The Change in Life and Environment of the Himalaya
By Kunda Dixit and Ludmilla Tuting, Editors
Geobuch, Munich 1986
USS 9, NRs 120
Review by Rajiv Regini
The book is a collection of articles, clippings, cartoons, satire, and tables. The common thread running through them all is the Himalayan environment. The theme is the juxtaposition of "bikas-" (Sanskrit: development) and "binas" (Sanskrit: destruction). Like a typograp-hical error, one is often mistaken for the other, and the book argues that much of what is propagated as bikas in the Himalaya today brings binas.
"If there are any imperfections in the use of the language please bear in mind that most contributors are non-native speakers of English," says a note at the beginning of the book. And one wonders half-way through it if this is an apology for the abundant typos or for the slightly strident style of much of the writing selected.
The part on the Chipko reads like a PR pamphlet, and is a bit too gung-ho about the movement. The piece doesn't focus on the obstacles that countries like Nepal would face in trying to replicate something like the Chipko, for example. Bahuguna's crusade is one that has been carefully moulded around a perceived outside threat (contractors, plains businessmen, big dams planned in Lucknow). In countries like Nepal, where the enemy is within, (the need for wood energy in order to survive) what are the lessons to be learned? Bikas-Binas is silent on the subject.
The authors must have spent several years collecting the material. This is rather glaringly obvious because some of the pieces have aged quite a bit, like Kunda Dixit's interview with Sir Ed taken five years before the book hit the stands. In fact, the book would have been more focussed and compact if the whole section on tourism had been dropped. We wouldn't have noticed the difference. "Do's and Don'ts for Tourists in Nepal", how to cope with beggars, malaria and educated urban rapists -what're subjects like that doing in a nice book like this? Speaking of which, there are some unbelievably gruesome methods suggested to dissuade Third World rapists from deflowering female tourists travelling alone. Again, good solid information, but one isn't sure what it is doing in this book.
Can I just mention one little point before turning to the book's good side? The cover. For a snappy title like that, the cover design (for which a certain Inge Meenen takes credit) is horrendous.
Now the good news. The book is immensely readable, packed with information, punctuated with some bitingly hilarious cartoons, and is required reading for everyone seriously concerned about our Himalayan surroundings. Readers also have a chance to re-read some of Kunda Dixit's "Funny Side Ups" which used to be the best reading from the Rising Nepal and memorably poignant pieces like "Crops Cannot Be Grown on Blackboards Nor Certificates Eaten" by Nicholas Bennett, "Deadly Development," by Claude Alvares, "No losses, Just the Death of a Porter," by Ludmilla Tuting and "Blindly Following the West Brings Misery" by Mike Cheney.
- Rajiv Regmi is doing his masters at a university in Illinois, USA.
Edited by Michael Tobias University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.
$ 29.95 NRs. 688
Review by Keiko Ohnuma
Development of mountain willdemess is nothing new. What is new is the rate of change. Until recently most of the world's mountains were isolated and inaccessible, and the people who lived on them evolved for millennia outside the cultural mainstream. Improved health care, relentless population increase, growing national awareness and technological advancement have now brought many montane ecosystems to the brink of collapse - often hastened by the misguided efforts of government and foreign-aid agencies.
Addressing itself to policymakers as well as the general public, this collection of essays is both a plea on behalf of those who have no voice in world politics and a call to arms to those who do. The 26 authors, many of them social scientists, make a case for including the experience and knowledge of mountain people in international planning efforts.
More than a question of suitable crops, environmental preservation, or equitable land distribution, development presents a cultural challenge - a confrontation with another time, a different world view; as art historian Hugh R. Downs puts it, another method of seeing. By allowing anthropological awareness to enlighten public policy, the authors hope to foster "widening of knowledge", a scientific approach to indigenous cultures that parallels the growing concern for ecology in land-use policy. Social scientists must remember that "there is no freedom from values and politics in science," says Gerald Berreman. A scientist's first duty must be to the "truth" - namely, the truth of the people being studied, in contrast to the exigencies of* realpolitik.
Indeed, the value system under which most governments operate measures well-being by balance of payments, wealth by the presence of modern conveniences, and progress in terms of technological advancement. Foreignaid agencies, Berreman adds, typically undertake "reform" in the name of an abstract entity - the nation - whose interests are rarely seen as congruent with those of the masses.
Opening the book with reflections on his life among the people of the American Appalachian mountain range, psychology professor Robert Coles asks, "What possible connection can there be between the moral life of a given (people), on the one hand, and the particular terrain they happen to call their own?"
The Goltahuaya Indians of the Bolivian Andes provide one answer. The tribes live on nine peaks, each of which is divided into low, middle, and high communities. The Indians employ a system of vertical exchange characteristic of mountain economies that allows each community to specialize in the crops and techniques best suited to its ecological niche. Accordingly, the Kaatan community of Qollahuayans cosider the mountain to be like a human body, and look to themselves to understand the mountain. All rituals center on this metaphor and the unity of the three parts, providing an important cosmological mode! for the vertical exchange and interdependence on which the economy is based.
Likewise, in many societies dependence on the land may give rise to a belief system that emphasises the mountain's natural cycles, especially the soil and water cycles. Culturally speaking, these cycles correspond to a finely tuned agricultural calendar built on the techniques of slash-and-burn, seasonal use, and rotating a wide variety of crops on small, scattered plots to minimize risk and allow equitable distribution of terrain.
