Editorial 1/ Watch big brother
Editorial 2/ In god’s name
The elusive life of cities
Fifth Column/ What the judiciary can tell the stat
Gunshots echoing in the pine woods
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WATCH BIG BROTHER 
 
 
 
 
Every now and then Orwellian clichés vex the daily lives of people in India. Cinema halls in Calcutta are getting ready to shut down in protest against a new form of intervention from the Centre. The ministry of information and broadcasting, led by Mr Arun Jaitley, has threatened hall-owners, in Calcutta and elsewhere in West Bengal, with punishment if they do not screen the documentaries produced by the Centre’s films division. The “Indian news reel” had died a quiet and happy death in the state around the late Seventies, largely because of the boredom and lack of interest these dreary pieces of nationalist propaganda met with, unanimously, from filmgoers. Hall-owners also claim they were assured by the ministry that the law on this mandatory screening would be reviewed and the documentaries distributed free of charge. This renewed enforcement of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act, framed in the socialist Fifties, insists on the screening of these films and imposes a levy on the sales. Not only is the private entertainment market being subjected to an obnoxious and aesthetically insulting form of governmental control, but exhibitors are also being made to pay for this dose of antiquated tedium.

The larger implications of this latest instance of obtrusive legalism from Mr Jaitley and his ministry are ominous. The sphere of private entertainment is being reclaimed for control and homogenization. The rest of the country does it and so must West Bengal, says Mr Jaitley. His mode of enforcement is also blatantly punitive, with the Calcutta police commissioner assuring him full support. It is particularly sinister, in Mr Jaitley’s case, to see the Thought Police speaking the liberalizing language of the free market. Paradoxically, the ceiling on cinema ticket prices has been removed recently in West Bengal. Alarming, too, is the thought of Mr Jaitley’s other ministerial charge, law and justice. From the masterly doublespeak around the suppression of Ms Deepa Mehta’s film, Water, to the numerous attempts at structuring the nation’s moral and religious education, the old face of the Bharatiya Janata Party is never quite allowed to be forgotten, whatever its diluted and updated guise. The culture ministry has recently vetoed an exhibit at New Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art because the painter had perched a male nude atop the Ashokan pillar. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts disallowed Henri Cartier-Bresson’s classic photograph of Jawaharlal Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten for the artist’s solo exhibition in the capital. National interests and projections continue to operate coercively through the state machinery in the sphere of culture, in its widest definition. It is to the credit of Calcutta’s filmgoers, whatever the altitude of their brows, that they had managed to keep propaganda at bay by simply refusing to turn up in time to watch it.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ IN GOD’S NAME 
 
 
 
 
Religiosity is imbricated with Indian society. One consequence of this is the proliferation of shrines which have their own sanctity. Barring the notorious example of Babri Masjid, this sanctity has been preserved by the state. The realm of Caesar has seldom infringed on the realm of Christ. But for the devout the greater danger is the institutional presence of those who, in the name of religion, run organized extortion rackets. The panda system in Hindu temples embodies this extortion. The pandas claim for themselves, through some obscure hereditary right and ritual status, special access to the deity of the temple that they control. It thus becomes impossible for any worshipper to reach the deity without their mediation. They also control the precincts of a temple. They thus make demands on worshippers and even regulate law and order. The recent assault in the Kalighat temple by pandas on the artist, Ms Arpana Caur, is a good example of the control and extortions that pandas resort to in Calcutta’s principal Hindu shrine. Ms Caur had refused to pay the amount the pandas had demanded to allow her to have darshan. Her refusal led to her being harassed and roughed up by pandas and their goons. She reported the matter to the police. The management of the temple not only denied the charges but made the surprising statement that the artist should have gone to them instead of the police. This statement assumes that the temple and those who run it are above the rule of law. At the heart of the matter is the panda system which has no status in the mode of worship. They are merely intermediaries making money on the beliefs of devout people. They should be removed and access to deities should be free. Gifts or donations to the deity should be absolutely voluntary. Temples are being desecrated not by the state or by some other external agency but from within by those who control them. History has many examples of the spiritual domain being cleansed by worldly forces. The episode in Kalighat highlights the need for this.

