Sunday, September 17,
Review by Bimal Bhatia
India: Problems and Perspectives edited by A. Subramanyam Raju.
South Asian Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 214. Rs 350.
issues have come upfront in global strategic thought. Within the
global context South Asia is on a virtual short fuse with a
concentration of nuclear weapon states — Russia, China, India
and Pakistan — in close proximity. If you draw a mental
picture of this nuclear mosaic in Asia, you will find that these
states are shoulder to shoulder with a peculiar mix of their
respective national interests, mostly conflicting.
this grim picture the Indo-Pak adverse relationship because of
Kashmir and a crisis of identity which Pakistan is unable to
face, and you will see a certain flashpoint in spite of the
claims of "nuclear responsibility" proffered by
tests by India in May, 1998, which Pakistan duly followed up
with the tests at Chagai, focused the world’s attention to
this region and started a debate about the nuclearisation of
South Asia. Among the many attempts to understand the new
strategic situation was a two-day seminar on "Nuclear
India: Problems and Perspectives" held at Hyderabad on
April 5 and 6, 1999. This initiative was unique in the sense
that it was organised by the young Indian alumni of the summer
workshop on "Defence, Technology and Cooperative Security
in South Asia". A fledgling set-up, it has since 1996 been
sponsored annually by the Colombo-based Regional Centre for
issues, the consequences of a nuclearised South Asia, prospects
for disarmament and confidence-building measures in the region
were addressed. Compiled by A. Subramanyam Raju in this book are
the 16 papers presented by the "younger generation of
Indian analysts", according to the foreword.
paper is based on a limited survey conducted in four
cosmopolitan cities — Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
The reason for India testing the nuclear devices, according to
the majority of respondents (56 per cent), was to enhance India’s
international status. India wants to emerge as a great power,
according to them. They feel that the nuclear tests conducted
are more for status than for security needs and an attempt to
put an end to nuclear apartheid.
One quarter of
the respondents felt that the threat might come from China and
Pakistan, and 10 per cent visualised a threat from other nuclear
weapons powers. The survey suggests that the government should
give importance to the views of the younger generation.
W. Lawrence S.
Prabhakar maps the relationship between crisis escalation and
low-intensity conflicts. The unresolved political issues of
conflicts on the external front are linked with internal
security challenges — Kashmir, communal violence in India and
the Mohajir problem in Sindh in Pakistan. The spurt of internal
violence within the states in the from of communal/ethnic
movements, terrorism and insurgencies has the potential of
prospect of a direct conventional war remains low because of the
exorbitant costs and damage, proxy wars would remain the main
form of conflict in South Asia in years to come. The nuclear
stalemate between India and Pakistan has effectively sealed the
options for a major conventional war as it could escalate into a
nuclear exchange. Low-intensity conflicts, on the other hand,
serve to bleed the economic and military strength of the
adversary without raising the stakes, as with Pakistan in
Pandit argues that the major issue that led to an overt posture
by India was the failure of the five nuclear powers (P-5) to
accommodate Indian security concerns. Rather, they have exposed
India to nuclear blackmail —by China in 1965 and the USA in
1971. She cites Prime Minister Vajpayee’s letter to Bill
Clinton a day after the nuclear tests in which is outlined the
deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear
scene, faced by India and the assistance of China to help
Pakistan become a covert nuclear state. She argues that India’s
nuclear policy is not South Asia-specific but one of
explains that the anti-CTBT lobby has picked up cue from those
who argue that India needs nuclear "deterrence" if its
security is to be safeguarded and hence must not surrender its
nuclear option. As a nuclear war cannot be won and should not be
fought, the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter
intimidation by another nuclear weapons power and to retaliate
if a nation has been attacked with nuclear weapons.
On the whole,
the balance of advantage has worked against the use of nuclear
weapons, she argues. Nuclear weapons provide a false sense of
security. In the Arab-Israeli context, it is politics and
diplomacy and not nuclear weapons which have protected Israel.
In the 90 armed conflicts that occurred between 1989 and 1993,
which involved the governments of 60 countries, nuclear weapons
had no role in improving the prospects of security of societies
afflicted by systemic violence.
face threats to security from within, from ethnic divisions,
aggressive nationalism and terrorist movements. This calls into
question the very manner in which nation-states are historically
and ideologically constructed. It is in this context that both
India and Pakistan must critically look at their own histories
and evaluate their security needs, Melkote says. Nuclear weapons
can do nothing to reduce the threat of aggressive nationalism,
social and political instability or contribute to prosperity.
Nuclear weapons can only produce a false sense of security which
feeds on notions of national grandeur.
Ali follows the same line in discussing whether Pokhran-II has
made India more secure. He raises certain questions. Whom was
the overt nuclearisation aimed at? He quotes Jaswant Singh who
maintained more than a year later in August, 1999, that India’s
nuclear programme is neither country-specific nor
threat-specific. It is aimed at enhancing India’s
"strategic space and autonomy".
Will the bomb
help India to get Aksai Chin back from China, asks Ali. Right
from 1974 China must have reckoned India’s nuclear capability.
Overall, vis-a-vis China, the Pokhran-II tests have not made
India more secure than it already was after 1974. He buttresses
the argument by citing the Indian Defence Ministry’s 1998-99
annual report which states that India does not regard China as
an adversary and that India was in favour of forging
"mutually friendly relations" with China peacefully
and through bilateral negotiations as quickly as possible.
strategic deterrence between India and Pakistan had been
operative for the past eight years. Yet, through Pokhran-II,
India proffered on a platter the opportunity Pakistan was
looking for to go overtly nuclear. Pakistan can now play the
underdog and argue that big bully Indian forced the
nuclearisation on it. And, after India’s tests the relatively
dormant question of Kashmir not only did not go away, but also
got effectively internationalised. India’s nuclear tests also
pushed China and Pakistan closer than before.
