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Fatalism, or, where are women in South Asia? October 17, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Adhikari, Mohanraj, India, Nepal , comments closed

Mohanraj Adhikari

The last few months have been really fantastic for me as a wedding enthusiast. On 10 March The Mirror published news about a British divorcee woman aged 46, who wedded her own pet dog in a ‘romantic’ wedding ceremony after her marriage to a man 20 years ago did not work out. This story was followed by a news item in Metro UK, 3 September, about an 18-year-old girl, around 7000 kms away from Britain in Jharkhand state of India, who married a stray dog to please her family, who think that it will pass a curse from her to the animal so that that when she marries her future prince, a real man, the marriage will be blessed with longevity. Though both these stories talk about a woman marrying a dog, the context is quite different. The wedding in the first story shows a woman’s love and connection towards an animal after spending a considerable part of her life with it, whereas the second wedding is done to pass a ‘curse’ to the animal. According to the news, both weddings were fabulously organized. The stories provide evidence of the divide between women in developing countries and industrialized countries: in one place, a woman is free to choose her husband even from a different species; in the other place, a woman believes that a dog husband will free her from a curse and give her a better human husband in later life. This kind of fatalism is very much widespread in South Asia especially in the rural areas of India and its neighbouring country Nepal.


Indus floods, 2010: why did the Sindhu break its agreement? September 1, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala, Pakistan , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

Something as simple and as small as the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly might set off a tornado in another, far away, place. The ‘butterfly effect’ is a metaphor about ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’ and outlines how a small change in the initial condition of the system can potentially cause a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of or major upheavals in weather events. Was it the flap of the wings of a butterfly that led to the disastrous floods of the Indus? Well, almost so.

If indeed it was an unpredictable (and small) event like the flapping of the wings of a butterfly, were the consequences preventable? What other atmospheric phenomena were connected to the floods in Pakistan? Connected with these questions is yet another point one needs to contemplate: whether it was just the one flood or a series of floods gushing down the channel of the Indus? Lastly, who was affected and with whom does the ultimate responsibility of dealing with the unprecedented scale of the rains lie?

Satellite view of the Indus River Valley – irrigated areas are green. Source: Wikipedia


Climate change made simple November 27, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : South Asia - General, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

Climate change debate is now sweeping Australia.  The difficulty for people who are not researchers in science disciplines is that there is always a spread of interpretation among scientists at the core of the research on any scientific issue – even ones that seem simple.  Global warming science is highly complex.  Therefore, it is easy for outsiders (particularly those with strong interests) to pick on isolated comments and even the exasperated comments of those on the inside and conclude that the science is therefore wrong.  Science is never wrong, and never right.  Each scientific contribution comes from one or more individuals who only see part of the issue, and therefore each needs to be interpreted in the light of that. (more…)

Cracks along a quiet frontier November 24, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

A recent journey to the Karakoram Mountains, the roof of the world on the border between China and Pakistan, provided insight into the nuances of the relationship that gave birth to the famous highway.  The two countries recently agreed to widen and strengthen the highway originally opened in the mid 1980s.


A Chinese semi-trailer crawls southwards between Hunza and Gilgit. Photo by the author

Chinese engineers have started reconstruction work on the northern Pakistan section between the Shangri-La road house east of Chilas and the Khunjerab pass on the border.  However, to the traveller, the distinction between reconstruction and destruction is a fine one.  Instead of a progressive work plan upgrading a few kilometres at a time, the Chinese contractors have excavated hundreds of massive gaps in the highway to build culverts along the entire 200 km stretch.  The culverts which allow floods to pass under the highway have to be rebuilt before the new roadway can be laid over the top.  Every few hundred metres, all traffic has to negotiate a rough bypass track made from rocks, mud and sand.  The 85 km journey from Gilgit to Hunza which would normally take 2-3 hours has become a nightmare boneshaking experience of six hours or more.  These challenges are compounded by the almost complete lack of apparent maintenance along the rest of the road by the Pakistan military Frontier Works Organization.  Driving from Gilgit to Islamabad  takes around 20-22 hours.  Gaping potholes in between go unrepaired, forcing drivers to follow a slalom course to avoid them.  Many culverts have been allowed to become completely blocked so flash floods wash the road away instead.  The cost in delays and vehicle damage is spreading to the entire community. (more…)

India and the Copenhagen summit August 20, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jha, Raghbendra , comments closed

Raghbendra Jha

As the world moves inexorably towards the Climate Summit in Copenhagen in end 2009, immense pressure has been brought to bear on India to accept legally binding carbon emissions targets.  The latest attempt  to pressure India came from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recently concluded visit to India.

Such pressures on India and some other countries (particularly China) are occurring against the backdrop of a new wave of environmental activism among western commentators over the climate change debate.  For example, Al Gore has called on all countries to place an immediate moratorium on coal-fired power plants. This would simply be a no go for India. More than half of the 800,000 megawatts of power India plans to produce by 2030 are to come from coal-fired plants because coal is abundant in India and other energy sources are relatively scarce.


Wind turbines in the Thar desert, India.  Source: Wiki commons. (more…)