Mail Middle-class assertion
In last month’s issue, Kanak Mani Dixit and Sripad Dharmadhikary fluently illuminated the enduring legacy engendered by centralised dam projects in Southasia: mass displacement and the failure to provide rehabilitation for the inhabitants of the disrupted areas. Dixit urges us to take another look at the re-emergence of the big-dam phenomenon in the context of India’s changing economic conditions – or warns that we will have little realistic chance of combating the environmental degradation, displacement and mass impoverishment that result from existing and planned projects.
Further, the articles emphasised an evaluation of our rejection of big dams based not merely on claimed economic viability divorced from social factors, but also on how economic decisions impact social realities on the ground. Such an evaluation needs to involve the role of the rising Indian middle class, which subsequently implies securing their interests as well. However, this cannot happen without a restructured vision, in terms of how development operates in the interest of a progressive nation, as well as how development mandates continual, proper valuation before projects are planned in the first place. The environments and needs of each part of India, after all, differ vastly from one another.
Middle-class assertion on this issue would aid on two fronts. First, it would spur needed debate on individual development projects before implementation. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it would help to thwart the meaningless ‘good for India/bad of India’ binary on the issue of ‘development’. This would subsequently eradicate overly simplistic notions of ‘progress’ and ‘traditionalism’, which have done little more than to thwart honest, complex dialogue from the thickets of the decision-making process. There has only been one lasting result from the lack of amenable dissension among parties to whom the state and planning commissions are most likely to listen: lives being endangered by those who bear the burden for dam projects undertaken without proper evaluation.
Thank you for bringing out the article “Education reform, interrupted” (September 2007). The writer has tried his best to highlight an issue that is vested with a political-bureaucratic nexus in opposing education reforms and accountability. While the article enumerated the achievements of SECMOL and its founder, Sonam Wangchuk, it ended on a pessimistic note, emphasising that reforms had met a dead-end. While agreeing with these views, I feel that the writer has been unable to see the whole picture.
Ladakh is a unique place, as are its problems, and it may be difficult for a non-native to understand the area’s peculiarities. In order to grasp the broad picture in this situation, the writer needs to look into events that are both directly and indirectly related to this case. As a Ladakhi, I condemn all of the individuals who have been involved in interrupting the unique education movement here in Ladakh. I am also worried that now, even if somebody does attempt to salvage the current situation, they will think twice before doing so – thus putting off any new hope for the future.
No intellectuals here
Foreigners who have made Southasia their home are generally not particularly welcome to comment on the political leaders or administrators of their host country. That has certainly been my experience in Nepal over the past two decades. Therefore, it was refreshing to read your recent Mail section (September 2007), which included letters from local voices that expressed my own feelings about the powerful elites, who are directly responsible for the misery of millions of citizens in the region.
I would also particularly like to thank one your readers, Nalaka Gunawardene from Colombo, for one of the best letters I have come across in a long time. Gunawardene’s definition of intellectuals – as “people educated beyond their intelligence” – was brilliant, expressing in very few words the sorry state of the incompetent leadership and ridiculous politics that dominate not only Southasia, but also powerful countries around the globe.
Black Southasian kettle
I was recently directed to an article from your archives, “A Fatal Love”, by Suketu Mehta (January 2004). What a piece of garbage! Mehta’s piece is nothing more than a fanciful fabrication based on sentiment. The term ‘South Asia’ is mere camouflage to hide the age-old Hindu dream of a ‘Greater Bharat’. Call it by any other name, but the kettle is still black.