Govt denies working-women status to prostitutes
Atal shoots down Naidu review meet
Advani Kashmir snub for Cong
Sex abuse panel laggards face apex court heat
Sonia soothes Ghani with CWC seat
Student sadists force UP to ban ragging
Kalam bank account blasted

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
The Centre has rejected the demand by some women’s organisations to legalise prostitution so that sex-workers would be entitled to the rights of working women.

“The government has no plans of declaring prostitution an industry and prostitutes sex-workers,” human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi told Lok Sabha today.

A women’s organisation from Calcutta, the Samannay Samiti, was the first to seek legalisation of prostitution. The demand was soon taken up by a host of women’s organisations, even as some others opposed it. The government’s outright rejection of the move has renewed the debate that divided women’s organisations across the country.

In Lok Sabha today, CPM member K. Premajam raised the issue, citing a report on AIDS and quoting the Prime Minister’s assurance that prostitutes will be given the status of sex-workers.

“Does this mean that the government is in favour of giving prostitution the rank of an industry?” demanded Premajam.

For several years, women’s organisations have debated the pros and cons of legalising prostitution. Those arguing against legalising prostitution believe such a move would give a handle to sex-traffickers who would cash in on the legal backing.

“It would only promote the entry of more and more young girls into the flesh trade,” says Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme (JWP).

She is supported by major women’s organisations like the CPM-sponsored All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). Premajam is an AIDWA member.

This is one issue on which the AIDWA and the JWP have found an ally in the government. The department of women and child is against any move that would give prostitution legal sanction and today the human resources development minister spelled it out.

The Centre is against describing prostitutes as sex-workers even though the definition has become a part of common parlance.

“We had suggested that prostitutes should be described not as sex-workers, but as prostituted women. The department of women and children agreed with us,” says Chatterjee.

But other women’s organisations are resolved not to let go of their demand for legalising prostitution. They feel that by denying prostitution legality, the government is denying the prostitutes the rights the other working women have.

These organisations argue that since the government is unable to check trafficking in women and girls, legalising the trade could at least give the victims some succour.

“At present they have no rights and are exposed to unsafe sex. The red light areas have shown a rise in AIDS,” a woman activist said.

By not legalising prostitution, the government is choosing to ignore the wretchedness of the prostitutes, she pointed out. If the government cannot ensure economic viability and provide jobs, it could at least put into effect a legal redress mechanism that could be used by the most vulnerable, she added. “Prostitutes definitely belong to this category,” she said.

Joining the Lok Sabha debate, nominated member Beatrix D’Souza asked why men are not as culpable as the women who solicit. “Why do men go unpunished?” she asked. Joshi replied: “The government is changing the Immoral Traffic Act.”    

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today rejected the demand to convene an inter-state council meeting to evolve a consensus on the recommendations of the Eleventh Finance Commission — a move that could raise the hackles of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.

There were no efforts as yet to convene the meeting, Vajpayee told reporters. When reminded that Naidu had claimed yesterday that finance minister Yashwant Sinha had agreed to convene the meet, the Prime Minister said there was “no immediate proposal” on the matter.

The Naidu-brokered meeting of six chief ministers here yester-day had demanded the council meeting to rectify the “anomalies” in the finance commission recommendations which are “against the interests of performing” states.

A delegation of chief ministers led by Naidu called on Vajpa-yee and submitted a memorandum detailing the “injustices” to high-income and middle-income states.

The memorandum had requested the Prime Minister to “take the lead in convening a special meeting of the inter-state council where these major issues of our fiscal federalism can be deliberated in depth and a national consensus evolved”.

Unaware of the rejection by Vajpayee, Naidu today reiterated in Hyderabad that a meeting of the inter-state council would be convened next month which would discuss the finance commission report.

The chief minister said Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, which received higher allocations from the commission, had abundant natural resources and there was a need to lay a “road” to tap them.

He stressed the need for “the commission to bear in mind the governance and the development of the states while allocating funds”.

He said the meeting was not to register protest against the states for which the commission has recommended “heavy” allocations on the basis of population and poverty, but it should not be at the cost of progressive states, he said.

The chief minister said the memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister after the meeting yesterday outlined the percentage of tax devolution in the total finance commission transfers which had come down from 91 per cent to 86.5 per cent.

Similarly, the 29.5 per cent share earmarked for states in the Centre’s total sharable resources was not sufficient and should be raised to 33.5 per cent, the memorandum recommended.    

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today rejected the demand for a judicial probe into the Amarnath massacre even as the Congress took the government to task and the Samajwadi Party walked out in the Lok Sabha.

Replying to the debate on motion under Rule 184, Advani, however, assured the House that the government will not be found wanting if the administrative panel inquiring into the incident exposes lapses in the security set-up. The Congress, though dissatisfied with Advani’s response, did not press for a division. “It was a reply from Advani the BJP MP and not the home minister,” Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said, who had moved the resolution.

