How the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Problem Was Jump-Started in 2007 Towards its 2015 Solution: A Case Study of Academic Impact on Policy

How the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Problem Was Jump-Started in 2007 Towards its 2015 Solution: A Case Study of Academic Impact on Policy

by

Subroto Roy, with Brendan Whyte

Progress on the complex problem of India-Bangladesh enclaves started slightly in 1958 and especially 1974, then came to be stalled completely.  In May 2007 press reports said a joint delegation was doing some survey work.

That same month, I as Contributing Editor at The Statesman newspaper (biding my time away from a corrupted academia) stumbled on the excellent doctoral work done by a young researcher in Australia on what seemed at the time the impossibly intractable problem of India-Bangladesh enclaves.

I wrote to the newspaper’s Editor on 9 May 2007,

Dear Ravi, You may know that there is an incredibly complex problem between India and Bangladesh relating to enclaves between them, some dating back to Cooch Behar and Mughal enclaves 200 years ago. An Australian researcher named Brendan Whyte at the Univ of Melbourne has done the definitive study of the problem. I think we should invite him to produce a 2000-2500 word two parter on his work which would be very helpful to both governments and to public discussion. If you agree, I can write to him and invite him or you can do so directly. I will have to find his email. Regards Suby

I enclosed a published abstract of Whyte’s work:

“Waiting for the Esquimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh. Whyte, Dr Brendan (2002) “Waiting for the Esquimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh” School of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Melbourne

“Enclaves are defined as a fragment of one country totally surrounded by one other. A list of the world’s current enclaves and a review of the literature about them reveals a geographical bias that has left enclaves outside western Europe almost untouched. This bias is particularly noticeable in the almost complete absence of information on the Cooch Behar enclaves, along Bangladesh’s northern border with India. The Cooch Behar enclaves number almost 200. This total includes about two dozen counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves), and the world’s only counter-counter-enclave. Together, these enclaves represent 80% of the total number of enclaves existing in the world since the 1950s, and have been at the centre of Indo-East Pakistani and then Indo-Bangladeshi boundary disputes since Cooch Behar acceded to India in 1949.

The incredibly complex Cooch Behar sector of the Indo-Bangladesh boundary is investigated in detail for the first time, from historical, political and geographical perspectives. The history of the enclaves is traced, from their origin c.1713 until the present, in an attempt to understand their genesis and survival under a succession of states, from the Kingdom of Cooch Behar and the Mughal Empire in the 1700s, to Bangladesh and the Republic of India today. The difficulties of the enclaves’ existence for their residents and the two countries today is contrasted with their peaceful, albeit administratively inconvenient, existence until 1947, to prove that the enclaves themselves are not the cause of border tensions in the area, but are rather a focus for other cross-border disputes.

The current situation of the enclaves is described, highlighting the abandonment of the enclave residents by each country, which refuse to allow the other to administer its exclaves. India’s inability to implement a 1958 treaty with Pakistan, and its continued delay in ratifying a subsequent 1974 treaty with Bangladesh to exchange the enclaves is highlighted as the major factor impeding resolution of the enclave dispute. That the delays have been rooted in Indian internal politics is demonstrated. Highly disparate official and media reports as to the number, area and population of the enclaves are analysed to determine the true extent of the enclave problem, and the first ever large-scale map of the enclaves is published, locating and naming each enclave.”

The Statesman‘s Editor agreed, and I went about trying to locate Dr Whyte. I think I phoned Australia, asked after him, and learnt he was a New Zealander teaching at a university in Thailand.  On 10 May, I wrote to his former department head, Ian Rutherfurd:

Dear Dr Rutherfurd, I am Contributing Editor at The Statesman of Calcutta and New Delhi, and would like to be in touch with your colleague Brendon Whyte but there is no email for him at your site. Please tell him we much wish him to write a two-part article on the editorial page (over two days) for us of less than 2500 words in total on his important research on the India-Bangladesh enclaves. There would be a relatively tiny honorarium probably from the Editor but a large impact on policy and public discussion in both countries. The Statesman is India’s oldest and most eminent newspaper. It may be seen at http://www.thestatesman.net and I am to be found at http://www.independentindian.com Many thanks,  Subroto Roy, PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London), Contributing Editor

Brendan Whyte replied the same day:

Dear Dr Roy, I have received your message, and am honoured to be asked to write a piece for your paper. I now work in Thailand. Are there any further details regarding this assignment in addition to your information below? For example, is there a deadline, and if so, when? Do you want/can you accept maps/photos and if so how to send them to you? Can the text be sent to you be email or do you prefer a printed version instead of/in addition to an email? Regarding email should the text be in the body of an email or do you prefer an attachment in Word/RTF or other format? Do you prefer a Word document, or should the text be in the body of an email Thank you very much Brendan Whyte, PhD, Faculty of Management Science,Ubon Ratchathani University, THAILAND

I wrote back the same day

Dear Dr Whyte, Many thanks for the quick reply, and our thanks to your colleagues for locating you. The Statesman’s editorial page is as influential a place as there can be in serious Indian public discussion, though I have to say there is far too little such discussion in the country. At my suggestion, the Editor has invited a 2500 word two-part article (over two days); I have said you may have done the definitive work in the area. I know nothing of the subject and am reluctant to suggest any further guidelines, and leave to you to say what you wish once you get a sense of the audience and likely impact. I have in recent months published numerous special articles in The Statesman, and these may be seen at http://www.independentindian.com to give you a sense of the kind of quality you may aim at — though certainly we are a newspaper and not a technical journal. Regarding graphs, each article would have an illustration a few inches square and if you felt you could squeeze the relevant data into two such articles for the two days it would be excellent. Do drop by Calcutta when you can. The honorarium will be a few thousand rupees I expect though the Editor has not specified it yet. No there is no time rush; I accidentally found your work through a wordpress.com blog on strange maps. On second thoughts, if your articles generated invitations from geography departments in India or other invitations to give lectures on the subject, that too would be a worthwhile aim. Best regards Suby Roy

Brendan sent his proposed article a month later in June.

I replied:

Hello, I have reduced it by 300 words without reducing any substance. I hope you may agree. Can you please try to reduce another 200 words, eg of the Belgian/Dutch case? I normally don’t allow anyone to touch my stuff so if you would like to try to reduce it all yourself, that’s fine. Also, 198 is not equal to 106+91+3+1. Please send all the graphics you may think suitable, and people here will try to figure out what to use. It may all go on one day on the Op-Ed page, I have no iodea what the Editor may decide. Also add your PhD University Thanks for this. The work is excellent and I hope it brings you the publicity you deserve. Suby Roy

Brendan sent his final draft on 16 July 2007

Hi Suby, My apologies that this has taken me so long, but the teaching year has been so busy! I have reduced it to 2274 words, about 10% below your limit of 2500. It is attached as a Word file, and appended below as plain text. I hope to send some illustrations separately in the next day or two. Let me know if the revised article is ok or not. Thanks, Brendan

I wrote to the Editor again the same day:

Subject: India-Bangladesh Enclaves: A Major Foreign Policy Problem Solved

Dear Ravi, Apropos our correspondence two months ago, Dr Brendan Whyte has at our request produced an excellent analysis of one of the trickiest and longest-standing problems between India and Bangladesh, viz. enclaves. Dr Whyte is a political geographer from New Zealand who worked on this subject for his doctoral thesis at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He apparently teaches in Thailand at present. By publishing this, we will be doing the MEA a very big favour, besides of course contributing to an important yet neglected public problem relevant to Eastern India. I recommend it for a Saturday night-Sunday night two-parter, rather than the Perspective page, given its close factual basis. Sincerely, Suby.

I wrote to Brendan:

Hello, Your article looks to me first-rate. The basis of a Government White Paper on this side or that. I have forwarded it to the Editor with my recommendation. Please send me any illustrations asap, as he may go with it any day though likely not before the weekend. Best wishes SR

Brendan Whyte’s 16 July 2007 final draft was this:

“The Enclave Problem: India and Bangladesh can and must solve this 300 year problem!

