Public Lectures by S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit: A Report

Snehashish Mitra

 

The Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung organized two public lectures in Kolkata as a part of their ongoing research programme – ‘Social Mapping of Logistics, Infrastructure and India’s Look East Policy’. The public lectures were delivered by S Akbar Zaidi, an eminent economist from Pakistan currently teaching in Columbia Universiy and Kanak Mani Dixit, an eminent journalist from Nepal. The title of Zaidi’s lecture was ‘Has China taken over Pakistan’, while Dixit’s title was  ‘Nepal: Gateway into and out of South Asia’. The recent assertion of China in the geopolitics through multiple initiative such as ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) made the event timely and significant.zaidi1

S. Akbar Zaidi and Kanak Mani Dixit with Ranabir Samaddar and Paula Banerjee 

 

Zaidi’s lecture revolved around the multiple levels of opinions, hope and apprehensions over the CPEC in Pakistan and how Pakistan figured in the grand plans of China’s endeavour of connectivity, particularly land to sea access. CPEC has been the most talked about issue in Pakistan in recent times, particularly over the last 2 years. It has been envisaged as an initiative which would bring enormous benefits for Pakistan through Chinese investments in logistics, infrastructure, defense, biotechnology, agricultural products etc. The rhetoric used for the CPEC collaboration and the reception of the Chinese president Xi Jinping during his visit to Pakistan indicate the level of enthusiasm about CPEC in Pakistan. Zaidi apprehended that through CPEC, Pakistan is following the tradition of pandering to foreign support and endorsements like it did earlier with the USA and Saudi Arabia. Zaidi pointed out that China and Pakistan have had a cordial relation in the post 1947 period as Pakistan was the first Islamic country to recognize the People’s Republic of China, the Indo-China war of 1962 further closed the ties between the two nations. A major symbolic gesture was practiced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, finance minister of Pakistan who made the Mao jacket popular in Pakistan. Pakistan has been the third largest buyer of arms from China and received support from China during its Nuclear Programmes. CPEC is supposed to bring in investments worth $46 billion. However the other details of the CPEC are yet to be divulged in public. A leaked document of CPEC published by a reporter in a leading English daily in Pakistan has given the impression that CPEC would involve Chinese hand in almost every sector of Pakistan and would bring the major cities under surveillance and monitoring system. Disseminating Chinese culture through the intellectual community is a major agenda under CPEC. Zaidi cites the figure that around 10,000 Pakistani students are studying in China which is more than the number of Pakistanis studying in the USA. The benefits which are being doled out to Chinese business firms are not being extended to the Pakistan business class, this has led to the fear in Pakistan that the CPEC can well turn out be another East India Company in the making.z2S. Akbar Zaidi speaking to the audience

 

Kanak Mani Dixit’s lecture was based on the recent infrastructural expansion in Nepal, particularly through railways connecting China with Nepal through Tibet, and what implications does it have for the Indo Gangetic plains in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Dixit pointed out that railways certainly has its own benefits, but the pertinent question at the moment is how to contain China? He suggested that examples of Chinese involvement and investment elsewhere would help to make an informed strategy. Nepal has a good knowledge about the Indian state due to its regular dealings; the same however cannot be said with regards to China. Nepal’s internal dynamics would be useful in this regard. The Himalayas have always been considered as a lofty and un-breachable entity, which changed after the 1962 Indo-Nepal War. The economic blockade by India over different time periods forced China to look northwards towards China. While China took the opportunity to increase its sphere of influence in Nepal, it maintained that Nepal should maintain cordial relations with India due to its close proximity. Dixit reminded the audience that prior to the advent of the British, the trading activities within Nepal was mostly carried out with Tibet. In contemporary period the pivot of Nepal’s trade is primarily towards India, however China’s influence is bound to change that scenario. Nepal’s participation in the OBOR will infuse the required funds for infrastructure in Nepal. While China has already established railway connections with 11 European cities, it looks to connect with Lumbini in Nepal, which is the only major Buddhist pilgrimage outside India. While there lies the omnipresent threat of the Chinese goods overwhelming the local market, Dixit is in favour of taking the advantage of connectivity and build the export intensive industries with an eye for the China market. In a collective sense Dixit opines that it is important to find the right balance with China’s connectivity initiative with that of other sub-regional co-operations across Southeast Asia.z3   Kanak Mani Dixit and Ranabir Samaddar during the discussion

