Editorial 1/ City of cain
Editorial/ 2 Lawless attack
Black magic box
Fifth column/ Inducing terror by the wrong bill
Fiction and history in antique lands
Remembrances of the heroine’s voice
Letters to the editor

There is something very west Asian about the political circumstances of the Israeli prime minister, Mr Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian leader, Mr Yasser Arafat. Both desperately want to complete the last phase of a peace agreement to bolster their domestic political positions. But both believe their present weakness at home means they cannot make the concessions needed to finalize such an agreement. As the recent failure of the second Camp David summit showed, this paradox has made it difficult to resolve two very sticky issues — the final status of Jerusalem and the repatriation of 100,000 Palestinian refugees. The United States president, Mr Bill Clinton, with one eye on the history books, has sought to play the role of the intermediary who can help Mr Barak and Mr Arafat break out of this paradox. At Camp David II, the US president failed to break the logjam. Yet the stakes are too high for either the Israelis or the Palestinians to stop talking. The two have continued their dialogue after the summit.

A holy site to all three west Asian religions and politically important to both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism, Jerusalem was expected to be a particularly thorny obstacle along the path to a final peace. However, it can be argued that the summit negotiations did throw up the vague outlines of what a future Jerusalem agreement is likely to be like. Much of this credit should go to Mr Barak who clearly went the extra mile, at some great political risk at home, to bridge the gap over Jerusalem. At Camp David II, Israel conceded Palestinian sovereignty over Muslim holy in the Old City. It also conceded control, a status which is a step below sovereignty, to the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City and the outlying suburbs of East Jerusalem. The talks finally ran aground on the final status of the inner suburbs of East Jerusalem. These suburbs include some 200,000 Jewish settlers. Mr Barak insisted he had to hold onto this area. Mr Arafat insisted he had to be given this area. The refugee issue was never really addressed given the impasse on the holy city. But it is likely a solution to this issue will require Israel letting these Palestinians refugees to move into the West Bank and Gaza, the whole process being greased by billions of dollars of aid from Washington.

The real battle seems to be on the home front. Mr Barak arrived at Camp David with his governing coalition coming apart at the edges. He lost three coalition partners and his parliamentary majority before he arrived in Washington. He will face a vote of no confidence next week which is expected to reveal an erosion of support but fall short of bringing him down. Opinion polls before the summit had shown Mr Arafat’s support among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza dropping to 32 per cent. Mr Barak and Mr Arafat went to the US under attack by both their people for being too soft. They left the summit looking tough. Optimists say that in fickle west Asia these new images will make it easier for them to make concessions when next they meet. Perhaps as important is that both Jews and Palestinians are appreciating that a Jerusalem settlement must be accomplished soon if the Oslo peace process is not to unravel.    

It is not enough to say that violence breeds violence. What is more frightening is the violent culture that is born of this relentless cycle, which actually ensures that the bloodshed never ends. One of the chief signs of a violent culture is the complete overthrow of human rights by an insitution of the state or an arm of the law. That is the sign most evident in the raid conducted by the Jehanabad police together with Bihar military police jawans in Senari to find the accused in the Mianpur carnage. The paramilitary forces and state armed police simply forced themselves into houses where women and children were resting in the afternoon and just beat the women up. The predominance of women in the village owes to the fact that 34 men were killed there last year. All the population knows is the experience of being at the wrong end of violence and fear, generated either by extremists, or by the police. But even then, the brutality of this police raid was shocking.

There is serious cause for alarm. The contingent was led by a deputy superintendent of police. There is, obviously, a deliberately callous flouting of all norms of lawful conduct by an officer who should know the rules. Reportedly, there was no woman officer. The policemen just had no right, by law, to force entry into women’s houses and touch them — let alone kick them, drag them by the hair, beat them with batons and throw them around for the purposes of “questioning” — without women officers. What is even more alarming that the policemen did not bother to follow even the basic rules of self-defence for themselves. Illicit police violence tends to disguise itself. The women’s condition left little to the imagination. Evidently, the policemen were confident that they would not be held to account for this kind of episode. This is the result of all the times the police has got away with similar crimes, not only in Bihar, but in the whole of India. No inquiry commission report is ever seriously implemented, few policemen ever penalized or sacked for the grossest violation of human rights. The sudden flurry in administrative circles after the latest outrage at Senari comes a little late in the day. Condemnation, an order for an inquiry by the Patna high court chief justice, the chief minister’s order for a criminal investigation department probe, all sound very well, but they have, unfortunately, yet to prove their effectiveness.    

