Wednesday, June 06, 2007

28th May 2007: Program at Mechi bridge

28th May 2007: Program at Mechi bridge
In protest of the general mock election on 28th May 2007 in Bhutan, National Front for Democracy-Bhutan (NFD-Bhutan) organized a mass Long march to Bhutan. The Bhutanese refugees numbering about 4000 while trying to march to Bhutan where 8 parties alliance/senior citizens/Human rights activist of Nepal were stopped by the Indian security forces at Indo-Nepal border on the Mechi Bridge. NFD chairman Mr. Thinley Penjore, Vice Presidents, Balaram Poudyal, D.B.Rana Sampang and Gup Khilla. led the march. The Indian forces resorted to lathi charge to the leading persons and marchers when they tried to force their way. The scene turned worse when refugee forcefully tried to march forward where the Indian forces started lathi charge and tear gas was thrown on the refugee mass. Mr. Thinley Penjore, Balaram Poudyal, D.B.Rana Sampang and Mr. D.P.Kafley (a Bhutanese refugee Human Rights activist) along with many refugees were injured seriously. A team of supporters led including MP and MLA who came from Delhi to express solidarity was stopped at Panitanki by the Indian forces and without meeting, the refugees were returned back. The forces also arrested around 28 refugee women (who were released next day) and man. Those injured were treated in Kanchanjunga hospital in Birtamod/ Dhulabari Health Post and Mechi Zonal Hospital in Bhadrapur. The bullet injuries were taken to BP Koiralla Hospital in Dharan. Rest of the refugees was in Dharna in the middle of the bridge. The Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), Jhapa branch had provided the first aid treatment to the wounded and injured. 80 persons had the First Aid treatment and 249 had the basic First Aid treatment. International Council of Red Cross (ICRC) later purchased the medicine and handed over to Mechi Zonal Hospital for distribution to the injured and referral cases since the UNHCR have denied providing the medical treatment through its Implementing Partner AMDA Nepal. The local people provided food and water. 29th May 2007Indian Security forces first lathi charge and later opened fire at Mechi Bridge. More enforcement of refugees poured in from various camps although there was strike and no movement of vehicles in Jhapa. Again, the refugees tried to push their way. Seeing the uncontrollable mob, state government of west Bengal imposed 144 Section of IPC. The forces resorted to firing and throwing tear gas. In retaliation, refugees also threw stones at the forces. In the firing 9 refugees were bullet injured and one a student Saha Bahadur Sewa died on the way to the hospital. 39 activists were sent to Mechi Zonal Hospital, Bhadrapur.

Reportedly, many Indian security forces were also injured. The situation remained very tense. Inspector General of Police (North Bengal), superintendent of police Darjeeling, DIG of SSB, District Magistrate of west Bengal visited Panitanki, had talk with National Front for Democracy, Bhutan leaders and requested to lead the Peaceful program than throwing stones and harassing the administration and to lift the barricade of International boarder. They also agreed to release arrested 2 females and 14 boys and spokes person of NFD, Mr. Narad Adhikari. 2 Nepali supporters and two Bhutanese boys will not be released as allegedly violated the law. Most of the participants are youths. To day also refugees decided to spend the night on the bridge. This is not the first time that Indian government prevented Bhutanese refugees going back to Bhutan through India, as it is the only route but had thwarted numerous such attempts in the past too.

The people of Nepal and the local Nepali Organizations have provided the food, accommodation and Ambulance services to the agitating refugees. Refugees pay their gratitude to all those who were directly and indirectly involved in making this program (Long March Home) successful.
Dignitaries from India like Member of Parliament: Mr. Brigbhusan Tiwari, MLA Dr. Sunilam and other few members were not allowed to reach the program place by the Indian security forces, so they sat for Dharna in Panitanki where they were stopped. The Indian guests came from Delhi and MadhyaPardesh, organize press conference in Bagdogra.
30th May 2007.

A meeting was held at Panitanki, India, between the Indian team lead by District Magistrate of Darjeeling District, Nepalese team lead by the Chief District Officer of Jhapa, 8 parties District representatives of Jhapa, Nepal and the Bhutanese Refugee agitating leaders of National Front for Democracy (NFD) Bhutan on the Long March to Bhutan by the Bhutanese Refugees.
The Indian team has agreed to create the environment of the talk with Bhutan to resolve the Bhutanese Refugee problem within 15 days.
15 activists including Mr. Narad Adhikari, General Secretary of Druk national Congress, are released un-conditionally by 4 pm.
The Appeal to Honorable Prime Minister of India shall be submitted by the District Magistrate.
The agitation shall be suspended for 15 days with immediate effect, 30th May 2007
May 31, 2007

Outcome of the Tripartite meeting at SSB (Sima Surakthsa Bal) camp at Panitanki, Indian Check-post Indo-Nepal border convened on May 30, 2007:
After the three days' struggle for long march movement of the Bhutanese refugees residing in Nepal to Bhutan, clashes erupted between the participants of the movement and the Indian security forces on the Mechi Bridge at the Indo-Nepal border Checkpoint, which commenced on May 28, 2007. As the situation became tense following curfew at the border a proposal for a tripartite dialogue was proposed by the Indian side to the CDO Jhapa, Shri Jaya Mukunda Khanal along with NID SSP Mr. Min Bahadur KC and Nepal Police SP, Mr. Yogendra Katwal. As a result, the Refugee Concern Committee Jhapa, NFD-Bhutan leaders, eight party delegates of Jhapa District led by the CDO, was held at the Indian side of the SSB camp.

