Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Song with a Solution

Not a regular listener of Nepali folk music, I was awestricken by the words of the song – Chinta Chaina Kehi – beautifully stroked to provide a deep reflection of Nepali realities. At the same time it also has successfully – in positive tone – depicted the potential of Nepali society to march towards bright future. However, I am not scribing this article just to say that the song, written by Pashupati Sharma and sang by the writer himself along with Sita K.C, is going almost viral in YouTube or has potential to do so.

The main idea of this article is to compare the message of the song with a development theory called Sustainable Development (SD). SD, in its seminal report – Our Common Future – has been described as ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ At the time, when SD is being backed by United Nations as the kind of development theory suitable for the world and its people economically, socially and environmentally it would be interesting to see the messages of SD that the song has.

Written around the foreign migration scenario, the song has many other issues amalgamated within its main thread. The explicit message of the song seems to show, migration to foreign country for painstaking jobs with little rewards, in the changed context of Nepal, is not necessary if we can put in a little bit of more effort on the way we have been doing our occupation since generations.

For example, the songs explains a story of a highly educated man who has returned back to his village and have been doing agriculture in commercial way. The writer has, through out the song, incessantly tries to explain the need of commercial agriculture in Nepal. Even according to SD, when interpreted in Nepal’s context, it is important for us to return back to our agricultural roots but in a professional way. We should not forget that, in the dream of making the country as prosperous as Switzerland, Nepal has been converted into a food importing country from the one which used to export it until a decade ago.

In addition, the song also has implicit messages relating to gender equality, culture, family relations, etc. The gender equality, though not mentioned in the verses of the song, has been depicted in the video which is the social aspect of SD. Moreover, verses like – khancham geda-gudi bascham buda budi, Malai Salman Khan ni yei, malai Saha Rukh Khan ni yei – hints towards the importance of homegrown food habits and also the good relation between wife and husband made easily possible because of living together. These are powerful and influencing lines in the context of weakening and breaking family relations, also reported several times in the news in the recent times.

Similarly, the song also indicates towards the importance of our culture and saving our identity. Shown in the habits related to food and clothes, the song clearly has a message relating to SD which advocates of placing the environment and society ahead of the economics. Moreover, the verses – payal chappal kinchu, kchaad berchu hindchu, malai dingo jutta yei, malai jean ko pant, yei malai suhaune pani yei – mentions the unrestrained copy of other cultures resulting into increased import which in turn is taking back all our money to the countries where it was earned by our fellow Nepalese. Almost 80% of the remittance money being spent in daily goods and our growing deficit proves the same scenario.

In sum, the song puts an increased important towards the well-being and other different unquantifiable aspect of human life. Time spent with family and the valuable time shared with community peoples and so forth is highlighted more than monetary incentives. The song, in all its verses, from one way or the other, has incessantly tried to reflect that Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as in SD, is not the one and only aspect of prosperity.

On my part, I am very happy to find something I would use throughout my life to start the lessons of SD to my to-be students. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Water – Film Review

Writer and Director: Deepa Mehta

Starring: Seema Biswas as Shakuntala, Lisa Roy as Kalyani, John Abraham as Narayan, Manorama as Madhumati, Sarala Kariyawasam as Chuiya and Raghuvir Yadav as Gulabi.

Running Time: 114 minutes



Water, in general, is a story about Indian widows who are forced to enter “widow houses” by their own families to relieve themselves of financial and emotional burdens, where they struggle to survive by begging and often turn to prostitution.

Set in 1938 in British-ruled India, a time when Mahatma Gandhi and the anti-colonial movement are on the rise, the film shows the plight of a group of fifteen widows who live in the holy city of Veranasi, near the holy river - Ganges. The main aim of the film seems to portray the social, religious and economic situations of India in 1930s and try to find out reasons behind the nastiest situation of widows in India.