These days we have noticed Amitabh Bachchan — the “charismatic” megastar — appearing on Star television, and persuading viewers to participate in the game of gambling and earn quick money. Indeed, a programme like Kaun Banega Crorepati, in which Bachchan asks the “lucky” ones a set of questions (these questions legitimize the game of gambling and make it “respectable”), and stimulates their urge to grow rich — immediately and instantly — reveals the mood of the age.

This shows the power of TV — the way it defines the language of contemporary mass culture, and articulates the aspirations of the emergent middle class. Here is a class that knows that in the age of consumerism, nothing matters more than money. Money is success; money is life itself. Here is a class that seems to be obsessed with big stars and celebrities. A class that needs these icons — new gods in a media-induced world — to create its reference models. Indeed, the particular TV programme we are talking about reveals the following: the power of a celebrity like Bachchan, and the middle class desire to establish “intimacy” with the star; the power of money, and the willingness to earn money at any cost.

This is just an example. Essentially, as we would argue, television, as it functions, cannot do anything better. It has evolved its language and grammar —something that further encourages what we have been witnessing these days: devaluation of all great ideals. For example, the TV has become one of the most important vehicles of consumer culture. Because colours, visuals and images are endowed with seductive power; it is difficult for vulnerable minds not to be controlled by this power — the way it constructs the notion of “happy” existence, the “needs” for living.

Advertisements are like modern mythologies revealing how a consumer good, be it a bottle of soft drink or a packet of detergent powder, can perform miracles. It appears that the TV exists primarily for popularizing these mythologies. Because every cultural product, be it news or a panel discussion, a film or a cricket match, is surrounded by these mythologies. The fact is that the new middle class has already been born in postcolonial India: a class that needs these mythologies, a class that allows the market to colonize the life-world. Perhaps television is an appropriate cultural technology of this apolitical, despiritualized, market-friendly new middle class.

The magical power of technology lies in its ability to create an abundance of goods, an abundance of pleasure. Television as a technological device reminds us once again of this great promise. It is now possible to watch multiple channels. From Doordarshan to Discovery, from Star news to Zee Cinema — we experience the abundance of symbolic goods: the continual flow of images, visuals, narratives and messages. But then, there is also an irony. The abundance of products, it seems, denies permanence, depth, eternal attachment. Everything becomes momentary and temporal. There is nothing that can be remembered, recorded in memory, persevered in history. As we keep shifting our eyes and watching thousands of serials, information, scientific discoveries and exotic spots, we fail to concentrate, mediate and reflect.

The TV negates silence — the ultimate virtue of man. Perhaps the superficiality and deathlessness that characterize the experience of TV watching are closely related to the logic of contemporary existence. In the postmodern world of global capitalism, life loses its core fundamentals. Amidst the abundance of products (unlimited possibilities of the “free” market) man fails to realize his essence. The TV with its ceaseless noise epitomizes this chronic restlessness. Yet, ironically, everything is legitimized in the name of “information revolution”. Information has been reduced into some kind of fetish. Gather it, accumulate it and consume it as far as you can. That is the new mantra. it is not important to ask whether we at all need these pieces of information, whether they can soften our minds, and make a difference in our life-projects. Instead, we allow the ceaseless flow of information to bombard our minds.

This explains the growing popularity of different news channels — the channels that give us “news” for 24 hours. But then, see the tragedy. We witness the repetition of trivia — what the ministers say and do, how the politicians lie and betray, and the way the celebrities earn fame and money. Not solely that. The entire presentation of news, because of the very logic of television, is done through attractive packaging; smart and good-looking news readers, star panellists and colourful visuals create a situation in which this mindless repetition of trivia is celebrated. As a result, it denies what really matters: the spirit of inquiry. Television is essentially anti-philosophical.

So what? The TV is irresistible. It seduces everybody. Publicity or image-building, it appears, is impossible without television. Everyone bows down before its magical power. We witness how even scholars, academicians and intellectuals do not mind appearing on TV whenever they are invited. How sad it is to see a renowned Marxist historian following the logic of the typical convent school debate contest, responding to the questions posed by the young or smart anchorperson, and making the “big fight” on the screen an item of popular consumption.

