appeared in
      India in a well-orchestrated campaign. President
      Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and
      now Vice President Dick Cheney have all thrown
      their weight behind the U.S. and India Nuclear
      Cooperation Promotion Act, 2006.
      Opposing the deal are peace-minded scientists,
      numerous nonproliferation experts, including some
      being mobilized by the Arms Control Association,
      and a cross-section of U.S. lawmakers, especially
      Democrats, considered nonproliferation "hawks."
      Opponents of the deal are reportedly trying to
      make the relevant legislation conditional upon
      India limiting the size of its atomic arsenal by
      agreeing to freeze the production of
      nuclear-weapons fuel (fissile material)
      unilaterally, or through regional arrangements
      involving China and Pakistan.
      The Bush administration has been trying hard to
      keep the "markup" drafts of the House and Senate
      Committees strictly within the boundaries of the
      understandings already reached with India in July
      2005 and on March 2.
      Many legislators, however, have been pressing for
      language that stresses traditional U.S. concerns
      about proliferation and strong support for the
      Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which
      India has not signed. Some are laying down other
      criteria too, such as India's backing for a
      fissile materials cutoff treaty (FMCT), now
      before the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
      However, none of these additional or extraneous
      clauses is of an operative, binding, or
      deal-breaking character. While their language may
      not be palatable to India, it will probably
      accept it so long as it does not impose an
      additional constraint upon it. If further
      amendments are moved, especially relating to the
      FMCT, the Bush administration is likely to
      mobilize votes to defeat them.
      "The Indian government has so much to gain from
      the agreement going through the U.S. Congress
      that it should, logically, show a lot of
      flexibility," says Anil Choudhury of the
      Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in
      New Delhi. "Having an ineffectual, non-binding
      line here or there won't make a difference."
      However, a problem might arise if the U.S.
      administration and Congress reach a compromise on
      the sections dealing with the termination of the
      agreement should India conduct a nuclear test or
      violate its safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
      Currently, some furious bargaining is taking
      place on these issues. There is only a narrow
      time-window open for debating the deal and the
      relevant legislation. Congress' calendar has only
      15 working days in July. If it does not complete
      its deliberations by the first week of August, it
      is unlikely to do so before it moves toward
      dissolution and fresh elections.
      A strong, indeed overwhelming, bipartisan vote in
      both Houses is considered a precondition for the
      deal to go through. A weak vote would mean that
      some congressmen would be reluctant to take up
      the entire set of bills because they are
      contentious and need a lot of discussion.
      From the Indian government's point of view, there
      is another risk, which may be linked to an effort
      to avert a weak vote. To reach a broad,
      bipartisan consensus, the administration may have
      to agree to certain amendments to the original
      text of the concerned bills.
      If, in the process, the final text introduces
      oversight conditions or other criteria not
      included in the India-U.S. agreements reached so
      far, that will make the Indian government
      vulnerable to the charge that it has compromised
      the nation's vital interests.
      Already sensing an opportunity to corner the
      government, the pro-Hindu, right-wing Bharatiya
      Janata Party, which leads the opposition, has
      hardened its stand against the Indo-U.S. deal.
      Last week, it submitted a memorandum to India's
      president, saying that it opposes it in its
      present form and will not consider it binding
      upon future governments.
      The Singh government must look over its shoulder.
      But it knows, like the pro-nuclear Indian elite,
      that the price of making small compromises is
      well worth paying for a deal that allows India to
      keep nuclear weapons and import civilian nuclear
      technology or materials, besides strengthening a
      "strategic partnership" with Washington, with
      which to jointly neutralize China and act as the
      U.S.' most trusted partner in South and Southeast
      However, for purely domestic consumption, the
      government presents the deal as a means of
      righting a "historical wrong," namely the denial
      of dual-use and sensitive technologies to India
      for 30 years because of its first nuclear
      explosion in 1974.
      In reality, there has been very little denial,
      except in the civilian-nuclear and missile
      fields. Nor has India suffered significantly from
      sanctions. It has only suffered a modest and
      poorly performing nuclear power program. But now,
      India can substantially expand nuclear power
      generation and divert imported uranium to
      military uses, critics say.