While Ali asks
India to refrain from signing the CTBT without developing a
credible nuclear deterrent which we have not quantified or
defined, he concludes in this updated paper — the Vajpayee
government had fallen by one vote soon after this seminar was
held — that the BJP regime has succeeded in saddling the
successor regime with a foreign policy mess of enormous
That the Vajpayee dispensation
bounced back, via Kargil, into power and inherited its own mess
is another matter.
Review by Rumina Sethi
A copy of the
Encyclopedie lying on the table of Madame de Pompadour, whose
benevolent neutrality helped the encyclopedists.
the Enlightenment by Lloyd Spencer and Andrzej Krauze. Icon
Books, Cambridge. Pages 176. £ 8.99.
is not an enlightened age. Fundamentalism, superstition,
cynicism and fear seem to be gaining ground. But we are still
products of the Englightenment. Our circumstances may be more
knotty and our intellectual standing more sophisticated, but
we face predicaments which would be familiar to a Diderot, a
Voltaire or a Rousseau.
our predicaments are of a different kind, especially for those
who live in the periphery of a North-South divide. We can ask
along with Foucault: "What is that reason that we use?
What are its historical effects? What are its limits, and what
are its dangers?"
The author of
"Introducing the Enlightenment", Lloyd Spenser, with
inputs from artist Andrzej Krauze, attempts to answer these
questions. "The Enlightenment was an intellectual current
that galvanised Europe during the course of the 18th century.
Centred in Paris, it spread itself across the whole of Europe
to the American colonies. Networks of writers and thinkers
gave the 18th century a remarkable intellectual
important than any other work was the great French "Encyclopaedie"
of Denis Diderot, a landmark in the story of the human mind
that exemplified the Age of Enlightenment and epitomised the
rationalism and scepticism of the age. It is a whole library
consisting of writing on philosophy, natural history,
economics, politics and many other subjects.
significant about this monumental work is that all its
contributors were united in the task of creating a new and
revolutionary way of life in contrast to the hegemony of the
church. This decisive vehicle of the Age of Reason ushered in
the term "Enlightenment", an event in human history
that was a frontal attack on traditions of divine monarchy, a
privileged church, a stratified social hierarchy, and a legal
system that favoured the elites rather than the individual.
scientific and intellectual advancements made in the 17th
century by the empiricism of Francis Bacon and Locke as well
as by Decartes, Spinoza and others, had already fostered the
belief in natural law and universal order and promoted a
scientific approach to political and social issues. The
intellectuals of the Enlightenment felt themselves to be part
of a great movement representing the highest aspirations and
possibilities of mankind. There were reformers who believed
their cause was best served by the new passion for argument,
criticism and debate.
rise to a sense of "Human progress and belief in the
state as a rational instrument. Spencer shows through lucid
details how a new faith arose in the power of reason to
improve human society. Reason appeared in all the glory of a
new revelation; it claimed authority in every field and
proposed to reform education, religion, morals, literature,
economy and government in its own bright image.
especially on Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau, the author
describes the life of French salons which turned philosophy
into a social force. And since all educated Europe looked to
France for the latest notions, the works of the French
philosophers reached England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany,
Sweden and Russia, and became European events.
Never had man
been so confident that he could remould, if not himself, at
least society. Not since the days of the Greek Sophists had
there been so many ideas in the air. And because Paris had
emerged as the intellectual centre of Europe, the
Enlightenment became as wide a movement as were the
Renaissance and the Reformation earlier.
In the field
of literature, the principles of liberal humanism were made to
serve the ends of all that was "fixed and enduring".
When F.D. Maurice joined King’s College, London, as
professor of English in the 1840s, he stressed the importance
of the general values and attitudes which might be absorbed
from English literature. This "distilled essence",
naturally, preached great universalism: good literature is of
timeless significance, "not for an age, but for all
time" as Ben Johnson would put it.
corollary to this, literature needed no contextualising. Its
socio-political, literary-historical or autobiographical
contexts were secondary to its primary importance as
"words on the page". We still seem to carry on with
the technique called practical criticism which isolates the
text from history and context. No wonder Shakespeare is
"news which stays news", projecting the essentially
unchanging mechanism of human nature, whether it be Anthony’s
honour or Prospero’s benevolent patriarchy.
It is from
the point of view of current critiques of all "grand
narratives" that the author needs to go into a little
more detail. Our own post-modern age has witnessed the
collapse of essentialisms and of the authoritarian western
accounts which have enshrined these sweeping principles. The
questions that are posed towards the end of this book are: is
the Enlightenment project over? Or is it unfinished? Was the
finale sounded by Romanticism which too is associated with the
name of Rousseau, the preacher of the libertarian and
egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution? Did the Age of
Reason die out when the belief in a return to nature
overshadowed reason and intellect? There are no answers.
century adhered to the "grand narratives" by its own
attempts to reconstitute a continuum of gradual progress in
the new scientifi c paradigms of positivism, socialism and
evolutionism, which were believed to be truly
"modern". But could the Enlightenment truly survive
the wars, the Holocaust and fragmented society of the 20th
century? Could the reason and logic of the disinterested
individual bring about a solution to the problems of society?
Revolution was the first moment of trial. Although the
Parisian crowd stormed the Bastille in 1789 and France was
rocked by revolutionary violence and forced to defend itself
from attacks from the rest of Europe for the next 10 years,
the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the
Citizen" were proclaimed as sacred and inalienable. In
the declaration, the ideals of the Enlightenment were encoded
and offered to the world.
In 1789, the
year of the French Revolution, visionaries like William Blake
published "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" arguing
intensely against rational wisdom. Deeply critical of the ills
of the Industrial Revolution and the misery of industrial
workers, Blake did not share the success of the Enlightenment.
In the apocalyptic language of his vision, Blake diagnosed a
society fatally mechanised whose materialist and determinist
ideas reduced man to no more than a machine. But the
Enlightenment has survived these counter-points regardless of
Blake, George Hamann or the German "strum and drang"
movement that despised the rationalism of the Enlightenment philosophe.