 

Both the lectures gave us an idea about the prospects and challenges of connectivity across Southeast Asia. Borders play a significant role in the whole debate as it is within the cross border flows that nations are looking at to reap the dividends. However establishment of infrastructures also confirms or validates some of the contested territorial ambits which draw sharp reactions. For example, India has protested the passing of the CPEC through what it claims to be Pakistan occupied Kashmir, while China hasn’t been appreciative of the Dhola-Sadiya bridge connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In a way infrastructure in the borderlands and frontiers increasingly brings the peripheries under surveillance which has been a major cause of political instability across several nations in the region. It is likely through the contradictions of flows and fixities that the envisaged gateways would influence the coming days in South Asia.z5People listening to the panelists

 

[Snehashish Mitra is a researcher in Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group]

“The Guests”: Tibetan Muslims in Eastern Himalayas

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

Following the Dalai Lama’s apposite use of the term ‘Guest’[1] for himself and the larger ‘Tibetan’s in Exile’ in India whom he represents, I would attempt to unravel the position of the Tibetan Muslims in the Eastern Himalayan settings of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Tibetan Muslims (Bhote Muslims/Bhutia Muslims), a micro-migrant group[2] of the Tibetan exiles in India, migrated alongside their Buddhist counterparts during the early sixties of twentieth century. Tibetan Muslims over the years have settled up North in Srinagar, and Gangtok, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayas.

The Tibetan Muslim community as a part of the larger ‘Tibetan in Exile’ have walked a tight rope first, in order to furnish evidence of their loyalty to the larger encapsulating Buddhist Tibetan identity and distancing themselves from the more controversial symbols of their religiously informed cultural identity. Such a strategy has enabled the Tibetan Muslims to elbow other Muslim groups (Bihari, Bengali, Kashmiri etc.) in Darjeeling and claim proximity to the exclusivist ‘Paharey Identity’ (‘Hill Identity’ akin to the hegemonic ‘Gorkhey Identity[3]) in hill towns of Eastern Himalayas. Second, in order to gain proximity to the Indian state they cling to their ‘Kashmiri-Ladaki Muslim’ lineage and flaunt the necessary symbols of their associated religious identity. These are much in congruence to the understanding how people as communities negotiate themselves into becoming ‘citizens’ in parts and degrees, and critics have typecast this in the hills of Darjeeling-Kalimpong-Gangtok as the “Chameleonizing tactics of ‘guest’ that is the Tibetan Muslims”.[4] Continue reading ““The Guests”: Tibetan Muslims in Eastern Himalayas”

On violence of the normal times: A review of Anveshi Broadsheet on Violence

Mohamed Shafeeq K

Anveshi Centre for Research in Women’s Studies, based in Hyderabad has brought out its latest broadsheet on the issue of Violence: Event and Structure (it can be accessed here).  The broadsheet flips the commonsensical understanding of violence as an aberrational outburst interrupting normalcy to illustrate the complex and stealthy ways in which violence – inasmuch as the term means violations of life, dignity, and property – is perpetrated in extraordinary events and unusual places as much as in daily lives and routine methods.  The editors, Parthasarathi Muthukkaruppan and Samata Biswas, set out the following objectives in their editorial: (i) to recognise violence as enmeshed in peaceful times too, (ii) to identify violence in “norms”, “values”, representations, (iii) to illustrate institutional violence (iv) in their non-physical forms too, and (v) to expose the ideology that deems certain violence legitimate. As a supplement to the editorial, the broadsheet summarizes Slavoj Žižek’s book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections where Žižek elaborates on three kinds of violence: systemic, where the violence is institutional and enmeshed in the “normal” working of politics and economy; symbolic, where the violence is the violence of language as it modulates the narration of violence; and subjective, by which is meant our commonsensical understanding of violence, like terrorism.  While the former two do not give the appearance of violence and is often understood to be the normal state of things, it is the third which captures our attention and demands our action.  The objective of critique is to not be swallowed by the subjective dimensions but maintain a critique detached enough to be able to see the systemic and symbolic aspects of violence which causes and docks the subjective ones. Continue reading “On violence of the normal times: A review of Anveshi Broadsheet on Violence”

Why does manual scavenging continue to exist in Tamil Nadu?

