South Asia without SAARC

IMTIAZ AHMED

Between the potency

And the existence.1

back to issue

I HAVE been drawn to Eliot’s poetic philosophizing for two reasons. First is the development of a chaotic, if not stagnated, South Asia. Regionally we have managed to excel all others in poverty, illiteracy and violence. Few will deny that both South Asia and SAARC remain far less explored and active than the potential each of them singularly or in combination hold to rid the region of chaos. But then, it is the collapse of modernist goals so shockingly yet sanely depicted in Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’ that really caught my attention. And this brings me to the second reason, which I intend to put in the form of a question.

Like ‘The Hollow Men’ stalking the streets of the modern West, have we not succeeded in constructing in our own fashion and fancy a ‘hollow South Asia,’ a ‘hollow SAARC’ and indeed even a ‘hollow South Asian,’ having only (to use Eliot again) ‘Shape without form, shade without colour/Paralysed force, gesture without motion?’2 My task lies in making the interested few as well as the disinterested lot pause and ponder on this issue.

Most will take from the title of the paper that my concern probably lies with the post-Kargil, post-coup, post-Indian Parliament attack feud between the fundamentalist Vajpayee and the military Musharraf and the willy-nilly holding of the SAARC summit. Will I be then, if I understand the expectation of many, focusing on the dreadful scenario of a region without a common platform to talk, dress up and dine upon? While agreeing that the current conflict of attitudes does not help an iota in fomenting regional cooperation now or in the future and the sooner the Indo-Pakistan dead-lock comes to an end the better, there is no reason to believe that once a genuine SAARC summit takes place, the region will be showered with golden trinkets and poverty, illiteracy and violence will vanish from South Asia forever.

 

 

Moreover, the rationale of the current deadlock, dressed as it is in democratic garb or, as some would put it, terrorist-free society, makes little sense. After all, it was a military person by the name of Ziaur Rahman who brought the democratic and regimented regimes of this region together and called the initiative in the beginning just SARC; indeed, in terms of abbreviation with a potential much beyond the goals of the later formulated ‘Association.’ One must not take this to mean that the democratic agenda in South Asia is of little or zero significance. In fact, the logic of the current standoff takes the issue beyond Pakistan and if we are to provide an example, includes the non democratic Bhutan and the terror-ridden Sri Lanka as well.

But then, I am less interested in taking recourse to something that puts me in the midst of a binary and that too, one between the irreconcilables, India and Pakistan. My reluctance to take seriously the current rationale of the deadlock (that is, the emphasis on having a democratic polity and now more concretely a ‘terrorist-free polity’ in Pakistan) has to do with the SAARC Charter. Do we have ‘democracy’ (I guess the understanding here is that democracy would contain the reproduction of terrorists!) as a precondition to the holding of a genuine SAARC summit where the members (in this case India and Pakistan) would overcome their state of mumness and start seriously discoursing, debating, deciding and of course delivering the goods of cooperation?3

The answer is no. Should we then not think of a summit precisely to revise the SAARC charter and codify the precondition of democracy for all time to come? This will definitely do a far greater service to the cause of democracy and ‘terrorist-free polity’ in Pakistan or elsewhere in the region than having the summit practically muted by India in the name of democracy and the fight against terrorism. But as I have tried to indicate earlier, my cause for concern of a South Asia without SAARC lies elsewhere.

There is, in fact, already a ‘South Asia’ live, kicking and operating in full force outside the domain of SAARC and the manner in which it is being reproduced tends to make the region not only tense and dangerous but also fraught with life and potential. I will limit myself to only three areas to drive home my point.

 

 

Shun Thy Neighbour – The Politics of Fencing: In the backdrop of the construction of the Berlin Wall and the traumatic experience of East Europe, including the Soviet Union, it is often said that those who are engaged in the business of fencing suffer from a seized mentality. This would not have been a problem had I been reflecting on the Indo-Pakistan border, since there is a genuine fear that each, by exporting explosives, arms and a host of eager but deranged volunteers is trying to destroy the other. There is, therefore, a genuine reason to feel threatened and panicky.

