Editorial 1 / Raid from the past
Editorial 2 / Bitter birth
The US political machine
Fifth Column/ Cursed region of violence and blood
New colours of the globe
In urgent need of the right directions
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / RAID FROM THE PAST 
 
 
 
 
A miasma of accusation and guilt hangs over the word, “raid’’. Yet it is common parlance in India especially among the various investigating agencies and the media. A visit to the house of a person for collecting information is labelled a raid and it is assumed that the person concerned is in some way connected with some illegal activity. The individual thus becomes tainted even before he has been taken to a court of law. The recent visit by officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation to the residence and offices of Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former head of the International Cricket Council and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, illustrates this tendency. The CBI sleuths were in search of certain documents, which they believed could be in the possession of Mr Dalmiya. They could have asked for the documents before conducting a raid on his house and offices. Behind such an action is an attitude of intimidation. The CBI wants to pressurize Mr Dalmiya. The assumption, without any basis in fact, is that Mr Dalmiya would refuse to cooperate with the CBI. There is another point here. The CBI has had remarkable success in the match fixing scandal without conducting a raid on the house of Mohammad Azharuddin. Why should it then be necessary to raid the house of a leading cricket administrator?

The answer lies in a particular mindset which harks back to Indira Gandhi’s regime, when rule by terror had replaced democratic procedures. It was under her that the art of the raid was perfected. The raid acquired its unique features because of the smear that was associated with it. It was a violation of democratic customs because it brought an individual under the shadow of guilt even before he was actually tried. An enquiry took on the dimensions of a trial. This is exactly what is happening to Mr Dalmiya. In the public perception, thanks to the paraphernalia of a raid and the media attention it has drawn, it is being concluded that Mr Dalmiya is guilty. Whereas the truth of the matter is that the CBI has questioned Mr Dalmiya and asked him for some documents. This does not in any way prove Mr Dalmiya’s guilt or otherwise. Mr Dalmiya may be guilty or he may be innocent, but these options have nothing to do with the visit that the CBI officials paid to his residence. The CBI should clarify that it was only looking for documents and it is not its intention to attach a stigma to Mr Dalmiya. Under Indian law, a person is innocent till he is proved guilty. But this fundamental principle is violated again and again by those who should be upholding the legal system. The raid is an instrument of coercion. The Telegraph, on a previous occasion, described it as fourth degree interrogation. It belongs to an era of which most Indians are now ashamed.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BITTER BIRTH 
 
 
 
 
Unlike the birth of Sleeping Beauty, no fairies are attending the birth of Jharkhand. The single bad fairy seems to have it completely under her command. The tension, confusion and violence surrounding the creation of the third new state in the series surpass the ill feeling that accompanied the births of Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal. The ill feeling in itself is occasion for comment: that three states which have come into being as the culmination of people’s movements should be born under such lowering political skies. Nobody seems to be happy, except perhaps the respective chief ministers. The people whose dreams the states are ostensibly supposed to fulfil seem bewildered and disappointed more than anything else. The anomalous situation in which the newly formed states get a chief minister and a ministry without voting them in after becoming a distinct entity is a sure recipe for confusion — not development. Add to this the tussles for the new hot seats within the political parties themselves, the Congress in Chhattisgarh and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttaranchal and Jharkhand. Everyone is in a foul mood while the logic of democracy and the greed of politicians together redraw the lines of India’s internal regions.

The birth fairy of Jharkhand is extraordinarily baleful. The fury of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader, Mr Shibu Soren, at being overlooked for the chief ministerial position, is not likely to abate. Breaking off from the National Democratic Alliance was just the first step. He was playing a desperate gamble. But his hopes in the Congress have been rudely frustrated, with Ms Sonia Gandhi’s adherence to the Panchmarhi declaration: no alliance with small, ideologically different parties for the sake of governance. Yet this is Mr Soren’s last chance of survival as an acknowledged political figure, and he and his violence-prone followers know it. The next chapter can only be pure banditry. Meanwhile, the ultra-left groups have strengthened their hold over 60 per cent of the Jharkhand region and are making sure that peace does not dare show its colours here. The BJP’s pushing of Mr Babulal Marandi as chief minister has not only upset Mr Karia Munda, a senior tribal leader associated with the movement and member of the BJP, it has also sent negative signals to those BJP voters in the new state who were hoping to see their old leader at the head of the government. For the Congress, not stepping over the threshold to chaos may match Panchmarhi resolutions but it is actually in the spirit of its time-honoured policy of wait and watch. Given its blow hot blow cold relationship with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar — with no epochmaking change in electoral fortunes — its wariness is understandable. But then, heat and blood, rather than festiveness and exhilaration, are in the air.    