Outcome of the dialogue:

The Indian side felt the Bhutanese peaceful program having gone beyond control, which had compelled SSB to take up action to charge battens and later tear gas extending to firing to disburse the peaceful marchers citing their responsibility on duty. The peace marchers were described as violent by the SSB and as many as 15 people were detained under charges of 144 Indian Penal Code during the operation.

We feel that it is a successful program and hope for India's involvement in this process. The refugees have respected the leaders decision to suspend the agitation for 15 days. The "Long March Home" has crossed the Mechi Bridge and is halted at Darjeeling for 15 days.

Deeply pay our condolences to the family of the deceased activist and pray for the speedy recovery of all the injured and wounded.
PFHRB request all the sympathizers and well-wishers of Bhutanese movement to pressurize the Indian Prime minister and foreign minister of government of India, New Delhi to allow the Bhutanese refugees to go back home as they came to Nepal to seek asylum through India.
General Secretary, PFHRB.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Seoul Diary: May 2007:By Mohiuddin Ahmad

Seoul Diary: May 2007
By Mohiuddin Ahmad
ARENA Fellow; Visiting Professor and Co-Director, MA in Inter-Asia NGO Studies (MAINS), Sungkonghoe University (SKHU), Seoul. Contact:

Faculty meeting
An extended faculty meeting of MAINS was held on 3 May where we discussed programs for summer and autumn quarters. A work plan for a “regional school” in the summer quarter on Democracy and Democratization in Asia was also discussed. I also presented a draft of a five-year proposal for MAINS for discussion. These are to be finalized by ARENA.
Each MAINS student is to write a thesis and submit it at the end of the course. It was agreed to share responsibility of supervising thesis writing of the students. Accordingly students were ‘distributed’ among the following faculty members. This may change depending on the availability of more supervisors.
Jin Young Jong (2): Ik-su, Pinpaka
Songwoo Hur (1): Mafuja
Hee-Yeon Cho (2): Jessica, Nay Tun
Francis Dae-hoon Lee (2): Nur, Manda
Park Gyang Tae (2): Nilani, Badrul
Mohiuddin Ahmad (3): Na, Bono, Mamun
We also discussed how involve ARENA Fellows in MAINS in different capacities. One option is to bring relevant Fellows for specific number of days or weeks to conduct courses or parts thereof. Another field of engagement would be to request Fellows to be “external mentor” for guiding thesis writing. However, the faculty-in-charge will have the main responsibility.
We had our regular faculty meeting on 31 May. We mainly discussed issues related to the summer regional school on Democracy & Democratization in Asia that starts from 2 July. We are planning to have an intensive one week course outside Seoul where ten selected Korean activists will join twelve MAINS students. The program has been planned, among others, in eight thematic sessions, each to be facilitated (lecture plus steering discussion) by invited lecturers/ARENA Fellow.
I proposed few points as criteria for selection of students for the coming year, which would be discussed in the extended faculty meeting in June. I suggested the following.
Social movement background: working experience with relevant organizations including NGOs; engagement with social movements at local, national or global level; fresh graduates with pro-people engagement during their campus life (student movement).
Proficiency in English: Acceptable standard of spoken and written English; standard proficiency tests internationally acceptable and/or interview by a designated referee (ARENA Fellows in respective countries).
Integrity: Past record; high ethical standard of personal integrity.
Behavior: Capacity to interact and socialize; flexible to cross-cultural environment; respect for other cultures; leadership quality (acceptability).
Studentship: Candidates are expected to be “fulltime students”. It is likely that many of them are to resume study after a long gap (interrupted by paid job or movement). The willingness to resume studentship and commitment to that is important.
Life experience workshop
This is a regular program, though non-credit, where students and invited guests share their experiences of life and vision. On 3 May, one of the early birds of ARENA and the Dean of the MAINS, Oh Jae Shik was present and enthralled the audience with his interesting and emotional talk.
I know Oh Jae Shik since August 1996 when we met first at Viengtai Hotel, Bangkok, in a meeting along with Sabur, Muto Ichio and Israel Batista. Sabur is an old friend and my former colleague in BRAC. He was the Coordinator of ACFOD since 1986 until he quit it in June 1996. When I entered the hotel, I found them struggling to prepare a brochure for a new organization named Asian Resource Foundation (ARF) which Sabur wanted to launch. I volunteered to prepare a draft brochure and we finalized it in one hour.
Oh Jae Shik opened his heart and shared some his precious moments from his rich treasure of memoirs. He made several references to one of his early days' mentor and emphatically said: we must not ask questions in a wrong way. Most people ask why you are poor. That's wrong. Turn around the question and ask, why you are rich and how.
On 31 May, Dong-Choon Kim, Standing Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Korea, spoke as a guest speaker. In fact, he is a professor of sociology at SKHU and has been working as a Commissioner in (TARC) since 2005. He made a presentation on “The Collective Memory of the Massacres during the Korean War and Historical Clarification in South Korea”. He mentioned that the Korean War of 1948-51 was a war in which the percentage of civilian deaths was higher than any other war in the twentieth century. The lowest estimate puts the number of civilian deaths at more than two million. The core question is how to deal with the past. According to him, the victims are so traumatized that they have become passive. He concluded that the process of listening to the victims is also a process of healing their wounds.