V. Ramaswamy & V. Srinivasan

“Few object to liberty in the sense of a right to free movement, in the sense of a right to life and limb. There is no objection to liberty in the sense of a right to property, tools, and materials, as being necessary for earning a living, to keep the body in a due state of health. Why not allow a person the liberty to benefit from an effective and competent use of a person’s powers? The supporters of Caste who would allow liberty in the sense of a right to life, limb, and property, would not readily consent to liberty in this sense, inasmuch as it involves liberty to choose one’s profession.

But to object to this kind of liberty is to perpetuate slavery. For slavery does not merely mean a legalized form of subjection. It means a state of society in which some men are forced to accept from others the purposes which control their conduct. This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found where, as in the Caste System, some persons are compelled to carry on certain prescribed callings which are not of their choice.”

– B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste. Continue reading “Why does manual scavenging continue to exist in Tamil Nadu?”

Report: Panel discussion and book release by CRG and RLS

Priya Singh and Sucharita Sengupta

Panel Discussion on Rohingya and Syrian Refugees by Calcutta Research Group, on 6 April 2017, supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS).

No other time was more apt perhaps than this to interrogate India’s refugee policies along with an appraisal of the contemporary global regime of care and protection for migrant communities. Civil war in Syria has been one of the worst humanitarian crises in the recent decade challenging Europe’s migration policy. Incessant deaths in the Mediterranean, in border detention camps, plight of fleeing refugees, women and trafficked victims- be it Syrians in Europe or Rohingyas in South Asia- for war, state violence, religious persecution, flood and so on, have amounted to an inordinate number of 60 million refugees worldwide. Perceptions resulting into worst manifestations of human rights violations have on the one hand drawn empathy, but on the other have unfurled xenophobia, attempting to curb migration in general. The recent policies of the U.S government concerning economic migration are indicative of this trend. India too is witnessing myriad forms of discrimination. From racial attack on Nigerian students in the capital to establishing detention centres in order to detect migrants in Assam and now identifying Rohingya refugees in Jammu in order to deport them back to Myanmar, thus evokes concerns for scholars and practitioners working on issues of human rights, gender, justice and refugees. These concerns culminated into a roundtable discussion by CRG on India’s migration policy; practice and release of the special issue of Refugee Watch Journal (A CRG Publication) on Syrian Refugees. The idea was to drive home the point that while the migration crisis in Europe has resulted into a number of regional initiatives and sensitisation of international media, the same has hardly ensued in case of the Rohingyas, world’s largest persecuted stales community in Asia. Therefore, there is a need to present the contemporary crisis of the global south as well along with the European scenario. While panelists of the round table discussion shared their experiences on the Asian scenario, the specialty of this issue of Refugee Watch is that it has articles based on extensive field research of the European scenario, especially Syrian refugees living as stateless people across the Middle East. The three panelists were Professor Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, CRG; Professor Paula Banerjee, Director, CRG and Dean of Arts, Calcutta University; Professor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Vice Chancellor, Rabindra Bharati University. The Panel discussion was chaired by Professor Samita Sen, Director, School of Women’s Studies and Dean, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies, Law and Management, Jadavpur University. Continue reading “Report: Panel discussion and book release by CRG and RLS”

The Labour of the Refugee Economies

Ranabir Samaddar

Most writings on refugee economy or the immigrant economy refer to changes in the immigrant labour absorption policies of the Western governments. These writings reflect on the economic activities of the refugees and other victims of forced migration. Refugees are seen as economic actors in the market. But we do not get a full picture of why capitalism in late twentieth or early twenty first century needs these refugee or immigrant economic actors. The idea we get is that refugees and other victims of forced migration want to be economically viable, relevant to the host economies, and are economically relevant, but they are discriminated against. These writings showcase refugees’ attempts to survive meaningfully in camps, cities, and other settlements, in ethnically homogenous or mixed settings, and the ways they prove useful to market, big business, and organised trade. Several studies along this line tell us of the success stories of migrants’ economic activities. The message is: the refugee or the migrant as an economic actor has arrived, do not neglect the refugee, do not dismiss the refugee as an economic actor. Yet the organic link between the immigrant as an economic actor and the global capitalist economy seems to escape the analysis in these writings.

