The Priceless Jewel
PRINCE GYANENDRA, brother of King Birendra of Nepal, has kept a low profile since the royal family was swept off the front pages following the people´s movement of 1990. The backlash against royalty affected most the prince and Queen Aishwarya, both of whom had maintained an active role during the heyday of the Panchayat system when the king ruled supreme.
Against such a background, Prince Gyanendra, who remains one of Nepal´s richest men and at the same time an active promoter of nature conservation as chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (KMTNC), has been making a careful comeback. A recent address by the prince eulogising King Birendra in front of Nepal´s rich and powerful at Kathmandu´s Soaltee Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza hotel seemed a calculated move to enter the limelight.
Coming from normally tight-lipped royalty, the speech was significant for two main reasons: firstly, no one among the elected plebeians who currently rule the kingdom have command of the profuse and flowery English that His Highness does; secondly, the speech sent out a clear political message that the royalty was not being appreciated.
Some samplings from the speech, which was in the form of a “felicitation address” on World Environment Day, 5 June:
“As rivers blend and placidly continue, the people of Nepal always look up to the monarchy as a symbol of honour and unity and have reposed boundless faith in and drawn sustenance from this revered institution…”
“Man, at times, unlike any other species, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts and emerges ahead of his accomplishments. This is how Your Majesty´s contributions in the past quarter century—a period marked by momentous changes and transformations—will be remembered in the history of Nepal…”
“Time and again, Your Majesty has reminded us that of all the hues and colours that go to make up the national spectrum, being green is not being far-left or far-right, but being far-sighted…”
Prince Gyanendra ended the address with a not-so-subtle jab at the nay-sayers who had brought such toil and trouble to the institution of monarchy: “May God grant you peace, and all of us, the wisdom to appreciate the exalted position you hold along with the burden of all its trappings. If eternity is the divine treasure house, hope is the window through which the Nepalese people continue to see in Your Majesty the preservation of their unity and well-being. Of you, sir, may 1 say that your magnanimity and sagacity, your ability and humility make you a priceless jewel, the worth of which some have yet to comprehend.”
What did he mean? Who did he mean?
Janus on Kashmir
IT IS BY NOW a well-worn truism: the governments of India and Pakistan see only their side of the coin when it comes to Kashmir.
The editors of Himal South Asia recently received a bunch of government-produced (or at least government-sanctioned) literature on the disputed region. One stack was from the GOI and the other from GOP. On the table, they look exactly alike in terms of size, production quality, and the subjects they tackle. But the substance, of course, presents the strident Delhi position as diametrically opposed to the equally strident Islamabad view.
Amidst the claims and counter-claims, there is wide scope for selectivity. Take the example of the oft-referred to resolutions of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNC.1P) of 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949. Neither side finds it necessary to lay down the full texts, although both are quite happy to present copious excerpts of their choosing.
The publication of the All Party Hurriyat Conference from Azad Kashmir, Kashmir: An International Issue, has part of the 5 January resolution reproduced with the following clause highlighted: “The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite.” As if in answer, Plebiscite and self-determinations in Jammu & Kashmir: Irrelevant Concepts, published by the Government of India, states that “the UNCIP Resolution of January 5, 1949 reiterated the requirement of meeting the provisions of the Resolution of August 13,1948 before any plebiscite could be considered.” It also emphasises that ‘the (13 August) resolution also called upon Pakistan to’…
Rimpoche Jones, Cool Dude
IF YOU THOUGHT lessons on Buddhism came packaged in esoteric tomes or in cryptic discourses by sedate gurus, here is a surprise. A thirteen-year-old monk in Wyoming is doing it in the language he knows best—American slang.
Pema Jones, a rimpoche born to a Tibetan mother and American father, lived in a monastery in India till the age of seven before moving to USA. Cybersangha (“Buddhist Alternative Journal”), in its Spring 1996 issue, had the young reincarnate speaking about his life as an Asian-American teenager lama growing up in the heart of America´s redneck region.
On the surface, the young rimpoche is just a regular guy who goes around in jeans, attends school, plays baseball, hangs out with a gang and has girlfriends. Very few outside the circle of those “in the know” suspect that Jones is a teacher of Buddhism as well. He would never tell his school chums that he is a lama. “I get dissed enough as it is just being Asian, he says.”
Pema´s father is the one who encourages him to continue the religious teachings. His mother does not really care for religion, her intense faith having died, we are told, after it failed to save her people from the Chinese. And it is just one of those ironies of life that young Pema belongs to a Chinese gang in his hometown. He admits that “it´s strange to have Chinese friends when your family has been treated so badly by the Chinese,” but then he says, “Some skinhead doesn´t care whether I´m Tibetan or Chinese. He just wants to stomp my head.”
Being a teacher is not all that easy, confesses Pema, especially when his students ask for a personal interview to talk about relationships, a subject he has not had much experience with. He has, however, found a way out. He has worked out a “business arrangement” with a psychologist friend of his father´s to whom he refers his disturbed followers and who, in turn, takes him and his brothers and sister for icecream for every new client that is passed on.
