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Archive for April, 2008

 

Women’s Rights in a Former Hindu Kingdom(Satis Shroff)

 

The work draws on my own experience and observations during my visits to Kathmandu. Since Nepal is one of those rare places which Nature and culture-enthusiasts would like to visit, I thought the plight of the Nepalese women ought to be told in your website, because till now Nepal is only known for its tough male Gurkha soldiers who fought on the side of the British in the First and Second World Wars, in the Falklands and in Kosovo and Croatia, the sturdy male Sherpas who have worked for the glory of all climbing nations in the Khumbu area, and is also known as the Land of the Yaks and the abominal Yeti.

 

What about the fate of the Nepalese women in the Shangri-la? In James Hilton’s book ‘The Lost Horizon’ the local women never get old (unless they leave the enchanting Shangri-la environment), but the average Nepalese women have a lifespan of 50 years in one of the least developed countries in the world, and they never live to be 60.

 

Women who have spontaneous or natural abortions, or give birth to still born babies are charged with infanticide and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment because Nepal’s abortion law is based on an ancient, draconian Hindu law. Imagine: 20 years of imprisonment when the average lifespan is 50 years ! Abortion is prohibited in Nepal under any circumstances (rape, incest, or when a pregnant woman’s life is threatened). There are no fair trials for the needy and poor women of Nepal and the justice caters only to the rich and influential people.

 

Due to the lack in clarity in Nepal’s Law, many Nepalese women have been victimised on the ground of spontaneous abortion, whether it was a simple miscarriage or abortion caused by the heavy manual labour on the part of the woman. The women of Nepal cannot defend themselves because of the lack of definition of abortion’, says Singh B. Moktan, the director of PAM Nestling Home (PAM= Prisoners Assistance Mission) in Kathmandu.

 

What is needed is a mobilisation of women in Nepal, the USA, Europe and the world over in fighting this ancient, archaic practice of the Rule of Garbhabat. Despite the fact that democracy has dawned in Nepal and different political parties are allowed, the male population still dominates Nepalese politics and the plight of women hasn’t changed much, even though there are tourists in Kathmandu and along the trekking-trails, flocking to Nepal to see the Himalayas and take pictures of its rural women and children for mellow home slide-shows, amid relatives and neighbours. The benefits of democracy and westernisation haven’t caught up with the majority of the Nepalese women as yet.

 

The entire world knows how hard the average Nepalese woman works in the fields and in urban areas, and the price she has to pay is immense. Ethnic Nepalese women sell their own products in the local markets and provide for the family. In other cases, the men give their earnings to their wives and the latter have a feeling of sharing the income, but when it comes to deciding what to buy, it’s always the men who take over. The desires and plans of the women are just ignored. Nepal’s males control property and decide all financial transactions in the family, and the women are left with peanuts. The women cannot take credits from the banks because they never possess anything, and hence have no security. The women tend to be traditionally docile and dependent upon their husbands due to the fact that they’re cut-off from financial sources.

 

The Nepalese men spend the family-savings as they please, for drinks and eating out with their friends, and for their own chauvinistic needs. The women and children, on the other hand, have to do without basic items like clothes and school-fees. The majority of the illiterate and thus socially handicapped women think in the traditional hinduistic way and leave the men to make decisions. Many women also fear that they might lose their positions as family-treasurers.

 

There are a lot of doctors for the rich people in Kathmandu but none for those in the rural, isolated and God-forsaken hamlets of Nepal, and those deprived, hungry souls eking out a miserable existence in the hovels and slums under the Bagmati and Vishnumati bridges. A land where children are jailed if a mother is sentenced for aborting a dead child. The women in Nepal are handicapped from birth till death in their Himalayan environment–in their families, education, farms, offices and in every sphere of life. It’s a long and thorny path till the Nepalese women are accepted as persons, and not as properties that are malleable, and without wills of their own. The Nepalese women have to develop an awareness and self-esteem of their own worth, women’s rights, potential and the important roles they play in the economy of their families and the country in general.

 

According to a Unicef report, the children of Nepal have to start doing important work at an early age. They have to do baby-sitting, gather fire-wood, forage for feed for the domestic animals or drive them to the meadows. These chores take such a lot of time that the children don’t have time for school, especially daughters who have to help in the households at an early age. They have to work eight hours a day and the sons work just half of the time. Most Nepalese children work barefoot and wear inadequate clothing because they cannot afford it. Nevertheless, Nepalese children attract your attention with their attentive looks, open and curious faces and their spontaneous and cheerful laughter. 46 per cent of Nepal’s population are younger than 15 years. And although 45 per cent of the six to eight year olds go to school, only half of them do their primary school exams. Nepal has millions of children without school-education and without carefree childhoods. Education can improve the survival chances of the children because there is a direct relationship between the literacy of women (4 per cent in Nepal) and infant mortality (child-death). In Nepal 134 out of 1000 children die in the first year of their birth.

 

It was only in 1950 that Nepal’s doors were opened to the outside world. Till then we lived in an age of political darkness. To the average Nepalese, going to Kathmandu was traveling to Nepal, because Kathmandu was Nepal. Later, the Panchayat government talked about a decentralised form of government but it was just a hoax. It was very much centralised, and still is, even after the democratic movement in 1990.

 

A lot of men and women lost their lives in their attempt to free themselves from the shackles of the Panchayat government and monarchy, and the result is that there’s no stability in Nepalese politics. There’s a change of government after short terms, with an alarming corruption and nepotism, and the NGOs in the aid-giving countries only shake their heads in disbelief, because their counterparts are shuffled and posted to remote places, depending on their political color.

