Letters to the Editor Himal Southasian

Show, don't tell
Thanks for your recent cover section on fundamentalisms (October-November). Your coverage was not only useful to me as a bideshi but also, I can assume, to the citizens of Southasia who want to better understand their own world. After all, from time to time everybody needs to be reminded of their collective past and its link to today.

Although your articles present a breadth of objective perspectives, I would caution Himal against allowing its pages to be an open tribune for the revival of the left wing. Of course I'm not against the idea of a more equal world, but a magazine's first duty is to inform correctly, in order to give the readers the tools to build their own minds. Unhappily, this can also be the first step in feeling good about telling readers what they should do and how they should do it.

I bring up such points particularly due to this kind of sentence, from Pervez Hoodbhoy's article: "It is to the left to bring sanity to the world." Such sentiments go against the role of the journalist – sanity is everybody's business anyway. Likewise, subsequent subheads in that same article – "What Muslims must do", "What America must do", are off-track.

Guillaume Arnaud
Boudha, Kathmandu   ——————————————————————————–

Bureaucratic tyranny
Thanks for your recent article on Sonam Wangchuk and his organisation, SECMOL ("Education reform, interrupted", September). Wangchuk, the revolutionist who single-handedly changed the education system in Ladakh over the last 19 years, has faced some intolerable allegations this year, which have hurt the sentiments of hundreds of Ladakhis concerned about the future generation. More importantly, after people public protests arose over these allegations, the government has suspended the much-acclaimed educational-reform movement.

It needs to be understood that SECMOL Operation New Hope allowed 10th-class examination results in rural Ladakhi schools to rise from five to 55 percent average pass rates in just eight years. SECMOL has educated many students, mainly from rural villages with poor background, who had previously failed class 10 many times. Today, many hold reputable positions in government and private departments. Indeed, one former student was the only person from Ladakh this year to clear the Civil Service examination!

Naturally some did not like the extra work that this meant for them, or had problems with SECMOL's methods of social activism. A few disgruntled teachers and officials are also unhappy with the villages' empowerment, as well as the resulting accountability that have come up in the village schools. But the allegations against Wangchuk are nothing but bureaucratic tyranny and misuse of power – they are an insult to a democratic country.

SECMOL has today suspended its educational activities in Ladakh. Meanwhile, communities hope that the education-reform movement is soon restored, and that Wangchuk can continue attempting to put in place an education system that empowers the younger generation to go out into the modern world without sacrificing the depth of traditional knowledge, values and wisdom inherent in Ladakh's unique culture. At the same time, we are also pleased to learn that today Wangchuk's expertise is benefiting the rural children of Nepal, where he is currently working for educational reform.

Tsewang Rigzin

And the Christians?
Tom Mangattuthazhe Thomas writes in his article "Tea-labour Hinduisation" (October-November) that "The zealous intervention of the Sangh Parivar in the Northeast, including Assam, has at least three immediate implications. First, it is likely to entail the loss of the traditional culture of these groups. Second, conflicts could be sparked off with Christian groups active in these areas. Third, conflict could spike between the Hinduised and organised Adivasis and the traditional local communities."

Why doesn't Thomas address the loss of the traditional culture of these groups by conversion to Christianity? At least Hinduism is a syncretic religion that has absorbed local deities and customs. A good example is the cult of Mariamman, the goddess of smallpox. Near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, the Mariamman temple is visited by all Hindus, including Brahmins, despite the fact that you will not find Mariamman mentioned in any Hindu text. Does Christianity have the same approach to other religions and/or cultures? Is there any place for a Goddess of Smallpox in Christianity?

Why is Thomas talking about potential conflicts between the 'Hinduised' and traditional local communities? The only conflict that has been reported has been between recent converts to Christianity in Arunachal Pradesh and those who have refused to convert, instead continuing to follow traditional Buddhism and animism. Thomas is bringing in a red herring, in order to avoid pointing out the pernicious effects of Christian missionary activities among tribals. Indeed, what he seems to want is a free hand with which Christian missionaries can convert all and sundry – and for Hindu missionaries to simply accept their doing so.

Vivi Chellappa

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Himal Southasian