Something Gives in Tibet
What do Levis Strauss & Co. and the Dalai Lama have in common, which sets them apart from Chris Patten? Well, the manufacturer of blue denim and the monk in saffron are both against China receiving most-favoured-nation status from the United States, while the Governor of HongKong was in Washington DC lobbying for retention of MFN.
In May, as President Bill Clinton was about to decide on the MFN status, Levi Strauss unilaterally announced that it would suspend business in China to protest human rights abuses there. Some cynics saw this as an attempt by the company to boost its image among "politically liberal jean wearers", many of whom might actually be sympathetic to the cause of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has, in the meantime, emerged from his Dharamsala eyrie to go on a publicity blitz, and he seems to be gaining ground on Beijing. Tibet has always received sympathetic play in the Western media, but now the coverage is more broadbased, more politicised, and less quaint. Dharamsala´s public relations spin-artists have never had it so good. "Optimism Spreads among Tibetan Exiles," was the headline used by the Asian Wall Street Journal as the pressure built on China.
There was a little bit of everything in the media to enliven Tibet coverage: from demonstrations in Lhasa (with the BBC South Asia Report managing a live interview with a tourist staying at the Lhasa Holiday Inn), to actor Richard Gere asking his Oscar night audience to send out energy in support of Tibet. American Vice President Al Gore met with the Dalai Lama in his White House office, and the President had five minutes free and "just dropped by to say hi". Meanwhile, the Canadian House of Commons debated Tibet, Chinese dissidents were coming around, and Taiwan was beginning to make cooing noises.
A European Commission
delegation of ambassadors on a fact-finding tour to Lhasa cut short its trip protesting the arrest of some Tibetans. Over the last couple of months, many major Western newspapers have carried editorials, and numerous articles like the one in the Times of London the "Envoy of Peace: Faith of the Dalai Lama". Meanwhile, the Austrian Government set precedent and invited the Dalai Lama to attend the UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna, under the old cover of being a "religious" rather than "political" leader. The fact that he was not allowed to speak from the podium just made for better press.
Besides the Dalai Lama´s power of persuasion, the Tibetans continue to use every available weapon in their arsenal, from dharma academics to celebrities to sand mandalas to kalachakra ceremonies — the latest of which was in Gangtok with Koo Stark in attendance as photographer.
In the end, Bill Clinton did agree to another year´s extension of MFN status for China, but with conditions on a renewal a year hence (having to do with human rights, arms transfers to third countries and "overall significant progress in protecting Tibet´s distinctive religious and cultural heritage"). Dharamsala seems to have taken the renewal in stride, secure in the knowledge that its friends in the US Congress had helped draft the legislation with longterm strategy in mind.
As the Chinese economy expands and as it seeks to firm up its ties with consumer nations of the West, something will have to give — and it can be either human rights within China generally, or Tibet. Beijing might find that compromising with the Dalai Lama is a less bitter pill than loosening the reigns on all of Chinese society.
In Kathmandu in early June, Indian legislator and staunch Dharamsala backer George Fernandes made a controversial foray across the border at Khasa. He agreed with a reporter that a "decisive" moment was at hand as far as Tibet was concerned. Fernandes had arrived straight from Dharamsala, where there had been the largest gathering ever on Tibet of Indian academics, pols and journalists. On hand were the likes of MPs Digvijay Singh, Ajit Singh and Rabi Ray; former Himachal CM Shanta Kumar; former Foreign Secre-taryMuchkund Dubey; journalist Nikhil Chakravarty; and so on.
Meanwhile, Nepal´s headless Ministry for Foreign Affairs continues to quake under Beijing´s glare, while the Kathmandu intelligentsia does not seem to care to relate the worldwide surge on Tibet to Nepal´s own situation and interests. The Government has become stricter with Tibetan in transit. On 8 June, the Foreign Ministry issued a press release reiterating that "Tibet is an autonomous region of the Peoples Republic of China."