One of the
strongest critiques of the Enlightenment project has come from
post-colonialism. Since the 1960s the academic world has
witnessed a widespread revisionist project. In the 1950s, the
founders of colonialist discourse — Fanon, Cesaire and
Albert Memmi — published their works which became
foundational texts of colonialist discourse some years later.
Achebe’s novel "Things Fall Apart" was published
in which the anthropologist-author is questioned when he
fabricates the other. The 1960s saw a major development of
this project when "The Wretched of the Earth"
established Fanon as the patron and prophet of Third World
liberation movements and one of the major theorists of
pioneering currents proved to be counter-discursive because
they attacked the ideals of reason, clarity, truth and
progress, all of which aided and abetted the grand design of
colonialism. As Wole Soyinka writes, "The Encyclopedists
of France, products of the so-called Age of Reason, remain the
most prolific codifiers of the human (and other) species on an
ambitiously comprehensive scale, and their scholarly industry
conferred a scientific benediction on a purely commercial
project that saw millions of souls dragged across the ocean to
serve as beasts of burden. Religion and commerce... were
reinforced by the authority of new scientific theories to
divide humanity into higher and lower manifestations of the
species. The dichotomy of the world was complete." Daniel
Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, again, is a product of the
Enlightenment who must teach Friday to say "master".
For those who
had suffered the impact of the colonial system of education,
"theory" as a set of critical approaches has offered
a reversal of perspective. This reversal has undermined the
centrality of the European system, its accepted canon of great
works on which teaching and criticism have always centred.
This writing back into history becomes institutionalised
precisely at the moment when post-modernism questions the
writing of Enlightenment history. Thus Lyotard’s famous
definition of post-modernism that it is "incredulity
towards metanarratives" complements the myth of
scientific progress we now associate the Enlightenment with.
Spencer’s text, superbly
illustrated by Krauze, however provides a fairly good
introduction to a movement that endeavoured to show how the
essential order of nature could be scientifically explained.
It is a movement that systematically laid the foundations for
He is the
outcaste of society
Review by Shatini Kalia
Journal by Shashi Warrier. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 239.
the body falls too far, the rope cuts into the neck and might
sever the head. If the body doesn’t fall far enough, the neck
won’t break and the man will die of strangulation, taking
several minutes over it." His turbulence, cloaked in a
deceptive silence, the hangman carries with him the smell of
death. People hate or respect him for the same reason. His
survival is linked to his meaningful participation in the
ancient ritual which only serves to reinforce his negative
village can speak for many villages. One victim can speak for
many victims ("Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje").
The hangman is perhaps the first of his tribe who sits down
to write his own story. The echoes resonate to nearly a quarter
century after his last hanging, propelled by the honesty in a
The language is
quiet, but the dreams are not. Characters come and go, but many
of the 117 men behind the death mask come back to torment him.
Each time he realises that "the mask is the face", the
nightmare returns. Till one day he counters the real "aratchar"
— the true hangman — "who kills for his king, without
question, without feeling". It is then that he realises
that he had merely done "the job", but at heart he was
only a farmer.
nightmare is his last, as the mystery of his subconscious is
revealed to him like a thousand-petalled flower opening up. He
realises that he has been running away from nobody, from nothing
The quest for
his real self takes both the subject and the journalist to their
worlds within. For the author, the deconstruction of the myths
around the "aratchar", his family and the "adiyaans"
(assistants of the hangman), the demystification of his
intentions, decoding the subject’s silences and elucidation of
circumlocations in order to reveal the truth behind the mask are
hangman, the cause is what matters. "Why do we spend so
much of our lives making death smoother then life?" he
asks. Also the guilt of not knowing "the right way to hang
a man" leaves him troubled.
The hangman is
like any other man who muses over a squirrel "who had his
own world while I had mine". He worries about his parched
bit of land, takes a pilgrimage to Sabarimala, tries to educate
his kids, but peace eludes him. Why do "I bring silence
wherever I go?" he wonders innocently. Cultural constructs
force him into the "limbo" mode. "No one wants to
get too close to the hangman. It is as if the man is a
begins his journey rather late in life at 74 through nights
"that are black and silver" to days when the
"coconut palms stand with their fronds green and
gold". He traces his life from being to meaning hitherto
never spoken of.
is like a wound. He uses the deathwish in his dreams to disrupt
and unsettle meaning. Healing the wound now would mean emptying
the signifier of meaning and suppressing the subject. Is
it possible to articulate this knowledge in his symbolic dreams?
The answer is both yes and no. His dreams are only partially
cathartic. The rituals are what bother him as well as sustain
him — it is through their mediation that he can hide from the
He is the man
who pulls a lever that kills a man. That knowledge binds him to
all 117 of those that he had hanged. Even an army of "adiyaans"
cannot share his sin or his pain. He remembers concentrating
hard "because if I don’t, my mind will find its way to
the man about to die and then I will have no peace".
the topsoil of his guilt. With it comes the urge to share, and
also the inability. The only people who dot his memories are the
ones "who made the silence bearable". Ramayyan, a
priest at the Bhadrakali temple, where he prayed before each
hanging, plays the confessor. And then there is Maash, his old
teacher, in true sense of the word, his friend, philosopher and
guide, who tries to give him some of the answers. But the
questions stretch far.
are there for all to see. And the author has left enough gaps
and holes in the narrative for the reader to fill in the
emotions. But what is difficult to essentially communicate are
the "words" — that is what the author requires of
him. He is the subject positioned as the subject-in-process, who
occupies multiple and permeable sites, who articulates pain on
the threshold of the semiotic and the symbolic in the social
At the end of
the novel, striving to share he discovers that his profession,
after all, provides him with no identity — except perhaps as
an ordeal, an initiation located in and leading back to a
tradition which no longer exists and from where, therefore, a
return is now feasible. His identity is necessarily bound up
with history and memory.
