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S.Sanu: Re-Imagining Religious Freedom

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  • yogi sikand
    Reimagining Religious Freedom by: Sankrant Sanu on Dec 2 2005 1:36AM Sulekha.com Originally published in Manushi. The doctrine of religious freedom is
    Message 1 of 7 , Dec 3, 2005
      Reimagining Religious Freedom

      by: Sankrant Sanu on Dec 2 2005 1:36AM
      Originally published in Manushi.

      The doctrine of religious freedom is enshrined in the
      UN charter under the
      declaration of Universal Human Rights and also in
      article 25 of the Indian
      constitution. Both these declarations state that the
      right to “change” one’s
      religion is a universal human right. The Indian
      constitution goes further by
      including the right to “propagate” one’s religion as a
      fundamental right.

      Since the right to “change” and to “propagate”
      religion is given to all
      individuals it is assumed to be universal, fair and
      neutral. We argue in this
      essay that there are at least two distinct viewpoints
      that come from different
      types of religious traditions. Religious freedom, as
      currently defined,
      privileges one view of religion over others. This
      privileging, enshrined in law,
      has real-world implications. It is proposed that more
      balanced definitions of
      religious freedom would better promote religious
      harmony and religious

      1. How the native traditions consider

      “What is religion?” is a question that scholars still
      actively debate. For
      understanding religious freedom we need to examine the
      distinctions between two
      kinds of traditions that are classified as “religion.”
      In particular, there is a
      distinction between what African scholar Makau Mutua
      calls “proselytizing
      universalist faiths”[i] and other human traditions.
      Balgangadhara[ii] argues in
      detail that the concept of religion exemplified by the
      Abrahamic faiths is in an
      entirely different category than those of the other
      traditions. Differences in
      conceptions of religious freedom thus arise from the
      differences in category.

      Here is what Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, the last of
      the pagan prefects of Rome,
      when faced with official Christian persecution of the
      ancient Roman traditions,
      had to say in the 4th century C.E.:

      “Grant, I beg you, that what in our youth we took over
      from our fathers, we may
      in our old age hand to prosperity. The love of
      established practice is a
      powerful sentiment … Everyone has his own customs, his
      own religious practices;
      the divine mind has assigned to different cities
      different religions to be their
      guardians. …

      And so we ask for peace for the gods of our fathers,
      for the gods of our native
      land. It is reasonable that whatever each of us
      worships is really to be
      considered one and the same. … What does it matter
      what practical system we
      adopt in our search for truth? Not by one avenue only
      can we arrive at so
      tremendous a secret.”[iii]

      Let us zoom forward a few thousand years, to another
      continent, the “New World”
      of the Americas. The chief of a Native American tribe
      offered this reply to a
      Christian missionary’s proselytizing sermon:

      “The Almighty, for any thing we know, may have
      communicated himself to different
      races of people in a different manner. Some say they
      have the will of God in
      writing; be it so, their revelation has no advantage
      above ours, since both are
      equally sufficient to save, or the end of the
      revelation would be frustrated …
      the difference can only lay in the mode of

      The remonstrances of the Native American tribes were,
      insufficient to save their traditions from assault by
      those that claimed theirs
      was the only true way. Regis Pecob, Member of the
      Pueblo Tribal Council
      presented the following testimony, included in the
      hearings on Religious Freedom
      before the US Congress in 1994.[v]

      “For the Pueblo, this long road began with the efforts
      of the Spanish to
      forcibly impose Catholicism and destroy our
      traditional spiritual beliefs. We
      survived that campaign only at great human cost—in
      torture, in murder, in
      mutilation, in the destruction of whole communities.”

      He quoted further a 1924 declaration of the Pueblos:

      “We have met because our most fundamental right of
      religious liberty is
      threatened. … the religious beliefs and ceremonies and
      forms of prayer of each
      of our pueblos are as old as the world and they are
      holy. … To pass this
      religion, with hidden sacred knowledge and its many
      forms of prayer, on to our
      children, is our supreme duty to our ancestors and to
      our own hearts and to the
      God whom we know. Our religion is a true religion, and
      it is our way of life. We
      must now tell how our religious freedom is threatened
      and denied to us.” [em.

      Let us now consider a place far removed from Americas.

      “I came to the conclusion long ago that all religions
      were true and also that
      all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my
      own, I should hold others as
      dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are
      Hindus, not that a Christian
      should become a Hindu. But our innermost prayer should
      be a Hindu should be a
      better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a
      better Christian.”[vi]

      This is Gandhi writing in Young India in 1928.

      Oddly enough, none of these peoples considered
      defining religious freedom as the
      freedom to change their religion. Quite the contrary.
      For them religion
      constituted the traditions and practices handed down
      by their ancestors. In this
      view it is equally absurd for someone to discard these
      traditions to adopt
      someone else’s religion as it would be to change one’s
      ancestors for someone
      else’s. Similar ideas of “religion” are found in the
      many native communities in
      India and throughout the world. If all people have
      their traditions and each is
      valid for them, why would one want to cause someone
      else to change? Indeed the
      freedom they sought was precisely the opposite – the
      right to pass on their
      traditions onto their children without interference
      and without being subjected
      to organized campaigns to get them to change.

      2. What religion is

      Let us now examine some quotes with a different
      perspective on this issue.

      The International Mission Board’s page on
      “Mobilization for Missions” opens with
      the following quote:

      “"Declare his (God's) glory among the heathen, his
      wonders among all people."
      Psalm 96:3 God wants Southern Baptists as a people to
      mobilize vast resources
      for reaching all people groups for Jesus Christ.”
      [vii][em in original]

      The International Mission Board is very clear in its
      goals – its stated vision
      is to “to lead Southern Baptists to be on mission with
      God to bring all the
      peoples of the world (‘panta ta ethne’) to saving
      faith in Jesus Christ.” This
      vision is apparently authorized by no less than God

      “We must realize that this is not our mission;
      however, it is God’s mission, and
      He has called us as His people to join Him in
      fulfilling that mission.”

      Their aims are nothing short of the apocalyptic end of
      the world. As their
      documents proclaim:

      “It is a vision that will be fulfilled, for Jesus said
      in Matthew 24:14, “The
      gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole
      world as a witness to every
      nation and then the end will come.”

      Is this some fringe missionary group? Hardly. The
      International Mission Board is
      an entity of the influential Southern Baptist
      Convention. The Southern Baptist
      Convention in the United States was formed in 1845
      mainly to create mission
      boards. It boasts of over 16 million members and runs
      48 Baptist Colleges and
      Universities. It counts several past United States’
      Presidents among its members
      and its revenues from member contributions top $9
      billion annually, in league
      with the largest corporations. President George W.
      Bush has addressed each of
      the Convention’s last four annual meetings.

      The Baptists, however, do not view their missionary
      program as a program against
      religious liberty. On the contrary, they claim that
      “Religious freedom was a
      distinctively Baptist contribution as formulated in
      the First Amendment to the
      U.S. Constitution”[viii]. The Baptist views on
      religious freedom include “the
      right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of
      religion without
      interference by the civil power” [ix] precisely the
      kind of sentiment that finds
      expression in the Indian constitution.

      3. A question of choice?

      The secular idea of the freedom of religion, born of
      the European experience
      with religion, presumes that the right to belief and
      the change of belief
      without restriction or favor from the government is
      sufficient for religious
      liberty. In effect, it creates a competitive
      marketplace of religious belief.
      This idea of a competitive marketplace of religion is,
      however, not a universal
      idea, but those of particular faiths. Thus these
      faiths are asymmetrically
      equipped to compete in this marketplace since others
      do not view religion as a
      competitive endeavor in a similar way. As a result the
      idea of “free choice” in
      this marketplace becomes highly asymmetrical in
      practice, favoring imperialistic
      proselytizing creeds over local traditions.

