Friday, June 24, 2011

People resist land handover to India in Tamabil

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has strongly asserted last week that there can not be anybody in the country who is a better patriot than herself. She made the comment at a function in the city while commenting on the hartal called by the committee on protection of oil, gas, power, minerals and ports which is not only opposed to the gas exploration deal with the US multinational ConnocoPhilips but has also charged the Prime Minister for working against national interest.
   But people really remained confused as the volleys of accusations and claims flying high in the air. Political observers here say confusion is only on the rise over the way the government is handling sensitive national issues which not only include the gas blocks deal in the off-shore but also on attempt to hand over disputed land in the border with India.
   Throughout last week, local people at Tamabil at Sylhet-Meghalaya border resisted a joint Bangladesh-India survey team which went on the spot to demarcate a chunk of three acres of land from inside Bangladesh to hand it over to the Indians.
   People not only resisted the move backed by the Indian border security forces BSF but also forced it to leave the spot on several occasions throughout the week on their own without any back up support from Bangladesh border guards.
   Local residents remained in total confusion why the BGB forces were absent leaving them to the firing line of the BSF. But they were resolved to protect the land from being hand over to Indian control.
   “This land is ours from the days of our forefathers. It is recorded in our names in last land survey in 2002 and previously. We are using the land, growing crops and why the Sheikh Hasina government is now working to hand over it to India is a big question,” a local in telephone call where this scribe is at present working said.
   Newspaper reports last week (on June 19) said officials of Meghalaya and Bangladesh suspended the joint survey of Tamabil border in face of protests by local residents
   Assistant director of survey Md Dabir Uddin said, “We were preparing to survey about three acres of land close to Tamabil customs station. The Indians were claiming the land for long”.
   “A few hundred locals protested the survey after hearing that the land attached to Tamabil land customs station will be handed over to the Indians on the same day”, he said.
   UNO of Gowainghat upazila Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury said the matter was brought to the notice of higher authorities. Joint survey will resume in 2-3 days after clearance from the higher authorities, he added.
   A stalemate had been prevailing for months as Bangladesh officials could not agree with the Indians over several points on the adversely possessed lands (APL) at different borders of Sylhet-Meghalaya region. Sources said that Indians were pressing to start the survey at other points inside Bangladesh border as well ignoring the existing border pillars, set in 1947 during the partition of India with Pakistan. The survey on the said borders had to be suspended time and again in the face of protests by either Indians or by Bangladesh nationals in the border areas in recent past.
   It could not be resumed even months after the schedule, set by the officials of both sides which BGB director general last week said was agreed at a meeting in Delhi in November last year. The officials however had to suspend the job in December last year following troubles created by the Indian khasia tribesmen and others on the much talked Padua-Protappur borders. Again it stumbled in April as the Indians failed to bring any document to support their claims over the lands in question inside the Bangladesh territory.
   A similar situation arose two weeks ago on the much talked Padua-Protappur borders. In the wake of repeated incidents of intrusion centring harvesting of crops in the field and fishing which resulted in the killing of several Bangladesh nationals by the BSF and by Khasia tribesmen, the authorities decided instead to put the joint survey on the Jaintapur, Gowainghat and Kanaighat borders.
   Accordingly, it began on December 7 last year. But since then the survey faced serious opposition at several times mainly due to difference of opinions between the officials of both the sides.
   Analysts say why the government of Sheikh Hasina is not taking the nation into confidence on the issue before putting the survey team on the disputed border land and preparing the hand over of the land. Why the government is not taking it to Parliament. Despite a resolution of Indian Parliament on Barubari handover to Bangladesh, Delhi has so far failed to fulfil it, an Indian court order has kept the entire handing over matter hanging.
   Why the Bangladesh Prime Minister is not bothered to consult the Parliament or the court. No one knows about the government stand except a handful of government officials at the ministry of foreign affairs and land survey. The question is why there is no transparency and a hide and seek is overshadowing the entire process.
   BGB director general said both sides have claims over small pockets of land at different border points, not only at Sylhet but also at Kustia and Rajshahi. But a question why the Indian demand is being only unilaterally entertained without similar move to bring back Bangladesh land, remained unanswered. He said he was not aware of the entire process. India is also not allowing farmers at Amorshid border to go to their family land and cultivate it over the past few years since this government came to power, local residents said wondering why there is a change of wind passing out now.
   Sheikh Hasina is also handing over the transit corridor to India even without a bare minimum of transit fees for use of Bangladesh land in long transportation way for goods and passengers. She is a big ally of India and also a good patriot, there is no doubt, analysts say but how she is balancing the both is a big question.

