Editorial 1\ Tilting the slide
Editorial 2\Reported against
Teach, don’t push
Looking in vain for the other cheek
Letters to the editor
This above all

In what many will perceive to be a panic reaction, the Reserve Bank of India has brought out its heavy artillery to stop the slide in the external value of the rupee. On Friday, it raised the benchmark bank rate by one per cent and banks’ cash reserve ratio by half a percentage point. This was in response to the gradual fall in the value of the rupee, which crossed Rs 45 to the dollar on Friday. Of course, there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about this particular number. The fact that the rupee dipped below the “Rs 45 to the dollar” mark was not even unexpected. For quite some time now, the value of the rupee has been fluctuating in a narrow band around Rs 44.50, but more often closer to the upper limit rather than the lower one. So, it only seemed a matter of time before the rupee found a new point of equilibrium. Individuals who are active in the foreign exchange market have stated that the proximate cause for the fall in the value of the rupee was a “genuine” increase in demand for foreign exchange.

A major component of the increased demand comes from foreign institutional investors who have been liquidating part of their holdings in Indian stocks. The FIIs naturally want to repatriate the proceeds from these sales, and thus have been converting rupees into foreign exchange. Before one starts blaming the FIIs for causing this dip in the value of the rupee, one must of course also remember that it is the inflow of portfolio investment in the form of FII investment in Indian stocks which is essentially responsible for our comfortable foreign exchange reserves today. The important point in all this is that the current increase in demand for foreign exchange is not of a speculative nature. In view of this, it is imperative to ask whether the RBI should at all intervene in the foreign exchange market.

An equally important issue is the set of permissible instruments which the RBI should use in the foreign exchange market. Many will feel that in an environment in which most prices are determined by the forces of demand and supply, the RBI should also let the “price” of foreign exchange be determined by its demand and supply. This feeling is particularly strong when the change in value is not due to sudden speculative pressures, but is the outcome of more fundamental factors operating on either the demand or the supply side of the market. Even when there is sufficient cause for the RBI to intervene, the choice of instruments can have a far-reaching influence on the rest of the economy. For instance, the increase in the bank rate and the cash reserve ratio will lead to an increase in interest rates and a general tightening in the credit market. This will have adverse consequences on industries since their cost of borrowing will increase, and is particularly unfortunate since the prospects of an industrial revival are quite bright. Could the RBI have used any other instrument? An obvious option for the RBI was to augment the supply of foreign exchange by selling dollars in the foreign exchange market. The RBI now has a fairly large stock of foreign exchange reserves and it can certainly afford to liquidate a part of its stock without raising any feeling of insecurity. This would have enabled it to avoid any repercussions in the credit market.    

Naked bones are seldom a pretty sight. The Supreme Court’s rebuke to the Centre for “speaking in different voices” on the Srikrishna commission report has laid bare the vested political interests that underlie the furore over the Maharashtra government’s decision to arrest the Shiv Sena leader, Mr Bal Thackeray. Both the Central and the state governments have been given six weeks to file affidavits stating clearly their respective stands on the report. The Bharatiya Janata Party is in a bit of a fix. Initially, the Shiv Sena-BJP government running Maharashtra at the time had calmly rejected the commission report by passing a resolution in the assembly. It did not matter that all norms of governance should be flouted as long as Mr Thackeray, accused in the report of inciting communal passion through his “writings, pronouncements and directives”, could go free. Also, the Centre filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court that law and order was a state subject and New Delhi could have nothing to do with the matter.

Central ministers have suddenly sat up with the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government’s decision to prosecute Mr Thackeray for his communally provocative editorial in the Saamna in 1993. The Union law minister, Mr Ram Jethmalani, is quoting rulebooks and constitutional provisions chapter and verse in order to show that the Centre can direct the state government not to prosecute. And the defiance of such an order would be legitimate cause for the invocation of Article 356. This goes directly against the Union home minister’s statement that law and order is a state subject. The barefacedness of the entire sequence of events appears to have been too much for the Supreme Court. Not that there is anything to choose between the Congress and the BJP in matters of selective justice-seeking. The Thackeray episode is simply an extreme instance of the politicization of the process of justice. It shows also the pointlessness of inquiry commissions, for recommendations are only taken off the shelves when politically convenient. The justice is sought not on behalf of those dead or bereaved, but for the sake of political ascendancy. Few things could be uglier. Meanwhile, the prime minister will have to find ways to reconcile the aggressive ardour of his ministers with the fact that law and order does remain unalterably a state subject.    