 

The fact that the Nepalese woman suffers in society is deeply rooted in the social system and the anachronistic and discriminatory, patriarchal, hinduistic Civil Code (Muluki Ain) which was formulated under the reign of a king named Surendra Bikram in 1853. It was modified by King Mahendra (the father of the present King Birendra) in 1963. If a Nepalese woman gives birth to a still-born child she is charged with infanticide on the evidence of a denunciation, without so much as a gynacological examination, and sentenced by the rule of Garbhabat, which is the Nepalese word for: destruction of life. The Nepalese Civil Code was made in a dark age of Nepalese history during which another form of social and cultural values were prevalent. Though the winds of change have swept in the Nepalese kingdom, the Code still remains unchallenged as far as the poorer section of the Nepalese population is concerned.

 

Many women who miscarry hide the evidence by not going for medical tratment and this can lead to infertility or even death. The Nepalese Code assumes that every pregnancy that fails due to natural causes is the fault of the mother –in effect, a deliberate attempt to abort the pregnancy, and it’s horrible to see a woman hauled off to jail as a criminal on top of the personal tragedy of the loss of a child that may have been longed for. It is possible for influential Nepalese women to get away with abortion without much fuss in the male-dominated Nepalese society.

 

Hindu marriage ceremony:

If a Nepalese couple wants to elope and marry fast and cheap, all they do is perform a minimum of ‘tika-talo’ ritual ceremony, and they don’t even have to be registered. The normal hinduistic marriage is elaborate and arranged by the parents and is a family matter in which the caste plays a big role even today. The well-educated bridegrooms of Kathmandu Valley prefer to see a video of the bride-to-be in the case of arranged marriages to avoid the ‘cat-in-the-sack’ phenomenon. For the family of the bride it is a matter of prestige and the marriage is celebrated with much ado, and hundreds of guests are invited. This may have ruinous consequences for the family of the bride, because it means blowing up a lot of borrowed money in case the family isn’t wealthy. The dowry comprises both gifts and money and this is also an incentive for the bridegroom. The tradition is stronger than the legislation .

 

During the marriage ceremony the couple sit down cross-legged in front of the altar where scores of sacrificial objects are spread out on small cups made of banana leaves held together with tooth-pick sticks. The offerings consist of flowers, incense, water, oil-lamps, cinnober-powder, rice, sweets, fruit (depending on the season), coins, and even cloth.

 

Not all the stainless-steel thalis and Meissner porcelain are ritually pure in compari­son to the hand-made natural taparas from banana and other smooth leaves for the Gods and Godesses of the hinduistic pan­theon. The priest who performs the marriage-ceremony is a Benaras-educated Sanskrit-reciting Brahmin. In civil-life he works for the Nepalese government, but since he is a Brahmin by birth, he is often invited to carry out all forms of pujas by the Hindu population of Kathmandu. The house-bahun is consulted, who calculates the time for the rituals to be performed by consulting his astrological calendar. An auspicious day for the wedding has to be found, for the human being is a microcosm of the rhythm of the universe.

 

A young daughter is treated as a holy person, even holier as the cows that you see in the streets of Nepal, Sikkim and India and a young daughter brings a lot of positive aspects or punya to her parents. Normally the parents of the bride wash the feet of both bride and groom. The foot-washing is accompanied by the recitations of vedic lore by the Bahun priest beckoned by the parents of the bride. After that follows the gift-of-the-virgin (kanyadan) ceremony.

 

The bride wears a scarlet seven meter long sari, an embroidered silk blouse, traditional jewelry and her hair is parted in the middle. She wears pearls on her ears decorated with gold. A number of sacrifices are made to the Gods and Goddesses by sprinkling their symbolic effigies with jamara and holy water. This is followed by the entire family chanting “Om jaya jagadisha hare” to the accompaniment of a small ritual drum (dama­ru), the chiming of a bell and the blowing of a conch.

 

And then comes the actual swayamvara-ceremony with the sacrificial fire, which is made in the form of a quadrangle that encloses the ritual article: the sacred altar, with the fire in the centre.

 

Hindu Offerings:

Various offerings are made to the dieties: Ganesh, Agni the God of Fire, the sky, wind, earth, water, and the hinduistic trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Sacrificial rituals have been an essential part of the vedic way of life. The sacrifice is simple but its meaning can be complex. This is followed by the sindur-potay ceremony. The bridegroom has to place vermillion (sindur) as a sign of marriage on the parting of the bride’s hair. A Hindu bride is expected to apply the sindur as long as her husband lives. After that the couple are obliged to walk around the sacrificial fire three times. In Hinduism, Agni (latin: ignis) is not only the God of Fire and ritual but also the fire itself and summons the power of the Sun God Surya to the sacrificial altar.

 

Divorce among Hindus:

Even though Hindu marriages are elaborate, they can be annulled quicker than the marriages that end on the rocks of Reno. The divorce rate among the Nepalese is rising even though most marriages are arranged by the parents. It’s the male who files the divorce because he might have been forced to marry by his parents, and later when he has financial resources and is independent from his father, decides that his spouse is an unsuitable match. A couple is divorced when the man denies the relationship. And if the woman has the misfortune to be pregnant or has children, then she’s stigmatised and branded as immoral.

 

Article 11 of the Nepalese Constitution states that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of sex, but in Article 9 it states that the children of Nepalese male citizens are deemed to be citizens of Nepal by descent. The children of Nepalese female citizens with foreign fathers are considered foreigners, and have to reside in Nepal for fifteen years before they can be granted Nepalese citizenships.

