Situation Report: Dhaka, April 26, 2015: Hazard Type: Earthquake

Location: Nepal, India and Bangladesh

Reporting Period: 26 April’15

Location: Nepal, India and Bangladesh

Detail Information:

An earthquake rattled the Dhaka, Chittagong, Barisal, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Rongpur, Kushtia and different parts of the country on April, 25. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake’s epicenter was 81 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, Nepal at a depth of 9.3 moles. The Meteorological Department stated that the epicenter of the earthquake was 745 km north-west of Bangladesh. Tremors were felt also across the region, in India, Tibet, China, Tibet and Pakistan (Prothom Alo; bdnews24.com; the Daily Star, April, 25; and CNN, April, 26).

Another Earthquake followed the earlier one as an aftershock at 13.08 on 26th April to hit Nepal with a magnitude of 6.7 along with Bangladesh and India (Prothom Alo; bdnews24.com; the Daily Star, April, 26; and CNN, April, 26).

Damage Information:

Bangladesh: In Bangladesh, total 5 people were killed and up to 100 people were injured while evacuating. One female was killed by collapse of wall made of mud along with other two women were killed in Pabna and Dhaka. One worker was killed along with 50 injuries in Savar. Another death toll occurred in Sunamganj. 50 readymade garment workers were injured at Ishwardi (Situation Report, DDM, April 25; Prothom, April, 26). 23 buildings were damaged in all over Bangladesh (Situation Report, DDM, and April, 25).

Earthquake, 25 April: Damage and loss in Bangladesh
Death Injury Structural Damage
persons died (1 inSavar, Dhaka; 1 in Bogra; 1 in Sunamganj; &1 in Pabna) § 10-12 workers injured atMission Group GarmentFactory in Savar

§ 2-3 workers injured at Kardena garment in Comilla

§ Five story building develops cracks in Bangla Bazar, Dhaka§ Six story building tilted in Nawabpur, Dhaka§ Five story building tilted in Mirpur, Dhaka

§ Seven story building tilted in Keraniganj, Dhaka.

§ A hotel tilted in Baridhara , Dhaka

§ 2 commercial buildings tilted in Narayanganj

§ 1 garment factory tilted in Gazipur

§ 1 school damaged in Gopalganj

§ 10 story commercial building with cracks in Feni

§ A building with cracks in Nabiganj, Sylhet

§ A school tilted in Gangachara upazila, Rangpur

§ 2 schools damaged in Gaibandha

§ 2 buildings damaged in Rajshahi

§ 4 buildings tilted in Naogaon

§ Crack found at school in Sonatola, Bogra

Source: Disaster situation report, DDM, April, 25, 2015

NepalThe 7.8 magnitude quake along with a strong aftershock of magnitude 6.6 followed by nearly three dozen other aftershocks struck an area of central Nepal between the capital, Kathmandu, and the city of Pokhara on Saturday morning (April 25, 2015). The Home Ministry identifies that more than 2263 people were killed and 4,718 people were injured (till 17.00, CNN, April 26) which mainly include only information of cities. The earthquake flattened homes, buildings and temples, causing widespread damage along with wrecking many historic buildings include the Dharahara tower, the landmark nine- story structure. Kathmandu airport was shut till 4 pm, Indigo, SpiceJet flights forced back after fresh tremors jolt Nepal (India today April, 26) Mobile phones, Electricity and other communications were disrupted. Around 6.6 million people are affected in Nepal according to the UN Office in Kathmundu (India today April, 26). The Government of Nepal declared the National Emergency. (ekantipur.com, April, 26)
Earthquake 1
Building tilted due to earthquake in Nepal

Earthquake 2

A man trapped under a building in Nepal

Government of Bangladesh provided 10 tons of reliefs including food (biscuit, water, and dry foods), medical (medicine) and humanitarian help (tent, blanket) along with a team of 34 members consisted of

groups of physicians and Bangladesh Air force crew (bdnews24.com, April, 26; Prothom Alo, April, 26).

The U.S. government is providing $1 million in immediate assistance to Nepal. Aid agencies expressed concern for the welfare of survivors in the coming days, as overnight temperatures were expected to drop and people were forced to make do without electricity, running water and shelter. (US Geological Survey, CNN, April, 26; BBC News, April 26 and Prothom Alo, April 25).

The UK has deployed a team of humanitarian experts to Nepal to provide urgent support. A number of

British charities are assembling disaster teams to join the rescue effort.

Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, the British Red Cross and Plan International UK are assessing the humanitarian need in the disaster struck area.

IndiaOfficials in India confirmed at least 52 deaths in three states from the Earthquake. (bdnews24.com, April, 26)

Tibet: At least 17 people were killed and 53 injured along with roads buckled and buildings collapse in

Tibet. (bdnews24.com, April, 26

Avalanches in Himalayan: Twenty two (22) people have killed along with 237 missing on Mount Everest by avalanches caused by the Earthquake, the mountain’s worst-ever disaster (BdNews.24.com, April, 26)

Reporting from: NIRAPAD Secretariat
4/16 (1st Floor), Humayun Road, Block-B
Mohammadpur, Dhaka-1207
Bangladesh

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Global Photography Exhibition Opens at UN Rights Council Meeting

Photographs Humanize Rule of Law and Access to Justice

Photographers: Kabir Dhanji, Lucas Lenci, Shehzad Noorani, Vicky Roy, Farzana Wahidy

Curator: Shahidul Alam

“In Focus: Justice and the Post-2015 Agenda,” a photo exhibition on the challenges of development and the rule of law by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and Majority World photo agency, launches on the 2nd March 2015 during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva.

