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Daily The News


By Jan Khaskhely
The government should design a pro-poor policy by rehabilitating flood affected people and reconstructing their villages and towns through a transparent and accountable process, as the displaced flood victims are living in deplorable conditions in relief camps. It is likely that anarchy will prevail, in the Sindhi society if the hundreds of thousands of displaced people are not properly rehabilitated.
This was said by representatives of civil society organisations at a consultative workshop on ‘Flood Disaster in Sindh: Damages, Needs and Issues’, jointly organised by the Institute for Social Movements (ISM)—Pakistan and Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) in collaboration with UNDP SDPD.
Mustafa Baloch, Regional Head of the SPO, said that the flood has created more challenges for the Sindhi society and the people have to face economic, social and moral challenges, which might create anarchy. “We can not imagine now because when the water recedes, the people who lost their belongings but saved arms will create disorder. In this situation there is a dire need to initiate skill development programs to save our youth,” he said. Baloch added that poverty itself would create confusion in the society. “At this time, all sections of the society should come forward to play their due role to avert this expected disorder,” he said.
The civil society activists accused the government of its negligence which, according to them, is the reason of displacements in 19 districts out of 24 in the province. A number of development experts, professionals and intellectuals also attended the workshop and shared their views in this connection. Many of the participants also shared with the audience their experience of the rescue and relief work in different districts.
There was a unanimous demand that a judicial inquiry be conducted and high officials of the irrigation department should be questioned for their negligence, which caused huge loss to the provincial economy and created a social and psychological trauma among the displaced people.
They emphasized on the formulation of a plan to face socio-economic and moral challenges, which would come to surface after the floodwater recedes.
Fatah Marri, Assistant Professor, Department of Agriculture Economics, University of Agriculture Tando Jam, in his presentation, portrayed the scenario of the losses to agriculture, livestock, fisheries and poultry sectors. He said that not only standing crops have been affected, but farmers would also not be able to cultivate the immediate next crops. Agriculture sector suffered a loss of Rs250 billion, he added. About livestock, Marri said that more than 250,000 cattle heads have died only in northern districts of Sindh and other cattle farmers sold their animals in cheap rates to bear the expenditure for their shifting to safe places. The total loss to livestock sector is measured up to Rs114 billion. It needs further assessment because the loss could be more than being declared by the government and other institutions, he further said.
Head of the Centre for Civil Society and Peace (CPCS), Jami Chandio, urged the need for formation of a transparent commission comprising honest government officials, professionals and civil society members to do a scientific assessment and plan a rehabilitation process. Chandio, who presided over the workshop, appealed to the well off people of the province to extend their help by giving donation for the rebuilding of the ruined villages. He said that they have calculated that Rs30 million are sufficient for rebuilding a small village comprising 50 houses.
Suleman G. Abro of the Sindh Agriculture and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation (Safwco) said that the province had to face the disaster because of the indifference of the government. “We have already pointed out that these district disaster management authorities (DDMAs) did not have resources. They were unequipped and that is why they could make preparation efficiently to rehabilitate the displaced communities,” he said.
Zulfiqar Shah, Executive Director ISM-Pakistan, said that they have taken important steps to mobilize resources on this juncture, because the entire province is in panic. He said that the civil society should come forward, urge upon the government to play its role for the rehabilitation.
Women rights activist Amar Sindhu, Mahesh Kumar, Hashim Leghari, Abrar Qazi, Hafeez Kumbhar and others also took part in the discussion.

Link: http://www.thenews.com.pk/09-09-2010/karachi/3882.htm

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Dear all,

Himal Southasian have set up a fund in Kathmandu for those all over Southasia and elsewhere seeking to support the immediate, ongoing relief efforts in Pakistan. Please avail this facility to send money to the victims of flood along the Indus. See the link below for fund transfer details.

The recipient organisation is The Institute for Social Movements-Pakistan (ISM PAK) in Hyderabad (Sindh), working with the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) on emergency response and support. ISM PAK and OPP urgently need funds for rations, medicine, shelters, drinking water, infant diet support, livestock fodder and vaccination, hygiene kits, makeshift toilets and schooling camps.

No administrative charge will be applied to your support, every paise will be transferred to ISM PAK for benefit of the flood vicitms. Let us know if you would prefer to remain anonymous as a supporter.

Details: http://www.himalmag.com/Indus-Flood-Relief-Himal-Southasian-Fund-Collection-Drive_fnw73.html

In Solidarity,

Zulfiqar Shah

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A policy consultative workshop on the 18th amendment was organized today (July 9) and a focus group discussion on education services was organized on July 7 2010 (yesterday) by Nawabshah Social Development Coalition and The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan with the support of UNDP-SDPD in Gymkhana Nawabshah.