      3.1 Competitive religion: The asymmetry of
      doctrine and motivation

      The first asymmetry is the asymmetry of doctrines. For
      most of the native
      traditions the idea of preaching to others to get them
      to abandon their
      traditions and follow someone else’s is absurd. For
      the proselytizing creeds, to
      do so is a religious imperative, central to their

      The charter of World Evangelism is justified using
      Biblical quotes. “Go
      therefore, and make disciples of all the nations”
      reads the quote attributed to
      Jesus on the Joshua Project website.[x] This task is
      taken seriously and
      literally. The evangelical Joshua Project website’s
      charter is “Bringing
      Definition to the Unfinished task.” The Joshua Project
      was born out of the AD
      2000[xi] movement with the goal to “plant a Church”
      amongst every people group
      by the year 2000. The co-chairman and godfather of the
      movement is the
      evangelist Billy Graham whom President George W Bush
      credits for his
      “born-again” conversion. In 1995 the movement
      sponsored the Global Consultation
      on World Evangelization in Seoul, South Korea where
      “4,000 Christian leaders
      from 186 countries, including India, gathered to draw
      up secret and covert
      (world) evangelical plans.”[xii]

      Hundreds of seminaries and missionary colleges exist
      to teach strategies for
      evangelization—what works, what doesn’t work, how to
      prepare, how to leverage
      social and economic problems and issues, how to create
      multi-media marketing
      campaigns complete with personal customer testimonials
      and how to influence the
      media. The evangelicals are, in their own words,
      “mobilized for mission”, to
      “make disciples of every nation.”

      The “Sonar” community of India recently got prime
      billing in the “prayer” site
      of the International Mission Board.

      “Did you know that the Sonar people of Maharashtra,
      India, are the primary
      crafters of gold and silver Hindu idols? These idols
      are the most powerful
      stronghold that Satan has upon the Hindu worshipers in
      India and around the
      world. When the Sonar people embrace the gospel of
      Jesus Christ, the subsequent
      change in their livelihood could have a huge ripple
      effect in the world of
      Hinduism. As one international Christian worker said,
      “When we reach the Sonar
      with the gospel, we will see the collapse of
      Hinduism.” Pray that the gospel
      would flow through and permeate the Sonar culture like
      molten silver fills a

      The idea that people would pray for the collapse of
      other religious traditions,
      branded as Satanic, highlights the distinction of
      doctrine between the two kinds
      of traditions.

      For one side, that holds the views “to each their own”
      religion is not seen as a
      competitive enterprise, far less a war for outright
      global monopoly. They have
      not asked for this war. Many are not even aware that
      they are at war till it
      comes to their doorstep. Non-Abrahamic traditions are
      neither tolerant nor
      intolerant towards other traditions. They are simply
      indifferent – to each their
      own, they hold. While for the proselytizing religions,
      conversion of others –is
      considered an essential component of advancing “God’s
      work.” The other
      traditions are, at best, preparations for conversion
      into the “One True
      Religion” and, at worst, downright Satanic. For the
      evangelicals, conversion is
      a moral position. It is not seen as an act of
      aggression on other traditions,
      but merely the benevolent saving of the heathens who
      would otherwise be
      condemned to hell. They cannot thus be, doctrinally,
      indifferent to these
      others. When combined with institutional mobilization,
      this becomes !
      a global war for religious affiliation -- the target
      no less than the
      eradication of all other religions that are seen as
      competitors keeping humans
      in the sway of Satan.

      Thus the campaign for conversion is fundamentally
      unsymmetrical. The native
      traditions are grossly unprepared to fight this war.
      Unlike the mission
      organizations, they have not collected the
      demographics of their “opponents”,
      their sources of funds, their social problems,
      competitive analyses of their
      creeds, their strengths and weaknesses, the flaws in
      their marketing literature.
      They haven’t prepared their own list of target groups
      among the “non-believers.”
      They haven’t, because unlike the evangelicals, they do
      not consider all the
      other traditions of the worlds as their opponents and
      competitors. There is no
      doctrine within these traditions that supports the
      idea that all other people on
      the planet must be converted to their particular way.

      Ironically it is secular ideas of the human right of
      religious freedom that are
      used to protect evangelical expansion against native
      traditions. Makau Mutua,
      writing about the African traditions, points out that
      “the (human) rights regime
      incorrectly assumes a level playing field by requiring
      that African religions
      compete in the marketplace of ideas. The rights
      corpus not only forcibly
      imposes on African religions the obligation to
      compete—a task for which as
      nonproselytizing, noncompetitive creeds they are not
      historically fashioned—but
      also protects the evangelizing religions in their
      march towards universalization
      … it seems inconceivable that the human rights regime
      would have intended to
      protect the right of certain religions to destroy

      Similarly, the Asian Tribune puts forth a Buddhist
      perspective on conversions in
      Sri Lanka:

      “The stubborn refusal of Western religious rights
      groups to see the conversion
      issue in its proper Asian context has seriously
      complicated the matter. Buddhism
      in Sri Lanka as in Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Laos and
      Tibet is inextricably
      linked to the country’s cultural and national heritage

      Instead, Buddhists allege that the West wants to
      impose on Sri Lanka the
      Protestant concept of a gathered congregation of
      individual believers, a notion
      that has shaped the development of provisions
      protecting religious freedom under
      international law. But the problem is that this law
      was developed to protect
      individuals and religious groups from the State
      persecution and not to protect
      one religious community from being proselytized by
      another, according to
      Buddhist lawyers who are actively campaigning for the
      enactment of
      anti-conversion legislation. ”[xv] (em. added)

      In other words, secular ideas of human rights to
      religious freedom protect
      religious groups from state interference – addressing
      the problems that Europe
      encountered, but not the issues faced in the Asian
      context. Thus these ideas do
      not account for conflict and repression caused by
      powerful well-funded global
      corporate entities seeking to eliminate the religious
      traditions of local

      Even if the native traditions were resourced and aware
      to respond to the
      evangelical activity, to be forced to respond to it is
      also a curtailment of
      their freedom. This is because a response to
      evangelical activity in kind will
      invariably turn the traditions into a mirror image of
      those religions and into a
      caricature of their own traditions i.e. they would
      have end up accepting the
      position of the proselytizing creeds that religion is
      a competitive endeavor and
      is a global war. In a war, they would study how to
      bring the “fight” to the
      other side. So as the Baptists launched their mission
      to convert the Nagas, the
      Nagas would launch missions to convert the Baptists.
      The fact that they don’t is
      the fundamental difference between the two kinds of
      religious systems that leads
      to the asymmetry of motivation. As Swami Dayananda
      Saraswati writes in an open
      letter to the Pope:

      “You cannot ask me to respond to conversion by
      converting others to my religion
      because it is not part of my tradition. … Thus,
      conversion is not merely
      violence against people; it is violence against people
      who are committed to
      non-violence.” [xvi]

      While the competitive view of religion is natural to
      the evangelical, to respond
      in kind makes native traditions into something that
      they are not. This is
      precisely why there is such conflict and ambivalence
      over the “re-conversion”
      activities of Hindutva in India. In responding to
      conversion by re-conversion,
      Hindutva forms itself into a mirror of the
      proselytizing religions. While
      ostensibly seeking to uphold the Indian traditions, it
      itself changes them into
      a competitive Abrahamic caricature in a way that makes
      most Indians deeply

      Thus evangelical activity takes away religious freedom
      from the native
      traditions on two accounts. To respond competitively
      would be to alter one’s
      traditions into competitive religions in the mirror
      image of the
      evangelizers—i.e. to treat the conversion game as a
      religious war for headcount.
      To passively fail to respond would mean the gradual
      erosion and destruction of
      one’s traditions. This catch-22 occurs because the
      playing field of religious
      freedom itself has been defined based on the religious
      history and doctrines of
      one side.

