Editorial 1/ Mixed report card
Editorial 2/ Folly unlimited
Slickness isn’t all
Fifth Column/ Lines to make progress smoother
Listen to the caged birds
Silver screens and gory thoughts
Letters to the editor

If the government of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee were to undergo the discipline that school children go through, then a strict headmaster would have promoted the government from first to second year on trial. The small question mark is not because of lack of effort. The coalition government that Mr Vajpayee heads has made its intentions clear from the day it was sworn in. It wanted to be effective in governance, and in the field of international affairs it was eager to see India come on to the playing field from the side lines. In the latter enterprise, Mr Vajpayee has been only partially successful. The principal gain here has been the building of bridges with the United States of America. But it is important to underline that the plinths of this bridge were erected during the prime ministership of Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao who made India’s foreign policy do a 180 degree turn: from a pro-Russia slant Indian foreign policy looked to the US to bolster up its position in international affairs. The foreign policy achievements of Mr Vajpayee are all concentrated in the sphere of Indo-US relations. Another legacy of Mr Rao’s time, India’s growing relationship with the near and far east have seen no policy initiatives. Similarly neglected have been the countries of Europe and Africa. The price of neglect growing out of a dependence on Uncle Sam may prove to be heavy.

Good governance is indicated by the ability a government has in displaying strength, stability and effectiveness. Mr Vajpayee has shown that despite being a coalition his government is not unstable. In fact, before the drama of Ms Mamata Banerjee’s resignation and its withdrawal, the National Democratic Alliance had not encountered any major threat. The strength of Mr Vajpayee’s tenure has been his refusal to compromise governance and policy despite pressures from other constituents of the sangh parivar. These pressures have been directed at increasing the Hindutva and swadeshi content of policies. But Mr Vajpayee has successfully distanced his government and the Bharatiya Janata Party from the fanaticism of Nagpur. He has thus been able to appropriate the middle ground of politics and to project the BJP as the natural party of governance. These are no mean achievements in a political ambience pervaded by factionalism and petty bickering. Despite all this, the claims of being an effective government are sounding increasingly tenuous. This is because the government is failing time and again to take hard decisions. The recent handling of the hike in oil prices is one example. The government did not cut back on subsidies. It has also been unable to thwart the slowing down of the economy. There are signs that economic matters are being allowed to drift. The fanfare surrounding the prime minister’s US visit has not lifted the gloom over the economy. The second year will be tougher than the third and there is no guarantee that the government is prepared for the test.    

The chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mr K.S. Sudarshan, had been raving when he talked about the Christians in Nagpur last week, and he has done it again in Agra. He has repeated his call for a swadeshi church, but with a few more frills. According to him, the church’s role in India has been furtively militaristic and its activities have more to do with politics than with religion. Going on to the Muslims, Mr Sudarshan has suggested they accept the culture of India as their own and acknowledge that the blood of Rama and Krishna flows in their veins. They should Indianize Islam. Apart from the wild distortions of history and the wilder confusion of history and mythology in these directions, there is a bottomless folly in the effort to flex the muscles of majoritarianism. Quite possibly, it is a cry of desperation. For never before, since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, has the RSS seemed so alienated from the politics of the country. And it is not as if the coalition the BJP heads that has alone managed to push the RSS out on to the fringes and even beyond. The BJP itself, whatever its compulsions, seems to be increasingly turning a politely deaf ear to the RSS’s exhortations.

The irrelevance of the RSS to present day political calculations is best seen in the dramatically opposite line taken by the new BJP president, Mr Bangaru Laxman. His welcome to the Muslims and his desire that the party should be proactive in bringing the minorities into its fold is well-timed realpolitik. While wooing the single largest minority group, Mr Laxman is aware that time has shown the Muslims that BJP is not the anti-Muslim riot inciter it was reputed to be. Reportedly, there have already been some enrolments. By going all out for the minorities — there is a minority panel on the cards — the BJP is putting on record its growing distance from the RSS. Of course, this did not come about in a day. From the beginning, it was the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was carefully trying to undo the knots of the RSS apron strings. His blow-hot-blow-cold method took a while. But if the economic reforms promised by the National Democratic Alliance government are not proceeding at the rate they should, at least it does not have to do with the hysterical swadeshi touted by the RSS. Yet the BJP has a long way to go. Its leaders are still treading a tightrope, publicly paying their respects to the mother organization at its formal gatherings, as the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, has done while declaring that ideology has nothing to do with governance. Memories of divisive passions die hard. The BJP must work doubly hard if it wants the electorate to perceive its policies and actions as free of the RSS dream of the Hindu rashtra.    