There are 198 “enclaves” (chhit-mahals) between India and Bangladesh. Cooch Behar district has 106 enclaves in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh has 92 enclaves in India: 88 in Cooch Behar, 3 in Jalpaiguri, and 1 between Cooch Behar and Assam’s Dhubri district. The enclaves vary from clusters of villages to individual fields. The smallest Indian enclave may be Panisala, only 0.1093 ha; the smallest Bangladeshi enclave is Upan Chowki Bhajni #24 at 0.2870 ha. The largest are India’s Balapara Khagrabari at 25.95 sq. km, and Bangladesh’s 18.68 sq. km Dahagram-Angarpota. The 198 enclaves also include 3 Indian and 21 Bangladeshi counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves). India also possesses the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: a 0.69 ha jute field inside a Bangladeshi enclave inside an Indian enclave inside Bangladesh! Enclave populations-sizes are unknown. The last censuses to include enclaves were in 1951, although the Pakistani enumeration was incomplete. The population today is probably under 100,000 persons in total, 60% living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, the rest in Bangladeshi enclaves in India.

The enclaves are 300 years old, originating during the Mughal wars against Cooch Behar in the late 1600s. A treaty was concluded in 1711 in which the Mughals obtained three chaklas from Cooch Behar, but the Subahdar of Bengal rejected the treaty and forced Cooch Behar to cede further lands in 1713, reducing it to about its present borders. This second treaty is the origin of the enclaves: as in feudal Europe, the holdings of kings and their vassals were not contiguous wholes but rather a patchwork of land parcels, so the ceded chaklas included lands inside the unceded areas and vice versa. The East India Company fixed the Bengal-Cooch Behar boundary about 1773, and by 1814 noted that the enclaves were safe havens for bandits. Yet the Company itself created more enclaves in 1817 when it adjudicated a territorial dispute between Cooch Behar and Bhutan, creating Cooch Behari enclaves in then-Bhutanese territory (now Alipar Duar district of Jalpaiguri). These enclaves remained when the British annexed the Bhutanese lands in 1865.

The British quashed the bandit menace but proliferation of liquor, ganja and opium shops in the enclaves became an excise problem between Bengal and Cooch Behar. After discussions, the main boundary of Cooch Behar became the customs and excise boundary. All Cooch Behar enclaves in British India fell under British excise control while all British enclaves in Cooch Behar fell under Cooch Behari excise control. This practical solution to the problem in hand left the sovereignty of the enclaves intact.

A full exchange of enclaves was suggested by the British in the early 1930s, to reduce the costs of the upcoming survey and demarcation of the Cooch Behar boundary but the idea was dropped in face of strong local objections, and all the enclaves were surveyed and demarcated with pillars by the late 1930s.

Partition and independence in 1947, and the subsequent accession of Cooch Behar to India in 1949, elevated the enclaves to the international level. Initially this was unproblematic, with India and Pakistan concluding agreements on cross-border trade and movement in the enclave areas. Censuses in 1951 included the enclaves. But Pakistan’s unilateral 1952 introduction of visas requirements, and immediate Indian reciprocation sealed the fate of the enclave dwellers. High-level politics subordinated the needs of enclave dwellers on both sides.

Full exchange was again agreed upon by the 1958 Nehru-Noon Accord, and this was reiterated in modified form in the 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement between India and Bangladesh (Bangladesh would keep its largest enclave, Dahagram-Angarpota, to guarantee access to which, India would lease it a short corridor. But a succession of mainly Indian legal challenges regarding the constitutionality of both accords prevented implementation until 1992, when the Tin Bigha corridor was finally opened. The exchange of the remaining enclaves, agreed in 1958 and 1974 and cleared of legal challenged by 1990 remains unimplemented, despite constant Bangladeshi calls for India to implement the agreements fully.

Meanwhile, since the 1950s the chhit mahalis, or enclave dwellers, have been effectively rendered stateless by the two governments abandoning responsibility for them.

India’s fencing of its border with Bangladesh has added a physical dimension to the political isolation of its own enclaves. The chhit mahalis on both sides are unable to vote, to attend schools or markets, to be helped by NGOs working in either country, or to seek police help or medical attention. Each country claims its original citizens have been forced out of their enclaves by the population of the other country surrounding them, and so each country refuses to extend its governmental responsibilities to the supposed invaders. Simultaneously each denies it can legally assist the populations of the other country’s enclaves inside its own territory. Abandoned by both sides, the chhit mahalis struggle to survive without the ability to protect their rights, homes or lives. Bandits once more make use of the enclaves to escape the jurisdiction of the surrounding state.

The problem is one of India and Bangladesh’s own making but it is not unique. Since 1996, when the Lithuanian enclave of Pogiry in Belarus (population: three) was exchanged for equivalent land, 259 enclaves have remained on the world map. Besides India-Bangladesh, there are 61 enclaves affecting 21 countries as owners or hosts. Most consist of a single farm, or a village and its surrounding farmland, inside a neighbouring country. Some approach the complexity of the Cooch Behar enclaves, such as 30 enclaves (including 8 counter-enclaves) belonging to Belgium and the Netherlands in the village of Baarle (population 8500).

The Belgian-Dutch enclaves originated in a feudal agreement c.1198, and emerged at the international level when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The enclaves were an annoyance to customs, police and foreign ministry officials; but arrangements allowed goods to pass into and through the enclaves, paying tax only if they were destined for the other country or its enclaves. Nevertheless, smuggling brought prosperity to a village on the economic and political periphery of both countries. Today the village park boasts a statue honouring the smugglers. The economic union of Belgium and the Netherlands and the subsequent European Union have eliminated the profitabililty of smuggling without the need for policing or fences. Differences in tax rates and national laws remain, so that some types of business, such as sex or fireworks shops can only operate in one country and its enclaves, and not in the other. Yet the village happily contains both sorts of shops, each in the permitting country, but serving customers from both. Different planning laws, educational syllabii, post offices, town halls, and churches exist side by side. Several businesses and houses straddle the enclave boundaries, enjoying two postal address and two telephone connections. The policemen from each country share an office. The fire departments work together with special hose-coupling devices. Utilities, sewerage, road maintenance and rubbish collection are conducted by one country or  he other for the population of both. Where a national law unduly inconveniences the enclaves, an exception is granted. Thus while Sunday shopping is illegal in the Netherlands, the shops in Baarle’s Dutch enclaves may open on Sundays to compete with the Belgian shops, and the village has a thriving Sunday market, drawing crowds from both countries. Before the Euro was introduced, all shopkeepers and government offices accepted both national currencies. Overall the village has boomed as a border market, increasingly tourism-oriented, marketing its enclaves as a tourist attraction. Without the enclaves Baarle would be a small unimportant village. The enclaves have allowed it to surpass its neighbouring villages in size and prosperity.

Other enclaves are often placed inside the customs, postal or telephone jurisdiction of the surrounding country. Switzerland tolerates a casino in the Italian tax-haven enclave of Campione d’Italia, on condition that Swiss citizens have a daily betting limit. Germany’s village of Büsingen, also inside Switzerland, is inside the Swiss customs and currency area, not that of the EU. Passage from the UAE into the Omani enclave of Madha and into the UAE’s counter-enclave of Dahwa inside remain free of controls for locals and foreigners alike. On Cyprus, locals from two villages enclaved inside the British territory (and military base) of Dhekelia move about freely, and farm land under both British and Cypriot sovereignty.

What can India and Bangladesh learn from these foreign enclave cases? They have three main options. The worst is to maintain the status quo, each country refusing to properly govern its own enclaves while also forbidding the other to govern its enclaves across the intervening territory. This “dog-in-the-manger” attitude has reduced the enclaves to poverty and despair, countenanced violence and oppression, fostered corruption, and encourages the problems of criminal dens and drug-cultivation in the enclaves.

The second option is an enclave exchange. Inhabitants should be given two independent options concerning citizenship and relocation. For up to two years after the enclave exchange, they should have the option to choose whether to retain their current citizenship or to become citizens of the other country. They should also have the independent option to remain owning and farming the land they occupy after its tranfer to the other country, or of being resettled on land of equivalent value, size and productive capacity in their original country. There is no reason why they should not be able to choose to stay in situ and retain their old citizenship, nor why they could not hold both citizenships: dual nationality is an increasingly common occurrence worldwide.