Discovering Gyeongju
Prof Lee Jong-Ok teaches in the Catholic University of Daegu. She is Co-Chair of ARENA. She has been planning to invite me for a talk. The moment arrived as per our mutual convenience. She arranged an international workshop. There would be presentations by an Italian and a Korean. I am the third presenter. To make it more 'international', she requested me to bring one my students as a presenter. We decided to include Jessica, my student from Philippines, in the list.
It was earlier agreed that we would be tourist on the first day and become workshop participants on the following day. Jung-Ok suggested us to arrive Gyeongju on 6 May, tour around and attend the workshop at Daegu University on 7th.
Jessica and I took a train from Onsu at 0645 and then changed to a faster train en route to Gyeongju that took over our hours. We were received by Im, a student of Jung-Ok. We had to spend half an hour to find an appropriate restaurant, as Jessica wanted to eat fish. Another student of Jung-ok named young joined us with a jeep. After launch, we checked in a hotel. Jessica had a mixed feeling about the hotel room. It was too good compared to the apartment where the students live and it's only one night she could stay here. So she asked Im to take her photo while lying on the bed.
We first went to see the Bulguksa temple. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was first built in 535 A.D. and was enlarged in 752. It's a testimony of the Silla architecture and the depth of the Buddhist faith of that time. Most of the wooden buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries, while the stone bridges and stairways and pagodas are original.
While returning from the main pagoda, we saw many small pieces of stones and bricks at one corner, which people use to put in order in the form of miniature tower, one on top of the other, and make some wish. I also did it and wished good health of my family members.
Our second target was Gyeongju National Museum. We saw specimens of earthen, stone and metal works of the Silla period and before. These are quite similar to those found in many places I visited, such as, Moinamoti (Bangladesh), Mahen-Jo- Daro and Taxila (Pakistan).
Then we proceeded to Tumuli Park to see royal Silla tombs from the pre-unification era. The park contains 23 of the more than 200 royal tombs found in Gyeongju. We had an opportunity to enter one tomb, which is open for visitors. I could imagine how the huge tombs were constructed and precious jewels were arranged in them. These are different from the pyramids in size and shape that I saw in Egypt and Mexico. Gyeongju tombs are much smaller in size, are earthen mounds from outside and half-circle shaped. These have green grass cover and look like small hills.
After a buffet dinner, we went to see the Bamun Lake. The lake is located very close to some deluxe hotels including ours. There were many duck-shaped manually driven boats. We rented one and had a ride for about half an hour. After we returned to the hotel, Im interviewed us with a structured questionnaire that was part of his assignment given by Jung-Ok.
In the following morning, we passed by the Chemoseongade Observatory on way to the university. This observatory is a 7th-century bottle-shaped stone structure and is one of the oldest known existing observatories in Asia.
We reached the campus at around 11, which was a long drive from Gyeongju city. We had lunch in the university cafeteria. Our workshop started a little after 1 PM. Jung-Ok moderated the session. She also summarized our talks in Korean. The title of my presentation was “Debt Trap-Death Trap”. One colleague of Jung-Ok was a designated discussant. It was a lively session and some students asked questions at the end. Then we had a photo session with the students. After a quick dinner, we left Daegu.
ARENA program meeting
Two meetings were held in this month, on 8 and 22 May. In the first meeting on 8 May, Jiyoung presented an overview of the Marriage Migration in Asia (MMA) project and an overview of the workshop that was held in Hanoi in April. Jim and Toshiko presented a draft on the Asia-Latin America program that is now in a proposal-writing stage. Chang Hee-won has already started a program on human rights to peace (HRP). She is sick and could not attend the meeting. Alex expounded preliminary ideas about proposed research and linkage between Asian scholar-activists with Asian Diaspora based in the US, where he intends to address the issue of race. We had a feeling that it should be developed into a full proposal. I gave a briefing on MAINS. It seems that at present three ARENA programs are ongoing, the MMA, the MAINS (in collaboration with SKHU) and the HRP. We hope to prepare proposals and go for two more programs (Asia-Latin America and the one to be developed by Alex). The work seems seriously constrained by lack of adequate fulltime staff and fund.
I could not attend the second meeting on 22 May because of some personal engagements.
Curriculum development workshop
Earlier we planned a curriculum development workshop for MAINS. Prof. Massaki Ohashi of Keisen University, Tokyo, arrived on 13 May. He is a very good friend of mine and took good care me while I was in Japan last year. He is a regular visitor to Bangladesh and dropped in my apartment in Dhaka several times. So I wanted to give him a “red carpet reception” at Gimpo airport. I ‘inspired’ Prof. Lee Seejae to bring his car to the airport. He agreed. It was not necessary. As it was earlier decided that Ohashi would stay with me, it might be difficult for him to find my apartment at night. So I wanted to receive him at the airport.
