FEATURE ARTICLE: Borodin – Christmas in Bangladesh June 6, 2014Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Features, Guest authors , comments closed
It was around 9 am on Christmas morning. I was on my way to Savar, about 24 kilometres to the northwest of Dhaka city, the place that is mostly famous for Jatiyo Smriti Soudho, the National Monument for the Martyrs of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. But in April 2013, it hit the headlines with the collapse of a large garment factory, causing many deaths and injuries. Both my father and I were going to the Savar Baptist Church to attend the Christmas service. We were travelling by a car, sitting on the back seat scanning the street scene with curious eyes. The driver suddenly broke the silence; “Finally today people have come out with their vehicles after so long”, he said. And he was right. During a month of blockade, violence, and political instability leading to the national elections, people could hardly come out of their homes in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.
Since 25 November, the entire country was embroiled in political violence. Between the night of 25 November and 21 December, the death toll had reached 127, out of which 46 were ‘common’ people, that is, innocent bye-standers without any political affiliation. In this context of turmoil, most of the Christians could not go back to their homes in villages – something that they normally do every festive season – to celebrate Christmas. In retaliation, on 23 December, the Christian Association organised a human-chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka, to protest the countrywide blockade so that the ordinary Christians can celebrate. The lack of response to this protest has frustrated many Christians; one of them posted on her Facebook: “Blockade across Bangladesh….!!!! Because we are the minority…No one cares about our festival…!!! We do not have the right to go home and celebrate our festival with our family and friends…do we?!?” Others kept their frustration within themselves and tried to talk about the situation casually, as though it is normal to expect that the political parties would never consider Christmas as a festival significant in Bangladesh. (more…)
FEATURE ARTICLE: Notes from the field: feminisation of agriculture in the eastern Gangetic plains August 14, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed
… if women enjoyed the same access to productive resources as men in the world, farm yield could be raised by 20–30%…
The driver of the Tata Sumo I was travelling in not only stopped and honked several times, but, on at least two occasions, left the vehicle to physically push off the cows who were lazing on the road and relishing the midday heat of summer. More reluctant than the cows, however, were the black, white and brown goats on our path that were just lazily hanging around without a specific destination in mind. The road had lost its smooth tar cover and the large potholes of unascertainable depth meant that we were driving at not much more than walking speed. Whilst the bovine behaviour of acting as speed bumps is not unfamiliar to those who have travelled in rural India, the number and variety of goats and their goatish behaviour were noticeable at once. They were busier than the cows, chomping away on the leaves of the jute stalks that had just been cut and piled on the roadside before being dumped into the water for retting, or, on one occasion, a single goat was lying on its side, with its head on the tar, like a dead body. The goat had deliberately adopted the posture – actually to scratch its ear.
In an extremely poor area in the eastern Gangetic plains, running roughly from Champaran in North Bihar in the west to Cooch Behar near the Bangladesh border in the east and including the narrow flat stretch of Terai in Nepal, goats have become the new ‘feminine asset’.
FEATURE ARTICLE: Burning for freedom May 21, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, Powers, John, South Asia - General , comments closed
John Powers, Australian National University
In April 1998 in Delhi, a Tibetan exile named Tupden Ngodup doused himself with petrol and calmly set himself alight. He then knelt and brought his hands together in a gesture of prayer as the flames consumed him. Despite the agony he must have endured, his physical demeanor remained calm as horrified bystanders watched him burn. His action sent shockwaves through the Tibetan community, both in exile and in the Tibetan Plateau. This was the first time a Tibetan had engaged in self-immolation, and opinions were divided. Many hailed him as a hero in the struggle against Chinese oppression, while others described his suicide as contrary to Buddhist principles. Most Tibetans acknowledged the depth of his commitment to the Tibetan struggle for freedom and human rights, but none chose to follow his example in the aftermath of his dramatic public demonstration of Tibetan discontent.
