Sunday, July 18, 2010

Right to Information and the Mountain Children of Uttarakhand

An educated, empowered, and aware child today is a responsible, socially-conscious, voting adult tomorrow.

India's Right to Information Act, 2005 is one of the more ambitious and powerful freedom of information laws in the world, providing accountability and transparency through public scrutiny. It provides an unprecedented power to the public to ask questions of their government at every level. Provisions for a monetary penal clause on public authorities for non-cooperation facilitates the implementation of the Act.

As Gopalkrishna Gandhi once said, the problem with the hard questions of social justice, accountability, and equality is not so much that they are unanswerable, as they are unasked. In a similar vein, knowing what to ask, and even knowing that one can ask, has turned out to be the primary hurdle towards effective implementation of RTIA.

It is widely accepted that typically, with any idea, the earliest adapters are children. Children are also a powerful force in spreading information and awareness in their local community. Given that notion, Asha Silicon Valley (Asha SV) in conjunction with Mountain Children's Foundation (MCF) proposed that young persons in villages can be trained to use RTIA and also teach their parents and other adults in the village, and use RTIA to improve their communities, to discourage waste and corruption, and do it in a way that furthers interaction and cooperation between the government and the community.

MCF works with 30 partner NGOs in Uttarakhand, reaching out to over 13000 children in the mountains and nearly 700 village level groups. MCF connects children between partners and organizations, and helps represent their concerns to the government and other development forums. The children use this forum and work together at the grassroots to improve their communities and advocate their rights. MCF has historically been working on child rights and advocacy, education, gender equity, health and sanitation, and natural resource management in Uttarakhand.

MCF and Asha SV jointly started the Right to Information project in Uttarakhand. Asha SV had been engaged with MCF since 2005 and after a year long discussion on how to include the newly passed RTI Act (2005), we came up with a proposal in 2007 to train children on the law, and have them use RTI as an effective tool in all their endeavors. Another aspect of working with children (which we did not anticipate when we started out) was that children were not bogged down by either fear or greed, and brought their unbridled enthusiasm to bear down on an unyielding govt. machinery. For eg., among all the NGOs MCF worked with, no adult had ever filed an RTI on any community issue. All RTIs filed by adults (such as they were) were on personal issues -- where is my passport, where is my application now, why have I not received my land title holding, etc. Children however, filed RTI applications about anything and everything they saw in the community -- how many teachers have been appointed to my school, why is this road only half-tarred, why are these pipes lying around next to the ditch,why is there no electricity, etc.

Also, the children we worked with were mostly teenagers, and anywhere between 2 to 5 years from becoming voting adults. This is a great way to create an educated, empowered, responsible, and confident electorate for the future (in keeping with the original reasoning behind the directive principle in our constitution on why free and compulsory education was necessary to have a meaningful universal adult franchise).

With these motivations, the program was launched. A state-level workshop kicked off the proceedings with the Chief Information Commissioner of Uttarakhand, R.S.Tolia, attending the meetings. Subsequently many capacity building workshops were held, and village-level workshops trained the children, a lot of awareness materials were generated and RTIs were filed. During the discussions that led to the program, Asha SV decided to not restrict the children in the scope of their RTIs (to education related ones etc.) and let the children be free to file on anything they think is important. At the start of the program a base-line survey was conducted in all villages. This was tallied against the end-line survey for the same questions, with dramatic results.

The program was an incredible success in ways beyond what had been imagined when we started it. By numbers, 21 partner NGOs were involved in 104 villages with nearly 4000 children filing nearly 500 RTI applications. The state Information Commission which was skeptical to start with, was impressed enough to fund and organize one more state-wide workshop. A very large number of success stories came by -- electricity restored to villages,roads and bridges built, school constructions completed, computers delivered to schools,teachers showing up in schools, registration of birth certificate for a child with unknown parentage, water issue resolved in a village, and so on. NDTV ran an interview with the children during their final workshop with children confidently explaining what they did and what success they'd had. Much other press coverage was also received.

Of course, all was not easy and straightforward. There were many hurdles faced along the way. Children were intimidated, information was not provided in the format requested, money was demanded in exchange for giving the information, children were sent to different departments to apply for information, in some cases it was not clear who the Public Information Officer (PIO) was, government officers did not know about RTI or how it was implemented, to name a few. MCF and its partner organizations worked patiently through all issues, always supporting the children throughout, and trying to work with the government Information Commission and not coming across as anti-government. Of all the RTIs filed, about 15% were education related. Others were spread over a wide range of issues like playgrounds, electricity, water, roads, health, UBR, ration cards, sanitation, panchayat, BPL cards, pensions, forest, gender issues, irrigation, anganwadi, and child rights.