IDLO_Photo Exhib 2015_Booklet_WEB FINAL_Page_01 800 pix
Continue reading “Global Photography Exhibition Opens at UN Rights Council Meeting”

Brahmaputra Diary by Shahidul Alam

Lecture no- 340 Series: Nature

Speaker:  Shahidul Alam

Topic:              My Journey As A Witness
Date:                August 26, 2014
Time:               6.30 PM
Venue:             EMK Centre, Midas Centre, 9th floor, Plot: 5, Road 16 (old 27), Dhanmondi, Dhaka
Moderator:      Tughlaq Azad
Ticket:              50 Taka only

The source of the river Brahmaputra in the Chemayungdung mountains in Tibet, China
The source of the river Brahmaputra in the Chemayungdung mountains in Tibet, China © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Older than the mountains, it is a river that forces its way through the towering Himalayas. The Tibetans know it as the Yarlung Tsang Po (the purifier). In India, it is known as Brahmaputra. In Bangladesh, it is also known as the Jamuna, The Padma and finally the Meghna before it opens into the sea.

Photographer Shahidul Alam will share his journey towards Brahmaputra’s origin.

A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. He returned to his hometown Dhaka in 1984, where he photographed the democratic struggle to remove General Ershad. A former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the award winning Drik agency and Pathshala, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Director of the Chobi Mela festival and chairman of Majority World agency, Alam’s work has been exhibited in galleries such as MOMA in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern in London and The Museum of Contemporary Arts in Tehran. He has been a guest curator of the Whitechapel Gallery, the Musee de Quai Branly, Winterthur Museum and the Brussels Biennale. Alam’s numerous photographic awards include the Mother Jones and the Howard Chapnick Awards and the Open Society Institute Audience Engagement Grant. A speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, Alam is a visiting professor of Sunderland University in the UK. He has been a jury member in prestigious international contests, including World Press Photo, which he chaired, as well as Prix Pictet, chaired by Kofi Annan. An Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, Alam is on the advisory board of the National Geographic Society and the Eugene Smith Fund.

Alam’s recognition as a writer, has led to his participation in literary festivals throughout the globe. His recent book “My Journey as a witness” was listed in the “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo. Former picture editor of Life Magazine John Morris considers the book “The most important book ever written by a photographer”

His current landmark work “Eighteen” questions the role of the military in the abduction of the indigenous activist Kalpana Chakma and has been widely acclaimed, both in the fine art field and by human rights activists.

Alam’s work alongside that of his current and former students will be on show at Oxford University in September 2014. He is also a widely acclaimed public speaker and will be speaking at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford as well as in Dubai, Doha, Cologne, Cape Town and Johannesburg in September.

Not Just Another Brick In The Geopolitical Wall

By leveraging its ties with non-western powers, BRICS can check US hegemony

A different worldview?BRICS leaders profess a shared vision of inclusive global growth and the rapid socio-economic transformation of their own nations. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

Building blocks The BRICS bank will give priority to loans for developing countries to finance infrastructure projects and environmentally sustainable development. Photo: Media Club South Africa

Leaders of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) held their sixth annual meeting on 15-16 July in Fortaleza, Brazil. The major deliverable from the summit was economic in form and content, but its significance is primarily geopolitical. From a turn of phrase by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in 2001, a grouping was born in 2009. It is not the product of diplomatic negotiations based on shared political values or common economic interests. They make up 40 percent of world population, 20 percent of world GDP, 15 percent of world trade and account for two-thirds of world growth. They enjoy the competitive edge in different areas from abundant natural resources to strengths in manufacturing, it and biotechnology.

By 2025, the G-8 — the world’s eight biggest economies — is likely to be, in order, the US, China, India, Japan, Germany, UK, France and Russia. BRICS serves as the key tag of the major emerging markets whose economic growth will outstrip and anchor the rest of the world. But it has been viewed with scepticism because of the diversity and spread of continents, political systems, values and economic models.

The natives are getting restless
Last October, President Dilma Rousseff was to be the first Brazilian leader in two decades to attend a White House dinner. Instead, angered by revelations that her personal phone calls and emails had been intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), she became the first leader to cancel a State dinner hosted by a US president, lambasting American surveillance as a violation of international law and a “totally unacceptable” infringement of Brazil’s sovereignty. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is routinely demonised these days by American political leaders and media commentators as the second coming of Hitler (the downed Malaysia Airlines plane won’t help). Narendra Modi was on the US visa denial list for nine years (2005-14). It takes a particular skill to position oneself offside with leaders of three of the most important emerging powers.

Russia is being subjected to sanctions for its annexation of Crimea — which was Russian for several centuries and was voluntarily “gifted” to the Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev — despite the very concrete threats to its Russian-speaking population and to Russia’s core vital national security interests, a referendum whose margins of results may be questioned but not the overall outcome, and not one fatality.

The countries censuring Russia and imposing sanctions on it were responsible for the 2003 Iraq War whose legal and security justification was far more tenuous, the theatre was geographically distant not contiguous, and whose humanitarian and geopolitical consequences were far more horrific and destabilising.

Last December, a junior Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and strip-searched over labour laws and wage disputes in a deliberate subordination of international conventions to domestic US law, when American diplomats posted abroad have been muscularly shielded from domestic laws even when they have killed host nationals. Chinese officials have been charged with cyber-espionage after the public revelations of the industrial-scale mass surveillance activities of the NSA. Beijing is told to solve its maritime disputes in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas — to which Washington is not party.

The hubris and arrogance of the US-led West is so breathtaking as to be scarcely believable, as though they are blind or indifferent to how others see them.

