Editorial 1/Child lock
Editorial 2/Almost a pair
Disparately yours
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/CHILD LOCK 
 
 
 
 
Greater sensitiveness towards children is always welcome. The government’s proposal to replace the existing Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 is thus a good sign. It is also a reflection of changing times. That the 1986 act assumed that girls and boys reached the age of responsibility at two different ages indicates the lower level of gender awareness among experts and legislators only 14 years ago. The new act will limit juvenile crime to the single age of 18 for both boys and girls. Perhaps even more important than this is the government’s perception that the 1986 act is faulty because it makes little distinction between the young offender and the victim of abuse and poverty. As a result, both kinds of children are lumped together, causing untold harm, psychologically and socially, to the child who is the object of neglect. By envisaging two different target groups, the new act could be a noticeable improvement on the earlier one.

The promises of specially sensitized police units and a more organized system of rehabilitation show that the experts have focussed on the most glaring problems associated with juvenile crime. The worry is that laws in the country seldom lack in good intentions; the tough part is the implementation of their provisions and the follow-up. For that, the proposed legislation will have to be put to the test of time. It is not easy to take seriously resolutions that juvenile trials will be conducted within four months to prevent children from languishing in jail. Delay in justice is such a pervasive evil in India and has been so much talked about that one more good intention is hardly likely to make a difference. The Andhra Pradesh high court has just ruled that undertrial prisoners who have spent more than their likely prison term behind bars should be freed. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled for speedy justice, and had itself set an initiative to dispose of rape cases as soon as possible. Nothing has changed. Young offenders awaiting trial grow up into hardened criminals within jails, while the mixing up of remand homes and shelters make victims of abuse into criminals. The stasis affecting the whole process is lethal. In the case of juvenile crime or aberration, it creates criminals instead of correcting and rehabilitating them. A real advance in this sphere would be the most welcome of all. Additionally, the separation of victims from offenders should induce some more introspection, mainly in the areas of child labour and child abuse. These are related issues and should be treated as such. India’s child labour force shows no sign of thinning in spite of the Supreme Court’s efforts. And thinking on child abuse — what there is of it — is either vague or escapist. Greater sensitiveness towards children, of which the proposed act might be a portent, would involve addressing — and acting on — these problems.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ALMOST A PAIR 
 
 
 
 
The first visit of the new Russian president, Mr Vladimir Putin, to China has reassured Beijing that Mr Putin looks eastward as much as his predecessor, Mr Boris Yeltsin. When he took office, Mr Putin seemed to see Russia’s Asian neighbour as a future rival. However, the United States’s talk of building a national missile defence that could reduce the credibility of Russia’s and China’s nuclear arsenals has led Mr Putin to rethink his position. US missile defence was the theme of the summit between Mr Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Jiang Zemin. Their joint statement warned of “grave adverse consequences”. It dismissed Washington’s concerns about missile firing rogue states like North Korea as a “ruse”. China and Russia also talked trade. Mr Putin sees opportunity in selling raw materials to China’s expanding economy. Among the big ticket items on his agenda are two huge gas pipelines that would provide China some 40 billion cubic metres of gas a year. Beijing has another trade interest: advanced aerial weaponry. Tensions over Taiwan have led China to buy Russian fighters. It is also in the market for an airborne warning and controls system after the US scuttled a plan to buy an Israeli AWACS.

However, Washington has rightly said it is unconcerned about Sino-Russian talk of balancing US global power. The strategic partnership announced by Russia and China in 1996 has not gone beyond words. Bilateral trade has actually declined from $ 10 billion in 1994 to less than $ six billion last year. Cut out oil, gas and weapons, and economic relations barely exist. The two have three common interests. First is a broad but diffuse desire to hinder the US from throwing its weight around. This desire tends to wax and wane depending on events. It declined with the end of the Yugoslav bombings but picked up again with missile defence. Second is a concern for regional stability. This common worry about ethnic separatism and Islamic terror was visible in this month’s “Shanghai five” summit which also included three central Asian countries. Finally, the two countries have a cozy arms sales relationship. But these are all short term, relatively shallow bases for cooperation. For example, there has been little joint work against secessionists because there are few links between China’s Uighurs and Russia’s Chechen. Both countries also have economic and political relationships with the US, which they are unwilling to damage. Mr Putin has already indicated that if the US goes ahead with missile defence, then Moscow would like to be a partner to such a system. This would leave China out in the cold. This shows up the essentially negative nature of the Sino-Russian axis. They oppose similar things, but remain too wary of each other to allow more constructive wedding of ways and means.    


