lramdas on Fri, 5 Jun 1998 09:27:16 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Re: A Poem from Sahir... [...South Asian Atomic Cafe]

[Forwarded by: Patrice Riemens (
 Forwarded by: Jogi Panghaal (]

Dear friends,

And its good to see so many familiar names on this list!

At a time when one is feeling angry, depressed and altogether wretched,
it is good to know that there are others out there who feel and share.

i thought I would also circulate something that I wrote on the night of
Buddha Purnima, as also the text of a letter sent to a large number of
papers. So far, needless to say - no one has published it.

My personal outpouring as in `The Buddha is smiling/ will probably
appear in Communalism Combat next month.

In solidarity - and let us keep in touch

Lolly Ramdas


The Editor
Indian Express
May 17 1998

Dear Sir

   India Joins the Nuclear Club

We are writing to express our disappointment at the lack of mature analysis in
the sea  of euphoric and largely superficial commentary - designed to add to
the already existing `hype' about the recent nuclear testing carried out by
India. It is quite alarming to read the confident poll findings based on a
hasty round of polling in four metropolitan cities which assert that the
`majority of the Indian public supports the nuclear explosions'! By the same
token, the gathering of NGOs academics and others to protest the outrage in
Delhi was categorised as representing `a small minority'.

It is indeed a matter of concern that a decision which is fraught with so many
grave long term consequences - is treated in an almost cavalier fashion.These
are not some Divali crackers that we were letting off - but lethal technologies
whose devastating effects and impact are well known, and still being evaluated.
It is a sobering thought that the leaders and opinion builders of this vast and
ancient nation have uncritically acclaimed the setting off of these five
nuclear devices at this stage in our history - a decision which demonstrated
scant respect for any process whereby public debate and informed analysis could
have preceded such a momentous step.

Indeed , the BJP government has cynically used an opportunity to mobilise a
shallow nationalistic jingoism, (shades of Ayodhya?) to paper over the real
problems and challenges facing the nation at this juncture. The leadership of
this country - (and they are not alone in this) - has time and time again taken
recourse to such stratagems. They know full well, that in a country so full of
major unsolved problems, education for sustained critical thinking and opinion
building on basic issues has never been encouraged. Therefore,  the bogey of
threats to national security and territorial integrity,  and the decision to
fulfil the promise of `going nuclear', is bound to whip up patriotic fervour
and support the illusion of a `government that works and acts'. The present
actions are a classic example.

The BJP-led government has had to struggle to govern and to maintain order
among the completely diverse bedfellows with whom it chose to work in its haste
to grab power. The possibility of achieving a consensus on any single objective
or policy seemed to be receding by the day. Their think-tank had done their
homework well - no political party could really afford to take a different line
on the question of demonstrating India's scientific and technical ability,
especially in the nuclear field.

It is often easier to cock a temporary snook at external pressures and
sanctions  - knowing that in all possibility such an action would not
necessarily evoke a uniform set of reactions.  In fact, the predictable
postures of bravado, and `we can go it alone' only add to the mobilising
capacity, and lessen all threats of raising the issues of lack of performance
and delivery on such critical,but `mundane' matters as economic performance or
food, health and education in the domestic arena.  It is important in our view,
to also point out some other factors ;

* whilst applauding the undoubted capability of our scientific and
technological community, let us understand clearly that this was never in doubt
or question, and certainly did not need  the present five tests to demonstrate
that this was so.

* for the BJP to claim political mileage and the credit for acting
`tough and decisively' is another myth - those who made these blasts possible
have been working quietly and invisibly for over two decades - and every
goverment in power has contributed to that process.

* there is no question that the `Nuclear Haves', as with many in the
developed world, have demonstrated cynical double standards with regard to the
less well to do countries. India's  stand on the CTBT and the need for total
dis-armament - had in fact been appreciated and respected by many. Equally our
right to develop our technological and scientific base is unquestioned and has
been demonstrated in countless ways.

* in fact, we added value to our moral ground because of the known 
fact that we had the technology and `know how', and could have built a `bomb'
at any time in the past two decades - but voluntarily chose NOT TO.  Today we
have forfeited that position  and given up the intrinsic civilisational values
for which this country has been respected the world over,  for some
questionable short term gains and the right to join precisely those nations and
that club whose values we have ridiculed in public forums the world over.

* Most importantly we have lost, or certainly postponed, an invaluable
opportunity to build peace in our own region - and we most certainly have laid
the ground for another arms race . The myth of deterrence has been shot through
by many, most recently by Jug Suraiya in his piece based on Jonathan Schell's

As this nation approaches the end of the year long fiftieth anniversary
celebrations, there are many who will point to Pokhran and the alleged "Smile
of the Buddha" as the highpoint of our half century mark as a nation. We would
humbly like to submit that these are not necessarily the opinions of the large
and silent majority in this country -  most of whom will not hear or care about
Pokhran, and for whom the fifty years of Independence has brought little change
and even less hope of realising the promise of a life of dignity, and the basic
needs of food, shelter, health and education  .