 

Nepalese males should examine their own attitudes towards girls and women in their immediate surroundings. Do our daughters and sons get the same attention, affection and the same status?

 

Motherhood and Child-rearing:

Marriage and rearing children shouldn’t be the sole aim of a woman’s life. In Germany, for instance, there’s an alarming high number of mothers-with-kids (alleinstehende Mütter). Living with a partner seems to have gone haywire and they prefer to live alone, cashing alimony cheques from the fathers of their children or living on hand-outs of the Social Department throughout Germany. The German law makes it possible. The Nepalese women have a tough time in their hinduistic, patriarchal milieus, which hardly give them a chance to get up once they have fallen in the eyes of the pollution-purity professing Hindu society.

 

Despite the sweeping changes that have been introduced in Nepal’s Civil Code since 1975, most women are ignorant of their rights because of the high illiteracy, low self-esteem and lack of self-consciousness. The Nepalese society plays a pivotal role in victimising women who have divorced or have separated from their partners. Widows are not allowed to wear scarlet saris, no wedding necklaces and the vermillion powder called tika. They have to wear white as a sign of mourning . The social stigma attached to these unfortunate women reduces their chances in the marriage-market. Nepalese males prefer chaste, untouched females, almost girl-children, as their brides.

 

After the success of the people’s movement, the new constitution of Nepal was promulgated in November 1990 and broke new ground as far as women’s rights to equality and fair-play are concerned. The State has been given the authority to legislate specific laws for the protection of the special rights of women.

 

Nothing has changed since then in practice. Although provisions have been made in the New Nepalese Constitution (1990) in favour of women, the elections showed that the major parties are not prepared to improve the status of women in Nepal. Women are treated as second-grade citizens and even like servants, as can be seen in the laws relating to property rights, family rights and sexual rights. My question is: Quo vadis Nepal? Will the new government formed by the Maoists, Congress and other parties also take the role of the women in Nepal’s development?

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What others have said about the author:

Die Schilderungen von Satis Shroff in ‘Through Nepalese Eyes’ (www.Lulu.com) sind faszinierend und geben uns die Möglichkeit, unsere Welt mit neuen Augen zu sehen..“ (Alice Grünfelder von Unionsverlag / Limmat Verlag, Zürich).

 

Since 1974 I have been living on and off in Nepal, writing articles and publishing books about Nepal– this beautiful Himalayan country. Even before I knew Satis Shroff personally (later) I was deeply impressed by his articles, which helped me very much to deepen my knowledge about Nepal. Satis Shroff is one of the very few Nepalese writers being able to compare ecology, development and modernisation in the ‘Third’ and ‘First’ World. He is doing this with great enthusiasm, competence and intelligence, showing his great concern for the development of his own country”. (Ludmilla Tüting, journalist and publisher, Berlin).

 

Due to his very pleasant personality and in-depth experience in both South Asian, as well as Western workstyles and living, Satis Shroff brings with him a cultural sensitivity that is refined. His writings have always reflected the positive attributes of optimism, tolerance, and a need to explain and to describe without looking down on either his subject or his reader”. (Kanak Mani Dixit, Himal Southasia, Kathmandu)

 

Satis Shroff writes with intelligence, wit and grace”. (Bruce Dobler, Professor in Creative Writing MFA, University of Iowa).

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 Dalit issue: Towards Rights for  the Poor, Untouchables, Underdogs of the Nepalese Society

     
 

Nepal’s new constitution must recognize and protect the fundamental human rights of Dalits, says a new
report released today by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law. The report was released on the heels of Nepal?s historic Constituent Assembly elections held on April 10, 2008.

The 89-page report Recasting Justice: Securing Dalit Rights in Nepal?s New Constitution analyzes Nepal?s Interim Constitution to inform how the new constitution may be drafted in accordance with the country?s international human rights obligations to secure the rights of Dalits-a group which has faced more than 2000 years of systematic discrimination on the basis of caste. As Nepal prepares its new constitution after years of prolonged civil war, Recasting Justice provides Nepalese lawmakers with tangible means to demonstrate the country?s commitment to the inherent dignity and human rights of all individuals.

The caste system is an affront to human dignity and inimical to the right to equality under international law,? said Smita Narula, Faculty Director at CHRGJ and an expert on caste discrimination. ?Nepal?s new constitution must strike at the heart of this inhumane system, or risk perpetuating the very injustices that fueled its conflicts of the past.?

The report’s principal areas of focus correspond with Nepal’s international human rights treaty obligations, which include ensuring: nondiscriminatory access to citizenship; the right to equality and non-discrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; women’s rights; children’s rights; the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to a remedy for human rights violations. Nepal has to date fallen far short of meeting these human rights obligations, as is shown by the reality of the Nepalese Dalit experience. While the Interim Constitution takes commendable steps toward human rights, significant gaps remain in the protection of Dalit rights.

Caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability have ensured the complete subordination of Dalits who, based on some unofficial estimates, comprise up to 25 percent of Nepal?s population, yet own only one percent of Nepal?s wealth and arable land. Although some Dalits have excelled despite the caste system’s substantial constraints, a large percentage remain vulnerable to extreme forms of exploitation. Upper-caste? community members typically force Dalits to live in segregated communities; forbid them from entering public spaces; deny them access to food, water, and land; and coerce them into caste-based occupations considered too „ritually impure“ for higher castes. Attempts by Dalits to defy this prescribed social order are met with punitive violence and social ostracism. Dalit women and girls bear the dual brunt of caste and gender discrimination. The exclusion of Dalits from all facets of governance has ensured their continued marginalization and their unequal receipt of the state?s attention and resources. This political marginalization also makes them particularly vulnerable to abuses such as torture and arbitrary detention, abuses that were ripe during the conflict.