If it is true that Beijing is feeling the heat on Tibet, and something does give, then Levi Strauss, at least, can remain confident in the knowledge that Tibetans will always go for Levis.
The Fortieth What?
s far as anniversaries go, one is used to the tenth, twenty-fifth and fiftieth. But it was the fortieth anniversary of the first topping of the Big Brow of the Sky that was celebrated during all of May, with a surfeit of television soundbites.
As Maj. Gen. Patrick Fagan, Chairman of the Mount Everest Foundation, told a Himal representative in London, "Forty years is a significant time frame in the British psychology and tradition, because 40 years is the average man´s working life and serves as a career milestone. Besides, the 40th anniversary of the ascent of Everest is also closely associated with 40th anniversary of the Queen´s coronation. And the British have a protective attitude towards "Peak XV". It was our mountain, we discovered it."
Obviously, there was also concern that members of the 1953 expeditions might not be around-for the fiftieth, in 2003. Expedition leader John Hunt is 83 and Edmund Hillary. 73.
On hand in the Khumbu in late March for a little pre-anniversary tete-a-tete (which < provided footage for a BBC g television programme for the » anniversary week) were ¦= surviving members of 1953 g expedition, including Lord Hunt, Sir Ed, George Bande, Michael Westmacotte, Charles Wylie and George Lowe.
After parties and receptions in Kathmandu, the members held a three day reunion camp at Lukla. On 2 April, Hillary and Hunt were feted by the Abbot of Tengboche Gumba, where they posed for TV against the Lhotse-Nuptse backdrop.
By 11 April, the septagenarians had departed Nepal, to turn up in late May in England for the real tamasha. The Royal Geographic Society, the Alpine Club and the Mount Everest Foundation teamed up
to organise a week-long series of slide shows, luncheons and conferences, one of which Queen Elizabeth II attended. Back in 1953, she had described the news of the success on Chomolongma, scooped by Times man (later woman — he changed sex), "as the best coronation present".
In their commemorative mood, the participants and organisers of the 40th anniversary celebrations preferred not to bring up the live issues of contemporary Himalayan climbing. Rather than vague denunciations of pollution and commercialisation of the Himalaya, which everyone knows of by now, it would have been more appropriate to use the occasion to debate the strategies of cleanup, mountaineering equity, and use of new equipment and techniques. Instead, all we got was a mushy retrospective.
A Spiti Iconoclast
Thought we would go far from the madding crowd.
Thought so the madding crowd too. Thought Zanskar was a ´new discovered" land,
Thought so the madding crowd, too.
anskar down. Ladakh down. Mustang Down. Manaslu down. Now it is Spiti´s turn to submit itself to the voracious Tourism Beast. Delhi-based activist Shubendu Kausik, who penned the verse on Zanskar. is determined to raise a stink on Spiti.
As the formerly ´closed´ valleys of the Himalaya are flung open to tourists, it seems that we are condemned to repeat mistakes endlessly. And how
pould it be otherwise, when officials from Tibet, Nepal, India and Bhutan have never met to compare notes?
Spiti is a valley bracketed between Kinnaur on one end and the Kunzam La and Lahaul on the other. The road from Shimla and Kinnaur traverses the valley and travels onward to Lahaul, Rohtang La, Manali and beyond. The Valley has a population of about ten thousand and five major gumbas. Unlike Ladakh and Zanskar, Spiti had remained relatively isolated because it fell within the Inner Line. However, the area was opened in the Summer of 1992, and the "mad rush" began.
Writing in ANLetter, a quarterly on Third World tourism from Bangalore, Kausik says, "The people of Spiti ought to prepare themselves for touri¬sm before things get out of hand. They must make sure that if tou¬rism is inevitable as it seems to be, its ill effects should be minimised, and its good effects (money, that is) should not be siphoned off by outside agencies."