Indeed, television trivializes things. While it produces spectacles it negates real substance. Imagine. for instance, the way television has altered the notion of music. Music on the screen is more like a gorgeous technological spectacle. Not solely that. As the visual media celebrates the body, and reduces soul into flesh, musicians begin to look like models. Either you become like them, or you hire them for dancing on the screen. No wonder, even respectable musicians are following the logic of this spectacular, depthless television culture.

The TV, it has to be added, negates social interaction. it induces the individual to withdraw into his little world: the bedroom from where he can watch, and watch the rest of the world. The TV creates the illusion that one is coming to know about the world. But this is a strange form of knowing: knowing without relatedness, knowing without participation and involvement.

The TV encourages passive consumption, not active participation. It makes it difficult to create a vibrant public sphere in which individuals come out from their enclosed circuits, relate to one another, and constitute a dialogic community. In a way, it can be said that television fits well into the ethos of the new middle class — its selfishness, its obsession with itself, its depoliticization.

True, technology is irreversible. Life without television is impossible to imagine. but then, can we educate ourselves, restrain the power of technology, and establish the supremacy of the natural, spontaneous existence over the hyperreal world of the TV screen?

The author is fellow of All Souls College, Oxford    

The national human rights commission in a bold decision on July 12 stated that “there was no need for enactment of the prevention of terrorism bill, 2000 or similar law as the existing laws were sufficient to deal with any eventuality, including terrorism”. It further added that, “The real need is to strengthen the machinery for implementation and enforcement of the existing laws and further, for this purpose, the working of the criminal justice system requires to be strengthened”.

Although the home ministery rebuffed the NHRC, the latter has so far stuck to its guns by reiterating that “the proposed bill if enacted would have the ill-effect of providing intentionally a strong weapon capable of gross misuse and violation of human rights which must be avoided”.

The home ministry stressed the need for bringing an anti-terrorism law as “the normal criminal laws were not designed to deal with the activities of terrorist organizations which have bases across the border. Countries such as Britain and US which have faced the onslaught of international terrorism much less than India have comprehensive anti-terrorism laws with even stonger provisions”.

A cursory review of the prevention of terrorism (temporary provisions) act of the United Kingdom and the anti-terrorism and effective death penalty act of 1996 of the United States exposes the draconian nature of PTB and the flaws in the home ministry’s analysis.

TADA and after

One, the UK has declared a formal emergency under Article 15 of the European convention on human rights to enforce PTA. It has conceded that the PTA violates Aricle 5 of the Eurpoean convention but it justifies its legality on the ground that a formal derogation notice was filed with the secretary-general of the council of Europe. In India, the government does not formally declare an emergency under Article 4 of the international covenant on civil and political Rights, much less formally declare an emergency under its own Constitution.

Two, the PTA and individual cases filed under the act are subject to annual review by the UK parliament. The proposed PTB would be subject to review every five years and individual cases reviewed by the review committee comprising bureaucrats without parliamentary scrutiny. Even the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of India was reviewed every two years.

Three, a person arrested under PTA of the UK may be detained upto 48 hours, and with the approval of the secretary of the state, this may be extended upto five days. But someone arrested under the PTB would be detained for 90 days, and with the approval of the special court, this may be extended to 180 days. Whereas in the case of PTA, it is only the secretary of state for home, equivalent to the home minister of India, who can extend the detention period, under the PTB an official of the rank of the joint secretary to the state governments could exercise this right.

Protocol failure

Four, the PTA is subject to international review by the European court of human rights committee. In the absence of a regional mechanism in Asia similar to the European court of civil rights, India must ratify the first optional protocol to the ICCPR to allow the human rights committee to receive individual complaints. In addition, the government of India must ratify the convention against torture and withdraw its reservation to Articles 20, 21, 22 to the convention against torture.

Unlike the PTB, the AEDPA in no way limits the fundamental rights guaranteed to all defendants in the criminal process. Admittedly, AEDPA grants special deference to state courts for offences that come under the act. However, for a state to obtain this deference, it must first prove in a federal court that it complies with strict regulations set by chapter 154 of AEDPA, such as having well financed public resources for all defendants including a state funded attorney available for every defendant.

AEDPA provides absolute degeree of freedom of speech and freedom of communication under the first amendment of the US constitution. Under the PTB, journalists not sharing information could be prosecuted for terrorist activities. Therefore, the government’s case for the PTB has very little ground, for any such law must be strictly aware of human rights.    