Ngodup’s suicide was an important event in an ongoing campaign of protest against the actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Tibet. It began in 1950 when Chinese troops crossed the Drichu River, the traditional border between Tibet and China, and marched to the capital, Lhasa. They announced that they had come to ‘liberate’ Tibetans from the feudal theocracy of the Dalai Lama’s government and that they would depart as soon as this was accomplished. Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been assured by their leaders that they would be welcomed as saviors by the oppressed Tibetans, and so they were shocked and angered to hear people shouting “Han go home!” as they marched into the city.Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed
In 1990 after Lalu Prasad Yadav, the lower caste charismatic political leader of Bihar, became the Chief Minister of the state, the young, English-speaking, suave journalists flocked from metropolitan cities like New Delhi and Bombay to catch his sound bites on tape and camera. Their interest in Lalu was not only because of the man himself, but also his illiterate wife, his large family and his domesticated cows that apparently enjoyed chewing the grass of the palatial Chief Ministerial Bungalow built during the colonial raj. It has now become almost a myth amongst these journalists how Lalu chewed his paan (betel leaf) and spat the red spit out into a bowl, and how when asked one of those airy-fairy questions by an urbane young man from New Delhi, he raised one of his profuse buttocks to let out a loud fart before responding.
The story has become a journalistic legend because if there is one thing that India definitely respects, it is behavioural polish, whether in its businessmen or its politicians. Lalu’s lack of sophistication was deemed as crude and lower class, and he was made fun of in English-language dailies and weeklies, turning this story into a myth. There is however, an irony in the story; one might see the fart as the ultimate finger-up – bugger off as we say Down Under – to those who matter very little to Lalu. I am saying this in context of the recent rush of allegations against the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee, by the regional, national and even international press. The didicule-ing and ‘lampooning’ of Didi, apparently in response to her mercurial temperament and unpredictable outbursts, her dictatorial style, her preference for the colour blue, her summary dismissal of the country’s railway minister for raising ticket prices without consulting her (she herself was the previous railway minister and didn’t get a good report card), and her ultimatum to the Prime Minister for revoking the strict yearly repayment of debt by the state. Even The Economist called her the ‘Mischief Minister of West Bengal’ and made fun of her effort to change the name of West Bengal to Paschim Banga. Within a year of her election, the entire world appears to be against her, projecting her as unfit to run the country as Lalu was presented by the bemused media then.
FEATURE ARTICLE: Anglo-Indians as part of the Indian diaspora: making a home in Australia May 11, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed
Kuntala Lahiri-DuttA different kind of Indian in Australia?
Besides the Afghan cameleers and the Sikhs in the nineteenth century, one of the earliest communities to migrate from India to Australia was the Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indians comprise one of the largest communities of mixed descent in the world and are most likely the largest single cultural group of Indians in Australia. In this note, I want to show that on the transnational scale, as part of an Indian diaspora, the changing generational needs and changing policy environments can create new longings for the home that has been left behind and in the process give rise to a new politics of identity. My focus is on the diasporic Anglo-Indians in Australia, who, like other diasporic communities, form transnational links, forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that connect them to the country of origin and those of their residence. As part of the Indian community in Australia, the Anglo-Indians enrich Australian society as much as any other ethnic Indian group and, above all, they bring new sensibilities of mixed race and culture and a historicity into the diasporic policy debate. My hope is that this note would lead to the recognition of huge diversity inherent amongst immigrant Indians. Intellectually, such recognition would lead to a rethinking of Indian-ness in Australia. In terms of policy, understanding the historically formed cultural diversity would allow us specific policy needs that smaller groupings within a broad group might have, within India as well as in Australia. Ien Ang and Jon Stratton have pointed out that Australian multicultural discourse is shaped by the national origins of the migrants who are then given an ethnic identity, not a racial one. People migrating from Indonesia, for example, would all be articulated as Indonesians, without a differentiation between the Dutch and the Indonesians. Such a removal of race from public debate implicitly reaffirms assimilationist ideology and a strong belief in the existence of a mainstream Australian culture. Thus, one policy outcome could be a greater attention to the diversities within the migrant groups.