Bangladeshi TV channels blocked in India

Indian government is continuing an unwritten ban on allowing Bangladeshi television channels from entering their domestic cable network, thus depriving millions of Bangla speaking population in that country from watching Bangladeshi programs, especially drama and music videos, which are considered to be top favourite to India's Bangali [Bangla speaking] population. On the other hand, Bangladesh has adopted a very liberal policy in allowing foreign television channels, including most of the Indian channels [even some regional language channels] and have not only allowed them in Bangladeshi cable network, but also, each month Indian channels are earning significant amount of revenue, both by selling advertisements as well as subscription to Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and households.
According to a recent statistics availed by a team of Weekly Blitz, Indian channels are earning millions of dollars every year from Bangladeshi cable operators. Below is the chart of monthly revenue earned by the Indian channels from Bangladesh:
Name of the Channel
Monthly Revenue from Subscription
Star Plus
US$ 195,000
Star Movies
US$ 118,000
Zee Studio
US$ 94,000
Zee TV
US$ 67,000
US$ 123,000
Set Max [Part of SONY]
US$ 72,000
US$ 61,000
Zee Cinema
US$ 95,000
Star Sports
US$ 70,000
US$ 5,000
Star Jalsha
US$ 17,000
Zee Premier
US$ 39,000
Zee Action
US$ 29,000
Zee Café
US$ 19,000
Zee Bangla
US$ 17,000
US$ 6,000
US$ 6,000
TARA Music
US$ 6,000
Doordarshan Bangla
US$ 000,00
US$ 23,000
Star World
US$ 23,000
Bangladesh also freely allows more than 180 regional and international channels on country's domestic cable network, which includes HBO, ESPN, NGC, Discovery, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, NDTV, DW, Fox, VOA, France24, MGM, TVC, TNT, Cartoon Network, RAI etc. India though allows most of the international channels within its domestic cable network; it continues to stop Bangladeshi channels from entering the same network, for reason unknown.
It may be mentioned here that, currently there are several Bangladeshi channels, which are continuing broadcast mainly via Telstar-10 satellite, while some are also using other satellites. The Bangladeshi channels on satellite are: BTV-World, BTV-Sangshad, Channel-I, ATN-Bangla, ATN-News, Diganta TV, NTV, Boishakhi TV, Bangla Vision, RTV, ETV, DESH TV, Mohona TV, Independent TV, Maasranga TV, My TV, GTV, Channel 9, Shomoy TV, Bijoy TV etc.
Bangla drama, soap opera and music videos, especially folk songs are extremely popular amongst the Bangla speaking population in India. Some Indian traders are trading in audio and video CDs of Bangla drama, soap opera and music videos, which have high demand in India.
Commenting on the current ban on Bangladeshi channels from entering Indian cable network, an Indian journalist on condition of anonymity told Weekly Blitz, Indian government fears that Bangladeshi TV channels may contain anti-Indian propaganda as well as instigative messages to various separatist groups inside India.
"We all want to see Bangladeshi TV channels, but we fear such channels may contain anti-Indian propaganda", the source said.
On the other hand, an owner of a Bangladeshi TV channels said, "We never allow any negative propaganda against India or any foreign nation. Bangladeshi channels are already available on major cable networks in United States, Europe and the Middle East. We never heard any such complaint of any Bangladeshi channel airing anti-Indian campaign. This must be a lame excuse of the Indian authorities for stopping Bangladeshi channels from reaching the Indian viewers."
Commenting on the existing ban on Bangladeshi TV channels from entering Indian cable network, eminent researcher of Sufi music as well as popular Sufi singer, Fakir Shabuddin said, "As far as folk and Sufi songs are concerned, Indian listeners are definitely interested in such songs from Bangladesh. Whenever we go abroad for shows, we hear requests from expatriate Indians in foreign countries for singing Bangla Sufi songs. As a singer, I would humbly request the Indian government to allow Bangladeshi channels in reaching millions of Bangla speaking viewers in that country."
Rahman Mustafiz, popular news reporter in Bangladesh said, "None of the Bangladeshi TV channels have any anti-Indian agenda. Authorities in New Delhi should not unnecessarily continue ban on Bangladeshi channels, just on the basis of mere speculations or doubts."
Eminent Bangladeshi music director Milton Khandekar said, "As we are already watching Indian channels in Bangladesh, we also have the equal right of showing our channels to the viewers in India. As an individual, I do believe that, India, being the largest democracy in the world will withdraw such unkind decision on Bangladeshi TV channels."