In his hard-hitting speech, Das Munshi picked up loopholes in Advani’s response and wondered why the home minister was shying away from appointing a high court judge to probe the Amarnath massacre. He said Advani’s logic that such a probe at this stage will create doubts in the minds of people was “an insult to a mature democracy like India.”

Das Munshi also pooh-poohed Advani’s focus on Pakistan’s propaganda accusing Indian security forces and chief minister Farooq Abdullah of masterminding the killings on August 1 night. “It is shocking that Pakistan’s false propaganda rattled the home minister so such that he thinks any probe will demoralise security forces ,” he said.

Das Munshi said the Congress demand for a judicial probe was not to bring down the Vajpayee government but solely aimed at “articulating the nation’s concern”. Insisting that the Congress did not press for Advani’s resignation, the Congress chief whip said Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had moved a similar resolution when Amarnath yatris suffered Nature’s wrath. He added a judicial probe will help in future.

“I wonder why the government is shy of admitting lapses, if any. We expect the modern-day Sardar Patel to come to Parliament and admit lapses, if there were any,” Das Munshi said.

The Congress MP also countered Advani’s criticism that Kashmir today was the result of decades of Congress folly. “If the Congress tenure was full of follies, then how are you focusing on Simla agreement as the basis of talks with Pakistan? How is that the Prime Minister never tires of saying that the Kashmir autonomy issue should be addressed in the context of Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975?” Das Munshi asked.

Advani rejected Das Munshi’s demand saying a three-member panel were already probing into possible security lapses and will submit a report in three months.    

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Employers who have not appointed committees headed by women to hear complaints of sexual harassment at workplace are expected to come under the scanner with an angry Supreme Court seeking a status report from state governments.

The apex court had issued a series of guidelines in 1997 to prevent sexual harassment, but a petitioner, Medha Kotwal Lele, filed a suit alleging that most states had done little to implement the norms.

The court directed all state governments and Union Territories to file within two months details of the steps taken to enforce the guidelines.

Each and every office, under the general guidelines of the apex court, should have a “sexual harassment complaints committee”.

It is not enough if one business establishment which may have several offices has only one committee in its head office.

The petitioner’s counsel said despite the guidelines set by the court, the number of cases of harassment was increasing by the day.

The counsel made a specific reference to universities, saying sexual harassment there was “acute” and the situation was “alarming”.

In a 1997 order in the landmark Vishaka case, the court had said even the respective department heads could initiate action against an employee found to be involved in sexual harassment.

The apex court had held that obscene remarks, exhibition of sexually explicit material like photographs and pornographic books, double entendre and deliberate physical contact could be construed sexual offences.

The court had also asked governments to enact laws covering both the private and public sectors to tackle cases of sexual harassment.

The court said that “the central/state governments are requested to consider adopting suitable measures, including legislation, to ensure that the guidelines are also observed by the employees in private sector”.

However, most of the states have not yet passed any law incorporating the guidelines.    

Aug. 22: 
Risking a split in Bengal Congress, Sonia Gandhi today replaced A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury with Pranab Mukherjee as state party president and dissolved the faction-ridden executive.

Sonia succeeded in winning over a sulking Ghani who accepted her offer to join the Congress Working Committee. But, minutes after the announcement, Ghani spoke up for a mahajot with Mamata Banerjee. His replacement, Mukherjee, was peddling exactly the opposite line in Calcutta where he was released from the nursing home today.

“The Congress cannot compromise its secular credentials by aligning with the Trinamul Congress which is an ally of the BJP,” he said, assuming the role of Bengal party chief for the second time after an unhappy stint in the mid-eighties ended with his resignation following election reverses.

His second innings began on an ominous note with state party general secretary Sultan Ahmad indicating that he was set to join Trinamul as Mamata was ready to accept him. Having received her consent, Sultan left for Ajmer Sharief but another rebel, Abdul Mannan, was still awaiting Mamata’s green signal.

Dissident leaders said a “large number” of Muslim leaders belonging to the Congress would switch sides in the second week of September. Those planning to leave the party said more than 18 MLAs were with them. AICC functionaries admitted that about a dozen MLAS would leave.

Asked in Calcutta about his strategy for stemming the exodus, Mukherjee said: “We have nothing to say against those who are switching over to the Trinamul Congress. But the Congress will continue to exist despite all odds.”

Mukherjee received a formal message from the AICC about his new assignment this morning. Sonia Gandhi spoke to him during the day, but it was not known if he received the good wishes of his predecessor. The paths of the two can only cross in the skies since Chowdhury is returning to Calcutta tomorrow and Mukherjee is leaving for Delhi.