BRICS-5 as a counterpoint to G-7
That same contempt for others’ voices, values and interests lies behind the creation, consolidation and evolution of the BRICS and their key decisions at the Fortaleza summit. The term was coined as a shorthand proxy to describe the shift in market power and geopolitical clout from the developed economies of the G-7 towards the large and populous emerging market economies. As last year’s Human Development Report put it, “The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale.” Moreover: “For the first time in 150 years, the combined output of the developing world’s three leading economies — Brazil, China and India — is about equal to the combined gdp of the long-standing industrial powers of the North — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and United States.”

BRICS is among the confetti of ‘G’ groups that dot the contemporary international political, security and economic landscape. In the constellation of G groups, the G-7 is the body that brings together the big rich economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US); BRICS brings together the big emerging powers; the G-77 is the international trade union equivalent of the poor developing countries; and the G-20 tries to ensure that the big countries from the global North and South work collaboratively rather than confrontationally to address common global challenges. In its logic, although not in practice, the G-20 is meant to be the forum of the countries of the world with global clout: all countries that have global clout and only those countries with clout.

The BRICS comprise those emerging powers whose rapidly growing economies, substantial populations, military capabilities and expanding diplomatic reach translate into rising power profiles. They pose a challenge to the US-dominated global architecture comprising the United Nations, World Bank and IMF trinity. On the eve of the first summit in Russia in 2009, Brazil’s then president, Lula da Silva, wrote of “broken paradigms and failing multilateral institutions”. The deficiencies have eroded the legitimacy and credibility of the international institutions and fostered mistrust between the global North and South. However, can the BRICS morph from a countervailing economic grouping to a powerful political alternative? Or is BRICS a construct of the social media-driven marketplace of ideas — an attention-grabbing glib phrase in which speed is a substitute for and trumps quality and depth of analysis?

Lack of unity, coherence and focus
Similar stances on a few contentious international issues are not enough to offset the crisis of identity caused by differing and sometimes clashing national priorities. The BRICS-5 are far from homogeneous in interests, values and policy preferences that leaves them open to the dismissive comment that the BRICS lack the necessary cement to bind them together. On some issues they have common interests with one another, while on others they compete against one another and collaborate with selected western powers. For example, India might join the US in a hedging strategy against China’s rapidly growing military footprint and assertive behaviour across Asia-Pacific, but team up with China against Europe and the US on greenhouse gas emission targets. The G-7 spread of per capita incomes (purchasing power parity dollars for 2013, using World Bank data) ranges from a low of $34,303 for Italy to $53,143 for the US. By contrast, for the BRICS, the per capita annual income goes from a low of $5,410 for India to a high of $24,120 for Russia, with China, South Africa and Brazil in the $12,000-15,000 range.

The BRICS-5 are totally different countries with separate histories, contexts, political and economic systems, needs, opportunities and development trajectories. In all, domestic priorities and problems trump club solidarity. They are riven with rivalries over borders, resources and status. India and Russia have border problems with China. The anxiety of India and China about rising energy prices must be set against Russia being a beneficiary, while Brazil is both a cause and beneficiary of rising food prices. China’s highly competitive exports inflict material harm on Brazil. Two are authoritarian States. The three democracies have their own subset called IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), although they too have a tradition of reticence in global democracy-promotion efforts. Most are stuttering economically. All retain deep and specific ties with the pivotal northern countries and for all, bilateral relations with the US are more critical than with one another.

The most potent source of BRICS cohesion is geopolitical: the common interest in checking US/western power and imperialist impulses by leveraging collaboration with the other nonwestern powers. All have a strong vested interest in protecting strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the US in global affairs. But they are divided on reform of the UN Security Council, with China’s interest lying more in a bipolar than a genuinely multipolar global order, and on the global economic effects of China’s currency value. While strong enough to veto western action, they lack the political clout and economic muscle to remake the status quo. Nor do they always act as a concerted bloc within other institutional settings. Even after the 2012 summit, a European and an American were chosen as IMF and World Bank chiefs.

Unrepresentative, yet representatives of global South
On those issues where there is a shared view among them, the BRICS can exert more significant leverage in combination than separately. Their natural constituency is the global South. Many developing countries remain worried that the forces of globalisation impinge adversely on their economic sovereignty, cultural integrity and social stability. “Interdependence” among unequals can mean the dependence of some on international markets that function under the dominance of others in setting norms and enforcing rules. The BRICS are anything but representative of the typical developing country in terms of size, area, power, economic weight, interest, capacity and resources. Only India is typical of the levels of poverty, illiteracy, low life expectancy and health indicators, etc. But what the BRICS can do and have done is to reflect and represent the interests and priorities of most developing countries, and leverage their atypical attributes of market power and geopolitical clout to negotiate with the developed countries, on many global challenges. Few other developing countries can match the BRICS in their market size and power, or legal, scientific, research and technology base. In other words, it is precisely the attributes making them atypical — size of population, GDP, military power, diplomatic reach, intellectual infrastructure — that gives the BRICS the capacity to represent the views, interests and concerns of the typical developing countries in international forums and negotiations.