The overlapping of the spiritual and the mundane is also evident in the attacks carried out on the Ramakrishna Missions in Kamarpukur and Joyrambati. Both these shrines have become embroiled in the ongoing battle between the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It appears that supporters of the Trinamool Congress fleeing from the CPI(M) took shelter in the missions. This led to attacks on the missions by CPI(M) cadres. It is true that the monks should have been a little more cautious before they opened their doors to one party. But more important is the transgression committed against a shrine by a political party. A thin line demarcates Caesar’s field from that of Christ’s; neither religious hoodlums nor political ones should be permitted to blur that line.    


 
 
THE ELUSIVE LIFE OF CITIES 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Talk of a city, and there is an instant, passionate response. The bad roads, the lack of water, the dirt on the streets, the power cuts, the rowdyism and rampant crime — images of the Good Old Days are trotted out and the flames of indignation fanned vigorously with them. Civic decay and, in some cases, collapse, cannot be denied; every city has its share of these problems in greater or lesser measure. But cities are, to state the obvious, not civic facilities alone, or their absence. They are basically large gatherings of people living in close proximity to one another. Not because they particularly want to, but because their way of life has been so ordered that it is inevitable that all of them stay in close proximity.

By the same reasoning, in which civic amenities appear to be prime factors, it is easy to define a city by the kind of refuse dumps it has, or its pot-holed roads, or lack of streetlights and by other visible evidence of its metropolitan identity. But that sort of definition would be correct only in one, partial, sense. A city, any city, is defined by its people, by what they do individually and collectively in whatever field of social activity.

Bangkok, for example, is defined by the tourism — the special kind of tourism — its inhabitants provide. London used to be defined by the stodgy food its people ate, the relatively inexpensive but excellent clothing and footwear one could pick up at Marks and Spencer’s, Scotch — the single malts and the blended variety — and, of course the plays, in all kinds of theatres.

And identities change. To take London, again; you have to define it now by the rather exotic food the locals eat, the wines they drink and the frightfully expensive things they sell. Only the plays have continued much in the same tradition, except that tickets cost a great deal more. Also — but this may be a purely personal impression — the locals seem more friendly.

Nearer home, Calcutta had one identity some decades ago; an identity which was constituted by the vitality of the arts — plays, films — the strong tradition of being at the hub of several industries like tea, jute, steel, coal and such “managing agents” as Gillanders Arbuthnot, Andrew Yule and others, the eminence of its scholarship in different subjects and the quality of its professionals — doctors, lawyers, engineers and others. That identity has now altered, not because of civic failures, which of course have been a continual blight, but because of the inhabitants themselves. Major industry has left, or is sick; a very large number of scholars have left for other cities, and the number of competent professionals is pathetically low. Creative, innovative theatre seems to have given way to a tiredness, a weary repetition of what was once electrifying and is now merely tedious. Filmmaking continues after a fashion; there are one or two interesting films among a handful of truly puerile stuff. There are of course writers and artists; there are some industries doing fairly well; there are some good doctors and other professionals. But the identity, the overall identity, is no longer defined by them. It is defined, among other things, by the skills acquired in bellowing slogans. (This really is a skill; you have to deepen your voice and then blare like a bull in search of a mate, but with modulation. I was told in all seriousness that the squad leaders, or whatever they’re called, of various political parties practise regularly in their homes. As, no doubt, great vocalists once practised classical music.) Also by organizing endless processions, work stoppages and the intimidation of managerial staff. Most of all, the new identity of this once magnificent city is defined by the way it has succeeded in making idleness a proletarian virtue.

Delhi’s identity has also been changed by its inhabitants. One can no longer afford to be patronizing about loud-voiced shopkeepers and their fat wives decked out in satin salwar kameezes, and glitzy sarees or about the bejewelled ladies draped in silk and their disdainful bureaucrat husbands attending “cultural” functions. Delhi is now defined by young professionals in new areas of work who are very clear about what they are doing and what works and what does not; it is defined by a vigorous academic discourse on numerous subjects, and among the scholars who have built up these discourses, there are many who have come away from Calcutta. Recitals of classical music, or festivals of films, are attended by young people who are not mere aficionados, but knowledgeable ones. It also has its quota of political activity, but all of that somehow falls into the category, “others”, if one were defining different aspects of the new identity of the city.