The success of the program inspired other organizations to try and replicate it locally. MCF has been involved with training folks on what they did, while stressing on how key it is to carefully customize the program to the geo-political-economic-social context of where it is being implemented. World Vision also funded MCF for an extra workshop. Going forward, the program is being extended to include more children and build on what was achieved in the past year and a half. One of the unquantified gains of the program was how confident the children were after seeing the kind of effect their actions were causing. If we can create such confident, aware, and socially sensitive children in our schools, the goal of education is met in its true sense.

One of the unique features of this project (as opposed to other RTI awareness projects) was the unexpected nature of the applicants. In the words of Asha Fellow Mahesh Pandey (he attended the final workshop, and visited the project in Uttarakhand)

उत्तराखंड में पबम के बच्चों ने आर० टी० आई० का इस्तेमाल करके अपने गाँवो की जो तस्वीर बदलने की मुहीम छेड़ी है वो वाकई कबीले तारीफ और प्रेरणादाई है. बच्चों ने इस कानून का इस्तेमाल करके पूरे देश के लिए एक सन्देश दिया है कि बच्चे भी इस देश कि जर्जर हो चुकी ब्यवस्था को बदलनें में एक अहम् भूमिका निभा सकते है. मुझे पबम के इस दो दिवसीय कार्यशाला में जाकर सीखने को मिला कि अगर बच्चे इस कानून का इस्तेमाल करने लगे तो इस देश को सही अर्थो में आजाद होने के लिए ज्यादा वक्त नहीं लगेगा.


In Uttarakhand, the way the children of “PABAM” (the Mountain Children’s Forum) have used RTI to change the face of their villages is truly worthy of praise and is an inspiration. Using this law, the children have sent the entire country a message that children, too, have an important role in changing this country’s rusted systems. I learned from attending [MCF’s 2 day RTI workshop] that if children begin to use this law then it won’t take very long before this country becomes free in the truest sense.

Further Reading:

  1. More project information at the Asha project webpage
  2. NDTV video link
  3. Detailed success stories
  4. Asha Fellow Mahesh Pandey's article on his visit
  5. A detailed report of the project

Monday, January 26, 2009

A short [and incomplete] history of Kashmir

[This is an attempt to quickly summarize the history of Kashmir without personal opinions or judgment.]

Provincial map of Kashmir

Disputed Area map of Kashmir

Pre 1947

  • Kashmir was one of the largest princely states in British India, with a spread out thin population.
  • It primarily composed of five regions -- (a) the Hindu dominated Jammu in the south, bordering Punjab with large arable land; (b) Valley of Kashmir, to the north of Jammu, largely Muslim in demographics; (c) Ladakh, to the east of the Valley, bordering Tibet, largely Buddhist; (d) Gilgit and (e) Baltistan, both west and north of the Valley, mostly Muslim but Shia and Ismaili rather than the Sunni dominated Valley.
  • Many historical texts credit the Mauryan king Ashoka as the founder of the city of Srinagar. Kashmir was definitely under the Mauryan rule in 3rd century B.C. and later the Kushanas.
  • The Gonandiyas ruled Kashmir for many centuries, with a break in the 5th century A.D. when Kashmir was ruled by the invading Huns (Toramana and Mihirakula).
  • After the Gonandiyas, there were the Karkota, Utpala, Kutumbi, Divira, and Lohara, [14] until Muslim rule came into Kashmir in 1349.
  • Then followed 4 centuries of Muslim rule under Durrani (from Afghanistan), the Mughals, and the Afghans.
  • All these Kashmir territories were brought under one kingdom (state) in the mid 1800s by the Dogra Rajputs.
  • Following the two Anglo-Sikh wars [18] and the subsequent cash payment deals with the East India Company, part of Kashmir remains with the Sikhs and part is ceded to the East India Company.