The street-savvy rimpoche has his own views on non-violence. “Some guy just dissed me and I tell myself that he really doesn´t exist separate from me. It´s like he´s dissing himself. That works fine. But what happens when he stops talking and starts beating on me? You need to be able to take care of yourself so you don´t get killed. We live in samsara and spacing out about nirvana doesn´t help anyone…Sometimes people just need to be reminded that they´re actually hitting themselves.”
And on the Dalai Lama´s precepts on non-violence: “The Dalai Lama is an awesome old dude and a killer teacher. But he´s got like a dozen bodyguards around him when he´s travelling. What do you think would happen if some butthead pulls a gun on His Holiness? Do you think those dozen bodyguards will practise non-violence, or shoot the guy in the arm or bust some karate move on him? No way man, a bodyguard sees this dweeb with a gun and he´s gonna pop a cap in his ass.”
There is something to be said for that, and the young rimpoche shows promise as a teacher who says it like it is. But Pema does not intend to spend his life .solving others´ problems. He does not think it fair that gurus have to be involved with the troubles of their students which, he says, is one of the reasons that many teachers die of cancer. He has set his sights on other possibilities— baseball! “I want to be the first Tibetan in the major league. America can grow its own lamas, they don´t need Tibetans.”
Down-to-earth wisdom, that. secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purpose of fighting.´” The appendix contains the 13 August resolution in toto but the 5 January resolution is not given.
The Hurriyat Conference´s response is a booklet that has the same title but a different subtitle, Plebiscite and self-determination in Jammu & Kashmir: Indian Volte Face, Historical Facts. This one begins with a list of 14 facts, 12 of which quote Jawaharlal Nehru to prove the “Indian volte face”. Says one, the substance of which is more or less repeated in the others: “In his report to All Indian Congress Committee on 6th July, 1951 as published in The Statesman, New Delhi on 9th July, 1951, Pandit Nehru said, ´Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon as a prize for India or Pakistan. People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future…´”
It is not only over the hoary questions of plebiscite and self-determination that the two sides cross pens. Last year´s destruction of Charar-e-Sharif and who was responsible is as much a bone of contention. The two titles that tell each side of the story, Of Shrines and Blackmail (blaming the militants) and Who Burnt Charar Sharif? (blaming the Indian army), are similar both in terms of presentation, which is slick, and the language used, which is ponderous. Incidentally, both have reproduced press reports that appeared in the “hostile” country to bolster their arguments.
From Of Shrines and Blackmail:
Two comments, as they appeared in the Pakistan press, would suffice to prove to the hilt how Charar was burnt…..an article by A.S. Yousufi in Dawn of October 10, 1995 datelined Peshwar, which derided the fact that the jamaat-e-lslami is “consistently presenting Mast Gul before the people as a ´Ghazi´ who risked his life and fought several battles with the Indian Army…a status which is questionable because many people subscribe to the view that it was Mast Gul and his gun-wielding band of indisciplined mercenaries from outside occupied or even Azad Kashmir who razed Charar Sharif in their bid to escape from a tight Indian Army cordon.”
From Who Burnt Charar Sharif?:
The Frontline (June 2, 1995) emphatically stated: “While the army went to great length to defend itself and convince the media that the ´militants´ had set the shrine on fire, word spread across the valley like wild fire that it was the army that had done it to end the two-month stand-off between the forces and the ´militants´.”
The booklet also reproduces articles that are sceptical of the official Indian explanation by senior Indian columnists Kuldip Nayar and Nikhil Chakravarty.
Obviously, on the question of Kashmir, truth is Janus-faced.
Free, But Hungry
IF HUMAN MISERY were to have a face, it would belong either to South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa—the poorest regions in the world. Struggling with large populations, low human development indicators, political violence and natural calamities, the two have much in common.
Politically, both the regions are witnessing a shift towards democracy, but with a difference. A recent survey carried out by The Economist on political pluralism in Africa shows how more and more governments are being ´elected´ in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Of the 42 mainland states, 30 have had elections, four have military rulers, one (Swaziland) is a kingdom, one a one-party state (Eritrea) and six (Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, Liberia, Burundi and Zaire) are wracked by civil strife with no legitimate government.
Even among the 30 states where elections have been held, a number of them like Ghana, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Guinea have merely legitimised military rulers. Elsewhere, democracy is threatened either by the military or by autocratic civilian rulers as in Kenya, Zambia or the Cote d´lvorie. Niger was taken over by the military this year and the general looks set to win elections. In Chad and Gambia too, the military rulers appear destined to win the battle of the ballot. Rebels who seized power in Ethiopia and Uganda have retained it through elections. Says The Economist “…most of Africa still likes men with guns—with or without democracy”.