“I used to go to bed and dream that I’d won a Grand Slam, but when I woke up it was a nightmare.” Venus Williams, after winning this year’s Wimbledon.

“At last, the dream came true.” A student, who made it to the higher secondary examinations merit list.

Aren’t you surprised at this pathetic resemblance? Well, I am shocked. It is almost a quarter of a century now that we have the current secondary and higher secondary system and the companion system of publishing the merit list of the top 20 students. It is probably time for someone to ask the question: what for? What is education for? There are plenty of rather philosophical debates on the purpose of education or of being educated. Many philosophers, social scientists, including Chanakya, Vivekananda and Amartya Sen, spent hundreds of hours and pages writing on it. Keeping philosophy aside, let us just think about it ourselves.

Our secondary education should prepare our students for the rest of their lives. It should not be a stepping stone to just an academic career, but to any career. Our sports personalities, our politicians, our work force need good schooling as much as our academicians and our computer engineers. After secondary school, we go for another two-years of a higher secondary programme which, in principle at least, prepares us for university degrees. Also, at the higher secondary level, we are bound to choose a broad field, such as science or arts or commerce. This pathway seems very reasonable, even after 25 years since the current structure was introduced in West Bengal. For a vast majority of our students, this education system is paying off, perfectly.

Now, what is a merit list for? The obvious answer is to identify and thereby congratulate and encourage our good students. Of course, it is good to know that someone is doing well in studies. It is definitely worth encouraging. In every field of our lives, we do have awards, prizes; hence, why not in education? Every single school in our country (and abroad) has its own annual prizegiving ceremony; and nobody says that’s wrong. However, there must be a fundamental difference between sports and education. The way we cheer for sporting heroes when they achieve something cannot be the same as the way we encourage our students.

For sports personalities, it is their sole job to perform well in competitions and to win championships. They undoubtedly get enormous pleasure, among other things, when the dream comes true for them. At the same time, we also, as the spectators of the sport and sometimes as the citizens of the country they represent, get to share their achievements.

There should not be any comparison with our students who go to schools to get educated and not to win anything. We cheer them when they do well but they should not dream of that alone.

What else can a merit list do? A list can be used to pick a selected number of candidates, particularly when the places are limited. For example, we have a separate list for medical and engineering schools which serves exactly that purpose. Incidentally, that list is also public knowledge, however, it does not create any public sensation or hysteria as the secondary and the higher secondary merit lists do.

The secondary or the higher secondary merit list is never used by any college or university to choose and select their prospective students. Most of them use their own selection procedure, including a test and an interview. They do consider the result and the degree class (including marks over 80 per cent) but never use the list itself. The list therefore serves no practical purpose other than its tautological purpose of pinpointing the top students. In our education system it is just like a championship to be won.

Now let’s see what the list actually does to our students. It obviously brings joy to the households of those who make it to the list. Everyone in the respective school and in the locality takes pride in the success of their “boy”. We however tend to forget the enormous pressure the “boy” has to take in the process. Parents and schoolteachers take this list extremely seriously and they make sure that any student who has the slightest potential is working hard; working hard not to get a good education or not to be successful in later life, but just be good enough to be in the merit list.

It is not a teenager student’s dream, rather, it’s an adult’s dream to be part of a success scheme, of course, at the expense of an immature student. The dream is carefully planted in the student’s head. It is probably as bad as a criminal offence. Have you ever thought of the misery of a student who had the potential (or believed he had it) and could not make it to the list? I can tell you that life is just hell for him. He is told what a failure he is in life just because he has not been in the list. You may easily find parents who are so sad because their son stood 15th and not first that they forget to even congratulate him for his otherwise brilliant result.