‘The new constitution should act as a roadmap for how Nepal will meet its international human rights obligations,’ said Jayne Huckerby, CHRGJ’s Research Director. It must finally answer the long overdue call for Dalit rights.

The report’s recommendations are based on a detailed analysis of Nepal?s obligations under international human rights law. Among its key recommendations, CHRGJ calls on the Constituent Assembly to ensure that Nepal’s new constitution:

§ facilitates political representation and meaningful participation of Dalits and other marginalized communities in decision-making bodies, including the Constituent Assembly which will draft the new constitution;
§ ensures nondiscriminatory access to citizenship;
§ explicitly prohibits private acts of discrimination;
§ explicitly prohibits the use of religion to encroach upon fundamental rights;
§ explicitly guarantees the right to health and the right to freely choose or accept employment;
§ adopts a definition of torture beyond acts that occur in traditional custodial detention; and,
§ extends the right to constitutional remedy to non-citizens.

Recasting Justice was produced in close cooperation with Dalit advocates and members of the legal community in Nepal and draws on the expertise of Nepalese academics and international constitutional scholars. In November 2007, CHRGJ also conducted extensive in-country interviews with Dalit rights advocates, members of the Nepalese legal community, and representatives of international organizations. The report includes detailed factual information on human rights abuses against Dalits in Nepal and builds on both CHRGJ?s expertise on caste discrimination and international human rights law.

The report?s findings and recommendations have been endorsed by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), a non-governmental organization based out of Copenhagen which brings together national solidarity networks and Dalit NGO platforms from around the world. IDSN welcomed the unprecedented inclusion of Dalits in the Constituent Assembly, adding that far more needs to be done.

?Nepal faces a historic opportunity to eliminate this entrenched system of radical inequalities,? said Rikke Nöhrlind, IDSN?s Coordinator, ?This report makes a tremendous contribution to the new government by clearly articulating the full range of measures that need to be adopted to address the long legacy of injustice against Dalits. We sincerely hope the international community will support Nepal’s transition toward eliminating all forms of caste discrimination.?

CHRGJ’s analysis is based on extensive research and builds upon its previous work on the topic of caste discrimination-particularly its 2005 report The Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Caste Discrimination and the Conflict in Nepal.

The report and other background materials, including a summary briefing paper in both English and Nepali, are available at http://www.chrgj.org.
For more information about the IDSN, please see: http://www.idsn.org.

About the CHRGJ: The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) brings together and expands the rich array of teaching, research, clinical, internship, and publishing activities undertaken within New York University (NYU) School of Law on international human rights issues. Philip Alston is the Center?s Faculty Chair; Smita Narula and Margaret Satterthwaite are Faculty Directors; Jayne Huckerby is Research Director; Veerle Opgenhaffen is Program Director; Mattie Johnstone is Clinical Fellow; and Michelle Williams is Clinic Administrator. The CHRGJ and its International Human Rights Clinic have focused extensively on caste discrimination, and have collaborated with Dalit NGO partners throughout South Asia. The Center?s reports, statements, and briefing papers on caste discrimination are regularly cited by policymakers and inter-governmental actors.

For More Information Contact:

CHRGJ: Smita Narula, Faculty Director, +1 212 992 8824 or +1 917 209 6902 (English, Hindi, Urdu)
Jayne Huckerby, Research Director, +1 212 992 8903 or +1 212 203 6410 (English)

International Human Rights Clinic:
Neville Dastoor +1 813 380 2030 (English)
Tafadzwa Pasipanodya, +1 609 462 6409 (English, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish)

IDSN: Rikke Nöhrlind, Coordinator: + 45 29 70 06 30 (English, Danish)

Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
New York University School of Law

110 West Third Street, Suite 204
New York, NY 10012
Email: chrgj@juris.law.nyu.edu
Web: http://www.chrgj.org

 
 
 
 
 

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LONGING FOR LANGEOOG (Satis Shroff)

 

Thomas, a burly, bearded botanist turned IT-specialist in Basle, and I decided to make a Herrnnachmittag out of a sunny day, despite the clouds in the vast horizon of the North Sea Isle of Langeoog, where we were spending our holidays with our near and dear ones. There we were, two croonies spending the afternoon, after an extended walk along the shore’s shrubby dunes on our way to the traditional East Friesian tea-house.

 

In the isle of Langeoog they call the houses ‘Hus,’ so you have a Teehus (tea-house) a Spöölhus (a house where kidddies can play). Since we were both avid tea-drinkers, we decided to go the “Ostfriesische Teestube am Hafen,” and I must say I found it delightful. They even had self-baked cakes for diabetics, not that we had insulin problems, but I do remember that my diabetic Creative Writing Professor Bruce Dobler would order a sandwich, weigh it on his portable Waage meticulously. Every gram seemed to count. It was like a ritual after his Creative Writing lectures at the University of Freiburg and we went to an Irish pub called O’ Dwyers, behind the university library for a swig of Guinness stout, as we talked about literature, poets and writers.

 

The tea was excellent and the butter cakes delicious. Through the white painted windows we could see the blue North Sea and the boats. Trawlers were approaching the harbour bringing in their haul. Our table had a glass case filled with Darjeeling tea leaves.