      Copyright 2006 Inter Press Service



      INSAF Bulletin
      July 2006



      (Vinod Mubayi based on information from Suhas Paranjape)

      Vijay Kanhere, 55, a creative, passionately involved social activist who
      worked in the peasant movement and in issues related to occupational
      health of workers passed away recently in Mumbai due to cardiac
      complications. Vijay was born in 1951, the fourth child of Manorama and
      Purushottam Kanhere. His mother had studied only up to the seventh
      standard before her marriage. His father, a teacher, had a post graduate
      degree in Sanskrit and also a law degree. His mother later studied and
      completed her graduation when she was fifty-one years old. All through
      she was working outside the home as a teacher and inside the home as the
      mother of five children. She studied after her seventh standard as an
      external student. Vijay grew up in Tarapore, (now urbanized with an
      atomic energy plant and many industries there) a small village then. He
      wanted to study pure sciences and later teach. In the last year of his
      graduation, in 1971, India was in turmoil. Studies were not engaging
      enough. Having read about Baba Amte's 'Workers' University' he left
      Mumbai and traveled to Somanath Project in Chandrapur district of
      Maharashtra. Baba Amte accepted him as a student there and they worked
      as workers in the fields and read books and discussed amongst

      At around this time, a movement of adivasis was taking shape in Shahada
      taluka of Dhule district in northern Maharashtra bordering Gujarat and
      Madhya Pradesh. Five activists went to Shahade in the then Dhulia
      district (now Nandurbar). Initially they had given a firm commitment of
      working there for six months. But their involvement in the immense
      problems of the adivasis in the area led to two of them, including
      Vijay, continuing to work there for more than a decade. The initial
      issue taken up was the loss of lands of the tribal population. It was
      realized through surveys that sixty percent of tribals were landless in
      the plains. A movement of landless labourers began in 1972. Massive
      efforts by people gave birth to a lively organization - Shramik
      Sanghatana, a path breaking effort. Over the years, a pattern developed
      where representatives of labourers consulted with the mass of labourers
      gathered outside the place of negotiations all through the process of
      negotiations. This practice led to, for the first time, women laborers
      sitting face to face with landowners to negotiate their wages.

      In a note describing his experiences Vijay wrote: "Men from both sides
      asked, 'What is the need for women to sit in this negotiation?' This
      was reported to the gathering outside by me and women objected. They
      insisted and they sat through in the negotiations. It is felt by people
      that people are recipients of good ideas and leaders provide ideas and
      guidance. I took up research to find out attempts made by people before
      the emergence of Ambarsing Suratvanti a towering personality and a very
      deep thoughtful adivasi leader who was born, brought up and worked in
      Dhule. Were people 'active' before Ambarsing and before urban youths
      like us joined the movement? I realized and documented efforts by people
      in three villages in three different circumstances in that area. I was
      able to document long, protracted and heroic struggles of the aadivasi
      labourers. These had not been documented and were not part of their
      self-image. These were not part of our own thinking either. People used
      to say, "Only after you came we became wise, only because of Ambarsing
      we improved". We used to respond, "No! No! Organization exists because
      of you." This statement needed a solid basis. People had struggled and
      learnt lessons from their struggles without any formal leadership. When
      the lessons were reflected in a new leadership and organization, they
      responded wholeheartedly. People had their own storage of knowledge and

      This and other similar experiences led to the first 'Women's Shibir' (a
      study camp) at Kharavad in 1973. Women complained about, among other
      problems, the problem of alcoholism among men. After a suggestion to act
      and not remain confined to complaints, all the women went to a nearby
      village Karankheda and encircled that small village and broke all the
      liquor pots. Later this powerful practice continued not only in that
      area but also in other parts of India.