Who is an Anglo-Indian? The Census of India of 1911 described the Anglo-Indians as a ‘domiciled community’ of mixed descent, who were also described as Eurasians, ‘country-born’ or ‘half-caste’. Indo-Briton was perhaps the first ever generally accepted designation of the community. Subsequently, terms such as Indo-European, east-Indian, Eurasian were used, but they were seen as ambivalent because of their failure in reflecting the British lineage. Disparaging terms were not uncommon and some of them – half-whites, eight-annas, blacky-whites – were widely used in popular parlance. Not only are the two names derogatory, they also indicate the wider resistance towards this community in India. Such racial and cultural prejudice, as noted earlier, arose primarily from political reasons and the social segregation of lives in colonial India. The 1935 Government of India Act defines Anglo-Indians in terms of their paternal ancestry and domicile: ‘An Anglo-Indian is a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is a native of India.’
FEATURE ARTICLE: Where are the women? The anguish of displacement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Sri Lanka March 10, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, D'Costa, Bina, Features, Sri Lanka , comments closed
Some 43 million people have been driven from their homes by local or cross-border warfare. The international community needs a much broader and better protection for them. The year 2009, which saw a world total of an additional 15.2 million refugees, was the worst ever in terms of the numbers who returned home voluntarily, mainly because conflicts were becoming more intractable and peace more difficult to achieve. In addition, there are some 27 million people who have been forced to flee their homes but are still living inside their own countries as IDPs (internally displaced persons). This figure does not include people uprooted by disasters like earthquakes and floods, who numbered 36 million in 2008, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Women and their children account for 80 per cent of the global displaced population.
Indeed, through my research in various camps and with hidden communities around the world, but especially in South Asia, it is clear that displaced women and their children are at serious risk. These women and children are ghettoized in horrid camps, slums and other constricted spaces either as IDPs or on the move as refugees or stateless people in other states. Unfortunately, gender-based violations of rights of displaced communities, especially in societies emerging from protracted conflicts and militarized environments, have received scant attention from the media. (more…)
FEATURE ARTICLE: India’s ‘strategy’ as an emerging power September 2, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed
This paper is a short version of a paper submitted for publication. It is not to be quoted or cited without the author’s permission.
As India rises to power, some critical questions need to be answered both by analysts of that rise and those in the Indian government determining the strategies to be adopted. The most fundamental of these questions relate to the relationship between India as a rising power, its neighbourhood (South Asia), its region (Asia) and the world. How do these different levels of security inter-relate in the context of a rising power? To what extent does a great power aspirant such as India need to ensure competitors cannot garner undue influence in its South Asian neighbourhood? What strategies might India adopt to deal with the enmeshed nature of dissonance between its domestic and neighbourhood arenas?
A measure of power that includes analysis at different levels of the global structure is somewhat different from, but not inimical to, more traditional measures. These tend to assess power in relation to population and economic strength, while often ignoring the geopolitical and regional circumstances within which a rising power is required to operate. For example, power transition theorists, and for that matter their critics, often tend to look at issues in this way. (Gideon Rose, ‘Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy’, World Politics, Vol. 51, No. 1, October 1998, pp. 144-72, p 146).
A number of analysts – especially of South Asia – have, however, become interested in emerging powers in relation at least to the regional and global levels, if not the domestic, neighbourhood, regional and global levels we canvass here. This view of power acquisition from the point of view of a power’s region or neighbourhood ipso facto brings the domestic perspective on power acquisition into sharper focus, since the domestic-neighbourhood linkages are inevitably close – a phenomenon strongly evident in South Asia. It thus differs from the perspective of ‘offensive realists’, who claim that factors relating to the international order are always dominant.