What a change, my countrymen! Delivered at last from the ubiquitous Hindi soap operas and various dhamakas and such wondrous programmes as Cincinnati Booblaboo to programmes in one’s own language, in the language in which one’s mother spoke to one when the world was young and uncomplicated. One can now revel in Oliyum Oliyum in the wilderness that is north India, and watch Khas Khobor in the steamy heat of Chennai. And not just Doordarshan. There are a clutch of private channels in a number of languages; at least five Tamil channels, three Malayalam channels, three Bengali channels, three Gujarati channels, three Marathi channels and, from what one gathers, there are more to come in the very near future.

In other words, one isn’t tied to Doordarshan’s take-it-or-leave-it programmes. One can surf, actually surf, through a number of channels in one’s own language. This was coming for some time. In fact, the Tamil channels have been around for a fair length of time, most of them run by Kalanidhi Maran; being the son of Murasoli Maran, who is a close relative of the Tamil Nadu chief minister, has, let us say, certain advantages, and establishing these channels has not been quite the painful task it would have been for a lesser human being. But now the new regional channels are here; Tara Bangla, Eenadu Bangla and ATN World in Bengali, apart from more channels in Telugu, Punjabi and Marathi.

Driven by advertising revenue, and in some cases, by funds put up by financiers who expect these channels to become money spinners over time, the presentation is slick and professional. A far cry from the crude, shoddy presentation of programmes by Doordarshan, when a clock would be shown for what seemed like hours, where the sound was incredibly bad — hollow, muffled, and where, often, there were background shouting and people calling to each other. These programmes flow from one to the other smoothly, interspersed by advertisements, and their production values are admirable. Even when the programme is an interview, the background is pleasing, and the interviewer and his or her guest are at ease, informal and good-humoured.

To be sure, the presentation by the regional stations of Doordarshan has improved considerably, but they still have a long way to go to get to the standards of the private channels. There are many reasons for this — motivation, petty resentments, the eternal squabbling between engineers and programme staff and the staff associations — which need not detain us now.

But slickness of presentation is not all, as everyone will agree. It’s what is being presented that matters and this is the key issue facing regional channel managers today. Being driven by advertising revenue, the prime objective of all private channels is to keep, and increase the revenue they get, and so programmes strive for better production values — sets, costumes, locations, and so on — to attract the advertiser. The advertiser, on the other hand, has only one concern, ratings. The all-important television rating points which are feverishly studied, analysed and interpreted and which then determine where the ads will go.

As a result, programmes tend to be variations of the same thing; if it’s a soap opera about extra-marital relations, mistresses and casual affairs that gets the TRPs, then there will, for sure, be other such soaps aired by competing channels. If a particular kind of music show is found to be popular, clones of that show will abound. Witness the emergence of imitators of Kaun Banega Crorepati. So, in the end, one finds oneself surfing in a sea of the same things presented in slightly different styles.

This can lead to disaster, but before one spells it out, it’s necessary to make a difference between the two kinds of regional channels we now have. The first lot is of those whose viewers will not easily switch to Hindi simply because they don’t understand it, whatever the proponents of Hindi may say. These include Tamil, Telugu ,Malayalam, and Kannada. The other lot is of those whose viewers can understand Hindi, and are quite familiar with the ambience of Hindi programmes; these would include Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi and Gujarati. The danger one was referring to is to this second lot of channels.