Contrast this situation with populous South Asia on the other side of the Indian Ocean. If you were to count Afghanistan and Burma as well, all the countries in between have democratically elected governments. While India and Sri Lanka have been democracies right since they won freedom from colonial rule, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh too have now joined the ranks of parliamentary democracies with authentic elections.
Among the tiny South Asians, Bhutan is an absolute monarchy, and the Maldives leans towards authoritarianism. Afghanistan is at civil war, while Burma is the only one ruled by the military.
But while South Asia has more political freedom, there are more people who go hungry here than in Africa. What´s even more shocking, according to the UNlCEF Progress of Nations report released last month, is that the proportion of undernourished children is higher in South Asia.
While 32 percent of the children in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically hungry—the figure for South Asia is 51 percent. Why this difference? UNICEF´s experts say they are not sure, but a major factor seems to be the low status of women not only in society, but also within the family. South Asian women are forced to give a higher priority to their husbands and in-laws, while the children come second, the study says. African mothers, on the other hand, give priority to their children.
South Asia does have more freedom and democracy, but is that anything to crow about given the fact that it cannot even feed its own people?
Who won in Bangladesh?
There were 138 symbols available to the 81 political parties which contested the 12 June elections in Bangladesh. The voter turnout among the 57 million voters for 300 constituencies was 73 percent. The election results may have been determined by the large turnout of women voters, who were brought out in force by NGOs. However, the candidates were still overwhelmingly male—only 36 of the 2574 contesting candidates were women.
The boat symbol of the Awami League (first column, 16 down) got to form the government. The sheaf of grain of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (sixth column, 13 down) is the main opposition.
A Bhutan-Assam Corridor For Wildlife
SOUTH ASIA´S WILDLIFE biologists have always argued for the creation or maintenance of ´corridors´ which link one nature reserve with another. It makes perfect sense for plant and animal species to be linked across a spectrum of climatic zones. With the possible advent of global warming, and the need for ecosystems to shift from one zone to another, the importance of such corridors has heightened.
While the maintenance or creation of wildlife corridors within a country is hard enough, it is something that is much harder to do across international boundaries. Under such circumstances, it is welcome news that Bhutan and the state government of the Indian state of Assam have moved to create a wildlife corridor that links up the Black Mountains of the former with the Manas National Park of the latter.
The eastern Himalaya is one of the conservation “hot spots” of the world where areas of high biological diversity are being subjected to widespread habitat destruction. And now, the effect of global climate change which predicts wetter monsoons and drier winters in South Asia is adding to the dilemma of the protected areas that are increasingly being isolated by encroaching development.
Research from elsewhere shows that biotic communities react to climate change by moving to more favourable locations, but this will prove difficult in the eastern Himalaya because the region has small bio tic communities that are widely spaced from each other. This means that the ability of a species to shift toward better habitats during climate change is hindered because human landuse comes in the way.
All the more need in the Eastern Himalaya, therefore, for wide corridors to connect isolated wildlife preserves, and for transfrontier conservation programmes to help plants and animals cope with the change in climate.
The Black Mountains reserve, in the form of a mountainous backbone in central Bhutan, is a 1400 sq km home to a wide range of broad leaf forests, conifers and alpine pastures. This mountain region is linked to the slightly smaller Royal Manas National Park in southern Bhutan, which in turn spills into the 500 sq kms of the Manas National Park of Assam further south. The latter is part of the larger Manas Tiger Reserve (2837 sq km), prime habitat also of the Asian one-horned rhinoceros. What we have, thus, is nearly 5000 sq km of contiguous wildlife habitat that encompasses a north-south topographical range from the tropical region known as the duars to perennial snow.
Determining what will happen to living species in the Himalaya as a result of climate change is a task fraught with complexity because of the many unknown variables. But as habitat fragmentation and global climate change threaten biodiversity, the creation of wildlife corridors which link historically connected natural areas to facilitate movement of living species, is perhaps the best strategy planners can opt for today.
– Pralad Yonzon
HERE ARE TWO good examples of transfrontier conservation practice in Nepal. The Qomolungma Reserve reaches out from Tibet into the Sagarmatha National Park and the adjoining Makalu Barun Conservation Area in the Everest Region and in a similar manner the Kattarnia Ghat Sanctuary in India and the Bardiya National Park in Southwest Nepal are one and the same jungle.
There is one forest tract in central Nepal known as the Tikauli Corridor which links the Mahabharat range to the jungles of Chitwan in the south. This narrow stretch, a remnant of a much wider swath of forest cover that draped Chitwan just a few decades ago, is being strangulated by human encroachment. Conserving this corridor within Nepal seems urgent.
Trust the scientific-minded Nepali highlander to come up with the perfect use for the Tripod Principle. Walking down the main street of Tansen town, photographer Min Bajracharya came across this common-enough sight. He circled the subject and clicked from all angles to show the scientism of the method. The trick seems to be: slouch on your two legs, and lean back on a sturdy stick. Provided you have the angle right, the stick will take just the right amount of load which, minus the effort used up by the two legs, is the energy saved.