It took European artists to open the world’s eyes to the beauty of Indian women. Some they were able to capture in their sketch books or on canvas: by riversides while bathing, drawing water from wells or going to temples. A few managed to enter harems by pretending to be doctors; others went to kothas of prostitutes to enjoy nautch and mujras. Quite a few maintained harems of their own which they bequeathed to their successors; some married them and had children through them.

All this continued from the time the first European put his foot on Indian soil till the middle of the 19th century. Then white women started arriving in India and put an end to the fun and games between their men and native women. Pran Nevile, ex-diplomat, has opened up this goldmine of inter-racial sex from libraries of rare books and paintings in England. His latest is a coffee tabler, Beyond the Veil: Indian Women in the Raj.

It is evident that what attracted European men most towards Indian women were their beautiful eyes and full bosoms — both woefully lacking in their own women. They also found Indian women’s rich, brown complexion more attractive than the raw ham-like skin of their own.

The plethora of paintings of Indian women from different sections of society have been compiled in one book for the first time. Ogling at pictures of these half-clad beauties is a voyeur’s delight.

There are dozens of memoirs penned by Europeans on their encounters with Indian women. Also reams of bad poetry. To wit:

Where the deep blue waters glide,

By the lonely river-side,
with a stately step she trod,
Like a daughter of a god.
Bright her brow as the autumn moon,
Black her locks as the clouds of June,
Round her neck as the ring-dove’s throat,
Sweet her voice as the Koel’s note, Slender her waist as the lion’s mate,
Stately her pace, as the elephant’s gait.
Dark her hair as the long black snake,
Lovely her hand as the pride of the lake,
Graceful her arms as the creeper’s shoot,
Ruddy her lips as the vimba’s fruit,
Golden her face as the Champak’s hue
Blushing her cheeks as the rose bud new,
Smooth her limbs as the plantain’s stem
Piercing her eyes as the polished gem
Whiter her teeth as the Jasmin’s smile
Strong in her beauty a saint to beguile.

Every English household with children had ayahs to look after their babalog. While memsahibs were enjoying sundowners with sahiblog, the ayahs were singing lullabies to put their babies to sleep:

Nini Baba nini

Muckan roti chini
Muckan roti hogiah
Chota Baba so giah

Nevile has done well to publish the book himself. He knows he will make a killing.

All theworld’s his stage

Everyone who loves books has a list of his favourite authors and reads everything written by them. And no sooner he hears of a new publication by them, he hurries to a bookstore or a lending library to get it. I have a list of my own.

I no longer keep up with foreign writers but I do make a point of reading everything written by Indians writing in English — and include V. S. Naipaul among them. They write as well, if not better than novelists of other countries.

Fairly high up in my short list is Amitav Ghosh. I have read all his six books published earlier and have just finished reading his latest and the seventh — The Glass Palace. It has fortified my resolve to read everything he will write hereafter.

A few biographical details: he is 44, born in Calcutta, son of an army officer; Doon School, St. Stephen’s college, Inlaks scholarship to Oxford (St. Edmunds), Ph.D. in social anthropology which took him to Egypt and provided the background to his novel In an Antique Land. Married Deborah Baker, an American in the publishing industry, two children, a daughter, Leela, and a son, Nayan. Though based in New York, the family have no fixed abode and are in and out of England, India and other countries most of the year.

Every one of Amitav’s books has won recognition. The Shadow Lines won the Sahitya Akademi award, The Circle of Reason an award for its French translation, The Calcutta Chromosome an award for science fiction. Even the 80-page Countdown, a lambaste on India’s Pokhran II nuclear tests, based on an interrogation of the defence minister, George Fernandes, who had strongly criticized Pokhran I, was widely acclaimed. The wide range of Ghosh’s interests is mindboggling.

The Glass Palace is largely located in Burma, Malaya, Singapore and India. The novel starts in 1858 when king Thebaw was king of Burma and Supayalat, his queen consort. It was a rich, prosperous country, always referred to as “golden Burma”.

There were large populations of Indians, Malays and Eurasians, all doing well. The British arrived on the scene first as traders as they did in India. Their main interest was teak which was in great demand in Europe. They hacked down large teak forests and became a law into themselves. They went to war against the Burmese, defeated them and sent the royal family to exile, first to Madras, then to Ratnagiri.

There they spent the rest of their lives. No visitors were allowed; their only social contact was the commissioner of the district, who was a Bengali in the Indian civil service. They became close friends.

