Editorial 1 / Straight drive
Editorial 2 / Postman’s knock
Eclipse of the dispossessed
Fifth Column / Winter of not much content
Private wrongs, public shame
How a violent stalemate could be resolved
Letters to the editor

The disciplinary committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India cannot really be faulted on the punishments it has meted out to the players involved in matchfixing and bribery. The life ban on Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma may appear to be meaningless since the playing days of both players are, for all practical purposes, over. The five year ban on Ajay Jadeja brings the curtain down on whatever cricket was left in him. But there are ramifications worth underlining. Both Azharuddin and Jadeja have substantial earnings from endorsements and advertisements. These will now disappear. Cricketers, these days, also make a living, after retirement, by being columnists, television commentators, managers and coaches and in one or two cases even as umpires. These avenues will also be closed to the cricketers who have been forced to leave the game under a shadow. To the world of cricket and for all those activities which make money out of cricket and cricketers, these five cricketers should have lost their credibility. In this sense, the punishments extend beyond the playing arena. The five players, if they at all have any powers of introspection, should ponder their plight. Their identity, their standing in society and their wealth are all derived from the excellence they commanded on the playing field. They chose to squander all these for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver.

It could be argued that the punishment to Jadeja has not been exemplary enough. In matters as serious as matchfixing, even the slightest suspicion should call for the most severe punishment. An enormous amount of evidence points to Jadeja’s close links with bookies and punters. This is, of course, not proof of matchfixing but definitely of contacts with the kind of people who fix matches. This brings Jadeja under suspicion and he should have been punished more severely. Against this view it can be argued that a five year ban at Jadeja’s age is tantamount to a life ban. He has never been good enough to make the Indian test side after the age of 35, and with no cricket for five years, he will be out of the running for a berth in the one day international squad. It can only be hoped, for the sake of the BCCI, that the five year ban on Jadeja, instead of a life ban, has been the product of proper deliberations and not the outcome of pressures exerted from sources that can only be guessed at.

Punishments to the players are only one aspect of the problem. An equally important aspect will be steps to ensure that matchfixing through players, managers and coaches never happens again. It is not clear what the BCCI’s thinking is on this matter. Some preliminary precautions are obvious. No player should be allowed to use his mobile phone once he is inside the ground. Not even in the dressing room or in the pavilion. Only players and authorized persons should be allowed inside or in the vicinity of the dressing room. It is difficult, if not impossible, to control players once they are back in their hotel rooms. But stronger contracts can be drawn up with the punishments for matchfixing clearly spelt out and with a clause that says players can even be punished for hobnobbing with bookies. After this, it has to be left to the players and their own sense of self-respect. Ultimately, it was the lack of self-respect that ruined Azharuddin and his ilk.


A strike is, perhaps, the most debased form of political blackmail. The exhausting futility of this mode of operation is being demonstrated, yet again, as the nation’s postal workers have started an indefinite strike. They have been demanding the implementation of certain agreements regarding wages between the employees’ unions and the Central government. The extent of the strike is massive, involving about six lakh postal workers. So is the elaborate union machinery that has shown the most exemplary powers of organization in coordinating the strike. Three unions have joined forces to paralyse an essential network of services, forcing the Central and state governments to improvise all sorts of contingency arrangements to keep a skeletal system going.

The Centre’s track record in tackling unreasonable duress is not very encouraging. But in this case it seems to have made it amply clear to the disgruntled federations that it finds its demands invalid, and indeed, illegal. There have been strikes in this labour-intensive department on the same issues in 1993 and 1998, and most workers have hitherto fallen in with the unions’ directives. This strike, most annoyingly for the government, is a reopening of old contentions which it had assumed to have been resolved in the mutual settlements of 1997 and 1998. The demands being made, in particular, by part-time rural postmen have already been considered a couple of years ago. The cabinet has long approved the improvement in their working conditions as a full and final settlement. This leaves beyond all doubt the utterly unwarranted nature of this disruption. Apart from pointing up the sad state of the postal department’s work ethic, the inconsideration shown by such a gesture should be enough to keep the government on its firmest track. Pensioners have had to stand in long queues for hours to collect their monthly allowances before the post offices closed for the strike. The army postal service is to be lauded for its effective intervention. The chief postmaster generals of all the states should cooperate with it. However, it is for the government to remain unrelenting in the face of pressures that can only be described as senseless and demoralizing.