 
 
THE US POLITICAL MACHINE 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
It has become fashionable, almost overnight, to criticize the United States’s electoral system following the deadlock in the election of a new president last week. From Moscow to Manila, from Srinagar to Sierra Leone, there are chuckles from those who have been at the receiving end of American self-righteousness over Uncle Sam’s sudden discomfiture in being unable to swagger any more on the world’s democratic stage as its conscience-keeper.

But chuckle as they may over the self-inflicted embarrassment of the world’s only remaining superpower, it would be a mistake to assume that the US or its political system is facing any crisis on account of the rivetting domestic developments in the last eight days. On the contrary, there is a lot that a country like India, the world’s most populous federated democracy, could learn from the US’s latest predicament.

It is a magnificent tribute to the US’s founding fathers that 211 years after the US constitution went into effect, the inability to choose an executive president has not brought the US to a standstill: even in the White House, which is at the centre of the dispute between the rival candidates, it is business as usual. The US’s constitution was drafted — and carefully and sparingly amended since — precisely to avoid political instability of the kind that a political and legal dispute like the present one would have created in most other countries. And that constitution, it must be stressed, has withstood the test of time.

The US statute mandates that the president shall be elected on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November every four years — that the election takes place two and a half months before the new head of state takes office ensures that there is ample time to resolve any deadlock well before an incumbent president ceases to rule.

Contrary to public perception world wide, the president and the vice-president are not elected by the people directly. Americans vote in November only to choose 538 members of an electoral college. It is the members of the electoral college who meet either in the capitals of their respective states or in any place designated by state legislatures on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to choose a new president and a vice-president. This still gives a month to resolve any residual crisis because the new president does not have to assume office until January 20.

Assuming the electoral college is also deadlocked and unable to choose a new head of state, the choice will be made by the house of representatives from among the top three candidates for whom members of the electoral college have voted. This has already happened twice in US history.

If the electoral college is tied on the choice of a president, it does not follow that the election of a vice-president is similarly deadlocked. The electoral college need not pick a president and a vice-president who are on the same ticket as a team. Technically, on December 18 this year, the electors could choose Democrat Al Gore as president and the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, as vice-president.

In 1836, Richard M. Johnson was picked for the vice-presidency by the senate because the electoral college could not agree on one name. Although the electors vote for a new president and vice-president in December, their votes are sealed and sent to the president of the senate by each state: these votes are opened in January at a joint session of members of the senate and the house of representatives.

It could be argued that a deadlock which extends till January leaves little time for transition and could affect the presidency in the early months as the new president tries to get on top of the situation. This is taken care of by a convention of briefing the two presidential candidates during the campaign itself on key sensitive and classified issues of state.

Not only the candidates, but also key aides of both the contenders for the White House who are security cleared by the intelligence agencies are briefed in detail on the state of the nation by the heads of executive departments. Thus, not only a president-elect, but his as yet unannounced choice for secretaries of state, defence, treasury and so on go into their jobs with intimate and detailed knowledge of their departments even if a deadlock of the current kind delays a decision on their assumption of office until the eleventh hour.

Indeed, this unique system of briefing candidates and their key aides ensures that the contenders for the presidency actually campaign with considerable knowledge of the state of the nation. An informed campaign is the essence of democracy even though it may often mean a lacklustre campaign as in the US. But it ensures that candidates cannot get away with wild allegations, demagoguery or sensationalism.

Much has been said and written about the election of a dead man to the US senate from Missouri. On the face of it, the mocking comments on this bizarre state poll in Missouri are justified. But there is a method in this madness too.

