Indian state police carry cash from Gyuto Monastery
"Benami" and "hawalah" are two terms prominently featured in Indian press accounts of the now-infamous raid on Gyuto Monastery, and apart from utterly ridiculous notions of Chinese involvement, form the real basis of suspicions raised against the twenty-six year old Gyalwa Karmapa, and his administration.
Because these terms are unfamiliar to most Western readers -- and because the most frequently asked question in connection with this entire matter is "Why is this happening?" -- we thought we would invest a few pixels in explanation.
"Benami," or "benami land," refers to a violation of the Benami Transactions Act of 1988, which prohibits what we in the West would call "straw man" purchases of land, i.e. purchases by one party for the actual benefit of another. In investigating such allegations, and to prove violations, Indian prosecutors examine six elements:
- the source from which the purchase money came;
- the nature and possession of the property, after the purchase;
- motive, if any, for giving the transaction a benami colour;
- the position of the parties and the relationship, if any, between the claimant and the alleged benamidar;
- the custody of the title deeds after the sale, and
- the conduct of the parties concerned in dealing with the property after the sale.
In the Karmapa's case, there are a series of three, hotly contested attempts to purchase land. All three attempts have met with significant state government interference. It should be noted that Himachal Pradesh is considered a wealthy state, with one of the highest per capita incomes in all of India. Land is at a premium, and many political figures are prominently involved in real estate speculation.
In the most recent incident -- which precipitated the raid on Gyuto Monastery -- it is alleged that one of the Karmapa's representatives was attempting to purchase land in Dharamsala from a local hotelier, upon which to build a monastery.
Two other individuals were allegedly carrying a sum of money from New Delhi in support of this transaction. According to the police, they were stopped at a checkpoint, the money was discovered in their car, and when questioned, they gave the name of the Karmapa's representative. On the basis of this, they were arrested, the representative was arrested, and the monastery was raided.
This set in motion a series of events that seem to have been planned well in advance. The Karmapa was isolated and interrogated, and he was placed under virtual house arrest. Members of his family, and his staff were immediately and systematically brought in, and state police patrols secured the monastery grounds.
During the course and scope of the raid, and subsequent raids at the homes of Karmapa's relatives and representatives, approximately three quarters of a million dollars (U.S.) were discovered in the currencies of various nations. This led to allegations that the monastery was engaging in "hawalah" transactions.
In the sense intended in this case, "hawalah" -- the term is derived from the Arabic -- refers to a type of underground currency transfer mechanism very similar in character to Chinese underground banking.
For the sake of explanation, let us establish that there are four parties to such transactions: two "bankers," and two "customers." Let us call them Banker A, Banker B, Customer C, and Customer D.
Now, let us establish that Customer C wishes to send $100,000 hard cash to Customer D, but wishes to avoid any record of the transaction.
In such event, Customer C approaches Banker A, and pays him $100,000 in cash. Banker A then contacts Banker B, and instructs Banker B to pay out $100,000 in cash to Customer D.
Naturally, Banker A and B receive a fee for their services, and they meet at intervals, perhaps once a year or so, to settle up accounts between themselves. Both Banker A and Banker B are required to keep stores of various currencies to accomplish their purposes.
In the Karmapa's case -- and because hawalah methods are prevalent in India -- the allegation is that Gyuto Monastery was operating one end of such a scheme; hence, their possession of large amounts of various currencies.
This particular allegation ignores the reality that the Kagyu Monlam has only recently concluded, and that it was attended by devotees from countries all over the world. For example: American devotees made donations in American currency. Tibetan devotees made donations in Chinese currency. Everyone present made cash donations according to their means -- a commonly and thoroughly understood practice. Once these donations were collected, the currencies were counted and bundled in preparation for eventual deposit in a bank.
What is extraordinarily troubling is, of course, the hostile and inflammatory rhetoric of Indian government officials at the state level. In particular, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal -- the equivalent of state governor -- has seemingly gone out of his way to place a negative spin on the episode. He is in fact quoted as saying, "It's a serious issue and even a threat to the internal security of the state."
By the second day of the affair, central government officials were on their way to Himachal Pradesh to sort the matter out. As an important Tibetan political refugee, the Karmapa comes under the authority of the central government -- the Home and External Affairs Ministries -- and it would seem that Himachal Pradesh jumped the gun in that regard.
State police officer carries a cash counting
machine into monastery for the camera.
Why they jumped the gun, and why they pursued the matter with such speed, vengeance, and show business -- they made a great show of seconding cash counting machines from local banks, and issued a continual stream of wild allegations -- has yet to be determined.
Although Himachal Pradesh has a reputation as one of the least-corrupt states, the concept of corruption is relative.
Let those who now persecute the Karmapa clearly understand that the world is watching, and the pendulum swings both ways.