      3.2 No level-playing field: The Asymmetry
      of Power and Resources

      The second asymmetry is the asymmetry of power and
      resources. When religious
      freedom gets defined simply as the non-interference of
      the state in religious
      activity it serves to privilege those private
      institutions that view religion as
      a competitive quest for monopoly and have mobilized
      enormous resources to this
      end. It thus favors organized institutional religions
      over those whose
      traditions don’t have a corporate charter.
      Evangelical Missions should best be
      considered local sales offices of large multi-national
      corporations. How large?
      The International Mission Board 2005 budget is $283.1
      million (over Rs. 1200
      crores). A similar amount in 2004 led to the
      “planting” of over 21,000 churches
      across the globe. The one-year revenue of
      institutionalized Christianity is
      estimated to be $260 billion dollars (2001)
      figures.[xvii] About a fifth of
      this, $47 billion, are allocated to global mission
      work every year, comparable
      to the entire annual net tax revenue of the government
      of India. Clearly we are dealing with a very well
      financed and well organized
      global enterprise. The business of conversion is big
      business. It demands
      results in terms of numbers converted. The
      well-publicized stories of “success
      amidst difficulty” sustain the fund-raising activities
      of evangelical groups.

      The Joshua Project[xviii] tracks every “unreached
      people group” in the world,
      over 6 thousand at last count, providing detailed
      linguistic, demographic and
      targeting information. This project, started by a
      splinter group of American
      Evangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting
      Network, is “a large-scale
      intelligence operation that brought together American
      strategists, theologians,
      missionary specialists, demographers, technologists,
      anthropologists and researchers to create the most
      comprehensive people group
      profiles in the 10/40 window…” The 10/40 window,
      denoting the latitudes on the
      globe considered the prime target for conversion, has
      India squarely in its
      sights. The information is so detailed that “the
      ethno-linguistic profiling …
      cannot even be matched by data with the government of
      India.”[xix] Its mission
      is “to identify and highlight the people groups of the
      world that have the least
      exposure to the Gospel and the least Christian
      presence in t!
      heir midst. The Joshua Project shares this information
      “to encourage pioneer
      church-planting movements among every ethnic people
      group.”[xx] According to the
      Project overview “Mission agencies use the data to
      strategically determine where
      to send new church-planting teams.” Mission Frontiers
      magazine tracks the
      “progress” in reaching those people – between 1995 and
      2000, 1200 additional
      people groups were subjected to a “Church Planting”
      movement in their midst.

      Among the targets—the small “Akha” group in Vietnam
      consisting of a mere 3040
      people following their ethnic traditions to the
      largest groups—the 13 million
      Sinhalese who follow Buddhism—only 4% of which have
      yet been converted according
      to the Joshua database. India contains the largest
      number of targeted groups.
      Sample targets – among the Buddhists – the 102,480
      Bhotias in Sikkim, and the
      47,030 Sherpas, the 162,210 Tibetan Buddhists and the
      8,410,800 Marathi Nau
      Buddhists; the 3,165,200 Bania Jains; among the
      Muslims – the 9,796,100 Ansaris,
      the 6,938,600 Sayyids, the 894,690 Faqirs and the
      112,420 Ganchis. The tribal
      religionists are, of course, the easiest targets, many
      of them having already
      been “reached” – a remaining sample include the
      Mongpa, all of 850 people,
      following Tibetan Himalayan customs. The Sikhs are
      another major target –
      further divided into 58 groups, from the 11,581,200
      Jat Sikhs to the 880
      Assamese Sikhs. Among the 1596 Hindu target groups –
      the 3.!
      4 million Aroras, the 53.5 million Yadavs, the 6.9
      million Nairs, the Sonar
      community of nearly 6.5 million people to the barely
      14,000 Kashmiri Hindu

      To each of these thousands of target groups gets
      assigned church planting teams,
      missionaries, resources, funds, media support, Bibles
      in their language and
      dubbed versions of the “Jesus” film (with children’s
      versions), now available in
      a staggering 877 languages. No other global corporate
      multinational could come
      close to a marketing campaign of this breadth.

      To imagine that the native traditions are “free” to
      compete in the
      well-resourced global onslaught is to ignore both the
      disparity of resources,
      and more importantly fundamental differences in the
      nature of the traditions.
      The idea of a “free market” of religions thus arises
      from and supports the
      competitive world view of evangelical religion.

      Since the believers of evangelical religions consider
      missionary activity as
      part of their faith, such believers in high places can
      have a disproportionate
      impact over those of non-evangelical traditions. The
      report “George Bush Has a
      Conversion Agenda for India”[xxi] describes the US
      President as “probably the
      most resourceful and influential Christian Missionary
      ever.” While Bush Jr.’s
      evangelical beliefs get a lot of attention, this is
      certainly not a new
      phenomena in the US. Faith has always been a very
      important issue for American
      voters. President Bush’s “Faith-based initiative”
      merely legitimizes direct
      monetary support from the US government to Christian
      groups. In 2004 alone, $2
      billion (nearly Rs. 8,600 crore) dollars were paid by
      the US government[xxii],
      overwhelmingly to Christian groups, under this

      The disproportionately Western influenced global
      media, working with secular
      ideas of religious liberty that support evangelism, is
      muted in its criticism
      and coverage of the plans and tactics of missionaries.
      On the other hand, rare
      instances of violent reaction to missionary activities
      get disproportionate
      worldwide coverage and attention. The stories of
      alleged persecution reinforce
      the evangelical self-image of Christian martyrdom even
      when the resources at
      their disposal are far greater than the groups they
      target. While there is
      absolutely no justification for violence in a
      democratic society, current laws
      provide little recourse to the target groups to
      prevent missionary activities in
      their midst, even when it causes conflict and tensions
      within the communities.

      For instance, Talom Rukbo, the father of the Donyipolo
      Movement in Arunachal
      Pradesh, remarked:

      “The church--Christian missionaries--quickly
      capitalized on the innocence of our
      forefathers. They fraudulently convinced our people
      that we were barbarians and
      converted some into Christianity. … They declared
      that the converted persons
      must discard (1) the "animist" practices, (2) our
      festivals and that our Gods
      and Godesses were Saitan (evil spirits-- Satan). …
      Slowly this created frequent disturbances and social
      disharmony. The Christian
      missionaries were stooping to the lowest, most
      uncivilized means to tear social
      fabric of our society apart.”[xxiii]

      Unfortunately the current human rights regime makes it
      very difficult for even
      democratically elected governments to restrict
      missionary activity.

      3.3 Can one say “no” to missionary

      While there are laws to restrict intrusive commercial
      solicitation and deceptive
      marketing practices these do not apparently do not
      apply to the sales
      force[xxiv] of the religious multinationals.

      Let us say a remote group in Arunachal Pradesh
      actually becomes aware of this
      conversion war in which they are a statistic on a
      plan. Perhaps they have heard
      of the consequences of this campaign for a neighboring
      village group and wish to
      preserve their traditions without interference. The
      panchayat or the
      democratically elected council votes to disallow
      missionary activity in their
      midst. What would happen?

      Precisely the same language of “human rights” would
      then be used to target this
      tribe. Because the right to “change” and to
      “propagate’ religion has been made
      into a “human right” any law that seeks to curb
      missionary activity can then be
      ruled as a violation of human rights. This anomaly
      occurs precisely because of
      the fact that the definitions of religious freedom are
      not culture neutral. They
      arise from a culture in which religion has been viewed
      as a transferable “belief
      system” and a competitive evangelical enterprise. This
      definition affords little
      human rights protection from evangelical activity to
      those that do not hold
      these views of religion.