The problems with this policy include a requirement for equivalent land for the resettlement of those wishing to relocate, and the need for each country to recognise the inhabitants of its enclaves as its own citizens before exchange. An imbalance in the numbers on each side desiring resettlement will cause difficulties. But it would only repeat the injustices of the 1947 partition if an exchange was made without addressing the needs of the enclave inhabitants, and allowing them some input into the process. The enclaves also form the world’s most complicated boundary, and include the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: so another problem with exchange is heritage loss. Finally, an exchange of enclaves is also an admittance of failure.

Enclave exchange will remove a cartographic anomaly but it will not solve the underlying tensions in bilateral relations. The enclaves are not a problem in themselves but are simply a focus point for distrust and tension created elsewhere. Exchange may not improve the lives of the chhit mahalis, who may end up marginalised, landless and dispossessed by the exchange process. Even if able to remain on their lands, they will still be living in an economically and politically peripheral location. Therefore any exchange should be entered into only with the will of, and in full consultation with, the people involved, so as not to become a further injustice.

A third policy is to retain the enclaves but improve their situation. The 30 enclaves of Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle, along with other enclaves of Europe and the Middle East, are a good model for this. The advantages are many. It would put the enclave dwellers in charge of their own destiny, leaving them on their lands, but able to engage fully as citizens of their own country.

The distances between each country and its own enclaves are small, often less than one kilometre, rarely more than two or three. Designated access routes, for foot, cart and motorised traffic, could be easily set up and policed. This would allow enclave dwellers to traverse the intervening country to reach the nearest schools and markets of their own country. The local district commissioners should be granted authority to meet frequently and at will to discuss any problems and work out local solutions, without having to refer to New Delhi or Dhaka. Officials such as teachers, doctors, district officials, electoral officers, census enumerators and police should also be permitted visa-free access on demand. Which country’s currency, excise laws, and postal system, electricity and other services are used in an enclave should be based on principles of efficiency, not on chauvinistic nationalism.

There is no reason why exchange of enclaves for customs and excise purposes made in the 1930s could not be readopted. Indian enclaves could be alcohol-free like surrounding Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi enclaves could be prohibited from slaughtering cows as in India. This is no more a threat to the sovereignty of either country than is the differing alcohol and tax regimes of the Indian states and territories. The unique border situation of the enclaves would encourage tourism to this forgotten region in both countries, offering new economic possibilities to an area devoid of industrial capability and development.

India and Bangladesh are not alone in wrestling with the problem of enclaves. Similar problems have been solved in most other enclaves around the world. The long-delayed exchange of the Cooch Behar enclaves, mooted since 1910 and agreed upon in 1958 may simplify the border itself, but it is unlikely to improve bilateral relations, assist economic development of the area or improve the lives of the enclave dwellers. The needs and desires of the chhit-mahalis must be taken into account, but action must be taken to remove their current effective statelessness. The examples of successful enclaves elsewhere in the world suggest that even if relations between two countries are not completely harmonious, enclaves can exist and be beneficial to the economic potential of the area and the prosperity of its inhabitants. These two aspects are the raison d’etre of government, hence it behoves the governments concerned to ensure that any solution to the enclave problem addresses these issues and not merely cartographic simplification, which may only cement the 1947 division more firmly.”

Brendan’s article was published in two parts on Sunday and Monday  July 22 2007 &  July 23 2007 with very slight alteration –except the splendid maps he had sent failed to be published!

“The Enclave Problem India, Bangladesh can and must solve this 300-year-old issue! By BRENDANWHYTE

There are 198 “enclaves” (chhit-mahals) between India and Bangladesh. Cooch Behar district has 106 enclaves in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh has 92 enclaves in India: 88 in Cooch Behar, 3 in Jalpaiguri, and 1 between Cooch Behar and Assam’s Dhubri district. The enclaves vary from clusters of villages to individual fields. The smallest Indian enclave may be Panisala, only 0.1093 ha; the smallest Bangladeshi enclave is Upan Chowki Bhajni #24 at 0.2870 ha. The largest are India’s Balapara Khagrabari at 25.95 sq. km, and Bangladesh’s 18.68 sq. km Dahagram-Angarpota. The 198 enclaves also include 3 Indian and 21 Bangladeshi counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves). India also possesses the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: a 0.69 ha jute field inside a Bangladeshi enclave inside an Indian enclave inside Bangladesh! Enclave population-sizes are unknown. The last census to include enclaves was conducted in 1951, although the Pakistani enumeration was incomplete. The population today is probably under 100,000 in total, 60% living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, the rest in Bangladeshi enclaves in India. The enclaves are 300 years old, originating during the Mughal wars against Cooch Behar in the late 1600s. A treaty was concluded in 1711 in which the Mughals obtained three chaklas from Cooch Behar, but the Subahdar of Bengal rejected the treaty and forced Cooch Behar to cede further lands in 1713, reducing it to about its present borders. This second treaty is the origin of the enclaves: as in feudal Europe, the holdings of kings and their vassals were not contiguous wholes but rather a patchwork of land parcels, so the ceded chaklas included lands inside the unceded areas and vice versa. The East India Company fixed the Bengal-Cooch Behar boundary about 1773, and by 1814 noted that the enclaves were safe havens for bandits. Yet the Company itself created more enclaves in 1817 when it adjudicated a territorial dispute between Cooch Behar and Bhutan, creating Cooch Behari enclaves in then-Bhutanese territory (now Alipurduar district of Jalpaiguri). These enclaves remained when the British annexed the Bhutanese lands in 1865. The British quashed the bandit menace but proliferation of liquor, ganja and opium shops in the enclaves became an excise problem between Bengal and Cooch Behar. After discussions, the main boundary of Cooch Behar became the customs and excise boundary. All Cooch Behar enclaves in British India fell under British excise control, while all British enclaves in Cooch Behar fell under Cooch Behari excise control. This practical solution to the problem in hand left the sovereignty of the enclaves intact. A full exchange of enclaves was suggested by the British in the early 1930s, to reduce the costs of the upcoming survey and demarcation of the Cooch Behar boundary but the idea was dropped in face of strong local objections, and all the enclaves were surveyed and demarcated with pillars by the late 1930s. Partition and independence in 1947, and the subsequent accession of Cooch Behar to India in 1949, elevated the enclaves to the international level. Initially this was unproblematic, with India and Pakistan concluding agreements on cross-border trade and movement in the enclave areas. The 1951 census included the enclaves. But Pakistan’s unilateral 1952 introduction of visa requirements, and immediate Indian reciprocation sealed the fate of the enclave dwellers. High-level politics subordinated the needs of enclave dwellers on both sides. Full exchange was again agreed upon by the 1958 Nehru-Noon accord, and this was reiterated in a modified form in the 1974 Indira-Mujib agreement between India and Bangladesh (Bangladesh would keep its largest enclave, Dahagram-Angarpota, to guarantee access to which, India would lease it a short corridor). But a succession of mainly Indian legal challenges regarding the constitutionality of both accords prevented implementation until 1992, when the Tin Bigha corridor was finally opened. The exchange of the remaining enclaves, agreed in 1958 and 1974 and cleared of legal challenges by 1990 remains unimplemented, despite constant Bangladeshi calls for India to implement the agreements fully. Meanwhile, since the 1950s the chhit mahalis, or enclave dwellers, have been effectively rendered stateless by the two governments abandoning responsibility for them. India’s fencing of its border with Bangladesh has added a physical dimension to the political isolation of its own enclaves. The chhit mahalis on both sides are unable to vote, to attend schools or markets, to be helped by NGOs working in either country, or to seek police help or medical attention. Each country claims its original citizens have been forced out of their enclaves by the population of the other country surrounding them, and so each country refuses to extend its governmental responsibilities to the supposed invaders. Simultaneously each denies it can legally assist the populations of the other country’s enclaves inside its own territory. Abandoned by both sides, the chhit mahalis struggle to survive without the ability to protect their rights, homes or lives. Bandits once more make use of the enclaves to escape the jurisdiction of the surrounding state. The problem is one of India and Bangladesh’s own making but it is not unique. Since 1996, when the Lithuanian enclave of Pogiry in Belarus (population: three) was exchanged for equivalent land, 259 enclaves have remained on the world map. Besides India-Bangladesh, there are 61 enclaves affecting 21 countries as owners or hosts. Most consist of a single farm, or a village and its surrounding farmland, inside a neighbouring country. Some approach the complexity of the Cooch Behar enclaves, such as 30 enclaves (including 8 counter-enclaves) belonging to Belgium and the Netherlands in the village of Baarle (population 8500). The Belgian-Dutch enclaves originated in a feudal agreement c.1198, and emerged at the international level when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The enclaves were an annoyance to customs, police and foreign ministry officials; but arrangements allowed goods to pass into and through the enclaves, paying tax only if they were destined for the other country or its enclaves. Nevertheless, smuggling brought prosperity to a village on the economic and political periphery of both countries. Today the village park boasts a statue honouring the smugglers. The economic union of Belgium and the Netherlands and the subsequent European Union have eliminated the profitabililty of smuggling without the need for policing or fences. Different town halls and churches exist side by side. Several businesses and houses straddle the enclave boundaries, enjoying two postal addresses and two telephone connections. The policemen from each country share an office. The fire departments work together with special hose-coupling devices. Utilities, sewerage, road maintenance and rubbish collection are conducted by one country or the other for the population of both. Where a national law unduly inconveniences the enclaves, an exception is granted. Thus while Sunday shopping is illegal in the Netherlands, the shops in Baarle’s Dutch enclaves may open on Sundays to compete with the Belgian shops, and the village has a thriving Sunday market, drawing crowds from both countries. Before the Euro was introduced, all shopkeepers and government offices accepted both national currencies. Overall the village has boomed as a border market, increasingly tourism-oriented, marketing its enclaves as a tourist attraction. Without the enclaves Baarle would be a small unimportant village. The enclaves have allowed it to surpass its neighbouring villages in size and prosperity. Other enclaves are often placed inside the customs, postal or telephone jurisdiction of the surrounding country. Switzerland tolerates a casino in the Italian tax-haven enclave of Campione d’Italia, on condition that Swiss citizens have a daily betting limit. Germany’s village of Büsingen, also inside Switzerland, is inside the Swiss customs and currency area, not that of the EU. Passage from the UAE into the Omani enclave of Madha and into the UAE’s counter-enclave of Dahwa inside remain free of controls for locals and foreigners alike. On Cyprus, locals from two villages enclaved inside the British territory (and military base) of Dhekelia move about freely, and farm land under both British and Cypriot sovereignty. (To be concluded)