Your government seems to have turned its back on providing our children the
Fundamental Right to Elementary education, and fed them with five nuclear bombs
instead! Will history ever forgive us? More importantly, will our own future
generations , not to mention the children of today whom we have betrayed yet

Perhaps we can only look to the Buddha's Smile for answers?

Lalita Ramdas , Dr Priya Nanda, Lt Gen.Gurbir Mansingh, Dr Sagari Ram
Das, N.Madhusudan, Dr Sanjay Joshi, ,  Dr Arshia Sattar, Dr Mallika
Shankar Ghose

"Buddha is Smiling?" -  reflections on India's Nuclear Tests

    May 12 1998 - Lalita Ramdas

It was an incredibly magnificent full moon night - Buddha Purnima,May 11
1998  - and little Nirvan, our grandson, pointed excitedly to the
luminous golden orb as it rose majestically above the eastern hills
surrounding this coastal town of Alibag on the west coast as we drove
back homewards from our daily trip to the beach. As he and his little
sister aged 18 months kept trying to grab as much as they could of the
moon as it played hide and seek behind the hills each time the road
curved and wound its way into the mini ghats before our home, as usual
Nirvan was full/ of questions. Why is this full moon was called Buddha
Purnima? Who was Buddha? When did he live? When did he die? Why was he a
good man? What do you mean when you  say that my name Nirvan came from
him? What does Nirvana mean? How do you explain all this to a little boy
who is not quite five years old ......

So grandpa and I tried - and for over an hour - we lay on the khatiya on
the verandah - just watching the moon rising higher, imagining its
shapes, re-telling Buddha for a small boy , enjoying the coolth, the
occasional hoot of the owls and the shrieking of the lapwing which goes
crazy every night. But tonight the owls were screeching more restlessly
than usual and the lapwing's dervish - like flight was more hysterical
than usual as she shreiked "didudoit -didudoit?"...... maybe they picked
up the vibrations travelling under the surface of mother earth from a
place called Pokhran, in the state of Rajasthan some 500 kms to the
north and west of us.

With our 25 year old TV finally having called it a day - the usual
pressure of rushing to switch on the news at 9pm was absent - and we
continued to enjoy the cool  and peace of the night when the rest of the
towns and cities sweltered .....until the telephone jangled - a friend
from Mumbai to ask us to switch on the news - India had carried out
three underground nuclear tests - yes - this day - Buddha Purnima,  deep
under the ground in the Rajasthan desert. It was a phone call which
shattered and changed many things - both the stillness and the peace of
that night, and more permanently perhaps, the illusion of peace and

The lapwing was more perceptive than us mere mortals - but even she
stopped her hysterical wheeling around - and left us to take on where
she had left off. Phone calls, conversations and arguments late into the
night - Nirvan could not sleep because his grandparents kept talking,
sometimes softly, most of the time loudly and angrily - when he asked
why we were fighting, we had to defend ourselves by saying this was
called "arguing". "What are you arguing about " was the inevitable next

And so I tried to explain the story of what had happened today -
somewhere deep in the desert  - many many important people - scientists,
politicians, servicemen - had `burst a bomb' - this was a special kind
of bomb which could not only kill people, but burn and destroy the
earth, the trees, and millions for miles around - Nirvan - "Where did
this happen Thatha? In Rajasthan. Is it in India? yes darling. But then
will it kill me

and my sister? No darling  - it is far away from here? Why do they make
bombs Thatha - are they bad men? Er, not really, but this is part of
their work - they do experiments and it is important to show that what
they learn on the computer - they can check on the ground? But why
Thatha? You tell me that it is bad to shoot or kill people and you only
let me `shoot' with my camera? Yes Baba, you are right - but dont you
think you should go to sleep now?...........

My mind has not stopped churning - the thoughts come tormentingly and
The desert is dry, arid and hot - what must these explosions - or
implosions have added to the chemistry of the desert sands and the
desert air - more heat - white blinding heat that mindlessly and blindly
destroys all that comes in its path - children, buildings,fields and
forests......creeping silently under the desert - who knows in what
direction - silent, insidious, destructive -

....."but all the instruments showed there was no radiation" they said
in the newspapers

the politicians, analysts and the media announce with pride - this is
proof of our scientific and technological prowess - now we can speak
from a position of strength and power - "India now joins the club of
five N-weapon states"

....speak about what? what exactly are we proving and to whom? will our
security needs be guaranteed once and for all? what constitutes

The chairman of the task force set up to prepare a blueprint for the
national security force believes that `these tests will add to the
strength of the country not only militarily, but also
psychologically...' The official spokesman solemnly intones that this
was the promise made to the people of India by the incoming government
- namely to take all necessary steps to guarantee their security ....