  • The importance of Kashmir in the whole story of independence of India and Pakistan is primarily because of its geographically strategic location.
  • Sharing borders with Afghanistan, China, Tibet, separated by a small piece of land from USSR, and of course wedged between India and Pakistan, Kashmir was of everyone's interest.
  • The story of Kashmir is the story of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah [10].
  • Lowly born Abdullah received his Master of Science degree from Aligarh Muslim University, and led the revolt against Raja Hari Singh's rule in Kashmir.
  • He founded the National Conference (earlier known as All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference) which included Hindus and Sikhs, and fought against the princedom asking for a representative government based on universal suffrage.
  • National Conference closely aligned with Indian National Congress, following close friendship between Abdullah and Nehru
  • In 1946, Hari Singh imprisons Abdullah and plans on keeping Kashmir independent from India and Pakistan
  • 1947, Lord Mountbatten visits Kashmir and tries to convince Hari Singh to accede to one or the other nation, but fails
  • Gandhi visits Kashmir after that, but only meets workers and students who want Abdullah released
  • Come Aug 15, 1947, Kashmir offers a "standstill agreement" to allow free movement of people and trade through the state; Pakistan signs it, India still waiting and watching.
  • Prime Minister Nehru (himself an ethnic Kashmiri) wants Kashmir to accede to India; Home Minister Patel although initially inclined to let Kashmir accede to Pakistan, changes his mind in Sep 1947 when Jinnah accepts the accession of Hindu-majority Junagadh. That instrument of accession was violated, and finally Junagadh reversed its decision. More details on Junagadh in an article by A.G. Noorani at this link [19].
  • End of Sep 1947, Abdullah is released, and he immediately demands a government of the people in Kashmir, in his words, "A popular government, not of any one community; a joint government of the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Sikhs. That is what I am fighting for."
  • Pakistan expects a Muslim-majority Kashmir to naturally join them, while India with its religion-is-irrelevant-secular ideals expects Kashmir to join India due to the closeness between Indian National Congress and the non-sectarian National Conference.
  • In Oct 1947, Hari Singh still wants an independent Kashmir, and the deputy PM of Kashmir is quoted to say "The only thing that will change our mind is if one side or the other decides to use force against us".
  • In two weeks, end of Oct 1947, Pathans from the North Western Province (now part of Pakistan) invade Kashmir from the North.
  • Even today, there is no clear answer to why-they-came, or who-supported-them.
  • Its just called the "tribal invasion of Kashmir" and no historians or anthropologists are able to answer this question.
  • However, at the time, India believed Pakistan had supported this invasion. Pakistan disclaimed all responsibility and said this might be a spontaneous support of the Pathans for fellow Muslims being persecuted in a Hari Singh led Hindu kingdom.
  • In two days the invasion had pushed its way through to the Valley.
  • In Baramula they lost sight of the larger goal, and decided to loot and rape [and lost their standing claim for fighting a holy war]
  • Even strategically that cost the invaders since it delayed their access to Srinagar [capital of maharaja Hari Singh]
  • Hari Singh, in 2 days, asked the Indian government for military assistance.
  • Sheikh Abdullah also urged that the Indian government send troops immediately to push back the invaders.
  • Lord Mountbatten suggested that India should get Kashmir's accession before committing any forces to its defense.
  • This was acted upon and the Instrument of Accession was signed [15].
  • Indian troops [and Air Force] managed to push back the invaders. A more detailed version with step-by-step map of force movements is well documented in a Wikipedia article [17].


  • Upon Nehru and Gandhi's endorsement and insistence, Hari Singh appoints Sheikh Abdullah the Prime Minister of Kashmir.
  • For both Nehru and Gandhi, Abdullah is the face and symbol of secularism and interfaith harmony; not so much for Pakistan and Liaqat Ali Khan who openly denounce Abdullah as a pawn of the Indian government.
  • In 1948 Nehru takes the Kashmir issue to the United Nations.
  • Sir Zafrullah Khan presents a great case for Pakistan and Kashmir is cast as unfinished business of the Partition now
  • The Security Council alters the "Jammu-Kashmir Question" agenda to "India-Pakistan Question" -- a symbolic defeat for India
  • Pakistan demands withdrawal of all armed forces and a plebiscite
  • India agrees to that under National Conference's agenda; only after withdrawal of all armed forces from all parties and the resolution is signed [16].
  • Abdullah's government formalizes the accession to India in 1951.
  • No plebiscite for the people to decide formally if they want to join India, Pakistan, or be independent
  • In all fairness, full withdrawal of armed forces has not occurred either
  • Ramachandra Guha in "India After Gandhi" [1] says this about Abdullah --
    • Whether or not Abdullah was India's man, he certainly was not Pakistan's. In April 1948 he described that country as 'an unscrupulous and savage enemy.' He dismissed Pakistan as a theocratic state and the Muslim League as 'pro-prince' rather than 'pro-people.' In his view, 'Indian and not Pakistani leaders. . . had all along stood for the rights of the States' people.' When a diplomat in Delhi asked Abdullah what he thought of the option of independence, he answered that it would never work, as Kashmir was too small and too poor. (91-92)
  • Although Abdullah accepted the accession to India, he always thought of Kashmir as a Nation. The full text of his speech to the J&K Constituent Assembly [12] (always read Nation as Kashmir here) after his election in 1951 makes a very interesting read and gives an insight into Abdullah's ideas for the Nation of Kashmir.
  • He continues to call for the plebiscite even after 1951.
  • Later in life, when asked what he thought of the option of Independence, Abdullah answered that it would never work, as Kashmir was too small and too poor. Besides, said Abdullah, "Pakistan would swallow us up. They have tried it once. They would do it again." [in Y.D. Gundevia, The testament of Sheikh Abdullah [13]]
  • Abdullah deliberated enough, and even worked with the ambassador from United States on whether the US would support an independent Kashmir.
  • By then, the US had allied itself with Pakistan, given its critical geographical proximity to the USSR, and any openly anti-Pakistan move would not be supported by them.
  • Finally, Abdullah rejected the option of independence as impractical.
  • The option of joining Pakistan as immoral (he called it a "landlord ridden feudal theocracy").
  • But, Kashmir would join India on its own terms -- including retaining its state flag, and the designation of its head as Prime Minister.