It is a dream-come-true for a few, but for many, it is a nightmare. Indeed, a student this year confirmed these feelings. As he had got “only” 85 per cent marks in the secondary examination, he had not made it to the list two years back. He said he was devastated then and that made him focussed and determined to do better in the higher secondary. Venus probably went through the same feelings.

However, the difference is that she has chosen her field and thereby all the nightmares that go with it. Our students are sent to schools to be educated and they have hardly bargained for this rat race. We impose it on them. The nightmare can be over for Venus but it never can be for some of our students. I know many who, after so many years, literally have nightmares about their secondary examination.

Finally, if we think the merit list successfully spots the heroes of the future generation, we are living in a fool’s paradise. Just consider the top students of the Seventies and Eighties (say, during 1976-1986) who are now at their peak (ages between 30 and 40). Among these more than 200 top students, how many are now in a lead role in our society or are leading personalities in the world in their chosen fields? Not many that we hear of, with due respect to them. There must be other efficient ways of picking the good students and nurturing them.

We have to reconsider our secondary education system. The only issue, seemingly, we care for and debate on is the issue of teaching English in schools. There are other important issues that escape our attention and year after year we encourage a crippled education system. The pathway itself has to be judged carefully. Do we need to specialize in the high school, that is, do the students have to read sciences in the higher secondary class to be a graduate in science, for example?

Even if we agree on this pathway, we have to carefully look at the syllabi. We hardly put any importance on the currency and innovation of the subjects we offer in our high schools. The world has changed considerably over the past quarter of a century; our syllabi have hardly changed accordingly. Last but not the least, we have to understand that we have plenty of degree classifications already in the existing system, such as, first-third division, star (75 per cent) marks, letter marks (80 per cent) in each subject. We definitely do not need another list to classify our meritorious students. Believe me, it is a nightmare for them which will never be over.

The author teaches economics at the University of York, UK    

The prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, is on the horns of a dilemma. He has to deal with the continuing confrontation between the Christian clergy and the saffron brigade. Concerned with the spurt of attacks on priests and churches and in order to find a solution to the “hate campaign” of Hindu fundamentalists, he had decided to convene a series of meetings with bishops all over the country. His response came as a result of the accusation of the bishops against the sangh parivar, particularly the Bajrang Dal.

The intellectual wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in a circular sent to all members of parliament, urged them not to fall prey to the machinations of the clergy, or be carried away by their false propaganda meant to malign members of the parivar. Siding with the the RSS on this, Vajpayee had accused the president of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, Alan de Lastic, of not accepting the clean chit given to the sangh brothers by the national human rights commission. But he also said that further attacks on Christians would not be tolerated.

The attacks, it is clear, have a definite pattern. The culprits almost always get away for lack of evidence. The parivar explained the attacks as expressions of anger and indignation of young Hindus towards Christians, since Christian missionaries convert tribals.

State cover

Joseph D’ Souza, chairman of the All India Christian Council, blamed the Centre as well as the minorities’ commission for indifference. The situation has turned more sensitive with the council’s launch of a “solidarity campaign” throughout the country. There are fears that some Christians may be organizing themselves into resistance groups to take up arms in self-defence with the help of foreign finance. The situation has been intensely criticized abroad. The Bangiya Christiya Samaj has even asked for the United Nations’ intervention.

On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Gujarat has strengthened the suspicion that it is suppressing acts of violence. In another BJP- ruled state, Uttar Pradesh, the situation has turned even worse with the death of Vijay Kumar Ekka in police custody. Ekka was the sole eye witness to the murder of the priest, George Kunjikundam, near Mathura on June 7. There seems to be an attempt to cover up these incidents in these two states with the tacit support of the Centre.

Discussions held at meetings between bishops and Hindu spiritual leaders are part of the “constructive suggestions” to end the “hate campaign” against minorities, which the national commission for minorities member, John Joseph, gave the prime minister. To this, Vajpayee responded favourably.