In the last months a former prime minister has been accused of corrupt practices, and a former cricket captain of India has been charged with crooked dealings involving match “fixing” and similar activities. One is nearly 80 years old, known to be a scholar and a man of discrimination, the other is not yet 40, and has been one of the finest batsmen India has produced. Mohammed Azharuddin has been given a life ban, but one is not really looking at the fact of conviction here so much as the charges made in both cases.

There are hosts of others, equally distinguished — if that is the right word — like Sukh Ram, the former deputy director in the enforcement directorate (our homegrown SS) and so many luminaries who have received varying degrees of attention from the Central Bureau of Investigation. But P.V. Narasimha Rao and Azharuddin will suffice for my limited purpose here. Both are perfectly aware of the provisions of the law; both have held positions which brought them honour and respect. And yet both have been charged with the sort of behaviour that would be more natural to people who live in the shadowy world of crime, law evasion and untruth.

But before we take refuge in righteous indignation and reproachful dejection, it might be worthwhile to look behind these activities, into the prime movers which made them do whatever they did, the social and moral factors involved. The criminal laws that we have are essentially derived from Roman law to which have been added the rigours of Victorian sensibility, which infused the ten commandments into the laws as we have them here. This sensibility was not confined merely to the laws but spread into canons of social behaviour as well; a proper education meant being taught, from a very early age, that crime or not, it was a morally wrong thing to steal, or to cheat, to tell lies, to be unpunctual, to be lazy and so on. What constituted virtuous behaviour was as important to every schoolchild as history and mathematics.

This permeated every kind of school — from the fashionable public schools (which were actually very private), to the schools in small towns and some villages. And this moral sensibility came from the Victorian social code, the values that the church spread, not by conversion so much as by making them politically correct. It may have been expressed in different ways; one did not necessarily say it was a sin to steal but that it was “not done”. The effect was, however, the same.

But every little boy and girl also lived in a world of tradition where the moral structure was not as simplistic, given the socio-religious tradition of the communities of India. Most grew within that tradition, and the imposed, grafted values taught vigorously in schools comprised a set of values which they knew, but in the abstract, so to speak; not to live by.

This is not to say that our traditional values taught us to be dishonest; they taught us the complexity of being honest, and the difficulty of defining dishonesty clearly, in absolute terms. What it resulted in was that a person who had the propensity to become a thief, could seek solace in that complexity; a solace denied him by the stern, non-negotiable words, “Thou shalt not steal.” In other words, what Rao or Azharuddin were accused of doing, is of a piece with the demand for chai-pani by the telephone linesman, or the officials in the municipality who have to sanction a building plan or give any kind of licence. They all find refuge in a kind of consolation that comes from that complexity, which appears to give every one of them what he chooses to take from it.

That the criminal laws have continued to be administered was, originally, owing to the moral commitment that those administering them had, apart from the technical knowledge of the laws. What they were taught in their schools came to be central to their value structures, as their homes became increasingly removed from the traditions they had inherited over the past centuries. Their homes saw more parties, more social comings and goings, and less of the observance of special rituals and prayers, of festivals considered important to individuals and to society. It seemed appropriate that in such homes the values propounded by teachers in schools would prevail over everything else.

This was true originally, as I said. As time went on the people who administered such laws gradually began to die out, or became irrelevant, and are now being replaced by another breed, which looks on it all as just a job to be done; a criminal law has to be enforced just as a railway engine has to be driven. And, on the other side, if a law can be sidestepped, it is not because of any great moral commitment or the lack of it but merely because it is convenient in the furtherance of one’s self-interest. And this is the key. Social commitment has become passé; self interest is all.

There will, no doubt, be much derisive laughter at this, much digging in the ribs, and pointing of fingers in mirth. “Social commitment”, “self interest” indeed. Only to be expected from the now politically incorrect, the essentially comic; those who still wear old suits, and, in the winter, mufflers wound round their necks; those who sit erect on chairs in puja pandals, doing nothing except exchange greetings with acquaintances who pass by or who, like them, sit in chairs. The dispossessed, the disinherited; those whose world has gone, to the tatters of which they cling fearfully, denied even the privilege of anger and protest.