The enclave problem~II What can India and Bangladesh learn from these foreign enclave cases? They have three main options. The worst is to maintain the status quo, each country refusing to properly govern its own enclaves while also forbidding the other to govern its enclaves across the intervening territory. This “dog-in-the-manger” attitude has reduced the enclaves to poverty and despair, countenanced violence and oppression, fostered corruption, and encouraged the problems of criminal dens and drug-cultivation in the enclaves. The second option is an enclave exchange. Inhabitants should be given two independent options concerning citizenship and relocation. For up to two years after the enclave exchange, they should have the option to choose whether to retain their current citizenship or to become citizens of the other country. They should also have the independent option to remain owning and farming the land they occupy after its transfer to the other country, or of being resettled on land of equivalent value, size and productive capacity in their original country.

Dual nationality There is no reason why they should not be able to choose to stay in situ and retain their old citizenship, nor why they could not hold both citizenships: dual nationality is an increasingly common occurrence worldwide. The problems with this policy include a requirement for equivalent land for the resettlement of those wishing to relocate, and the need for each country to recognise the inhabitants of its enclaves as its own citizens before exchange. An imbalance in the numbers on each side desiring resettlement will cause difficulties. But it would only repeat the injustices of the 1947 Partition if an exchange was made without addressing the needs of the enclave inhabitants, and allowing them some input into the process. The enclaves also form the world’s most complicated boundary, and include the world’s only counter-counter-enclave: so another problem with exchange is heritage loss. Finally, an exchange of enclaves is also an admittance of failure. Enclave exchange will remove a cartographic anomaly but it will not solve the underlying tensions in bilateral relations. The enclaves are not a problem in themselves but are simply a focus point for distrust and tension created elsewhere. Exchange may not improve the lives of the chhit mahalis, who may end up marginalised, landless and dispossessed by the exchange process. Even if able to remain on their lands, they will still be living in an economically and politically peripheral location. Therefore any exchange should be entered into only with the will of, and in full consultation with, the people involved, so as not to become a further injustice. A third policy is to retain the enclaves but improve their situation. The 30 enclaves of Belgium and the Netherlands at Baarle, along with other enclaves of Europe and the Middle East, are a good model for this. The advantages are many. It would put the enclave dwellers in charge of their own destiny, leaving them on their lands, but able to engage fully as citizens of their own country. The distances between each country and its own enclaves are small, often less than one kilometre, rarely more than two or three. Designated access routes, for foot, cart and motorised traffic, could be easily set up and policed. This would allow enclave dwellers to traverse the intervening country to reach the nearest schools and markets of their own country. The local district commissioners should be granted authority to meet frequently and at will to discuss any problems and work out local solutions, without having to refer to New Delhi or Dhaka. Officials such as teachers, doctors, district officials, electoral officers, census enumerators and police should also be permitted visa-free access on demand. Which country’s currency, excise laws, and postal system, electricity and other services are used in an enclave should be based on principles of efficiency, not on chauvanistic nationalism. There is no reason why exchange of enclaves for customs and excise purposes made in the 1930s could not be readopted. Indian enclaves could be alcohol-free like surrounding Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi enclaves could be prohibited from slaughtering cows as in India. This is no more a threat to the sovereignty of either country than is the differing alcohol and tax regimes of the Indian states and territories. The unique border situation of the enclaves would encourage tourism to this forgotten region in both countries, offering new economic possibilities to an area devoid of industrial capability and development.

Economic potential

India and Bangladesh are not alone in wrestling with the problem of enclaves. Similar problems have been solved in most other enclaves around the world. The long-delayed exchange of the Cooch Behar enclaves, mooted since 1910 and agreed upon in 1958 may simplify the border itself, but it is unlikely to improve bilateral relations, assist economic development of the area or improve the lives of the enclave dwellers. The needs and desires of the chhit-mahalis must be taken into account, but action must be taken to remove their current effective statelessness. The examples of successful enclaves elsewhere in the world suggest that even if relations between two countries are not completely harmonious, enclaves can exist and be beneficial to the economic potential of the area and the prosperity of its inhabitants. These two aspects are the raison d’etre of government, hence it behooves the governments concerned to ensure that any solution to the enclave problem addresses these issues and not merely cartographic simplification, which may only cement the 1947 division more firmly.

(Concluded)”

I wrote to him immediately Hello, You were published in yesterday’s Sunday Statesman and continued in this morning’s edition, as the special article on the editorial page. I am enclosing the text as it appears on the Internet edition. Through some apparent editorial mishap, the illustrattions you sent never got published, and two photographs were used. I think you could follow it up with an invited talk in Kolkata. If you wish, I can look into that possibility. Send me a cv if you are interested and I shall see what I can do. Re working with me on the China-India problem, a visit from you might enable us to talk further. I am introducing you separately to the Editor’s assistant who should help with copies, money etc. Best wishes Subroto Roy

All that was between May and July 2007.