As their programmes get to be more and more of the same thing served up in different forms, the channel surfers will move to the Hindi channels which are, of course, all around them. That will reflect in the TRPs as they come in, and one can guess what the advertisers will then do. Suddenly there will be fewer and fewer sponsors, leading to channel managers becoming more and more indifferent. When they agree to take on programmes, they will drive increasingly hard bargains, which, inevitably, will tell on production values. This, in turn, will turn viewers to other programmes and fairly soon the channel will find itself mired in financial problems which will get worse and worse.

This is not a fanciful forecast; a recent study by HSBC on the media says the same thing. “Channel mortality will be high”, it says. “Most of the new channels will not be profitable due to rising programming and marketing costs on account of heavy competition...We expect channel buyouts and alliances in the next 24 months.”

But this analysis, like the analyses made by market research outfits which give the industry the much-dreaded TRPs, are based on the same kind of assumptions that they would make when selling any other product. The conceptual framework of the research is worked out by bright young people over cups of coffee in rooms hazy with cigarette smoke. They rely on market data and on their brightness.

Unfortunately, this is not enough. They have to have a very clear idea of the people they are going to gather information from, and that idea does not come from data provided by breaking them up by socio-economic classifications and whatever else. It can only come from rigorous, careful academic enquiry. The sort of enquiry which is comprehensive, with historical, sociological and cultural dimensions. It is only out of such enquiry that the parameters of the kind of information gathering that these agencies do will emerge; and the information they then provide will give producers and creative teams fresh ideas on what kind of programmes they can develop.

That would then mean fresh, new programming; something that will attract attention and interest, and lead to happiness all around. The viewers will be happy because they’ll be seeing a new kind of programme, not necessarily a soap opera, or a chat show, or a musical dhamaka; the creative people involved will be happy because viewers like what they’ve produced — all creative people secretly want that their work is liked, and if that means money, then the happiness is all the greater. The advertiser will be happy because more people will be watching his show and the TRPs will bring him joy; and the channel managers will be happy because the advertisers will be flocking to them with that loveliest thing of all — cash.

The secret, consequently, is initial and thorough academic research, and consultation with scholars. That must be the prime mover, if these channels are to survive. It will also ensure good programmes, which is the point of this cunning argument, which leaves the channels with no alternative.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    

Mamata Banerjee, the Union railways minister, has recently set in motion a series of initiatives which would help cut the Gordian knot of funds constraints being faced by this behemoth comprising 1.6 million employees.

Faced with a backlog of hundreds of projects, which would take at least 30 years to be completed at the current level of financial inputs, Banerjee has started wooing allies with deep pockets. A proposal for a joint venture with Karnataka was signed on September 20. Andhra Pradesh is the next to be roped in for picking up the tabs for a few of the multi-crore railway projects which will improve the state’s transport infrastructure.

Under the arrangement, while the railways will construct, operate and maintain the projects so identified, the primary contribution by the state government would be in making land available free of cost. The Rail Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka), Limited or K-Ride, plans to begin with an authorized capital of Rs 60 crore. Commercial exploitation of land and airspace is expected to generate additional revenue. These joint ventures would have the ministry of railways and the state governments each picking up 26 per cent equity, with the balance 48 per cent being shouldered by the financial institutions and others.

Think big, act quick

The Hubli-Ankola new line costing Rs 992 crore, the Solapur-Gadag and the Hassan-Mangalore gauge conversions costing Rs 218 crore and Rs 164 crore respectively, the doubling of the Guntakal-Hopset at a cost of Rs 164 crore are some of the projects already identified to be taken up on priority.

While Nitish Kumar was the first to draw attention to the financial mess of the Indian Railways, it was Banerjee who decided to do something about it. She has decided to act on some of the reports and studies gathering dust on the shelves of the ministry of railways, including the first ever white paper prepared by the ministry in March 1998, and the status paper tabled in the Lok Sabha in May 1988.

The steps now initiated by Banerjee are in line with her policy of obtaining a consensus with those involved in the mega projects. Apart from the joint ventures with Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which should be precursors to many more such joint ventures with other states, her thrust for locating other sources of revenue is also bearing fruit. Among the frontrunners has been the Railtel corporation set up a year back for utilizing the right-of-way along the 64,000 kilometres of railway tracks.