Human ecologist Kenneth Hewitt explains that for many indigenous societies the landscape is tied to a cosmological map that divides land into areas sacred and profane. This allows access to be regulated by time, conditions, age, and gender. "To recognize a pilgrimage spot in nature tends to restrain acts of pollution," writes Downs. ''allowing the land to regain its significance as a reflection of oneself."
Turning a critical eye toward mountain studies themselves, several authors note the historic tension between "civilized" lowlanders and "barbaric" highlanders. Civilization always seeks to convert barbarians. Ashworth says, and in this sense mountain people share the same struggle across national, political, and cultural boundaries-just as low-landers from East and West alike seek to wrest land and resources from the mountains.
Ethnicity has subjective elements that are often underrated. One of these is the assumption by many policy makers that, where the ecosystem is in decline, natives are part of the problem. Indigenes are seen as stupid, driven to abuse the land through ignorance and need. The fact remains that mountain people are the only ones who have learned to live off the mountain without destroying it; centuries of survival show that these cultures are in fact highly evolved.
Until recently, isolation of the mountains helped to foster romanticism, the "Heidi complex". It is important to remember that the human beings who live "up there" have not engendered this imagery, the book warns, nor do they live by it. The photogenic, docile qualities of tribal people can mask the threat of extinction, and ah outsiders need for romanticism may blind them to the very real problems of highland living.
Ecology has never been a question of complete wilderness versus complete destruction, but one of balance. In this light, the demise of native wisdom is as great a loss as the disappearance of the mountains' natural landscape.
Today the ancient struggle between the sacred and profane takes place on the level of public policy. "How tragic," says Feldman, "that those who most suffer the loss of the land are those who would have been the last to allow it."
- Keiko Ohnuma is on the staff of Sierra Magazine, from which this review is excerpted.
Policies, Plans and People Culture and Health Development in Nepal
by Judith Justice
University of California Press, Berkeley 1986
Review by Dr. Laxman Poudyal
The amount of money spent over the past decades on public health in the developing world has had a limited impact - and Nepal is no exception. Small pox is eradicated. But malaria has revealed its biological strength. Integration and primary health care have been little more than an academic exercise. What went wrong? Sincere stock-taking is needed.
Judith Justice has confronted Nepal's misadventures with health development squarely, and in doing so lays bare a socio-political and cultural maze in which the bureaucrat revels and the foreign expert gets lost in. Her book is important for those interested in costly experiments in rural health .planning and programming.
It is only after 1950 that the Nepali Health Ministry was established - manned by persons with no experience in health administration. By the time they became familiar with the health problems they were transferred to other ministries. Health administration soon became the last option for an aspirant civil servant since it was both unpredictable and unrewarding.
The United States is the major donor in Nepal's health sector. Unfortunately, its assistance is flawed by political considerations and the search of lowcost implementing agencies. Certain private health agencies are hired to deliver the programmes - and the recipient country has very little to say in the selection, Ali other considerations are subordinated to the convenience of 'handling aid'. This middleman policy causes leakages so that very little reaches the recipient.
An international agency like WHO has its own procedure. While offers with strings attached from a particular country may be rejected, help from WHO is always welcome. The eradication of small pox has been the organisation's greatest achievement - an example of how to mobilise political will and money. Unfortunately the weaker member states of WHO do not have an efficient machinery to cope at times with the idealistic programmes originating in the Geneva headquarters.
In Nepal and other developing countries, the villagers are simple, obedient and intelligent folks. They will accept anything that is reasonable. It is a matter for concern therefore that the government often does not have the ability to judge the merit of proposed projects. More often than not, anything provided is blindly accepted. Resourceful in money and trained manpower, WHO could play a more effective and dynamic role in the development of rural health.
As Ms Justice so ably argues, the problem is not only with those who give aid, of course, but also with the implementation of rural health programmes by the government. It is not easy to implant any alien concept in a society which has its own norms and values. Factors such as ethnicity, language barriers and mass literacy all play their role. Completely decentralised administration with strong leadership even at the peripheral level is vital to overcome obstacles.
Out of this jumble of international, national and rural efforts to provide better health to Nepalis, littered with corpses of good intentions, Ms Justice has produced a coherent and incisive indictment that touches upon all the actors. She has understood both the traditional pattern of Nepali administration and the foreign role. Most important, she has not neglected the services of the peon in the health post - "the invisible health worker" - who holds the lowest grade in the health services. Neither has she ignored the assistant nurse midwife, the victim of circumstance created by the cultural outlook of the villagers, idiocy of international planning without cultural considerations and the ever-dormant national health administration. The collusion of these three elements make up for the sorry state of Nepali health today.
- Dr. Laxman Poudyal was for many years HMG's Director and then Secretary for Heattti.
Image: Penguin India
Penguin India withdraws The Hindus
On 11 February 2014, Penguin India decided to recall and destroy all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. The decision was part of an agreement between them and Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu campaign group that filed a case against the publishers in 2010, arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus and contained “heresies”.
From our archive:
Diwas Kc reviews The Hindus: An Alternative History. (March 2010)