  • April 10th 1952, Abdullah in a public speech says his party would accept the Indian constitution "in its entirety once we are satisfied that the grave of communalism has been finally dug. Of that we are not sure yet." He also says that the Kashmiris "fear what will happen to them and their position if, for instance, something happens to Pandit Nehru."
  • The Praja Parishad Party [consisting largely of Hindus from Jammu] opposes the two-flags, two-constitutions, and two-prime-ministers system and vociferously protest.
  • Abdullah saw the Praja Parishad movement as way to force a solution of the entire Kashmir issue on communal lines.
  • Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee leads the Praja Parishad and campaigns heavily for Kashmir to be wholly part of India.
  • In a subsequent arrest, Mookerjee falls ill, and later dies of a heart attack while in jail.
  • This triggers a much larger protest and the Jan Sangh in India heavily oppose the Nehru government's support to Sheikh Abdullah.
  • It is purported that Sheikh Abdullah is seeking independence for Kashmir (not clear which part of Kashmir since Jammu was clearly controlled by the Praja Parishad, and the Northern Areas were already part of Pakistan) and in a move supported by the Indian government, the head of state Karan Singh (son of Maharaja Hari Singh) dismisses Sheikh Abdullah from his Prime Minister's position.
  • He is also arrested within two hours of that, and jailed, while his deputy Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed moves into power. Later biographers explain this as a way by which Abdullah was kept "quiet and safe" in prison, because as a free man he would easily mobilize popular sentiment in his favor. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed starts his role of Prime Minister in a populist style, holding darbars to hear the grievances of the public. Among things he did, he raised the procurement price of paddy; made school education free; approved new state sponsored engineering and medical colleges; and abolished customs barriers between J&K and rest of India.
  • More development in the works, as Rajendra Prasad (then president of India) visits Srinagar to inaugurate a hydroelectric project on the Jhelum river.
  • The State's own Constitution comes into force on January 26, 1957 under which the elections to the State Legislative Assembly are held for the first time on the basis of adult franchise the same year. This Constitution further reiterates the ratification of the State's accession to Union of India.
  • The Sheikh is suddenly released in January 1958, after no charges were brought against him since his arrest in August 1953.
  • He makes his way back to the Kashmir Valley, where he is met with a stunning reception.
  • Within 3 months, in April 1958, he is arrested once more; and this time on the charge of plotting with Pakistan to break up India, create communal ill-feeling and disharmony, and receive secret aid from Pakistan in the form of money and bombs.
  • Although the Sheikh may have contemplated independence for Kashmir, it is clear to all that the charges are easily exaggerated.
  • In his trial, the Sheikh says that he stands for a single objective: the right of self-determination for the people of J&K. Also repeats his commitment to secularism, admiration to Gandhi, and once strong friendship with Nehru, who even now "would not deny the right of the people as the final arbiters of their fate".
  • While the Sheikh is in prison, Nehru personally (financially) takes care of educating the Sheikh's son Farooq Abdullah in Jaipur.