On 6 September 2011, Dr Manmohan Singh as India’s PM on a visit to Bangladesh apparently signed what the India’s Foreign Ministry calls the “2011 Protocol”. And now a few days ago, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with the agreement of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, have all signed a comprehensive landmark “Land Boundary Agreement” between India and Bangladesh, solving the 300 year problem!  All’s well that ends well…

And yes, Excellencies, PM Sheikha Hasina, PM Narendra Modi, former PM Manmohan Singh, CM Mamata Banerjee: re the Land Boundary Agreement, Dr Brendan Whyte and I and The Statesman newspaper may all take a bow after you…

Nota Bene:  The Statesman for some reason did not publish along with Dr Whyte’s excellent article these important maps which are now published here below for the first time:

Eastmainwest

A personal note: The words “enclave” and “No Man’s Land” entered my vocabulary due to my father back in January 1965 when we crossed from India through No Man’s Land into what was then East Pakistan. He was with India’s diplomatic post in Dhaka and during the 1965 war would be acting head while his friend G Parthasarathi was head of Mission in Karachi [Correction November 2015: Parthasarathi left shortly before the war, replaced in August 1965 by Kewal Singh]. Half a dozen years later in the summer of 1971, I was a schoolboy volunteer in West Dinajpur helping in small ways the innumerable refugees who had poured across the porous boundary with East Dinajpur during the tyranny West Pakistan had unleashed in East Pakistan; there was effectively no boundary distinction left then. I dedicate my part of this work to my late father MK Roy 1915-2012.

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My father after presenting his credentials to President Kekkonen

On 14 September 1973 my father presented his credentials as “Ambassadeur extraordinaire et plenepotentiaire de l’Inde” to the President of the Republic of Finland, His Excellency Urho Kekkonen (1900-1986).

My father’s career included a half dozen or so years spent with  Indian Oxygen and the Tatas in Jamshedpur (where he met my mother’s family), followed by a dozen years starting in 1942 with the Government of India (as a “Class I Grade 1 officer”) in the war-time Ministry of Supply and later the Ministry of Commerce, followed by little more than two decades in the new Indian Foreign Service.

He has been a man of aesthetic taste and good manners; looking back upon his foreign service career through postings in Tehran, Ottawa, Colombo, Dhaka, Stockholm, Odessa, Paris and Helsinki, I think his aristocratic sensibility made him a “natural diplomat”.

(It is not a sensibility I have felt myself sharing much; he had wished me to follow in his footsteps but I rarely have wished to be diplomatic in my  pronouncements!)

There will be more of my father’s experiences here in due course, 

https://independentindian.com/life-of-mk-roy-19152012-indian-aristocrat-diplomat-birth-centenary-concludes-7-nov-2016/

especially during the early years of independent India, e.g. with Zafrullah Khan at Karachi airport in 1947, in the evacuation of Hindu refugees from Karachi during Partition, handling of the Indian diplomatic mission  in Dhaka during the 1965 war

https://independentindian.com/life-of-mk-roy-19152012-indian-aristocrat-diplomat-birth-centenary-concludes-7-nov-2016/india-pakistan-diplomacy-during-the-1965-war-the-mk-roy-files/

Land of my fathers: Why I am Indian

From Facebook:

 

Subroto Roy  says to Mr Tripathi: “An oath is an oath. For myself, my love for America, where I lived some 16 years, age 25-41, was enough for me to wish to become an American — if I did not have to abandon the land of my fathers which needed me perhaps more.”

 




see too https://independentindian.com/life-of-mk-roy-19152012-indian-aristocrat-diplomat-birth-centenary-concludes-7-nov-2016/


Of young and old

Subroto Roy said at Facebook on Jan 24 2010

“As we as infants and children need to be helped to find courage to face the start of life, we when very elderly can need to be helped to find courage to face life’s end.”

Carmichael visits Surendranath, 1916

The first Governor of Bengal after the 1912 reunification of Bengal and East Bengal was the Scottish Liberal politician Thomas-Gibson Carmichael, the first (and apparently last) Baron Carmichael. This is a photograph of a 1916 visit he paid to Surendranath Roy’s home at Behala,  Surendranath then being the Deputy President of the Bengal Legislative Council and  probably the most influential officially recognised political statesman in Bengal at the time.

Surendranath’s younger son, Manindranath, is the bespecaled and moustachioed young man in the middle holding the child. If the child is a two or three year old, it would be my father’s elder brother; if the date of the photograph is late in 1916 and the child is a one year old, it would be my father.

carmichael1916

The Roys of Behala 1928

roy28fnl1doc.jpg

This is a 1928 photo of the male members of the Roy Family of Behala, south of Calcutta, along with the children. Adult women would have been behind an effective “purdah”. The bearded patriarch in the middle is my great grandfather, the Hon’ble Surendra Nath Roy (1860-1929), an eminent statesman of Bengal of his time  https://independentindian.com/2008/06/17/surendranath-roy-1860-1929/ (We did not know until recently he was present and badly injured, along with Ardeshir Dalal, by Bhagat Singh’s bomb thrown in the Central Legislative Assembly on 8 April 1929 during the Simon Commission deliberations. He died seven months later.)

Surendranth was the eldest son of Rai Bahadur Umbik Churn Rai (1827-1902). The Golden Book of India published at the time of the Victoria Jubilee said Umbik was the twelfth descendant of one Raja Gajendra Narayan Rai, Rai-Raian, a finance official under the Great Mughal Jahangir.

Surendra Nath’s second son, my grandfather, Manindranath Roy, is seated second from the right in the second row with spectacles and moustache.

The bright lad fourth from the left in the last row would grow up to be my father.


The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art

The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art

by Subroto Roy

June 2001, Kolkata, India. First published at www..com on December 23 2002. First appearance in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2006. (Note, April 2007: this article is an example of how the Internet age has transformed meanings: before the Internet, to be published and to be printed referred to practically simultaneous events; but this article was published on the Internet almost four years before it came to be republished in print.)

 

 

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a manifold document; in reading it more than a dozen years after publication, what is brought to mind is the relation between art and criticism described by Lawrence and advertised by Leavis: ”We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon. A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself, which few critics are. A man with a paltry, impudent nature will never write anything but paltry, impudent criticism. And a man who is emotionally educated is rare as a phoenix…”

The sincere and vital emotions most obviously provoked by Rushdie’s book are nausea, anger and irritation.It appears at first sight an abusive, incoherent masquerade of a novel with little artistic value, a mere moneymaking vehicle for a preening, self-seeking author and his publisher.The decisions of the Republics of India and Pakistan to ban it for being gratuitously offensive to the religious sentiments of millions of people, or the finding against it of blasphemy by the Islamic authorities of Iran seem understandable.

Yet such an initial response may be followed by another very different set of sincere and vital emotions. Upon reflection and a second reading, it is possible to feel exhilaration, delight, even the calm of a Shia Muslim spiritual experience from the book. These may be accompanied by a conviction that Rushdie has produced a significant work of art even if he himself remains unaware of its nature. This kind of unusual and dichotomous critical experience needs to be explained. College professors around the world have been writing theoretical essays portraying Rushdie as a “magic realist” or some such oxymoron. The truth may be more prosaic: The Satanic Verses is nothing if it is not a second, perhaps definitive, autobiographical experiment in which Rushdie has attempted to reconcile himself with his own experiences, a task in which he has achieved at best partial success. It is as if he has tried to comprehend his own life as an English-speaking Indo-Pakistani Muslim in the Western world, and in that process the words of The Satanic Verses just came tumbling out.And there is little even a bitter enemy can say about one’s search for self-knowledge, especially on matters of religious belief.