Tackling the mismatch

Of the 7,800 kms of the golden quadrilateral — Delhi-Calcutta, Delhi-Mumbai, Calcutta-Chennai, Mumbai-Chennai — and the diagonals of Delhi-Chennai and Calcutta-Mumbai, 3,000 kms of optical fibre cables are already operational. Furthermore, of the 12,500 kms of OFC projects in the pipeline, 6000 kms are expected to be ready by March 31, 2001 while the rest is likely to get completed by the financial year, 2001-02.

Starting with a seed money of Rs 15 crore, Railtel will attain a capital base of about Rs 1,000 crore when the existing microwave and other hi-tech communication facilities of the railways get transferred to Railtel. A long list of impressive clients, some of them interested in the heavily worked routes of Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Agra, Jabalpur-Mumbai, and Patna-Calcutta are awaiting Railtel routes to be made available for commercial use early next year.

Railtel is hopeful that of the Rs 5,000-6,000 crore market for long distance telecommunications using OFC, it may be able to grab a healthy 15 per cent market share, making a significant contribution to the railways’s finances.

Over the years a serious mismatch between economic growth and rail infrastructure development has become a problem. The latter being only about 3.5 per cent annually, while the gross domestic product growth projected for the ninth plan is seven to nine per cent. On the other hand, international experience indicates that the rail freight should grow at rates faster than the GDP, and while the recommended coefficient for transport capacity to GDP growth rates is 1.8 for passenger and 1.5 for freight, India has been struggling at a rather dismal level of 1.0. Banerjee aims to reach a level of 1.5, and the way she is going about to achieve it,p she just might pull it off.    

Prisons constitute a critical area of human rights concern. The goal of imprisonment is “not only punitive but restorative, to make an offender a non-offender”. The United Nations standard minimum rules for protection of prisoners provide guidelines for the treatment of prisoners and reaffirm the tenet that prisoners retain their fundamental rights even in custody.

At present a total number of 1,306 prisons in India has a population of 2,57,235 according to the figures of 1998. Seventy three per cent of the prisoners are waiting to be tried and a majority of them come from disadvantaged sections of society.

In India, the prison administration is governed by the Prison Act of 1894. Many of the provisions of the act are outdated and antediluvian. Section 27 of the act provides that prisoners yet to be convicted should be kept apart from convicted prisoners. Many jail manuals also provide for this segregation. Yet there are no separate buildings to keep the undertrials, who are confined for long periods in the same prison with the convicts.

This often results in “contamination of crime”. Inexperienced young men get brutalized and criminalized in constant touch with the convicted. Many gangsters also recruit members of gangs from these “borderline and yet redeemable” offenders.

The National Human Rights Commission had strongly recommended separate institutions for undertrials with adequate security at places where the district prison is located. This would have relieved pressure on the central and district jails. Located near the court premises, these would also reduce problems of transporting prisoners.

A frequent complaint which the NHRC gets from prisoners is regarding the quality and quantity of food. The commission has found prison kitchens dirty and food prepared in unhygienic conditions. It has suggested that the catering service in prisons should be examined and the work left to responsible nongovernmental organizations. But the response from state governments so far has not been encouraging.

The NHRC’s analysis of prison deaths has shown that many die because of improper medical attention. A major killer is tuberculosis. Because of overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in jails, many prisoners contract the illness and perish.

The commission has devised a proforma for health screening of prisoners and directed chief secretaries of all states on February 1999 to ensure medical examination of prisoners was undertaken at the time of admission and regularly. The proforma requires the examining medical officer to prescribe a medical and diet regimen. The format also indicates the need for confirmatory tests.

Under the Maharashtra prison rules, a board of visitors consisting of ex officio and non-official visitors could see each prison of the state. The commission was asked by the Bombay high court in Mukta Ram Sindhe vs State of Maharashtra to nominate eminent persons from the fields of correctional administration, juvenile welfare for undertaking the visits.