The event was attended by MPA Sindh Assembly Mr. Ghulam Qadir Chandio Provincial Institute for Teachers Training DG Abdul Rehman Lakhmir, Principle SZABIST Centre Ms. Waheeda Mahersa, ADLINK Nadia Larik district president PPP – women wing Ms. Qamar Damrah,, prominent journalist and writer Saleh Bullo, SPO Sindh head Mustafa Baloch, ISM PAK head Zulfiqar Shah, NDC coordinator Qurban Shah and many social, political activists and journalists. 

A detailed discussion was carried over a. implementation of 18th amendments and b. education services, which finally culminated into the suggestions and recommendations.

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  Amar Sindhu talks to Zulfiqar Shah about the contemporary outlook of the women’s movement in Sindh, and how gender is placed within a larger rights movement of the oppressedHas urbanisation and socio-economic development contributed positively to the women rights situation in Sindh?

There is no remarkable difference in the sociological context, although a socio-economic change at a certain level has been witnessed over the past two decades. Due to urbanisation, cities have grown in size, but the quality of life remains questionable. There is, no doubt, a considerable change in human rights situation of women in comparison to the decades of the 80s and 90s. The situation is relatively better in urban hubs, however, the situation has further deteriorated in rural areas.

The process of urbanization is unplanned, unorganized and unconscious; therefore it doesn’t influence the women rights situation as such. Basically, collective social structure influences the overall women rights scene here.

Urban development and the political scene has unexpectedly isolated rural women, and made them more vulnerable. In the last two decades, rural society of Sindh has become more retrogressive, squeezing space for rural women to have an affirmative access to their rights. The impacts of restriction have opened up space for rights violation. The excesses of women denied their basic needs is coupled with gender-based violence.

How do you analyse the contemporary women rights movement?

A woman in rural areas is a political non-entity. Whenever she is in the process of resistance, she is proactive. There has been no higher level women rights resistance in the last fifty years in Sindh; however, many minor instances of resistance are part of our past and contemporary times.

Urbanisation has opened many avenues for women to the modern web of globalisation, in which fresh currents and flows of knowledge have empowered them enough to become conscious, and at a certain level, vocal for their rights. Exposure through various means and tools of communication has further developed a sense of movement building, provocation and resistance regarding emancipation and rights of women. The process has been recently initiated by resistance and struggle for individual issues or cases.

The credit of the contemporary scene goes to education, access to information and exposure to professional life and the world outside. This has helped Sindhi women to develop their own worldview about society and politics, including their rights and violation of these rights. Therefore, new opportunities have opened up in that context for a relatively backward rural society to come ahead, along with the developed urban women. This is the time when we need to connect women’s rights to human necessities.

What is the current scene of women rights violation?

Honor killings, selling women, and extreme form of labour are the worst faces of gender-based violence in Sindh, specifically in the rural north. This is due to the political economy of these areas, and the power nexus of rural society, which has been made more tribal than ever before by making the state apparatus invisible. There are many economic factors, particularly property, that leads tribal communities to honor killings, selling girls and forced marriages. The perception for women to become identical to a man’s honor has turned her into the virtual commodity.

Do you see any connectivity between women rights struggle with other social movements?

According to the Paulo Frère, the struggle cannot always go on in the same frame. It’s a process of gradual development.

If we see the movement in its literary context, we will see that there is a huge literary movement which has greatly contributed in the women rights struggle in Sindh. The actual issue is that the oppressed are not conscious of oppression. In fact, the conceptualisation of a movement is always at a higher stage than that of the prevailing society. The question is one of connecting these movements within Sindh, rest of Pakistan and globally, because this process helps out in defining and redefining itself in the context of liberation and rights struggle of women.

There is an issue of discourse within political movements. Activism supports theory, and vice versa. Both are gradual in their process, and are interchangeable. If the formation of theory is not reflected by activism and vice versa, then certainly, there are essential gaps in higher concepts, strategic planning and the struggle itself. The real women rights movements can only grow through people’s movements.

Is there any space here for reforms and revisualisation of struggle?

A movement around women rights should be, and exists to some extent, around individual as well as collective social issues. It depends on the forms of violation, whether they are individual or collective. One has to keep in the mind that forced marriages and honour killings are backed by rural political economy; the reflections of which always revolves around personal, individual and collective issues. Therefore any movement that emerges tomorrow will challenge the major issues initially at individual level, and then connect the individual with the collective.