They Are Trying To Keep Me Destabilised : Arundhati Roy

Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize- winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a “ new modernity” based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.    Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government’s attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. “ Everybody’s in great danger there, so you can’t go round feeling you are specially in danger,” she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they’re under siege.    Her time with the guerrillas made a profound impression. She describes spending nights sleeping on the forest floor in a “ thousand-star hotel”, applauds “the ferocity and grandeur of these poor people fighting back”, and says “being in the forest made me feel like there was enough space in my body for all my organs”. She detests glitzy, corporate, growth- obsessed modern Indian, and there in the forest she found a brief peace.    There is intense anger in the book, I say, implying that if she toned it down she might find a readier audience. “The anger is calibrated,” she insists. “ It’s less than I actually feel.” But even so, her critics call her shrill. “ That word ‘shrill’ is reserved for any expression of feeling. It’s all right for the establishment to be as shrill as it likes about annihilating people.”    Is her political engagement derived from her mother, Mary Roy, who set up a school for girls in Kerala and has a reputation as a women’s rights activist? “She’s not an activist,” says Roy. “I don’t know why people keep saying that. My mother is like a character who escaped from the set of a Fellini film.” She laughs at her own description. “She’s a whole performing universe of her own. Activists would run a mile from her because they could not deal with what she is.”    I want to talk more about Mary Roy and eventually we do but there’s one important point to clear up first. Guerrillas use violence, generally directed against the police and army, but sometimes causing injury and death to civilians caught in the crossfire. Does she condemn that violence? “I don’t condemn it any more,” she says. “If you’re an adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”    Her critics label her a Maoist sympathiser. Is she? “I am a Maoist sympathiser,” she says. “I’m not a Maoist ideologue, because the communist movements in history have been just as destructive as capitalism. But right now, when the assault is on, I feel they are very much part of the resistance that I support.”    Roy talks about the resistance as an “insurrection”; she makes India sound as if it’s ripe for a Chinese or Russian-style revolution. So how come we in the west don’t hear about these mini-wars? “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers,” she says, “that they have instructions ‘No negative news from India’ because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.” I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists or that self- respecting journalists would accept it ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.    She sounds like a member of a religious sect, I say, as if she has seen the light. “It’s a way of life, a way of thinking,” she replies without taking offence. “I know people in India, even the modern young people, understand that here is something that’s alive.” So why not give up the plush home in Delhi and the media appearances, and return to the forest? “I’d be more than happy to if I had to, but I would be a liability to them in the forest. The battles have to be fought in different ways. The military side is just one part of it. What I do is another part of the battle.”    I question her absolutism, her Manichaean view of the world, but I admire her courage. Her home has been pelted with stones; the Indian launch of Broken Republic was interrupted by pro-government demonstrators who stormed the stage; she may be charged with sedition for saying that Kashmiris should be given the right of self- determination. “They are trying to keep me destabilised,” she says. Does she feel threatened? “ Anybody who says anything is in danger. Hundreds of people are in jail.”    Roy has likened writing fiction and polemic to the difference between dancing and walking. Does she not want to dance again? “Of course I do.” Is she working on a new novel? “I have been,” she says with a laugh, “but I don’t get much time to do it.” Does it bother her that the follow-up to The God of Small Things has been so long in coming? “I’m a highly un-ambitious person,” she says. “What does it matter if there is or isn’t a novel? I really don’t look at it that way. For me, nothing would have been worth not going into that forest.”    It’s hard to judge whether there will be a second novel. The God of Small Things drew so much on her own life “her charismatic but overbearing mother; a drunken tea-planter father whom her mother left when Roy was very young; her own departure from home in her late teens” that it may be a one-off, a book as much lived as written. She gives ambiguous answers about whether she expects a second novel to appear. On the one hand, she says she is engaged with the resistance movement and that it dominates her thoughts. But almost in the same breath she says others have “picked up the baton” and she would like to return to fiction, to dance again.    