Story and the Characters

The film revolves around three women. Two of them, Chuiya and Kalyani are full of life and also the youngest of the widows living in the house. They want to break-free from the state of widowhood and live a life of their own choice. Chuiya is an innocent seven year old girl who is unaware about social and religious norms of the society and thus fears nothing. She has innocent questions to ask which are very hard to answer even to a religion as old as Hinduism. Her one-linear like, “A widow feels pain because she is half alive.”, “Where do men widows live?” are powerful enough to show the disparity between men and women that Hinduism provisions. Similarly, Kalyani is a pretty woman who has been lured into prostitution by Madhumati, the chief of widow house. Madhumati is a corrupt old widow who smokes marijuana provided by the eunuch and local pimp Gulabi. It is Gulabi who updates Madhumati about the recent happenings around the city and also helps her in prostituting Kalyani by finding out the local Brahmins or high-caste elites. The third woman Shakuntala, is a devout Hindu who is caught in between her religious faith and her human cravings. She is the one who is attached to Chuyia, because she sees herself reflected in Chuyia; and strives to give Chuyia what she had lacked.

The film starts off with Chuiya's husband's death, and her disposal to widow house. The story moves on with Narayan, a follower of Gandhi, falling in love with Kalyani despite of her being a widow. But, Kalyani’s suicide after knowing that Narayan’s father is one of the men she has slept with, takes Narayan back to Gandhi, and in the end we see Shakuntala handing over Chuyia to Narayan. In the last scene of the movie, the train departs leaving teary eyed Shakuntala behind, taking Chuyia into a brighter future.


Reasons for setting the movie in 1930s

There seems to be two key reasons for setting the story of the film in 1930s not in 2005 - the time when the film was made. The first reason is to let compare the audience the situation of widows in India between 1930s and present time, which is almost similar. With this the film has questioned the notion of ‘21st century world’ where the activists working in the field of women rights assume that the condition of women at present has changed a lot in comparison to past century. Another reason for setting the film in 1930s is to indirectly show that even the reformer like Mahatma Gandhi have not  been able to persuade people to change their perception towards women in general and widowhood in particular. 

Also, in showing the hardships that the widows are forced into, the film Water has focussed on social, religious and economic reasons behind.

Economic reasons

Water has powerfully pointed out some of the underlying economic factors behind the dispossession of widows by their own families. Through Narayan, the film explains that simply to reduce one mouth to feed and save four saris per year, widows are disposed in widow house. And while the treatment of widows is disguised as religion, Narayan concludes, “It’s all about money.” These few sentences illuminate the situation in an extremely powerful manner.

Religious reasons

It was due to religious contents in the film, shooting of Water was halted by Shiva Sena, back in 2000 AD. Shiva Sena, an organization working under Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), burnt down the sets of the film fearing that Water would portray India and her customs in poor light to the West. Finally, the shooting of the film was done in Sir Lanka.

Yes, the film has a lot religious content and has mercilessly attacked negative aspects of the religion. By showing the Auntie’s clinging for ladoo even after she reaches the final years of her life, the film is questioning the state of bairagya (detachment from worldly desires), for which the religion orders widows to live a life of a hermit.

While the film has predominantly accused religion for the main reason behind the horrible situation of widows, it also shows even religion is adapting to the need of changing times. In his conversation with Shakuntala, Baba (the priest in the 'ghats,' or steps, leading down to the Ganges) based on holy texts, explains that a widow has three options: (1) to throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre, (2) to marry his brother (if he has one and it is permitted by the family), or (3) to live in poverty in a group home for widows. But he is quick to add that the time is changing and there is a law that favours widow remarriage. Unlike many other religious servants, he was pro-active in understanding the importance of Gandhi as he tells Shakuntala: "Gandhiji is one of the few in the world who listens to his voice of conscience".