In this cloistered atmosphere, the princesses grew to womanhood and had liaisons with Indian servants. Their nanny, a startlingly beautiful girl, was claimed by an Indian-born Burmese youth who rose from being a dish-washer to a very prosperous timber contractor. The scene shifts back to Burma with interludes in Singapore and Calcutta. After World War I came World War II. The Japanese drove out the British, then allied forces drove out the Japs. Indians were caught in the crossfire.

Many joined the Indian National Army under Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose; others stayed loyal to the British. They were despised by both antagonists as well as the Burmese, who wanted them out of their country.

The once prosperous Indian community trekked out of Burma in thousands, with little besides their tattered clothes on them. Many fell by the wayside.

The pictures of the devastation caused by the war will haunt readers for a long time. The novel ends in the electoral victory of Aung San Su Kyi, who would have been prime minister of Burma, but has been kept under detention in her home by the army which rules the country.

The Glass Palace is of the epic dimensions of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace: In Ghosh’s novel, the order is reversed to peace and war. Its length may daunt the reader at first, but when he comes to the last page, he will wish it could have gone on for ever.

Dial H for answers

“Did Shri Ram really suspect Sitaji of infidelity and subject her to agni-pariksha?”, asked the ever-inquisitive wife.

“I really don’t know but when I go to swarg, I’ll ask him about it”, replied the husband.

“But if, for all those hardships Shri Ramji subjected Sitaji to, he may not be in heaven?”, said the wife.

“In that case, why don’t you go and ask him yourself when you die?”, quipped the husband.

(Contributed by Shashank Shekhar, New Mumbai)    

Bimal Roy’s birth anniversary fell on July 12. It was celebrated by the Oxford Bookstore and Gallery in collaboration with Nandan with three programmes conceived around the works of one of the greatest filmmakers India has ever produced. The festival began with a rare exhibition of still photographs taken by Bimal Roy himself during his days as director. It may be recalled that Roy began his career in films as cinematographer at New Theatres in Calcutta. He then migrated to Mumbai and began independent work as a filmmaker. Every single film directed by Roy had a social message interwoven into the script, or, the storyline itself was chosen on the basis of its social relevance. It was also chosen for the significance of the narrative.

Thus, we find him banking on wellknown Indian literary classics. Roy ranged through Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay to Munshi Premchand to Rabindranath Tagore to create celluloid transliterations of their great works in his films. They are “transliterations” because Roy remained fiercely faithful to the original literary source and did not seem to believe in celluloid “interpretations” of literary works. His films were low key, subtle and intense. They are also remembered for the low key performances of the main actors, lilting music and beautiful cinematography in black and white.

The women in Bimal Roy’s films had an identity of their own. They were emotionally “independent” in the sense that they were not mere foils to the men or to the other characters in the film.

Their images continue to make their presence felt long after the film is over. Do Bigha Zamin portrays Nirupa Roy as a peasant wife. She is left behind to cope with her small son and a sick father-in-law when her husband leaves for the city. She is realistic and credible in her naivete and earthiness. She takes her husband’s letters to an educated lady (Meena Kumari in a guest role) to be read out to her. When the woman reads these letters out to her, Nirupa smiles like a coy bride. She keeps count of the days her husband has been away by making chalk marks on the wall, displaying the natural anxiety of an unlettered peasant wife. In the city, she demonstrates her gullibility to be conned into an attempted rape. While escaping from his clutches, she is run over by a car and lands in hospital. Although totally dependent on her husband, she has a mind of her own. The film is said to have been strongly inspired by the Italian neo-realist school of films and remains a textbook film for filmmakers inclined towards this style.

Madhumati, a commercial film on reincarnation, is perhaps the biggest box office hit among all Roy’s films. It represents a unique triumvirate of talents in the history of Indian cinema. The script was by Ritwik Ghatak, the musical compositions by Salil Chowdhury, and the film was produced and directed by Roy himself.

Although it had too many commercial ingredients compared to other Roy films, Madhumati still evokes an aura of romance that has disappeared from the Indian mainstream. In the title role, Vyjayantimala’s performance, first as the love-struck maiden from the hills and then as the ghost who comes back to invite her lover to a union beyond death, matches the delicate nuances of Dilip Kumar’s acting as her city-bred lover.

Devdas has two principal woman characters. The Devdas of the title has become synonymous with any pining, alcoholic lover in India through Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel of the same name. The film has had several earlier versions, the most famous being the Pramathesh Barua directed double version in Bengali (with Barua himself playing the title role) and Hindi (with K.L.Saigal playing Devdas.) Interestingly, these New Theatres’ productions were cinematographed by a young Bimal Roy himself.

