Editorial/ Blow by blow account
A tale of two states
The Telegraph diary
Letters to the Editor

Psychological thrillers always say that there is an inextricable bond between the torturer and his victim. It is possible to push that aside as another provocative bit of fiction. But the findings of the national family health survey 1998-99 seem to have established it as fact in everyday life. Fifty-six per cent of the 90,000 Indian women who were the subjects of a survey conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences felt that wife-beating was justified on certain grounds. The percentage is an indication of the staggering number of Indian women who accept beatings as their due. The numbers are even more disheartening for the many who feel that the Indian women’s movement has been getting somewhere in recent times. One of its goals has been the building of awareness about rights — to educational and economic equality, to legal redress and healthcare, and, most of all, to a dignified human life.

The acceptance of beatings as due is not really as mysterious as it would be in a psychological thriller. Rather, this is an instance of psychology being constructed by the demands of a traditional social edifice. The grounds on which women found wife-beating justified give no hint of dark regions of the psyche. For these are neglecting the home, going out without permission, being disrespectful to the in-laws. These found the most support, while there were some women who felt that a wife could be beaten up if she were unfaithful, or did not cook well or did not bring in the promised dowry. The grounds expose the scaffolding of the Indian family, and the lineaments of the roles that both men and women are expected to play in domestic interaction. It is simply a matter of generations of social training, imbibed through example, legends and direct precept. The training comes down from a time when education for women was not thought of and a deserted wife was socially outcast and an economic burden for her natal family. Economic realities were glossed over with the lesson that marriage is sacred and it is up to the woman to keep it going. Things have obviously changed very little. The male role of punisher is a matter of social consensus and licence. So, although only seven per cent of the women supported beatings for dowry, torture and murder for dowry is still among the commonest crimes against Indian women.

The survey presents percentages on the basis of the number of women who spoke up. But there must be numberless others who would not think of wife-beatings as an issue to talk about. Among these are many who do not support it but remain silent for fear of economic and social insecurity or of torture of their children. In such cases, it is a question of being cowed by brute force. The findings show that the level of education and economic status of the family do have a positive part to play, but not remarkably so. There is some difference between the readings from urban and rural women, the urban incidence of acceptance of violence being somewhat lower, and it is very clear that the physical abuse increases down the economic ladder. There is still a large number of women who find in their husband’s drunken beatings the true sign of love. It is not the education of the woman alone that counts. The education of her husband and the social ambience in which she lives are equally important. That is why it is Himachal Pradesh, the state which has been trying to educate all its children and has shown a remarkable level of awareness among adults, that has the least violence against married women.

The internalization of social injustice and oppression is one of the biggest hurdles to women’s empowerment. Till age old beliefs which women regard as their own are broken through, a policeman will burn his wife when accused of an affair and a trader’s wife will be left dead in a locked car after regular beatings from her husband.    


In January 1939, a great adivasi mahasabha was held in the town of Ranchi. Twenty thousand people had assembled for the meeting, Oraons, Santhals, Hos and Mundas, as many women as there were men. This “vast crowd of people” had “gathered to vindicate their political rights”. The presidential address was delivered by Jaipal Singh, a 36-year-old Munda Christian who had taken a degree at Oxford and also played hockey for India. Jaipal was already known to the adivasis as their “marang gomke”, or supreme leader. In his speech at the Mahasabha he insisted that the tribals of Chhotanagpur had suffered grievously at the hands of Bengal and Bihar. The adivasi movement, said Jaipal, “stands primarily for the moral and material advancement of Chhotanagpur and the Santhal Parganas, for the economic and political freedom of the aboriginal tracts and, in sum, for the creation of a separate governor’s province...with a government and administration appropriate to its needs.” In “separation alone lies the salvation of Chhotanagpur.”