What is the relation between women rights movement and other forms of social oppression?

Gradually, the women rights movement will challenge higher forms of political issues. Achieving that stage requires going beyond the abastractism in movement as well as in issues. We should not keep ourselves and struggle process in the illusions.

We want a parallel women movement going along with the other rights movements. It must challenge the various forms of operations, including national and class. We have always focused the legal framework for women’s rights; this is the time when we need to connect the personal or individual issues of women with the collective and legal or legislative reforms.

The nationalist movements in Morocco established some gender-based principles, which caused a mass participation of women in the nationalist struggle. These principles included the abstention of second marriage of a nationalist, and the commitment by a male to provide independent homestead to a wife after marriage. If our movements do not connect personal issues of the movement with the mainstream political initiatives, they will not be able to connect a broad participation of the women in the movement.

There is a huge space for collective struggle for women rights in Pakistan. We have recent examples of success that includes legislation against harassments and seats reservation in the assemblies. This was achieved by many civil society forums initiatives, including Aurat Foundation. Now, this is the time to struggle for the implementation of these laws in society. Today, reality has proved that women parliamentarians are more active in the process of legislation than that of man parliamentarians.

Do you see any effective role of literature?

Pakistan literature today is isolated from people’s issues. There is a gradual decline in the role and approach of literature for depicting, portraying and focusing the people’s real issues. Even in Sindh, it has encountered a decline.

There is a role of progressive literature in the social movements of Sindh that the majority of the activists and organizations including all forms of nationalists are secular and liberals in their essence in comparison with the other provinces. This is visible especially in the context of fundamentalism. Secularism is the foundational element of Sindhi literature. There is no reactionary writer in Sindh who has become popular. However, a reality we need to appreciate is that in the post 1980s scenario, there is a declining trend in Sindhi literature for social realism. Today, Sindhi literature doesn’t represent contemporary Sindhi society.

How do you analyse the state with respect to women’s rights?

We are living in a period of state crises in Pakistan. This is a period of catastrophe and destruction, and an age of uncertainties. There will emerge a political movement with deep roots in the society. It is a fact of our times that women leadership of Pakistan is a public critic of the country’s issues, such as fundamentalism and oppression

What are the threats to the women rights movements in Pakistan?

The women rights movements today is threatened by the fundamentalism, feudalism and tribalism. I am of the opinion that the state is easier to bargain with than these elements.

Courtesy: Daily The News karachi


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  By Zulfiqar ShahThe contemporary movement for the rights and liberation of women in Sindh is deeply connected to the emancipation movement of women during the pre-partition era. In the last one-and-a-half century, the women rights movement has been shaped by the influence of political and socio-economic development of Sindh, and it becomes imperative to analyse the historical patchworks between pre- and post-partition Sindh history to understand contemporary Sindh.

The Sindhi middle class, which started emerging after the British occupation of Sindh in 1843, gradually started focusing women rights vis-à-vis socioeconomic evolution of Sindhi society. The first ever character in this process was Dayaram Gidumal (1857 – 1927), an intellectual and reformer, who helped set up the Nari Shala (women protected house) in the late 1880s, where widows could spend their time reading Guru Granth Saheb, the holy book of Sikhs, and doing social work.

Gidumal is credited for establishing the Sindh Sabha in 1870s, a political-cum-reformist movement, through which he campaigned against the various violations of women’s rights in Sindh and the rest of united India. A Hindu by birth, Gidumal had a multi-religious outlook, and could read Bhagwat Gita in Sanskrit, the Holy Koran in Arabic, and the Bible in Hebrew.

As it was, Sindh had a strange secular outlook at that time, but oppression against women remained a concern. In his treatise “Seven Sins against Women,” Gidumal detailed the practices of body piercing for tattoo marks, barring women education and sports opportunities, traditionalising ivory bangles, childhood marriage, mothers-in-law’s harassment, child-motherhood and death during delivery.

Gidumal also struggled against the dowry system, and managed to convince the Hindu Panchayat in Sindh to fix 500 rupees as the maximum ceiling for dowry. He also played a major role in the historic petition that demanded the tradition of Satti in India to be banned.

All these measures caught the public’s imagination in Sindh and various parts of United India, especially some parts of United Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bombay. In early 1900s, the female membership of Sindh Sabha had exceeded 5,000.

In 1878, a strange event gathered moss in Sindh. According to K. R. Malkani, “Tharoo, a Hindu young man with wife and children fell in love with a Muslim girl and embraced Islam to marry her. When ‘Sheikh Tharoo’ lost his Muslim wife, he wished to return to his family and became a Hindu.”