The two woman characters in the film and the novel, Parvati (Suchitra Sen) and Chandramukhi (Vyjayantimala) are dynamic. They grow over the cinematographic narrative of the film. Parvati, Devdas’s childhood sweetheart, whom he cannot marry and for whose love he meets with a tragic death, has two dimensions to her growth. As a child and a teenager, she is a a sweet girl prancing about in the woods with the boy she falls in love with.

When she gets married to a much older man, Parvati takes on the new responsibilities of wife-and-mother within a new family. Devdas for her, is part of a sweet memory from her past, which she begins to relive with shock, as she discovers the ruined figure of a dying Devdas on her doorstep in the climax. The latter part of Parvati’s character, the mature, mellow, responsible and understanding wife, is stronger and more memorable than the former one. Chandramukhi, the singing girl who Devdas begins to visit only to have his drinking bouts in peace and quiet, falls in love with him and is so influenced by his aloofness and his attitude towards her, that she gives up her profession for good. Knowing fully well that her love is one-sided, Chandramukhi changes slowly into a woman of quiet dignity, presented with more richness than it was in the novel.

But the actress who ideally portrayed the characters Roy conceived for her was Nutan in Sujata and Bandini. Sujata was based on a novelette by Subodh Ghosh. It is one of the most beautiful celluloid representations of romanticism that evolved into a strong social statement against untouchability.

Bandini was based on a novel, called Tamasi by Jarasandha, who documented the lives of prisoners through fiction. Nutan did the role of Kalyani, a prisoner sentenced for a life term for having poisoned her lover’s wife. Kalyani develops strange bonds with two men. As a young maiden, she is smitten by a revolutionary, Vikas. Later she is the silent, reserved prisoner with whom the young prison doctor Devtosh falls in love and decides to rescue from a life in prison. The girl remains uncompromising and instead of marrying the doctor, she runs to nurse her dying lover.

Not once does Roy try to rationalize his heroine’s act of murder. In the ultimate analysis, Kalyani is discovered to have been a tragic victim of sad circumstances. Bandini seems to be Roy’s most complete film in the sense that it has eloquently depicted the “complete” woman with an appeal that transcends the personal to enter the political. Had Roy not passed away as early as he did in 1967, the depiction of women on the Indian screen would have probably reached a higher degree of maturity, strength and realism than it has today.    


Date with publicity

Sir — Britney Spears must be seriously infatuated with William. Or is this — coming up with comments on the future British prince at regular intervals — one of her image enhancing strategies (“Spears’ date call to Prince”, July 24)? The latter suspicion cannot be ignored, since there is a strange artificiality and incongruity in her self-publicized statements about William and herself. She has been quoted in the past saying she did not like palaces. And yet, she has not only entertained William’s emails, but has also expressed a desire to go out on a date with him, knowing full well that it would immediately trigger off speculations about yet another royal wedding. Now how does one reconcile her dislike of palaces and her eagerness to be William’s date? Does Spears really like the prince, or is she in love with the idea of the prince liking her? Comments like these make it easy to understand she is only a teenager herself. Shall we wait for more media sparkle in case her date with the prince finally comes through?
Yours faithfully,
Neha Thekker, Chaibasa

Blood in the land

Sir — Madhushree C. Bhowmik’s “Entangled in a vicious caste net” (July 19) contains some factual errors regarding the history of the abolition of the zamindari system in Bihar. The pioneer of the anti-zamindari movement in the state was Krishna Ballabh Sahay, popularly known as K.B. Sahay, who has wrongly been referred to as Kul Bhushan Sahay. Sahay was not only instrumental in organizing anti-zamindari agitation in Bihar in the pre-independence era, it was he who, along with Bajrang Sahay, drafted the famous zamindari abolition bill. As pointed out in the article, he was physically assaulted for this. Nevertheless, the bill was enacted as the Bihar (Abolition of Zamindari) Act 30, 1950.

The act sent shock waves among zamindars all over Bihar. Under the leadership of Kameshwar Singh, erstwhile zamindar of Darbhanga, they challenged the act in the Supreme Court as an infringement of the the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution in Article 14. Before the appeal could be taken up in the apex court, the Constitution was amended for the first time and Article 31A and 31B were incorporated to nullify the effects of Article 14. K.B. Sahay had to pay a price for this as well. All the landlords threw their weight behind Kamakhya Singh, erstwhile ruler of Ramgarh estate, to defeat him in the 1957 elections.