This is as it should be, of course. Today the enforcers of the law are discreetly selective, and are skilled at facing television cameras. They have mastered the art of the significant sound byte, the deprecating smile. Some of the ones at the other end are no less skilful at making a point to the cameras, of giving a journalist a disarming statement. And all of them, the law enforcers and the accused, make sense today to the now generation. After all, yaar, what you need is a bloody statement. And who the hell cares, anyway? They’ll all slime their way out, yaar.

The starched collars and perceived correct behaviour have given way to the never ending jokes and giggles of the fashionably irreverent, those always short of time as they hurry from one party to the next. They find Rao as amusing as Azharuddin, and if they loudly deny it, then that’s an even funnier joke. It is, in fact, a roller-coaster of jokes, of sudden images of the dispossessed ones, the ones who sing Christmas carols and who express hilarious outrage at the goings-on of the street-smart now generation.

The street-smart now generation, except that they’re not nearly as street-smart as their apologists and chroniclers make them out to be. The real ones carry guns as they shoulder their way into a restaurant, backed by the only tradition that now counts, the tradition of having a powerful, influential parent, or close relative, and a number of sidekicks to applaud their every act. Next to them the now generation appears just a little credulous, a little simple, with nothing to fall back on, not even Shakespeare; perhaps a line from a rap artist with a shiny name, but even that wouldn’t make any difference. The emptiness is complete and it’s time to move over.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    

The winter session of the Orissa state assembly, which began on November 29, will be a trying time for the Bharatiya Janata Party-Biju Janata Dal coalition government under Naveen Patnaik. To add to Patnaik’s worries, many within his own party as well as those from the BJP openly criticize him. The dissension within the BJP camp poses a danger to Patnaik because his major rival, Bijay Mohapatra, has floated a new outfit, Orissa Gana Parishad and is drawing large crowds to its different meetings.

Recently, leaders of the opposition lambasted the government at the all-party meeting convened by Patnaik on November 20. The chief minister was particularly targeted for his inability to persuade the Centre to release aid for the drought-affected people. The opposition demanded that the meeting should adopt a unanimous resolution against the “Vajpayee government’s apathy towards Orissa.” The government rejected this proposal. The fertilizer price rise and the proposed power hike will also be opposed by the anti-Patnaik forces during the assembly session.

Already, starvation deaths are being reported from drought-affected Bargarh and Lakhanpur districts. Reports of distress sales of children have been widely publicized in the local press. According to estimates, over 50,000 people have migrated from the western districts to the neighbouring states in search of livelihood. The government requested a Central team to assess the damage, but no one from New Delhi turned up.

Miserable failures

Meanwhile, people from the cyclone affected coastal districts allege that the government has miserably failed in rehabilitation and reconstruction work. “The way the government is taking this up, it would take twenty years to complete the work”, asserts Bhakta Charan Das, former Union minister and the chief of the Orissa Nava Nirman Manch. Das, presently on a padayatra in the cyclone-hit districts, warns that Patnaik will not be allowed to enter the coastal belt if things do not improve by January. Ex-gratia compensation to the families of the deceased has also not been paid in many cases.

Ministers are also publicly criticizing the government. The Orissa revenue minister, Biswabhusan Harichandan and the panchayati raj minister, Surendra Nath Nayak, for instance, have openly resented the attempts to downsize the government and close down some state-owned corporations.

The chief minister’s dependence on a small coterie of officers has often been resented ever since he took charge. Patnaik can neither speak nor write Oriya and the bureaucrats are said to have taken advantage of this. Stung by such criticism, on Nov 17, Patnaik carried out a major bureaucratic reshuffle and a new chief secretary, D.P. Bagchi, was appointed.

The future beckons

Patnaik, however, assures his detractors that a bright future awaits Orissa once the Paradip oil refinery and the information technology sector are in place. Addressing a meeting of his party’s youth wing, he also promised that 30,000 unemployed young people can be accommodated once the shiksha sahayak posts are filled up. The BJP is also pressurizing him not to increase the power tariff despite losses being suffered by the state electricity board.