      Just as a village may wish to pass such a law, can a
      state do it, can a country?
      The consequences can be readily seen in the debate on
      a bill for religious
      freedom that was recently approved by the Council of
      Ministers in Sri Lanka and
      is up for debate in the Sri Lankan parliament. While
      the bill prohibits
      conversions with the use of coercion or allurements,
      the United States
      Commission on International Religious Freedom has
      expressed “concern” urging the
      “Sri Lankan government to refrain from passing laws
      that are inconsistent with
      international standards.”[xxv] These international
      standards are precisely the
      human rights laws that are the subject of this

      Numerous Christian organizations, including the World
      Evangelical Alliance are
      putting pressure on the Sri Lankan government to
      forestall the bill. Christina
      Rocca, the US Secretary of State, reportedly expressed
      “grave concern” over the
      proposed legislation to Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the
      United States. “Ms Rocca
      has explained that the Department of State was
      receiving numerous
      representations from Senators and Congressmen about
      the Government`s move.
      During a previous meeting, The Sunday Times learns, Ms
      Rocca had warned that
      pressure was building up and this could have adverse
      consequences on US aid and
      trade concessions to Sri Lanka.”[xxvi]

      Once the right to change religion and to propagate is
      made a fundamental human
      right without a corresponding right to not be asked to
      change or be subject to
      proselytizing activity the situation becomes
      one-sided. The state is now
      obligated to protect the missionary’s activities while
      no protection is afforded
      to the non-proselytizing community’s tradition so that
      they are not made targets
      of highly-organized and well-funded conversion

      4. “Change” of religion assumes exclusivity
      of belief

      The premise of evangelical activity is the belief that
      theirs is the only true
      way and everyone else is, at best, in error if not
      absolutely demonic. This
      belief inevitably sets those who believe thus into
      conflict with everyone else.
      It is not surprising that the primary principle under
      attack by evangelicals is
      the principle of religious pluralism.

      “Good News for India” defines itself as “an
      interdenominational Christian
      organization that is committed to training, sending
      out, and supporting national
      missionaries to preach the Gospel and plant churches
      among the unreached people
      groups of the Indian subcontinent.”[xxvii] Good News
      for India runs the Luther
      W. New Jr. Theological College in Dehradun with
      several small satellite training
      centers in five north Indian states, over 163
      churches, and several primary
      schools. The college was dedicated by the President of
      Word Vision, a global NGO
      associated with Christian evangelical activity. The
      aim of the college – to
      churn out “national missionaries” that are more
      cost-effective than Westerners.
      Good News for India finds their methods of training
      “very effective in producing
      laborers for the harvest in India.” They offer
      accredited Bachelor’s and
      Master’s degrees in missionary activity leading to
      paid career missionaries and
      boast of having “planted” 350 churches under t!
      he name “Christian Evangelistic Assemblies.”

      Clearly, this group of evangelicals knows India well.
      That is why they list that
      their major challenge in India is the pluralistic
      Indian thinking.

      “Anyone who is familiar with India knows that India
      has always been a challenge
      to the Gospel. Hinduism that teaches, "just as all
      rivers lead to the ocean, all
      religions lead to God", dominates the thinking of the
      masses. … Many Hindus
      revere Jesus as another god. Yet their eyes are
      blinded to the uniqueness of

      The goal then of evangelical conversion is to lift the
      “blindness” of pluralism
      to convert into an exclusive belief system. Indeed
      without that no conversion
      can take place. If it was simply the question of
      learning from another way, or
      accepting another way as true, one need not actually
      be “converted” to do that.
      All conversion is a conversion into exclusivism. For
      all those concerned with
      retaining India’s pluralistic ethos evangelical
      activity should thus be of
      particular concern. It is not surprising then, that
      after decades of successful
      conversion activity in Nagaland, the separatist groups
      that routinely use
      terrorist methods against their opponents have the
      exclusive slogan of “Nagaland
      for Christ.” This switch happens when exclusivism
      reaches a dominant position in
      a region. The long-term implications of exclusivist
      conversion should concern
      all those that wish India to remain a pluralistic and
      diverse nation.

      The idea of “change” of religion from article 18
      universal human right again
      comes from a culture in which multiple religious
      participation does not make
      sense. In testimony before the US Commission on
      International Religious Freedom,
      Prof. Sharma of McGill stated “(1) That the concept of
      religious freedom
      articulated in article 18 presupposes a certain
      concept of religion itself, a
      concept associated with Western religion and culture;
      (2) That a different
      concept of religion … leads to a different concept of
      religious freedom; and (3)
      That unless human rights discourse is able to
      harmonize these two concepts of
      religious freedom … the clash of the two concepts
      might ultimately result in the
      abridgement of religious freedom in actual

      According to the 1985 census in Japan, for instance,
      95% of the population of
      Japan declared itself as followers of Shinto and 76%
      of the same population also
      declared itself as Buddhist. Clearly, a significant
      fraction considered
      themselves multiple religious participants. Even in
      India, early British census
      takers were flummoxed by people happy to subscribe to
      multiple religions till
      they were coerced by the colonial census to choose one
      or the other. This
      pluralism, deeply ingrained in the Indian people,
      finds expression as far back
      as the Rig Veda and the Ashoka pillars. Sharma states
      “If the Indian
      census-takers did not insist that one can only belong
      to one religion
      -significantly a British and therefore Western legacy
      -I would not be at all
      surprised if the Indian religious statistical reality
      began to resemble the

      However, Article 18 of the charter of human rights
      presupposes that one can only
      belong to one religion at a time. As Sharma continues,
      “If one believes that one
      can only belong to one religion at a time, then it
      stands to reason that
      religious freedom would essentially consist of one's
      freedom to change such
      affiliation by the voluntary exercise of choice.”

      However, in the context of multiple religious
      participation a different idea of
      religious freedom would emerge – one that the Indian
      constitution and the Indian
      census do not, ironically, support – the freedom to
      profess multiple religions
      without being asked to choose one or to change into

      Sharma concludes, “(In the Eastern context) … freedom
      of religion means that the
      person is left free to explore his or her religious
      life without being
      challenged to change his or her religion. Such
      exploration need not be confined
      to any one religion, and may freely embrace the entire
      religious and
      philosophical heritage of humanity.”

      This explains the difference between evangelical
      activity and, for instance, the
      spread of Indian traditions. Indian traditions can
      best be regarded as practical
      learning traditions. They rarely required disavowal of
      existing belief or
      tradition. Learning traditions like the teachings of
      the Buddha could thus be
      accretive – as they were in China and Japan. To accept
      the message of the Buddha
      did not mean to consign one’s ancestors to hell or to
      reject existing community
      practices. This is quite similar to the way Indian
      Swamis brought the practice
      of Yoga to Americans in contemporary times, without
      any requirements of
      “conversion.” One could learn and do the practices of
      yoga asanas and meditation
      as a Christian, Muslim or Jew without any requirement
      to disavow one’s religion.

      5. Towards a balanced view of religious

      There is a cultural conflict between two very
      different ideas of religion and of
      religious freedom. For one the “right to change” is
      central. To the other the
      right to retain or continue without interference from
      the state or from powerful
      global institutions is paramount. Current rights
      language favors the former and
      insufficiently protects the latter. How do we move
      towards a more balanced

      We do not suggest that the “right to change” should
      itself be taken away. For
      instance, some schools of Islamic jurisprudence hold
      that apostasy by a Muslim
      renouncing Islam is punishable by death. This
      certainly does not support the
      spirit of individual freedom or enquiry. Similarly, we
      do not hold that
      tradition is itself immune from criticism or change.
      There is plenty of scope
      for individuals within or outside a tradition to
      criticize, change and evolve
      particular practices.

