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The Dialectics of Globalisation in Arunachal Pradesh

The processes and ideas which are together referred to as "globalisation" have made deep inroads into the social, political and economic life of Arunachal Pradesh. However, it would be erroneous to read this as merely a one-way street where local cultures placidly submit to the global juggernaut. This article explores the nature and impact of globalisation with local cultures using this relatively remote north-eastern state of India as an example.

NOTES

The Dialectics of Globalisation in Arunachal Pradesh

Prasanta Kumar Nayak

The processes and ideas which are together referred to as “globalisation” have made deep inroads into the social, political and economic life of Arunachal Pradesh. However, it would be erroneous to read this as merely a one-way street where local cultures placidly submit to the global juggernaut. This article explores the nature and impact of globalisation with local cultures using this relatively remote north-eastern state of India as an example.

Prasanta Kumar Nayak (prachipkn@rediffmail. com) teaches history at Government College, Bomdila.

T
he 20th century has witnessed the resurgence of two such paradoxical phenomena: globalisation and resisting globalisation. Globalisation not just promises, but communicates a virtual experience of the world becoming one economy, possibly one culture and perhaps one polity. However, in response to this drive there is an increasing range of resistances which are emerging and diversity and local resilience are coming into play in a major way in different parts of the world.

Situating Globalisation in the Local

In economic terms, globalisation offers ever-rising standards of living to those entering the free-market capitalism with some entitlements usually available to members of upper class, given their resources: land, wealth, social privilege and education, while for the larger segment of the population, disadvantageously located in the traditional structure, it means malnutrition, semi-starvation, disease and destitution. In political terms too, it emphasises the changing nature of the nation state constraining the political sovereignty of subaltern states (Baral 2006: 3). In cultural terms, David Li (cited in Baral 2006: 3) argues “commodification and consumption that either universalises desires or particularises traditions” makes the regime hegemonic, leaving an individual to defend him/herself through inevitable mediation of multiple agencies and issues. Hence, the resistance movements against globalisation at grass-roots level have taken deep inroad.

Activists of micro-movements see globalisation as an incarnation of the old idea of Development (with a capital D), but representing the institutions of global hegemonic power and creating new forms of social exclusion. Globalisation thus has intensified and expanded the destructive forces of Development – forces which disrupt communities, cultures and livelihoods of the poor without offering them any viable and dignified alternative. Some of the resistance movements are now participating actively in shaping the terms of discourse globally on such issues as biodiversity, global warming, global power, global culture, etc. Their objectives have been to create global politics of popular movements with a view to building an alternativ e institutional structure of global governance, based on democratic principles of political equality, social justice, cultural diversity and non-violence, and ecological principles of sustainability and maintaining biodiversity (Sheth et al 2002: 87-125).

The common charge against globalisation has been an extension of western capitalism which ushers in neocolonialism. It endangers the preservation of culture and identities in their original shape.

The ethnicity, tribal indigenous identities and cultural homogeneity are marginalised under the concept of a “global village” ensuring a “mainstream presencing” and “global ethnoconvergence” (Barthakur 2006: 8). Hence goes the trite observation (Radhakrishnan 2004):

Globality and globalisation are the Darwin

ian manifesto of the survival of the fittest,

the strong nations will survive naturally,

for it is in their destiny to survive, whereas

weak nations will inevitably be weeded out

because of their unsatisfactory performance

as nation states.

Quite apropos to the subject under discussion, Lehman’s observation (cited in Boro 2006: 14) on globalisation versus local culture holds good. He talks of two concepts: homogenisation and cosmopolitanism. Globalisation either eliminates local elements or incorporates them without acknowledging it, setting in motio n ethno-convergence. It may also tend to incorporate and celebrate local elements. Here a situation arises where the global and the local overlap and the articulation of difference between the self and the other becomes problematic.

So far as the tribes of north-east India are concerned, globalisation has made a deep encroachment on their traditional

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culture and lifestyle. Arunachal Pradesh is no exception. It is against such a backdrop that this paper has come up examining the dialectics of globalisation and assemblage/convergence of different ethnic identities of Arunachal Pradesh.