The cover says The Satanic Verses is a novel; what may be called its superficial plot amounts to something a giggling adolescent might have written for an undergraduate essay. Here is its outline:

Once there were two young Muslim boys of Bombay, Najmuddin and Chamchawalla. N. is born poor and raised in the slums; from delivering tiffins he becomes a small-time and then a major screen idol of Hindi cinema, a kind of Muslim NTR/Bachan mixture. In his profligacy he has an affair with R. who later murders her young children and commits suicide because of her unrequited love for him; N. travels in an aeroplane to England which is blown up midair by Sikh hijackers at 30,000 ft; he falls unharmed to the ground, is found on the English coast by an old woman whose lover he becomes until her death; then he returns to a lovely Jewish girlfriend who seems to have no reason to want to be with him, he returns to India, murders the Jewish girlfriend and kills himself, all along being tormented by a notion he may have invited divine wrath for having wilfully eaten pork. In parallel, the other young Muslim boy, C. grows up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, is sexually molested by a dhoti-clad street-vendor, has peculiar and perverse parents and servants, is sent to a public school and University in England, ends up in London advertising, is on the same aeroplane which explodes in the sky, also falls unharmed to the ground and is found by the same old woman, but is taken in by British police and immigration authorities, and, most oddly, finds himself transmogrified gradually into a goat like being and then Satan himself, is forced by British police to eat his own goat-pellets, escapes to find refuge among a generous Bangladeshi family in London’s immigrant ghettos, is re-transformed into a human being again after his hatred becomes focussed on a single individual, his fellow Mumbaikari, Najmuddin. C attempts to avenge himself on N. for no particular reason except jealousy, yet N. saves his life and there is supposed to be a moral of good and evil there. C. also at some point acquires a splendid English wife who divorces him — again a woman whom we see no reason to want to be with a jerk like him (though we are not told he might have wanted her for the British passport). C. finally returns to Bombay, is reconciled with his dying father, meets up with an old girlfriend, and the book ends with these two being together.

This is not “magic realism”, it is palpably poor writing. If the superficial plot suffices to make The Satanic Verses a novel, then your or my singing in the shower suffices for us to be in grand opera.

Seen as an autobiographical experiment, however, the superficial plot begins, ever so slightly, to make sense as Rushdie appears himself as both Muslim boys whose lives are traced from Bombay to London and back. He is Najmuddin to the extent he torments himself throughout for having willfully violated Muslim practice

“his mouth full of unclean meat ”(p. 31);

in his relationship with at least one of Najmuddin’s three women, the Jewish girlfriend Allie; and perhaps more generally in his having

”managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ” (p.26)

Rushdie is Chamchawalla more obviously in having grown up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, been sent to school and university in England, gotten married to and divorced from an English woman named Pamela. Both Najmuddin and Chamchawalla are left with their fathers after their mothers’ early deaths, and Rushdie is original and most authentic in describing these father-son relationships where he appears to draw deeply on his own emotional life. There is a short delightful scene of him teaching his own son to ride a bicycle. Then he makes rare records of the terrible conflicts possible between fathers and adult sons:

(N.) “would understand how much the older man had resented him, and how important it was for the father to defeat the son and regain, thereby, his usurped primacy in the affections of his dead wife”. (p. 19)

(C.) “wrote his father a letter full of cruelty and anger, whose violence was of the type that exists only between fathers and sons, and which differs from that between daughters and mothers in that there lurks behind it the possibility of actual, jaw-breaking fisticuffs. “(p.47)

The son returns to India to be tenderly reconciled with the emaciated dying old man from whom he has been estranged:

”Abba, I came back because I didn’t want there to be trouble between us anymore.

That doesn’t matter any more. It’s forgotten, whatever it was.”

Whatever it was. Death makes family feuds seem petty and inconsequential in retrospect. The old man is just happy to see the boy, his own life, once again. The son unexpectedly finds in himself love, devotion and respect for the old man whom he had long feared and despised:

”First one falls in love with one’s father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too…. He is teaching me how to die… He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face…” (pp. 543 et. seq, italics original)

A child sees his parents initially as God-like beings said Sigmund Freud; an aspect of maturity arrives when the child begins to see them no longer as deities but as humans, warts and all. When Rushdie has applied himself to his own inner life and relationships with his father and his son, he delves into a vast pool of expressiveness, and, ever so briefly, discovers and establishes his artistry. His poignant reconciliation with a dying father is a small treasure.

Another episode worth notice in the superficial plot of The Satanic Verses has to do with the growth to maturity of the character of the young Bangladeshi-British adolescent, Mishal Sufyan, and her marriage to the white-fathered, Pakistani(?)-mothered Hanif Johnson. Their love signals fresh hope and new life in Britain’s grim immigrant neighbourhoods filled with fear and hatred. The race riots in England in 2001 could have been taken from a chapter of The Satanic Verses.Rushdie has been a self-conscious observer here as nice boys from RugbySchool don’t normally go slumming even if they are wogs themselves, yet even so the Indian preppie from Rugby or Harvard must still reconcile the continuous threads which bind him to the people cleaning the lavatories at Heathrow or pumping gas or running motels in America.

In parallel with this superficial plot, The Satanic Verses contains a theological dialectic mostly on the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, the faith in which Rushdie was born and raised. This is practically independent of the superficial plot, or at best the two have been clumsily pasted together. The link is once more Rushdie himself. While he appears as the main protagonists Najmuddin and Chamchawalla in the superficial plot, he makes a triple appearance in the theological treatise, at three different levels of Muslim doubt or faith.

At the greatest level of scepticism, Rushdie appears as the infidel poet and satirist Baal who gives his life to the cause of an absolute artistic and intellectual freedom, mocking Prophet Muhammad and The Quran, saying he recognizes no authority except his artistic Muse:

”A poet’s work (is to) name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep. “(p. 100)

Under the sword of his Muslim captors, Baal ends with “I’ve finished. Do what you want”; he is beheaded but dies a spiritually free unbroken man. Rushdie may have relied on Islamic legend here though his fellow Anglo-Pakistani, the social anthropologist Akbar Ahmed, has apologetically said that as a matter of historical fact: “The conquest of Makkah cost less than 30 lives…. The charge of those critics who accuse the Prophet of the (death) of a poet who wrote satirical verse… will not hold. An over-zealous Muslim infuriated by his verses set out to silence the poet.”

At a lesser level of scepticism or a greater level of Muslim belief, Rushdie appears in the theological dialectic as a fictional Salman Farsi, supposed to be the “calmest” (p. 107), and “most highly educated” (p. 377) of the Prophet’s intimate disciples. This character becomes in course of time a drunken apostate after starting to doubt the authenticity of The Quran as Divine Revelation, as well as the transcription of the Hadith. As a safety measure perhaps, Rushdie put in

”Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy” (p. 393).

But in real life the authorities of contemporary Iran were not amused or impressed by legal niceties as to whether young Salman sitting in England had renounced Islam or his Pakistani passport for a British one. In 1989 they roundly pronounced The Satanic Verses to be blasphemous to Islam and sentenced Rushdie to death in absentia, causing as we know a significant recent incident of international law.

Ironically, Rushdie`s experience since might have been scripted by himself:

”Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven.”

In response, Salman Farsi is

”unable to muster the smallest scrap of dignity, he blubbers whimpers pleads beats his breast abases himself” (p. 387)

and escapes death only by promising to denounce Baal, the idolatrous satirist. In real life Rushdie blubbered, whimpered, pleaded and abased himself to win a reprieve without avail. If the Iranian authorities have since reduced their hatred of him, it seems because they became bored and found him less consequential as time went by, not because of anything he said or did in repentance. In June 2001, Ayatollah Khatami, then President of Iran, said the blasphemy case was “closed”, and that Iran had always seen Rushdie`s book as part of a modern Western assault on Islam.

Yet one must be grateful the Iranian death sentence did not get carried out because there is evidence to reasonably conclude that, all things considered, Rushdie may well be innocent of blasphemous intent. Though he may be guilty of several literary crimes and misdemeanours, he may have been wrongly placed on Iran’s death row for a dozen years. The evidence suggests that what The Satanic Verses has attempted to be is a genuine Muslim dialectic between faith and doubt — albeit one not expressed in Arabic, Farsi or Urdu to attract serious Islamic scholars, but one done in English in the manner of a Hollywood screenplay designed to attract as much hard currency as possible for Rushdie and his publisher. Commercial English comedy as hermeneutics you might say: Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad.

That Rushdie has lacked blasphemous intent is evident from his third appearance in the theological treatise, this time as the secular Indian Muslim, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, who loves and lusts after both his sick wife, Mishal, and her new friend, the epileptic orphan woman Ayesha.The two women are dogmatic Shia Muslims, who insist on leading a vast, pious pilgrimage from central India into the Arabian Sea in the belief their faith will miraculously make the waters part and allow them to walk to Mecca.