      Yet, exploration, individual critique or specific
      reform is different from a
      systematic institutional effort aimed at converting
      all others and annihilating
      their traditions resulting in the destruction of
      entire cultural ecosystems. As
      Mutua writes, “Imperial religions have necessarily
      violated individual
      conscience and the communal expressions of Africans
      and their communities by
      subverting African religions. In doing so they have
      robbed Africans of essential
      elements of their humanity ... The result … is a
      culturally disconnected people
      neither African nor European or Arab.”[xxx]

      What would a charter of religious freedom look like if
      it were being defined by
      the “unreached” people, with knowledge of consequences
      others have obtained at
      the hands of the proselytizing creeds, rather than by
      the evangelical cultures?
      Perhaps it would read something like this:

      “All peoples have the right to pass on their
      traditions to their children
      without interference, without being subjected to
      organized institutional
      evangelical activity by others. All peoples find their
      traditions of value – if
      not they can always abandon them or make changes.
      However, no one shall form an
      association with the express purpose of getting others
      to convert people away
      from their religion or to teach others to do so. All
      peoples have the right to
      the preservation of their culture and traditions and
      the right to be free of
      religious evangelism.

      Every human being has the right to be free from being
      subject to the preaching
      of exclusive religious doctrines. Every person is free
      to participate in and
      learn from none, one or more ways to happiness and
      fulfillment without being
      asked to specify a religious identity or to convert
      from one to another.

      No religious, political, social, religious or
      educational institution or
      organization will enable can have as its aims the
      systematic conversion of other
      people. The marketing claims of institutional
      religions aiming at conversion
      will be subjected to the same legal test as those of
      other corporate entities.
      Every individual is free to explore the religions and
      practices of the world
      without being subjected to systematic marketing and
      conversion campaigns.”

      To test the asymmetry of the current definition one
      can predict that this new
      definition of religious freedom would be most objected
      to by specific groups –
      prominent among these would be evangelical Christians
      and their power base. Most
      groups that follow ethnic traditions throughout the
      globe, other than those that
      act as proxies for evangelical interests, or those
      that are attached to the
      presumed neutrality of “secular” definitions of
      religious freedom, would welcome
      the change. If anything, that is the clearest
      indicator of how the current
      definition of religious freedom is seriously
      asymmetrical in its assumptions.

      Nothing in this formulation should be construed as
      restricting the freedom of
      any community to practice their faith privately and in
      congregations of fellow
      believers. At the same time such freedom should not
      extend to constraining the
      freedom of others to practice without interference.

      Augmenting the human right to practice as well as
      change one’s religion with the
      rights of communities to be free of organized
      campaigns that aim to destroy the
      practice of their traditions by conversion into
      exclusive religious systems
      would provide a necessary balance for maintaining
      religious harmony and
      protecting cultural and religious diversity.

      [i] Makau Mutua in Facilitating Freedom of Religion or
      Belief, A Deskbook.
      Published by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion
      or Belief, 2004. Chapter
      [ii] Balgangadhara, S N. The Heathen in His Blindness.
      Manohar Books.
      [iii] Quoted from The Heathen in His Blindness.
      [iv] An Indian speech in answer to a sermon, preached
      by a Swedish missionary at
      Conestogo in Pennsylvania. Early American imprints.
      Second series; no. 6535.
      American Antiquarian Society, 1966
      [v] American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments
      of 1994. Hearing, Serial
      No. 103-92. Statement of Regis Pecob, Member Pueblo de
      Cochiti Tribal Council.
      [vi] Young India: January 19, 1928
      [viii] http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp
      [ix] http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp Notably, the
      Indian constituent assembly
      debates reveal that the right to “propagate” as a
      fundamental right was argued
      for vociferously by Anglo-Indian Christians.
      [x] http://www.joshuaproject.net
      [xi] See, for instance, http://www.ad2000.org and
      [xii] Tehelka, “Preparing for the harvest…”, February
      7, 2004.
      [xiii] This was in the prayer section of the
      International Missionary Board
      website on June 3, 2005, http://imb.org/compassionnet/
      but was later removed
      after publicity on a site that tracks Christian
      missionary activity on
      item_display.php?type=NEWS&id=1117790952. It is still
      available at the Southern
      Baptist Convention prayer site http://www.sbcpray.net
      [xiv] Makau Mutua, Chapter 28
      [xv] Asian Tribune. May 3, 2005. Controversy over
      Freedom of Religion Bill:
      Buddhists to meet UN envoy today.
      [xvi] http://conversionagenda.blogspot.com/
      [xvii] Source: World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd
      Edition. Oxford University
      Press. 2001.
      [xviii] http://www.joshuaproject.net
      [xix] Tehelka, “Preparing for the harvest…”, February
      7, 2004.
      [xx] http://www.joshuaproject.net/overview.php
      [xxi] Tehelka, February 7, 2004
      [xxii] http://www.washingtontimes.com/
      [xxiii] Talom Rukbo the Father of the Donyipolo
      Movement in Arunachal Pradesh
      from a talk he gave called "The Truth Every Bharatiya
      Should Know": (quoted in
      [xxiv] Many of the missionaries are paid “stipends.”
      Colleges in India graduate
      native missionaries by the thousands who are then
      given a paid job with
      conversion quotas. So yes, this is a sales force.
      [xxv] http://www.uscirf.gov/mediaroom/
      [xxvi] Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), July 31, 2005. US
      Warns Lanka on religious
      [xxvii] http://www.goodnewsforindia.org/about.htm
      [xxviii] http://www.goodnewsforindia.org/about.htm
      [xxix] http://www.uscirf.gov/events/hearings/2000
      [xxx] Makau Mutua, Chapter 28

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    • Sukla Sen
      http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=83240 Trade Block No one expects anything to happen in the Hong Kong round of the WTO talks, beginning
      Message 2 of 7 , Dec 4, 2005

        Trade Block
        No one expects anything to happen in the Hong Kong
        round of the WTO talks, beginning December 13. So why
        is the world watching? Vikas Dhoot finds out

        Posted online: Sunday, December 04, 2005 at 0000 hours

        TEN days from now, Hong Kong will be hosting the ‘most
        important event in the world,’ as an MP in the Rajya
        Sabha recently termed the World Trade Organisation’s
        upcoming ministerial meeting.

        But even before the representatives of the 148 WTO
        member countries descend on Hong Kong and negotiate
        the rules for global trade, the meeting is being
        considered a non-event. Says economist Bibek Debroy,
        the leading expert on matters of trade: ‘‘I’m sure
        that nothing is going to happen in Hong Kong. It’s
        certain to be a failure.’’

        The WTO’s last director general Dr Supachai
        Panitchpakdi, however, insists that the meeting
        shouldn’t be looked at as a success or a failure.
        ‘‘Don’t look at Hong Kong (as another) Seattle, Doha
        or Cancun. Unlike those WTO meetings, Hong Kong
        doesn’t have any explicit mandate. It is just another
        meeting to gather momentum for successful completion
        of the Doha Round,’’ he says.

        The draft text for the meeting, put out by WTO’s
        current Director-General Pascal Lamy, shows there are
        wide differences among key members about everything,
        be it on opening up the services sector or on reducing
        tariffs in the manufacturing sector or issues relating
        to the vital agriculture sector. A few days ago, he
        toned down expectations from the meeting saying, ‘‘I
        am no Harry Potter.’’

        His reference to J K Rowling’s wizard is an indication
        of how nothing short of magic can help the Hong Kong
        meeting reach some definite conclusions. The World
        Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab noted, ‘‘If Hong Kong
        fails, business will lose trust completely in
        multilateral organisations.’’