Arunachal Pradesh as Backdrop

Scheduled tribes, organised around 25 major tribes and a number of sub-tribes living in 3,649 scattered villages, form 64.2% of Arunachal Pradesh’s population (2001 Census). The identity of the “Arunachalees” hinges around difference and is embedded in mythical lore. There is no historical or material support for their origin myths; however, these have been accepted by people as an inalienable part of their history. Each tribe with its distinct language, social customs and dress codes has continued to live as an identifiable ethnic entity within its social boundary. Racially, the tribes of the state are of Mongoloid , palaeo-Mongoloid and proto-Mongoloid origins with distinct physical features and genetic traits (Singh 1995: 21). Linguistically they belong to the Tibeto-Burman group, speaking around 22 languages and 60 dialects.

Before different aspects of their culture are discussed, it is worth mentioning that tribal societies in the state have experienced radical transformation during a short period of time. From preliterate to educated, from animistic belief systems to Christianity (though many still practise traditional religions), from oral legends to scientific documentation, from communityoriented social practices to self-centred individualism. Or, in other words, from premodern to modern to global, their societies have undergone seismic changes.

One thing which should be kept in mind is that their societies are dynamic, which makes them susceptible to cultural fusion1 and acculturalation. Acculturalation ushers in a new product which overlaps the original characteristics and brings de-identification. This process of de- identification begins from extrinsic, visible ethnic identifiers. But this cannot be dismissed as an isolated phenomenon because the extrinsic markers are an extension of intrinsic identities. The loss of the visible distinctions in cultural products will naturally disappear accounting for a “de-humanised” history of the people (Ao 2006: 7).

The cultural diversities in Arunachal Pradesh remain strong. Despite inroads made by globalisation, traditional practices are still in vogue as is the primitive subsistence economy. The defence of such traditionality has proved to be a necessary challenge to globalisation. Much of the credit for this goes to the administrative policy of leaving the tribes to themselves (Bose 1979: 93) adopted by the British and continued by the successor Indian governments.

Even within the same geographical area, cultural diversity of tribes can be seen. The district of West Kameng can be taken as an illustration. Five different tribes – Monpas, Shertukpens, Akas, Mijis and Buguns – live in close proximity with each other. But their traditions and cultural practices with regard to religious practices, dress, customs, rituals, languages, dialects, fairs and festivals are often starkly different. Even the different groups of the Monpas in two districts, West Kameng and Tawang, have distinctions among themselves. The languages of the Lish Monpas, Chug Monpas and But Monpas differ a lot from the rest of the Monpas and closely resemble the languages of the Akas, Mijis and Shertukpens tribes (Barthakur 1972: 100-05). Excepting the But Monpas, all the Monpas belong to the Lamaistic school of Tibetan Buddhism of the Mahayana sect practised in Bhutan and Tibet. All sections (including the But Monpas) celebrate the Tibetan New Year called Losar where they perform a number of pantomime dances which differ from each other in dress, costumes, songs and expressions. Similar examples can be cited all over the state. However, together a homogenised identity – the Arunachalee – has been formed despite individual cultures and traditions being still widely adhered to.

The state of Arunachal Pradesh, once a terra incognita,2 started making vociferous demands for “development” and did not encourage anti-development voices. But the demand for change ironically set in motion a cleavage within local society over indigenous identities and their loss. The spread of education (the 2001 Census registers an ST literacy rate of 68.77%

against the total literacy rate of 54.74%) has led to mixed reactions towards globalisation.

Politics in the state also imbibes characteristics of and linkages with national politics. In a society where authority was based upon the twin principles of ethnic loyalty and customary laws (Talukdar 1989: 18),

the introduction of the element of election and formation of higher level political bodies have brought about a change in the political ethos and outlook of the local level leadership and trained them to think in terms of district and whole territory instead of a village, community or tribe.

In other words, there has occurred a politicisation of tribal society (Singh 1997: 152-54).