  • Post China war, Nehru's position in the political sphere of India is heavily undermined. Many signs that the man is failing in health as well.
  • In April 1964 Nehru decides to put an end to the matter of the Sheikh, and after obtaining the consent of the Chief Minister of J&K orders the release of Sheikh Abdullah from a decade in the prisons.
  • Sheikh Abdullah in his first speech on the day after his release, says the two pressing problems of communal strife and Kashmir should be solved during Prime Minister Nehru's lifetime; and that after him a solution of these problems would become difficult.
  • Abdullah travels through out the Kashmir valley and is cheered heavily; before traveling to New Delhi to meet with Nehru.
  • The Congress party as well as the Left party (and of course the Jan Sangh) are very concerned about the prospects of talks between Nehru and Abdullah, as they all see Abdullah as one with a design to detach Kashmir from India.
  • Nehru receives support from two unexpected sources – the radical socialist and Sarvodaya movement leader Jayaprakash Narayan; and Nehru's former political opponent and one-time close associate C. Rajagopalachari.
  • Rajaji openly says that the freeing of Abdullah should act as a prelude to allowing the people of Kashmir to exercise their human right to rule themselves as well as they can.
  • Meanwhile in Kashmir, the open corruption of the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed's government had turned popular sentiments against India.
  • April 29, 1964, Abdullah meets with Nehru for a week and discusses many details of a solution for Kashmir with Nehru and his deputy (officially he was a minister in the Cabinet without any portfolio) Lal Bahadur Shastri (also a fellow Kashmiri).
  • Rajaji writes to Shastri urging that Kashmir be given some kind of autonomous status. Rajaji described the self-determinatino of Kashmir seems to be a lesser issue than reducing Indo-Pak jealousy.
  • Abdullah visits Rajaji on May 5th and after a long meeting and are purported to have come up with an ideal solution for the Kashmir issue. The Hindustan Times carries the headline: "Abdulla, CR, evolve Kashmir formula: Proposal to be discussed with PM".
  • May 6th, Abdullah returns to Delhi and has long discussions with Nehru. It is not clear what exactly this plan was, although there were hints at a possible condominium over Kashmir by both India and Pakistan (along the lines of autonomous Andorra, whose security was guaranteed by both France and Spain).
  • Abdullah openly says he wants to visit Pakistan with more than one alternative.
  • Rajaji in an article writes that asking Field Marshal Ayub Khan to cede Azad Kashmir will scuttle the entire plan; and probably the Sheikh should focus all his attention on Kashmir valley, leaving Jammu as a counterpoise to Azad Kashmir, to be presumed to be integrated to India without question.
  • On May 11, Abdullah openly asserts that despite his weakness (in health), Nehru is the symbol of India, and that after Nehru he did not see anyone else tackling these problems with the same breadth of vision.
  • May 16th, Nehru talks about these alternatives, and says that unless we succeed, India will carry the burden of conflict with Pakistan with all that this [these alternatives] implies.
  • May 22nd, Nehru declines to disclose the details of all the alternatives saying he does not want to prejudice the Sheikh's mission to Pakistan. Just says that his government is prepared to have an agreement with Pakistan on the basis of their holding on to that part of Kashmir occupied by them.
  • May 25th, Sheikh Abdullah meets with Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi for over 3 hours and end of it says he found in Rawalpindi, the same encouraging response as in Delhi; and that there is an equal keenness on both sides to come to a real understanding.
  • May 26th, another long meeting between the Sheikh and Ayub Khan, and the Sheikh is seen coming out beaming. He informs the crowd, that on the basis of these talks, the Pakistani president has agreed to a meeting with the Prime Minister Nehru in the mid-June.
  • Dawn, Pakistan's written forum for its intelligentsia, complains that Abdullah had taken up a role of an apostle of peace and friendship between Pakistan and India, rather than that of the leader of Kashmir, whose prime objective should have been to seek their freedom from India.
  • May 27th, Nehru dies, and with him, these campaigns for peace.
  • Hindustan Times quotes a Pakistani newspaper as, "The death of Nehru meant the end of a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue. Whoever succeeded Nehru would not have the stature, courage and political support necessary to go against the highly emotional tide of public opinion in India favouring a status quo in Kashmir."

1964 – 1982

  • After Nehru's death, the Sheikh is interned from 1965 to 1968 and exiled from Kashmir in 1971 for 18 months. The Plebiscite Front is also banned. This was allegedly done to prevent him and the Plebiscite Front which was supported by him from taking part in Elections in Kashmir.
  • 1965, the Indo-Pak war ends in a stalemate, and following a UN-negotiated ceasefire, the Line of Control is still maintained.
  • 1971, another Indo-Pak war, this time for the freedom of East Pakistan – Bangladesh is formed.
  • Sheikh Abdullah watching the alarming turn of events in the subcontinent realizes that "for the survival of this region there was an urgent need to stop pursuing confrontational politics and promoting solution of issues by a process of reconciliation and dialogue rather than confrontation".
  • Abdullah starts a dialogue with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, being keenly aware of [as he put it] imminent danger of the breakup and balkanisation of both India and Pakistan with disastrous consequences.
  • In 1974, the Sheikh-Indira accord [20] is signed, whereby the Sheikh gives up the demand for a plebiscite in lieu of the people being given the right to self rule by a democratically elected Government rather than the puppet government which till then ruled the State. Following this Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah becomes the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Congress Party withdraws its support and mid-term elections are called again in J&K.
  • Abdullah's National Conference again wins with overwhelming majority, and Sheikh Abdullah becomes the Chief Minister again, and remains the CM until his death in 1982.

Post 1982

  • Dr. Farooq Abdullah, son of the Sheikh, is elected CM after his father's death, and remained CM until 1984.
  • Ghulam Mohammad Shah succeeds Farooq Abdullah as the CM between 1984 and in less than a year, President's rule imposed on J&K.
  • Farooq Abdullah returns as CM in 1986 and remains CM until 1990, when another term of President's rule is imposed, this time for 6 years.
  • Again between 1996 and 2002, Farooq Abdullah returns as CM, after President's rule is lifted for 6 more years.
  • Following the instability after the Kargil conflict of 1999, President's rule returns to Kashmir in 2002, and continues to be in place even as of today.
  • During this post-82 period, much infiltration by jihadis and a lot of atrocities by the army of the Indian Union are documented all over the valley and along the Line of Control.