 

Thomas asked if it was the First Flush or the Second? I told him that it was certainly the First Flush because the ‘two leaves and a bud’ were distinctly visible. After the excellent Fresian tea we went for a walk along the dyke to the harbour. To our left was the Watt, which had been laid artificially, and which had become a habitat for all sorts of birds among them naturally a numerous sea-gulls.

 

Behind us we could see the bunkers built during the Third Reich, td been constructed though the iron-door leading to it was closed. Where the tarmac had been constructed for the German Luftwaffe, was now a dense forest, but the impeccable landing area was still intact. Private twin-motored planes took-off and landed now and again.

 

On August 3, 1941 some 450 Soviet prisoners of war were brought to Langeoog. The island chronist and teacher Richard Windemuth described them this way: ‘ We were all excited to know whether they looked the way the magazines and weekly shows described them. What we saw were figures in rags and uncouth due to the imprisonment, a very depressing picture. According to the SS-guards the POWs had rebelled and didn’t want to board the ship at Bensersiel. They were scared that they’d be left to drown in the icy waters of the North Sea.

 

The POWs, according to an observer from Wangerooge, were put up in a barrack in the Garden Street (today it’s House Meedland). The youngest POW was 15 years old, and they had to work at the airport of Langeoog. 113 of them died due to the inhuman treatment meted out to them, and buried in mass-graves in the outskirts of the dune-graveyard. After the krieg the island community is said to have created a passable memorial.

 

On August 26, 1941 came the French prisoners of war to Langeoog. They were soldiers who’d tried to escape from the Lagers (prison-camps) in Germany’s mainland. The treatment was harder than usual in the Isle of Langegoog, but not comparable to the treatment of Soviet prisoners. The chronicler says: ‘ They got the same food, even tobacco and Schnaps (German alcohol) like the German guards.’ Not so the poor Soviets who were called ‘Ivan’ in those days.

 

It might be noted that the Führer (Hitler) in his big speech demanded from the German public to pray for the blessings of the Almighty for the German Waffen (soldiers) in the Eastern Front. The population statistics of 1939 show that 95 % of the Germans belonged to one or other of the Christian religious societies: evangelic and catholic.

 

Just before midnight on September 7, 1941 Langeoog was bombed again. To the south of the airport 200 incendiary bombs were counted. One of the exploding bombs destroyed the Meider’s Bridge at the harbour. A ship under construction received 15 splitters and the harbour building was completely destroyed.

 

At the dune-graveyard you could visit the grave of the famous chanson singer Lale Anderson, who’s haunting, melodious song ‘Lili Marleen’ woke longings in the hearts of the U-boat crews, Luftwaffe pilots and German destroyers and other battleships, away from their Heimat and the danger of being blown to pieces by the US, RAF and Allied airplanes, depth-charges and artillery and flak.

 

No one knows the secret of freedom, unless you are a prisoner,’ said Dietrich Bonhoffer in 1944 when he was imprisoned by the Nazis. He knew through his own suffering and experience what freedom meant, and he also knew what personal freedom one had to sacrifice to achieve freedom for all, for freedom is not only a word. Freedom means words and deeds, as is evident in the Tibetan issue where people around the world are reacting and agitating for the fundamental rights of a country called the Roof of the World.

 

Meanwhile, you could discern a hoot from an outwards bound ship or the red catamaran which commutes between Langeoog and Benzersiel, and the incessant cries of the sea-gulls vying with each other to get a morsel of fish from the trawlers that were coming to their home-harbour.

 

The 2500 inhabitants of Langeoog are facing a tough time battling against Nature. The sea, which is washing away the island is one factor, and the influx of people with a lot of capital from the mainland is the other factor. The dunes are very important for the islands and coasts just as the wind, water and sun. Like the Watt and salty meadows, the dunes and other habitats also underlie special dynamic changes and some flora and fauna need these changes. Strandhafer, Strandroggen and Stranddistel live here. Brandgeese and sea-gulls breed primarily in the dunes.

 

The dunes serve as a protection for endangered animals and also for the inhabitants of Langeoog because there’s no need to build dykes, where there’s a protective shield of dune-chains around the island and along the coast. The dunes are much higher than the dykes and a lot broader. Every year, the west-wind and west-waves bring thousands of tons of sand from the East Sea to the North Sea. The protection of the coast and nature conservation go hand in hand. And visitors to the isle are admonished to walk only along the prescribed paths to the benefit of humans and Mother Nature

 

Even I’d contemplated how wonderful it would be to build at least a holiday-houses at Langeoog. Instead we’ve decided to build one in the Black Forest right below a hill with pine trees, with an excellent view of the hills in the vicinity of Rosskopf.

 

The old fashioned Tante Emma shops are dwindling, giving way to supermarkets—like in France’s Atlantic Isle of Oleron. One remarkable feature of the Isle of Langeoog is that it has been long declared a car-free zone. The main means of communication in the Isle is with an old, gaudy diesel-driven train that brings you to the town from the harbour. After that you can hire a horse-driven taxi, bicycle or go on foot. The cars remain in Bensersiel (mainland). And unless you know someone in the island who has a plane, everyone is obliged to take the ferry.

 

We walked along the north-west beach into the small town. The beach was littered with churned sea-shells, sea-weed and plastic garbage of the tourists. A team of workers who belonged to a jaw-breaking measure (Arbeitsbeschaffungsmaßnahmen ABM) came with a tractor and a trailer to clear the beach.