The introduction of English education, especially in Bombay and Calcutta, and the increasing number of British-educated Sindhis returning home started changing the complexion of Sindhi urban society into one with Anglo influences.

It was during this period that Navalrai, a Sindhi Amil from Hirabad, Hyderabad and belonging to a bureaucrat family during the Talpur rule, merged his Sikh Sabha into the Sindh Sabha. Navalrai was the founder of Brahmo Samaj in Sindh, while he is also considered to be the father of education in the Sindh of that era. He built a Brahmo Mandir in Hyderabad, and sent his younger brother Hiranand (1863-93) to Calcutta, who later on became a role model for Sindhi young man and girls, where he lived much of the time with Keshub Chandra Sen, a much revered Bengali reformer of that time.

Both Sadhu Amil brothers started the N.H. Academy in Hyderabad. According to K. R. Malkani, Hiranand took his two daughters to Bankipore in Bihar for their education under Shrimati Aghor Kamini Prakash Roy, the mother of Dr B.C. Roy, who rose to become chief minister of West Bengal. After the demise of the Sadhu Brothers, Brahmo movement activists converted the Nav Vidyalaya High School and Brahmo Kundanmal into the Kundanmal Girls High School in Hyderabad.

In the late 1930s, Om Mandali, or popularly known as the Brahma Kumaris, became famous in India. It was a socio-religious organisation started by Dada Lekhraj Kripalani (1876 – 1969), who had been a Sindhi jeweller in Calcutta. The Om Mandali mostly attracted women, especially of the business community of Hyderabad, Sindh. “The unmarried among them refused to marry; and the married ones gave it in writing to their husbands that the latter were free to re-marry.”

After political and religious organisations such as the Indian National Congress and the Arya Samaj denounced the Om Mandali as a “disturber of family peace,” the Sindh government banned the organisation. However, Om Mandali approached the court, and had the ban order quashed. It was the time when Sadhu Vaswani, a Sufi saint, initiated a movement for women which is popularly known as the Mira Movement.

This was the period of the First World War. Sindh had a strange time in united India. At a time when M. K. Gandhi was addressing “War Recruitment Festivals,” Dr Tuljaram Khilnani of Nawabshah publicly campaigned against the War Loan Bonds. Consequently, when Gandhi sought election to the All India Congress Committee from Bombay provincial committee, delegates from Sindh opposed his election in view of his support to the British war effort.

It was for the first time in Sindh that women publically came out on the streets to support another Indian political icon, Tilik ji. During his visit of Sindh in 1920, “women for the first time came out of their seclusion and offered Arati to him.” In British Sindh, there is no other example of women coming out of the confines of their homes to join processions.

The role of women further came to the fore during the 1942 movement for independence from British rule. According to KR Malkani, many women leaders of that time, including Ganga, wife of Acharya Gidvani; Kiki, sister of Kripalani; Ambi Khilnani, daughter-in- law of Kauromal; and Kumari Jethi Sipahimalani, deputy speaker of the Sindh legislative Assembly, played a significant role in Sindhi public life.

On the other hand, the role of women warriors and espionage during the Hur War II for the liberation of Sindh was remarkable. One of the warriors, Fatima, was held for killing 50 British soldiers during that war.

According to the research of Dr Dur Mohammad Pathan during the period April 1937 to August 1940, the Congress MLAs in Sindh Legislative Assembly tabled the following issues concerning women rights in Sindh:

a) Bill No.XV1 0f 1939 (to amend the Hindu law governing women’s right to property in Sindh); the Bill was introduced by Jethi Sipahimalani.

b) On August 17, 1937, Ghanshyam Jethanand moved an adjournment motion that was later “disallowed”. The subject of the motion was “Police torture and outrage at Mithi, Tharparkar district over stripping sweeper girls, and committing rape on them.”

c) On March 23, 1939, Muhammad Amin Khoso moved an adjournment motion with the subject: “Barbarous behaviour of Sub-Inspector of Police of Tando Jam shown to Haris and their womenfolk of Unar Village of Taluka Hyderabad”. The motion was “talked out”.

This is no doubt about the fact that pre-partition women rights movement was led and joined by the urbanised and literate Hindu middle and lower class. The Muslim women mostly remained uneducated, and were kept at a distance from political movements. The only exceptions were that of the Hur Guerrila movement, and the Sindh Hari Committee movement for land rights under the leadership of Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, in which Mai Bakhtawar was killed by settler landlords in Mirpurkhas and became an icon of the peasants’ rights movement in Sindh. Inspired by this character, Benazir Bhutto named her daughter after her.