Sahay could become chief minister only in 1963. He did try to impose the anti-zamindari act again. But by this time zamindars had been able to transfer their surplus land underbenami holdings. They had thus succeeded in bringing their total landed property well under the prescribed ceiling. The purpose of the zamindari abolition act was thus defeated.

Sahay had some idea of combating this as well. He had confided in some of his well-wishers about this in Patna in May 1974, immediately after winning an election to the Bihar legislative council. However, once again a truck accident was engineered and this killed Sahay on the spot on June 3, 1974.

Sahay believed that the problem was not so much between the higher castes and the lower castes as between those who held surplus land and those who did not. Blowing the trumpet of caste based alignment may help in electoral politics to garner caste based support, but it is not going to improve the social fabric and the economic status of the common man in Bihar.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Sahay, Nilgunj

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party government’s commitment to fulfilling tribal aspirations will be proved if the Jharkhand bill is passed in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. Some politicians believe the creation of Jharkhand will impoverish the rest of the state and that the new state should compensate north Bihar. The media meanwhile has predicted the Vananchal bill will be kept alive for politicians to feed on. The question is, how long will the tribals be made scapegoats to fulfil the political aspirations of a handful of people? Shouldn’t the Santhals, Mundas and Oraons form the Birsa Sena on the lines of the Shiv Sena to fight for their interests?

A few things need to be made clear. There should be no talk of any compensation. Exploiters have never been compensated by the exploited for the wrong done. The World Bank report shows that the per capita income of Bihar has declined steadily over the years. This is largely on account of the exploitation of the indigenous people of the region. Per capita income of these people has actually ceased to grow. Development activities therefore have to be designed so that benefits reach tribals first. Further infiltration of outsiders into tribal areas should be stopped. The next important measure is to impart knowledge of technology and management to the tribals.

Yours faithfully,
Hadgar Hembrom, Calcutta

Sir — Caste violence in Bihar has assumed unprecedented proportions. Every week there is a mass scale killing, either of lower caste or upper caste members. The carnage in Mianpur and Nawada once again substantiated the charge that anarchy is ruling Bihar.

Even while the blood runs into pools in Bihar’s villages, political parties are busy castigating each other. The intention of the parties is not to look into the urgency of the situation, but to use each massacre to gain political mileage. The Rashtriya Janata Dal government has failed to contain the killings. Commiseration from the Central government and other political parties will not do. President’s rule should be imposed on the state. Otherwise, more bloodshed will follow.

Yours faithfully,
Anurag Prasad, Singhbhum

Sir — The carnage in Bihar goes on unabated. The massacre of upper castes by Dalits and Naxalite outfits like Maoist Communist Centre, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the People’s War Group is invariably followed by the massacre of lower castes by the Ranbir Sena and the armed henchmen of the upper castes and vice versa. The Rabri Devi-Laloo Prasad Yadav administration remains a mute spectator to the bloodshed, its only ambition being to cling on to power by whatever means.

Even the imposition of president’s rule will not solve Bihar’s problems. President’s rule between February 12 and March 8 last year did not stop the killings in Usri Bazar and Bhimpura. The National Democratic Alliance, in a minority in the upper house, will not be able to push through a resolution for president’s rule. Like the RJD, the Congress has also proved its hypocrisy with regard to the have-nots. Despite the Mianpur massacre where 34 Dalits were killed, none of the Congress ministers resigned in protest.

The only way out is to bring violence prone areas under army control. The police has proved completely inefficient in handling the issue. Unless of course officers like K.P.S. Gill or J. *Robeiro are put in charge of the force.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

First class error

Sir — The letter, “Bogey bane”, written by Poulami Ghosh (July 19), states that the complainant has noticed marks which distinguish first class EMU coaches from a general EMU coach. Similar marks, green stripes to be precise, exist which mark out ladies’ coaches. Further, on the side of coaches, “first class” is written out clearly in English, Bengali and Hindi. The “I” mark is also painted. Marking boards, locating their positions are also put on the platforms. In spite of these features, if passengers enter a first class compartment because it is less crowded and are charged by the travelling ticket examiner, the fault is with the passenger, not the rail authorities.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Mahapatra, senior public relations officer, South Eastern Railway, Calcutta

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