One aspect of the panicky state, at least from India’s side, has been well described by M.J. Akbar in India: The Siege Within (1985). But my concern is the fencing of the Indo-Bangladesh border, countries which are not only unmatched in size, population and resources but more importantly are friendly states with a solid record of their friendship track. Apart from very localized border shootouts, and that again, without them having even been properly sanctioned by their respective governments, there has never been a war-like conflict between the two countries. Why then fence Bangladesh and more interestingly, why the entire length of Indo-Bangladesh border? Let me cite some facts here.

Table 1 below provides some sense of the Indo-Bangladesh border, particularly the breakdown of the borders between Bangladesh and the various Indian states. It also provides a sense of the logistics required to border and fence Bangladesh.

 

TABLE 1

Indo-Bangladesh Border Areas

International Border

Post or Pillar Number

Area (km)

West Bengal (India)-Bangladesh

0001 to 1001

2217.70

Assam (India)-Bangladesh

1001 to 1067

0262.00

Meghalaya (India)-Bangladesh

1067 to 1338

0443.00

Tripura (India)-Bangladesh

1338 to 1397(North) & 1397 to 2250 (South)

0856.00

Mizoram (India)-Bangladesh

2301 to 2358

0318.00

Total

 

4096.70

 

The Government of India under the supervision of the Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to fence the entire Indo-Bangladesh border at an estimated cost of Rs 1,134 crore and the project is stipulated to end by March 2007. In fact, the fencing of Bangladesh will include a combination of actual border fencing (2409 km) and border roads (797 km). The actual border fencing will be maximum in West Bengal (1021 km) and the least in Assam (71.5 km). Tripura, Mizoram and Meghalaya will have 736 km, 400 km and 198 km of fenced borders respectively. Several problems, however, have already surfaced in implementing the project. Most, if not all, involve the people of India. I will very briefly touch on three.

 

 

The case of Bhogdanga, now sarcastically referred to as Assam’s Tinbigha, is an interesting one. Bhogdanga is a small village (about 630 bighas) on the Indo-Bangladesh border near Satrasal in the Dhubri district of Assam, with about 800 inhabitants belonging to 85 families.4 In reflecting on the socio-economic conditions of Bhogdanga, one Indian critic commented: ‘Like most of our villages Bhogdanga lacks in basic amenities. It has a dilapidated LP school but no health centre, no post office and not even a shop.’5 There are good reasons for stating this, for Bhogdanga is an enclave of India in Bangladesh, surrounded by Bangladeshi land on three sides. The only link it has with Assam is through a narrow corridor and that again through a gate(!) at the border fence. Now, why the gate?

Unlike any other village along Indo-Bangladesh border, no border roads could be built surrounding Bhogdanga. This is because no permanent structure can be built within 138 metres (150 yards) of the international border according to international convention, and Bhogdanga does not have that much space to spare. But in the wake of the Assam Accord, a border road and fencing were constructed near Bhogdanga, but in a way that kept Bhogdanga outside the fencing.

For the movement of the people of Bhogdanga, a gate was constructed at the mouth of the corridor connecting Bhogdanga with the Indian mainland. This gate, however, was kept open only for three hours a day in the beginning, but after serious protest from the inhabitants, civil authorities instructed the BSF personnel to keep the gate open from 7.00 am to 8.00 pm. It may be mentioned that the people of Bhogdanga must cross a river and walk three hours before they can reach markets on the Indian mainland.

But what happens to these people during the night, that is between 8.01 pm and 6.59 am? What if they require medical attention in the dead of night? What if someone feels like going to a movie or a nearby village jatra? What if someone is in love with a girl across the river and wants to see her when the moon comes up in full? Do they all come to the gate and press the bell? Some doctors working in Comilla (a bordering town, not even close to any particular enclave) told me that often during the wee hours of the night patients came from the Indian side of the border. Proximity and the availability of qualified doctors forced them to come to Comilla rather than take the trouble of going to Agartala, for instance. One can well imagine where the people of Bhogdanga end up at night for some fun, food or emergency! Do some of them then become Indian at dawn and Bangladeshi at dusk? But this is only one aspect of the problem and of the unintended potential.