The court nominated visitors for 33 prisons of the state who now keep a strict watch on prison conditions on behalf of the commission in accordance with its guidelines. The guideline for improving prison conditions, formulated in consultation with a number of NGOs involved in prison work and people with practical experience in prison administration, has been framed by the NHRC and sent to all inspectors general of prisons.

For practical guidance to officers inspecting jails, the commission has prepared a checklist in consultation with experts and inspectors general of prisons. The commission has observed that sessions judges were not visiting prisons on a regular basis as required by the prison manual. The NHRC demi-officially addressed the chief justices of high courts and requested them to give appropriate instruction to these judges. Regular meetings of the district committee were also directed to be held.

The commission also felt that the knowledge of the prison staff regarding prison rules, procedures and directions of the court is inadequate. Their communication skills and interpersonal management were just as poor. Training courses were organized for the prison staff in collaboration with the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science. The efforts have had a positive response and now regular courses are held for the staff.

To improve prison conditions, it is imperative to reduce the number of undertrials in jails. The Supreme Court has prescribed different kinds of cases pending trial where the accused could be released on bail. Unfortunately, the judgment of the court is not self-executing and a large number of prisoners therefore continue to languish in jails as nobody is there to present their case before the courts. Further, a number of prisoners, though granted bail, remain in jail as there is no one to provide surety for them.

The commission has also noted that though the power of premature release of prisoners undergoing a sentence of life imprisonment is supposed to be exercised by the state government under section 432 of the criminal procedure code, the procedure followed by different state governments is not uniform. The eligibility criteria for such releases, composition of the sentence review boards and the guidelines governing the release varied from one state to another. In many states, the review boards did not meet regularly.

The commission has now set detailed guidelines for the composition of the review boards, periodicity of meetings, eligibility of premature release and categories of convicted prisoners who should not be considered for premature release as those convicted for rape, dacoity, terrorism, professional murders and so on.

The NHRC gets petitions from life convicts over 70 years of age who are languishing in prisons for more than 30 years. Section 433-A of the CrPC prescribes that a person with a life sentence “shall not be released unless he had served at least 14 years of imprisonment”. In select cases, the power of the governor to grant pardon can be effected under section 161 of the Constitution so that prisoners can be released even before completing 14 years of imprisonment. However, it has been noticed, even exercise of this power by the governor has not been based on objective criteria.

There are also cases where parole is not granted, despite there being sufficient grounds for it. In the case of Harbhajan Singh, a convict undergoing life imprisonment in the central jail in Bikaner, the jail superintendent was found deliberately preventing the parole. A bribe had been asked for and a part of it also paid. But since the rest was not given, the prisoner was tortured in consequence. The commission directed the state government to take appropriate action against the jail officials and pay Rs 20,000 to the complainant for deprivation, humiliation and harassment.

The commission has given particular attention to the condition of women prisoners. Women prisoners often report that their husbands do not accept them after their release and that they rarely heard from their families. There is urgent need to allow such prisoners the opportunity to meet their families. The NHRC feels the recommendations of the national expert committee on women prisoners, which met in 1986-87, needed to be followed up with more vigour.

The committee had recommended that all custodial premises of women prisoners have a secure environment. There should be schemes for gainful vocational training. Unfortunately, in many jails there are no arrangements even for elementary education for women. The NHRC has also noted that there is no pre-release planning or a proper policy for the rehabilitation of women prisoners after their release.

The last is extremely necessary since women are stigmatized for being in prison. A number of women prisoners suffer from mental depression and other forms of psychosomatic illness. There is hardly any arrangement for psychiatric treatment and counselling. Qualified doctors and nurses should be made available in every prison and custodial centres for women inmates.

In short, prison administration has to be more sensitive and responsive to the problems of child and women prisoners.

The author is former director general, National Human Rights Commission    

A sister in search of her long lost brother; a wealthy Parsi woman observing a relationship between her maidservant and milkman; an educated upright man on his way to kill a national icon or the loving bond and dreams of a family shattered — all these themes have something in common. They are set in the backdrop of desperate and violent stories of communal riots.

