News and Reviews
Tensions in Ladakh over the fact that Muslims are producing more babies than Buddhists bubbled to the surface once again last week. The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, plus other officials protesting what it calls a “love jihad” by Muslims.
A journal article by Sara H. Smith, reviewed in 2014, pointed out that interfaith marriages in Ladakh had historically been permissible by both communities. In such unions, Buddhist and Muslim men and women adhered to their own faiths, yet they cherished the harmony of the overall Ladakhi community as they attended each other’s sacred festivals and respected their differing traditions. However, the interfaith harmony was severely challenged by strife and violence in the late 1980s, and groups such as the LBA have forbidden such marriages since then.
An earlier article, also by Smith, described how the fanaticism of Ladakhi religious leaders, especially the LBA, was leading them to not only try and prevent interfaith marriages, but also to try and discourage Buddhist women from making their own decisions on the sizes of their families. The LBA made it seem like a sacred duty for Buddhist women to marry Buddhist men, and to then produce more and more babies.
The most recent letter from the LBA was described in a news article last week published by Rising Kashmir, a major daily newspaper in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The letter restated the LBA position—their absolute opposition to interfaith marriages: “Buddhist girls have been lured by [the] Sunni Muslim community in Zanskar forcing them to embrace Islam. Young girls are being lured by Muslim boys to marry and [then they] finally convert them to Islam,” the LBA wrote.
Zanskar, a subdivision of the Kargil District, is composed of Sunni Muslims and Buddhists. The people living in the rest of Kargil are mostly Shia Muslims, while the Leh District is predominantly Buddhist with a minority of Muslims. The LBA letter claimed that Muslim activities had converted some Buddhists to Islam, “which ignited resentment and anger among the Buddhist community all over Ladakh.”
The letter described specific incidents late in 2014 and early in 2015 in which Buddhist females were lured away from their families by Muslims. The LBA appealed to Prime Minister Modi to intervene. As yet, it said, no arrests had been made.
The letter, signed by Sonam Dawa, the General Secretary of the LBA, warned that serious intercommunity tensions would be the result if the situation is not stopped, and government officials would be at fault. For their part, Ladakhi Muslims are denying that they are perpetrating any forceful conversions. Representatives of their community protest that the Buddhists are the ones who are enforcing a social boycott against them.
Ghulam Rasool, a retired Muslim official, said that Muslims form only a minority in the Zanskar region, and they have no reason to try and convert anyone. He admitted that some Muslim and Buddhist young people do marry one another, but he asked the obvious question: “so what role does the whole community play in it?” He concluded that the social boycott is basically at fault, and if individuals convert from one faith to another, isn’t that their own, private business?
The Rising Kashmir journalist, Rahiba Parveen, did not indicate if she made any attempt to find out how the LBA letter was viewed by Prime Minister Modi, but she did contact the local Member of Parliament, Thupstan Chhewang. He said that these issues have been brought to his attention. He mentioned that 20 to 24 families had been converted a couple years ago. “Ladakh has been very peaceful but such isolated incident[s] could lead to tension,” he said.
The San living in the desert of Botswana are still strongly attached to the land, Daniel Koehler wrote last week, a value which they hope their children will embrace. Koehler is one of five grantees chosen from a field of 864 people who applied for a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. He is living with the San and writing about his experiences in a series of blog posts.
His project is to prepare a documentary film about the social and cultural adjustments that the San people—the G/wi and the G//ana—are making in New Xade, one of the resettlement camps located near the town of Ghanzi in the Ghanzi District of western Botswana. He is comparing their new lives with their former subsistence lifestyle in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), where now only a few of them are able to subsist. His first four blog posts describe his project and his adventures in Botswana so far.
In the first one, dated October 16, 2014, Koehler introduces himself, his project, and the San people. He spent the early years of his life in Uganda, got an education at Elon University in North Carolina, and has focused on documentary filmmaking as a career. He took an interest in the way the Botswana government removed the San people from the CKGR starting in 1997. During his projected nine-month stay, he intends to prepare a film that will explore how the resettlement has affected the cultural identity of the affected people.