 

 

At one stage of the construction, conflict arose between India’s Central PWD and the Assam PWD on the issue of the height of the fencing.6 The former, given its expertise on the Punjab and Rajasthan borders, insisted that the height of the fencing be fixed at 2.6 metres throughout the Assam-Bangladesh border. The Assam PWD, however, pointed out that both Punjab and Rajasthan are predominantly non-flood areas and therefore 2.6 metres makes sense, but the same cannot be replicated along the entire length of the Assam-Bangladesh border. The latter insisted that since the area is prone to having flood depth of up to four metres, particularly in places like Binnechara in Satrasal sector of the border, the height of the fencing should be raised well above the sanctioned 2.6 metres.

 

 

I am not sure how this controversy ended; possibly by raising the height of the fencing to some length, but that is beyond my interest. What interests me is the idea of tackling the flood-waters (and we are all aware of the volume and intensity of the waters that come through Assam into Bangladesh) by simply raising the height of the fencing.

The current flood that has wrecked parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh is an interesting reminder that fencing could jeopardize the lives not just of Bangladeshis against whom the fencing has been constructed but of the Indians as well. The following news items will make this clear:

 

The flood in West Bengal forced several hundred Indian nationals to take refuge in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Rifles have been taking care of Indian nationals numbering 2,382 who are staying in relief camps.7

 

Again,

 

The Indian nationals, who have taken shelter in flood centres of Meherpur and Chuadanga districts after being displaced by flood, have been asked to prepare to go back home.

The instruction was given when Assistant High Commissioner...and Visa Officer… of Indian High Commission in Dhaka visited Meherpur and Chuadanga… The Indian flood victims told the diplomats that they have received all kinds of co-operation from local administration, political parties and villagers…

Meanwhile, an Indian woman, who has taken shelter in a flood centre, gave birth to a baby boy at Ballavpur Mission Hospital in Mujibnagar. Halima Begum, wife of Minarul Pal of Maliapota in Tehatta thana in West Bengal and her newborn were in good health.8

 

Luckily the fencing is yet to be constructed in the flood-affected areas of West Bengal and as such the Indian flood victims were easily able to cross over to Bangladesh. What would have happened if raised, flood-prone fencing really blocked the West Bengalis from crossing the border during the flood? Would the victims have received ammunition from the BSF personnel to dismantle the fencing? Or, would the BSF personnel have done it themselves and helped the victims cross over to Bangladesh? Or, would they have preferred drowning to breaking open the fences and committing treason? Moreover, the story of Halima Begum (a Muslim by name) and Minarul Pal (a Hindu by name) and their baby suggests that the people in the border area are far less communalized than those who are sitting in some places far away from the border and deciding the fate of the border and the state.

 

 

There is no reason to believe that all will be deterred from crossing the border (that is, illegally) because of the fencing. There will always be elements on both sides of the border who will pierce through the fences, not for the love of crossing the border but out of dire necessity. Militant dissenters are a good case in point. As an Indian reporter, assigned to cover one such incident, noted:

 

Sensation prevails in the border villages of the Satrasal area of the Indo-Bangladesh border in Dhubri district over a rumour that some hardcore ULFA activists have pierced open the newly constructed border barbed wire fencing… Hearing the rumour this correspondent made a study and learnt that actually a portion of the front line barbed wire (the other two rows of fencing wire – the middle one and the one on the Bangladesh side remain intact) has been pierced (emphasis mine).9

 

What is interesting is the recognition that the piercing of the fences was done not on the Bangladesh side of the barbed wire but on the Indian side and, as such, the act of piercing was done not by the Bangladeshis (as is commonly believed) but by the Indians, albeit dissenting Indians. And with the flow of small arms, a subject to which we will return very soon, the piercing of the fences is not difficult to carry out. One can only imagine the dissenters playing a protracted game of cat and mouse with the border security forces in the wake of keeping/piercing the fences, a game that is sure to increase the cost of building and maintaining the fences.

 

 

But such dissenters may not be militants with a political agenda. Even those who are engaged in constructing the fences could end up quite inadvertently working for the non-materialization of the fences. This could, indeed, come up with a deliberate construction of substandard fences. As the following report noted:

 

It is alleged that quantity of cement in the fence post has been reduced thereby making the vital posts weak. There are usually two types of posts used in the border fencing – short posts and high posts. Formerly one bag of cement and sometimes one bag of and some more cement was used for erecting high concrete posts and one bag of cement was utilized for erecting seven small posts. But now it is alleged that two high posts have been constructed with only one bag of cement and in place of seven small posts as many as fourteen small posts are made from just one bag of cement.