The post-partition women rights movement in Sindh has witnessed various stages of evolutions. The social crises of Sindhi society after the migration of Hindus – the sole Sindhi middle class to India, ultimately adversely affected the women rights movement in the province. The first post-partition resurgence of women’s rights came through literature, especially poetry and fiction, in 1960s.

In the 1970s, this revival further strengthened with the emergence of the Sindhi salaried middle class. At this time, many a left-leaning, nationalist and even centrist parties and political groups started organising women fronts of their organisations. The most popular fronts were of Sindhi Awami Tehreek’s Sindhyani Tahreek under the ideological influence of Rasool Bux Palejo. Naari Tahreek, the women’s front of the Jeay Sindh movement, also has its roots in Sindhi society of that time. Many activists, writers, teachers and poetesses of Sindh are inspired or influenced by these two movements.

The role of Sindhi women in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) is also remarkable. In one of the protests in 1983 against martial law staged in Moro city, around 5,000 women took to the streets on a call issued by the mother of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. A clash occurred between the police and protesters, and many policemen and security personnel were murdered in the Moro during the protest.

During and in the post-MRD scene, women’s rights and emancipation movement was deeply connected with the national, democratic and class question of Sindh. The finest Sindhi women writers of our time emerged in that time.

Today the rights movement of Sindhi women is restructuring itself with the combined efforts of political activists, women writers, feminists and civil society. They are developing a new movement by combining issues with the ideology of women emancipation and led by the emerging women’s middle class of Sindh.The writer is the executive director of The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan. He can be reached at: zulfiqar@ismpak.org

Courtesy: Daily The News karachi


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Dear All:

 The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan (ISM PAK), engaged with the communities in various districts of Sindh regarding peoples movements around rights, peace and self reliance, has decided to publish a series of books and monographs covering the past and contemporary people’s movements around rights, peace, civil liberties and social justice in Southasia. These publications are part of ISM’s newly incepted Social Movements Studies Initiative that will house a database regarding the past and contemporary social movements in Sindh, Pakistan and Southasia. The first set of volumes will focus Sindh, Pakistan and South Asia.  

The books will carry the scholarly written papers and article; however, keeping in mind the readability of a common reader especially of social movements in Southasia, the word limit of the papers has been limited to 3000.  

The books will focus following thematic area:

–          Economic and Political Rights

–          Land and Peasants Rights

–          Water, Ecology and Environment

–          Language and Culture

–          Sufism

–          Peace and Religious and Ethnic Harmony

–          Women Rights and Liberation

–          Literature, Music  & Art  

–          Freedom of Expression

Social Movements – Volume I: 

Abstract Submission Dateline: June 30, 2010  

Paper Submission Deadline: August 30, 2010

This will focus on the several people’s movements that have been staged in Sindh since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. It will also include the scholarly details and analysis of the issues Sindh society faces today, which are potential to shape tomorrow’s people’s movements. This volume will cover the past and contemporary issues and movements focusing above themes.   

Social Movements – Volume II: 


Abstract Submission Dateline: July 10, 2010  

Paper Submission Deadline: September 30, 2010

Volume II will focus on the various people’s movements that have been underway since the creation of Pakistan simultaneously in whole Pakistan with a collective outlook as well as exclusively in Punjab, Balochistan and Khebar Pakhtunkhawa provinces. It will also include the scholarly details and analysis of the issues Pakistan society as well as of three provinces, which are potential  to gather a bigger mass giving birth to many new social movements. This volume will cover the past and contemporary issues and movements focusing above themes.   

Social Movements – Volume III: 


Abstract Submission Dateline: July 15, 2010  

Paper Submission Deadline: October 30, 2010

Volume III will focus Southasia in the context of various people’s movements that have been underway since the end of colonialism in every specific country. It will focus the movements (if any) that have been underway simultaneously and collectively in the whole region as well as individually in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri lanka. It will also include the scholarly details and analysis of the issues of Southasian societies. This volume will cover the past and contemporary issues and movements focusing above themes.   

An abstract, a sample of writing and curriculum vitae must be sent to:



(Note: The website of ISM PAK will be uploaded soon with more details about the initiative.)