Earlier Seejae told him that we would have dinner together and then go to Gimpo. I was waiting and waiting, as Seejae was supposed to come or call me at around 6 in the evening. At 7 o' clock I tried to call him and found that there is no sound in my cell phone. I cannot call anybody. Then I decided that I might go to Gimpo alone and I was checking the subway map how to go there. I have a spare battery for the cell phone. I changed the battery and instantly received a call from Francis. He told me that Seejae had been frantically calling me for last one hour. He was very worried. He asked Francis to call a student to come and check my apartment, as they are aware of my ‘heart’ condition. Then the contact was established with Seejae. He came to my apartment at around 8 PM. We talked for about an hour and went to Gimpo. On the way, Seejae lost the direction twice, but we reached in time. We brought Ohashi to my apartment.
I prepared a bed for Ohashi on the floor. Yi Ki-ho, research professor of SKHU, ‘donated’ the bed, good enough for two persons. These are all new and never used before. He said that I could keep these for other guests who may come in future.
On 14 May, Francis Loh joined. We had a brief session at ARENA office reviewing MAINS program, curriculum, proposed courses for summer and autumn quarters and inter-institute collaboration. Ohashi agreed to pursue collaboration between Sungkonghoe and Keisen University and proposed MAINS to be an entry point.
On 15th morning, Dessa knocked my door. She took a night flight from the Philippines. She managed to find my apartment with the help of the driver. Then we proceeded to SKHU. Ohashi gave a lecture on Japanese ODA and NGOs/NPOs to MAINS students in a scheduled class on Globalization and Social Movements. Few students from the NGO faculty also joined. He presented some striking data. For example, total budget of all NPOs in Japan is less than that of one big NGO in Bangladesh.
On 16th night we had a short briefing session with Dessa and Farid in the hotel lobby at Gwangju on MAINS curriculum as they were not present in our discussion on 14 May. On 17th morning we met again and continued discussion. One important issue we discussed and agreed was to have external ‘mentors’ from amongst ARENA Fellows to guide MAINS students in thesis writing. This necessitates interested ARENA fellows to volunteer, one for each student, whose research topic is of interest to the concerned Fellow.
Shakespeare versus Tagore
In the afternoon of 14 May, we (Ohashi, Francis Loh, Francis Lee and I) had a meeting with other concerned faculty members of SKHU at my office. Among them were Prof. Jin Young Jong (Co-Director, MAINS and Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace), Cho Hee-Yeon (Director, Institute for Study of Democracy and Social Movements-ISDS), Yi, Ki-ho (Research Professor, ISDS) and Songwoo Hur (Research Professor, ISDS). Discussion mainly centered round prospect of future collaboration between Sungkonghoe and Keisen. Ohashi mentioned that he would explore possibility of exchange among students and faculty members. Possibility of co-hosting regional school was also discussed. He emphasized that a MoU should be in place between the two schools of these two universities as soon as possible and other formalities can follow.
We then went for a dinner. Vice-President of Sungkonghoe University also joined. Along with food were Se Ju and Magkoli. Jin’s eyes started becoming pink, and while talking, he was flying high. It was perhaps a Se Ju Syndrome. Probably I was also ‘contaminated’. So we had a long duel of dialogue. Francis Lee later termed it as a conversation between Shakespeare and Tagore. It may be mentioned that Jin studied English Literature. Francis Loh stayed in Cho’s house and Farid was accommodated in a SKHU guest room.
Commemorating Gwangju uprising
On 15 May, we had a quick lunch. Ohashi was preparing to catch an afternoon flight from Gimpo to Haneda. He is super busy and hardly can spare an extra day. We boarded on a bus to Gwangju. Earlier it was decided that we would participate in the Gwangju International Peace Forum and East Asian Human Rights Forum 2007 on May 15-18 at Gwangju jointly organized by the Forum Asia and the May 18 Memorial Foundation commemorating the Gwangju uprising of 1980. MAINS students also joined. The intended objective of the program was to provide a venue for Asian democracy movements a network and to connect Korean and foreign activists, scholars and the families of the victims who made sacrifices in the struggle for democracy.
It was a four hours drive from our campus. We directly went to the memorial hall to join the evening reception. There I met Subodh Pyakurel from Nepal whom I know for over ten years. He is a prominent human rights activist in the region and the current chair of Forum Asia. After that we were lodged in a hotel. In the morning, ARENA had a session on democracy and networking. The panel of speakers included Francis Loh, Mohi, Dessa and Farid. Francis Lee was the moderator.
Francis Loh was the first speaker. He is a Professor of Politics in the Universiti Sains Malaysia (Penang). He talked more about ‘constitutionalism’ and tried to connect it to ‘participatory democracy’. His paper was titled “Key Issues in Democratization in Asia”.