It should come as an eyeopener to Indians who have seen three elections in as many years recently that the US’s founding fathers wanted to avoid precisely such wasteful expenditure and frittering away of national energy in their democracy. The American statutes, therefore, guarantee that no byelections — unlike in India — are routinely held in the US. If a president dies in office, the vice-president automatically succeeds him for the rest of the term.If a senator dies, the governor of the state to which he belongs nominates a successor, for two years in most states. Only after the two years does an election take place. More often than not, this special election is combined with the poll for the house of representatives, whose term, in any case, is two years. There are several positive elements to the vote in Missouri, which must be seen in this context.

First, the vote for Mel Carnahan, the state’s Democratic governor who died in a plane crash in the middle of his senate race, is actually a vote against his Republican rival, John Ashcroft. As legal luminaries have explained in this case, what the voters in Missouri did last week was to ensure that Ashcroft got less votes than any other candidate on the ballot, thus preventing the reelection of the Republican to the senate.

Second, the late Carnahan’s election was the result of a politically expedient decision by the Democrats to exploit sentiment in Missouri. With the Republicans and the Democrats fighting hard for every single seat to ensure a majority in the senate, the latter recognized that they could bag the otherwise difficult Missouri seat if they played their cards right.

Sensing a wave of sympathy for the late governor, the party made the new governor — also a Democrat, who was lieutenant governor and succeeded Carnahan after the plane crash — declare that if Ashcroft came second in the election, he would nominate Carnahan’s widow, Jean, to fill the seat. It was a clever strategy to wrest the seat from the Republicans.

So when the people of Missouri voted out Ashcroft on November 7, they were not really voting for the dead governor. They knew that their future senator, in the event of Ashcroft getting less votes than anyone else, would be Jean. They were actually voting for Carnahan’s widow even if her name was not on the ballot.

The prohibition on byelections in the US has, no doubt, led to unusual situations. In October 1973, Spiro Agnew, vice- president to Richard Nixon, resigned after he was fined for evading income tax when he was governor of Maryland. Since byelections are not held to fill the vice-president’s post under the 25th amendment to the US constitution, Nixon nominated Gerald Ford as Agnew’s successor. Both the senate and the house of representatives confirmed the choice of Ford as required by the constitution.

But in August 1974, Nixon himself quit office, a victim of his Watergate shenanigans. Ford, the first non-elected vice-president in US history, also became the first non-elected president. Nelson Rockefeller, who succeeded Ford, became the second non-elected vice-president of the US. To diehard democrats it may seem incredible that for two and a half years, the world’s most powerful democracy had a president and a vice-president who were not elected to office. But did the US suffer in any way on account of that? Was there political instability? The answer to both these questions is in the negative. The Americans believe there is a strong case for avoiding byelections at huge expense in a country where barely half the voters bother to cast their ballots in the first place. But in the more immediate context, just as the world soon overlooked the non-elected status of Ford and Rockefeller, it will soon forget how Bush — or Gore — came to power in 2001 and it will be business as usual.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ CURSED REGION OF VIOLENCE AND BLOOD 
 
 
BY ARSHI KHAN
 
 
The month long violence in the Palestinian areas has resulted in the death of about 200 people and over 4,000 injuries. People have had to endure tremendous hardship from shortage of medicine, food, water and electricity. Israel’s belligerence is clearly manifested in its actions and allegations against the Palestinians. Israeli forces have been using tanks and war machines against the unarmed demonstrators.

Amazingly enough, the American establishment has openly sided with the Israelis, whose actions have been widely condemned by the United Nations security council, general assembly , and commission on human rights and the Arab summit declarations.

The European Union and its agencies for human rights and justice, which are always vigilant over acts of violations, have not resp- onded to the Palestinian problem. The UN security council adopted a mild resolution against Israel on October 8. The Russian federation, from whom the third world has some expectations, also played a timid role in the peace process.

The Arab states too have failed to criticize the US role in supporting Israel and have only expressed diplomatic solidarity with Palestine’s cause. Egypt has generally taken the leading role in west Asian politics, particularly after the Camp David accord of 1979, which gave Israe tine.