Please contact for further details:



Kind Regards,

Zulfiqar Shah


Executive Director

The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan

B 9, Naseem Nagar Phase IV, Qasimabad,

Hyderabad 71000, Sindh, Pakistan

Phone: +92 22 2654905 Fax: +92 22 2654605

Cell: +92 321 308 702 4 / +92 333 464 888 1

Email: info@ismpak.org l  ismpak@live.com



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by Arundhati Roy

In These Times magazine, January 2005


In India, the word public is now a Hindi Word. It means people. In Hindi, we have sarkar and public, the government and the people. Inherent in this use is the underlying assumption that the government is quite separate from “the people:’ However, as you make your way up India’s complex social ladder, the distinction between sarkar and public gets blurred. The Indian elite, like the elite anywhere in the world, finds it hard to separate itself from the state.

In the United States, on the other hand, the blurring of this distinction between sarkar and public has penetrated far deeper into society. This could be a sign of robust democracy, but unfortunately it’s a little more complicated and less pretty than that. Among other things, it has to do with the elaborate web of paranoia generated by the US. sarkar and spun out by the corporate media and Hollywood. Ordinary people in the United States have been manipulated into imagining they are a people under siege whose sole refuge and protector is their government. If it isn’t the Communists, it’s al Qaeda. If it isn’t Cuba, it’s Nicaragua. As a result, the most powerful nation in the world is peopled by a terrified citizenry jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear.

This synthetically manufactured fear is used to gain public sanction for further acts of aggression. And so it goes, building into a spiral of self-fulfilling hysteria, now formally calibrated by the US government’s Amazing Technicolored Terror Alerts: fuchsia, turquoise, salmon pink.

To outside observers, this merging of sarkar and public in the United States sometimes makes it hard to separate the actions of the government from the people. Such confusion fuels anti-Americanism in the world-anti-Americanism that is seized upon and amplified by the U.S. government and its faithful media outlets. You know the routine: “Why do they hate us? They hate our freedoms:’ et cetera. This enhances the U.S. people’s sense of isolation, making the embrace between sarkar and public even more intimate.

Over the last few years, the “war on terrorism” has mutated into the more generic “war on terror:’ Using the threat of an external enemy to rally people behind you is a tired old horse that politicians have ridden into power for centuries. But could it be that ordinary people, fed up with that poor old horse, are looking for something different? Before Washington’s illegal invasion of Iraq, a Gallup International poll showed that in no European country was support for a unilateral war higher than ii percent. On February 15, 2003, weeks before the invasion, more than 10 million people marched against the war on different continents, including North America. And yet the governments of many supposedly democratic countries still went to war.

We must question then: Is “democracy” still democratic? Are democratic governments accountable to the people who elected them? And, critically, is the public in democratic countries responsible for the actions of its sarkar?

If you think about it, the logic that underlies the war on terror and the logic that underlies terrorism are exactly the same. Both make ordinary citizens pay for the actions of their government. Al Qaeda made the people of the United States pay with their lives for the actions of their government in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government has made the people of Afghanistan pay in the thousands for the actions of the Taliban and the people of Iraq pay in the hundreds of thousands for the actions of Saddam Hussein. Whose God decides which is a “just war” and which isn’t? George Bush senior once said: “I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are:’ When the president of the most powerful country in the world doesn’t need to care what the facts are, then we can be sure we have entered the Age of Empire.

Real choices

So what does public power mean in the Age of Empire? Does it mean anything at all? Does it actually exist? In these allegedly democratic times, conventional political thought holds that public power is exercised through the ballot. People in scores of countries around the world will go to the polls this year. Most (not all) of them will get the governments they vote for. But will they get the governments they want?

In India this year, we voted the Hindu nationalists of the BJP out of office. But even as we celebrated, we knew that on nuclear bombs, neoliberalism, privatization, censorship, big dams-on every major issue other than overt Hindu nationalism-the Congress and the BJP have no major ideological differences. We know that it is the 50-year legacy of the Congress Party that prepared the ground culturally and politically for the far right.

And what of the US. elections? Did US. voters have a real choice? The US. political system has been carefully crafted to ensure that no one who questions the natural goodness of the military-industrial corporate structure will be allowed through the portals of power. Given this, it’s no surprise that in this election you had two Yale University graduates, both members of Skull and Bones, the same secret society, both millionaires, both playing at soldier-solider, both talking up war, and arguing almost childishly about who would lead the war on terror more effectively. It’s not a real choice. It’s an apparent choice. Like choosing a brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, they’re both owned by Procter & Gamble. The fact is that electoral democracy has become a process of cynical manipulation. It offers us a very reduced political space today. To believe that this space constitutes real choice would be naive. The crisis of modern democracy is a profound one. Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities available on sale to the highest bidder.