 

Ordnung muss sein, even on the beach!” remarked Thomas. The people of Langeoog have to separate their garbage and put them in the respective bins—as everywhere in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Green bins for paper, brown for biological or organic garbage and yellow plastic bags for PVC and plastic garbage.

 

Watt n’ Erlebnis: The walk along the North Sea Wattenmeer, along the shore of Langeoog was interesting and strenuous and the local guide Uwe G. turned out to be a bearded, blond East Friesian bloke with a gift of the gab. He introduced us to the dangers and secrets of the Watt, which is typical for Germany and Scandinavian countries. We walked every 100 metres into the sea, and Uwe dug his fork into the sea-bed and showed us the wonders of the North Sea Watt: crustaceans and molluscs, crabs, shrimps, worms and their habitats. How the heart-mussel and clams live, and how to get a glass full of shrimps swimming in water. He loved to tell you about the peristaltic of the worms in comparison to humans, their reproductive and digestive systems. It was what you might call a marine biology lecture carried at a hilarious, non-scientific level and the people loved him for it.

 

An elderly Germany couple thought the Uwe had a “Bundeswehr tone” to his talk. Another German said that he was definitely “Analfixiert” (anal-fixed according to Freud’s theory, wherein he speaks about people being ‘fixed’ in the oral, anal and oedipal phases of human development). But Uwe was very self-conscious and he went on candidly comparing humans with molluscs. The children and grown-ups had a good time.

 

By the time we’d reached the outer periphery of the Watt, the tide started coming in. And it got difficult to pull out the gum-boots out of the Schlack (dark, sticky, muddy water). It was a moment when I thought it would perhaps be better to leave my gum-boots behind. But I somehow managed to walk on. The Wattwanderung along the shores of the Isle of Langeoog was interesting and strenuous and we learned quite a lot about the wildlife and acquatic animas on the shores of the North Sea Wattenmeer.

 

Another day it was a chilly, and we could feel the gusts of wind blowing to the island from the North Sea. Although we had our pullovers, jackets and gum-boots on, as we trudged along between the beach and the waves, busy gathering sea-shells, a woman in the autumn of her life, wearing a one-piece bathing suit in anthroposophical orange pastell colours, walked to the sea and began swimming in the cold, wind-swept water. Brr! She was very courageous, disciplined and trimmed for a hard life, I thought.

 

Downtown Langeoog reminded me of a sea-town in Britain with those neat brick-houses and white-painted doors and windows, cobble-stoned streets and sea-man’s kitsch on the windows. I couldn’t help it, I had to buy some of it: cards, Langeoogs water-tower in miniature with two sea-gulls and a red-white painted trawler, complete with fishing nets on two sides. Sigh!

 

 

 

Longing For Langeoog (Satis Shroff)

 

 

Were I a sea-gull

I’d fly to the north,

To Langeoog,

Where I spent my holidays.

Ach, how wonderful.

 

I think of the colourful

Wicker beach-chairs with hoods,

And the small island train.

 

I think of Flut and Ebbe,

Of time and tide,

Clams, starfish, seaweed.

The shores full of shrimps,

Sea-urchins and jelly-fish.

The fun of bathing

In the North Sea,

And the fear of the Qualle.

 

Grandma Else’s porcellain Stube,

A warm cuppa East Friesian

Candy sugared tea

At the harbour Teestube.

 

I remember ‘Watt’n Erlebnis’

What an experience,

During the Wattwanderung,

Along Langeoog’s dark, slicky shores,

Searching for mussels, clams and crabs in the water.

And in the endless sky,

Like an inverted cobalt bowl,

Swarms of Rotschenkel

On their way to Africa.

 

Glossary:

Flut und Ebbe: flood- and low-tide

Qualle: jellyfisherman

Rotschenkel: red-legged island birds

Watt: banks of sand, flats

Watt’n Erlebnis: what an experience, with a pun on Watt

Stube: store, shop

Teestube: tea-shop

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Commentary on Tibet:

Dalai Lama’s Realpolitik: A Policy of Appeasement (Satis Shroff)

 

The Chinese poet Dong Guanfu writes in his blog: “We cannot win the heart of the Tibetans if we only develop their economy. If we cannot manage to understand this, then many other conflicts will follow. There’s no denying that one of the reasons of staging the Olympic Games is that we want to make money. But the greater value of the Games is to strengthen and rejuvenate the spirit of a nation. How many spiritual values can we convey by way of the Olympic torch? This is a question that has to be weighed by the whole Chinese folk, especially the ruling part members (in Beijing). ”

 

The Dalai Lama has threatened to resign as the political leader of the Tibetans in Tibet and the diaspora (USA, India, Nepal and Switzerland), but the protests within Tibet has been rising although Tibet has been hermetically sealed for foreign journalists, and the nabbed demonstrators have been put to show as terrorists, their own outmoded arms on display (Royal Enfield rifles from World War II), knives and a few cartridges. A young monk was shown on TV welcoming and thanking the Chinese Army soldiers as ‘saviours’ by putting the traditional khada scarves on their heads.

 

Never before was a farce staged so badly. It was sickening to watch it, propaganda at its worst. The foreign journalists were obliged to leave Lhasa so that the Chinese propaganda could function without democratic impediments. And the views that have emerged through Xinhuan and Chinese TV are conspicuous through their slanted reporting to the benefit of the rulers in Beijing. The selected foreign-press was invited to Lhasa but this time the younger generation of Tibetan lamas were shown in tears with the words in their mouths, “Tibet is not free!” You could only feel a numbness and a lump in your throat.