Foes from the womb

Jordan is the second most favoured nation of the United States and is ruled by a king. Both these countries were active during the Sharm al-Sheikh emergency. In the west Asian summit in mid-October, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak made verbal commitments to peace, but violence continued.

The Arab summit, which took place after 1996,disappointed both the Palestinians and the Arab nations. There were two options left for the Arab countries — either to build a coalition force to rescue the Palestinians or break off diplomatic relations with Israel. The summit which was dominated by Egypt and Saudi Arabia simply raised a one billion dollar fund for the Palestinians and left the matter at the mercy of UN security council. People from some of the Arab states protested against the summit resolutions.

Even after 52 years of the creation of Israel,the Palestinians continue to live like a colonized race. After the decline of the Ottoman empire, they came under British occupation for 30 years. The British and the Americans came up with the partition plan which was approved by the UN to create two separate nations out of the existing Palestinian state. Israel was born in 1948 without the consent of the Palestinians, and Israel’s policy of occupation and annexation colonized the Palestinians.

Reach for dignity

Israel has the highest record of violating UN resolutions. Even though the US has used force against some nations under chapter VII of the UN charter, it has done no such thing in the case of Israel. Instead, it has utilized its veto power to stop any preventive measures that could have been taken against it.

All credit must go to the Palestinians for taking the path of negotiations with the Israelis. Before going to Camp David, where the US president, Bill Clinton, had invited Arafat and Barak to reach an agreement, Barak promised the Israelis four nos — no to an independent Palestine state, to giving up of Jerusalem, to dismantling of Palestinian settlements and to repatriation of Palestinian refugees. Barak’s invitation to Ariel Sharon, the rightwing Likud party leader, shows a colonial mindset.

The Palestinians have even agreed to accept half of the territories that were allocated to them. But the Israeli response has been negative from the start. Peter Beaumont has said in the Observer that the central responsibility for the Palestinian problem rests with Israel and its inability to abide by the Oslo and Wye agreements over the free movement of people within Palestinian territories and failure to curb the growing settlements. Now the gulf between the two countries has widened even more. Israel has called for “time out” of the peace process, whereas Palestine is pleading before the world community for peace. Clinton’s new plan is to meet the two leaders separately in the US. A peaceful end to this conflict will only be possible by freeing at least 22 per cent of Palestinian land for dignified survival.    


 
 
NEW COLOURS OF THE GLOBE 
 
 
BY BISWARUP SEN
 
 
The recently concluded Sydney Olympics belonged to Cathy Freeman. The games had other star performers — Marion Jones, Ian Thorpe, Svetlana Khorkina — but there is no doubt that Freeman is the figure with which these games will forever be associated. This may seem strange because Freeman is neither the world’s greatest female athlete, nor a true hometown girl who represents Australia’s majority white population. As the first successful aboriginal athlete, her accomplishments and impact are very local. The choice of Freeman as the primary symbol for the Olympics inaugurates a new order of representation, one that fuses the global and the local as well as the politics of race.

The Olympics have always been more than mere sports. Pierre de Coubertin was a great admirer of Thomas Arnold and of the English public school system, and founded the Olympic movement and the modern games “to ennoble and strengthen sports, to assure them independence and duration and to enable them to better fill the educational role which falls to them in the modern world”. Such a mission subscribed to a philosophy of unity between mind and body and placed a great deal of emphasis on the moral virtues of physical exercise. Indeed, the movement’s official ideology — Olympism — posits that the games create and foster “the values of mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity and fair play, and will eventually contribute towards a more peaceful and better world”.

Such a vision was perfectly consonant with the 19th century’s faith in the perfectibility of man. The two world wars exposed the hollowness of this agenda. Indeed the infamous Berlin Olympics demonstrated that the games could be utilized for the most dubious of purposes. What the Olympics did become was an effective forum for a particularly intense form of nationalism. Not only are nations the fundamental unit of competition in the Olympics, the day to day proceedings of the games are replete with the symbols of nationality and nation-building: military-style marches, flags, anthems.