But the BRICS do have the ability and will to represent the interests of developing countries on those issues where the global North-South division is salient. They can help to shape a new, post-2015 global development agenda of poverty alleviation, sustainable development and inclusive growth. They can share and learn from one another’s more relevant development experience, from China’s successes in reducing poverty and developing infrastructure to Brazil’s in clean fuel generation. And they can act as a counterweight to the West’s excesses in the UN, WTO, World Bank and the IMF. They reject militarisation of disputes and conflicts, promote political resolutions through diplomatic talks, work to soften the West’s interventionist impulse in the internal affairs of States, and are strongly opposed to infringements of territorial integrity and sovereignty. They share concerns about the financial and geopolitical dominance of the US-led West and support a rebalancing of the current global trade and financial system to reflect developing-country concerns and interests. They can give voice to developing country concerns on new rules for healthcare, pharmaceuticals, intellectual property rights, etc. Most developing countries view environmental, labour and human rights standards as disguised non-tariff barriers to protect uncompetitive western agricultural and manufacturing sectors. On intellectual property, whether it be with respect to generic lifesaving drugs and seeds for agriculture or traditional medicine, they can team up to take on the lobbying power of Big Pharma (e.g. Pfizer) and global agribusiness (Monsanto) to robustly protect the rights of poor people to affordable medicines, of poor farmers to affordable seeds, and of indigenous peoples to retain ownership of their traditional knowledge.

Global economic governance
The BRICS are at the forefront of demanding changes to both the institutions and the rules regulating the global economic order, including greater voice and vote in writing the rules and designing and controlling the institutions. They profess a shared vision of inclusive global growth and the rapid socio-economic transformation of their own nations in which no village is left behind. They come to the global governance table with a mutually reinforcing sense of historical grievances and claims to represent the interests of all developing countries. They share a commitment to State sovereignty and non-intervention. They proclaim the need for a rules-based, stable and predictable world order that respects the diversity of political systems and stages of development.

The biggest common interest of the BRICS is in global economic governance. There is an unsustainable disconnect between the highly indebted but politically dominant industrialised economies and, following that, between the distribution of decision-making authority in the existing international financial institutions and the realignment of economic power equations in the real world. Or, to put it another way, in the emerging new global balance of power, the old global political imbalances need to be readjusted to the new global economic imbalances.

The BRICS called for more responsive, flexible and rapid financing to low-income countries to help them ward off the contagion effects of the global financial crisis and shore up their national developmental objectives. They also called for reforming the international monetary system, to consider diversifying beyond the dollar as the de facto global currency, to take gradual steps in expanding the role of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights as a supplemental global reserve asset option, and to give increased voice and vote on issues of global finance to developing countries. The G-20 had tried to redress the IMF’s democratic deficit by agreeing in 2009 to a 5 percent quota shift from developed to developing countries, which would have raised the latter’s share to 48 percent. The proposal has languished in the US Congress for five years and counting, effectively also sabotaging the planned further review and revisions of quotas that was to have begun in January 2013.

The New Development Bank
The system that privileges western powers and their biases is trapped in the old paradigm and out of sync with the new realities. Developing countries have noted how Europe was treated much differently during the Eurozone crisis from the harsh medicine meted out to Asia and Latin America in earlier crises. At the summit in New Delhi in 2012, BRICS advanced from being simply an expression of frustrated entitlement to sketching the outlines of an alternative configuration of global governance. The criticisms of the voting formula, funding priorities and executive directorship of the IMF and World Bank reflect both frustrations at how they are run, and growing self-confidence in their own roles as responsible stakeholder-managers of the system of global economic governance. They underlined the urgency of enhancing “the voice and representation of emerging market and developing countries” in the Bretton Woods institutions in order to “better reflect economic weights”. One critical test of whether BRICS can make the transition from a critic of the West-led system of global economic governance to a leader-cum-manager of an alternative system of, by and for developing countries, would be whether the idea of a BRICS bank floated for study in New Delhi bore fruit.

The BRICS move to set up their own development bank was a reaction to the West’s doublespeak. In 2012, Lula da Silva bluntly said the global financial crisis “was created by white men with blue eyes”. At the 2013 Durban summit, South Africa’s then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, remarked that the “roots of the World Bank and the IMF still lie” in the post-1945 equations. The five could not agree on the amount of seed money to start the bank nor on its location. South Africa put in a strong bid based on physical and financial infrastructure strengths, including corporate governance, auditing and accounting.

At Fortaleza, the five leaders reached consensus on the objectives, functions, capital subscription size, distribution among the member countries, governance structure and operational mechanisms. Four issues were up for discussion about the proposed bank: name, location, presidency and shareholding. It will be called the New Development Bank. It will be headquartered in Shanghai (with an African Regional Centre to be based in Johannesburg). The inaugural president will come from India, which claims credit for having first floated the idea. And the five countries agreed to equal shareholding. The bank is to be capitalised initially at $50 billion (and subsequently at double that amount), with each country contributing $10 billion over the next 7-8 years. It will give priority to loans for developing countries to finance infrastructure projects, industrialisation and productive, inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

In addition, there will be an emergency reserve pool, called the Contingency Reserve Arrangement, with a $100 billion capital, of which $41 billion will come from China, $18 billion each from Brazil, India and Russia, and $5 billion from South Africa. Its purpose will be to help developing countries avoid short-term liquidity pressure, strengthen the global financial safety net, complement existing international arrangements, and foster more cooperation among the BRICS. Developing countries will be able to draw on the reserve if they face balance of payments crises or if their currency is under pressure. Russia and Brazil get the chairmanships of the two supervising boards.

The New Development Bank is bound to create competition for the World Bank and similar regional funds like the Asian Development Bank. The World Bank’s numerous critics are quick to charge that the institution has failed to lift any country out of poverty and instead has generally deepened poverty and created dependency. Only foreign creditors have done well from its projects. The original core missions of the IMF and World Bank targeted financial stability, employment and development. As the Washington Consensus of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation held sway after the 1980s, the conditionality attached to the “assistance” provided by the two Bretton Woods institutions inflicted significant economic cost and often grave political damage on many developing countries in trouble. Their operations and governance structures came to be seen as rigged against the voice, vote and interests of developing countries and skewed towards the industrialised bloc.