Recently wellknown Mumbai directors have produced blockbusters that have the same story of the Hindu-Muslim divide, the difference highlighted in scenes of murder and rape and soaring communal feelings. An addition to the list is Khalid Mohamed’s Fiza, that is already a hit. But even stars like Hrithik Roshan and Karisma Kapoor needed the violence of Bombay riots to give the movie that extra boost.

Not a love story

Directors like Kamal Hasan brought the riots of 1947 to life in Hey Ram. Scenes like a Muslim tailor raping a Hindu housewife in front of her husband left the audience gasping. But Hey Ram too proved to be a critically acclaimed hit. And so did Mani Ratnam’s Bombay, made after the Bombay riots. Bombay was an instant hit.

If the Eighties and the early Nineties saw stories of violence between mafia leaders and honest police officers or at the most terrorism in Kashmir, Mumbai has come up with horrifying tales of the communal divide in the new millennium. If 1942: A Love Story reflected the tale of how countrymen stood against the British, the recent movie, 1947: Earth, was based more on the violence that followed independence. Both films are set in the Forties, but their themes are different. One shows the love, the other highlights the hatred.

One truth too many

At a time when communal harmony is being preached from nursery schools to universities, acts of communal violence are successfully reaching the masses more easily through the silver screen. But do such movies bridge the gap between different communities by reflecting the trauma and ill effects of communal violence, or do they create a greater sense of disrespect and desire for revenge?

The question is: how far are stories of riots that took place in 1947 relevant to the present? For the younger generation, many of whom were not even born during the Bombay riots, such movies help in creating ideas that could be biased. It is also agonizing for them to find out how their forefathers were victimized, or killed, their grandmothers raped and tortured and how many of them lost everything they had.

Such traumatic scenes can teach a youngster never to indulge in communal hatred. Or the reaction of any youngster might be taking revenge against the community which had ruined his forefathers’ dreams. Filmmakers should think twice before projecting communal violence in their movies. It probably helps a film make an instant hit. It may even reflect real events, but sometimes truth too should be avoided in the greater interest of society.    


Left to small mercies

Sir — Harkishen Singh Surjeet, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is in no position to be a happy man, given the rapid decline his party and the left in general have been witnessing (“Surjeet quit call to BJP allies”, October 14). He has now taken it upon himself, presumably as a senior member of Indian politics and as a representative of the nation’s conscience, to send out invitations to the allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the National Democratic Alliance to quit the alliance. He may have taken the hint from Mamata Banerjee’s recent resignation over the issue of the oil price hike. Unfortunately, her resignation has been taken back, and fresh tensions do not seem to be brewing right now within the alliance. In fact, as Surjeet has realized, most of the allies in the NDA disagree with the BJP on crucial issues. And yet, the NDA has survived beyond one year. Isn’t it time Surjeet asked himself why the Left Front has lost prominence in spite of its members agreeing on most crucial issues?
Yours faithfully,
Shyamal Paine, Hooghly

Reference, Kashmir

Sir — Arvind Kala’s article, “Kashmir is people, not a piece of soil” (Oct 13), raises several key questions. For instance, how far does democracy extend and how far should it be made to?

The use of a referendum can be an ideal way to test the will of the people, provided the question being asked is unambiguous. However, given the level of perceived antipathy towards India among a great many Kashmiris, many in India rightfully believe that the Kashmiris would vote to secede and therefore are reluctant to agree to this. But is democracy a convenience when it suits one’s purposes and an irritation when it doesn’t? Democratic institutions should not only be available to those with whom we share a vision of the nation, but even to those who may oppose it.

The issue of separation and the incumbent difficulties that it raises are very real to me. Having been born and raised in the predominantly French speaking province of Quebec, I have seen the growing movement for the creation of an independent state based on the idea that Quebec represents a unique and distinct society within Canada and North America at large. This distinct society is based on language and culture. To some hardline separatists, ethnic origins are rooted in the first sets of colonists who came from France. The fear of discrimination by linguistic and ethnic chauvinists within such a state is perceivable. Being a member of a minority in Quebec, both linguistically and ethnically, I am not an enthusiastic advocate of Quebec sovereignty. I also believe in Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s vision of Canada, a pluralistic society open to all, where everyone’s rights are enshrined and respected.