Nations reproduce themselves by participating in the Olympics. And hosting the Olympics can be tantamount to a second birth — the 1964 games heralded the coming of age of Japan as an industrial power as did the 1988 games in the case of Korea. The intense canvassing that accompanies the choice of future Olympic cities bears testimony to the constitutive role that nationalism plays in the games.

The Olympics have got their real meaning from this play of nationalisms. In the second half of the century, the semantics of individual nationhood was subsumed under the supra-nationalistic framework of the Cold War. The games, in essence, became a contest between two nations. Though realpolitik intruded both in 1980 and 1984 to make the games one dimensional, the bipolarity that structured the meets survived as late as the 1996 Barcelona Olympics.

The end of the Cold War and the subsequent dominance of the United States as the world’s only superpower has led to a total reconfiguration of the world order. As a consequence of this, the games have lost a lot of their edge and lustre. With no “evil empire” to cheer against, the Sydney Olympics was muted in its appeal. Pseudo-rivalries, like that between the Australian and American swimming teams, could not hide the fact that what the contest was missing was ideological conflict.

It is quite clear that sports minus ideology does not make a spectacle. Thus, the same athletes who become glamorous during the Olympics are barely noticed during the world track and field or the world swimming championships.

There is a lull in ideological conflict because the present-day world is non-Manichean, it is not easily divided into good and bad. There is undeniable economic growth all over the world as well as the adoption of economic policies of liberalization. Yet all do not have access to this bonanza, glaring inequities remain between the wealth of various nations and between different social groups within societies. There are some who respond to this confusing scenario with simplifying dichotomies. Triumphalist accounts of American capitalism and information technology — Thomas Friedman’s bestseller, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, for example — breathlessly sing the praises of free market networking and see nothing useful in alternative models of social organization. Others argue that globalization is merely an evil manifestation of Western imperialism. For most, however, these are uncertain times, characterized by speed: of information, of transactions, of flows of capital and labour. Yet these aspects do not add up to a total identity.

Though globalization lacks an identity, it may already have a face. What these recent Olympics brought to the fore is that the global subject is a subject of colour. In the world of entertainment and sports, the faces are all marked by their colour: Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neill, Tiger Woods and Venus Williams, Romario and Patrick Kluivert; Michael Jackson and Snoop Doggy Dog, Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie. This represents a radical break with the past. A few decades ago, only white artists like Elvis Presley and the Beatles, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford, could speak to and for the whole world. The situation is very different today.

White artists have lost their universal appeal, people of other colours care very little about the leading representatives of white culture. Those few artists, like Madonna or The Backstreet Boys, who have some crossover appeal, are off-white, stylistically indebted to black, Latino or other marginal cultures.

Whiteness has lost its universality. Moreover, it is also harder for whites to be individuals. Titles like “White men can’t jump” point to a truth more serious than ineptitude in basketball: whiteness is now a local phenomenon, and can no longer generate those proper names which referred to an individual but stood for the whole of humanity.

Bob Dylan epitomized individuality in the late Sixties, not because he was personally very different from any other hippie of the period, but because he most ably articulated a counter-cultural subjectivity which was deemed to be universal. Jeff Beck, as musically talented as Dylan, may be a significant individual for college educated whites, but embodies no universal for everyone else and is just an irrelevant white boy. The seemingly paradoxical philosophical truth then is this: a loss of universality is also a loss of individuality.

Though largely owned and directed by Western capital, the processes of globalization can no longer access and exploit the old ideologies which carried colonialism and imperialism. The universals that currently compose globalization — the free market and the information economy — are too utilitarian and banal. While globalization is a historical process in search of an ideology, its material consequences may already have provided the seeds of something new.

Contrary to common wisdom, the world inhabited by individual beings is growing larger, not smaller. What most people need is a ground to stand on, a familiar and intimate locale, the assurance that comes from being local. The overwhelming need for locality explains the remarkable increase in identity politics and the rise of a variety of fundamentalisms.

The global can at this moment be only represented by the local. There is also in this historical conjuncture, a huge disjuncture between whiteness and global subjectivity. That is why advertisements for multinational companies are replete with brown and black and yellow.