Kaushik has taken it upon himself to study tourism´s impact on resources, lifestyles, economy and ecology of the valley. But he wants to do things differently: "I intend to collabo¬rate extensively with individuals and organisations that have the information, knowledge or expertise that I might need as I
go along, but I want to work essentially alone and in my own way, which is characterised by down-to-earth informality, by freedom from strict schedules and. quite importantly, a freedom from accountability to any organisation or individual."
Kaushik: "the funding source or sources will have to rely on my integrity, for I do not intend to have anything to do with accounts. All this might sound quite strange, even un¬reasonable, but that is how it is."
Grant-making agencies are rarely confronted with such audacity. But then, perhaps atypical proposals are what we need. To test his case, write to: S. Kaushik, C-404 Somvihar Apartments, R.K.Puram, New Delhi 110022.
Selling Gift Rhinos
The Kathmandu Post daily broke the story, but nobody else picked it up: more rhinoceros have been gifted and sold by the Nepali Government than have been poached between the years 1980 and 1992. So it turns out that while one hand of the Government goes about organising conservation and anti-poaching programmes, the other merrily goes about distributing rhinos.
Wildlife specialist Pralad Yonzon. who blew the whistle on the rhino scam, calculates that two rhinos a year have been exported during the two years of parliamentary democracy, "whereas the earlier average was 1.8". Asks Yonzon, who was recently inducted by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala into Nepal´s National Environment Council, "Why should Nepal take the contract to stock wild rhinos in zoos around the world, especially when the Chitwan rhino population is only 350 and the carrying capacity is 500 animals?"
The most recent deal-in-making is between the Nepali Government and the Stuttgart Zoo. which is said to have ordered´ a female rhino calf of 18 to 30 months age from the Royal Chitwan National Park. According to sources in Germany, some Nepali and German collaborators have designed this export to appear as the theme exhibit for the coming Nepal Festival being organised in Stuttgart in July, after which the calf will be moved to the city´s zoo.
If anyone was expecting CITES to stop Nepal´s lavish gift-giving, past experience has shown that this international treaty prohibiting trade in endangered species has not restrained the Government. And it has not always been alturistic gift-giving either — Kathmandu´s vernacular weeklies have reported
that the going rate for Nepali female rhinos in the past has been US 150,000 each.
So the question arises whether Nepal is exporting rhinos to spread the gene pool of an endangered species internationally, as is sometimes claimed, or whether it is simply the money involved.
German zoos already have two female rhinos
from Nepal, and there seems to be little need for Chitwan
to lose one more. As far as genetic enhancement is concerned, "Nepal´s rhino do not need any help," says Yonzon. The genetic vigour of the Chitwan rhinos
(measured in terms of "heterozygosity") is high compared to other wild species, he maintains.
ADB One, NGOs Nil
ome 26 Asian and international activist groups were gathered in Manila during the first week of May to exert pressure on the Asian-Develop¬ment Bank, concerned about • projects which they say bear heavy social and environmental costs. The occasion was the [ annual meeting of the ADB´s governing body. –
As expected, there was some name-calling. Said Jim Barnes of the Friends Bf the Earth (USA), "The ADB, the World Bank and the IMF are banks, they just pretend to be development institutions. There is a basic flaw in their structure. The ADB has some honest and well-meaning people, but we need to stiffen their spines."
So was the ADB put on the defensive? Hardly. The reason was that the groups that were gathered at the Bank´s swank new premises to protest its policies have themselves got soft around the middle. Each has a pet project, does little homework on the many countries of Asia whose NGOs do not have international reach.
And so the Asian and international NGOs present in Manila stuck mostly to protest thermal power plants in the Philippines, deforestation in Indonesia, and commercial forestry in Bangladesh. One non-Nepali NGO representative did tentatively raise the question of Nepal´s Arun III hydropower project, which has reached a critical stage in decision-making. But when a senior ADB official, a Pakistani, claimed grandiosely that "The Arun III is a project that will 5 take Nepal into the 21st 5 century,´´ there people who 11 could throw him a follow-up quction were four thousand miles away in Kathmandu.