        While several leaders have tried to say that December
        2006 (not 2005) is the deadline for the Doha Round of
        negotiations, the way things are going, even that
        looks bleak. The US had appointed a Fast Track
        Negotiating Authority to push WTO talks forward, but
        that Authority’s tenure ends in early 2007. And unless
        US President George Bush renews the Authority, this
        WTO Round could get pushed back as far as 2010, some

        State of Play
        IN recent times, every alternate WTO meet has been a
        success and every other one a failure. If the Seattle
        meet in 1999 failed, the Doha meeting in November 2001
        was a success. If the Cancun meet in 2003 flopped
        miserably, the WTO’s General Council meeting in
        Singapore in July 2004 managed to push through what is
        called the July Framework.

        However, the July Framework was widely opposed by
        several developing country think-tanks as a ‘draconian
        pact’ that puts them on the backfoot. Devinder Sharma
        from the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security
        argues, ‘‘Agreeing to the July 2004 framework itself
        breaks the lakshman rekha the Indian government has
        often talked of. According to the Uruguay Round, we
        have removed restrictions in 2001 itself. So why do we
        need to concede further?’’

        However, the developing world will not be easily
        bullied by the US, EU, et al, any more. The core of
        the G-20 nations—India, China, Brazil and South
        Africa—have stuck together since Cancun. In the past,
        whenever such groups emerged, the developed countries
        tried to armtwist them or offered a side incentive to
        make countries pliant.

        India’s role in the negotiations has also grown
        substantially. In recent months, Commerce and Industry
        Minister Kamal Nath has spent almost as much time in
        Geneva, proactively engaging all key players in the
        negotiations, as he has spent in his Udyog Bhawan
        office in New Delhi. Not only is the developed world
        looking at India’s concerns more seriously, the
        developing world has utmost trust in our

        Says Additional Secretary in the Commerce Ministry G K
        Pillai, ‘‘The developing countries believe India, they
        don’t trust Brazil or China. If India agrees to
        something, they trust it. We have a double role in
        that sense. In fact, in the TRIPS Public health
        proposals, the African countries are being put under
        so much pressure. They tell us that ‘We may have to
        concede to the US, but India should support our

        Deadlock December
        THERE are many contentious issues at stake in Hong
        Kong. One is Non-agricultural Market Access (NAMA),
        which deals with global trade in industrial products,
        marine products and rubber, a sensitive product for

        All that countries have to agree on in NAMA is just
        how much tariff cuts can be agreed on. Developed
        countries are suggesting a Swiss Formula to arrive at
        the tariff cuts, which is, without getting too
        technical, basically against the interests of the
        developing world.

        Pillai says that the Swiss formula isn’t acceptable as
        ‘‘it means that we have to cut our tariffs more and
        they have to cut less.’’ The developing world is
        suggesting an alternative formula for tariff cuts
        called the Argentina, Brazil and India Formula, but
        obviously EU and US are not buying.

        The services sector, one that has buoyed the Indian
        economy in recent times, also needs a brief mention.
        For instance, we have to decide which services sectors
        we want to open up. Are we fine with letting in
        international corporate presence in India in return
        for more free cross-border movement of skilled and
        unskilled workers? On the other hand, none of these
        issues are likely to come up in Hong Kong.

        ‘I am no Harry Potter,’ said WTO D-G Lamy. It’s an
        indication that nothing short of magic can help the
        Hong Kong round of the WTO reach a conclusion
        It’s The Barn, Stupid
        UNLIKE NAMA, which has been discussed since 1948, the
        core issue in Hong Kong is agriculture. Unless we see
        some action on agriculture, nothing else will move in
        Hong Kong. And there is good reason to believe that
        agriculture will see no agreement.

        At the core of the disagreement over agriculture is
        this glaring fact. While peasants in developing
        countries struggle to earn an income of a dollar a
        day, the developed countries extend domestic support
        subsidies of a billion dollars a day to their farmers.

        In the first 10 years of agriculture coming into the
        WTO ambit, from 1995 to 2005, the developed world was
        to cut those subsidies by 25 per cent. Instead, the
        actual total money going to the farmers has gone up.
        In sum, these subsidies have been increased by
        changing the garbs under which they are extended.

        ‘The developing world trusts India in a way it
        doesn’t trust Brazil or China,’ says G K Pillai,
        additional secretary, Commerce Ministry. ‘We have a
        double role in that sense’
        Now, the US and the EU have offered some absurd
        proposals to ‘reduce’ subsidies while still having
        room to actually ‘increase’ them. In return, they want
        the developing world to open up their markets for
        their agri-products. This could have disastrous
        consequences for the food security and the millions of
        poor farmers across the developing world.

        The key to resolving the EU and US’ obstinacy on
        farm subsidies lies at home. The American or European
        tax-payer has to wake up to the misuse of their money
        No amount of negotiations can help resolve this gap.
        The real key to resolving the EU and US’ obstinate
        stance on agricultural subsidies at home lies at home.
        Consider this: In the US, of the $100 billion extended
        in subsidies to farmers, at least 26 per cent comes
        back to political parties as contributions from Cotton
        Farmers’ Associations and The Sugar Alliance. ‘‘It’s a
        real unholy alliance,’’ notes Pillai.

        It’s up to American taxpayers to wake up to this gross
        misuse of public money. After all, agriculture only
        employs 4 per cent of the population and generates
        only 4 per cent of the US GDP. The same could be said
        about the EU too. The question is, who will bell the
        fat cats?

        Square brackets in HK loop
        Bibek Debroy, director of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of
        Contemporary Studies, is among the foremost experts on
        WTO-related matters in the country. In an interaction,
        he explains what’s going to happen—and what will not.

        On The Hong Kong Agenda
        All sorts of issues are contentious. They are bound to
        be, as that’s what the negotiations are about. There
        are issues in the services sector, like what sectors
        do I open up? Do I agree to corporate presence in
        India? In return, do I get cross-border movement of
        people and services?

        Similarly, in manufactured products, the controversy
        is really about the formula for reducing tariffs.

        The WTO operates on the basis of Special and
        Differential Treatment (SNDT) in favour of developing
        countries. This means that these countries have a
        lower commitment and a longer timeframe to meet those
        commitments. But the developed countries are calling
        for proportionately higher reductions in developing
        countries and lower reductions in developed countries.
        This is violative of the SNDT principles.

        But none of this would have led to the failure of the
        HK meet. I’m certain that nothing is going to happen
        in Hong Kong. If there are differences in the draft
        declaration, it’s usual practice to mark the areas
        with square brackets, meaning that the ministers have
        to sort this out. At the moment, there are too many
        square brackets in the HK draft. It is completely
        unreasonable to expect the ministers to reach a
        conclusion over a few days.

        This doesn’t mean that the WTO will fail. The Uruguay
        Round negotiations went through similar hiccups. But
        no country wants to come back and say HK was a
        failure. So what will probably happen is another
        ministerial or mini-ministerial will be planned for
        March or April 2006, to try and resolve the issues.

        On the root of destined failure
        The core problem is agriculture. There are three
        completely separate, yet related issues in
        agriculture. First is market access, where countries
        have to agree to open up their markets. Then they have
        to agree on timeframes, reductions for developing
        countries, safeguards and exemptions for some special

        The second part is domestic support to agriculture,
        which is pretty extensive in most developed countries.
        And the third part is subsidies of agro exports.
        Generally, the developed countries’ position is ‘Look,
        we cannot eliminate domestic support or export
        subsidies. So let’s talk about market access.’

        The developing countries’ counter-argument is: ‘If
        domestic support and export subsidies are distorting
        the market, then how does market access matter as they
        are linked. Unless you are prepared to reduce domestic
        support and export subsidies, there’s not much point
        in talking of market access.’

        This is where the polarisation happens. So while
        parallel discussions will be on about manufacturing
        and services sectors, at the end of it, if you don’t
        have an agreement on agriculture, the other things
        won’t matter.