Similarly in the agricultural sector, in a state where land for long used to be considere d as a community concern, the emergence of individual property rights in land has motivated the people to possess more land. N C Roy (1996: 2) finds “only the extensive mode of cultivation acting as a vehicle of agricultural growth in the state” and illustrates the growth of economi c factors such as labour, capital and technology in the state’s agricultural economy.

The Cultural Churn

There cannot be a better example of the integration of Arunachal Pradesh into global networks of culture than when 18 artists and designers from across the world – Maya Lin, Monica Castiglioni, Manolo Blahnik and Dayanita Singh, among others – donated their works for an auction to support conservation and development of ecotourism in the state.

In the cultural domain there are contradictory consequences of change. Talom Rukbo (1997: 405-06) describes it thus:

Despite all efforts to promote the traditional folk songs and dances, modern songs and dances have become increasingly popular. The young generation takes all pains to compose songs only in the modern tunes and lyric, totally avoiding old styles. The reason for the avoidance of old styles is that the young generations do not try to learn the teachings and practices of old school of traditional culture at all.

Due to its geographical location, natural resources and various horticultural

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products, Arunachal could play a major role in international trade. Many of the local products can potentially find markets in south-east and east Asian countries, given the cultural affinity with them. But it is apprehended that such inroads of global markets will bring a modernisation to the cultures and tastes of the locality, which, if not adequately protected will become unrecognisable (Boro 2006: 15).

If, for example, the folk music and dance form of a tribal community of Arunachal go global, will they be able to preserve their cultural character? Popular music has a chameleon core which prevents it from being fixed and standardised. Like the Punjabi pop songs going global, songs and colourful dances of the region have emerged as popular art form. Thanks to the revolution in the entertainment and communication industries an audio CD titled “Tibetan Master Chants” by Lama Tashi of Arunachal Pradesh’s Central Institute of Himalayan Cultural Studies was recorded by United States-based Spirit Music and ended up being nominated for the 48th Grammy Awards in 2006. Even a new genre of urban folk songs has come up to entertain a younger generation who want an Arunachalee kind of Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears or Madonna to entertain them.

Balancing a quest for development, on one hand, and the quest for preservation of ethnic identity, on the other, has become difficult. Various organisations of the state have come up showing great concern to uphold such identity and are spearheading movements demanding expulsion and repatriation of the refugees seeking shelter in the state like the Chakma, Hajong , Tibetan and Bangladeshi refugees. All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) has been instrumental in this regard, protesting against all refugees right from 1979 onwards (Prasad 2007: 1373-79). “Refugee Go Back”, “Refugees Are Foreigners” and “Arunachal Not the Dumping Ground”, etc, have been the regular slogans of the AAPSU movement as they try to protect indigenous ethnic identities (Prasad 2007: 1376).

The increasing ease of communication and travel, combined with the natural charms of the place have led to a sharp increase in tourists and visitors. Tourism also has benefited the state and boosted the economy, widening employment opportunities. Arunachal’s exotic isolation itself has become a tourist attraction throwing a challenge to the hitherto insular nature of Arunachalee society (Barthaku r 2006: 9).

The first ever tourism festival was organised as “Brahmaputra Darshan” in February 2001 followed by “Buddha Mahotsva” at Tawang in October 2001. Since then the “Buddha Mahotsva” is being organised each year. An Arunachal festival too was organised in 2002 and subsequently some other similar tourists events have been conducted in the state. This has led to a doubling of tourist inflow from 2,227 in 2003-04 to 5,267 in 2007-08. Even as these figures are still low in comparison to other states, the centre has relaxed the protected area regime in the state, throwing open the doors for foreign tourists. The demographic profile too is changing with greater “inflow” of people from outside the state, movement of people from Arunachal to other parts of India and even abroad, and “inward mobility” of people within the state. As Pankaj (1992: 1) says, “The ‘inward mobility’ is discernible in the recent growth of urban and semi-urban areas in the state because of the expansion of the service sector”.