What the Hindus said

The BJP however, has done precious little to address the real issue threatening the Christian community. There is further the support of some Hindu fundamentalist groups. The Varanasi Kalyan Ashram, in support of the saffron brigade, alleged that hundreds of people had laid down their lives fighting “church backed militancy” in the Northeast. The ashram spokesman, Narayan Saxena, urged the church leaders to do some “soul searching” instead of making Hindutva a whipping boy. Plunders in churches in the South were touted as a deepseated conspiracy to destabilize the government at the Centre, by driving a wedge between the ruling party and its allies. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad president, Giriraj Kishore, hit upon the bizarre idea of an Inter-Services Intelligence-Central Intelligence Agency plot — a joint operation to destabilize the country. N. Chandrababu Naidu saw in it a deliberate attempt to discredit the Telugu Desam Party government in Andhra Pradesh.

These explanations are hardly convincing, and the Hindu fanatics should not be let off so easily. The alleged threat by Naidu, chief of one of the most powerful allies in the ruling National Democratic Front government, to withdraw support if the RSS hand is proved in these killings is significant. The attacks have brought Christian MPs together across party lines in a forum.

It is sad that a community which has contributed so much to the country should be faced with such violence. Things would not have come to such a pass if the government was not so indifferent.    


Raid herring

Sir — What exactly are the Central Bureau of Investigation and the income tax authorities trying to prove through the nationwide raids carried out in the offices and houses of cricketers and the Board of Control for Cricket in India officials (“Jadeja chase takes sleuths to Jaitly home”, July 22)? Coming two months after the CBI started its enquiries, the raids speak of bad timing. One reason could be to rub it in that even bigwigs will not be allowed to escape the long arm of the law. But for that the tax authorities and the CBI should have made special effort to stop making fools of themselves. Look what comic relief the authorities provided with their barging into the residence of Jaya Jaitly. Such gaffes reaffirm that the enquiries are a gimmick, carried out to make people believe that the organizations are not all that inefficient. But how would this episode end? The bigwigs will manage to get away as always, never mind the strong “evidences” against them. So let’s brace ourselves for the happy ending.
Yours faithfully,
Mitra Sen, Calcutta

On a crash course

Sir — While the virtual hijack of an Alliance Air aircraft by politicians from Bihar made news only months back, this time it is the aircrash of one of its flights that has made the airline seize headlines again (“Ancient plane with licence to kill”, July 18). Though ageing of an aircraft may not be a factor behind such a disaster, the utilization of the aircraft certainly is. In the Calcutta-Patna-Lucknow-Delhi route, the overall flying time works out to two hours and 15 minutes. The aircraft, in the process of landing and taking off, takes about 60 minutes, consuming fuel and burdening the engine. Seen from this perspective, ageing aircraft are put to more use than warranted in this route. This speaks of a lack of efficient management parameters and safety norms.

Further, this kind of ambitious routes result in frequent dislocations, causing hardship to passengers, who have to be provided with food and accommodation. It would therefore be wise for the civil aviation ministry to run such flights for short distances like Calcutta to Patna and back. This would save the idling costs and also ensure proper maintenance facilities at the terminal points.

Yours faithfully,
A.U.S. Lal, Calcutta

Sir — The crash of the Alliance Air flight CD 7412 has exposed the national carrier’s ineptitude in handling crisis situations . Even in the face of such a calamity, the sectarian bias of the government stands shamelessly exposed. Why else would the families of the two sweepers, Asha Devi and Butni Devi,who were burnt to death by the flares of the crash, be offered a paltry Rs 5,000 as compensation against the Rs 7.5 lakhs offered to the relatives of the other victims? Were they lesser mortals?

Yours faithfully,
Tabrez Jamal Siddiqui, via email

Sir — The Alliance Air crash on July 17 at Patna has again highlighted the Indian obsession with passing the buck. Pilots are invariably blamed for every air mishap that occurs. There are hundreds of reasons for an air accident, especially during critical phases of flight path transition such as between the approach and landing phases. Many other factors, such as weather phenomena like low level windshear, flight control surface failures and even instrument failures, have to be thoroughly investigated before arriving at any definite conclusion.