Even Chennai, to give Madras its present name, has moved from the identity it once had of a rather conservative city, steeped in traditional art forms and religious rituals to one where contemporary style is a major factor, where the traditional arts live easily with a dynamic, if openly “entertainment oriented”, film industry, and where industry has moved in steadily. Such makers of accessories as Sundaram Clayton have now ready customers in the huge factories set up by Ford, Hyundai and Hindustan Motors. Bangalore, once a haven for the retired, is now jostling for first position in the world if information technology with Hyderabad, and Chennai is not very far behind.

Again, whatever has happened has been because of the way the locals act and because of what they do — individually, certainly, but more importantly, in large groups, from which the identities of the cities emerge. Mumbai’s identity as a commercial and industrial centre has finally begun to look fuzzy at the edges, as Bal Thackeray and his cohorts try their best to reduce it to a mere Maharashtrian town. And its film industry has begun to take second place to the southern film industries, as its once pre-eminent position as a centre for television production is being threatened by Chennai, Hyderabad and even Delhi.

There are no absolute blacks and whites here. Every city has aspects which set it apart, aspects which are admirable, or exceptionally offensive. Indeed, when one is looking at the collective activities of people, one can at best make tentative comments, unless one has access to the most detailed and exhaustive statistics. But one is looking at impressions more than anything else. There is, for example, a general impression that law and order is better maintained in Calcutta than in Delhi, just as there is the general impression that there is a more vigorous, dynamic academic tradition in Delhi than anywhere else.

Can these identities change? Of course; change is exactly what one sees in a continuing process, but it depends on the people more than on anything else. Going by what identities were 50 years ago, great change is possible. Perhaps Calcutta will tire of its acquired skills in slogan-shouting and in its endless processions; perhaps academic enquiry will migrate to places where bureaucracy does not have the stifling hold it has in the capital; perhaps industry will find the south too hot and humid. Perhaps.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ WHAT THE JUDICIARY CAN TELL THE STAT 
 
 
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
 
 
Recently, the Supreme Court has struck a severe blow to the Karnataka government by raising a constitutional question in restraining it from giving in to Veerappan’s blackmail. On July 30, the jungle-dacoit had held Raj Kumar, the Kannada superstar, and three others and kept them as hostages for pressuring the government to accept his demands. The release of some prisoners detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and five extremists of Tamil Nadu were his key demands. Repeated talks between R.R. Gopal, the mediator and the editor of Nakheeran, and Veerappan, suggested that the government was desperately trying to work out a compromise.

But, on an appeal filed by the father of a police officer killed by the bandit’s gang, the apex court ordered that the prisoners facing charges under TADA and the National Securities Act should not be released until the case was disposed of.

By directing the Karnataka government to tackle such problems properly or to quit and make room for another able government, the apex court has triggered off a constitutional controversy. The indictment came in response to the argument forwarded by Harish Salve, the defence counsel for the government of Karnataka, that unless the prisoners were released, the state may be embroiled in an ethnic bloodbath.

Dacoity abetted

The Supreme Court’s warning is not without reason. Veerappan has been operating for the last 40 years and all governments, irrespective of their political alignments, have shown a criminal indifference in bringing him to book. The present Karnataka government has also failed to perform its duty.

But some have seriously questioned whether a judicial body can ask a cabinet to step down unless it acts in a particular way. According to them, the cabinet is, under Article 164(2), responsible only to the legislative assembly. So, the opposition can take steps in order to dislodge the cabinet by outvoting it inside the house. However, the state cabinet may also be dismissed by the president if he proclaims Emergency under Article 356(1), because of the failure of the constitutional machinery of the state. But these are two constitutional mechanisms for the use of political functionaries only — the judiciary, they hold, is not entitled to determine the tenure of the cabinet.

In this context, it should be remembered that last year, the Bihar high court, perturbed by the dismal condition of the state, observed that if things were not promptly corrected, it would think of recommending the imposition of president’s rule in the state. Such proclamation implies the untimely ouster of the state cabinet and, normally, such action is recommended by the governor. So, if the judiciary actually threatens to make such a recommendation, it seems that the former may arrogate to itself a power which has been intended for the governor.

A fine balance

Critics however insist that a court is not entitled to determine the tenure of the cabinet, nor can it associate itself with the presidential proclamation of Emergency.