 
 
DISPARATELY YOURS 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
The demand by Jammu and Kashmir for autonomy immediately created a fair amount of consternation and was then rejected by the Union cabinet. But no one, not even the members of the Union cabinet, really believed the demand would now go away. What the cabinet has done, as has the Jammu and Kashmir government, is to define their positions.

Meanwhile, there has been a great deal of grave analysing of the demand for autonomy, the Sarkaria commission’s recommendations have been taken off the shelf, dusted down, and quoted with approval, much to the amusement of R.S. Sarkaria, constitutional experts are waxing eloquent on the seventh schedule of the Constitution, on the Union list, the state list and the concurrent list. Dire warnings are being given of similar demands being made, of the nation’s integrity being at risk.

The Jammu and Kashmir government needs to be congratulated for having brought the issue of autonomy centre stage, because it has inevitably meant that a good hard look now needs to be given to the federal nature of the republic, to what it really means and is. The time for taking refuge behind tired clichés like “unique mosaic” and “unity in diversity” is long over, but the realization that it is must now be painfully evident. Today it is Jammu and Kashmir; tomorrow it may be some other state — West Bengal, or Gujarat or any of the southern states. The social, political and cultural circumstances change fairly rapidly, and what appears fanciful today may not be so a few years down the line.

The obsession of the major political parties with their inner conflicts and sectoral interests seems to have blinded them to developments in the perceptions of the different people — Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Maharashtrian, Punjabi — who go collectively under the name Indian. These perceptions have been and are changing continually, particularly when they relate to one another.

The “bonding”, if one can call it that, between the different people of India is a more complex affair than it appears, one that is not always pleasant or understanding; there was a pogrom against Tamils and Malayalis in Mumbai some years ago, there have been several against Bengalis in the different states of the Northeast, and more occasional manifestations of resentment between peoples virtu- ally in every state. It will not do to dismiss these as a part of our general rowdiness; the resentment among many is deep-seated, and cannot be removed by a few good words.

The true binding element is, of course, the economic activity in the country, as Sunil Khilnani has pointed out. As it grows, as new markets are sought out for goods, a centripetal force is generated; the tension that exists between this and the centrifugal forces of regional politics requires a nice balance if it is not to tip over into chaos. So far we seem to have done well on this score, but more by accident than anything else, perhaps because of the other factor that Khilnani does not mention, the spread of education.

The awareness of the people, as distinct from that of others in the country, is, however, something that cannot be glossed over; it has its roots in the history of the different people in the country, and the history of each is distinct from the others. The history of the Tamils and that of the Marathas or that of the Manipuris is quite separate and distinct even though they may have shared conflicts and battles, and even though one may have subjugated the other. The two and a half centuries of British rule have not wiped these histories out. If anything, they have been nurtured and have been added to with overlays of myth and legend, but always with each distinct from the others.

For such differing people to live together will almost inevitably mean an ordeal by fire and blood. Not an ordeal by terrorism, but by the resolution through bitter conflict between the peoples. That these conflicts have been so far in the nature of skirmishes does not mean they cannot flare into much more widespread, violent attacks; there is enough resentment which exists in many areas and the seeds of more such resentment are being sown owing to an absence of true leadership where it matters. Demagogues are beginning to appear; they may be too small to warrant notice just now, but the passage of time may bring surprising changes. There was a time, if one remembers, when Mayavati was more a curiosity than anything else; so was Subhas Ghising. Not any more.