Social reasons

The film has identified patriarchy as the main social reason behind the dreadful condition of widows. Upon the death of Auntie, remark by a widow, "God willing, she'll be reborn as a man!" shows the amount of importance contemporary society had placed on being a man. Similarly, in showing that the worst enemies of the widows are the widows themselves, the film shows patriarchy as an agency camouflaged in it. Also, the misuse of religion by men of the so-called high class Brahmins and elites to keep the illiterates and poor frightened in the name of god but they themselves exploiting even the ‘worthless’ widows shows the patriarchy’s role in the continued torture that widow are forced into.

While showing the social reasons behind the plight of the widow, the film also highlights the positively changing social scenario around India. The message of changing social conditions of India has been portrayed through Mahatma Gandhi and his follower Narayan.

There is very little to complain about the story and the way it has been told. Deepa Mehta has done a brilliant job. But when it comes to casting, though the role played by Seema Biswas as Shakuntala, Manorama as Madhumati, Sarala Kariyawasam as Chuiya and Raghuvir Yadav as Gulabi are brilliant match, the film has failed especially in identifying actors for the role of Narayan and Kanyani. Lisa Ray as Kalyani, a former model, is far too elegant as a member of a poverty-stricken widow house and a prostitute. John Abrahm as Narayan, one of Bollywood’s fashionable hero lacks the appeal of a conscious political figure. At times he looks like a model dressed in dhoti and kurta for a photo session.

Water is a movie primarily aimed to depict the social and religious picture of India in reference to widows. It has, without mercy, attached the bad practices of the religion and has also not failed to adore the changing social and religious scenario in India.

Important of all, the movie still has its relevance besides being a story of 1930s because the condition of widows in India is at present almost similar to that of 1938 if not exactly the same. It is shocking to know that widow houses are still operating in Veranasi.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Corporations and Development Debate

Only two years after it was rejected, the controversial Monsanto Company is trying to enter Nepal once again. However, this time it has chosen an indirect way; a subsidiary of Chaudhary Group (CG) named CG Seeds and Fertilizers is trying to push in the hybrid and genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds. From the other way round, it can also be said that, Chaudhary Group has taken up the right to distribute the Monsanto seeds in Nepal.

In the context when hybrid and GMO seeds have proved to be fatal in India, resulting into suicide of close to three hundred thousands farmers in a span of 15 years from 1998 to 2013, an attempt to distribute such seeds is a clear case of a corporation, CG in this case, motivated by profit and nothing more than that. Otherwise, how can anyone distribute the seeds which have been blamed, and also proved, to decrease the fertility of soil, eliminate indigenous breed of seeds, increase use of fertilizers & pesticides, effect health of peoples, etc. that too amid the high chances of public uproar and criticism!

With this background, this article will pitch the idea of corporation and show how it works, if not regulated, in a way which ultimately will not benefit local people economically, socially and environmentally. Similarly, it will also try to reason why corporation as an agent of development, as perceived by political parties of Nepal, is a false idea and will finally argue for more agencies in local level as the way forward.
Raj Patel in his book The Value of Nothing sarcastically defines corporations as ‘novel human creation moved by the search for profit, and which has in its short history come to dominate our planet’. Given the gargantuan size and power of corporations and the monopoly earned by them in global food, water, medicine, and important basic systems the sarcasm is understood. For example, six major corporations in the world has control over global food supply and they virtually have power to decide on what is to be produced and how. Their hold on food is such that peoples dying in famine is not because of lack of food but because of lack of money to buy it. So it would not be an exaggeration to say, corporations are a monster trying to accumulate as much profit as possible at anybody’s expense.

This explanation clearly shows how corporation works only for profit and there are no other values associated. It is for this reason, corporations, psychologically, has been declared a ‘psychopath’. At present, people in developed countries and the countries which have been effected by the ‘psychopaths’ are looking back to what damages corporation, in the name of economic growth, did to their economy, society and environment.