Obviously, the Indian democratic structure is finely balanced on the three governmental organs — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. This balance is properly maintained if the organs act within their own sphere. Critics feel that the issue of the stay order on the release of some notorious criminals by the apex court is a matter which comes within its jurisdiction. But, as a judicial body, it cannot ask the government to choose between two alternatives — resignation and able administration. Also, the judiciary’s habit of speaking up where it should reserve its opinion can cause much harm by disrupting the balance envisioned in the Constitution.

But rapid criminalization of our politics has already vitiated the country and the judiciary has a crucial role in breaking this unholy nexus. Particularly, if the government persistently yields to unreasonable and anti-social demands, the law and order crisis may become irreparable. In such a case, the apex court is morally correct in asking it to step down. When the government fails to perform a basic responsibility, its electors may rightly demand its ouster and a similar gesture by the judiciary only echoes this popular response.    


 
 
GUNSHOTS ECHOING IN THE PINE WOODS 
 
 
BY SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE
 
 
Xenophobic bloodletting and internecine squabbles have assumed a ritualistic fervour in the unlikeliest of environments — the enticingly scenic state of Meghalaya, whose pine-scented hillsides and freshly-fed waterfalls are hardly indicative of tribal ire and festering resentment.

Over the last decade, the advent of the Pujas has been punctuated by riots and mindless killings, the aftershock stretching till Yuletide in this earthquake-prone zone. The last few years, however, have witnessed shifting trends in the pattern of violence. In a political climate where regionalism brings parochial aggrandizement, toothless governments have allowed the situation to drift out of hand. But while the earlier targets were dkhars (Khasi for “outsider”, implying non-tribal), the ethnic equations have now shifted to Khasi-Garo clashes or even intra-tribal conflicts.

The latest in the series of “incidents”, since Independence Day, took place in Nongmynsong on September 17, when a shopkeeper and his relative were stabbed and his minor niece strangled to death. This was preceded by another gruesome killing in the heart of the capital on September 15 in Iewduh, the largest wholesale market in southeast Asia, and that, too, in broad daylight. Unlike earlier instances, the victim of this “shootout” was not the usual non-tribal trader but a Khasi shopowner. With the exodus of terrorized non-tribal residents, the attacks are now invariably directed at the tribals themselves.

The bonhomie once shared by residents of every community is now almost non-existent. No longer do the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos plunge wholeheartedly into the Durga puja festivities and few non-tribals venture out these days for the memorable midnight carol service in local churches. Nor, for that matter, do they voluntarily hang the “star of Bethlehem” on their doors every Christmas like their tribal neighbours. The star was the symbol of a once-cherished bond.

With extortions, threats and murders breaking previous records, the government and the administration can hardly afford to remain indifferent. The lure of easy money and a reckless lifestyle have also ensnared many young people to the path of insurgency. With the shift in priorities, the targets have been altered inevitably. Thus while mixed population areas of Shillong were prone to trouble earlier, now it is the tribal localities that simmer with tension.

In 1993, separatist forces raised their heads in Meghalaya, till then considered an “oasis of peace” in the volatile Northeast. Prominent intersections in the city overnight bore graffiti claiming “This is Khasiland, not India,” and “Khasi by blood, Indian by accident,” while a simultaneous movement was launched in the Garo Hills districts, seeking a “Garo Pahar state” or “Garoland”. Little was done to nip the problem in the bud.

That insurgency, too, has today struck roots in this once peaceful state is, again, the fallout of apathetic governance succumbing to blackmail by pressure groups and vested interests over the years. The militant Hynniewtrep A’chik Liberation Council evolved into a wholly Khasi outfit, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council. The insurgent group in the Garo Hills, the A’chik Liberation Matgrik Army, surrendered en masse in October 1994 before the then chief minister, Salseng C. Marak. Trained by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim and inspired by the United Liberation Front of Asom, the decision of this outfit to join the mainstream was viewed as a major achievement of the government. But utter callousness and an insouciant attitude towards the rehabilitation of the rebels led to a daring jailbreak a few months later. They regrouped to form the A’chik National Volunteers Council, and are running riot in the Garo Hills once again.