 

The world knew already in 2001 that Peking put not only the Tibetans under pressure but consequently cracked down on intellectuals and other Tibetan people, and went even so far as to hang them en masse as political criminals. It is ironical that the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Beijing. One hopes that this will be a lesson to the Olympic Committee, if they are ever in a dilemma of staging the Games in similar countries, where the rights of the individuals are suppressed, and human rights are trampled upon. This goes against the Olympic spirit. But the question of morality and ethics doesn’t seem to arise when political lobbyists are at work, and economic and commercial gains are also a part of the game, in this case, Games. The privileged party elite of Peking and the organisers of many western countries seem to have a common opinion as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, and they all come up with: how could be punish our own sportsmen and women by not letting them take part in the competitions? Think of the gold medal possibilities that might be lost.

 

A sportsman with ethos and integrity would be ashamed to take part in the competitions. Most of the organising and participating nations are against boycotting the Games “because it would damage the sport and the contestants (sic).” On the one side, we have competitors wanting to take part in the Games no matter what it costs. On the other side, there are the one-party organisers in Beijing who see the Tibetans as disturbing elements led by the Dalai Lama clique, although they know very well that this is a cheap lie, fabricated to suits their purpose. Thanks to the Olympic Games 2008, the Chinese elite are in the international limelight, and have been ignoring the critical views of the rest of the world’s leaders and world organisations, and using them for their own purposes. The march of the Chinese troops in Lhasa has shown the real face of China.

 

What are gold medals worth in terms of humanity? A dark shadow has been cast upon the Olympics 2008 and August is nearing, but Peking is adamant. It’s still playing the olde, hackneyed melody, instead of listening to the Tibetans and the conscience of the world that are demanding equal human rights and justice, tolerance and respect for China’s minorities. The sportsmen and women have got nothing to lose their fame in the form of gold medals and money from future sponsors, but the Tibetans and the Chinese have a lot to win in terms of human values, tolerance, compassion and togetherness—a Miteinander.

 

I met an old German lady yesterday on my way from downtown Freiburg and she said, “Herr Shroff, you should have seen the film about the Lhasa-Peking train in Fernsehen. It was fantastic. They even have oxygen-masks, like in the Airbus, for the passengers who feel weak. How thoughtful of them!”

 

It is a fact that China has opened to the economic benefits of the western world, but in the jurisprudence sector, China this big Asian giant, is still an underdeveloped country and more paragraphs on human and individual rights have yet to be added before China’s Communist Party can speak of equal rights like others in the comity of nations. China’s leaders have been keeping its own Han-folk in the dark through the usage of propaganda by treating the Tibetans who protest in public as criminals. But the worst part of this propaganda war is that the Han-Chinese have become gullible and actually believe the theatre that has all the while been presented by Xinhua and CCTV. Moreover, the Han-Chinese believe that they freed the poor Tibetans from slavery and feudalism. The reality is, however, complex, because the Tibetan folk have their own script, scriptures, their own history of development, their mentality, psyche, religion, traditions and rich culture. When you see a Tibetan monk or youth throwing stones, it is a metaphor of a David who is trying to raise his hand against a Goliath (Han-Chinese), and this protest has nothing to do with criminality in the ordinary sense of the word. The real crime was committed when Han-Chinese overran the Tibetan Plateau and robbed the Tibetans of their religion, language, culture and outlawed them after the principle: A good Tibetan is a Han-Tibetan.

 

There was a time when the Dalai Lama was a welcome guest, as the spititual and temporal ruler of Tibet, and he was feted by rich and poor alike, by academicians and statesmen. Even the town of Freiburg showed that we were in solidarity with him, his folk and his cause. Now we are silent when Tibet needs us. The Olympic spirit and Machtpolitik should not be allowed to go hand in hand. We have had parallels in Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980. The International Olympic Committee has made a terrible mistake in awarding Peking, at this stage of its power-politics, the privilege of staging the Olympic Games.

 

Come August and the Games are really staged in Beijing, this will be the unkindest cut for the people of Tibet, the peace-loving Dalai Lama, the man who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in Stockholm, lest we forget, by the western world. The Dalai Lama has been all along constantly following a pragmatic Realpolitik, for the only way to bring China to reason is through the practice of patience, far-sightedness, pragmatism and non-violence in the spirit of Gandhiji and Martin Luther King.

 

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying that China’s re-settlement policy is a “demographic aggression” and that China is a Police-State with “the rule of terror.” How are the Europeans reacting to all this? The EU Commissioner Ferrero Waldner threatened with an Olympia boycott and the EU foreign minister demanded that Peking should carry out a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. According to the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the EU foreign ministers want to invite the Dalai Lama to Brussels. The EU parliament has already extended its invitation to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. China’s Jiang Yu from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs naturally protested.

 

Tibet and China are an unequal brotherhood sealed by fate, destiny, kismet, history. Tibet was ignored for centuries but globalisation has caught up with Peking after the Han-Chinese marched into Lhasa and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee or face imprisonment.

 

It can only be hoped that the Beijing government gives up the path of brutal confrontation, does a bit of soul searching and turns to the peaceful path of conflict solution through dialogue at the same eye-level, and not from above-to-below with its minorities. Since the Chinese and Tibetans (government in exile at Dharamsala) obviously are not in a position to carry out talks together, it would be better if Beijing consented to talks with UN mediators.