Chowdhury, however, claimed that he had named Mukherjee as successor and “thanked” Sonia for accepting his suggestion to make the “young man” PCC president.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who lost the job of the working president, too, tried to corner glory claiming that “Soniaji” had accepted his formula. Not to be left behind, Kamal Nath was claiming the entire process was set in motion by him.

Ghani had called on Sonia in the morning offering to step down. Initially, he had declined the consolation prize of a CWC berth but he was persuaded by Ghulam Nabi Azad. By evening, Ghani was a different man and said: “Ï am grateful that madam has accepted my request for a CWC berth.”

Chowdhury is hopeful of being nominated to the CWC in November but 10 Janpath refused to give a firm date.

Not surprisingly, Trinamul greeted Mukherjee’s appointment with barbs directed at the parent party. “Pranabbabu is the right person to fulfil Sonia Gandhi’s ambition to become Prime Minister with Marxist help,” party leader Pankaj Banerjee said.    

Lucknow, Aug. 22: 
Less than a month ago Prabhu Narain, a second year student of V.M. Medical College, Kanpur, was pushed from the balcony of his second floor hostel room by his seniors. He had committed the cardinal sin of resisting his seniors as they came knocking on his door to rag him and his friends.

On August 20, three second year students of King George’s Medical College, Lucknow, had to be rushed to hospital with multiple fractures after four senior students went berserk and “ragging turned into physical assault.

Three days before that, ragging at Gorakhpur Medical College took a casteist turn and ended in widespread violence between two groups.

In the last year over 15 students have been hospitalised with ear drum ruptures sustained during ragging. There are about 20 written complaints of physical assault lying with college authorities in Lucknow alone.

“It is not ragging,” says Mahesh Trivedi a student of Lucknow University, “it is torture and harassment in its most cruel and physical form.” In all these cases and many more, nothing has come of the inquiries instituted.

However, concerned over the rising cases of ragging in the state, the government has now imposed a ban on ragging of any kind.

In a move that the government hopes would “wipe out fear from campuses in the state,” an order has been sent to all VCs and principals directing them to “watch out for any instance of ragging, no matter how minor it is”.

The government has decided to suspend students involved in ragging, for two academic sessions and if need be, even send them to jail.

“The complaints of ragging just wouldn’t stop,” said higher education minister Om Prakash Singh, adding, the whole thing was getting “very, very uncivilised”.

The government has also decided to issue a code of conduct for teachers and faculty members after a lady professor of Lucknow University had accused a colleague, G.S. Bhadouria, of sexually harassing her. Following the incident girls had come out with their tales of abuse at the hands of teachers and staff members. Bhadouria, who had earlier been accused of abusing and molesting at least seven students, was suspended two weeks ago.

The government is hoping the ban in ragging will lessen the fear among students.

“Last year when my friend resisted ragging some of her male seniors literally hijacked the bus she was travelling in,” says Isihita, a student. “Authorities said it was ragging, but it was molestation,” she continues, adding: “For a fresher, nowadays, the most unsafe place to be in is the campus.”    

Hyderabad, Aug. 22: 
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the man behind Pokhran II, has realised that bank accounts in the country need a better defence programme.

When Kalam, who headed the Defence Research and Development Organisation in Hyderabad, left for Delhi in 1996 to take over as scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, he kept an account open in a State Bank of India branch in the city.

From Delhi, he kept depositing money from time to time and his last balance was around Rs 1.7 lakh.

But an officer of the bank, who had set up his own cottage industry of swindling money from accounts operated intermittently and was obviously not interested in nuclear programmes, had been eyeing Kalam’s account for some time.

When Kalam sent someone from Delhi with a cheque to draw some cash two months ago, the scientist was shocked to be told that there was not enough money in his account.

On enquiry, he was infor- med that he had issued cheques to relatives who had drawn the money.

Kalam could not convince the bank that he had no relatives in Hyderabad. However, following intervention from Delhi, the bank paid back his money within a week.

In view of Kalam’s “stature and integrity”, the chairman of the bank personally went to hand over the draft to him, including the interest for the period the money was stolen from his account.

But Kalam is said to have accepted only the amount deposited by him and returned the interest.

An inquiry by the bank revealed that Bharadwaj, an officer of the Chandrayan- gutta branch, was behind the misdeed.

Bharadwaj had forged Kalam’s signature as the account was not operated for a while. The officer transferred the money to his account, leaving a balance of Rs 8,000.

The bank inquiry also revealed that Kalam was only Bharadwaj’s most famous victim: the officer had swindled around Rs 25 lakh from several other accounts.

Bharadwaj, who lived in an apartment in Ameerpet, is absconding. The bank has handed over the case to the CBI which has launched a manhunt.    


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