For example, corporations have stripped countries of their natural resources and have left behind a trail of social and environ-mental devastation. The explosion at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal (India) which killed more than 20,000 people and the dumping of contaminated materials from gold and copper mine into the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers in Papua New Guinea by the corporation Ok Tedi (Australian-majority ownership) which later refused to clean the dump and run away from the country are only few of the instances.

In this circumstance, I feel like helpless when I read political parties and their leaders being vocal about achieving economic growth at any cost. All of the political parties in their recent election manifesto have pledged of double-digit economic growth within a decade time but they have not mentioned anything in substance, for instance, about how they are going to achieve it. For Nepal to achieve the double digit growth in short span of time, it will have to follow the economic-growth-at-any-cost strategy which will surely bring in the corporations at some point of time which has proved to be fatal to societies economically, socially and environmentally.

We must understand that the idea of industrializing, for instance – agriculture, as the corporate wants us to do will be counter-productive. Even in case of India, it took about a decade for the problems regarding the hybrid and GMO seeds to reach the surface. In the first few years, there were increased crop yields and everyone – including farmers and governments – were happy about the ‘green revolution’. But the happiness was short lived; with the increasing number of years, the yields kept on decreasing and the debt rose resulting in to the ‘genocide’ of farmers. According to Vandana Shiva, the so called ‘green revolution’ of India was a master plan of the corporations to destroy farmers – the smallest producers left.

In short, something like corporation which is led only by profit should not be the made the basis of development. So, rather than pursuing the dream of double-digit growth with the involvement of life corroding corporations, Nepal should look for steady and sustainable kind of development. At this juncture, it is also very important to convince people, obsessed towards economic growth, about the differences of growth and development. All of us must know that there is limit to growth but development is limitless and is not about big roads, tall buildings, high per-capita income and so forth rather is it well-being of individual and society as a whole. Development as the way we live can always be made better: more beautiful, more inventive, more creative, more efficient, more fulfilling and it does not require economic growth beyond a certain limit to do all the these things.

So, one of the starting points – besides government regulation that would make corporations socially and environmentally accountable – would be power devolution to smallest unit of administration which will empower people and make them able to decide the kind of development they want for them.    