He knows he had "failed or
succeeded in life as much as any other man. I have done my
best." That, dear fellow, is what matters.
into future, cautiously
Review by D.R. Chaudhry
Century by Eric Hobsbawm. Little Brown and Company, London.
Pages 176. £ 16.99
Hobsbawm is one the most perceptive Left historians of the
world. He has greatly enriched our understanding of the way the
world has shaped itself during the past three centuries. His
previous book, "Age of Extremes", contains a
penetrating analysis of the 20th century which he characterises
as "a short century" ranging from the beginning of
World War I in 1914 and ending with the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991. For poet T.S. Eliot, "this is the way the
world ends — not with a bang but with a whimper".
However. the short 20th century, in Hobsbawm’s opinion, ended
latest book "The New Century" continues his analysis
of the 20th century coupled with the possible shape the world is
likely to acquire in the new millennium. He examines important
issues like the possibility of war and peace, the decline of the
western empire and its impact on the coming events, the
globalisation, the fate of the Left and hopes, if any, for the
where the future is leading us is crucial for the fate of
humanity. It is difficult to predict the future but the
possibilities can be identified. The effects of the collapse of
the Soviet Union are serious and lasting and they dominate today’s
world. "...the history, which interests me," observes
Hobsbawm, "is analytical — that it to say, history
attempts to analyse what happened rather than just uncovering
it." He makes a profound diagnosis of the 20th century
along with an insightful prognosis of the new century.
the issue of war and peace, Hobsbawm is fairly certain that a
world war in the present unipolar world is not possible unless
China becomes a rival to the USA in war resources. During the
cold war era, every country was careful not to upset the
balance. Now that self-limitation has come to an end.
noticeable change is that technology has made war more
destructive. Now an armed conflict is no more an issue between
states. The role of free-lancers and mercenaries has become more
important now. A greater role for the USA is assured for many
years to come. However, this country is always guided by its
national interests, its ideological pretensions notwithstanding.
The concept of
nation state has undergone a basic change in our times. Earlier
it was a territorial concept. Now, according to some, a
territorial state belongs to a particular people, defined by
specific ethnic, linguistic and cultural characteristics and
this constitutes the nation. One nation lives in a nation-state
and others are minorities living in the same place but they are
not part of the nation. The concept of Hindutava illustrates
this notion extremely well. The concept clearly disrupts unity
of the people.
states have been very powerful and the process reached its
climax in the middle of the "short century". However,
since the 1960s the state has lost its monopoly over the means
of coercion. The phenomenon of the armed forces on which the
state has no control is common in many parts of the world. One
can see the weakening of the states in large parts of Asia,
Africa and the Balkans.
which has ended has been called the American century. The author
concedes that the USA will remain a super power for a very long
time to come but its productive system will decline. It is quite
probable that China will emerge as a great power. He does not
grant this status to India which would remain a regional power
for at least the next 50 years.
India has a
definite advantage over China in some respects.India has an
important philosophical and mathematical tradition which is
gradually being reflected in the fields of technology and
On the other
hand, the degree in which China has a philosophical tradition,
at least in the European sense, is arguable. In spite of all
this, India is most likely to lose in the race. The Indian state
is considerably weak in its structure, administrative ability
and political system. A soft state indeed! It is impossible not
to agree with the author.
It is on the
issue of globalisation that the author makes several
illuminating observations. It has speeded up enormously in the
past decade. It is primarily based on the elimination of time
and space. It means a wider access, but not equal access, as the
natural resources are distributed in an unequal manner.
Standardisation and homogenisation are two most important
features of globalisation.
The problem in
the new millennium will consist of ascertaining how strong the
obstacle to this growing homogenisation will be. Globalisation
is irreversible but not the ideology of "free market
fundamentalism" which, according to its votaries, is the
motive force behind it. It is presumed that free market
maximises growth and wealth and optimises the distribution of
that increment. The author finds no substance in this argument.
Even Adam Smith believed that the market could not and should
not do certain things. The last part of the "short
century" ended with two things — the collapse of the
Soviet Union and the bankruptcy of free-market fundamentalism.
Hobsbawm is not
very sanguine about the future of the Left but he refuses to be
overwhelmed by pessimism. Inspite of a serious crisis being
faced by progressive forces the world over, there is every
rationale for the existence of the Left because there is still a
difference between the Right and the Left.
What is really
worrisome is the growing doubt over the future of politics, not
just Left-wing politics but politics in general. Specific
questions like life styles, environment, gay rights, etc. alone
attract the youth. The idea of largescale social transformation
no longer inspires the youth. This kind of depoliticisation not
only weakens the Left but is not good for the public life as
several positive things in the womb of time. There will be more
literacy and global wealth. However, all this would be at the
cost of norms and the value system. There would be more
competition which will induce insecurity and decrease happiness.
There will be more longevity of life, which is good in certain
number of people afflicted with physical and mental weakness
would be higher. This would cause great unhappiness.
Non-renewable resources are being depleted fast. The world is
likely to become more unlivable on account of growing pollution
and degradation of environment.
Inspite of all
the setbacks, Hobsbawm’s faith in communism as a cause remains
unshaken. Communism for him was not Russia. It was a global
cause. The basic problem is what the future will be like. It
will be economically better off and technological progress would
be breathtaking. However, the dramatic widening of social and
economic inequality both within states and between regions and
countries would blur achievements.
that the future of politics, parties, newspapers, organisations,
representative assemblies and states is hazy, making it
difficult for him to look to the future with great optimism.
One will or will not agree with
his prognosis depending on one’s ideological predilections.
However, all formulations of Hobsbawm are suffused with Gramci’s
dictum, "Pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the
the other view
Review by Surinder S.
Caste: Under-standing Hierarchy and Difference in Indian
Society by Dipankar Gupta. Penguin Books, New Delhi Pages 300.
caste system has for long been seen as a peculiar feature of
Indian society, an institution that represented its essence.