The record of Jaipal Singh’s speech, along with the memories of those who heard it, come to us courtesy the anthropologist, P.G. Ganguly, who in the late Fifties conducted an oral history of the adivasi mahasabha. Unfortunately, no comparable scholarly account exists of a public meeting held in the Terai town of Haldwani in the summer of 1946. It was at this meeting that the demand for a separate Uttarakhand state was first articulated. The main spokesman for the demand was the lawyer and political activist, Badridutt Pande, a man with 25 years of work in the service of his people. Known as Kumaun Kesari, Pande had previously led movements in defence of peasant forest rights and against the system of begar or forced labour in the hills.

This is the first similarity between Jharkhand and Uttarakhand: that behind their very recent creation lies a long history of often heroic struggle. Jaipal Singh continued the movement for a separate state after independence; the cause being taken up after his death by such leaders as Ram Dayal Munda, N.E. Horo, A.K. Roy, and Shibu Soren. The demand for a separate state of Uttarakhand was placed before the states reorganization committee of 1955. It was rejected, but in the Seventies and again in the Nineties the movement was renewed through protests, petitions, and demonstrations, with university students, boys as well as girls, in its vanguard.

Why did these movements take so long to bear fruition? In either case, the parent state was bitterly opposed to separation, for these areas provided it with abundant natural resources at low cost. The Chhotanagpur plateau and the central Himalaya are both rich in forest cover, mineral wealth, and hydro-electric potential. The politicians and businessmen of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar could not therefore allow the creation of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. In both areas there have been major social movements protesting against the loot of natural resources by outsiders. The best known of these movements is undoubtedly the chipko andolan, which was at its height in Garhwal and Kumaun in the Seventies. In Jharkhand, too, there have been struggles against unregulated mining, against commercial forestry, and against the siting of large dams.

In the late Seventies the adivasis protested vigorously against the conversion of their sal forests to teak plantations, a scheme intended to benefit urban consumers, timber merchants and the forest department. The protesters who uprooted the teak saplings suggested that sal means Jharkhand, sagwan (teak) means Bihar.

The third point of similarity is that in both these new states a longstanding popular struggle has been hijacked by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The people’s movement is associated in the one case with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, in the other with the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. In both instances the BJP entered the struggle late, and opportunistically, but with its greater access to money and to power in the Centre, was able to attract to its side previously autonomous individuals and groups.

The Uttarakhand story, which I know better, is as follows. In 1994 the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, insisted that the recommendations of the Mandal commission would apply to Kumaun and Garhwal, although in these districts only two per cent of the population come from the backward castes. These areas have a fairly high proportion of Dalits, who already enjoy the benefit of reservation. However, about 70 per cent of the hill population is composed of Brahmins and Rajputs. Notably, in Uttarakhand these high castes are often poor and economically insecure, smallholder peasants who plough and cultivate the land themselves.

Mulayam Singh’s proposals which, if implemented, would deny local people jobs and also lead to an influx of state employees from the plains, evoked strong protests. In the summer of 1994 there were bandhs and dharnas aplenty. In two separate incidents, in Mussoorie and Khatima respectively, the UP police fired indiscriminately on a peaceful crowd. Thus far the movement had been led by organizations such as the UKD. But with the firings the BJP stepped in, and gave the struggle an unfortunate casteist overtone.

The national party offered itself as a protector of the high castes against the predatory Mulayam. The Uttarakhand movement had previously rested on different grounds: it stood against the exploitation of natural resources and the rule by indifferent or hostile politicians from the plains. Under saffron direction these older and more authentic reasons for statehood gave way to the poisonous rhetoric of caste. One incidental consequence of BJP leadership is that the older name for the state, Uttarakhand, has been replaced by Uttaranchal, this change made silently and in clear violation of popular desire.

A BJP tribal, rather than the charismatic Shibu Soren, is the new chief minister of Jharkhand. In Uttaranchal, the BJP has stoked discontent by appointing a plainsman, Nityanand Swami, in preference to a proper son of the soil. Being in power in the states’ early days might not be to the best advantage of the BJP. What they do will excite opposition, and in time popular movements might crystallize to recover the true voice of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.