.....What about all the other promises we also made and continue to
were we foolish to believe that  we had promised our people the right to
work, education, health, shelter, food, dignity of life?That we had
solemnly resolved to eradicate poverty and to give our women and
children the security of a decent environment, drinking water and a
school in every village?

How come those promises are still awaiting fulfilment - fifty years down
the line - but this one has been devastatingly adhered to barely a month
after coming to power? Impressive ? or Sinister?

The press, the media, and carefully selected voices parrot in unison -
"This is a step which will be welcomed by our people  - this was very
important - now the world will be forced to listen to the Voice of
India  we will not allow ourselves to be bullied any longer."......The
power of the media to influence the mass of people - educated or not -
is as devastating as the explosion. Those who reacted with shock, horror
and condemnation yesterday - have been brainwashed to re-think and come
round to the `nationalist' `patriotic' line within twenty four 

 All our efforts to build alternative points of view - to educate for
peace, for justice , for education for all, and for a sustainable
development  - were they mere drops in the ocean - without substance,
without meaning?

Two weeks ago some of us formed a National Alliance on making Elementary
Education a Fundamental Right - a week later, the HRD Ministry announced
it was setting up yet another review committee, and was re-thinking the
Constitutional Amendment making Elementary Education a fundamental right
- where would we find the Rs 40,000 crores to put every child in school
even at the current abysmal levels of quality?  But today there is
potentially enough money to sustain nuclear weaponry!

It is all too easy to be beset by doubts and questions - and it is true
that only those who have thought this through over time would be able to
withstand the onslaught of self righteous back patting, justification
and rationalising - with the official  propaganda and other machinery in
full swing ...."maybe they are right after all - why should the Yanks
dictate to us and the world - nothing speaks like power - and that flows
from the barrel of the gun (or the mushrooming of the nuclear cloud)
........this is part of the resistance of ex-colonial countries to neo-
colonisation and imperialism ............"

Questions - Urgent Questions : What should the future agenda be for this
small minority - because that is indeed who we are - small voices
shouting in the wilderness - . Do we in fact know what our own positions
and thoughts are about this - we the NGOs, the educators and social
workers, the representatives of civil society?Are we just unrealistic
dreamers and `do-gooders' - with no understanding of "real politik"? 
Why is it that we were unable to bring this issue of nuclearisation,
militarisation on to the agenda in any meaningful way - and now it seems
it is almost too late. Who will raise a voice of sanity and counsel
wisdom and caution that might stem the flood of rhetoric which so easily
sweeps all before it - resulting in a kind of mass exultation about
possessing nuclear capability without even beginning to understand the
deadly implications. Is this the nuclear equivalent of the Babri Masjid
Is there really a chance that we can persuade people in our own land
that the world may indeed respect us the more if we were in fact able to
fulfil those other, more difficult promises - of providing our own
humanity a decent place in the sun? Namely - to do what the Constitution
of India promised :

* work to create an India where children no longer have to grovel in
rubbish bins, or work in near slavery conditions,  or sleep on the

* where our women and girls will no longer be bought and  sold into 
forms of violence and prostitution - within the home or the workplace;

* and where the meaning of self reliance and `swadeshi' will be 
radicalised but neither communalised or hindu-ised, nor brutalised.

* In my definition this would mean that our brightest and best -
including those undoubtedly brlliant scientists and technicians who
created and tested these bombs, will devote the rest of their lives and
efforts to applying science and

* technology to overcoming poverty and hunger, solving the water
management systems,in short- a truly humanistic application of science
and technology.

* being able to build a solid foundation of a new generation of young
scientifically trained and thinking young people who will raise their
collective voices against future examples of this sadly immature
demonstration of what national pride and power should be.

And in order to do this - it is not enough to produce a few geniuses out
of a few elite institutions across India. A strong, proud and
independent country can only be based upon a foundation of free, healthy
and educated citizens - And the base has to be strengthened urgently and
systematically across the board.

This means that we the people - (and lets forget governments who
continue to say  there is no money for basics) - have to find the will,
the resources, the commitment to send our kids into schools, provide
quality education, make them think critically. Equally importantly, we
have to use all our pedagogical and communication skills to persuade
their parents in communities and villages across this land that bombs
and blasts and atoms and fission will neither fill bellies or guarantee
peace or security, not now, not ever. But conserving water, building
schools and primary health care centers, WILL!

And that is when, maybe - sometime in the future - the Buddha will smile
and continue to smile - when many full moons later - on another Buddha
Purnima - our Nirvana will tell his grandchildren about the true meaning
of Buddha's message - on a farm called `Ramu Farm.' in a small 
village named Bhaimala,

Lalita Ramdas
  Letter to my Daughters, my grandchildren - Indian, Pakistani, American

   from an anguished woman, wife, mother, grandmother,educator!
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