It was the colonial ethnographers and administrators who, for
the first time, viewed caste as the core of India and
systematically documented various aspects of its working in
different regions of the subcontinent. Much of the later
scholarship on Indian society, particularly during the 1950s
and 1960s, remained preoccupied with caste, along with the
study of village communities. Gradually attention shifted to
the understanding of the processes of social transformation
and change being unleashed by the state policies of
of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission during the
early 1990s once again brought the caste back to the centre
stage of Indian society and its polity. Today when we talk
about the caste, we do not think of it merely as a
characteristic of traditional Indian society, but also as
something that is alive and kicking and influences very
significantly the political processes in contemporary India.
written for the lay audience, Dipankar Gupta’s book
seriously engages itself with the prevailing notions of the
caste system. He begins by questioning the popular view on
caste, which also happens to be the dominant academic view on
the subject. Articulated most comprehensively by Louis Dumont,
this dominant perspective looks at caste as being
fundamentally different from the "western"
institution of class.As per this view the defining feature of
caste was hierarchy and there was a universally accepted
notion of ranking different caste groups in terms of their
ritual status. The Brahmins were placed at the top while the
"untouchable caste" were considered to be at the
bottom. Dumont also emphasised that above all, caste was an
ideology, a system of ideas that structured the Hindu mind in
a particular way of looking at things — that is, in its
framework of hierarchy.
questions such a universal assumption. He argues that no
caste, however lowly placed it might be, accepted the reason
for its degradation.Dumont’s theory was biased because it
had been derived from classical Hindu texts which presented an
upper caste or Brahmanical view of the system. On the ground,
however, things were quite different. Though the idea of
hierarchy was certainly a fact, there were no agreements on
the structure or the order of this hierarchy. The so-called
lower castes, for example, rarely accepted the karma theory.
Similarly, there were disagreements on the ranking order of
hierarchy among the different castes. For example, many of the
Kshatriya castes, and even some cultivating castes such as the
Jats, would not accord the Brahmins at status superior to
Brahmanical theory of caste also did not recognise the changes
that had come about in the caste hierarchy over time and the
mobility that different groups had experienced. Gupta is
critical of the concepts of sanskritisation that was used by
M.N. Srinivas to explain social mobility in traditional Hindu
society. Srinivas had argued that mobility within the caste
system took place when the members of a lower caste
collectively decided to imitate the life-style of an upper
notion, according to Gupta, was based on the Brahmanical
presumption that the lower castes were always ashamed of their
identity. The available empirical evidence, however, did not
confirm such a view. Caste mobility generally took place only
when the group had already achieved a degree of economic and
political success. Even when a caste experienced mobility
within the framework of caste hierarchy, rarely did its
members wished to give up their caste identity.
his own field experience in Gujarat, Gupta points out that
members of the lower castes had their own stories to tell
about the reasons for their having been pushed down the caste
hierarchy. These stories rarely supported the dominant view.
It is on the basis of this observation that Gupta develops his
own theory of caste. Castes, according to him, could not be
looked at only in terms of hierarchies."To think that
castes could be hierarchically arranged with complete
acquiescence across castes is to uncritically accept the
ideology of the privileged caste."
approaching them in a framework of continuous hierarchies
built around a single criterion such as a scale of ritual
purity or impurity, Gupta insists that castes should be first
viewed as distinct or "discrete categories". It is
just as a Punjabi is not simply not a non-Tamilian, a Bania is
also not merely a non-Brahmin or a Yadav simply a non-Bania.
He also has an exclusive caste identity and a world-view of
his own. More importantly for Gupta, a Yadav’s notion of the
caste structure and status hierarchy is not the same as that
of the Brahmin.
argues that despite the discreteness of each category, castes
did relate to each other in the framework. They adhered to
some common values. All caste ideologies, for example, valued
the need to the separate caste groups from one another
according to a mythical notion of biological difference. They
all valued the principle of endogamy very highly.
approach, Gupta claims, will allow us to visualise the
possibilities of multiple hierarchies. It would thus become
easier for us to make sense of the phenomena like caste
conflict, caste politics and caste mobilisations which have
become the order of the day. A fixed notion of caste hierarchy
as suggested by Dumont has no theoretical space for dealing
with such processes.
In the fifth
chapter of the book Gupta elucidates his formulation by giving
examples of some recent anthropological researches that have
looked at caste by placing the Kshatriyas at the centre. In
the Kshatriya framework of caste hierarchy the primacy is
often accorded to "power" and in such a framework
the Brahmin is seen as just another kamin, a ritual
specialist client of the patron.
elaborating this point in the seventh chapter where he deals
with some of the finer theoretical issues in the study of the
caste system, he offers a critique of all the deterministic
theories of caste. It was not only Dumont who saw caste as an
outcome of the underlying structure of the Hindu mind.
scholars too committed a similar mistake. Gupta argues that
the structure of caste ideology was not fixed or pre-given. It
was constantly manipulated by individuals and groups within
the historically given set of possibilities. He substantiates
his thesis in the following chapter by providing a broad
survey of the available historical evidence on the subject.
security — then and now
Review by Randeep Wadehra
Support for Food Security edited by N. Krishnaji and T.N.
Krishnan. Sage, New Delhi. Pages 335. Rs 475.
consumerist generation will not be able to recall, or even
believe, that India was once dismissed as a basket case,
perennially doomed to survive on international munificence.
The infamous PL 480 wheat (known as American wheat to the
average Indian) had become the symbol of independent India’s
"food slavery". Good quality foodgrains were scarce.
One had to make do with the substandard stuff retailed by
added to the misery. Starvation deaths were common. An average
Indian’s physical profile included sunken cheeks, protruding
ribs and a malnourished body. The situation certainly was
dismal. But mercifully, there were people, immensely proud and
committed to restoring India to its former glory and
self-respect when it was coveted by foreigners as much for its
fabled wealth as for its overflowing granaries.