Unfortunately my paper that I sent much ahead of the meeting was missing from the “guide book” prepared by the organizers. Earlier I was encouraged by some writings of my former teacher M. Anisur Rahman and I made a presentation on “Networking Paradigm: Some Key Issues” highlighting a grassroots perspective. I mentioned that development being endogenous is not possible with somebody else’s thinking and knowledge, nor is a relation of equality possible if one feels that knowledge essential for one’s development rests with others.
We spend about twenty-five years of our early life in classrooms and studies shut off from active life, to become ‘educated, wise. Life moves on meanwhile, struggling and moving through challenges and odds. Those who survive the odds must be very able and wise, including the ablest, wisest, most resourceful, even if ‘resource’-less, and creative of all human beings. Yet we have the audacity after these twenty-five years of existence isolated from people’s lives, to stand above them with our educational certificates in our hands, and tell them how they should move, not caring even to learn from them how they have come so far and what their own thinking on issues or concerns to them are.
I emphasized that the role of the networking organizations of that of guardianship or trustee for future generations complies with the existing development paradigm. The role of the networks needs to be redefined. We are too much obsessed with terms like democracy or socialism. The task of social science is to work with popular movements, and help them to articulate their own social visions and link with each other to develop broader popular forums for such articulation.
Rosanna Quesada Dessa from Gender Wave against Violence and Exploitation in the Philippines presented in her typical style, spelling ‘democracy’ by moving her shoulders right and left, saying that sometimes body language could indeed be a very powerful tool for communication. She then presented “A Dialogue about Democracy, Regional Cooperation and Questions”. She invited Francis Lee and our student Jessica to participate in a dialogue with her. She concluded with a nicely composed poem.
Hilmar Farid from Indonesian Institute for Social History tried to provide a synthesis of all our talks and then addressed the issue of networking for democratization. Farid is a new ARENA Fellow whom I met for the first time. He looks like a pop singer and is very friendly.
In the afternoon of 17 May, we had a tour around. We walked a long way inside a bamboo garden only to find a not so interesting mechanized tiller at the end of the walk way. This was a talk of the afternoon. We also visited a Buddhist temple, similar to the Bulguksa temple I saw before at Gyeongju.
Then we assembled at the May 18 Democratic Square, formerly called the Town Square. Processions with banners and festoons with drumbeats started pouring in. There were people of all ages, women and men. This is how the spirit of democracy and struggle is transmitted from one generation to another. At the stage was performing a baoul group singing baoul songs (traditional Bangla mystic songs of sufee tradition). They came from Kolkata (India). They had been here for about three months. Their stage performance was coordinated by a Korean lady who spent few years in Shantiniketon, the school set up by Rabindranath Tagore.
In the morning of 18 May, we went to the cemetery of the martyrs of the 18 May uprising at Unjeong-dong, Bukgu, outside Gwangju city. The security was tight. The President of Korea and the Mayor of Gwangju gave a ceremonial speech. After that many of us walked inside the cemetery where name of the victims were inscribed on pieces of stone along with their photographs. I heard that some two hundred bodies were identified and buried, but many more were missing and possibly were dumped in mass graves by the government of the then military dictator Park Chung Hee. While the President was delivering his speech, we heard demonstrators shouting in the street outside the cemetery. They were giving slogans against FTA and neoliberal policy of the government.
In front of the cemetery is standing a tall and nicely-built sculpture-monument. Two stone pillars with the shape of two hands symbolize the yearning for the May 18 spirit. The egg-shaped sculpture between the pillars symbolizes the mass of human group. This is very similar, conceptually though not architecturally, to our shahid minar (martyrs’ memorial) in Dhaka, which was built to remember the martyrs of our language movement of 1952. I saw some old women in white, with tearful eyes, rubbing the stones with inscriptions about their dear ones. It was a very emotional scene that touched my heart.
The peace forum was an opportunity for me to meet many people from different Asian countries. Francis Lee introduced me to Jintae Jo, Chanho Kim and Mayung suk Cha, Secretray General, International Cooperation Team Director and Executive Director of the May 18 Foundation respectively.
In the afternoon of May 18, the Gwangju prize for human rights was formally awarded to Irom Sharmila Chanu and Lenin Raghuvanshi, both from India. Sharmila has been fasting for last six years protesting against violence of the “security forces” against the people of the Indian state of Monipur. She is now in a hospital under custody and is being fed forcibly. His brother was present to receive the award on her behalf. Lenin works with the dalit (untouchables) in India who are the victims of the worst form of apartheid at the moment. I was happy to see that the award went to genuine hands and not to mega stars in the world of human rights. Lenin’s wife Shruti was also present. They are from Varanasi and works with People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights. I told her that I intend to visit their place we use to call Kashi and heard so much about it. When we were bidding farewell to each other, she requested me in Bangla, “Dada, amader barite ashben (please visit us)”.
Two nights with Prof. Cho