What is certain is that little of the second novel has so far been written. She prefers not to tell me what it is about; indeed, she says it would not be possible to pinpoint the theme. “I don’t have subjects. It’s not like I’m trying to write an anti-dam novel. Fiction is too beautiful to be about just one thing. It should be about everything.” Has she been blocked by the pressure of having to follow up a Booker winner? “No,” she says. “We’re not children all wanting to come first in class and win prizes. It’s the pleasure of doing it. I don’t know whether it will be a good book, but I’m curious about how and what I will write after these journeys.”    Are her agent and publisher disappointed still to be waiting for the second novel? “They always knew there wasn’t going to be some novel-producing factory,” she says. “I was very clear about that. I don’t see the point. I did something. I enjoyed doing it. I’m doing something now. I’m living to the edges of my fingernails, using everything I have. It’s impossible for me to look at things politically or in any way as a project, to further my career. You’re injected directly into the blood of the places in which you’re living and what’s going on there.”    She has no financial need to write another novel. The God of Small Things, which sold more than 6 m copies around the world, set her up for life, even though she has given much of the money away. She even spurned offers for the film rights, because she didn’t want anyone interpreting her book for the screen. “Every reader has a vision of it in their head,” she says, “and I didn’t want it to be one film. ” She is strong-willed. Back in 1996 , when The God of Small Things was being prepared for publication, she insisted on having control of the cover image because she didn’t want “a jacket with tigers and ladies in saris”. She is her indomitable mother’s daughter.    I insist she tell me more about her Fellini-esque mother. She is, says Roy, like an empress. She has a number of buttons beside her bed which, when you press them, emit different bird calls. Each call signals to one of her retinue what she requires. Has she been the centre of her daughter’s life? “No, she has been the centre of a lot of conflict in my life. She’s an extraordinary women, and when we are together I feel like we are two nuclear-armed states.” She laughs loudly. “We have to be a bit careful.”    To defuse the family tensions, Roy left home when she was 16 to study architecture in Delhi even then she wanted to build a new world. She married a fellow student at the age of 17. “He was a very nice guy, but I didn’t take it seriously,” she says. In 1984 she met and married film-maker Pradip Krishen, and helped him bring up his two daughters by an earlier marriage. They now live separately, though she still refers to him as her “sweetheart”. So why separate? “My life is so crazy. There’s so much pressure and idiosyncrasy. I don’t have any establishment. I don’t have anyone to mediate between me and the world. It’s just based on instinct.” I think what she’s saying is that freedom matters more to her than anything else.    She chose not to have children because it would have impinged on that freedom. “For a long time I didn’t have the means to support them,” she says, “and once I did I thought I was too unreliable. So many of the women in India who are fighting these battles don’t have children, because anything can happen. You have to be light on your feet and light in your head. I like to be a mobile republic.”    Roy has in the past described herself as “a natural-born feminist”. What did she mean by that? “Because of my mother and the way I grew up without a father to look after me, you learned early on that rule number one was look out for yourself. Much of what I can do and say now comes from being independent at an early age.” Her mother was born into a wealthy, conservative Christian community in Kerala, but put herself outside the pale by marrying Ranjit Roy, a Hindu from West Bengal. When she returned to her home state after her divorce she had little money and was thus doubly marginalised. The mother eventually triumphed over all these obstacles and made a success of the school she founded, but growing up an outsider has left its mark on her daughter.    Roy says she has always been polemical, and points to her run-in with director Shekhar Kapur in the mid-1990 s over his film Bandit Queen “she questioned whether he had the right to portray the rape of a living person on screen without that woman’s consent. It may be that the novel is the exception in a life of agitation, rather than the agitation an odd outcrop in a life of fiction-writing. But has she sacrificed too much for the struggle the chance to dance, children, perhaps even her second marriage? “I don’t see any of these things as sacrifices,” she says. “ They are positive choices. I feel surrounded by love, by excitement. They are not being done in some martyr-like way. When I was walking through the forest with the comrades, we were laughing all the time.”

Will There Be Stability In Myanmar?