In the Khasi hills, every hope that the HALC would follow the Garos into surrendering died an early death when — with training by the NSCN in Bangladesh camps, allegedly with tacit support from the Inter-services Intelligence — it emerged stronger under the banner of the HNLC. This is unfortunate since the administration was in the know of the NSCN’s machinations in the early Nineties. The police had specific information on and photographs of NSCN cadres in Shillong’s Lady Hydari Park, entry to which was subsequently restricted. These young people were apparently “students” of the Northeastern Hill University, and could well have been interrogated on the local nexus. Inaction spawned greater interaction of these militants with local young people, with arms training given at scarcely concealed camps a few kilometres from Dawki on Meghalaya’s international border. Today, this Khasi outfit is able to hold the government to ransom, paralysing life in the city with shootouts and looting, “public curfews” and bandhs, blatantly flouting rules and issuing diktats to a cowering populace.

Another factor contributing to the rapid growth of insurgency in these hills is the “sensitive” nature of the relations between the police and the public. Youth bodies call bandhs demanding the release of suspects no sooner than they are arrested. In the past, senior police officials have been transferred or detainees freed on government orders whenever security forces have zeroed in on culprits, thereby demoralizing the guardians of the law.

It would require a strong, cohesive government and an even firmer chief minister to bring the errant to book. Bowing to ridiculous demands have not only eroded the police morale, it has also made the latter soft targets for militants. Meghalaya also provides a convenient corridor for insurgents of the Northeast to enter Bangladesh. Despite the grim scenario, the chief minister, E.K. Mawlong, insists that his government is tackling the insurgency problem “with a firm hand”. While reiterating his plea to the Centre to ban the militant groups, he invited them to the negotiating table six months ago. Not surprisingly, there was no response from either the HNLC or the ANVC.

Militant outfits of the Northeast invariably seek talks at the “prime ministerial level”, aware that the Centre is not as familiar with ground realities in the region as the state governments. Consequently, they can hope for a more amenable response to their demands.

This strategy harbours an intrinsic loophole: Central emissaries often concede to terms that could well put the state government in jeopardy.

An example is the ongoing talks between the Centre and the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and the latter’s insistence on territorial extension of Nagaland to include all Naga-inhabited areas as “Nagalim”. The state and Union governments are at odds over the issue. However, in Meghalaya, insurgency is just stepping out of its nascent stages and can still be stemmed. Its simple, peace-loving tribals deserve better than the current uncertainty and unrest. It is only the young today who are choosing to differ, hardly aware of the repercussions or consequences of their actions.

Yet earlier this month, a section of the youths appealed to the local dorbar to clear their locality of militants, since rebel activities were affecting their academic performance. The local headman and his council have the powers to excommunicate offenders and have, in the past, resorted to such verdicts. It exemplifies the grassroots democracy of this clannish tribe, occasions when a tribal takes “action” against his own people.

Given Meghalaya’s natural resources, including some of the world’s finest orchids, limestone, coal and uranium, as well as its potential for tourism, the state could well have earned Mizoram’s sobriquet of a “model state”. Regrettably, somewhere in the 29 years of a hard-earned statehood, it has become enmeshed in a web of corruption, violence and lack of motivation, moving from a glorious past, that fused tradition with enterprise, to a future where the gun will obliterate the melodies, already rapidly fading, in this abode of the clouds.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Sporty lucre

Sir — The Olympics does not separate the boys from the men. In fact, it is one arena where the boys and the men fight together and against each other. But it differentiates between the overtly professionalized games and the rest. Take tennis for example. First, it was Marcelo Rios of Chile who refused to carry his country’s flag because his mother and sister were not given tickets for the opening ceremony. Since then, and even before the tennis events started, quite a few players pulled out on the pretext of injury, the latest being Sandrine Testud of France. Maurice Greene, one of the biggest stars of this year’s Olympics, has begun indicating that he is the boss by walking out of his team’s practice, claiming it was too hot (“Dispute over relay quartet, Greene walks out of practice”, Sept 19). The lofty ideals of the Olympic games have long ceased to appeal to sportspersons. National pride has given way to the lure of money. The Olympics may become just another carnival a few years from now.
Yours faithfully,
Sushant Kumar, via email

Billing, but not wooing

Sir — The chairman of the telecom regulatory authority of India is reported to have told the associated chambers of commerce and industry of India that the TRAI’s primary objective is to “bring the customer into focus and afford full protection of his rights”. That this pious intention is not borne out by TRAI’s recommendations is quite clear. While the earlier members of TRAI recommended unlimited competition in the provision of domestic long distance call facilities, the present TRAI wants to put a ceiling on the number of competitors. This unlimited competition can prove to be in the interest of consumers and this has been demonstrated by the licences being given out to internet service providers. In this case there have been no barriers against the entry of the supposed non-serious players. In fact, this has been a boon for consumers and increased the number of subscribers five times and brought down the prices to about one-fifth the original price within 18 months. The present members of TRAI will do well to learn from this.
Yours faithfully,
T.H. Chowdhury, Hyderabad