Nevertheless, if a majority of Quebeckers voted for sovereignty in any future referendum, inconvenient (to put it mildly) as it would be, the will of the people as articulated through a referendum should be followed for democracy to have the legitimacy that we claim to ascribe to it. Trudeau, although thoroughly opposed to Quebec sovereignty and its narrow politics, never opposed the use of a referendum and took the sovereignists head on and challenged them at their own game. He believed that French spea- king Quebeckers could make something of themselves in Canada and still promote their culture and heritage. Could the same not be said for Kashmiris?

Some, like Kala, would argue that Kashmir’s accession was legally sound. Yet, even if something is enshrined in law, does that make it morally correct? Laws have existed in the past two centuries in the so-called developed world which has advocated segregation, slavery and imperialism in addition to racist immigration policies. This is not to say that Indian sovereignty over Kashmir is necessarily analogous to some of these instances (nor that life in Pakistan occupied Kashmir is so glorious), but merely to point out that because a political reality is justified by law, this does not make it morally right.

Understandably, the conditions for holding a referendum in Kashmir do not exist at present. The legitimacy of a referendum requires some degree of order and stability. Furthermore, it is important that before a referendum, a debate and exchange of ideas take place. For this, there must be an atmosphere that is conducive to discussion and not vitiated by hostility on both ends.

Yours faithfully,
Amar Khoday, via email

Sir — Arvind Kala rightly points out that legally, India’s claim on Kashmir was foolproof. It may be recalled that before independence, Lord Mountbatten, at the insistence of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, agreed that the rulers of the individual provinces would have the final say in deciding which country they would accede to. Mountbatten also made it clear that the decision could not be questioned or challenged in any court of law. So, the decision of Kashmir’s Hindu maharaja, Hari Singh, to accede to India was final and irrevocable.

Kala disputes India’s claim on Kashmir on moral grounds as the Hindu maharaja who joined Kashmir to India was not reflecting the wishes of his Muslim subjects. But Kashmir’s accession to India was endorsed by Kashmir’s premier political organization, the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah.

Abdullah told The Times, London, “There is no quarrel with the government of India over accession; it is over the structure of internal autonomy. One must not forget it was we who brought Kashmir to India; otherwise Kashmir could never have become a part of India.”

So, it is not completely true that the Hindu ruler’s decision did not have any support from the Muslim subjects.

That Kashmir is a disputed territory is because of the policy adopted by successive Pakistani rulers. They kept the Kashmir problem alive to remain in power. It also diverted the Pakistani people’s attention from the political and economic mess that the rulers have made of the country. The world community would be better advised, for the cause of peace in south Asia, to persuade Pakistan to accept the historical fact of Kashmir’s accession to India.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Exam blues

Sir — According to the news report, “Eligibility test mandatory for college teachers” (Sept 19), the University Grants Commission has been in two minds about making the national entrance test and the state level entrance test compulsory for applicants for lectureships in colleges. By late 1999, the UGC declared that those who had completed their PhD in or before 1996 would not have to appear for the NET or the SLET. But the commission also said that to check the indiscriminate rise in the number of PhD degrees after 1996, it was going to make the NET and SLET mandatory for all aspirants. This will only create a severe shortage of college teachers. And what is the guarantee that making NET/SLET compulsory will raise the standard of research? The supervisors of research will, in all probability, not have cleared the NET or the SLET.
Yours faithfully,
Santanu Basu, Darjeeling

Sir — The recently declared results of the West Bengal school service commission are surprising. Several talented and qualified candidates failed to qualify. Moreover, the advertisement for the examination clearly stated that all the available posts were for the Bengali medium. When asked, the officials at regional centres said that non-Bengali candidates could apply because other posts would conceivably be available in the future. When the list of successful candidates was released, many Hindi and Urdu medium science graduates were called for the interview. Why was the advertisement ambiguous?

Yours faithfully,
Jawed Nehal Hashami, Kankinara

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