I was supposed to share a room with Prof Cho Hee-Yeon at Gwangju. He arrived in the morning of 16 May. We had a brief conversation.
Cho: Mohi, I snore.
Mohi: Then it’s a problem for me.
Cho: If I snore, you tell me to stop; I’ll stop.
The conversation ended there. I was worried. We went to the venue.
We went to bed a bit early, before ten o’ clock. After a while, Cho started snoring; at first in low volume with some rhythm, and not so disturbing. I thought I could survive. Soon he went wild; the volume increased and became stormy. As it went beyond my level of tolerance, I shouted: Cho, stop!
Instantly Cho stopped and silence prevailed throughout the night. In the morning, Cho told me, “Look, didn’t I tell you, if you say, stop, I would stop?” The following night was equally peaceful.
Discussion on micro credit
Prof. Seejae Lee introduced me to Dr. Jeong Soon Ryu at a dinner in March. Her nickname is June. She is the President of the Korea Research & Consulting Institute of Poverty, which is a national counseling network for the poor. Since then we had been connected electronically. Then she invited me to come to her office and give a talk on poverty and micro credit in Bangladesh. We decided about the date and time, afternoon of 23 May. I prepared a paper and mailed it to her. She translated it into Korean. The meeting was arranged at Gaepo Catholic Church. According to her suggestion, I arrived at Godok station and she picked me from there.
The meeting started at around 3 PM. There were 13 participants, 11 women and two men (including me). There I met Prof. Kim Young-Ja of Shikoku Gakin University (Japan) and Kim Mi Joo, Director of Women with Disabilities Arts & Culture Network. Also there were two participants from the Social Solidarity Bank.
Often people get a rosy picture about micro credit. I tried to explain that it is one of the many tools of addressing the problem of poverty. One of the hard realities is that it has long ago reached a stage of saturation, hardcore poor have been excluded and the program has been recycling debt. In Bangladesh and possibly in many other countries, almost four-fifths or more of the NGO budget is spent for staff salary and other ‘overheads’. Very little amount trickles down to the poor.
After my presentation, Mi Joo presented a paper on Women, Development and Micro credit – A Step Forward, MDGs. She is ‘disable’ and came with a specially-built engine-driven wheel chair. But I was charmed by her passion, interest and commitment and certainly she is much more able than many of us with two legs and two hands.
Meeting at UNESCO
While I was in the meeting with June, I got a phone call from Samuel Lee, Secretary General of UNESCO, Korea. He informed me that they would have a meeting at his office with some Korean, US and German participants. Today they would discuss issues related to separated families in Korea. He wanted me to join the session and to know the participants. He also informed me that Oh Jae Shik would also come. I told him that “I am in a meeting and I shall try once this meeting is finished”.
After an hour, I got a second call from Samuel. He informed that they would wait for me until 8 o’ clock and then would go for dinner. My meeting with June’s group was still on. When we finished, it was already seven. June dropped me to the nearest station from where I took subway line no. 2 to reach UNESCO. By the time I arrived, it was few minutes past eight and the session was still on. Samuel introduced me to the audience and I spoke for a minute. I said that I also belong to a divided nation. The difference between us and the Germany and Korea is that they were divided by exogenous forces, while we divided ourselves.
I understood that this is an informal group that meets once a month and discuss one issue. Samuel asked me whether I could make a presentation at the next meeting scheduled on 21 June. I said that I might not be in Seoul around that time. However I agreed to make a presentation in July.
Soon the meeting was over and we went for dinner. We had a Japanese dish called Shabu Shabu that includes beef and vegetables.
Evening party
The life experience workshop of Oh Jae Shik on 3 May was followed by an open-air Bar-B-Q party organized by Prof. Jin Young Jong at one corner of the campus. There was plenty of food and drink. One of my students from Thailand, Pinpaka, was perhaps too fast. She was laughing continuously and seemed to move away from the ground to the sky. She was escorted back to her home. As she was our official photographer, we missed many photos of the subsequent sessions. When the party was over, Jin drove us all to Karaoke near Onsu station. All of us enjoyed. At around 12, we left the Karaoke venue. But the night seemed still young to Jin Young. So another drinking session followed on the walkway in front of a restaurant. This session continued for another hour.