An extended reading list: [that this document heavily draws upon]

[1] Ramachandra Guha. India after Gandhi – The history of the world's largest democracy. []

[2] Romila Thapar, A history of India. []

[3] Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia, Bipin Chandra. Communalism and the Writing of Indian History.

[4] A. L. Basham. A cultural history of India.[]

[5] Wikipedia article on Kashmir. []

[6] BBC News In-Depth – The future of Kashmir. []

[7] Kashmir Information Network. []

[8] Maps of Kashmir. []

[9] Conflict in Kashmir – selected Internet resources. UC Berkeley Libraries. []

[10] Wikipedia article on Sheikh Abdullah. []

[11] A comprehensive note on Jammu & Kashmir – the Indian government's stance. From the web pages of the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. []

[12] Full text of Sheikh Abdullah's speech to the J&K Constituent Assembly, 1952. []

[13] Y. D. Gundevia. The testament of Sheikh Abdullah. []

[14] Kalhana. Rajatarangini – Early history of Kashmir. []

[15] Instrument of Accession executed by Maharajah Hari Singh on October 26, 1947. []

[16] Resolution adopted by the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan on 13 August 1948.
(Doc No.1100, Para. 75, dated 9th Nov, 1948). []

[17] Wikipedia article on the First Kashmir war. []

[18] Wikipedia article on the Anglo-Sikh wars. []

[19] A.G.Noorani. Of Jinnah and Junagadh. In the Quaid-e-Azam Papers, Volume 5. [Chronicled in two parts in the Frontline reviews. Part1:; Part2:]

[20] Wikipedia stub on Sheikh-Indira accord. []

Links from Austin's Thursday Open Mike discussion list:

[21] Arundhati Roy. Land and Freedom. []

[22] Yogi Sikand. Rethinking Kashmir politics. In The South Asian. []

[23] BBC News In-Depth – Kashmir Flashpoint. []

[24] Yogi Sikand. Dangerous portents in Jammu & Kashmir: A view from Doda. In The South Asian. []

[25] Yogi Sikand. Dreams of Harmony once dreamt. In The South Asian. []

Friday, August 15, 2008

United and democratic after 61 years! How?

No one gave us a chance. No one thought we will preserve democracy all these 61 years, barring a 2-year aberration during the emergency years. Statistically, India's democracy is a major outlier. Given its low levels of income and literacy, and its high levels of social conflict, India was "predicted as [a] dictatorship during the entire period" of a study conducted recently on analyzing the relationship between democracy and development in 135 countries. Statistically countries go through dictatorship and authoritarian regimes through their poverty eras, before becoming democratic, and it was found that "the odds against democracy in India were extremely high". The forces that divide India are many, caste, religion, language, class, to name a few -- with gender a uniform discriminative axis across each divisive force. Enough has been written about these divisive elements. What are the forces that keep India together? What are these elements that have helped us transcend or contain the cleaving forces of caste and culture?

In the general elections of 2004, 400 million voters exercised their right. Back in 1952, in the first general elections 46% of India turned out to vote in what was world-wide termed as the "biggest gamble in history". Over the years this has increased and since the late 1960s, three in five eligible Indians have voted come election day. The corresponding percentages in local assembly elections have been even higher. India is probably the only democracy where the voter turn out of the marginalized classes are higher than that of the privileged groups. So, is the right to choose, freely and fairly, a uniting factor for all Indians? You only have to take a gentle look behind this process, and the picture is less than rosy. Most political parties are family firms. Most politicians are corrupt, and many come from a criminal background. Many institutions central to the functioning of a democracy, including a justiciable code of laws and their fair enforcement, have declined precipitously since their days of inception. The percentage of truly independent minded civil-servants has declined, as has the percentage of completely fair-minded judges.

Typically most nationalist movements (in the western world and otherwise) have been glued by a common language or a common religion. By contrast, the Indian nation does not privilege a single language or faith. There are sufficient examples to see the success of minorities in India through the system. It may not be far fetched to say that the unity of the Indian nation and pluralism of language and religion are inseparable. Yet, once again, the contradictions are not hard to see. From the original Jan Sangh slogans of "Hindi, Hindu, Hindustani", to Delhi in 1984, to Godhra and Gujarat of 2002, the minorities have suffered grievous loss of life and property. And in further keeping with the contradictions, for the most part, the minorities appear to retain faith in the democratic and secular ideals of the Indian constitution.