With Myanmar taking a pro- democracy political course after installation of an elected government in March, the Western power block has intensified its efforts to increase its influence on the mineral-rich country, a next door neighbour of Bangladesh, China and India.    Having the strategic opening towards Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, Mayanmar has been targeted primarily for destabilizing its close relations with China and stir unrest to make the new government turn to the West.    A number of high profile visits and the declared intentions of the Western diplomats indicate that the once virgin land, Myanmar would be subjected to a lot of internal troubles including ethnic fighting and street agitations in the coming days.    Last November, at the time of national elections, clashes between the Myanmar army and rebels in Karen state left several dozen people dead and sent thousands fleeing into Thailand, it was estimated at the time.    Several Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, condemned the November general elections as a sham. The winning party was a group consisting of many of the former military rulers who resigned their commissions to run as civilians.    In April, European governments extended by a year a set of trade and financial sanctions on Myanmar - but opened the door to the Myanmar foreign minister as an inducement to accelerate change.    The United Nations last week announced that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would soon name a full-time special envoy to Myanmar to encourage the government on the reform path.         US view    After his recent visit to Myanmar, U.S. Senator John McCain said that Myanmar’s new military-backed government could face the kind of revolution sweeping through Arab nations.    US Senator John McCain visited the Mayanmar earlier in June, and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Yun and UN special envoy to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar visited in April.    McCain said unless Myanmar is willing to make pro-democracy changes peacefully, it could be wrecked by the kind of unrest leaders in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East are experiencing.    McCain spent two days in Myanmar, where he met with senior leaders in its new government. He said it is clear “ the new government wants a better relationship with the United States,” but he called for “concrete actions” before the U.S. can consider lifting sanctions.    McCain said such actions include the unconditional release of more than 2 ,000 political prisoners and guarantees of safety for pro- democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she travels around the country in an upcoming political tour.    The US is also making it an opportunity to get closer to Myanmar after signing deep-sea exploration contract in the Bay of Bengal, political observers said.         India’s hope    Meanwhile, India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna concluded a three-day visit to Myanmar last week, as he seeks to counter China’s influence on the country.    Krishna is the first high-level Indian official to visit Myanmar since an elected government replaced a military junta in March.    India is wary of China’s growing influence in Myanmar, and is in competition with its large regional rival for access to the Mayanmar’s large natural gas resources.    India and Myanmar have widened cooperation between their security forces since the mid- 1990 s, with both countries fighting armed insurgencies along their shared border.         Fighting the rebels    A rebel army in northern Myanmar reportedly warned its troops to expect protracted fighting after clashes with government soldiers forced thousands of civilians to flee.    Fighting broke out on June 9 near Bhamo, around 40 miles from the Chinese border. The clashes marked the end of a 15- year cease-fire between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar central government.    The government’s policy of maintaining the border forces has been a relatively successful tactic between it and insurgents in several sensitive border areas, mainly in Kachin, in Shan state directly to the south and in Karen state, further south near Thai borders.         Chinese workers flee Myanmar    More than 200 Chinese workers have returned home from Myanmar after separatist rebels attacked a hydropower plant in the northern border province of Kachin, state media in Myanmar said last week.    An official statement in the daily New Light of Myanmar outlined several threats since April by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) against Chinese projects in Kachin State, including the Tarpein Hydropower Project. Altogether, 215 Chinese employees assigned to the project returned to China from June 9 to 14.    Responding to an attack by Myanmar’s army, the KIA blew up 25 bridges in the region from June 14 to 16 , it added.    Sources in Kachin have said hundreds of people had fled their homes in the mountainous region to escape eight days of fighting up until Thursday.    The KIA has battled the central government for decades but agreed to a ceasefire in 1994 under which its fighters were allowed to keep their arms.    However, tension has been rising since last year, largely because the Kachins have resisted government pressure to fold their men into a state-run border security force. Analysts say, Myanmar’s 10-week old government, the country’s first civilian-led administration in five decades, is intent on seizing control of the rebellious states but is reluctant to engage in conflict with the numerous factions.    Chinese-built dams have been divisive projects in Myanmar, with ethnic minorities seeing construction as expanding military presence into their territory. Some analysts say Kachin rebels may be trying to hold the dams hostage in return for a share of the revenue from the projects.    The risk of fighting spreading in the heavily militarized border region is a worry for China, which is building oil and gas pipelines through its Southeast Asian neighbour to improve energy security.         Suu Kyi for talks    Meanwhile, Myanmar pro- democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political organization has called for negotiations to end fighting in border areas between the government and ethnic minorities.    A statement from the National League for Democracy on Monday said the group deplored recent clashes between the government and the ethnic Kachin Independence Army in northern Myanmar.    It also said ongoing fighting in southern Karen state had escalated and thousands of refugees have fled to Thailand. The league also cited clashes between government troops and the ethnic Shan in northeastern Shan state.    The league said it urged the parties “to hold genuine negotiations through mutual respect and understanding”.         EU delegation meets Suu Kyi    A European Union delegation held talks Tuesday with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside home in Yangon, but details on the discussions were not disclosed.    Robert Cooper, counselor in the European External Action Service - the EU’s foreign affairs department, met Suu Kyi for almost two hours after he and his delegation had visited the capital of Naypyitaw for talks with government ministers.    Before travelling to Burma, the delegates said they wanted to see whether the country’s new government is serious about democratic reform. A long-ruling junta handed over power at the end of March to a new administration made up mostly of its own supporters.    Aung San Suu Kyi will deliver her video-recorded remarks on Burma’s November elections to members of the U.S. Congress Wednesday.    The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on Burma’s first election in 20 years.    Suu Kyi confirmed that she still planned to travel outside Yangon next month.    The last time the Nobel laureate travelled up-country in 2003 ; her convoy was attacked by government thugs and she was placed under house arrest for almost seven years, being released November 13 , last year.