I owed a party to my students. I decided to host it at my apartment in the evening of the day of my last classroom lecture of this quarter. Accordingly 22 May was fixed. Thanks to Bono, Mafuja, Mamun and Pinpaka who took all the trouble to prepare food and bring it to my house. Almost all MAINS Students and ARENA staff and volunteers attended. Among special guests were Manda’s mom Urna. SKHU staff Hyeji also attended. Francis could not join as he was not feeling well.
On 25 May, Manda’s mom hosted a party for Manda’s friends including all MAINS students. I met her at Gwangju where she came as a member of a Mongolian delegation of human rights activists. As expected, Manda prepared a dish with horse meat and more interesting was Chinggis Vodka. I requested Urna to sing a Mongolian song and she and Manda together sang a beautiful song.
An afternoon with Martin Hart
On 28 May, two special lecture sessions were organized at SKHU. I missed the morning session addressed by Patrick Bond, Director of University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, as I had to go to the hospital for a check-up. His topic was “Linking below, across and against: World Social Forum weaknesses, global governance gaps, and civil society’s political, ideological and strategic dilemmas”.
The afternoon session on “The Korean Economy and Neoliberalism” was addressed by Martin Hart-Landsberg. He teaches Economics at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon (US). He has traveled to Korea many times and is an expert on East Asia. The way he talked, explained, cited examples and provided statistics was wonderful.
Economists usually love to cite statistics, mostly in a boring manner. He was not boring at all. I found some connectivity between his lecture and my lecture on global finance as part of our curriculum on Globalization and Social Movements. So it was a very useful session for me and I was certainly enlightened.
After the lecture we spent few minutes at ARENA office and then joined Cho Hee-Yeon and Yi KI-ho for a dinner outside the campus. We had Mook Pub, a delicious dish I tasted first time. It’s a soup with acorn and vegetables.
Health is wealth
I am familiar with this axiom since childhood days. I had a routine check-up last week and my condition is stable. My daughter has developed some cardiac problem. She underwent some tests in Dhaka. But she is not happy with the diagnosis. She wants to have a second opinion and have decided to come to Bangkok in June. I’ll join her.
It seems the entire ACIS is sick. Jiyoung has been sick for several weeks and is having oriental medicine. Francis was really sick in the last week. He has flu that may continue for a month. He is also having oriental diagnosis. Our volunteer program officer Chang Hee-won was also sick for some weeks. She is now better. Dessa returned to the Philippines with cough and cold that she embraced at Guangju.
Festival at SKHU
The campus was in a festive mood on the last three days of the month. There were numerous tents put up by students, mostly selling food. There was also open-air concert at the playground. This is a bit similar to what we have in our country in the name of rag day. But the striking difference is, rag days are limited to the final year students and often go wild. At SKHU, it was more participatory and entertaining. I wish MAINS students would put up a stall too, maybe in next year.
Ik-su is one of my two Korean students. He has been very helpful. With his help, I applied for a credit card and had satellite TV and internet connection in my apartment. Hyeji helped in procuring the equipments and contacting the service provider for satellite TV (Sky Life). Ik-su also accompanied me to the nearby hospital and helped me to have a medical checkup. I checked lipid profile and blood sugar. Results are satisfactory and my condition is stable.
Prof. Seejae Lee helped to buy a handy camera for me from Japan through the courtesy of his wife. It was bought through internet and was cheaper than in the market.
Francis Lee has arranged a fan for me. It will help me to keep cool during the summer.
Pinpaka, Jiyoung, Jeong Soon Rye and Prof. Jung-Ok provided photographs. Ik-su also gave some technical support.
In the beginning, Francis Lee inspired me to write diary as a form of communiqué with ARENA Fellows. I liked the idea. I am at SKHU since early March. I regularly receive encouraging feedback on my diary from Korean Fellows and SKHU faculty members. From outside Korea, I have received positive response from many friends and well-wishers. Among ARENA Fellows from outside Korea, Kin Chi, Johan, Ed Tadem, Melani and Arjun have responded so far. I feel inspired and enthused by their mails. I request all not to consider my diary as an activity report of MAINS or ARENA. It’s what I am doing and how. This is very personal. But I like to share my experiences, observations and feelings with a broader audience including ARENA Fellows.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Message for People's SAARC:Shafquat Munir