        It is completely unreasonable to expect the
        ministers to reach a conclusion in a few days. But
        that doesn’t mean the WTO will fail. Probably another
        ministerial or mini-ministerial will be planned for
        On India’s concerns
        The G-20, of which India is a member, has countries
        like Brazil with strong interests in agro exports.
        India, however, doesn’t have a very strong export
        interest in agriculture. Our actual interest is really
        to minimise import damage, which can be significant
        for two categories—certain varieties of edible oils
        and dairy products, in which we are simply not

        If we can’t control their imports, all hell will break
        loose. Both the US and the EU have made offers on
        domestic support and export subsidies. But the
        reductions offered are based on their maximum tariff
        rates, which is much higher than the actual levels of
        domestic support and export subsidies.

        In fact, their reduction proposals give the US and the
        EU room to actually increase both domestic support and
        export subsidies from the present levels.

        On India’s preparedness
        If you compare India with the US and EU, our
        negotiating strategies or team strength may not be up
        there yet. But compare it with the Uruguay Round and
        we are much better prepared.

        India is in a position to call the development bluff
        spewed out by developed countries. We can now say: ‘If
        we don’t have a deal in HK, fair enough, let’s go back
        home.’ This is something we couldn’t have said in

        What changed in Cancun is that the core of the
        G-20—India, China, Brazil and South Africa—have got
        much greater power now. Since Cancun, these four
        countries have stuck together.

        ‘They lack sensitivity to our issues’
        Kamal Nath, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry,
        has been living out of a suitcase for months now in
        the run-up to the Hong Kong meet. On the eve of flying
        out for one last set of meetings, Nath talked to Vikas

        What does the WTO mean for the layman?
        WTO really makes the rules of global trade, based on
        the concept of free, and also fair, trade. Those rules
        are about every aspect of trade, including
        agriculture, goods, protections. In the first round of
        the WTO, countries agreed that they would lower
        tariffs, that there would be fewer barriers to trade,
        that there would be disciplines to ensure that
        developing countries are not barred from trading with
        other countries. In every sphere of trade, including
        services, the rules of the game have to be equitable
        to all. But countries’ perception of what is fair is
        different. All countries have sensitivities. In India,
        we have our poor farmers. So we can’t say ‘We will
        displace our farmers’. Reductions in duties cannot
        happen at the cost of the people.

        What is the main bone of contention at Hong Kong?
        The developed world gives subsidies on agriculture
        that cause trade distortions and artificial prices.
        The OECD countries have subsidies of $1 billion a day.
        This artificiality in prices must go, because we are
        talking of trade flows, not subsidy flows. This is our
        point. That’s why we don’t want to give it up—because
        the only thing that can protect us from these
        subsidies is our tariffs. As simple as that.

        How would you define success for the Doha round of
        To India, success in the Doha Round means several
        things, most importantly that there should be no
        displacement of millions of poor farmers. Non-trade
        barriers that block trade flows from developing
        countries should be removed. Agricultural subsidies
        and tariff peaks should end so that developing
        countries have market access for products of their
        interest. The abuse and misuse of the anti-dumping
        process should stop. Some measures should also be in
        place to prevent bio-piracy and misappropriation of
        traditional knowledge.

        What are the hindrances?
        Developed countries want to continue with their
        trade-distorting support for agriculture and, to do
        this, they table proposals that are purely
        self-benefiting. They have no regard for the
        development objectives and they lack sensitivity to
        developing country issues. There is an attempt to
        create divisions among the ranks of developing
        countries. They are even trying to reopen the
        framework everybody agreed to in July.

        Is there any hope of these issues being resolved at
        Hong Kong?
        From the state of the negotiations and the
        intransigence of the developed countries on these
        fundamental issues, ‘recalibration’ of expectations
        from Hong Kong seems to be the only realistic option.

        India’s stature and importance in the WTO talks have
        gone up considerably.
        I didn’t want to say so myself (smiles). Developing
        countries are looking at India to protect them. We are
        pro-active with everybody and are considered a lead
        player in the negotiations now. Developing country
        unity is fundamental to us.

        The suits roll up their sleeves
        India Inc’s largest delegation is pitching to win

        INDIA Inc is spoiling for a fight. Apart from the
        technocrats visiting Hong Kong, an aggressive
        corporate India will be keeping an eagle eye on the
        trade negotiations.

        Along with the three-member teams of the top four
        industrial chambers, associate think-tanks will also
        send their representatives, making it the largest-ever
        WTO delegation from India Inc. Some leading Indian
        firms are also hiring lobbyists from among retired
        bureaucrats, diplomats and lawyers to walk the talk in
        Hong Kong.

        All other issues will be affected by what happens
        on the agricultural front. If it doesn’t go well,
        India could just walk away from the table. India Inc
        fine with that
        Not only are the stakes high, so are the emotions.
        ‘‘We should put our national interest above all the
        pulls and pressures from the developed nations. We
        must not blindly follow commitments we have wrongly
        signed in the past,’’ says Cipla’s Dr Yusuf Hamied,
        who is fighting a fierce battle with the MNCs to
        supply cheap drugs to the poor.

        The key issues facing India Inc are
        agriculture—increasing agri exports to developed
        nations—deadlocked negotiations over reducing
        industrial tariffs, and liberalisation of services,
        where India has become a strong exporter.

        Says Dr Dilip Nachane of the Indira Gandhi Institute
        of Development Research: ‘‘All Indian corporates which
        are importing and exporting will be directly affected
        by what the Indian government gives in the trade
        talks. It is important for India to negotiate well.’’

        But the bottomline is that all other issues will flow
        from what happens in agriculture. Unlike Brazil, India
        isn’t a significant agricultural exporter. Large
        corporates like Bharti and Reliance can change this,
        provided trade barriers to developed nations come

        Says Manab Majumdar, Additional Director of FICCI:
        ‘‘We are disturbed by the WTO draft circulated just
        before the Hong Kong meeting because an analysis by an
        Australian group shows that the new provisions would
        allow additional market-distorting support or to the
        developed world’s farmers.’’

        Lip-service to agriculture it may be, but India Inc is
        aware that HK’s success depends on what happens here.
        If the talks fail, other negotiations, like
        Non-Agricultural Market Access, will come to a

        Here, India Inc wants the present trade barriers for
        foreign imports to continue. ‘‘To be precise, we are
        strongly opposed to the use of the Swiss formula
        (which asks developing countries to drastically reduce
        import duties) for industrial tariff reduction,’’ says

        Even in services, Corporate India feels the government
        should talk tough by asking the developed countries to
        give more visas to Indian professionals. For instance,
        in its revised offers on services, the US—which has a
        ceiling on Indian IT professionals visiting US to
        work— has retained restrictions like quotas, labour
        conditions, thus restricting movement of people from
        India to the US.

        With India’s services exports at $51 billion in 2005,
        Indian outsourcing and IT industries will obviously
        benefit the most when services are provided from the
        territory of one member to the territory of another,
        (or mode 1) and free flow of professionals (or mode

        Siddhartha Roy, economic advisor of the Tata group who
        will fly to Hong Kong to see that Tata group’s
        interests are suitably addressed, says: ‘‘Normally,
        the negotiators are only concentrating on cross border
        supply of services and movement of natural persons
        from one country to another. When we are opening up
        our services, there should be a trade-off in the
        movement of people. It should not be one-sided.’’

        But at the end of the day, India Inc is aware that
        everything hinges on agriculture. And that India could
        walk away from the table. That’s just fine for honchos
        like Dr Hamied.