New nations, and sometimes older ones, go through such ordeals before their notions of themselves settle into the right perspectives. The American civil war was a terrible ordeal that nearly shattered the new republic, born out of bitter disagreements both economic and political. The people had to confront this disagreement, and come to terms with it through terrible bloodshed and ruin, so that their way of life, so eloquently outlined by Abraham Lincoln in his address at Gettysburg, would not perish, but be affirmed by the blood and tears of almost every family in the country.

This is, undoubtedly, an extreme example and one fervently hopes such a catastrophe will not visit India, but there is an element in it which holds good for us, as for every nation. It will not do to turn away from disagreements between people, to pretend they don’t exist, or trivialize them. They need to be faced, to be confronted and honest, if bitter, resolutions sought. We have made our stand on terrorism clear, and are paying a heavy price for it.

But that and the demand for autonomy by a state are two different things. The latter cannot be summarily rejected, when the government of the state, the lawfully elected government, makes such a demand. True, the rejection is more a statement of the position of the Central government than anything else; nevertheless, it needs to be seen as a part of a larger process in which not just Jammu and Kashmir, but other states are keenly interested.

This is the process of determining our essential character as India, as a country. In this disparate, sometimes feuding, country, what is the equivalent of what the Kashmiris refer to so proudly, their Kashmiriyat? Would there be a word to describe the state of being Indian, and have we truly journeyed to such a reality?

This is an issue that needs to be faced, and an answer found, an answer that goes beyond the economic bonds that link peoples in the country, and beyond the links of education. It has to do with a more general, more visceral awareness, not of distinctions and deprivations, but of mutual dependence, and the strength that being bonded together brings. It is this which the Jammu and Kashmir resolution is really about, and which needs to be considered.

Adlai Stevenson once said: “Many Americans cannot define democracy; like the schoolboy who, when asked to define an elephant, confessed he was unable to do so, but insisted he would recognize an elephant if he saw one.” For us it’s not just being able to recognize an elephant, but of knowing what the animal really is.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Halting flow

Sir — In “Drowning in deception” (July 18), Mani Shankar Aiyar makes no bones about his preferences. He — in other words, the Congress — would like J. Jayalalitha to make a comeback. But that is a political choice. Why should Aiyar have to cloak a hardcore political strategy in highsounding principles? He would have us believe that M. Karunanidhi has let down the farmers of Tamil Nadu and it would require no less than the puratchi thalaivi to battle out the kisans’ rights over the Cauvery waters. But the Cauvery tribunal made its award in 1991. Till 1995, there was no disquiet, although there is no reason to believe Karnataka went by the letter of the award. If Jayalalitha’s hand was forced in 1995, it was because of the lean monsoons which thrust Cauvery into focus. That Karunanidhi has not been particularly bothered about the paltry flow from Karnataka since 1998 is also because he has had no reason to be. No Tamil Nadu leader worth his salt can afford to ignore his kisans if they demand attention.

Yours faithfully,
J. Sen Sharma, Calcutta

Fire alarm

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary, K.N. Govindacharya, makes no secret of his bias in the way he “breathes fire at Christians” (“Govindacharya breathes fire at Christians”, July 10). Christians provide free education and other aids to many rural Indians. So far as conversion is concerned one should reiterate that democracy allows people the right to choose. Men like Govindacharya have no right to take away that freedom of choice, in this case of religion, from his countrymen.

Rather than being anti-national, the real Christian ethos is pro-national and based on a deep desire to build a better India. The secular forces must join hands to put down voices that raise sectarian slogans. The Bharatiya Janata Party should remove from its leadership people like Govindacharya who seek to undo the good work done by no less than the prime minister.

Yours faithfully,
Siga Arles, Serampore

Sir — The Hindi proverb “ulta chor kotwal ko dante” (the thief chides the sergeant) sums up the criticism faced by Hindus for their alleged attacks on Christians. It is in fact the Hindu community which has been receiving the wrong end of the stick all this while. In tribal areas of Tripura, Christian tribal militants have banned even secular government educational institutions, though Christian institutions have been allowed to function smoothly. Hindus have been warned not to worship their deities.