Continue reading “The Labour of the Refugee Economies”

Male Out-Migration and Empowerment of Women Left Behind in Indian Sunderbans

Sourodeep Bose, Shatabdi Saha, Rupak Goswami.

Farming in the Sundarbans region is typically rainfed, constrained by hostile and challenged ecosystems, and is characterized by low input use and poor crop productivity. The male farmers, due to fragmented land holding and frequent crop failure (as a result ofbiophysical constraints, and extreme climatic events), are compelled to migrate to different districts of West Bengal, to other states, or even to other countries to sustain their livelihoods. Their female counterparts are ‘left-behind’ in the villages and perform a wide array of works, both domestic and farm-related. Domination, deprivation and discrimination, along with lack of recognition and remuneration for tremendous workload are common for these left-behind women in a patriarchal society. But, this expansion of gender role may slowly and consistently lead to autonomy of marginal women in this marginal land. A conclusive assertion, however, asks for scholastic empirical engagement.

This short excerpt is taken from research conducted as part of a master’s dissertation work in the field of rural development. The study is placed within the context of ‘migration left behind nexus’ literature (Toyota et al. 2007), which focuses on the life experiences and well-being of the women living at the origin during their husband’s absence. The aim of the project is to understand the effect of male out-migration on the lives of left-behind women in selected areas of Indian Sunderbans.  The existing literature under the ‘migration-left-behind nexus’ is more engaged with transnational migration (Sarkar and Islam, 2014) and very few of them explicitly deal with circular and recursivemigration, a common feature in many developing nations, owing to the seasonal nature of their farming. Moreover, attempt to understand the impact of male outmigration within the framework of women empowerment has been largely absent (Sinha et al., 2012).

Continue reading “Male Out-Migration and Empowerment of Women Left Behind in Indian Sunderbans”

‘When you realise no one cares’: A narrative from Nauru

Somdatta Chakraborty

Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru, is an island country in Micronesia in the Central Pacific and the smallest republic in the world. Formerly known as Pleasant Island, it was once a British colony which has however long passed under the aegis of the Australian government and in recent years run into controversy as a site for the “offshore processing” of people who seek asylum and protection. Since 2013, Australia has sent all asylum-seekers arriving by boat into detention on Nauru, Papua New Guinea or Manus Island, and denied them resettlement in Australia despite an outcry from rights groups. In fact innumerable countries, the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented such instances of illegal detention. Unfortunately, as per recent statistics, more than 77% of the population forcibly sent to Nauru by the Australian government consists of refugees who are not allowed to leave the island. In the critically acclaimed They Cannot take the Sky, Michael Green, Andre Dao, Angelica Neville, Dana Affleck and Sienna Merope as editors have courageously and painstakingly documented the first-person narratives of the people detained as they reveal not only their extraordinary journeys and their daily struggles but also their reflections on love, death, hope and injustice, thus breaking the culture of silence and suppression that surrounds them from the moment they are taken to the island. A creation of the Behind the Wire publication stable, which incidentally is an award winning oral history organization, They Cannot take the Sky carries forward the tenor of exploring and documenting the truth in incidents of illegal detention in the aforementioned islands. Below are my impressions of reading an extract from the book, the narrative of a child called Benjamin. Continue reading “‘When you realise no one cares’: A narrative from Nauru”

Simshar: A Portrayal of Perspectives

Adrija Maitra

Simshar, a Maltese drama film which released on the 27th of April, 2014 showcases two parallel plotlines occurring simultaneously, which are brought closer with the common theme of the mortal hazards of international migration. This film is not only a debut of the director, Rebecca Cremona, but the first Maltese film to be made. On one hand, we see a Maltese fisherman named Simon (Lofti Abdelli) and his family, to whom the ship ‘Simshar’ belongs. On the other hand, we see a Turkish vessel with African migrants on board, travelling to Italy. Mark Misfud plays Alex, a medic on the Turkish vessel, whose interactions with Makeda (Laura Kpegli) shapes the way he views their current predicament. The film throws light on a personal story of a fisherman’s family, in the backdrop of several others who are in a situation to face the same fate, anytime. As is mentioned in the opening of the film, it is indeed inspired by true events. Continue reading “Simshar: A Portrayal of Perspectives”

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