Message for People’s SAARC January 13, 2005

By Shafqat Munir

Development Journalist/Researcher
President, Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) Pakistan

Dear Comrades,

Paradigm shift in world politics as consequence of 9/11 and arm twisting in the name of globalization under the World Trade Organization made the people of the developing and least developing countries in South Asia more vulnerable to multiple crisis and resource constraints.
Under neo-colonialism, the players of globalization are manipulating world resources at the cost of the poor and the marginalized. They are dictating their terms in the name of trade liberalization and withdrawals of agriculture subsidies under the WTO agreements. Inter and intra state conflicts, particularly Pakistan and India tension, have been costing heavily on the people of the world’s one of the largest regions, the South Asia. Having common heritage, historical linkages and traditional commonalities, the South Asian countries and people share common problems. The major problems are poverty, under development, resource constraints, and crisis of governance, religious fundamentalism and growing threat of HIV/AIDS.
To fight against common enemy, the poverty and under development, South Asian countries particularly Pakistan and India need to join hands to benefit from each other’s experiences, development and peaceful co-existence. But unfortunately both India and Pakistan seem reluctant to opt for a peaceful solution of their conflicts, particularly of Kashmir and now the issue of Baglihar dam.


On stereotype enemy approaches of the establishments of both India and Pakistan, let me share with you of my experience to India when I visited Chandigarh in May 2003. I happened to be at the Chandigarh Pres Club where I reciprocated a speech by the President of the Club. Right from the Attary border crossing to Chandigarh, over 100 Pakistani delegates were given a warm welcome and the atmosphere was so peace friendly that some of the jubilant youth demanded that there should not be any border walls between the two counties. In my speech at Chandigar Press Club I had cautioned against the political and vested interests of our establishments. I still believe that border walls are not the issue, if at they remain these walls in tact, at least, there should be free gates for movement of people across the settled borders without restrictions.
In South Asia, visa regime in Nepal and Sri Lanka is flexible and could be an example for rest of the countries in the region. The visa regime in Bangladesh is at somewhat moderate level but the visa system between India and Pakistan is cumbersome. The two important nuclear nations of South Asia due to enemy image of each other are not roping the tide of opportunities that is lying ahead in case they join hands for the development of the two countries. Only by freeing or relaxing visa regimes, both India and Pakistan could get benefits in coin and kind. But establishments of both the countries do not want that because they fear that it would damage their vested interests. Both the governments announced in newspaper that journalists and development researchers would be given multiple visa entries and that too without police reporting process. But I was not allowed this multiple visa facility. I wanted to reach at the People’s SAARC to join you in Varanasi but I was allowed visa only for Delhi and that too after a long delay that made my travel to Varanasi impossible.


I am sure if today both the establishments and intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan decide not to send their agents for sabotage in each other’s countries, there would be no sabotage activity in either of the countries. You would agree that no common Pakistani or Indian national need to damage interest of their fellow human beings rather they would like to strengthen friendly bonds between the two peoples. The establishments of the two countries should realize that South Asia, one of the most diverse regions on the planet, is fast emerging as the poorest, the most illiterate, the most malnourished, and the most deprived region in the world largely because of Pakistan-India tensions and politics of sabotage and now the terrorism and counterterrorism.
We need to realize also that while the region contains nearly one fifth of humanity, just the increase in its population each year exceeds the total population of the fifty smallest UN member states. If we look at the Mahbub Ul Haq Centre’s Human Development Report on South Asia, we find a devastating picture of colossal human deprivation in South Asia. Nearly one half of the world’s illiterate people and forty percent of the world’s poor live in South Asia: around 500 million people live in absolute poverty; more than one half of adults are illiterate and over one fourth of the total population, 350 million, is unable to access the daily necessity of safe drinking water. Eight hundred and thirty million people have no access to basic sanitation.
Over 400 million people go hungry every day. South Asia accounts for 23 percent of the world’s total population, but its share of the global poor is 40 percent. The adult literacy rate in South Asia is only 48 percent, which is now the lowest in the world. South Asia’s share of world’s total illiterate population is twice as high as its share of the world’s total population. According to a UNICEF study, the worst affected region for malnourished children is South Asia, not Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the much higher GNP growth rate and a more robust increase in food production in South Asia. The per capita GNP of South Asia (US$ 309) is lower than that of any other region in the world. While South Asia contains 22 percent of the world’s population, it produces only 1.3 percent of the world’s income. Women are bearing the brunt of the region’s increasing poverty.
At one hand the extent of human deprivation in South Asia is widespread; on the other hand resources are being diverted to maintaining large armies, modern weapons, and military spending. Pakistan and India are the two among the largest armies in the world. The region spends twice as much each year on the purchase of high-tech arms as does Saudi Arabia. South Asia is the only region where military spending as a portion of GNP has gone up since 1987, although it has declined substantially in all other parts of the world after the end of the cold war.
If we compare global military spending with that of South Asia, we find that military spending in rest of the world declined by about 37 percent from 1987 to 1994, from a peak of US$ 1200 billion in 1987 to around US$ 800 billion in 1994. However, military spending in South Asia during the same period went up by 12 percent from US$ 12.5 billion in 1987 to US$ 14 billion in 1994. Since 1987, military holdings, combat aircraft, artillery ships, and tanks have declined by 1.5 percent globally, but have increased by 43 percent in South Asia.

Dear friends,

This kind of militarization is jeopardizing health, education, environment, food security, access to resources, security of movement of the people and livelihood indicators. We need to unite to reverse this tide of misuse of resources so as to re-diverting them to improve social development indicators.

Let me request you to please demand from this platform, the People’s SAARC;

That the poor South Asian establishments should change their behaviour and thinking. They should focus on security not in military terms but of the security of the people in terms of respect for their fundamental human rights, free movements and more and more livelihood options.
That the leadership in South Asia should not rely on their establishments, military and civil, rather on the people to address the worst form of power imbalances at all levels in our societies.
That we need to lobby for a common South Asia Citizenship.
That there should not be visa restriction for the people of South Asia to move across region. Either visa should be abolished for South Asian citizens or there should be flexibility in grant of visas
That there should be a resource pool that should address issues relating to abject poverty with a view to get it alleviated
That South Asian countries should establish a powerful trading group in the world to take common stands at the World Trade Organization while taking part in negotiations on certain international trade issues
That South Asian countries should rise above petty conflicts and steer their agricultural economies out of the clutches of the multilateral corporations’ monopolistic designs, thus ensuring food security and food sovereignty.
That South Asian countries should have a free media regime, allowing free exchange of each other’s publications and media productions into their countries.

Thanks you very much, Hope to see you soon in any similar gathering.

Shafqat Munir