        WTO 101

        A crash course in the jargon
        Uruguay Round: The eighth round of negotiations among
        GATT member countries that began in September 1986 at
        Punta Del Este in Uruguay, came to be known as the
        Uruguay Round. Concluded in Geneva in December 1993
        WTO: Established in 1994, the World Trade Organisation
        is the successor to GATT. The WTO has legal basis and
        enjoys privileges, immunities
        Doha Round: Began in November 2001. Set up two new
        working groups on Trade, Debt and Finance and on Trade
        and Transfer of Technology. Though the Doha Round is
        the Ninth Round of global trade negotiations, it is
        the first round of WTO
        NAMA: Market access negotiations for non-agricultural
        products are known as NAMA. Along with industrial
        products in general, NAMA also includes fish and
        forestry products
        Distortion: When prices and production are higher or
        lower than levels that would usually exist in a
        competitive market
        The Boxes: A box is a category of domestic support in
        Green Box includes agricultural supports considered
        not to distort trade and therefore permitted with no
        Blue Box includes permitted agricultural supports
        linked to production, but subject to production
        limits. It’s considered minimally trade-distorting
        Amber Box includes agricultural supports considered to
        distort trade and is subject to reduction commitments.

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      • countercurrents.org
        Hello Kindly forward this newsletter to your friends and encourage them to join this mailing list. http://www.countercurrents.org/subscribe.htm In Solidarity
        Message 3 of 7 , Dec 4, 2005

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          In Solidarity

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        • Titu Ahmed
          Sunday, 12/04/05 Truth can be at risk in the world of the Web By JOHN SEIGENTHALER This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It
          Message 4 of 7 , Dec 4, 2005
            Sunday, 12/04/05
            Truth can be at risk in the world of the Web


            This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It could be your story.
            I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious "biography" that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular online free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable. There was more:
            "John Seigenthaler moved to the Soviet Union in 1971 and returned to the United States in 1984. He started one of the country's largest public relations firms shortly thereafter."
            At age 78, I thought I was beyond feeling surprise or anger at anything negative anybody said about me. I was wrong. It was infuriating to read that stuff under my name. And it was mind-boggling when my son, John Seigenthaler, a journalist for NBC News, phoned from New York to say he had discovered the same scurrilous text on two other Web sites, Reference.com and Answers.com.
            There was but one factual sentence in the article. I was the administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s. I also was his pallbearer and participate each year in annual awards programs of the John F. Kennedy Library and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. I never lived in the Soviet Union. My late brother, Tom Seigenthaler, founded a Nashville public relations firm, but I had nothing to do with its creation or its success.
            At my request, executives of the three Web sites now have removed the false content. But the operators of Wikipedia, Answers.com and Reference.com have no idea who wrote those toxic sentences and no way to find out.
            In a telephone conversation with Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, I asked: "Do you, in fact, have any way to know who wrote that?"
            "No, we don't," he said. Neither did representatives of Answers.com or Reference.com. Their computers are programmed to pick up material verbatim from Wikipedia. They don't check on whether the copied document is factual or false.
            Searching cyberspace for the person posting spurious information can be frustrating and irritating. I traced the registered IP (Internet Protocol) number of my "biographer" — 65-81-97-208 — to BellSouth Internet Services. That meant a BellSouth customer had written it and posted it on Wikipedia.
            BellSouth Internet advertises a phone number to report "abuse issues." An electronic voice told me that all complaints were to be e-mailed. I followed directions, explained that I had been maligned by a BellSouth customer and requested the name of the person who had defamed me. The company immediately e-mailed back a "Dear Sir or Madam" form letter signed "Abuse Team." The letter promised an investigation but said BellSouth might not be able to share the results with me. I shot off another e-mail asking for the name of a BellSouth spokesman with whom to discuss it. "Abuse Team" replied with the same "Dear Sir or Madam" form letter. Obviously, Abuse Team did not want to talk on the telephone.
            I had heard for weeks from friends — teachers, journalists and historians — about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia" where millions of people from around the world visit every day for quick reference material that can be composed or posted by anyone, without special expertise or knowledge. School children use the Web site for research.
            "Wikipedia is intellectual democracy," a teacher told me. "My students love it. They can contribute articles, and it can give them quick facts."
            It also can give them quick falsehoods. Erin MacAnally, a Belmont University graduate and former First Amendment Center intern, found my "biography" on Wikipedia while researching a writing project at the University of Hawaii where she now is a graduate student. "I couldn't believe me eyes," she said. She worried that other students in her program would read and believe it.
            I paid my first visit to the wonderful Wikipedia world in late September after an old friend, Victor Johnson, suggested that if I "Googled" myself and clicked the Wikipedia link, I would find something "outrageous and libelous" about myself. So I Googled and clicked.
            What I found was hardly wonderful.
            From the moment I read it, I had an interest in unmasking and confronting whoever wrote it. I also have an interest in letting as many people as possible know that Wikipedia is an irresponsible research tool. What is presented as helpful facts may well be harmful fiction. And there is no way to tell the difference.
            After waiting three weeks to receive word from BellSouth Internet's Abuse Team, I contacted the company's corporate headquarters in Atlanta. That led to conversations between my lawyers and counsel for BellSouth. The company, like all major online communications enterprises, is bound by federal privacy laws not to divulge the names of its customers. My only remote chance of learning the identity of my biographer, I learned, was to file a "John or Jane Doe" lawsuit. The company then would respond to a subpoena and disclose the identity of the "biographer" to the court.
            I also discovered that Congress has creatively barred defamation lawsuits against all Internet service providers — Wikipedia, Reference.com, Answers.com, BellSouth, Adelphia, AOL, MCI, etc. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, specifically states that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as a publisher or speaker."
            That legalese means that, unlike print or broadcast media companies, online information providers cannot be sued successfully for disseminating defamatory attacks on citizens. A string of court cases, little-noticed by the news media, documents that Congress has blocked successful defamation suits in cyberspace.
            Wales, the Wikipedia founder, had alerted me during our phone conversation that BellSouth would respond negatively to my request for the "biographer's" name. "In my experience, they won't be very helpful," he said. "What they probably will do is say (to the customer), 'Well, your service is canceled with us.' That's about all they would do about it."
            He added: "We have trouble with people posting abusive things over and over and over. We block their IP numbers, and they sneak in another way. So we contact the service providers ... and they are not very responsive about it. They get so many complaints."
            If Wales is right, BellSouth may have completed its investigation of my complaint and canceled its business with my "biographer," who now may be a customer of another major online service provider, free to defame someone else or me.
            The Wikipedia Web site warns that it is not legally responsible for inaccurate information appearing in its encyclopedia. Wales, however, insists that his Web site is "accountable" and corrects mistakes almost immediately.
            In a revealing C-SPAN interview with Brian Lamb, Wales claimed that his Internet community, made up of thousands of volunteer writers and editors, provides constant monitoring and almost instant editing to eliminate inaccurate data. Academic studies, he said, have shown that "fairly obvious vandalism" is caught and corrected "within a median time of under five minutes." More "disgusting" postings, "we revert ... within a minute," he claimed.
            My experience refutes that. The "biography" was posted at 2:29 p.m. May 26. On May 29, one of Wales volunteers, identified only as SNlyer12 "edited" what had been written about me only by correcting the misspelling of the word "early." For four months, Wikipedia continued to present me as a suspected assassin and a 13-year resident of a communist regime.
            In his C-SPAN interview with Lamb, Wales said Wikipedia is the 40th-busiest Web site in the world with "millions" of daily global visitors who number more than the combined Web sites of USA Today, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He said he has only one paid employee, a software technician. His volunteer community runs the operation.
            He funds the Web site through a nonprofit foundation, he said, and estimated his 2006 budget to be "about a million dollars." His donors include Yahoo and he is negotiating with Google, he said. His list of contributors includes Reference.com. When I found my "biography" on that Web site, I found a line that followed the text telling visitors: "Donate to the Wikipedia foundation." I ignored it.
            And so, we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research at our fingertips — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them.
            When I was a child, my mother lectured me on the evils of "gossip." She held a feather pillow above her head and said, "If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people."
            For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia.
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