      In 1984 Vijay got interested in the issue of Occupational Health (OH)
      prior to the disaster in Bhopal. As part of this activity, Vijay was
      instrumental in the formation of Occupational Health and Safety Center
      (OHSC) in Mumbai. He remained the coordinator of OHSC from 1988 till his
      death. The first activity was the study of OH problems of sewer workers
      who enter underground sewers. This was done on the suggestion of their
      union. He worked consistently with the union of municipal workers in
      Mumbai, the Municipal Majdoor Union (MMU) and the union of municipal
      nurses and paramedical staff. Later he initiated orientation courses for
      doctors, as there are very few inputs on OH issues in their graduation
      studies. The idea of 'open house ongoing workers' training' was
      initiated by Vijay. Later it spread to Amritsar, Ahmedabad and
      Aurangabad. It was converted into an advice and check-up center with a
      strong component of training. Vijay worked with groups working on
      environmental concerns and was a panelist of the People's Tribunal in
      Vadodara organized by the Indian People's Tribunal. Activity with
      various sections of municipal workers - garages, malaria control,
      hospitals and others in Mumbai led to the idea of building of unity of
      worker-citizens and other citizens. Vijay also initiated activity in
      Aurangabad, Maharashtra regarding byssinosis - a pulmonary disease of
      textile workers caused due to cotton dust - and about starting a
      doctors' orientation course. It was partly due to his efforts that a
      National Campaign on Dust Related Lung Diseases was initiated and
      activities on byssinosis in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and Amritsar took shape
      as part of this campaign. Vijay played an active role in discussing with
      many activists, workers, leaders, environmentalists and scientists in
      many countries the vast storage of knowledge on OH among workers and the
      realization that efforts by workers to bring in safer workplaces remain
      largely undocumented. Vijay was also involved with the environmental
      group Parivartan led by Ashok Kadam and the idea of the `People's Plan
      of Development'

      Vijay leaves behind his younger sister, Swatija Manorama, who is active
      in the women's movement and is part of Forum Against Oppression of Women
      (FAOW), his wife Sujata Gothoskar who is one of the founders of FAOW and
      the Women's Centre and a researcher in problems faced by women workers
      in particular, and his daughter Aaloka, a mathematician besides his
      countless friends and co-workers.


      [6] BOOK REVIEWS

      o o


      July 08 , 2006


      A new translation of Hindi writer Ugra reveals
      subtler layers beneath his anti-queer stance,
      finds Gautam Bhan

      Writing the history of homophobia is as important
      as writing the history of same-sex
      relationships." This is Ruth Vanita's premise in
      her translation from Hindi of the stories of
      Pandey Bechan Sharma (1900-1960). Under the pen
      name 'Ugra', literally meaning 'extreme', Sharma
      wrote, in 1927, a series of stories called
      Chocolate, remarkable - or notorious - for
      speaking openly of male-male desire at a time
      when sexuality of any kind was absent from public
      discourse, and same-sex desire was virtually

      In its day, the book sold widely, going into a
      second edition within weeks. The stories caused a
      furore and led to modern India's first public
      debate on homosexuality, representing, in the
      1920s, a level of dialogue that those of us in
      the modern queer movement have cause to envy.
      While Ugra, a known nationalist and a Gandhian,
      was explicit in his intent to "expose and
      eradicate homosexuality", his critics argued
      that, in his "descriptions of beautiful boys", he
      attracted his readers to "unnatural misconduct"
      rather than repulsed them. Each of the stories,
      it is true, carry clear messages that condemn
      same-desire and offer dire consequences for the
      protagonists who espouse it. Yet, as Vanita
      points out, in a context of utter silence, even
      condemned characters constitute a history, and
      form a picture, however distorted, of "the urban
      Indian homosexual and bisexual men's social life
      and language in the early 20th century".