Was the fact that English survived as a language in India a uniting factor? It is easily arguable that large parts of India dont speak or understand English. Yet, it was English that was chosen as the language of governance at various levels, and is easily the language of the pan-Indian elite. The percentage of folks bound by English is not trivial, and as the historian Sarvepalli Gopal writes, "the knowledge of English is the passport for employment at higher levels in all fields". Javed Akhtar, a noted Hindi and Urdu poet once remarked with great insight -- "Apart from all the geographical states, there is one more state in this country, and that is Hindi cinema". Bollywood has undoubtedly been an enormous contributer to the national unity as well.

The question then to ask is, is India a proper or a sham democracy? Can electoral rights, pluralism of language and religion, a foreign language (English), and Bollywood keep India together? Building democracy in a poor society was always going to be hard. Nurturing and rearing secularism in a just-divided country was even harder. And in these 61 years we have come a long way in fulfilling these dreams. There are many holes that need to be plugged. Holes so large, that they threaten to flood the boat. And yet, India stands afloat today, mostly proud.

Today, outside of the political and economic sphere of India, there are many discussing the true meaning of individual freedoms. Many who are pointing out the chinks in our armour. For a liberal democracy, India treats individual freedoms of its citizens with great disdain. But a new generation of young India is discussing this. In small groups, in small pockets, and making little changes.

For those who wish to see it, the pattern is obvious. A hundred years ago, the idea of political freedom in India was a matter of debate in the parlors of the educated elite. In small groups, in small pockets, and making little changes.

Happy 61!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Statistics and Rural India

Statistics are to be interpreted with the right eyes to make some meaningful sense. We earlier saw the story of two India's -- the India shining and the tottering India; the India of credit cards and the India of farmer suicides; the thriving business India and the collapsing agrarian India. To really understand the problems of India from a statistical viewpoint, particularly of rural India, one needs to look beyond narrow definitions, and look at holistic pictures.

Human Development is measured by the eponymous index Human Development Index (HDI) and is annually reported by UNDP's Human Development Report. HDI goes beyond GDP and calculates human development as a measure of three chief charactersitics (the last of which is the GDP per capita).
  • living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy),
  • being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrollment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level), and
  • having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income).
According to the UNDP website,
The index is not in any sense a comprehensive measure of human development. It does not, for example, include important indicators such as gender or income inequality and more difficult to measure indicators like respect for human rights and political freedoms. What it does provide is a broadened prism for viewing human progress and the complex relationship between income and well-being.

Under this (slightly more) comprehensive measurement (than just GDP), where does India rank?
  1. India ranks 128 (out of 177) countries in overall HDI, just below Morocco and Equatorial Guinea. Sierra Leone is bottom at 177.
  2. Life expectancy at birth: India ranks 125, just below Pakistan and Comoros.
  3. Adult literacy rate (ages 15+): India ranks 114, just below Rwanda and Malawi.
  4. Combined primary/secondary/tertiary education enrollment: India ranks 122, just below Namibia and Vietnam.
  5. GDP per capita (PPP US$): India ranks 114, just below Syria and Nicaragua.
In all these categories, India seems to be ranked well below sub-Saharan Africa. (This is not to generalize a stereotype of sub-Saharan Africa. India deserves to be ranked at what she has been. And, many sub-Saharan African countries have really been improving over the years. However, due to governmental policies, and gains for the elite of powerful countries, India, in all forms of press, is portrayed as an emerging super-power, whereas, the other countries ranked around us are treated with much disdain on their development curves in the same media.) The much talked about 9% growth rate of GDP is just that, a growth rate, indicating the growth of the elite in India. By absolute numbers per capita, even by GDP count India ranks in the bottom third of all countries in the world, even below war ravaged Nicaragua. None of these countries that are around our rank are "potential super powers", or "software power houses", or "next-gen nuclear power". So who in India is benefited by this 9% growth?
  1. India is 4th in the list of most US$ billionaires in the country (behind US, Germany, Russia).
  2. 50 countries on either side (together) of us on the HDI rating put together have lesser US$ billionaires than us.
  3. According to Times of India, in a period of 3 months between July and Oct in 2007, the collective wealth of the top 10 billionaires of India increased by 27% -- which translates to collectively Rs.2 crores per minute.
Now, think about rural india and the farmer. The farmer has not had a Rs 20 increase in wage in that whole period, forget about per minute.

That portrays a rather grim and bleak picture of rural India. Where then is the hope? At this crucial juncture in our political history when every elected people's representative is wondering about what will happen to the Indo-US Nuclear deal, Asha for Education and Work an Hour 2008 have chosen to run a campaign focusing on rural India and are showcasing 15 such hopes. These projects are all over India, and each in their own way are addressing the problems leading to the appalling statistics we just recounted. Do read about them, donate, and discuss means and methods to mitigate these problems here on this post and in the comments section.