There is also the demand for the creation of a separate Kosala state incorporating the backward western districts. Although there is yet no mass movement for separate statehood, the municipal corporation of Sambalpur recently adopted a unanimous resolution supporting the separate state demands. Interestingly, a BJP councillor proposed the resolution and the BJD and the Congress councillors supported it. The state leadership of these parties, however, disowns the demand for a separate state. There is already a Western Orissa Development Council to look after the growth of the backward and drought-prone western districts.

The BJD-BJP alliance that swept the polls a few months ago with a two-thirds majority is thus being forced to play backfoot owing mainly to inept handling by an inexperienced chief minister. There is also a gap between the pre-liberalization aspirations of the people about government jobs, power and fertilizer subsidy and Central grants to backward states and the lack of an alternative model of growth in a market economy.


Eleven rapes have been reported in Calcutta between the last week of August and the end of October. Of these incidents, eight of the rapes have been of children and minors. Of the three adult women raped, one is a speech and hearing impaired woman, who was violated while in custody in Presidency Jail.

Almost all the women and children raped belong to the extremely poor sections of society. Poverty , the absence of a supportive social network and a breakdown in law and order have made such women and children vulnerable to all kinds of violence including rape. In nearly all the cases, the accused rapists are of a more privileged social class than their victims and are supported by money and muscle power.

Despite the physical and emotional trauma of rape, the first instinct of a raped woman is to keep quiet about the violation. The overriding reason for this is the shame attached to rape. Unfortunately, in India, the shame is for the violated woman and she has to live with the stigma of being impure. This preoccupation with chastity is carried to terrifyingly cruel extremes. Visiting a family in the city, where a young girl of five had been raped, activists tried in vain to calm down a woman who was wailing the loss of her daughter’s izzat. The self-respect of a woman is equated with chastity and is, consequently, so fragile that even being the victim of brutality in childhood stigmatizes her for life.

Equating a woman’s sense of self with her sexual purity is a dangerous mindset that manifests itself in thoughtless acts of violence towards girls and women. This kind of violence is brought into sharp focus when families and communities try to deal with the aftermath of rape. Marrying off the victim to the rapist is considered a perfectly acceptable solution. The woman or girl is expected to be grateful for this strategy of keeping her honour intact.

Such a solution emerges out of assumptions that see single women as a threat to the concept of a patriarchal family. Women’s sexuality is presumed safe only within marriage. Therefore, in a feat of reasoning that baffles all logic, a violent act like rape is seen as an expression of sexuality and the logical answer seems to be marrying off the woman to the man with whom she has had “sexual relations”. The person responsible for attacking the woman’s dignity is made the guardian of this virtue. It is by marrying this violator that the woman becomes respectable.

The woman remains incidental to this entire process. Marriage is used to sanctify rape. The criminal is rewarded with a bride for his actions. Indian law does not recognize marital rape and so the woman is now at the man’s mercy for ever. Interestingly, if this man were to commit further sexual assaults on other women, it is this woman who would be blamed by the community for not being able to hold her man. Having internalized a code of self-blame, it is unlikely whether the wife too would think any differently.

Several assumptions direct the various measures that are undertaken for the rehabilitation of rape victims. One of these assumptions is that the victim cannot continue to live and work in the locality she was originally based in when the rape occurred. If a hurried marriage cannot be organized, there is always an emphasis on moving her elsewhere. It is sometimes taken for granted that because of her stigma she will be better off in a home.

It is surprising that a culture that supposedly values family ties above all else should choose to isolate a woman from her loved ones when she has been traumatized by rape. This isolation only succeeds in creating a sense of rejection in the raped woman, a fact that becomes painfully obvious in the case of minor girls. Too young to understand the implications of rape and terrorized into silence by the violence of the experience, these young girls are bewildered by the abrupt transfer to an institution. They keep wondering what they did wrong to merit this removal to an unfamiliar milieu.

The tacit silence around rape and the desire to sweep it under the carpet needs to be broken. While there is no need to trumpet the woman’s identity high and low, not much is achieved by ignoring the particular reality. Effort should be made to create an atmosphere that allows the woman or child to live in her own surroundings with dignity and community support. Nongovernmental organizations can play a significant role in mobilizing and sustaining community support for rape victims.