Rushdie does not identify them as Shia Muslims but the story is based on actual events in 1981-1983 in the Naseem Fatima “HawkesBay” case in Pakistan.

According to the sociologist Akbar Ahmed,Naseem Fatima, “a shy, pleasant looking girl with an innocent expression on her face, who had a history of fits,” after a series of miraculous religious experiences which were scorned by Sunni Muslims but were not inconsistent with Shia doctrine, led 38 people into the Arabian Sea at Karachi believing the waters would part and they would be transported miraculously to Shia holy sites in Karbala in Iraq.

“(The women and children locked) in five of the six trunks died. One of the trunks was shattered by the waves and its passengers survived. Those on foot also survived; they were thrown back onto the beach by the waves… The survivors were in high spirits — there was neither regret nor remorse among them. Only a divine calm, a deep ecstasy. The Karachi police in a display of bureaucratic zeal arrested the survivors. They were charged with attempting to leave the country without visas…. Rich Shias, impressed by the devotion of the survivors, paid for their journey by air for a week to and from Karbala. In Iraq, influential Shias, equally impressed, presented them with gifts, including rare copies of the Holy Quran.”

In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has altered and transformed these facts into a rich allegorical dialectic between rationalism and scepticism on the one hand, and dogmatic faith and ecstatic religious experience on the other. The husband Mirza Saeed, representing Rushdie himself, condemns what he says is the foolishness of the faith-filled women, begs them, pleads with them to change their minds, and finally when they cannot be stopped, follows behind them in his Mercedes, collecting stragglers, hypocrites and apostates on the way. The intellectual and spiritual tension between the rationalist and believer is built up excellently. The reader is finally certain that Ayesha and the other pilgrims walk to their earthly deaths in the Arabian Sea, but is left uncertain whether the miracle may have in fact occurred even so, whether they have in fact walked into Paradise itself on the strength of their faith. It is a splendid, exhilarating and unexpected spiritual experience emerging from the book. Moreover, the Rushdie-character, though he survives the pilgrimage, tempers his scepticism by the end of his life, and eventually dies in fusion with the ghost of his love, the believer Ayesha, and, we are led to think, is finally absorbed with her into the Paradise described in The Quran.

Thus in the attempted theological treatise that is contained within The Satanic Verses,

Rushdie appears

(i) as Baal the disbelieving, mocking, satirist who gives his life for artistic freedom;

(ii) as Salman Farsi the Muslim believer who turns to apostasy; and

(iii) as Mirza Saeed Akhtar, the rationalist and sceptic who turns eventually towards Muslim faith and belief.

In making this triple appearance, Rushdie has tried to construct a genuine Muslim dialectic between scepticism and dogmatism; if the sceptical parts have outraged Muslim believers, some of his descriptions of Muslim belief and practice might do no less than add new sympathisers or converts to Islam among the heathen and infidels. It is a creative achievement for a modern English-speaking Muslim, perhaps unintentionally, to try to turn the tide of hostile opinion that exists against Islam in the English-speaking world, through a sympathetic rendering of aspects of Islam. E.g., a practice like halal, which seems cruel or at least pointless to the non-Muslim, is given new meaning by Rushdie, and made into a point of existential philosophy:

”(The Prophet)… required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream. “(p. 376).

It is only at the moment of death that life may make its fullest sense. Such would be to look back at life from the point of death; T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

…Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the criticD. W. Harding:

“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”

The Satanic Verses is preoccupied with the possibility of such patterns of birth, death and rebirth, conflict and its resolution, tension and its relaxation. “To be born again … first you have to die” (p. 1) Rushdie was raised a Muslim exposed to the university of critical thought and dialogue; as such he owed himself a responsibility to examine Islam to determine whether he would render it his individual allegiance, not by fiat or blind faith but by the canons of reasonableness. In The Satanic Verses he has traversed a range of logical possibilities between disbelief, doubt and faith in Islam. On the strength of the Mirza Saeed Akhtar character in the book, he may have been truthful in declaring himself a genuine believing Muslim who was innocent of the charges of blasphemy against him. He needs to be absolved of the charges, and his conviction by the Iranians set aside, as in effect has been done by Iran’s President Ayatollah Khatami in June 2001. Here ends the case for The Satanic Verses.

The case against Rushdie however must continue.

He has produced a few ounces of artistic and philosophical gold but these are contained in mountains of muck, which remain to be disposed of.Rushdie shows himself emotionally alive and expressive as a son to his father and a father to his son, as well as a keen social observer of Britain and a thoughtful and philosophical Muslim believer;but at the same time he also reveals himself immature, dishonest and cowardly as a writer.These aspects are summarily revealed in Rushdie’s desire to be gratuitously abusive or offensive towards a wide range of chosen targets, from the memory of Prophet Muhammad to the innocuous Chinese.For example, for no discernible reason except to show that little Salman can say bad words and get away with it,a Mallory-like ghost on Mt.Everest is made to converse about“Goddamn Chinese” and “Little yellow buggers”.Then an implausible Sikh woman terrorist (named after the Delhi journalist Tavleen Singh though reminiscent more of Leila Khaled, the pioneer Palestinian hijacker) leads Khalistanis to hijack an Air India jumbo (numbered 420) and explode it mid-air.

In June 1985 an Air India jumbo did explode mid-air killing all 329 lives on board, and it took painstaking work by the Canadian police to arrest and prosecute (unsuccessfully) the major suspects who were Canadian Sikhs. The victims’ families whose tragedies are trivialised in The Satanic Verses join the list of people Rushdie has wished to pointlessly upset by his personal fantasy of two survivors falling unharmed from that aircraft. Then, Rushdie’s Khalistanis go about yelling

”those mother-f…..g Americans and sister-f…..g British”,

when in fact Khalistan seemed plausible mostly to North American and British Sikhs in Vancouver or California who (unlike perhaps Rushdie himself at the time he authored the book), tend not to be abusive of America or Britain in that kind of way. The cursing merely shows how our purportedly great British writer keeps despoiling the possibility of his own artistry.

Hindus and India come in for special abuse in Rushdie’s worldview. India is that rather amusing and grotesque country

”of hundreds of millions of believers…. in which, to this day, the human population outnumbers the divine by less than three to one,”

where a Muslim NTR/Bachan cinema star can become “the most acceptable, instantly recognisable, face of the Supreme” (p. 17). A Hindu character

”coming as she did from a polytheistic tradition”

is considered

”plainly… incapable” (p. 334)

of comprehending the scriptures of the Semitic faiths. Rushdie reveals himself incompetent here in his purported role of theologian, as he has failed to see that the secular outlook of Hinduism and its heterodox descendants like Buddhism does not imply belief in more than one god. Rushdie is not alone in this prejudice for the most venerable Oxford English Dictionary itself announces “Hinduism is the polytheistic religion of the Hindus”.

In fact, Indian traditions always have freely allowed questioning whether there is any God at all, let alone whether there is one God or many gods. I.e., there always has been space freely available within orthodox Hinduism and its heterodox offshoots for all manner of religious scepticism, including nihilism and pyrrhonism. This is highly problematic for a believing member of any of the Semitic faiths like Rushdie, or the author of the entry on Hinduism in the Oxford English Dictionary.Thus even Pope John Paul VI said Buddhism is not a religion in his sense of what a religion must be, namely, a doctrine entailing belief in God.

The Hindu, or at least the philosophical Hindu, is very troublesome to all others because he is somehow able to accommodate all of them within his own folds. “You want to worship the sun, the seas, the mountains, rivers, trees, snakes or stones as God Immanent?; that’s fine with me,” he says to the animist. “You think there is no God as such?; that’s cool”, he says to the Buddhist. “You’re telling me Jesus of Nazareth was God’s incarnated Son?; okay that’s great, I like that,” he says to the Christian. “You’re telling me the Holy Quran was revealed by Al-Lah to Prophet Muhammad near Makkah?; I’ll accept that,” he says to the Muslim. And so on. The Hindu’s all-inclusive catholicity can drive other believers up the wall, especially those closest to him like Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs who may most urgently want to differentiate themselves from Hindu practice.