Blaming the cockpit crew prematurely is unethical and unprofessional. Pilot error has been an easy explanation because it helps many others save their skin. It is a pity dead men cannot speak for themselves.

Yours faithfully,
Subhashish Majumdar, via email

Sir — It is shameful that none of the VIPs who stalk the corridors of power in the Writers’ Buildings found it their duty to stand beside the relatives of the plane crash victims in their moment of sorrow. This was particularly apparent when the coffins landed at the Calcutta airport. It was a disturbing experience to watch young widows having to fend for themselves after receiving the coffins. Meanwhile, as many as three of the senior ministers of our “people’s government” found ample time to receive the chief minister, Jyoti Basu, after his return from one of his usual overseas sabbaticals. Protocol, is it?

Yours faithfully,
Biplab Ganguli, Calcutta

Sir — The news that the youngest of Alliance Air’s Boeing fleet is 17 years and eight months old, whereas the mandatory lifespan of Boeing 737s is about 15 years, is shocking. The government must stop flying these killer machines right now. It has no right to trade human lives for money. Passengers cannot be blamed if they decide not to travel by Indian Airlines or any of its subsidiaries hereafter. The pilots’ associations should also take a stand and ask their members not to fly these death carriers.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Khemka, Calcutta
Sir — Mamata Banerjee has again risen to the occasion by promptly coming to the aid of the bereaved families of the aircrash victims (“Mamata sole solace in hour of grief”, July 19).The indifference of the ruling Left Front is in sharp contrast. As no man is an island, so no political entity can insulate itself from the happenings around it. Exhibiting such withdrawal tendencies is an alarming sign for a party’s political future.
Yours faithfully,
M.S.R. Prasad, Calcutta,

Parking nightmares

Sir — The Calcutta police have recently launched a drive against illegal parking in front of city schools (“Jab at school jammers”, July 20). However, before taking action, alternative arrangements should have been made for parking car close to schools. The police cannot turn a blind eye to the problems of the guardians who go to fetch their wards from schools, often in cars. Take the case of one renowned school close to the National Library. Cars could once be easily parked on Penn Road, just opposite the school since this is a comparatively less congested area. Strangely, both sides of the road have now been marked as “no parking zone”. This is unfair both on the guardians and students who have now to walk a sizeable distance just to get to their cars.

The police should publicize the parking spaces near schools. There is no point in blaming either school authorities or the guardians for increasing traffic congestions.

Yours faithfully,
K. Kapoor, via email

Sir — The attempt to put an end to traffic congestion in front of city schools by the Calcutta police will be viewed as a gimmick till the long term goals of improving traffic mobility are ignored. It is more important to see the problem in its entirety, rather than dealing specifically with particular areas. The picture of an errant VIP car illegally parked in front of a school on Judges’ Court Road says it all. The police’s initiative is certainly welcome, provided it is implemented in a phased manner.

Clamping down on parking along schools will not help matters so long as powerful locals continue to dictate terms regarding parking. Sprucing up roads only near schools cannot solve the problem either. To see the reach of the problem, one only needs to look at the roads surrounding the Calcutta high court. Here cars parked throughout the day leave room for pedestrians only to walk in a single file. We also hear of hawkers’ “deserved” right to get back their places on the pavements. This is hypocrisy on part of the authorities as well as the common man. “Special drives”, as the one against illegal parking will only provide a temporary boost to the ego of the Calcutta police.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

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Of godmen and their legacies

I am currently reading the autobiography of the late Acharya Rajneesh, known to his disciples as Osho. It is called Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic., I try to read everything spoken by him or taken down by his followers and printed in the weekly Osho Times and the innumerable books containing his sermons. I do so because I regard him as a propounder of new ideas on existence. He was an iconoclast who held nothing sacred, questioned the veracity of religious dogma and cleared cobwebs of confused thinking from people’s minds. He was much the most erudite of the world’s religious philosophers, but did not wear his learning on his sleeves; he was witty, humorous and often ended his sermons with a dirty joke with four letter words. He was a rare phenomenon.