He rejects any romantic image of the San people as helpless victims of government oppression. Those kinds of portrayals “deny the San their agency,” he writes, and they overlook the possible long-term intent of the Botswana government to provide a viable future for its minority citizens. He intends in his film to address such questions as how much the San traditions can be adaptable to the processes of modern life. What identities do the San have for themselves? How do they see their futures? How can government policies support their senses of identity? He intends to produce what he calls a character study film, focusing on the lives of individuals, whom he will observe and interview for the final product.
In his second blog post on November 6, 2014, Koehler describes his long trip to Gaborone and his introductions to some San people in the capital of Botswana. He meets Ketelelo, a San man who attributes his own advancing career to the resettlement of his family in New Xade. He was afforded the opportunity, in the resettlement village, of going to school and he proved to be an apt pupil. He then graduated at the top of his class in the town of Ghanzi, and won a scholarship to a major institution of higher learning in Gaborone.
His future seems promising. “If resettlement hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here now,” Ketelelo tells the author. Koehler plans to focus his camera on him in order to allow him to share some of his experiences and thoughts with viewers.
In the third blog post of December 8, Koehler briefly describes filming Ketelelo on his campus, and then his drive across the desert to Ghanzi. There he met Kuela Kiema, a San man who has gotten an education and become a published author. He is working to promote instruction in New Xade in the indigenous languages—G//ana and G/ui (or G/wi)—rather than in Setswana, the nation’s national language.
Koehler describes New Xade as a village mixed with traditional and modern living facilities—modern cement buildings and beehive-shaped huts. He quickly got permission from village elders to work on his filming project in the community. He writes that he was attending a traditional dance when he noticed a young man texting on his cell phone. He explains that the nexus of his project is to find out if there is a distinction between the opportunities and the mechanisms of daily life and the deeper issues of cultural identity.
The filmmaker can only upload entries to his blog when he ventures out to larger communities with Internet access, so his fourth post was delayed until last week, January 20. He indicates he plans to write a lot more about New Xade, but he devoted much of his most recent post to a description of a trip into the CKGR, to a small village named Metsiamanong, where a handful of San live without modern facilities—without even running water. These are people who were allowed to return to their former desert homes after the landmark victory of the San in a court case against the government in 2006.
He writes that, unlike New Xade, Metsiamanong has no food shops and no charitable food baskets. The people keep small livestock such as goats, which they supplement with other food sources in order to survive. They use rainwater for drinking and melons for liquid when the water runs dry—as it often does. However, even there, the people are not completely cut off from modernity—they have flashlights, vehicles, and modern clothing.
But more importantly, the San living in the CKGR are firmly connected to the earth they live on, a way of life they wish to continue despite the obvious reality that it is becoming less and less likely. Koehler writes evocatively that they fervently hope their children will be able to “strike a balance” between modernity and tradition, and that the younger generation will wish to go on living in the place of their ancestors.
In Metsiamanong, Koehler met Kitsiso, a young man who moved back to the CKGR to help his father live in the desert. Kitsiso loves the land but he also is pulled by a desire to have a job and to participate in the economy of modern Botswana. He believes that there is more to life than desert subsistence.
Kitsiso’s father is not so ambivalent. “I want my children to live here,” he tells the author. “Every time Kitsiso leaves, I feel a pain. Every time, I wonder if he’s going to come back.”
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2014 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page and the 2013 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. Recent ones are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
January 22, 2015. The Kadar Preserve their Forests
January 22, 2015. Some Peaceful People Are Birdwatchers [a tenth anniversary reflection]
January 15, 2015. New Opportunity for Paliyan Youth
January 15, 2015. Update on a Birhor Tragedy
January 8, 2015. Review of the Tristan Year
January 8, 2015. Yanadi Woman Advocates Human Rights
January 1, 2015. Piaroa Women Protest Violence
January 1, 2015. Ice Stupas in Ladakh