Local stories about coloured people have replaced the master narratives that sought to transcribe world history. If any single tale in the last few years has achieved the status of universality, it is that of Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apar- theid. The struggles in South Africa were relatively unimportant at the level of realpolitik, yet they came to signify the fate of humankind.

Cathy Freeman is the most current symbol of local universality. Her people, the Australian aborigines, have been disempowered and brutalized for the centuries during which an affluent and discriminatory white Australia was built. Now that whiteness cannot speak, it is time to hear about this submerged history. The Olympic movement is one of the most significant global institutions. In electing Cathy Freeman as the primary symbol of the games, the organizers and commentators are only acknowledging the incontrovertible fact that the globe is now of a different shade, that colour is here to stay.    


 
 
IN URGENT NEED OF THE RIGHT DIRECTIONS 
 
 
BY AMITAVA BANERJEE
 
 
In India, the issue of disability is still treated with sympathy instead of humanity and a sense of justice. Related acts get passed in Parliament without even the necessary discussions. The faults come to notice once the bill is notified. Advice from nongovernmental organizations, sometimes sought by the government before finalization of an act, is hardly considered while formulating laws and by-laws. The Persons with Disability Act, 1995, had a similar experience. Amendments on some critical points are thus on the cards.

The Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992, the first Indian law for the disabled, was formulated without much consultation with NGOs. The act sought to provide for the constitution of the rehabilitation council of India for regulating the training of rehabilitation professionals and the maintenance of the central rehabilitation register.

Sincere objections

NGOs objected to the act’s definition of the forms of disability, earmarking of rehabilitation professionals, number of executive councils and committee members, their mode of functioning and so on. In 1998, the government worked out some amendments to the RCI Act and invited comments from NGOs. The Disabled Rights Group compiled NGO responses and submitted them to the ministry of welfare. The DRG proposed expansion of the definition of “disability” to include low vision, leprosy cured, cerebral palsy, learning disability, autism, aphasia and dysphasia in addition to those mentioned in the act — visually disabled, hearing impaired, locomotor disability and mental retardation.

While the world over the trend is to integrate the disabled with the mainstream, Indian policymaking concentrates on their “segregation”. A separate cadre of rehabilitaion professionals have been instituted for handicaps. This is a glaring example of dehumanization.

Look before the leap

The expert committee formed by the government on the issue conforms to the views of NGOs. It also proposed to include two more ministries, that of the human resources development and labour and employment, in addition to the ministries of social justice and empowerment, health and finan- ce, to survey the deployment of rehabilitation professionals.

The RCI amendment bill 2000, passed by the Lok Sabha in August, will soon be placed in the Rajya Sabha. The DRG feels that the amended bill does not reflect most of the suggestions of the NGOs and the expert committee. It has not included in the definition autism, learning disability, aphasia and dysphasia. The number of ministries involved has been increased to seven, but the bill fails to name them, leaving room for manipulation. NGOs have begun agitations and have appealed to Rajya Sabha members to stall the bill. The government should have discussed the issue with the NGOs instead of sneaking in the bill knowing full well that there would be no discussions, as usual, on this “sensitive issue”.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

At the flag end

Sir — From cricket matches to cocktail dresses, donning the tricolour has become a fashion statement for some and a blatant show of patriotism for others. It is a little difficult to understand the outrage that usually follows any such incident of “violation”. The editorial, “Flying haute” (Nov 13), rightly points out that this kind of fuss over the national flag is an indication of the political immaturity of the nation as a whole. The sangh parivar’s reaction is no doubt misplaced and smacks of its inability to let go of archaic ideas of patriotism and national honour. It seems to have forgotten that the very essence of democracy is change and that the growth of the nation is dependent upon it. The committee the Centre has constituted will no doubt look into the matter and, let us hope, convince the government to imbibe a more liberal stance on such issues. Only then can we hope to move towards a more civil society. However, certain acts like the burning of the national flag cannot be condoned and will rightfully be condemned.
Yours faithfully,
Dhananjoy Bhattacharya, Pune

Some are less equal

Sir — Bishakha De Sarkar’s perceptive report on gender bias in law (“Half the sky, but not half the land”, Nov 1) brings to light the age old practice of discrimination against women in male-dominated Indian society.