India falls well short of a power that can function with ease within its South Asian neighbourhood. Indeed, policy makers in New Delhi are caught in a tightly woven, negative inter-relationship between dissonances within India and dissonances in South Asia. And events in South Asia are, in turn, heavily influenced by global developments. India appears powerless to sever these links.
FEATURE ARTICLE: Policing the national capital: Commonwealth Games, community engagement and the threat of terrorism in Delhi August 5, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, Features, India , comments closed
Kamala Kanta Dash
The Delhi Police are prepared more than ever before to face any terrorist attack. However, to succeed in their initiative to police terrorism they need a sustained community engagement policy. Counter-terrorism at present is facing a twofold challenge; one is the structural challenge that includes appointments, salary, procurement of weapons and high technology based surveillance systems and the second is the ideological challenge that has trapped the police in a repressive colonial model of policing which, in turn, has not allowed the police to develop belongingness with the people. The new amendment in the Delhi Police Act 2010 must target both these institutional and ideological aspects of reform.
“The Delhi Police is making whole-hearted efforts to improve the quality of policing in the city so as to be a model police force for the entire country.” Y. S. Dadwal, Police Commissioner of Delhi
It is both a privilege and a challenge to police a diverse and multicultural community of 18 million people belonging to many faiths, languages and ethnic identities. Policing the national capital has become the toughest job in the recent years given the increasing number of terrorist attacks. Delhi has faced three major terrorist attacks in the last decade and as per the intelligence sources it remains a site of impending attacks. Each attack has challenged the reputation and efficiency of the police, though every time the police have emerged more equipped to handle such a crisis. However, the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held from 3rd to 14th October 2010 will be a real test of the preparation that the Delhi Police have done since last serial blasts on 13 September 2008 and more specifically the cautionary preparation in the post-26/11 Mumbai attacks.
FEATURE ARTICLE: Indian Women: Bargaining with Patriarchy March 22, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed
On 8th March, International Women’s Day, the parliament of the Government of India introduced a historic piece of legislation that seeks to set aside one third of seats in the Lok Sabha (lower House of the Parliament) and state legislative assemblies for women. The landmark bill, popularly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill (WRB), was passed by the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of the parliament, amidst and in spite of chaos that was described by the media as a near-riot. If passed by the Lok Sabha, the WRB would lead to the 108th amendment of the Indian Constitution and reserve as many as 181 of the 545 seats in the powerful Lok Sabha, comprising of elected members. The Bill is historic because it will open the doors of political equity to half the population of India. However, the Bill has been highly controversial and despite the Law Minister, Veerappa Moily’s statement whilst introducing the Bill – ‘I expect men and women to support me’ – a number of opposition MPs tried to stop the Bill from being tabled. Some members from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Samajwadi Party (SP) even climbed into the chairman’s well and tore up the document to hurl the pieces of paper at the Chair. There has also been strong opposition from Indian feminists and political commentators on the content and philosophy of the Bill. (more…)
FEATURE ARTICLE: Curry bashing? A Racist Australian Underbelly and the Education Industry February 6, 2010Posted by southasiamasala in : D'Costa, Bina, Features, India, South Asia - General , comments closed
Nitin Garg had arrived in Australia from Jagraon, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, expecting a promising future. Three years later, as a permanent resident and with a postgraduate degree in Commerce he left for India in a body bag. By the time the next ‘breaking news’ occurs, his violent death will be forgotten. But for his mother, his 98 year old grandfather and his siblings, Nitin’s violent stabbing at West Footscray in Melbourne will be forever remembered with the tears of losing a loved one and the guilt for making the decision to send him to the West, which is assumed to be safer than India. Nitin and perhaps his whole family’s future relied on his endurance, even if dreadfully lonely, in an alien metropolis. The south-eastern state of Victoria, one of the most multicultural locations in the world, is where 21 year old Nitin died alone on 2 January 2010. Violent deaths and assaults like his stabbing, racially motivated or not, have consequences, not only in political terms but for personal lives. (more…)