On the global stage, beyond the jurisdiction of sovereign governments, international instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex web of multilateral laws and agreements that have entrenched a system of appropriation that puts colonialism to shame. This system allows the unrestricted entry and exit of massive amounts of speculative capital into and out of Third World countries, which then effectively dictates their economic policy. Using the threat of capital flight as a lever, international capital insinuates itself deeper and deeper into these economies. Giant transnational corporations are taking control of their essential infrastructure and natural resources, their minerals, their water, their electricity. The World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions, like the Asian Development Bank, virtually write economic policy and parliamentary legislation. With a deadly combination of arrogance and ruthlessness, they take their sledgehammers to fragile, interdependent, historically complex societies, and devastate them, all under the fluttering banner of “reform” As a consequence of such reform, thousands of small enterprises and industries have closed; millions of workers and farmers have lost their jobs and land.

Once the free market controls the economies of the Third World they become enmeshed in an elaborate, carefully calibrated system of economic inequality. Western countries flood the markets of poorer nations with their subsidized agricultural goods and other products with which local producers cannot possibly compete. Countries that have been plundered by colonizing regimes are steeped in debt to these same powers, and have to repay them at the rate of about $382 billion a year. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer-not accidentally, but by design.

To put a vulgar point on all of this, the combined wealth of the world’s billionaires in 2004 (587 “individuals and family units”), according to Forbes magazine, is $1.9 trillion-more than the gross domestic product of the world’s 135 poorest countries combined. The good news is that there are in more billionaires this year than there were in 2003.

Modern democracy is safely premised on almost religious acceptance of the nation state. But corporate globalization is not. Liquid capital is not. So even though capital needs the coercive powers of the nation state to put down revolts in the servants’ quarters, this setup ensures that no individual nation can oppose corporate globalization on its own.

Public power

Radical change cannot and will not be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people. By the public. A public that can link hands across national borders. A public that disagrees with the very concept of empire. A public that has set itself against the governments and institutions that support and service Empire.

Empire has a range of calling cards. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. There’s no country on God’s earth that isn’t caught in the crosshairs of the US. cruise missile and the IMF checkbook. For

poor people in many countries, Empire does not always appear in the form of cruise missiles and tanks, as it has in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. It appears in their lives in very local avatars-losing their jobs, being sent unpayable electricity bills, having their water supply cut, being evicted from their homes and uprooted from their land. It is a process of relentless impoverishment with which the poor are historically familiar. What Empire does is further entrench and exacerbate already existing inequalities.

Until quite recently, it was sometimes difficult for people to see themselves as victims of Empire. But now, local struggles have begun to see their role with increasing clarity. However grand it might sound, the fact is, they are confronting Empire in their own, very different ways. Differently in Iraq, in South Africa, in India, in Argentina, and differently, for that matter, on the streets of Europe and the United States. This is the beginning of real globalization. The globalization of dissent.

Meanwhile, the rift between rich and poor is being driven deeper and the battle to control the world’s resources intensifies. Economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback.

Iraq today is a tragic illustration of this process. The illegal invasion. The brutal occupation in the name of liberation. The rewriting of laws to allow the shameless appropriation of the country’s wealth and resources by corporations allied to the occupation. And now the charade of a sovereign “Iraqi government.”

The Iraqi resistance is fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Empire. And therefore that battle is our battle. Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct a secular, feminist, democratic, nonviolent battle, we should shore up our end of the resistance by forcing the US. government and its allies to withdraw from Iraq.

Resistance across borders

The first militant confrontation in the United States between the global justice movement and the neoliberal junta took place at the WTO conference in Seattle in December 1999. To many mass movements in developing countries that had long been fighting lonely, isolated battles, Seattle was the first delightful sign that people in imperialist countries shared their anger and their vision of another kind of world. As resistance movements have begun to reach out across national borders and pose a real threat, governments have developed their own strategies for dealing with them, ranging from co-optation to repression.

Three contemporary dangers confront resistance movements: the difficult meeting point between mass movements and the mass media, the hazards of the NGOization of resistance, and the confrontation between resistance movements and increasingly repressive states.

The place in which the mass media meets mass movements is a complicated one. Governments have learned that a crisis-driven media cannot afford to hang about in the same place for too long. Just as a business needs cash turnover, the media need crisis turnover. Whole countries become old news, and cease to exist, and the darkness becomes deeper than before the light was briefly shone on them.

While governments hone the art of waiting out crises, resistance movements are increasingly ensnared in a vortex of crisis production that seeks to find ways of manufacturing them in easily consumable, spectator-friendly formats. For this reason, starvation deaths are more effective at publicizing impoverishment than malnourished people in the millions.