It is commendable that the members of the law commission, in their 174th report, have recommended that a son and a daughter should have equal rights of inheritance to their parent’s property. However, it was disheartening to read that married daughters might be discriminated against on the grounds that they receive “substantial gifts” at the time of their marriage and as such, such a right would cause heartburn among male inheritors. This observation is another instance of gender bias which the law commission recommendations are ostensibly fighting. Since the commission presumes that all women receive “substantial gifts” at the time of marriage, it follows that the son, during the time of his marriage, would also receive similar gifts from his in-laws, through his wife. Thus, if such a law is enforced, the married daughter will continue to get a smaller share of her parental property than the son.

Moreover, the law commission does not seem to take into account the cases of millions of Indian women who get married without receiving such gifts.

Indira Jainsingh, quoted in the article, rightly feels that dowry cannot be a substitute for a right to parental property. One only hopes that the members of the law commission will be broadminded and impartial enough to display adequate respect to married and unmarried Indian women regarding their rights of inheritance. It is only through their unbiased attitude that the shameful social subordination of Indian women may become a thing of the past.

Yours faithfully,
R. Guha Niyogi, Calcutta

Sir — The Telegraph deserves to be congratulated for the bold and timely article, “Virgin soil upturned” (Nov 5), by Shuma Raha. It is indeed a matter of shame that Indian society expects the bride to be a virgin at the time of marriage while no such demand is made of the groom. Suppose the bride is indeed a virgin, but the groom has a dubious pre-marital sex life (never disclosed, nor verified during marriage negotiations). He could very well be a carrier of the dreaded HIV virus and after marriage, could pass the disease on to his unsuspecting bride and, consequently, to his innocent child-to-be-born. This amounts to the murder of two innocent lives despite the bride’s virginity being intact at the time of her marriage. We must stop to think what monstrous cruelty we are perpetrating in the name of tradition.

So on purely practical grounds, if, instead of harping on the bride’s virginity, both the parties concentrated on getting both the bride’s and the groom’s general and reproductive health checked thoroughly before marriage, a great service will have been done to their married lives and happiness.

Yours faithfully,
Joita Roy, via email

All dammed up

Sir — The article, “Unquiet flows the Narmada” (Nov 3), rightly points out the biased attitude of development planners towards the poor and illiterate people of the country. In India, policymakers still have a vision of development largely based on Western models. A sort of development is doled out to people who have no use for it. No thought is given to the plight of the people who actually need development. Adivasis and local people are displaced from their own land and their cultural heritage is obliterated in the name of development.

Before implementing a project, it is necessary to answer the question — development for whom? Developing the vast majority of the poor, illiterate people should be given top priority. Instead of ushering in real development, the Narmada project makes the condition of underprivileged people of the valley worse. For any development project to succeed the participation of people at the grassroots level is essential.

Yours faithfully,
Debjani Kundu,Calcutta

Sir — Tapan Pal has shown rare boldness in his comments on Medha Patkar (“Not environment friendly”, Nov 6). Pseudo-environmentalists like Patkar should be shown the door. But who will do this? Even the media is highlighting her and her “cause”. For instance, Pal’s letter was accompanied by a Patkar’s photograph. The day after the verdict, the frontpage news on most newspapers was presented along with her photograph and bigger reports on her views and objections. Not only should this trend be checked, but journalists should also investigate the sources of the funds for her campaigns.

Yours faithfully,
A.C. Chakraborty, Calcutta/dt>

Sir — A sympathy wave from media persons and self-proclaimed environmentalists for the have nots in the Narmada valley was unleashed after the Supreme Court verdict on the Sardar Sarovar dam. It may be true that the benefits of the dam are overestimated and the surrounding environmental balance may be disrupted. But the life of the tribals in the area is so ridden with poverty, ill-health and illiteracy that except their own culture and tradition, nothing can be worth preserving. The media forgets that these people do not want its pity, nor are they here so that the journalists can exhibit their creative genius by applauding their resilience.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti De, via email

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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