Jim O’Neill rightly commented that the establishment of the BRICS New Development Bank highlights the problems with the current system of global assistance and governance. Global governance just got a lot more interesting.

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 31, Dated 2 August 2014)

Where will India's poor go?

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy
IN Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.
“The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”

India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.

“What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.

“Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”

Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.”

India’s demographic dynamics are such that even mundane projects, such as constructing a road, displace thousands of people, never mind large dams and massive mining projects. The country has a thriving civil society, labour unions and polity that channel this resistance. The resistance frustrates corporate ambitions. “They now want to militarise it and quell it through military means,” she says. Ms Roy thinks that the quelling “does not necessarily mean one has to massacre people, it can also be achieved by putting them under siege, starving them out, killing and putting those who are seen to be ‘leaders’ or’ ‘instigators’ into prison.” Also, the hyper Hindu-nationalist discourse which has been given popular affirmation will allow those resisting ‘development’ to be called anti-nationals. She narrates the example of destitute small farmers who had to abandon their old ways of subsistence and plug in to the market economy.

In 2012 alone, around 14,000 hapless farmers committed suicide in India. “These villages are completely resourceless, barren and dry as dust. The people are mostly Dalits. There is no politics there. They are pushed into the polling booths by power brokers who have promised their overlords some votes,” she adds, citing her recent visit to villages in Maharashtra that has the highest rate of farmer suicides in India.

So is there no democracy in India then? “It would be too sweeping to say that,” she retorts. “There is some amount of democracy. But you also can’t deny that India has the largest population of the poor in the world. Then, there hasn’t been a single day since independence when the state has not deployed the armed forces to quash insurgencies within its boundaries. The number of people who had been killed and tortured is incredible. It is a state that is continuously at war with its people. If you look at what is happening in places like Chhattisgarh or Odisha, it will be an insult to call it a democracy.”

Ms Roy believes that elections have become a massive corporate project and the media is owned and operated by the same corporations too. She opines that “some amount of democracy” in India is reserved for its middle classes alone and through that they are co-opted by the state and become loyal consumers of the state narrative of people’s resistances.

“The 2014 elections have thrown up some strange conundrums,” she muses. “For eg, the BSP, Mayawati’s party, which got the third largest vote share in the country, has won no seats. The mathematics of elections are such that even if every Dalit in India voted for her, she could have still not won a single seat.”

“Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government,” she continues. “Technically and legally, there is no party with enough seats to constitute an opposition. But many of us have maintained for several years that there never was a real opposition. The two main parties agreed on most policies, and each had the skeleton of a mass pogrom against a minority community in its cupboard. So now, it’s all out in the open. The system lies exposed.”

India’s voters have given their verdict. But the blunt question that Ms Roy raises remains unanswered: where will India’s poor go?

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014

Memory, Justice, Healing

Memory, Justice, Healing evening at Making Democracy Real 2014 with Salman Rashid, Rajmohan Gandhi, Archana Rao and Rahul Bose

A week earlier, he had received a letter from his youngest sister Tahira. Having completed her higher secondary school exams, she was visiting with her older sister Zubaida whose husband was then a surveyor with the Survey of India and posted at Solan midway between Kalka and Simla. Tahira had written that Solan was rife with communal tension and that she wanted to be with the parents in Jalandhar. She asked her brother if he could come for her to take her home.
Memory, Justice, Healing evening Continue reading “Memory, Justice, Healing”

Collateral Damage

Raghu Rai/Magnum Photos

In 1971, the Pakistani Army had free rein to kill at least 300,000 Bengalis and force 10 million people to flee.

By

In the 40-odd years that America and the Soviet Union faced off in the cold war, the people who presumed to run the world started with the knowledge that it was too dangerous, and possibly even suicidal, to attack one another. But the struggle was fierce, and what that meant in practice was that the competition played out in impoverished places like Cuba and Angola, where the great statesmen vied, eyed and subverted one another, and sometimes loosed their local proxies, all in the name of maintaining the slippery but all-important concept known as the balance of power.

THE BLOOD TELEGRAM

Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide: The New York Times

By Gary J. Bass

The peace held, of course — that is, the larger peace. The United States and the Soviet Union never came to blows, and the nuclear-tipped missiles never left their silos. For the third world, where the competition unfolded, it was another matter entirely. The wreckage spread far and wide, in toppled governments, loathsome dictators, squalid little wars and, here and there, massacres so immense that entire populations were nearly destroyed.

In “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide,” Gary J. Bass, a professor of politics at Princeton, has revived the terrible and little-known story of the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and of the sordid and disgraceful White House diplomacy that attended it. This is a dark and amazing tale, an essential reminder of the devastation wrought by the hardhearted policy and outright bigotry that typified much of the diplomacy of the cold war. It is not a tale without heroes, though; a number of American diplomats — most especially a man named Archer Blood — risked and even sacrificed their careers by refusing to knuckle under to the White House and telling the truth about what was happening on the ground.

The story begins, as do so many in our modern world, with the end of the British Empire. In 1947, when the British quit India, they lopped off its majority Muslim flanks in the east and west. At the time, the partition unfolded in a frenzy of murder and expulsion, leaving a million people dead. Pakistan emerged as one of the largest countries in the world, but improbably divided into two parts by more than a thousand miles of Indian territory. When you look at a map from that time, you have to wonder what on earth the cartographers were thinking.

Pakistan carried on for 23 years like that, with the more numerous Bengalis in the east feeling increasingly neglected by their Punjabi brethren in the west, where the capital was. Things came to a head in December 1970, when Sheik Mujib-ur-­Rahman, a pipe-smoking Bengali leader, and his party, the Awami League, won the elections on the promise of autonomy for East Pakistan. (Whatever he wanted privately, he did not call for independence.) Rahman never got a chance to form a government. Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, egged on by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the second-place finisher, arrested Rahman and ordered the army to crush the Bengalis. Dominated by Punjabis, the army moved brutally, shooting and detaining Bengali leaders, intellectuals and anyone who opposed them.