P.Sainath said it right after this March's Union Budget:
"As Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate, said, 'Faster growth rate is essential for faster reduction in poverty. There is no other trick to it'." So said P. Chidambaram in his budget speech. Drawing on his words must have seemed a politically correct thing to do. Mr. Chidambaram might want to add another quote to his cupboard. This one from the late Edward Abbey, environmental activist and writer. "Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell."

Few things grow as relentlessly as a cancer cell. Its up to us to demand for change; to demand for justice, equality and fraternity, promised by the preamble of the constitution; and to demand that we stop marginalizing our rural brethren and to stop making self-indulgent and thoroughly meaningless attempts grown out of a guilty conscience to ameliorate the lot of the under-privileged, and instead build an egalitarian future where dignity of the individual is honored above his/her net economic worth.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed." -- MLK.

[1] UNDP's HDR report on Human Development Index, India Fact Sheet.
[2] Sainath's article in India Together after P.Chidambaram's Union Budget of March 2008. "Growth Idealogy of the Cancer Cell".
[3] Sainath's article based on the HDI fact sheet for India. "India 2007: High growth, low development".
[4] UNDP's Human Development Report's Statistics page.
[5] Asha for Education
[6] Work an Hour 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

Non-hierarchical? or a mai-baap sarkar?

Guillermo Nugent, a professor of Sociology in Peru says this of Latin America:
In Latin America we “sense” the ruler to be a father figure, and the ruler “senses” his power as if the country he rules were his own hacienda. The army and church hierarchy are powerful models of untouchable power and customs have more weight than laws. We aren’t democracies. Why is this? What can help us explain it?

How do organizations structure themselves? In what professor Nugent explains above in the case governments is a lack of democracy due to a mai-baap sarkar (a father figure). However, we in India, have a "democracy" and a "mai-baap sarkar". More closer than that, we are all part of organizations, at a professional level, at a personal level in working for development in marginalized India. So how do organization structures work? Everyone understands the professional structure with a top-down CEO to worker structure. Then there are the more esoteric, idealistic, egalitarian all-are-equal organization sans all hierarchies.

A tree-structured organization is one in which every member except one has a unique superior. The exception is "at the top" and has no superior. A non-hierarchically-structured organization is one in which the superior-subordinate relationship does not exist at all.

What are the problems with a tree-structured organization? At first glance:
  • information is not equally available to everyone in the organization
  • people not involved in the daily working of the organization make bulk of the decisions
  • superior-subordinate relationship leads to unequal distribution of power/status
  • compartmentalizes the members of the organization
Decentralizing decision making which leads to increasing workers' commitment to the organization's goals is a way to mitigate the above problems. Solutions in this line eliminate the tree structure and replace it with a group of equal members. These are "collectives" or "participatory democracies", in which the formal structure of the organization is no longer defined by a set of roles, but by a set of procedures that allow the group to function efficiently in an egalitarian way, such as rules for job rotation and group decision-making. Inequalities in influence and specialization of skill or knowledge are regarded as harmful, and are specifically avoided.

For such non-hierarchical organizations to work, some or all of the following conditions should hold:
  • The organization is small
  • The environment is unpredictable, the task complicated, and calls for innovative solutions
  • The members are motivated by principles and goals and values of the organization and not by money or power
  • All members have the same and equal knowledge of the workings of the organization
  • The members understand and have a personal commitment to non-hierarchical structures.
In traditional organizations, inequality is used as an incentive, and therefore an egalitarian structure may be less motivating for some individuals.

[Notice the parallel with competition here. Some might argue that inequality among competitors can be an incentive to improve in the skill being competed for. Whereas, in an egalitarian structure, there is no such inequality. Therefore, without a personal commitment to a non-competitive ideology, promoting it in an adhoc fashion is most likely to fail.]

According to [Mansbridge, 1973] and [Kanter, 1972], a common problem for non-hierarchical groups is that small disagreements tend to expand and involve the whole membership. Group meetings become tediously long, debating matters that are relevant only to a few people. To avoid this observation, the organization needs a barrier to catch the smaller problems before they spread to waste time and cause division.

The primary point in the non-hierarchical model is that there is no unity of command. In a classical system, with only one superior, no member has conflicting instructions. But in the non-hierarchical systems, a member might be asked to follow decisions of several other members, which may be mutually inconsistent. Even though this violates the principle of unity of command, the organization will be able to function very efficiently by mutual discussion.

Members will be able to make voluntary adjustments given they have sufficient communication with each other. To achieve an egalitarian organization we will need to require that every member communicate directly with the exact same number of others. [A simple version of this would be to have one common list and every member communicates with every one else. The rationale behind all this communication requirement is that the requirement of an egalitarian organization is an equal knowledge shared amongst all members.]

Any thoughts? Please write back to