This practice makes the posts weak. The fence itself is ineffective otherwise due to the peculiar design of the fence. One can cross the fence and come back just in one minute which is demonstrated by some urchins on the border on payment of Rs 1 or 2.10

 

Put differently, if there are already Indians who would have the fences pierced through or have them built in a way that would make the piercing easy to execute, it would be difficult to stop them from getting a friendly hand on the Bangladesh side of the border. After all, the ingenuity of people can never be fenced, nor the desire to communicate in times of want and distress blocked.

 

 

The Denationalization of Bodies – The Trafficking of Women: Several years back I had an interesting encounter with my fellow Bangladeshis in Singapore. Just after reaching Singapore I was placed before a verbally active and somewhat ultra-nationalist audience who wanted me to take up a campaign in Bangladesh to stop Bangladeshi women from coming to Singapore to work as domestic help or maids. To be very honest, I was shocked at their proposition. Why stop the women from legally working and earning hard currency abroad? I was absolutely dumbfounded by the answer: ‘They are our women. They cannot handle themselves. They will all end up as prostitutes!’

But this is Singapore, which prides itself on its benevolent regimentation and the cracking of the whip! Who would dare perform an illegal activity, particularly of the magnitude that is being contemplated? But more importantly, if they do not come and work in Singapore, where will they go? Stay home? But then, do what? I could make my zealous audience disappear, although somewhat disturbed and puzzled, only after pointing out that over a dozen Bangladeshi women are trafficked every day to different cities of South Asia11 and followed it up with a nasty supplementary: Are they willing to go back home and take up the issue and campaign in the whole of South Asia? Women’s trafficking in South Asia is, indeed, another area that is live and kicking outside the domain of SAARC.12

 

 

Critics have already identified the causes of trafficking at length. Abject poverty, social stigma against single, unwed, widowed mothers, lack of shelter for women in distress, illiteracy, lack of awareness, corrupt police, overpopulation, masculinized governments. …the list goes on and on.13 There has also been an extensive description of the routes through which trafficking takes place and its various stages from recruitment to transit to collection. Also details about the amount of money normally spent in this trade are available. Louise Brown provides an interesting account:

 

In Calcutta girls can be sold for anything from a few hundred rupees to around 10,000 rupees. This is the way the dealers arrive at a price: the girl might be bought from her parents for somewhere between 200 and 2000 rupees. Then further ‘value’ is added. A procurer will charge between 1,000 and 2,000 rupees for their services. Perhaps a couple of hundred rupees will be paid out as bribes to police and border security forces. The trafficker will then add his or her own fee of 1,000 to 3,000 rupees. When this is totalled it becomes the cost of the girl.14

 

It may be pointed out at this stage that not all women end up in brothels or are sold as sex slaves. Trafficked women may end up as illegal workers or bonded labour, or married off illegally, sold to baby firms or used for the organ trade.15 Most, however, end up as sex slaves.

 

 

In the deliberation on the subject, there has been an emphasis on the causes of trafficking in women and how and where they end up as sex slaves, but interestingly not so much on the causes of men’s eagerness to purchase sex. As Louise Brown perceptively notes:

 

Some magical things happen in the sex industry. One of the most remarkable tricks is just how often the customers vanish from both analysis and censure. It is almost as if they were not really that important. Only a few of the many reports written on the trafficking of women and prostitution pay any attention to who is buying sex as opposed to who is selling it. From most of the available research on the subject you might begin to believe that the sex trade involves only poor women and an array of criminal elements. Yet it is obvious that prostitution would not exist without demand from the customers. Commercial sex is an industry and, like any other successful industry, there has to be a sufficiently large number of people who are willing to become consumers (emphasis mine).16

 

She then goes on to provide some statistics of the customers:

 