      With a lengthy and excellent introduction that
      guides the reader through the complexities of
      Ugra's work, Vanita argues that the stories are
      open to many readings. Many of his characters,
      for example, were upper-class, educated, working
      professionals. Except for one story set in jail,
      none were thought to have turned homosexual due
      to the absence of women. Familiar tropes in
      modern homophobic literature - of disease, mental
      illness, and the lack of women - are absent. None
      of the characters suffer from guilt. Though dire
      material and social consequences are threatened,
      the near-universal existence of same-sex desire
      is not questioned. In each of the stories, the
      protagonist happily expresses his desire, and
      while there is one main morally dissenting voice,
      there are others that accept and appreciate the
      desire. In essence, the stories - while clearly
      against same-sex desire in narrative - also offer
      it space. In the 1920s, when Chocolate was
      perhaps the only publicly accessible homosexual
      text, its potential for subversive reading cannot
      be undermined.

      Vanita's introduction is a much-needed guard
      against a purely homophobic reading of the book.
      It ensures that the contexts and complexities of
      the text are appreciated. In the language of
      homophobia, there is also embedded the language
      of change. Understanding this will make
      responding to our own contemporary conservative
      forces that much easier.

      Gautam Bhan is a queer rights activist

      o o o o


      The Observer
      June 25, 2006


      In Pankaj Mishra's Temptations of the West: How
      to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond,
      Soumya Bhattacharya finds a compelling blend of
      memoir, narrative history, politics, religion and

      Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond
      by Pankaj Mishra
      Picador £16.99, pp439

      In the second of the nine essays in this engaging
      and illuminating anthology, Pankaj Mishra meets
      Tarun Vijay, editor of the Hindi magazine of the
      RSS, an evangelical organisation 'dedicated to
      establishing a Hindu nation by uniting Hindus
      from all castes and sects and by forcing Muslims,
      Christians and other Indian minorities to embrace
      Hindu culture'. When they meet, India is ruled by
      a coalition led by the right-wing Hindu
      nationalist party, the BJP.

      The RSS, Mishra finds, seeks 'an alternative
      route to Western modernity'. This becomes clearer
      when an exultant Vijay shows Mishra a story in
      his magazine about the patenting of cow urine in
      America. 'Western science,' he said, 'had
      validated the ancient Hindu belief in the
      holiness of the cow.'

      This passage offers a sort of coda to Temptations
      of the West, an urgent examination of societies
      trying to come to terms with modernity. The
      passage is typical of the manner in which Mishra
      builds his case. He is a keen observer of people,
      he has a great eye for detail, and he lets his
      thorough, uncompromising reportage speak for
      itself. And his writing is often backlit by a
      sly, delightful sense of humour.

      For years now, Mishra has written superbly about
      India. Several essays in this book were written
      when the BJP-led government ruled India. It was
      voted out in 2004 after the party, having
      conflated the concerns of the urban rich with
      those of the 72 per cent of the population that
      lives in the hinterland, fought an election on
      the slogan 'India Shining'. That election showed
      again that India's metropolitan elite is hardly
      representative of the country. Which is why,
      despite much talk about India being the back
      office of the world and the boom in the IT
      sector, the internet still reaches only 2 per
      cent of the population. The Economist recently
      said that India has to grow much faster 'if the
      260 million who live on less than $1 a day are to
      be lifted out of poverty'.

      Mishra brings out the gulf between the
      aggressively consumerist, affluent urban elite
      and the vast majority of the poor, living in
      shocking deprivation.

      As the subtitle suggests, this book is not merely
      about India. Travelling to Afghanistan, Mishra
      discovers that 'the obstinacy and the
      destructiveness of the Taliban now appear to be
      part of the history of Afghanistan's calamitous
      encounter with the modern world'. Tibet shows him
      how, 'like all traditional people faced with
      modernisation, their choices are drastically
      limited. To embrace the glittering new world of
      China is to become as materialist and secular as
      the post-communist Chinese.'

      Mishra offers a compelling blend of memoir,
      narrative history, politics, religion and
      philosophy. The template of modernity he shows us
      is from the West, but it is not always ideal.
      Thoughtful, intelligent and rigorous, this is a
      deep, insightful study of the very notion of

      · To order the Temptations of the West for £15.99
      with free UK p&p, go to observer.co.uk/bookshop
      or call 0870 836 0885


      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/

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