Refugee Children Learn Better
The most forward-looking education in Nepal is being carried out today, not in the elite educational institutions of Kathmandu, but in the over¬crowded and resourceless schools of Bhutanese refugees.
Some background: Amidst the lethargy that afflicts primary education all over South Asia,Bhutan has emerged as an exception. While more than a hundred million children all over the Subcontinent go about their regimen of prescribed unimaginative rote learning, the children of Druk Yul are benefitting from "child-centered education". Innovative teaching and curricula that moves with the times might have been introduced in a handful of well-endowed schools in the other countries of South Asia, but in Bhutan they are being applied countrywide, under a programme begun in 1986 known as the National Action Plan for Education (NAPE).
The programme was started as a joint initiative of the Department of Education and volunteer organisations from England, Ireland and New Zealand. Begun as a pilot project in a limited number of schools, and involving intensive teacher training, NAPE sought to prompte "learning by doing", providing resource materials in class, encouraging creativity, and promoting interaction among children. With the programme´s initial success, it has now been extended countrywide.
Refugee schooling was initially begun in Jhapa by untrained teachers, mostly members of the Students Union of Bhutan, who picked up the curriculum and textbooks of the local Kankai Boarding School. But as qualified educators and school administrators fled Bhutan and arrived in the camps, they were appalled by the level of primary education in Nepal and worried about the step-down involved for refugee children, particularly those who had been exposed to NAPE.
"The situation in the local schools are dire. There is no comparison between education in Bhutan and the education I have seen in Nepali schools," says a British volunteer who has worked both in Bhutan and the Jhapa camps
"We were shocked with what we saw in Nepal," concedes Bala Sharma, the only woman among the 18 District Education Officers of Bhutan before she came out in January 1991. "We have found a
dramatic difference between recent arrivals who had undergone the new education and children who had arrived earlier."
With the help of the relief agencies UNHCR and CARITAS, Sharma and colleagues have set about trying to bring NAPE to the refugee camps — under excrutiating odds. NAPE presupposes the availability of teaching aids, appropriate educational material, small class size, none of which is conceivable in the camps, whose educational programme lacks even a photocopy machine.
Says Sharma, "We are trying our best to adapt to the circumstances, and it requires superhuman effort of our teachers." The maximum allowable class size in Bhutan is 35, she says, whereas in the camps teachers have to take classes of up to 100, and then too teach in shifts.
There are six schools in the refugee camps, and 23,000 students, with a three shift system in the largest three schools. Of the 300 teachers, 70 are "NAPE-qualified" from Bhutan.
In January, Sharma and Eilish Cummings — a volunteer trainer who has worked in Bhutan — organised a training programme come up with strategies adapt NAPE to refugee conditions. They discussed teaching over-crowded classrooms, adapting local materials as teaching aids, and utilising the inadequate textbooks available in the Nepali bookshops for innovative teaching. Sharma and other refugee educators are presently engaged in developing a syllabus and curriculum that follow Bhutan´s NAPE philosophy — as far as possible.
The world´s dirtiest mountains are not in Nepal´s himals, in case you thought so after reading endless wirecopy out of Kathmandu. The Alps have that dubious distinction, particularly due to the filthy surroundings of Alpine refuges, which are huts used by climbers and hikers to bed down for the night. The piles of excreta and trash that are to be found next to these refuges are said to vie with legitimate mountains for height.
A conference on "Alpine Refuges in the Year Two Thousand", held recently in Trieste (Italy), provided occasion for handwringing. Said one participant, "The refuges today dot the valleys and passes, and even some peaks in the Alps risk losing their original appearance forever."
Participants from the Alpine Clubs of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany and Slovenia said they were committed to preventing "alpine tourism from becoming the tourism of waste". They signed a document proposing a new basis for running the refuges, promoting alteranative energy sources, less use of tins and packets, and carry-out policies for trash. On the whole, the refuges are to be more "spartan".