Thus was the
green revolution ushered in, increasing the yield of paddy and
wheat several times during the 1970s, doing away with
the problem of food security related to procurement of
cereals, now it switched over to logistics — that is, the
management of surplus stocks in such a manner that every
citizen received adequate quantities of food the year round.
Since the new agricultural technology suited the irrigated
areas of the northwest parts of India, which began to produce
huge surplus grains, it became essential to reduce the
problems arising out of inter-regional inequalities.
inequalities were more apparent at the micro level. Those
farmers who did not have access to assured water supply were
deprived of the benefits of the new technology. As technology
was crop-specific, it accentuated regional disparity. The book
points out that public action is necessary to rectify the
that at regional levels, people eat better if harvests are
good, indicating the underdeveloped nature of rural markets
that fail to facilitate long-distance trade due to inadequate
spatial links. This despite the fact that the government has
been actively involved in the purchase, storage and
distribution of foodstock. Subsidised grain price through the
PDS has proved a failure in assuring food security to
vulnerable sections of the population.
point out that the PDS is virtually absent in Bihar, MP,
Orissa, Rajasthan, UP, etc. And these are the states with the
largest chunks of poverty-stricken population!
is a compilation of essays by different experts on charting
strategies for human development in India. They have analysed
the extant food consumption trends. J.V. Meenakshi concludes
that the Engel’s law is being manifest in today’s India.
With the rise of income levels people are spending a lower
percentage of income on food. They are also consuming less of
coarse cereal, in preference to "superior" diet like
milk products, meat, etc.
intriguingly found in the course of her research that even in
the comparatively poor households such patterns have been
detected — namely, relationship between production and
consumption of cereals has weakened and that except for coarse
cereals, these changes are influenced by income effect.
Suryanarayana discusses the repercussions of changing food
consumption patterns. Like Meenakshi, he too has come to the
conclusion that despite a modest rise in per capita income
levels, there is a perceptible decline in the per head
consumption of coarse cereals and a shift to superior
varieties of cereals is quite visible.
points out that the change has more to do with availability of
different types of grains than with a conscious choice.
Moreover, the rising unit cost of cereals, a result of
superior varieties gaining precedence, have contributed to
reduced consumption. The future ramifications of this trend
could be seriously adverse for the vulnerable sections.
Suryanarayana avers that during good harvests private trade
can facilitate inter-regional flows, but public intervention
would become inevitable during droughts. Though a reformed PDS
could help insulate the poor against misappropriations by the
affluent, Suryanarayana doubts whether such a system can ever
be effectively put to work.
P.V. Srinivasan, Pulapre Balakrishnan, Bharat Ramaswami, S.
Mahendra Dev et al have also examined various aspects
of the food security system, utilisation of the PDS,
employment levels, etc. This volume is a valuable feedback to
our policy makers who could use it to come up with a food
security system that really works. Would the Kalahandi type of
blots be ever wiped off the fair face of our country?
Direct Investment Flow to India by Badar Alam Iqbal. Ajanta
Books International, Delhi. Pages 103. Rs 145.
main thrust of Iqbal’s arguments in this slim volume, a
research thesis, is that FDIs are essential for economic
growth. He has based his conclusions on the effect of foreign
capital inflow, especially from Japan and the USA, on the
economies of various Asian countries. The once debt-ridden
South Korea could steal a march over better-off China and
India solely because of foreign investments. Today in Asia,
its trade surplus is second only to Japan’s.
he has not given any concrete evidence in support of these
conclusions. In fact the scope of his research project is
limited to the "need and inflow of US foreign direct
investment into South Asian economies..."
the process of globalisation rather late. But is now well on
the road to fully opening up its economy. Iqbal points out
that investment, technology, new marketing techniques and
managerial expertise are vital inputs which India will have to
carefully nurture. Towards this end, a strategic partnership
with developed countries is essential. Iqbal understandably
commends the USA as an ideal strategic partner, but countries
like Japan, Germany and South Korea too can play a role in
used the data relating to the time span 1980-1992. He has
divided the volume into eight chapters. These deal with
theoretical orientation with regard to FDI, the effect of
these inflows on various Asian economies, especially South
Asian in general and India in particular. New trends in the
inflows from Japan and the USA too have been briefly listed.
must concede that FDI has become an essential ingredient of
developmental efforts, it is useful to look at its flip side.
For example, are we liberalising our economic regime just to
attract the foreign investor, or has our foreign policy and
domestic administration too come under foreign influence? To
what extent is our sovereignty compromised, if at all, by
agreeing to the terms and conditions laid down by the MNCs
intending to set up shop here? Is the current slide of the
rupee a covert concession to foreign investors? Answers to
these and related question might be beyond the purview of the
volume under review. But the intelligentsia must ponder over
the purpose of having foreign capital is to strengthen our
economic sinews, and not to add to the economic might of the
US and Japanese MNCs. Foreign capital should not ever be
allowed to become an instrument of subversion or worse, the
harbinger of neo-colonialism.
World by Pritam Saini. Pages 200. Rs 200.
has a hoary tradition of embellishing historical events with
verse. Abstractions contained in them are often indicators of
such incidents as might have proved decisive in the onward
march of civilisation. While the subcontinent is rich with
such literature in Indian languages, it is rare to have it all
written in English poetry. Saini has thus done a signal
service to the Indo-Anglican literature.
"poetic tribute" was brought out during the
tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa’s birth. It has been
divided into 19 cantos and deals with such momentous events as
the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s
martyrdom, the battle of Bhangani, the creation of the Khalsa,
Zafarnama, etc. It also has separate cantos on Nadir Shah’s
invasion, the rise and fall of Sikh Misls and finally the
reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
is easy to understand, the contents are based on historical
facts and the overall presentation reflects the author’s
deep knowledge of the subject.
lines are attractive.