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sustainable Transportation

The idea behind sustainable transportation is to create an effective and efficient transportation system that ensures efficient mobility, affordability and reduced environmental impacts of the system. However, the growing nature of transportation needs and its dependence on fossil fuel amid the dangers of climate change make the present transportation system truly unsustainable, and it is high time we transformed it into something sustainable. 
Cut down on pollution
Thus, the urgency to cut down on the emission of carbon dioxide - one of the greenhouse gases - by 50-80 per cent until 2050 has also brought the idea of sustainable transportation into limelight because the present transportation system of the world is based on fossil fuel and is solely responsible for 20 - 25 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. 
Attempts have been made, both by citizens and governments, in different parts of the world to make the transition towards sustainable transportation possible. At the moment, fuel efficient vehicles and a car sharing culture are being used and promoted. Also, private vehicles are being discouraged by imposing heavy taxes on fossil fuels and even on vehicles. A transport system based on a renewable source of energy like solar power or electricity and, most importantly, an efficient public transportation system are advised for the transition. 
Guangzhou, a city in south China’s Guangdong province, has transformed into a city with a sustainable transportation system with a world-class Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that integrates cycle lanes and metro stations. It won the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award created by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which proves that transformation to a sustainable transport system is possible even in big cities. 
In this context, the concept of sustainable transportation is an important issue to be discussed in Nepal as well, especially at a time when roads are being widened in the Kathmandu Valley due to growing traffic congestion. Yes, it’s true that Nepal’s contribution to the global carbon emission is negligible (0.025 per cent of the world total), but our carbon emission is sure to increase as Nepal enters the much-awaited phase of industrialisation. 
Amidst the dire situation that has been presented to the world because of the complexities of climate change and at a time when every country in the world is setting individual targets to reduce its carbon emission following the COP 19 meeting in Warsaw, wouldn’t it be wise on the part of Nepal to think ahead of time and start focusing towards a sustainable transportation system? 
In addition, there are other reasons and incentives why we must embark on the journey of a sustainable transportation system. Our dependence on fossil fuel imports and the hue and cry seen in the streets every time the smooth flow of fuel is obstructed are other reasons. It is essential that we decrease our dependence on oil, on which we spent more than a billion dollars in 2010-11. Even a one per cent saving of the amount would help us carry out essential development activities in needy parts of the country. Moreover, decreasing imports of petroleum products - 20% of total imports - would help decrease our trade deficit with India and other countries.
News about corruption and misuse of subsidy, which is often the case with Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), is another reason why we must opt for sustainable transportation. Similarly, the traffic congestion, particularly in Kathmandu, no more makes it an easy city to travel around; a lot of time is wasted in the traffic jams even when we are commuting only a short distance. 
Moreover, public transportation, which is a part of sustainable transportation, is not efficient. And it’s even more difficult for women to use public transportation given the news of molestation in the congested and unregulated public buses and mini-buses. 
It’s true that transformation to sustainable transportation requires a lot of investment, in terms of both time and money for research and development of technology, and for building the infrastructure required to set up a good public transportation system. Given the poor economic condition of Nepal, transition towards sustainable transportation is even more difficult. 
But, there is a way out, which does not require a lot of investment in infrastructure and technological invention – the bicycle. Cycling is something that is affordable for all Nepalese and it, to some extent, can decrease our overdependence on fossil fuels besides cutting down on environmental pollution. 
Moreover, it is healthier to cycle. With a little bit of planning and promotion, the way forward could well be the two wheeler rather the other smoky engines. However, I must not be misunderstood to be advocating cycling against other kinds of transportation; applicability is always an important factor. 
Cycle lanes
On the part of the government, it has to make cycling a pleasant and easy experience by building cycling lanes, well demarcated from the roads, which will ensure risk-free cycling. However, the ideal would be to build cycle lanes separated from roads meant for fossil engines. Cycle lanes, a little away from the roads and trees along it can inspire even the non-cyclers to take up cycling for moral, societal, environmental, economic incentives attached to it. Experiences have shown that cycling has increased with the provision of good cycling facilities. 
Recently there was news in the media that the under construction Baneswor-Tin Kune road will have 2.5 m wide cycle lanes on both sides. This is indeed great news and, of course, the first and positive step towards the right path. Finally, in the context of Nepal, cycling has to be developed as our first step towards transition to sustainable transportation to ensure greener and more efficient transportation.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Globalization: Stiglitz Vs. Patel

Patel has not used the word – Globalization – a single time in his book. However, from the impression, it is easily understood that he is against it. Unlike Stiglitz, who believed on trade as a leverage point to march towards affluence, Patel is close to a theory of development called ‘Post Development’ which opines that there is no one path towards development but there are many. This is where Patel set his belief on the ‘commons’ bring in the idea of ‘value’ to solve the economic, social and environmental problems the world is facing at present.

Nevertheless, both, Patel and Stiglitz, would have agreed on the point that the market like the way it is working is really problematic and cannot solve the economic, social and environmental problems that the world is facing now. Both of them seem to have similar way of understanding the world’s problem. For example, both of them think free market, Multi National Corporations (MNCs), practice of democracy, etc have not been functioning in the way it is theoretically perceived to.

But, they have their kinds of solution to the same problem. Stiglitz is a true Keynesian and believes that capitalism (in his case, globalization) with more democracy, mutual understanding and respect would solve the problem. However, Patel think that there are problems in the ideology (capitalism) and advocates the role of commons in solving the problem. Unlike Stiglitz, who advocates for a regulated market as a solution, Patel thinks that both, privatization and regulation, can’t be the solutions. He rather, wants it be solved by ‘commons’ and in the bottom-up style.