In both these states, to get rid of the interloper BJP shall be the first priority. What follows then is very much an open question. Will the heroes of grassroots protest, men such as Shibu Soren and Kashi Singh Aire of the UKD, re-invent themselves as calculating and greedy politicians once they come to power? Will they sanction the unsustainable exploitation of forests and minerals in the name of “progress”? Or will they, with the help of thoughtful advisers, put in place a transparent government and a welfare-oriented administration?

As a historian, I have followed these two struggles for many years. As a citizen, I shall now watch their future with nervous expectation. The creation of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand has been hard work: years of protest in which countless unselfish people have participated. One must now hope for models of governance and development that shall decisively set these states apart from the cronyism and corruption of UP and Bihar.

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Where to from here?

No longer disputed property. The Congress throne belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi bahu. Period. Does that mean the challenger will be buried alive? Not quite, but Jitendra Prasada, the Congress’s resident dissenter, believes that this might not be too different from the fate that awaits him if he stays on in the party. A disciplinary action is inevitable if he continues to stick to his guns. And having inspired the ire of madam’s close chums like Arjun Singh, ML Fotedar, Madhavrao Scindia, Ambika Soni and Vincent George, it might even be difficult for him to stick on to the party for long. The two who would be most happy to see him go are Arjun and Scindia, who are vying for the chair next to the madam’s. End of the affair then? Heavens, no. The Samajwadi Party has its gates wide open for Prasada. If Jitenbhai enters it, that would mean another split in the Congress. In fact Lucknow based dissidents are planning to float a Jan Jagran Congress that will become a force in Uttar Pradesh. That will be the third Congress breakaway group in the state after the Loktantrik Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. But that is not how the madam wants things to end. Post-Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar, she doesn’t wish to be seen as an autocrat dumping people who disagree with her. She knows she can’t pull it off. After all, she is no Indira Gandhi.

Serving the family

There were polls upsets in the presidential elections of the Congress as well, more upsetting for the Jitendra Prasada camp to be precise. This was madam’s visit to Lucknow to cast her vote. Yet Sonia had taken permission in writing from Ram Niwas Mirdha for casting her vote from Delhi. The move so unnerved the Prasada camp that about as many as 50 of the rebel group supporters changed colour the instant Sonia Gandhi arrived. They bowed before the AICC chief inside the party office. Evidently, the Nehru-Gandhi magic still works. But who could have advised madam to beard the lion in his den? This particular idea did not originate with the infamous coterie. It emanated from someone closer to the madam. While Granny Sonia shared her meal with Mum Priyanka in the latter’s Lodi Estate House, this sizzler is alleged to have crossed the daughter’s mind. So Priyanka hasn’t really taken maternity leave from the advisory board, has she? After Arun Nehru, Prasada seems to be Priyanka’s second victim. Should there still be doubts about the real waris?

Stop him if you can

Can you blame the new imam of the Jama Masjid if he gets ideas after being consistently wooed by politicians? The other day, Ahmad Bukhari is said to have simply picked up the telephone, dialled Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahedin and talked to him at length looking for a solution to the vexed Kashmir problem. The imam apparently wants the Mujahedin and the government of India to declare a ceasefire during the month long Ramzan when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Quite convenient. The imam is also reported to be thinking about going to Srinagar on November 26 and announce that publicly. The Indian government, quite naturally, is not amused. The Intelligence Bureau has been asked to keep a tab on this enterprising imam. By the way, the imam has also been planning to issue a fatwa for Bengali Muslims so that they vote for the Trinamool Congress in the forthcoming assembly polls in West Bengal. In case the home ministry gets serious about blocking him out? “Mamata will force a rollback,” says Bukhari jokingly. The imam probably needs to be told, with a tough government, even Mamata may roll back. A wish unfulfilled Skipper Sourav Ganguly’s arrival in Delhi has brought cheers to many. But no one is as happy as the Kake-de-Hotel in Connaught Place. Sourav apparently loves the Butter Chicken prepared by Kake and developed a passion for it since his college days. Since the cricket star can’t step into the restaurant for security reasons, he has sought the services of a senior cricket correspondent from Calcutta who is familiar with all the food joints in the capital. Sourav is reported to have expressed his wishes to try out Delhi’s Karim Hotel as well, which is famous for its Mughlai preparations, particularly mutton barra kebabs and sheekh kebabs which melt in the mouth. But as in the other case, security considerations are coming in the way. Can’t somebody fix this problem?