Rushdie momentarily accepts the Hindu view when Najmuddin

”is often filled with resentment by the non-appearance, in his persecuting visions, of the One who is supposed to have the answers, He never turns up, the one who kept away when I was dying, when I needed needed (sic) him. The one it’s all about, Allah Ishvar God. Absent as ever while we writhe and suffer in his name” (p. 113)

Here Rushdie momentarily acknowledges his secular Indian childhood as well as his Christian schooling about Christ on the Cross.But mostly he has taken the easy path of branding the Hindu a rather silly polytheistic idolater or animist.There is a reminder of the destruction of religious idols by the new Muslims in pre-Islamic Mecca (Jahilia).Then there is a long development of the wickedness of the character of the chief idolater, the female Hind.The real Hind was a foe turned convert of Prophet Muhammad; Rushdie’s Hind converts, is forgiven by Prophet Muhammad, then secretly continues as an idolatrous witch who plots and causes the Prophet’s demise.Her name “Hind” is the Urdu/Persian name for India and the root of “Hindu”, so it is possible Rushdie’s years as a Pakistani have led him to absorb some of the views prevalent in that country about Hindus and Hindustan being implacable foes of Islam.

Then, Rushdie makes pornographic allusions to Ganesh and Hanuman, and a pointed reference to ”these Shiv Sena bastards in control” of contemporary Bombay. A Brahmin and an “Untouchable” (there can be no Harijans or Dalits in Rushdie’s British world) seem to convert to Islam only to retract, while pious Muslim pilgrims are attacked by the wicked VHP and RSS in scenes Rushdie might have lifted from Attenborough`s Gandhi. No mention here of East Pakistan, Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — just “Bungleditch” for Bangladesh. In Rushdie`s view, the ominous forces of Hindu nationalism (the folks who gave him a visa to finally visit India in 2000) are to be kept at bay only by arm-in-arm socialism. It all amounts to a rather stale politically correct ideology fashionable in the 1970s, which crashed with the Berlin Wall one year after The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie, a one-time child citizen of India, knows in his middle age next to nothing about modern Indian society or its political economy, yet apparently longs to prove his correct Limousine Socialism credentials to his Western publishers and clientele. He keeps putting his thumb in the pan.

He also has been cowardly. Living in Britain, he did not set out to write a modern diatribe against all religious traditions he had encountered which might have amounted to a nihilism or pyrrhonism worth examining. Jews and Christians are conspicuous by their absence from his target-list, allowing him to duck away from the savage criticism he would have received from within the Judeao-Christian countries where he has led his adult life. The Satanic Verses has been received with considerable applause there, and earned him a lot of money.The few characters identified as Jews in the book (Mimi, Cohen, his wife, and daughter) are all normal and sympathetically drawn (Cohen is even made a Holocaust survivor who survived Nazi “monsters” but now commits suicide).There is one identified Christian, who, consistent with Rushdie’s ideology of Limousine Socialism, is made a comical American creationist who bites off his own tongue in fear during the hijacking.

The Satanic Verses was banned in India and Pakistan after its publication; but had Rushdie attacked Jewish or mainstream Christian beliefs and characters with the same kind of parody he hurls at Muslim and Hindu beliefs and practices, he likely would not have been published at all in the West, drying up his dollar-income.

It was simply too risky for Salman Rushdie to be as offensive towards Jews and Christians in Britain or America as he has been to Muslims and Hindus in India or Pakistan. Much easier and more lucrative to write “Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad” or some Peter-Sellers pidgin Indian English dialogue or dig up some dowry-deaths from reading the Indian newspapers. Goes down well with the people who matter. Fits in with their own post-Imperial pretensions about the state of the wogs today. Even better that the Chief Wog himself is saying so. That has been the principal point made by the Iranian authorities against Rushdie, as for example when Ayatollah Khattami said in June 2001 in “closing” the blasphemy case, that Iran always took The Satanic Verses to be a part of the Western assault on Islam.

Indeed Rushdie’s single worst and most pointless example of offensiveness has to do with his distortion of the memory of Prophet Muhammad himself.

Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without doubt one of the greatest men of history, as may be measured by his vast impact on human civilization. His greatness was marked by a magnificent humility; at his death, it was famously said: “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”; indicating the total self-effacement of the man to his mission. Arabic is the language of Islam, but even in Rushdie’s chosen language of English there has been a vast literature over the centuries on Prophet Muhammad’s life and example. One of the best known is Carlyle’s fully sympathetic 1842 account , which made the message of the Prophet’s religious experience one of universal import well beyond Muslim ontological beliefs:

“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact , “Here am I!”. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”

Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?” And Carlyle told the stories of how Muhammad could not abide by his own severe faith when he wept over the dead body of an early disciple: “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how the young beautiful Ayesha once tried to get Muhammad to compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, and how Muhammad had denied her:

”She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”

In face of such an enormous wealth of rich legendary material to select from to write about Prophet Muhammad, what does Salman Rushdie, purportedly a major British-educated 20th Century Muslim novelist, choose to do? He invents a pointless sequence of pornographic allusions and events to do with how a Mecca whorehouse increases its business! It makes highly offensive reading, not just to Muslim believers but to decency and the truth of Muhammad’s life; rather like the person who associated Christ on the Cross with a urinal and claimed artistic freedom for himself, outraging Christian opinion in the United States of America a few years ago. Why do it, one may ask? Where is the art in it? Where could the art in it possibly be? Why should it not be seen as merely base and revolting?

In putting together then, the case for and against The Satanic Verses, it may be seen how Rushdie’s artistry might have made him a great writer and also how his vast incorrigible faults have kept him permanently from becoming one. To draw a contrast, in The Brothers Karamasov one hundred years ago, Dostoevsky wrote perhaps the definitive internal critique of Christianity, of how Jesus Christ had made true Christian practice impossibly difficult, of how Christianity demanded too much of mankind, more than man’s nature could possibly achieve. Lawrence said of it:

“As always in Dostoevsky, the amazing perspicacity is mixed with ugly perversity. Nothing is pure. His wild love for Jesus is mixed with perverse and poisonous hate of Jesus: his moral hostility to the devil is mixed with secret worship of the devil. Dostoevsky is always perverse, always impure, always an evil thinker and a marvellous seer.”

Rushdie would have liked a similar comparison in respect of Prophet Muhammad and Islam; but he does not deserve it because he lacks the honesty possessed by the great writers while he possesses a greed and cupidity they disowned. As a novel, The Satanic Verses is about as far from The Brothers Karamasov as the music of David Bowie or Boy George or Madonna is from the music of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven.Superficially, it paints nauseous grotesque absurd accounts of incoherent events, mostly with cartoons and caricatures where real people should have been, forcing the reader to take a most unpleasant journey largely because Rushdie`s deliberately cultivated notoriety pleads for his book to be read. The nausea comes to be suspended for a page here, a handful of pages there, when Rushdie demonstrates that a splendid artistry does exist within him even if he finds it impossibly difficult to muster enough discipline to maintain it.That other Indian writers have been imitating his style in the last few decades often without his substance may merely go to show how far critical editorial standards have collapsed in the book-publishing industry.

It is only when The Satanic Verses is seen as a tortured self-exploration by Rushdie to reconcile his Western life with his Islamic upbringing that it begins to become sensible and comprehensible.Madonna or Boy George’s music is not that of Beethoven and everyone has forgotten it already while no one forgets Beethoven, but it is still a kind of music. Similarly, no one forgets Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and everyone will forget Salman Rushdie, but even so his work still needs to be tested for the presence of significant art.That there is some art in it,perhaps hitherto undiscovered, has been the purpose of this essay to reveal.

References

Akbar Ahmed, Discovering Islam; Pakistan Society

Thomas Carlysle, Heroes and Hero Worship

D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix

F. R. Leavis, The Living Principle; Valuation in Criticism (G. Singh ed.)

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

SUBROTO ROY’s works include Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge, London & New York, International Library of Philosophy, 1989, 1991).