It has been estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 men buy sex each day in Calcutta. This is astonishing when we remember that in 1993 – and in the midst of the global AIDS epidemic – the Indian Minister of Health said that the country would be saved from the scourge of AIDS by strong family values. Either the assessment of prostitute use in Calcutta was uncharacteristically sloppy or the Ministry of Health needed a more professional briefing. If we look at HIV infection rates in terms of the percentage of the adult population who are infected, India is not suffering the misery of many sub-Saharan African countries. Even so, the disease is beginning to spread very rapidly in India and four million people are now thought to be infected.17

 

 

My interest in shifting the focus from the sellers to the customers of sex is somewhat more concrete. Let me take recourse to a pair of citations first. In highlighting the Nepali case, Human Rights Watch noted:

 

In India’s red-light districts, the demand for Nepali girls, especially virgins with fair skin and Mongolian features, continues to increase. It is impossible to say how many girls and women are employed in the sex industry in India or what percentage of the total is from Nepal… Nepali social workers estimate the number of Nepali girls and women now working in Indian brothels at about 200,000 and believe that between 5,000 and 7,000 new Nepalis end up in Indian brothels every year.18

 

The second citation by Farida Akhter highlights the Bangladeshi case:

 

The estimates from Bangladesh show that 200,000 women have been trafficked over a period of last 10 years. According to the report published by UNICEF, an average of 4500 women and children from Bangladesh are being smuggled to Pakistan in one year. Every month 120 to 150 Bangladeshi women are trafficked to Pakistan and sold to brothels or individuals, most of them are turned into prostitution… A UBINIG study shows that women are trafficked out to India for marriage to Indian men who find it difficult to marry for reasons of dowry payment.19

 

It is understandable that both Nepali and Bangladeshi women trafficked to India and Pakistan and also elsewhere must denationalize themselves to live and work in these countries. But my question is, how do the male customers, who are otherwise political and social beings, relate to these women politically and socially? Do the Indian men take the Nepali girls as Nepali or Indian? Or, like Madhuri Dixit, do they take Nepal to be a part of India? Do the Pakistani men take the Bangladeshi women as Bangladeshi or Pakistani? Or, do these men still consider Bangladesh a part of Pakistan?

Do the West Bengali men frequenting brothels take the Bangladeshi women as West Bengalis or Bangladeshi? Or, do they take them as members of Greater Bengal? Or, do they all become apolitical and asocial beings at the time of their carnal desire? But then that would be no less disturbing for they will cease to be Indian or Pakistani at least momentarily and in the process expose the artificiality in the construction of the nation and nationality. Or, do they all – victims and perpetrators – bind themselves in the uncommon thread of South Asianess? While condemning women trafficking in the fullest sense of the term, it does provide a clue to the existence of yet another ‘South Asia’ beyond the confines of statist and governmental structures. And there in lies the fear as well as the hope.

 

 

The Flow of Small Arms: In the aftermath of the notorious Bombay blasts in March 1993 it was found that deadly logistics of an enormous scale had earlier made their way through the Indian customs. Table 2 below provides a partial indication of the items and their numbers entering the country.

 

TABLE 2

List of Illegal Small Arms and Materials Confiscated by the Indian Police20

1.

AK-47 Rifles

62

2.

Magazines (AK-47)

280

3.

Rounds (AK-47)

38,888

4.

Hand Grenades

479

5.

9 mm Pistols

12

6.

Magazines (9 mm)

15

7.

Rounds (9 mm)

150

8.

Electric Detonators

1,100

9.

Cleaning Rods (9 mm)

40

10.

RDX (in kg)

2,313

11.

Gelatine (in kg)

1,132.5

12.

Initiating Devices

50

13.

Revolvers

4

14.

Revolver Rounds

53

15.

Revolver (local)

1

16.

Yellow Grenades

17

17.

.30 Carbines

1

18.

.30 Magazines

3

19.

.30 Rounds

28

20.