Footnote/Save them from themselves

No quiet on this front. The former West Bengal Congress committee chief, Somen Mitra, and the party’s member of parliament and chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, are at loggerheads over the latter’s induction of his wife, Deepa, as AICC member. State Congress leaders have also been caught off their guard by this surprise move of Das Munshi’s, apparently in connivance with the present state Congress chief, Pranab Mukherjee. Strange are politicians’ ways. Only a week ago, Das Munshi had trained his guns on Mukherjee for dropping his loyalists from the party and inducting those who had betrayed the party candidate belonging to the state during the Rajya Sabha elections. “Priyada must have brokered peace with Pranabda to serve his own interests, but we will launch a statewide protest if Deepa is not dropped from the key panel,” warned a Somen loyalist. State leaders say the matter has been brought to the notice of the high command. Observers don’t have to tell us that with more intra-party squabbles like this, the Congress will become an endangered species in West Bengal.    


Goodbye progress, hello swadeshi

Sir K.N. Govindacharya is the latest Bharatiya Janata Party leader to criticize the process of globalization and the state of the Indian economy (“Govindacharya snipes at Sinha”, Nov 16). His remarks on India’s economic policy, and his carefully veiled attack on the finance minister are a pathetic attempt by a leader, who no longer plays a major role within his party, to hog the limelight . Doesn’t Govindacharya realize that Yashwant Sinha has to accede to certain demands made by international organizations? This is realpolitik and is a fully acceptable means to reach the end, that is development. Govindacharya should keep his jingoistic rhetoric to himself and not prove his naïveté.
Yours faithfully,
Pratima Haldar, via email

Fare deal

Sir — Hikes in bus fare and the backlash that inevitably follows are as old as the burning of trams which began more than four decades back. This time the minimum bus fare has been raised by 50 paise or exactly by 25 per cent.

The reason cannot be attributed to the rise in fuel prices which is around 15 per cent only. Fuel is one component in the many factors deciding the fare structure. To link the rise in fares to the increase in fuel prices is probably unjust.

A number of opinions about the rise in bus fares have been expressed in various newspapers. Invariably these are neither in favour of the government nor do they approve of the increased fare. And neither government officials nor the bus owners have demonstrated their accountability to commuters. The next issue likely to be debated is taxi fare.

The transport minister should explain at a press conference the logic that lies behind fare hikes and how bus fares relate to the fuel cost.

It is not fair that fixing a tariff should remain in the hands of the government. The sooner it is transferred to an independent regulatory authority with quasi-judicial powers as has been the case for telephone and electricity, the better it will be for everyone.

West Bengal can take a lead in this respect provided both commuters and bus operators are willing to play fair.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, via email

Sir — The state government’s resolve to raise fares of public conveyance in West Bengal from November 10 can hardly be welcomed. The Bengal bus syndicate had demanded that the minimum fare be fixed at Rs 2.50 while the joint council of bus syndicates wanted the minimum fare fixed at Rs 3.50 with a 40 paise hike at every stage.

The West Bengal government was proud of the state’s minimum bus fare in comparison with that of other states. Yet the state transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, implicitly supported the bus strike and kept quiet over the inconvenience faced by the passengers. One wonders whether the other states in our country have resorted to such strikes.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakrabarty, Calcutta

Power bloomer

Sir — In “Making a liability of an asset” (Nov 2), Ranjit Gupta asserts that “the total generation of thermal power of the Damodar Valley Corporation comes from the plants at Bokaro, Durgapur, Panchet, Chandrapura and Mejia”. But there is no thermal plant of the DVC at Panchet. India gets only hydro-electric power from Panchet.

Yours faithfully,
Arunabha Mukherjee, Bokaro

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