Sir — Calcutta Telephones ought to be made more accountable. There are innumerable errors in their bills: incorrect phone numbers are often printed on their bills that claim that these numbers have been dialled. If one complains about these anomalies, one is instructed, with great smugness, that the entire amount billed has to be paid and in future one should be careful about locking the phone when it is not in use. As far as the illegal tapping of the phone is concerned, the officials of Calcutta Telephones are unable to say anything.

Yours faithfully,
K.K. Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — The decision to make long distance telephone calls cheaper is a welcome move. The middle class families have hitherto been struggling to pay for the long distance calls in order to be in touch with their kith and kin who live in other parts of the country. One wishes the same kindness would be shown for local calls as well.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — Telephone bill payment through the postal department seems to be a source of harassment for telephone subscribers in this city. Often enough, Calcutta Telephones fails to register the payments even though they are made on time. Telephone lines are immediately cut off without any prior notice, with a curt automated message directing the customer to approach the accounts department of the local telephone exchange. More rudeness follows from the officials at the local telephone exchange. Despite several requests, the accounts officer does not bother to arrange an appointment. A hefty reconnection charge is demanded after this. If there is such a complete lack of coordination between the telephone bill collection system of the post offices and Calcutta Telephones, why are the subscribers categorically advised to pay telephone bills to the local post offices by cheque?

Yours faithfully,
Arin Basu, Calcutta

Sir — With falling prices of computers, their market sales have spiralled upwards and they have entered a substantial number of households, the upcoming small offices and home offices. There has been a similar increase in internet connections throughout the country, owing to the likes of Caltiger and other providers who have made this somewhat affordable. But the department of telecommunications and its telecom policies vis-à-vis the internet have been heading in all kinds of inappropriate directions. Unlike the scenario in many Western countries, where the internet is either provided free of charge or very cheaply, we continue to pay an abnormally high sum and that too on an hourly basis.

If the DoT stopped charging for the telephone calls used during internet surfing (a similar proposal has been made by the government), this would bring immense relief to internet users. Even if it is not provided free of cost, the authorities can at least amend their revenue structure. This has been attempted in Australia, where the netizens pay $ 30 a month for an unlimited access to the net. If a commodity with a high demand could be made available cheaper, the consumption is surely going to skyrocket. The corollary to this is that the revenue generated through this would increase proportionately.

Yours faithfully,
Sharbendu De, via email

Sir — The article “Long-distance phone rates cut” (Aug 29) which describes a 15 to 17 per cent discount being offered on such phone calls, can only benefit subscribers and businessmen. The masses who do not have phones or those who do but do not make long distance phone calls are the ones who actually need the discount. Discounts offered to those who already have the means to afford a subscription and make long distance calls do not make any sense at all. Instead of this scheme, the government ought to offer more free calls, cheaper local calls and reduced rentals for phones that register less than Rs 500 worth of phone calls a month. Such measures would be genuinely appreciated.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Token letters

Sir — It is ironic that September 8 was celebrated with great pomp as International Literacy Day when the level of literacy in India remains dismal. Instead of holding seminars and workshops in metropolitan cities, government policies in India should be more focused on increasing literacy levels in the villages. This will give literacy a broader base throughout the country. Adequate schooling facilities and teachers should be provided for each and every village. Visual media such as advertisements and cultural programmes should be used to increase awareness about literacy. Until some constructive programme of action is undertaken, no tokenism in the form of celebrating International Literacy Day will help the people.

Yours faithfully,
T.S. Raghunathan, Calcutta

Sir — The International Literacy Day was not given its due importance in the Indian media. This country would benefit from a serious discussion of literacy, especially considering the fact that illiteracy is perhaps the gravest problem facing the Indian nation. The more the media generate such discussions, the greater the awareness of the importance of literacy and of how it can turn an ordinary mind into one which is rational, agile and capable of making decisions on its own.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Batabyal, Ranchi

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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