The only plausible reason for the Christians’ demand for international intervention is that at the international level, Hindus are in a minority. Moreover, criticism of Hindus for the attacks have been primarily based only on conjectures and prejudices. This smacks of mixing politics with religion, something that is far from the ideals of secularism.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, via email

Sir — Tongue-lashing against the minorities has become a common habit with K.N. Govindacharya and his party members. The opportunity for this has been provided by the secular regional constituents of the National Democratic Alliance and has been optimally utilized by the BJP. The NDA partners dutifully register their “protest” at news conferences in front of the flashing cameras, but only so far as the Central pie remains within reach.

How could Atal Behari Vajpayee pledge full security for Indian Christians to the highest authority of the religion in the Vatican when burning of churches and killing of Christians have become daily occurrences in the country? There is little doubt that NDA partners will flaunt the photograph of Vajpayee with the pope during the next general elections to prove his “secular” credentials. But Vajpayee’s policy is crystal clear — while in Rome, do as the Romans do and let the Govindacharyas do their jobs back home.

Yours faithfully,
Hrita Ganguly, Howrah

Sir — When K.N. Govindacharya alleges that the church is guilty of abetting terrorism in the Northeast, he is not too far from the truth. Nearly five to 10 Hindus are being massacred in Tripura daily by the National Liberation Front of Tripura terrorists and there is enough proof of the church’s patronage of the terrorists. However these fail to qualify as front page news in the media, while even a stone thrown at a church makes headlines. India is perhaps the only country where the majority is afraid of the minority.

Yours faithfully,
Banibroto Biswas, via email

Sir — K.N. Govindacharya’s statement branding the tribals of Tripura as Christians and anti-national will only help to further divide the tribals and the Bengalis in the state. Moreover, only a small portion of the tribal population are Christians.

Instead of wrongly pinpointing religion as the cause of the present troubles, Govindacharya would do well to find out the socioeconomic and cultural reasons behind the unrest and work towards a solution.

Yours faithfully,
Debasis Chawdhary, Guwahati

Elite pursuit

Sir — The heritage school off Eastern Metropolitan Bypass being planned by the Kalyan Bharti Trust promises to “change the way the city views schools” (“Smart school with a view”, July 4). But is this another attempt at really making a difference in education or an attempt by Indian businessmen to make money from the creamy layers of the society? For the 15 Calcutta based industrialists who are contributing to this project could have thought of utilizing their resources only with this motive.

It would definitely prove more beneficial to establish small schools providing elementary education in rural areas than building such lavish institutions. And it certainly makes greater sense to educate a greater percentage of people than to concentrate on providing “facilities” to a select group of the society. Can’t we keep aside the “smart school” techniques of Australia and teach the basics to our uneducated millions? According to the human development report of the United Nations, 40 per cent of India’s population is still illiterate. How could the opening of elite institutions like smart schools solve the national problem of illiteracy?

The least that could be done to stop such selfish pursuits is to deny concessions like subsidized land or easy credit. Elite institutions should be properly taxed so that the surplus generated is utilized for improving the education at the rural level.

Yours faithfully,
Shubhra Joshi, via email

Sir — As in each year, this year too there is a tremendous rush of students to get admission to class XI. The problem is worse this year as some colleges will no longer hold higher secondary classes. No alternative arrangement has been made by the government to accommodate the students. The situation is particularly bad in south Calcutta where the number of seats in the schools no way measure up to the number of aspirants for them.

Since the pressure is so bad, schools have hiked up the required percentages for subjects. This is especially true for the science stream. Moreover, as schools do not publish lists of successful candidates at the same time, parents in order to avoid risks, enrol their wards in the first school they get a chance in. Schools meanwhile have started stamping on the reverse of higher secondary certificates after admission. This prevents a student from taking admission in a better school. The education ministry should look into the confusion which has been created partly because of their hamhanded policies.

Yours faithfully,
S. Dutta, Calcutta
   
 

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