In this context, a degree of tribalisation of people coming into Arunachal Pradesh from outside in the natural process of social contact and change through acculturation is also a possibility. This is because, as Elwin (1998: 6) writes: “For centuries the real ruler of the tribal people here has been Environment; it has shaped their bodies, directed their art, forced babble on their tongues; it has been their governor, their policymaker; and today when we are challenging its harsh dominion, it remains our greatest enemy”. The local cultures have developed in close symbiosis with the local ecosystems and have both been nurtured by it and have themselves helped conserve it. A rich body of traditional knowledge is available with the people about the resources in their environment and their uses and conservation.

Unfortunately, the traditional knowledge of ecosystem people is exploited for immediate gains by vested interests and they unwittingly become a partner in the exploitation of their own knowledge and resources. To mention a few instances, Mishmi teeta botanically known as Coptis teeta, is now mentioned in the Red Data Book of Indian plants due to its endangered status. Aconite, a poison as well as compound for medicines has become a rare commodity while Taxus baccata, a well-known tree yielding a cancer treatment drug, is facing the danger of extinction due to over-exploitation (Natung 2002: 3).

In recent times, the state government, universities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are documenting traditional knowledge and often patenting them as products and processes. The rapid development of technology and Intellectual Property Laws present the developing countries with both opportunity and challenge. There is a growing concern that the strengthening of intellectual property rights and their extension to traditional knowledge and local biological materials will enable large multinationals engaged in bioprospecting to appropriate valuable biomedical knowledge from indigenous people.

Political Transformations

There are three types of democratic institutions – traditional village councils, panchayati raj bodies and the legislative assembly functioning simultaneously. Each tribe/sub-tribe has a council of elders. The names and specific features vary but these institutions are age old. These village councils look after law and order in the village, settle disputes as per customary laws, organise festivals and implement developmental projects sponsored by the government. The village councils are generally constituted with the elderly men and women are barred from membership, though they may attend the session and can also speak if called for.

The panchayats have had a great modernising effect on the traditional village structure and the village council. The old political isolation of the village is broken and its independent status shattered. There is a tendency among the villagers to look towards the panchayat institutions even for small issues. The huge amount of money spent every year in response to the developmental needs of the panchayats

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has created moneyed class in every village. This has given rise to a middle class with its zest for modernisation. This modern phenomenon has facilitated the entry of political parties into village politics, particularly in the panchayat elections and the traditional village solidarity is being replaced by a polarisation on party lines (Talukdar 1989: 96). This leads to a tendency to replace the corporate nature of life with an individualistic one.

The village council operated on the basis of unquestionable loyalty, unanimity of decisions, adherence to customs and respect for age. But now loyalties and adherence to custom have come to be questioned and decisions in the council are being taken by majority rather than unanimity. Education and acquaintance with modern political processes of the leaders, rather than their age, are being given larger importance. Most importantly, unlike in the past, villagers sometimes do not abide by the decisions of the council. Rationality rather than superstition marks the deliberations and decisions of the council today. Oath-taking has become a thing of the past and rational evidence forms now the basis for settling disputes.

Acculturation is rapidly transforming the entire society. New and progressive ideas are pouring in which are bringing psychological and attitudinal changes. Women are no longer ready to be treated as property of men. Thus customary laws with regard to marriage, divorce, marrying-off daughter in exchange of Mithuns (Bos frontalis), mostly used ceremonially, are eroding. Women have started demanding social and political rights. Their demand on the right to education, property and succession has necessitated modifications in customary civil laws along internationally accepted principles (Singh 1993: 61). During elections when there is rift in villages on party lines, the village panchayats, Kebangs and Gaon Buras feel helpless. Only the sight of police gives the people some kind of solace.

Globalisation vs Resistance

These are but some examples of how global cultural, economic and political ideas and practices have made inroads into Arunachal Pradesh, but this trend never goes unopposed. Large number of anti-globalisation activists are working today, especially relating to the increasing extraction of natural resources and their channelling to the world market via large corporates, the state and local power holders. The problem regarding local control and the extinction of resources is precisely that the two may go together. Antiglobalisation activists often do not see this; but in fact gaining local control will at best mean that resources will be extracted more sustainably, that local people will get a share of the profits and raise their standard of living. It does not mean that they will resist the world market or listen to the activists when they tell them to do so; self-determination after all does mean just that, they will do what they want (Omvedt 2005: 4883).