It was the feudal age with feuds and foes,
The might is right was order of the day,
The great Mughal Akbar’s gifts of love and peace,
Were thrown to winds by bigot sons and heirs,
When London was engulfed in plague and fire,
And Milton was writing his "Paradise Lost",
In sixteen thousand sixty six AD,
At Patna, the ancient Patliputra, town,
A child was born in lofty line divine.
validation of classical events and dates makes this
"poetic history" worth reading. But there is also a
sense of pride in the "Brave Old World". He asks
rhetorically, "Can the East or the West ever assert/That
they too had or have such daring souls?" A poet can be
forgiven for romanticising the past. Yet here the people of
the brave old world were real; their foes and non-partisan
witnesses alike have chronicled their sacrifices. Banda
Bahadur’s martyrdom is a case in point.
There are numerous examples
in our past which show that Indians were never "militant
push-overs". It was the internal dissension and the
quislings within who had proved fatal to our quest for a
unified self-reliant polity. Even today these negative trends
are manifesting themselves.
The day Karmapa
all the drama on June 15, 1992, Ugyen Trinley, the candidate
of Situ Rinpoche, reached Tsurphu. Escorted by a convoy of
seven cars, the child looked rather disoriented. There had
been an accident en route and two people had been killed.
Chinese officials were calling the shots. About 2000 Tibetans
paraded before the tulku to receive his blessings. A
couple of days later, the boy’s public appearances were
abruptly cancelled. Now one could only get a blessing through
a glass panel. Akong Tulku admitted that he had given the
order to shield the reincarnation. No representative from
Rumtek had joined the celebrations.
Rinpoche was the head lama in Tsurphu and one of the main
figures in bringing Ugyen Trinley to the Karmapa’s seat.
Years before, he had approached the 16th Karmapa with an offer
to travel secretly to Tibet and help rebuild the old
monastery. Notwithstanding the lama’s fervour, the idea
failed to enthuse the Karmapa. Without opposing him, the
Karmapa had dissuaded him, saying frankly that he saw no
future for the place. But after the death of the Karmapa,
Drupon Dechen Rinpoche went to Tibet on orders from Situ
Rinpoche. Now, he was claiming that the 16th Karmapa had sent
him to Tsurphu.
that the search party for the 16th Karmapa, headed by his
assistant, Lama Dholmo, and armed with a copy of the
prediction letter, had actually left Tsurphu as early as April
8. The group was dispatched despite the prior agreement among
the four rinpoches that no such mission should take place
before Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche reported his initial contacts.
The four regents had decided that Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
and not Lama Dholmo, was to make the first approach. How a
local lama got hold of a copy of the then top-secret document
and why he was usurping Kongtrul’s place more than two weeks
before Kongtrul’s tragic death was mystery. Drupon Dechen
Rinpoche admitted that Akong and Sherab, the two regents’
emissaries, had personally handed over the copy of the letter
to him. At that time, they had no business in Tsurphu and were
not supposed to be roaming the distant stretches of Tibet,
certainly not with a copy of the prediction letter in their
Rinpoche described the different miracles during the time of
the child’s birth: among others, the sound of musical
instruments had been heard for two hours in the valley and
four suns had appeared in the sky. (In his address in Tibetan
at Rumtek, Situ Rinpoche had mentioned only three suns though
while addressing the foreigners in English, he forgot the suns
acknowledged that in 1991 Situ Rinpoche had visited the
monastery where Ugyen Trinley (the candidate) was a monk.
Interestingly, Situ Rinpoche, who alone in 1991 had recognised
the rather extravagant number of about 160 reincarnations in
eastern Tibet, had been unaware of a boy whose birth had been
accompanied by such supernatural signs. Furthermore, the boy
was believed to have taken part in one-and-a-half months of
initiation that Situ Rinpoche had given in Palpung, the
headquarters of his monastery in Tibet, that same year. To the
discerning eye, it all looked like Situ Rinpoche had fixed his
eyes on the child long before he sat with his peers to
interpret the instructions concerning the whereabouts of this
On April 24,
1992, a picture of the boy was taken, and a pick-up party was
being organised to bring the tulku to Tsurphu — all
this prior to Jamgon Kongtrul’s death. On May 17, the two
regents declared publicly in Rumtek that, since Shamar
Rinpoche was away, they had to act alone and were therefore
sending Akong and Sherab on a search mission to Tibet. The two
emissaries arrived in Tsurphu in the second half of May, and a
group of 16 was promptly sent to Kham. It was also announced
that Ugyen Trinley, the 16th Karmapa, would arrive in Tsurphu
on June 20. He arrived on June 15 instead.
If this group
of 16 had indeed been the initial discovery team, then these
men had been given at the most 20 days to complete a
round-trip journey from central to eastern Tibet. Their task:
to locate the boy in the large nomad area of Kham and to
negotiate with the parents for his delivery to Tsurphu. All
travel was to be taken on the one-lane, treacherous, gravel
roads of the high Tibetan plateau. It was a physically
impossible task. Although the interpretation of the prediction
letter was clear as to the name of the family and the general
region in the east of the country, there was, of course, no
address. There must have existed at least one earlier search
team which was exactly what Drupon Dechen Rinpoche had
carelessly disclosed. More than that, Lama Dholmo’s group,
which had set off on April 8, was probably looking for
somebody Situ Rinpoche knew fairly well, as he seemed to have
met the child at least in 1991, if not before. The group that
was dispatched from Tsurphu at the end of May was merely a
reception committee. They were well aware of where to go to
find the boy.
Situ, Gyaltshab, Akong Rinpoches and others were hand in glove
with the Chinese. Secretly, they had planned to exclude Shamar
Rinpoche and install their candidate in Tsurphu without his
knowledge. But this was never a secret to Beijing. They could
not have accomplished such a mission without official
communist blessing and active help; in fact, the two eminences
had a lot to thank the Politburo of the Communist Party of
meantime, Situ Rinpoche recognised the reincarnation of Kalu
Rinpoche. The mother of the reincarnation was said to have
been a few months pregnant, carrying the new Kalu, at the time
when the old Kalu passed away. In April, 1999, Situ Rinpoche
sought special permission from the Government of India to
visit Sonada, the seat of Kalu Rinpoche, as the father of the
reincarnation of the rinpoche had expired. In his request, he
mentioned that the deceased was his relative.