It is a well-accepted fact that being raped by a stranger is relatively uncommon. Rape is usually committed by someone known to the victim. The recent rapes in the city also bear this out. Therefore, a local campaign for the rehabilitation of rape victims could also create a climate for the social rejection of rapists and sow the seeds for a movement against prevention of rape. Such a thing is undoubtedly easier said than done. However, communities cannot forever kowtow to the brutality of criminals. The police, too, cannot get off scot free if communities are keen on demanding justice.

The rape of the speech and hearing impaired woman has exposed the inability of the law and order machinery to deliver justice. It has been more than a month since this woman was raped allegedly by two or more policemen. The crime was committed while she was in judicial custody. Despite the fact that the complaint of rape was lodged with the jail authorities, there have been no arrests yet and the case is slowly turning into a mystery.

One cannot help wondering whether the police are interested at all in getting to the bottom of this mystery. Fortunately for them, the woman cannot speak. It is easy to say that there is no evidence to merit an arrest. We cannot be sure that the medical establishment too is not colluding with the police in a cover-up. This woman is poor, she is disabled and a prisoner, and so it is unlikely that too many people will take up cudgels on her behalf.

Every instance of rape brings us face to face with the issues of punishment for the perpetrator and rehabilitation for the raped woman. Appropriate support for the raped woman is essential so that she can begin a process of healing and carry on with her life. It is important that the perpetrator be punished for his crime. Other than bringing a measure of comfort to the woman such actions send out a signal to society that crimes against women do not go unpunished.

Unfortunately, it often appears that the important goals of rehabilitation and punishment are in conflict. Helping the rape victim is always a priority with those entrusted with the rehabilitation process. Yet, memories of the rape have to be kept fresh and alive to assist investigation and trial. Such a situation is always problematic and becomes harrowing in the case of child rapes. The matter of speedy trials for rape has to be attended to seriously. The trial should be seen as an integral part of the rehabilitation programme and all formalities should be completed quickly. A government committed to the safety and security of its citizens has to give high priority to such matters.

Other than speedy trials, victims of rape also deserve a court atmosphere that is unthreatening. Women’s groups have been dismayed to note that the provision for in-camera trials for rape is proving a bonus for the accused. There is a growing sense of disquiet that well-placed criminals are able to manipulate this provision for the victim’s privacy to their advantage.

For instance, in a recent case in the city, a number of railway personnel were on trial for raping a Bangladeshi woman. All through the trial, the raped woman felt intimidated and outnumbered by a mini army comprising the accused and their lawyers, who added up to more than a dozen, while she and her lawyers made up a party of three. It is, indeed, a matter of grave concern that Calcutta presents a picture of being an unsafe city for women and girls.

Last month saw the observance of Children’s Day and the Fortnight Protesting Violence Against Wom- en. Governmental and nongovernmental bodies could together voice a commitment to the goal of safety for girls and women. There have to be dialogue and an excha- nge of information between rights groups, doctors, nurses, social workers, the police, the administration and judiciary to appreciate the seriousness of rape and the need for prompt and correct action.


The only definitive solution to the Kashmir problem could be partition and a limited plebiscite. This was first suggested by Jawaharlal Nehru and adopted by the United Nations mediator, Owen Dixon, in 1950.

India wants a settlement along the line of control, a solution offered to Pakistan as far back as in 1963 during the Swaran Singh-Zulfikar Ali Bhutto talks. Pakistan rejected it as violating the UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949.

Some Kashmiri dissident groups want independence, while others want a merger with Pakistan. The ruling National Conference desires a pre-1952 autonomous status. Neither India nor Pakistan will accept independence or pre-1952 autonomy within India. Is there a way out of this stalemate?

Sectioned peace

Nehru proposed to Dixon that, in the first place, there should be a plebiscite in the valley and part of the district of Muzaffarabad east of Kishenganga river. Second, the province of Jammu east of the present LoC and the district of Ladakh (except the area above the Suru river which would go to whichever country won the valley) would go to India. Third, India would concede to Pakistan Gilgit Agency, Gilgit Wazarat, political districts and tribal territory, Baltistan and the part of Jammu province west of the present LoC.