As such, the region has witnessed the emergence of a strong people’s movement under the impact of globalisation. Various NGOs like the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society, Nefa Indigenous Human Rights Organisation and Arunachal Pradesh Indigenous and Tribals Human Rights Organisation and the cultural societies of the different tribes at the district level have raised a wide spectrum of issues related to human rights – civil and political, social, economic, developmental and cultural rights. The most noticeable feature is the association of women, students and the religious groups with human rights movements in the region. They have also played an important role in sensitising people and the government

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and helped raise awareness as to what constitutes human rights, how these rights are violated, who violates them, and what mechanisms do exist for dealing with the acts of violation of human rights (Singh 2001: 58-64). The initiation of “Siang Bachao Andolan” in response to the construction of the mega hydel project on Siang river (Singh 2001: 65) and the protest of the Down Stream Anti-Dam Committee on Dibang Multipurpose Project with the slogan “No Dam, No Compromise Upon Construction of Dam in Our Soil” in Dibang Valley district (Echo of Arunachal 31 August 2008) show people’s awareness about their economic, developmental, cultural and environmental rights.

There is a massive push to develop hydroelectric power in the state with international entities also showing interest in investing in this sector. Along with this, the multifacility border trade centre building set up at Nampong (Changlang district) to facilitate border trade with Myanmar (Government of Arunachal Pradesh 2007-08), and the proposal for conversion of the present Stilwell road into the Trans-Asian highway (Echo of Arunachal 6 May 2008) are some of the state measures which signify how the state is being inexorabl y pulled into global economic networks.

Another consequence of the interaction with the outside world, especially the forces of globalisation, is the steady erosion of the traditional beliefs in favour of Christianity. Arunachal Pradesh has largely been inhabited by those who have either followed Buddhism or other animist belief systems. There has traditionally been some influence of Hindu religion too. However, a look at the census reports from 1971 onwards shows a sharp increase in the Christian population which rose from 0.78% in 1971 to 18.7% in 1991. There was no religious census in 2001 and the data for 2011 is awaited. But the trend is clear and shows a high conversion rate. Christianity has been intertwined with education imparted by Christian missionaries as well as an instrument of socio-economic reform. The education imparted by Christian missionaries is often perceived as a potential factor to success in life. Further, the total cultural package which comes with Christianity tends to inculcate a predilection towards western culture and a consequent inhibition towards traditional songs, dances, festivals and rituals. How ever, local cultural practices and traditions have also received a boost from the very processes of globalisation, as discusse d earlier.

Conclusions

The pertinent question to ask here is, what role does religion play in a globalised world? If economies of the world get integrated and technology reduces physical distances, can such integration happen in matters of faith? The fear that globalisation is poised to erase most of the practices and belief systems inherent to a culture are perhaps overstated and the encounter is one of mutual interplay. It appears that local cultures cannot simply be wiped out and globalisation cannot totally erase the emotional and psychological set-up in which people are immersed.

Under a global cultural space, the larger question is, can unique identities remain pure and uncontaminated? The answer could be certainly “no” because each community keeps on learning from other communities and thus the process of acculturation continues. While a culture starts readjusting itself to the new, the new gets reshaped by the host culture. This is how, hybridisation takes its course. Once any community opens its door to the forces of acculturalation, its cultural assets and products are bound to be “contaminated” but this is not the main danger. Rather, what needs caution is that such cultural products are then pushed for large-scale commodification under the conditions of a globalised market and this is what may lead to the loss of their unique identities.

Notes

1 The term has been used by D L Sheth (2004: 56) as new politics of movements. Here he talks about micro-movements which make the institution of governance at all levels more accountable, transparent and participative and make the people decide collectively on issues directly concerning their lives.

2 The present Arunachal Pradesh was a hidden land till it was explored by the British for the Outer World. Major General H Bower coined this hidden land as terra incognita during his Abor (Adi) Expedition of 1911.

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