There were 16 thousand trekkers in the Khumbu in 1992. And 40 million tourists visited the European Alps the sameyear. Who produced more trash?
Goopy and Bagha by the Bishnumati
If the Himalayan region has anything on offer that can be called innovative modern theatre, it is to be found at the Vajra Hotel, the retreat by the Bishnumati River. A couple of times every year, the Vajra troupe known as Studio Seven
puts up performances that are an unselfconscious mix of Western drama, classical Sanskrit, and Newar modernism. The shows are directed by Sabine Lehmann.
Kafhmandu´s stage, which has long suffered from over-acted Nepali melodramas
at the Rastriya Nach Ghar, with only productions by expatriate Himalayan Amateurs (HAMS) for relief, reaches for sanity with Studio Seven. Most remarkable is the development of young Newar actors whose ability to change gears between classic dance and ribald humour is impressive. Particularly noteworthy is the versatile Rajendra Shrestha, who keeps the audience riveted with his presence alone.
In Autumn 1992, Studio Seven presented a rendition of a portion of the Nepal Mahatmya, about the mythical origins of Kathmandu Valley. Following Nepal Mahatmya, the troupe was casting around for its next production. It so happened that Lehmann´s husband and fellow
player Sangpo Lama fell asleep while taping a Satyajit Ray retrospective on India´s Doordarshan. The next morning, the family discovered that it had on videotape a full-length Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, the lovable story about a bad singer and a worse drummer in ancient Bengal, who receive three boons from the King of Ghosts.
Studio Seven anglicised and nepalised the Bengali story, adapted Ray´s lyrics, and wrote out a whole new score. Nine performances were put up during three weeks in April, all too few for the effort that went into the production. And therein lies the rub. Very few get to watch what is probably the best of Himalayan theatre over at the Vajra. Kathmandu folks by and large do not even know of Studio Seven, and there is as yet no means to bring productions like Nepal Mahatmya to a larger Valley audience. And how grand it would be to stage the Nepali story of Goopy and Bagha in Calcutta!
Nuke of the North
Now we know: Tibet has been used by Beijing for nuclear weapons research, uranium mining, dumping of radioactive wastes, and the placement of nuclear weapons.
The confirmation comes in Nuclear Tibet: Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Waste on the Tibetan Plateau, a 64-page report prepared by John Ackerly, Director of the US-based International Campaign for Tibet. Ackerly presents details of what till now has largely been heresay on China´s nuclear programme and how it
Ackerly reports that all of China´s early nuclear bombs were built in the "Ninth Academy", a top-security research and design facility based in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai (Amdo).
On the whole, Ackerly writes, "There is little doubt that China´s nuclear program has had an inordinate impact on the Tibetans, the Uygurs and the Mongolians. From land appropriations, to nuclear fallout, to toxic and radioactive pollution
in rivers, lakes and pastures, the story about the ugly side-effects of China´s nuclear programme is just beginning to emerge."
According to Ackerly, "Geological bad luck put the largest commercially-viable uranium deposits in the Tibetan plateau." Uranium continues to be mined in two main sites, • which are in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province and the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. The largest uranium deposits are actually said to be around Lhasa, but so far these have not been commercially mined.
The report says that the
stationing of nuclear weapons in the Tibetan region began in 1971, when a DF-4, China´s first intercontinental ballistic missile, arrived in the Qaidarn Basin. Nuclear missiles are presently said to be deployed at a minimum of three sites in Qinghai. Ackerly was unable confirm the siting of land-based missiles in the Tibetan Autonomous Region proper. (When Beijing claims that Tibet is "nuclear-free", it is not referring to Qinghai, which falls outside´the TAR.)
There have been no reported nuclear tests in the Tibetan region. These are done in Lop Nor, in East Turkestan.