Situ Rinpoche had announced his discovery of the reincarnation
of the 16th Karmapa, he had been promising his followers that
the Karmapa would be, in no time, officially installed in
Rumtek. The departure of the reincarnation for India was said
to be only a matter of days, maybe, weeks. Later, however,
with no sign of Ugyen Trinley outside Tibet, the weeks
stretched into months and the months became years. Situ
Rinpoche and his followers staged a coup by
"smuggling" Ugyen Trinley to India in the first week
of January, 2000.
In an earlier
communication, Lama Ole, a European Buddhist monk, had
demanded to know what would happen if the officially chosen
Karmapa would request, of his own free will or prodded by the
Chinese, that the "black crown" and other relics be
returned to Tibet. How could we delay or refuse such a
request? he asked.
27, 1992, when Ugyen Trinley was ordained in Tsurphu as the
16th Karmapa, the Rumtek monastery, members of the Karmapa
Charitable Trust and the majority of the representatives of
the Kagyu centres in the West did not approve of the
procedure. Shamar Rinpoche, historically second after the
Karmapa in the Kagyu spiritual hierarchy, did not attend the
officially recognised the Karmapa two months earlier, on June
29, bestowing the title of the "Living Buddha" on
him. The Chinese recognition coincided with the Dalai Lama’s
formal approval which was given in Dharamsala on the same day.
The title itself was a Communist synonym for a cooperating
lama. Akong Tulku of the Scotland monastery had already joined
the ranks of the Living Buddha. He had also been appointed to
the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The
Communist propaganda machine did not fail to mention that the
16th Karmapa would become an individual loyal to his socialist
profile of the Chinese officials punctuated the installation
ceremony. The enthronement was preceded by their speeches, a
presentation of a letter from Beijing — the government’s
seal of approval on the reincarnation and the enthronement —
and by the exchanges of the traditional scarves and gifts. The
shrine room overflowed with visitors from all over Tibet. The
Tibetans working for the Chinese-backed government in Lhasa
arrived in full force. There were also many Kagyu rinpoches
from Nepal and India and some westerners.
looked quite distressed, just as a seven-year-old would under
such circumstances. He could not sit still for more than a
moment, had no clue as to what was happening — as he was
constantly being whispered to whenever the ceremony required
even a minimal level of his participation — and towards the
end he got clearly irritated. Probably it was nothing unusual
for a boy of his age coming from a nomad family.
rather out of place on his throne and in his gold brocades,
clearly uncomfortable with the rituals being performed around
him, he also displayed an intolerant streak. Easily angered,
he constantly threw things at anyone entering the room. His
grimaces were those of anger and not of mischief as generated
by a boyish desire to tease his elders. The happy family
reunion on the terrace of the monastery came to an abrupt end
as the young boy dismissed his parents and siblings with a
Tibet, a quarterly review magazine from Beijing, claimed that
40,000 people filed by in an orderly fashion to receive
blessings from the Karmapa. In the meantime, a two-page
release signed by Lobsang Deleg Rinpoche reached the Kagyu
centres overseas. He had a lot of interesting things to say.
According to his statement, the important ceremony in Tsurphu
was, in fact, preceded by rather inauspicious events both in
Rumtek and in Tibet. When Ugyen Trinley was officially brought
to his seat, a golden banner fell down from the protector’s
shrine in Rumtek. Also one of his cars in the entourage
skidded and overturned on the dangerous road, killing two
passengers. At the enthronment ceremony itself, some people
waiting outside were injured by a boulder that rolled down a
mountain slope beside the monastery. Situ Rinpoche’s younger
brother started a scuffle with the police, and was arrested
and held for several hours. Finally, the monks, in an attempt
to manage the crowd, had fought with the other participants
and a chaotic atmosphere had set in.
pamphlet bearing the name of J.P. Smith from Dharamsala landed
at the Kagyu centres all over the world. It stated that the
dispute over the lineage was an integral part of Asian
politics. Power and money were behind it. The next year
(1993), the American Congress was to review China’s
most-favoured-nation status. Beijing was earning billions of
dollars in trade with the USA, the American trade deficit with
the communist nation was, in fact, topped only by its deficit
with Japan. With the Democrats in the White House, the passage
of the Bill in Congress was not expected to be such a smooth
ride as it had been during Bush’s tenure. China needed to
show the world, and especially the Congressmen in the Capitol
Hill, that it was treating the minorities well.
added that Beijing had managed to split the Tibetans between
the Dalai and Panchen Lamas so as to suppress the occupied
country, but in 1989, when the Panchen Lama had died, Tibetans
began to rebel. Demonstrations had been held in Lhasa and in
the big monasteries around the capital. The inevitable
clamp-down followed. Western television showed scenes of
Chinese soldiers beating, even torturing, Buddhist monks. The
Chinese Politburo needed somebody to calm the rebellious
Himalayan nation, and so they fixed their gaze — not for the
first time — on the Karmapa. The Chinese leaders had rightly
concluded that the best way to control the Chinese Tibetans
would be to manipulate their tulkus. A policy of
Politburo’s official involvement in the recognition of
reincarnates had been, in actual fact, confidentially adopted
a few years earlier. The old Maoists had become experts in the
delicate art of locating famous lamas. The communists, who did
not even admit to the soul’s existence, had suddenly become
an authority in recognising a soul’s reincarnation.
After the happenings in June,
1992, Situ and Gyaltshab Rinpoches ruled the roost at Rumtek.
It seemed that they were bracing to assume full control of the
Kagyu order. Shamar Rinpoche left the scene of the battle
altogether and stayed in France for some time.