15 March, 2012

Secretive dam deals in Nepal

Sushma Joshi
March 15, 2012

Recent attempts to by-pass regulation include the hasty and secretive way in which the government gave the go-ahead to the Three Gorges Company of China without any competitive bidding to build a dam in Western Nepal, giving itself 25% while China took 75% of the deal. The 1.8 billion dollar West Seti would generate 750 megawatts of energy.  A parliamentary probe was held around Three Gorges' contract in Nepal. With public inquiry, the deal was changed to 49% for Nepal Government and 51% for the Three Gorges Company. And yet, the way in which this deal was structured and the way in which it was initially passed should have all of us asking questions on whether this electricity will ever be delivered--especially with the way this company has already tried to defraud the Nepal Government with an absurdly unfair deal from the start.

The lack of environmental assessments, including issues of sustainability, is another troubling factor. Three Gorges company's projects are already controversial in China, especially for their harmful environmental impacts.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported on how trash was threatening to jam Three Gorges' dam in China.
China's need for energy is well-known. In Burma, Kachin people waged a successful protest movement and halted the Myitsone Dam—a $3.6 billion hydropower project at the source of the Irrawaddy River in Burma’s Kachin State--because they felt the project would benefit China and not the Kachin people. For the first time after decades of military junta rule, Burma’s President Thein Sein suspended construction “to respect the will of the people.”  This was an unprecedented win for a minority group in Burma that had been waging a revolt against the state for decades.

China is not the only country whose contracts should receive more scrutiny by the Nepali democratic forces. The American company Texana recently said it would go in for international arbitration to regain the money it paid to Nepal in "rent" for certain blocks that it had gotten rights to drill for oil. But who gave it the rights? And to whom did it pay the "rent" and fees? As governments change with rapidity, it is essential that the civil structure of Nepal's government remain untouched through political changes. Which means that the handling of much of the energy contracts should be done by an entity outside the direct purview of changing political institutions--perhaps the Nepal Investment Board, or an authority of a similar nature.  And something as large a project as oil exploration should definitely be publicly discussed, and disclosed, before it is passed. Unlike Texana, which is a company Nepalis had not heard of till 2012, but which was apparently operating in Nepal since 1998, we should make sure that any future company that gets a contract in Nepal is publicly transparent, and all of the nature of its dealings is clear to the public.

In fact, the democratic process is one thing that the democrats who have taken over Parliament seem to abhor. Nepalis, used to authority, hungry for electricity, believing that they won’t be sold down the river again as they have repeatedly, believe the Three Gorges Company will deliver. But belief is not enough. If the Maoists are as democratic as they like to claim, they would have put out a publiccall for proposals, taken bids, and chosen the most reliable company out of all the ones who submitted. Now that would have been democracy.

06 March, 2012

Is feminism outdated? ECS Magazine

By : SUSHMA JOSHI   Photo by :ECS Media
March 06, 2012
A cousin of mine met me for the first time in his life, and we had a pleasant time meeting each other. Later in the day, he confessed, “I don’t know what I was expecting when I came to meet you, honestly. Somebody had told me…” here he looked at me with alarmed eyes, and his voice lowered a notch: “A feminist!”

The way he said feminist made me wonder what he had been imagining me to be like. How exactly does a feminist appear in the popular imagination? From the tone of his voice, it was almost as if he had expected to meet someone with two horns on her head, breathing fire out of her nostrils.

People in Nepal, I find, are particularly misinformed about what a feminist is and what feminism stands for. The dictionary defines feminism as a “collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.” I don’t think any man or woman in the world can argue with that—I think the arguments arise from what exactly those social rights or economic rights should be. If a daughter asks for equal property as the son, does this violate the social norms which say only sons get to inherit—therefore causing violence to the carefully ordered patriarchal social norm? In that case, a society can come to view such a woman as disruptive, nasty and mean.

On the other hand, for the woman deprived of these rights, who may end up getting less education, less health care, less economic security for her family and her children, and less care in old age, this carefully ordered society in which everything is stacked in favor of the man but not the woman is hardly liberatory or fair. And in this breaking down of what constitutes the real way to live life; feminists can often come to be perceived as threatening to the social order.

Of course, none of this social stigma deterred the real heroines of the feminist movement in all parts of the world from fighting for their rights. Fighting is considered un-ladylike and women who indulge in this are sure to get slapped down by society—but without those initial fighting feminists, women would have no jobs, no salaries, no rights to vote, no property rights, and no space to reproduce with the same choices as men.

Every once in a while, a woman married to a rich man will argue that feminism is outdated—why, they say, should anybody fight for their rights if their husbands are already providing with Gucci bags and Jimmy Choo shoes? Or the nice middle-class woman who is happy to stay home and take care of children, and not bother about any of this “western” feminist stuff? Of course, this kind of argument lasts all the way till the marriage breaks down—either from domestic violence or the lack of respect for the woman’s freedom of speech or movement, when the lady suddenly finds herself thrown out of the nice, cosy patriarchal structure, and where she is not entitled to any property rights, her education stopped at some early stage, and the children don’t end up taking care of her. Then feminism suddenly becomes acutely relevant.

Oftentimes people in Nepal also assume that feminism means that women start wearing trousers and behaving like men. This is truly an appalling misunderstanding of feminism—there are plenty of French feminists who wear bright red lipstick and miniskirts and plenty of Indian feminists dressed in saris and kurtas who demand equal rights—without their dress or their life choices affecting their right to believe in a fair society.

Misunderstandings about feminism in Nepal also include this 800 pound gorilla accusation: “feminists want to take away men’s rights”. This is a total inversion of feminism’s deepest tenets. Why would a movement interested in equal rights of all members of society want to take away men’s rights? If the “right” in question is to beat the wife, or sell a 15- year-old into prostitution, then definitely feminists will oppose these kinds of rights. But all other rights—social, economic and political—feminists have always argued in favor of equal rights for men and women. Feminists were often the core supporters of civil rights movements worldwide, including the movement to end racial discrimination against African Americans in America in the sixties. Feminists have also played a crucial role in anti-war movements worldwide.

Of course, I’d be more than happy if feminism became outdated. But that would presuppose a perfectly equal world--one in which men and women lived within families, states and nations in which policies, laws and social norms allowed people of both gender equal freedom and rights. Since this kind of Utopia is yet to happen, and with general hostility to women’s rights still a wearing reality in many parts of the world, feminism won’t die out that easily. As long as women continue to be beaten, burnt, tortured, circumcised and deprived of their rights across the planet, there will be a feminist movement. Let’s hope that men as well as women will join it, eventually transforming it into a movement for emancipation of all of society.