Timer Pencil

1

 

In fact, on the above flow of small arms and violent materials, Shiv Visvanathan researched and found out that:

 

Mohammad Dosa (the brother of Dawood Ibrahim, the main ‘hit man and smuggler’) organized a meeting with custom officials at hotel Persian Durbar, Panvel. This meeting took place on 6 January 1993. The Assistant Collector, R.K. Singh was present along with his staff. The ‘price’ for each landing was negotiated between Dosa and the custom officials. It was fixed at 7-8 lakh per landing. Such a price was high, for the normal customs rate for landing smuggled goods was in the Rs 3 lakh range. This indicated that the custom officials were aware that what was landing was something different, even lethal, and not just textiles, silver, watches or gold.21

 

 

One can very well see that without the connivance of the government or customs officials the violent materials could not have entered Bombay. But while this finding provides an account of the ‘helper’ it does not give a clear picture as to who received the arms and more importantly who supplied them. The best we can do in this kind of circumstance is consult Jane’s Infantry Weapons, a book of notable distinction, and find out the names of the countries manufacturing these weapons.

According to Jane’s 1996 edition, the following countries, both developed and developing, were listed as the main producers or suppliers of small arms: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, USA, Venezuela and many more.

But this does not help much unless we identify the sources of the small arms that are found and used in South Asia. Again, this identification is of limited help, as we shall soon see. In a survey conducted at Dhaka University in 1995-1996, small arms of various types, from diverse sources and of varied cost were found in the hands of student political cadres and in-campus mastans. Table 3 provides an account of the findings, supplemented by various newspaper reports published during the same period.

 

TABLE 3

Small Arms Located in Dhaka University22

Type

Source/ Manufacturer

Price (Taka & in Thousand)

Saddam pistol

India

40-50

9 mm bore pistol

Italy

50-60

22 bore pistol

Spain, Italy, Brazil

30

7.65 mm bore pistol

Italy

60

Chinese rifle

China

80

303 cut rifle

Britain

25

0.45 revolver

USA

60

German revolver

Germany

n.a.

0.324 revolver

Pakistan

15-22

Pipe gun

Local

3-5

Shutter gun

India

n.a.

 

The type and source of the small arms indicate that the bulk of them were produced in the developed countries but then it does not tell us how they made it to the university. It is unlikely that these weapons were directly shipped or airlifted from the manufacturing countries to their destination in Dhaka. What is more likely is that these weapons entered Bangladesh from various border points via a vibrant South Asian network that possibly includes Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, and I would guess even Nepalis and Burmese.

On this issue, a national daily of Bangladesh recently reported:

 

Sixteen northern districts of the country, especially the frontier ones are flooded with illegal arms and ammunition, posing a threat to law and order situation. These arms are mostly possessed by political activists, outlawed extremists, terrorists, extortionists and miscreants. The illegal arms include both foreign and local sten gun, SMG, sawed-off rifle, SLR, revolver and pipe gun. Most of the firearms are in the hands of activists of ‘three political parties’ who have separate hideouts in different places in this region including frontiers of Natore, Pabna, Sirajganj and Bogra districts.23

 

In fact, the flow has become so acute and extensive that even the former Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh, Deb Mukherjee, publicly noted that, ‘It is possible that firearms are among the items smuggled from India into Bangladesh.’24 Put differently, without an extensive South Asian network, it is impossible to imagine the flow of small arms, whether into Bombay or Dhaka University. At times, however, not only the arms flow but also the network could prove deadly.

Let me cite an example by quoting Jasjit Singh:

 

A large number of terrorist groups are believed to be in possession of man-portable SAMs now… The whereabouts of the unaccounted 560 Stinger missiles (out of the stock supplied to Afghan Mujahideen) are unknown, and all efforts to recover them have failed so far. A few had appeared in Iran, having been sold by the Mujahideen. Another 312 were reportedly sold in the open market at Landi Kotal (Pakistan) in January 1993. Earlier this year (1995) the LTTE shot down two Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft carrying passengers.25

 

 

What we have here is a network consisting of Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanis, insofar as the missiles making it to the hands of the Tigers, Indians and Sri Lankans. But then, an American made weapon changing hands in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India and finally reaching Sri Lanka can only make everyone culpable when the said weapon is finally used against the Sri Lankans. Similar is the case with the weapons that are used in Bombay, Karachi, Dhaka, Delhi, Colombo or any other place in South Asia. In this light, can any single South Asian state rid itself of small arms when the network of small arms itself is South Asian? The question merits serious attention for it is not only the arms traders and killers who are tied up in a network but also the victims falling prey to these weapons. Can we fence ourselves from this reality and wait for SAARC to rise from its slumber and transform South Asia? People, I am afraid, are too busy to call upon the sleepers.