Enter the United States. At the time of the elections, Pakistan, though ruled by a military dictator, was an American ally with an American-equipped military; India, the giant democracy, considered itself nonaligned — a neutral player in the Soviet-American standoff. Given what was happening on the ground — the Pakistani Army acting wantonly, ignoring the results of an election — you might expect the White House to restrain the Pakistani generals. So one arrives at the devastating heart of Bass’s book. (Note: I have interviewed Bass and met him socially a couple of times.)

At the time of the crackdown in East Pakistan, President Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were trying to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China, which was only then emerging from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Nixon wanted desperately to extract the United States from Vietnam in something less than a catastrophic way and, as focused as ever on the Soviet Union, he and Kissinger believed that opening a channel to China could help them with the war while, at the same time, delivering a blow to the Soviets by exploiting their rivalry with the Chinese. Pakistan and, in particular, Yahya, its military leader, became Nixon’s secret liaison with the Chinese leader Zhou Enlai. Yahya helped lay the groundwork for the visits to China by Kissinger and then Nixon. It’s hard to overstate just how earth-changing Nixon and Kissinger regarded their trips to China — and how important they thought they were for bringing them about.

In practice, this meant that Yahya — a vain, shallow mediocrity — was suddenly considered indispensable, free to do whatever he wished in East Pakistan. With the White House averting its eyes, the largely Muslim Pakistani Army killed at least 300,000 Bengalis, most of them Hindus, and forced 10 million to flee to India. Bass lays out his indictment of the White House: Nixon and Kissinger spurned the cables, written by their own diplomats in Dacca (the capital of East Pakistan), that said West Pakistan was guilty of carrying out widespread massacres. Archer Blood, the counsel general in Dacca, sent an angry cable that detailed the atrocities and used the word “genocide.” The men in the White House, however, not only refused to condemn Yahya — in public or private — but they also declined to withhold American arms, ammunition and spare parts that kept Pakistan’s military machine humming. Indeed, Nixon regarded the dictator with genuine affection. “I understand the anguish you must have felt in making the difficult decisions you have faced,” he told Yahya.

The voices of Kissinger and Nixon are the book’s most shocking aspects. Bass has unearthed a series of conversations, most of them from the White House’s secret tapes, that reveal Nixon and Kissinger as breathtakingly vulgar and hateful, especially in their attitudes toward the Indians, whom they regarded as repulsive, shifty and, anyway, pro-Soviet — and especially in their opinion of Indira Gandhi. “The old bitch,” Nixon called her. “I don’t know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do,” he said.

These sorts of statements will probably not surprise the experts, but what is most telling is what they reveal about Nixon’s and Kissinger’s strategic intelligence. At every step of the crisis, the two men appear to have been driven as much by their loathing of India — West Pakistan’s rival — as by any cool calculations of power. By failing to restrain West Pakistan, they allowed a blood bath to unfold, and then a regional war, which began when Gandhi finally decided that the only way to stop the tide of refugees was to stop the killing across the border. That, in turn, prompted West Pakistan to attack India.

At this point, the recklessness of Nixon and Kissinger only got worse. They dispatched ships from the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal, and even encouraged China to move troops to the Indian border, possibly for an attack — a maneuver that could have provoked the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the leaders of the two Communist countries proved more sober than those in the White House. The war ended quickly, when India crushed the Pakistani Army and East Pakistan declared independence.

Nixon and Kissinger spent the decades after leaving office burnishing their images as great statesmen. This book goes a long way in showing just how undeserved those reputations are.

Dexter Filkins, a staff writer for The New Yorker, was formerly a correspondent in South Asia for The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.

After the last star has gone

They were professionals I respected and admired, but they had found my comments disparaging. “What about the work we’ve been doing all these years?” they had hurtfully said. I had reflected upon the fact that while there were some great photographers in India, it didn’t really have a photographic movement. Until now.

SHAHIDUL ALAM SPEAKING AT THE INAUGURATION OF DELHI PHOTO FESTIVAL. PHOTO: PAOLO PATRIZI

Whenever I passed through Delhi, Raghu, Pablo, Dayanita, Prashant and other photographer friends would all meet at the India International Centre and try and kick start this movement. “Karne hoga yaar” (we’ve got to do it mates) was the rallying cry we would leave each other with, but while several initiatives had been taken, it was the Delhi Festival, launched in October 2011, that showed the first signs of that collective endeavor.

It was the 18th December 1998. The day Pathshala was launched. Indian photographer Saibal Das had taken me aside to quietly ask, “is this the ‘real’ Reza?” I had nodded and he went on “can I touch him?” Reza Deghati, the famous National Geographic photographer, chuckled when I explained. We all paused as Saibal approached – and touched – his idol.

It took me back to 1991, when Fred and Wendy Baldwin had walked me through the exhibition spaces in Houston. I had never been to Fotofest or any other festival, but listening to Fred and Wendy, I could see myself surrounded by images and image-makers.

Arles was my first festival. Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer and I had known each other for many years, but we had never met. I barely survived the crushing hug at our first encounter. The joy of seeing outstanding work all across the city. Stunning multimedia displays on the giant Amphitheatre. The excitement of walking amidst household names in photography, seeing, sometimes touching, my heroes, made me realise this was a feeling that had to be shared. I wish I could have taken a suitcase full of photographers with me to these festivals. I settled for two. In a subsequent trip to Arles, we stopped on the way in Paris and Abbas, the chairman of Magnum, took my two young colleagues Shehzad and Mahmud on a guided tour of the agency. I recognized that glazed look in their eyes.