 

There is no denying that the Olympic Games are a competitive festival of sports and cultures, but how can people of different cultures celebrate when war-tanks and the Chinese Army are holding the Tibetan folk back in Lhasa, “Jhokang-market, and people in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Tongren (Rebkong) in the province Qinghai? The situation is similar to 1989 when ten thausand Tibetans demonstrated against the Chinese regime.In those days Perking imposed military rule over Lhasa, and sent its People’s Army to the streets. Hundreds of monks were imprisoned, many were shot.

 

Today, a new generation of monks and Tibetan angry youth have grown up and are only trying to fight for their human rights, as members of Homo sapiens. Even the Dalai Lama spoke of more autonomy, mind you, within the framework of the Chinese constitution. What the Tibetans want are equal rights and freedom from the cultural domination of thousands of Han Chinese, who have been re-settled by Beijing’s policy makers with the result that the Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. This is certainly not what the Tibetans and the western world understand under ‘autonomy.’

 

For centuries Tibet was the ‘autonomous region’ of China. But the Tibetans have been deprived of their very autonomy with the creation of a Chinese governor. China has in the past regarded the Himalayan countries as its phalanx, and has fought fiercely against India in 1962 over the border areas. There’s a Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai atmosphere, as the two big South Asian powers vie with each other for economic and commercial gains and cooperation, as evident newly between the Indian and Chinese troops that took part in military exercises. I remember a similar military exercise at the invitation of the Indian Army. A Chinese general had been invited and the Indian Army demonstrated its fire-power. The Chinese general applauded the firepower of his neighbour, then added: “Wonderful, but can you produce this same firepower under Himalayan conditions?” And truly enough, in 1962 the Chinese troops had a better fire-power than the Indians and were no match for the thoroughly trained mountain divisions of China.

 

The Lingua franca of Tibet is not Tibetan now but Standard Chinese, for the Han Chinese are out to develop Tibet and its people culturally, economically, socially and psychologically after the motto: there’s no better culture than the Han culture.

 

In the Kindergardens and schools of Tibet most of the lessons are held in Chinese, and not Tibetan. If one speaks Tibetan, one risks losing one’s job. When the Tibetan parents speak with the teachers they are obliged to do so only in Chinese, even though they are Tibetans. If this isn’t cultural imperialism, then what is it?

 

Even though some athletes are showing character and personal integrity by protesting as individuals spontaneously, the majority, however, do want to take part in the Games. Like for instance the German spear-thrower Christina Obergföll who said: “The boycott would steal the chance of a lifetime.” The manager of Sabine Spitz (mountain-bike discipline) said: “The boycott will only punish the athletes.”

 

Beijing has to listen to the Dalai Lama and his followers in the West, and in Tibet, and take to dialogue, instead of playing the hardliner and condemning and slandering His Holiness and his ‘so-called clique.’ The former spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet has serious and sincere intentions as far as the future of Tibet is concerned The communist politicians in Beijing have to realise that the only way to peace and stability in this former poverty-stricken country of monks, farmers and nomads is not through the use of force (Gewalt) but through well-meant consessions through dialogue, and by raising the status of the Tibetans to that of the Han-Chinese, and letting and encouraging them to develop Tibet together, and not by regarding Tibet’s wonderful culture and religion as something inferior and exotic. We can all learn from Tibet’s rich culture. Beijing has more to gain if it follows the path of peace, tolerance and Miteinander (togetherness) instead of using cheap propaganda to stage a Peking Opera with Tibetans as the culprits, which no one with a conscience, character and integrity wants to see. The scenario is well-known in the western world and no propaganda in this world can help the Chinese government in this particular issue.

 

The Han and other Chinese have the chance to prove to the world that they can practice social welfare and social development by giving the Tibetans the same autonomy, same status as the other Chinese. Otherwise, Beijing’s political goals remain a farce, reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.

 

The Ocean of Wisdom (Satis Shroff)

 

Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual and former

Temporal ruler of Tibet,

Came to a town in the Black Forest

And conquered the hearts of the Freiburger.

A lama in a back limousine,

Applauded by hundreds of Europeans and Asians.

You could feel the goose-pimples in your body,

Tears of joy came to your eyes.

His Holiness prays and blesses

The Tibet Kailash Haus,

A thousand Tibetan prayer flags

Flutter merrily in the wind,

Carrying the mumbled words to Himmel.

 

At the Freiburger Town Council

Says the lama:

Nations, races, social classes

Even religions are secondary.

What is important is that

We are all human beings.

 

Even the sun breaks through the clouds

When Tenzin Gyatso folds his hands,

Smiles from the balcony,

And throws flying kisses

To the German masses.

Even Petrus seems to be smile in Heaven.

 

The Ambassador of Peace

Hopes for a peaceful change,

In Tibet, the Roof of the World,

Where the economy booms

Under the control of the Chinese,

But where democracy and human rights

Are still stifled.

 

I remember seeing His Holiness

As a child in the foothills of the Himalayas,

As he fled across the Abode of the Snows.

Crowds thronged with snow white khadas,

To greet the Dalai Lama.

And here was I in Germany

With my humble prayers,

And there His Holiness,

Blessing us all,

The personification of the Ocean of Wisdom.

 

A seventy-two year old monk,

With the charisma and spontaneity of a child.

A message which said:

Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist or atheist,

If you have compassion for humans,

You can’t be wrong.’

What counts are the inner values

Within us:

Love, forgiveness, tolerance and self-discipline.

Religions help us to make these values even stronger.

Like the inner love and dialogue,

Between a mother and a child,.

To create a Century of Dialogue.

 

 

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