The disturbing thing nowadays is that resistance as spectacle has cut loose from its origins in genuine civil disobedience and is becoming more symbolic than real. Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are fun and vital, but alone they are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe.

If we want to reclaim the space for civil disobedience, we must liberate ourselves from the tyranny of crisis reportage and its fear of the mundane. We must use our experience, our imagination and our art to interrogate those instruments of state that ensure “normality” remains what it is: cruel, unjust, unacceptable. We must expose the policies and processes that make ordinary things food, water, shelter and dignity-such a distant dream for ordinary people. The real preemptive strike is to understand that wars are the end result of a flawed and unjust peace.

For mass resistance movements, no amount of media coverage can make up for strength on the ground. There is no alternative, really, to old-fashioned, back-breaking political mobilization.


A second hazard facing mass movements is the NGO-ization of resistance. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of course do valuable work, but it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.

Most large, well-funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are in turn funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the United Nations and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.

Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be just old-fashioned missionary zeal? NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right. They alter the public psyche, they turn people into dependent victims and they blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators of the discourse-the secular missionaries of the modern world.

Eventually-on a smaller scale, but more insidiously-the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda, turning confrontation into negotiation and depoliticizing resistance.

The cost of violence

This brings us to a third danger: the deadly nature of the actual confrontation between resistance movements and increasingly repressive states. Between public power and the agents of Empire.

‘Whenever civil resistance has shown the slightest signs of evolving from symbolic action into anything remotely threatening, the crackdown is merciless. We’ve seen what happened to the demonstrators in Seattle, in Miami, in Gothenburg, in Genoa.

In the United States, you have the USA PATRIOT Act, which has become a blueprint for antiterrorism laws passed by governments around the world. Freedoms are being curbed in the name of protecting freedom. And once we surrender our freedoms, to win them back will take a revolution.

One does not endorse the violence of militant groups. Neither morally nor strategically. But to condemn it without first denouncing the much greater violence perpetrated by the state would be to deny the people of these regions not just their basic human rights, but even the right to a fair hearing. People who have lived in situations of conflict know that militancy and armed struggle provokes a massive escalation of violence from the state. But living as they do, in situations of unbearable injustice, can they remain silent forever?

No discussion taking place in the world today is more crucial than the debate about strategies of resistance. And the choice of strategy is not entirely in the hands of the public. It is also in the hands of sarkar.

In this restive, despairing time, if governments do not do all they can to honor nonviolent resistance, then by default they privilege those who turn to violence. No government’s condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by nonviolent dissent. Instead, today, nonviolent resistance movements are being crushed, bought off or simply ignored.

Meanwhile, governments and the corporate media (and let’s not forget the film industry) lavish their time, attention, funds, technology and research on war and terrorism. Violence has been deified. The message this sends is disturbing and dangerous: If you seek to air a public grievance, violence is more effective than nonviolence.

The U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq-mostly volunteers in a poverty draft from small towns and poor urban neighborhoods-are victims, just as much as the Iraqis, of the same horrendous process that asks them to die for a victory that will never be theirs.

The mandarins of the corporate world, the CEOs, the bankers, the politicians, the judges and generals look down on us from on high and shake their heads sternly. “There’s no alternative:’ they say, and let slip the dogs of war.

Then, from the ruins of Afghanistan, from the rubble of Iraq and Chechnya, from the streets of occupied Palestine and the mountains of Kashmir, from the hills and plains of Colombia, and the forests of Andhra Pradesh and Assam, comes the chilling reply: “There’s no alternative but terrorism:’ Terrorism. Armed struggle. Insurgency. Call it what you want.

Terrorism is vicious, ugly and dehumanizing for its perpetrators as well as its victims. But so is war. You could say that terrorism is the privatization of war. Terrorists are the free marketers of war. They are people who don’t believe that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Of course, there is an alternative to terrorism. Its called justice. It’s time to recognize that no amount of nuclear weapons, or full-spectrum dominance, or “daisy cutters” or spurious governing councils and loya girgas can buy peace at the cost of justice.

The urge for hegemony and preponderance by some will be matched with greater intensity by the longing for dignity and justice by others. Exactly what form that battle takes, whether it’s beautiful or bloodthirsty, depends on us.


ARUNDHATI ROY is the author of The God of Small Things, a novel for which she won the Booker Prize in 1997 This article is adapted from Public Power in the Age of Empire (Seven Stories, 2004) which is based on a speech Roy gave to the American Sociological Association in August 2004.

Courtesy: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Arundhati_Roy/People_vs_Empire.html

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