As a marked departure from my previous papers, I have purposely shied away from the issue of ‘what is to be done?’ I am somewhat betting on the flow of imagination, not one or two but thousands and millions. It is shameful that a region of 1.2 billion cannot creatively resolve its conflicts but must continue to stall, fight and languish. Let me end, however, by raising some questions pertaining to the three areas discussed earlier:

* Will India ever cease to have a seized mentality and take up the task of de-fencing itself and restore the dignity of the people on both sides of the border? Added to this, will Bangladesh ever succeed in developing the creative potential of its people, indeed, to a point where they would be welcomed with open arms by the neighbouring countries and beyond?

* Will South Asia ever be able to desexualize its customers and bring an end to the process of denationalizing the bodies of both the victims and the perpetrators?

* Will South Asia ever be able to disarm itself and contribute to the task of empowering its people?

 

End Notes:

1. Let me cite the stanza from which the two lines were taken:

Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence

Between the essence

And the descent

Falls the Shadow

(T.S. Eliot, ‘The Hollow Men, 1925,’ in The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot, Faber and Faber, London, 1969, p. 85).

2. Ibid., p. 83.

3. In the last summit in Kathmandu, except for the dramatic but noble handshake on the part of Musharraf, India and Pakistan practically did not talk to each other.

4. See, Frontline, 3 July 1996

5. Ibid.

6. See, The Sentinel, 2 August 1988.

7. The Daily Star, 6 October 2000, p. 11.

8. Ibid., p. 12.

9. The Sentinel, 18 May 1991.

10. Ibid., 9 February 1992.

11. The Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association in a study of 250 villages identified as ‘recruiting, transit and collection’ areas found that over 7,000 women and children were trafficked to India and Pakistan every year. On an average per day, therefore, the number of women trafficked would at least be more than a dozen. See, The Daily Star, 6 October 2000, p. 12.

12. This is despite the recently formulated, although yet to be fully ratified SAARC Convention on Combating Trafficking in Women and Children. The convention, however, is limited by the fact that it does not directly focus on the ‘male customers’ of sex slaves. Moreover, given the nature of our legal system, such a convention can only, if at all, be partially effective.

13. See, Nazmul Abedin, et.al., ‘Trafficking of Women and Children in Bangladesh.’ Unpublished Research Paper, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, 26 May 1999, p.4. See also, Nowrin Nusrat, et.al., ‘Women Trafficking: At Home and Abroad.’ Unpublished Research Paper, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, 10 August 1999, pp. 4-7.

14. Louise Brown, Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia, Virago Press, London, 2000, p. 79.

15. Nazmul Abedin, op.cit., p. 8.

16. Louise Brown, op.cit., p. 126.

17. Ibid., p. 135.

18. Human Rights Watch, ‘Rape for Profit: Trafficking of Nepali Girls and Women to India’s Brothels,’ June 1995, p. 6. Ct. from UNHCR Refworld – Country Information CD.

19. See, Farida Akhter, ‘People’s Initiatives for a SAARC Convention Against Trafficking in Women and Children’, in Chowdhury R. Abrar, On The Margin: Refugees, Migrants and Minorities, RMMRU, Dhaka, 2000, pp. 210-211.

20. See, Shiv Visvanathan, ‘Notes on the Bombay Blast’, in Shiv Visvanathan and Harsh Sethi, eds., Foul Play: Chronicles of Corruption, Banyan Books, New Delhi, 1998, p. 121.

21. Ibid., p. 123.

22. See, Abdullah-al Shams, ‘Campus Terrorism.’ Research conducted under the supervision of the author, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, September 1996. See also, Neila Hussain, ‘Proliferation of Small Arms and Politics in South Asia: The Case of Bangladesh’, RCSS Policy Studies 7, RCSS, Colombo, May 1999, p. 27.

23. The Daily Star, 19 October 2000, p. 10.

24. Ibid., 12 June 2000, p. 12.

25. See, Jasjit Singh, ‘Light Weapons and Conflict in Southern Asia’, in Jasjit Singh, ed., Light Weapons and International Security, Indian Pugwash Society, Delhi, 1995, p. 59.

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