Rajneesh was lucky to have broad-minded parents. Although they were Jains and the father did his best to conform, his wife rejected all of them and encouraged her son to question his school teachers, preachers of religion and think for himself. It is in childhood that parents start brainwashing their children.

Writing about his mother, Rajneesh says: “Now I can say that woman was really great, because as far as religion is concerned, everybody is lying. Christians, Jews, Jains, Mohammedans — everybody is lying. They all talk of god, heaven and hell, angels and all kinds of nonsense, without knowing anything at all. She was great, not because she knew but because she was unable to lie as a child.

“Nobody should lie — to a child, at least, it is unforgivable. Children have been exploited for centuries just because they are willing to trust. You can lie to them very easily and they will trust you. If you are a father, a mother, they think you are bound to be true. That’s how the whole of humanity lives in corruption, in a very slippery mud of lies told to children for centuries. If we can do just one thing, a simple thing — not lie to children and confess to them our ignorance — then we will be religious and we will put them on the path of religion. Children are only innocent; leave them not your so called knowledge. But you yourself must first be innocent, unlying, true.”

Rajneesh thought for himself. He rejected all religions as false. He rejected conventional notions of man-woman relations, love and marriage as based on false promises and preached the gospel of free love. His disciples shed their inhibitions as they shed their clothes. He came to be maligned as preacher of promiscuity and a sex guru. Although I had vast admiration for Rajneesh I did not accept all his ideas as he often said contradictory things. He believed in rebirth after death for which there is no scientifically provable basis, and practiced meditation which I regard as a waste of time.

Once I visited Osho’s commune in Pune. I was charmed by the happy atmosphere that prevailed: greenery, flowers, music, meditation combined with a large library, reading rooms and people going about their daily chores with smiling faces. I did not see Rajneesh; he was unwell. I wondered how long his commune would last after he was gone. It had become big business with 750 meditation centres across 80 countries including 200 in India, 1500 books published in 40 languages with 3.5 million copies sold every year; tapes of music and sermons.

I got to know some Osho disciples, notably his most attractive lady secretary, Ma Neelam and Chaitanya Keerti, who looked after his press relations. Neelam was then living in the commune before she rented a flat nearby. She spent most of mornings in the meditation hall. Chaitanya Keerti looked after publications in Delhi. Both they have now been banned from entering the Pune commune.

The Osho empire is split down the middle. The cause is greed. a group based in New York and Zurich have laid claims to the copyright of all of Osho’s works as well as his techniques of meditation. I could understand Americans trying to grab patent rights over Basmati rice and neem products — where they mercifully failed, but how can anyone patent thought and meditation? Sounds preposterous. The attempt is also contrary to what Osho stood for. In his book, Om Shantih Shantih Shantih, he wrote: “I have told Neelam, my secretary, to write to them. Things can be copyrighted, thoughts cannot be copyrighted, and certainly meditations cannot be copyrighted. They are not things of the marketplace. Nobody can monopolize anything. But perhaps the West cannot understand the difference between an objective commodity and an inner experience. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has copyrighted transcendental meditation and just underneath in a small circle you will find written TM — that transcendental meditation is neither transcendental nor meditation — just a trademark. I have told Neelam to reply to these people: ‘You don’t understand what meditation is. It is nobody’s belonging, possession. You cannot have a copyright. Perhaps if your country gives you trademarks and copyrights on things like meditation, then it will be good to have a copyright on stupidity. That will help the whole world to be relieved...only you will be stupid and nobody else can be stupid; it will be illegal.’”

How can you catch the sea breeze in a net? The slogan of true Osho’s disciples is “Osho, everybody’s birthright; nobody’s copyright”.

Little tales of misogyny

A man said his credit card was stolen but he decided not to report it since the thief was spending much less than his wife did.

A little boy asked his father, “Daddy, how much does it cost to get married?”

The father replied, “I don’t know son, I am still paying.”

(Contributed by Amir Tuteja, Washington)    


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