Meeting Raghu Rai on a boat from Hong Kong to Kowloon. Lunch at Chelsea with Raghubir Singh, Sunil Janah and Ram Rahman, courtesy of Max Kozloff. Working with Dayanita Singh, Eugene Richards and Mark Abraham in my first curatorial assignment, have been seminal moments in my own photographic career. I remembered the high I got from each of those encounters. This was a high that needed to be shared. I needed a very large suitcase. If the photographers couldn’t be taken to the festivals, the festivals would have to come to them. So Chobi Mela was born. That was 1999.

Little had we realized what an electrifying effect this festival would have. Photographers who came over, went back energized and set up their own festivals. Besides the Chinese mega events, small intimate festivals took place in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand. India however, was still lagging behind. That was when Prashant Panjiar and Dinesh Khanna stepped in. They weren’t foolhardy youngsters, and a great deal of thinking and planning went into staging this important event.

When asked why Delhi Fest became such an instant success, Prashant would in his typical manner respond “it was because Dinesh and I are not superstars”.  While I certainly dispute his non-superstar status, I know what he was getting at.  Prashant and Dinesh were going to make the festival a success and not let their egos get in the way.  As brave people do, the duo had some luck on their side. It was ambitious to take on such a diverse programme on their first attempt. The choice of the magnificent grounds of the Habitat Centre, was key to making it work. I am sure a lot went on behind the scenes to make it happen. The Amphitheatre, the classrooms, the open air space and the splendid location were central to creating the atmosphere of the special event

Fine shows, interesting talks, the organic mix of the experienced and the new, combined with ambitious curatorial projects, made it seem it was a festival run by old hands.  I am sure there were cracks, as there always are, but whatever might have gone on behind the scenes, the show on stage went without a blip.

For me, it was the camaraderie between the photographers wafting throughout the festival that made it particularly special. My lasting memory – of the inevitable photo op -with Raghu Rai, Pablo Bartholomew, Prashant Panjiar, Prabudhdha Das Gupta and I, will forever linger. Prabudhdha is no more, but what these fine photographers have together built, will I am sure, outlast them all.

Shahidul Alam
Dhaka
September 2013

The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide.

By Gary Bass. The Economist

UNTIL 1971 Pakistan was made up of two parts: west and east. Both Muslim-dominated territories were born out of India’s bloody partition 24 years earlier, though they existed awkwardly 1,600km apart, divided by hostile Indian territory. Relations between the two halves were always poor. The west dominated: it had the capital, Islamabad, and greater political, economic and military clout. Its more warlike Pashtuns and prosperous Punjabis, among others, looked down on Bengali easterners as passive and backward.

The split into Pakistan and Bangladesh was perhaps inevitable. It began in late 1970, after Pakistan’s first national elections. To the shock of West Pakistanis, an easterner, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a sweeping victory, and was poised to lead the country. His Awami League wanted greater rights for Bengalis. But the army chiefs and politicians in Islamabad would not countenance his taking office. They arrested him and the army began repressing eastern protesters.

Bengalis flocked to join the rebel forces who were fighting for independence. West Pakistani soldiers stationed in the east, plus a few local supporters, began targeting students, writers, politicians; especially the Hindu minority. Soldiers massacred civilians, burned villages and sent millions fleeing to India. Eventually some 10m became refugees, mostly Hindus. At least 300,000 people were killed; some say the death toll was over 1m.

Seen from America, where Richard Nixon was president, the war was a domestic Pakistani affair. India’s leader, Indira Gandhi, claimed otherwise. She called the floods of refugees a humanitarian disaster that threatened regional stability. She wanted international action, demanding that America tell Pakistan’s leaders to stop the killing. Nixon, urged by his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, refused.

In “The Blood Telegram” Gary Bass, a Princeton academic (who once wrote for The Economist), sets out to assess America’s handling of the war. He argues that the killings amounted to a genocide: Hindus, as a distinct minority, were chosen for annihilation and expulsion. He asks why Nixon continued actively to support the Pakistani leaders who were behind it.

At the behest of Mr Kissinger, Nixon sent military planes and other materiel to Pakistan, even though he knew this broke American law. He deployed an American naval task force to the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India, which had begun helping rebels in East Pakistan. Most extreme, he secretly asked China to send troops to India’s borders. He did so accepting a risk of Soviet retaliation, even that nuclear bombs might be “lobbed” around in response.

Nixon and Mr Kissinger stood with Pakistan, even as they knew of the extent of the slaughter. Their own diplomats told them about it. The centrepiece of Mr Bass’s gripping and well-researched book is the story of how America’s most senior diplomat in East Pakistan, Archer Blood, the consul-general in Dhaka, sent regular, detailed and accurate reports of the bloodshed. Early on he stated that a “selective genocide” was under way.

Blood and his colleagues protested that America should not support Pakistan’s rulers. Then, 20 of them sent a dissenting telegram (the “Blood telegram” of the book’s title) condemning America’s policy. It was an extreme and idealistic step for a diplomat, whose career was soon cut short. Though the telegram did not change American policy, it rates as an historic document. Such open dissent is extremely rare.

Mr Bass does a good job of explaining Nixon’s wilful support of Pakistan. Using newly released recordings of White House conversations between the president and Mr Kissinger, he sets out with admirable clarity what else was at stake. In part it was personal. Nixon, a man of few friends, was notably fond of Pakistan’s military ruler, Yahya Khan, a gruff, dim-witted, whisky-drinking general. Nixon compared the Pakistani favourably to Abraham Lincoln. By contrast he despised India’s wheedling civilian politicians, reserving a particular dislike for Gandhi, whom in private he frequently called a “bitch” and “witch”.

More important, Pakistan was a loyal cold-war ally, whereas India was seen as leaning towards the Soviet Union. Crucially, Mr Kissinger early in 1971 was using Pakistan as an essential secret conduit to China. He flew via Islamabad to Beijing to arrange for Nixon to make his own trip to see Mao Zedong. Better relations with China would allow America to wind down the war in Vietnam.

Ultimately, Mr Kissinger did much to set America’s course. He argued that America should pay no heed to domestic horrors in Pakistan, saying “you can’t go to war over refugees”, and warned that India was a greater threat to international order. Indian “bastards”, he agreed with Nixon, needed a “mass famine” to cut them down to size.

Mr Bass depicts Mr Kissinger as increasingly erratic, perhaps overworked, as East Pakistan’s secession became inevitable. He is quoted calling the conflict “our Rhineland” (in reference to the start of the second world war) and warning that India would “rape Pakistan”.

Mr Kissinger adopts a magisterial tone in the one chapter he devoted to the India-Pakistan crisis in his 1979 work, “The White House Years”. He refused to speak to Mr Bass for this book, and glosses over the Blood telegram in his memoirs, never explaining why he ignored the entreaties of the diplomats on the ground. That is a pity, because America’s response to the war has reverberated over the years.

The 1971 war poisoned regional affairs for decades. It ended when India’s army intervened, having supported East Pakistan’s rebels for months, and crushed the Pakistani forces within days. Pakistan was humiliated, yet no Pakistani soldier has been held to account for the mass slaughter that provoked the war. Pakistanis by and large prefer not to discuss it. The war did convince them that India might next try to break up the remaining western rump of their country, perhaps by supporting Baluchi separatists on the border with Afghanistan. A sharp mutual suspicion still lingers between the neighbours, helping ensure that Pakistan’s army dominates—and damages—the country still.

Nor did the war do much for India. Eventually the refugees went home, but relations with Bangladesh soon soured. At home Gandhi became suddenly more popular. But she then descended into authoritarianism, even suspending democracy. Inside Bangladesh the war remains a live political issue as alleged collaborators in the conflict (all opposition leaders) are being tried by a flawed, local war-crimes tribunal. This week, one defendant was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court.

Could things have been different if America, having listened to Blood, had pressed Pakistan not to slaughter its own people in 1971? Mr Bass does not speculate directly. Yet if a peaceful secession of Bangladesh had been possible, many lives would have been saved and a source of deep division in a troubled region would have been removed.

India’s unfair obsession with lighter skin

The Dark is Beautiful campaign hopes to halt India’s huge appetite for skin whitening products, and has a new champion in film star Nandita Das

  • Nandita Das
Nandita Das: ‘Indians are very racist. There is so much pressure that perpetuates this idea that fair is the ideal.’ Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

“You look green!” said a friend. “Are you ill?” asked another. Last year, a respected Indian newspaper published a photograph of me online which had been lightened so drastically by the art director’s magic wand that I called the editor to complain and he apologised and replaced it with the original. The art director had thought he was doing me a favour by whitening my skin.

India‘s obsession with fair skin is well documented: in 1978, Unilever launched Fair & Lovely cream, which has subsequently spawned numerous whitening face cleansers, shower gels and even vaginal washes that claim to lighten the surrounding skin. In 2010, India’s whitening-cream market was worth $432m, according to a report by market researchers ACNielsen, and was growing at 18% per year. Last year, Indians reportedly consumed 233 tonnes of skin-whitening products, spending more money on them than on Coca-Cola.

Cricket players and Bollywood stars regularly endorse these products. But now the film star Nandita Das has taken a stance against the craze and given her support to the Dark is Beautiful campaign which challenges the belief that success and beauty are determined by skin colour. “I want people to be comfortable in their own skin and realise that there is more to life than skin colour,” she says, adding that an Indian paper had written “about my support for the campaign and then lightened the photo of me that went alongside it”.

While she agrees that there is a long history behind the obsession with skin colour, owing to caste and culture, she thinks the current causes should be targeted first. “Indians are very racist. It’s deeply ingrained. But there is so much pressure by peer groups, magazines, billboards and TV adverts that perpetuate this idea that fair is the ideal,” she says.

Das has often faced directors and makeup artists trying to lighten her when she plays the role of an educated, upper-class woman. “They always say to me: ‘Don’t worry, we will lighten you, we’re really good at it,’ as a reassurance. It’s perpetuating a stereotype that only fair-skinned women can be educated and successful.”

In 2005, the cosmetics company Emami launched Fair & Handsome for men, with an ad featuring the Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan tossing a tube of whitening cream to a hopeful young fan, which the Dark is Beautiful campaign is seeking to have withdrawn. “Shah Rukh Khan is saying that to be successful you have to be fair,” says Das. “Don’t these people have any kind of conscience? You can’t be naive; you know what kind of impact you have and yet you send out the message that says: ‘Forget about working hard, it’s about skin colour.’”

Read more: http://www.shahidulnews.com/indias-unfair-obsession-with-lighter-skin#ixzz2gIrNHQW0Nandita Das: ‘Indians are very racist. There is so much pressure that perpetuates this idea that fair is the ideal.’ Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

“You look green!” said a friend. “Are you ill?” asked another. Last year, a respected Indian newspaper published a photograph of me online which had been lightened so drastically by the art director’s magic wand that I called the editor to complain and he apologised and replaced it with the original. The art director had thought he?was doing me a favour by whitening my skin. Continue reading “India’s unfair obsession with lighter skin”