Dixon responded with his plan of holding a partial plebiscite in a limited area and partitioning the rest of the area, where there was no doubt about the wishes of the people. India accepted this plan. Pakistan also accepted it, provided the plebiscite was free and fair.

Dixon proposed certain measures for demilitarization and induction of UN officers as temporary administrators in the valley to ensure a fair vote. India rejected these measures and with Dixon maintaining that these were necessary, the negotiations broke down.

War without end

Perhaps it is now time to take up from where Dixon left off. An enduring solution could come from focussing on the conditions for a free vote in the valley. In proceeding with the Dixon Plan, India does take the risk of losing the valley, but it secures Jammu and Ladakh which could have been lost in an overall plebiscite.

Fears that there will be communal riots if the valley goes to Pakistan fails to judge the true strength of Indian secularism. Apprehensions that fissiparous tendencies elsewhere in India will be more difficult to control are also unwarranted because they are internal problems unlike Kashmir.

Merely chanting the mantra of Kashmir being an integral part of India will get India and Pakistan nowhere. The only alternative to the Nehru-Dixon approach is the 1,000 year war promised by Bhutto. If that is rejected, as it will surely be, what alternative is there other than partition and a limited plebiscite which both India and Pakistan can accept as honourable, reasonable, practical and mutually beneficial?



Different stroke

Sir — The write-up, “Kuerten masters top guns” (Dec 5), tells us that the Brazilian, Gustavo Kuerten, has finished the year with a world number one ranking with a win in the ATP Masters Cup in Lisbon on Sunday. It is only right that he should end the year with this ranking because he has had a phenomenal run throughout 2000. He has dominated the claycourt season and also won the French again. He has come a long way since his first win at Roland Garros in the 1997 French Open final at a time when he was a complete nobody. This man, with his gangly walk, precision groundstrokes, especially a super-efficient topspin backhand, and a charming manner both on and off court has transformed the way tennis has been played in the last three or four years. He has come into a men’s tour where everybody has big serves; they all serve and volley and play with mechanical prowess. Kuerten, ever since his first appearance, has added a style and grace to the sport which have been absent since the days of Boris Becker.
Yours faithfully,
Neil Banerjee, via email

Out of control

Sir — Moni Nag presents an interesting article about AIDS control activities, particularly the success of one such project in Sonagachi (“Finding the best cure for the disease”, Dec 5). However, a couple of issues deserve mention from the perspective of behavioural intervention of HIV infection control.

First, it is becoming increasingly apparent that seroprevalence (that is, the prevalence of HIV positive individuals), emphasized in his article, is actually a poor measure of the severity of HIV and AIDS in any community. A better measure could have been the attack or conversion rate (the number of new HIV positive individuals out of all who are susceptible to infection) since this figure tries to represent how fast the problem is spreading. Since manifestation of AIDS takes a long time from the time of sero-conversion (detection of HIV positivity), knowing prevalence at a given point in time is not of much use in estimating the true magnitude of the problem.

Second, and a problem often overlooked by the behavioural interventionists (such as the ones in Sonagachi), is the phenomenon of “cycling”. This is when adopters of a particular health behaviour (or preventive behaviour, as in the case of AIDS) revert to their original risk behavioural patterns erratically. This is a wellknown phenomenon in health behavioural intervention research and one is interested in knowing the extent of this in India. An early story of success based on seroprevalence can lead to a dangerous sense of satisfaction unless the effects of cycling are included in the evaluation.

Yours faithfully,
Arin Basu, Calcutta

Sir — C.P. Thakur, the Union minister for health, deserves to be congratulated for making it mandatory for all pregnant women to have blood tests to avoid giving birth to children having minor trait thalassaemia (“Blood test is must”, Nov 25). Wouldn’t it be better if blood tests were made mandatory before marriage as well — say in schools, so that women having this trait would be able to avoid getting pregnant and suffering the subsequent trauma?

Yours faithfully,
Purnima L. Toolsidass, Calcutta

Sir — While scientific achievements are breaking new ground every day, the secrecy and non-availability of correct information on AIDS cannot be explained. This is more marked in third world countries and traditional societies like India. Teachers, parents and elders of the family must come forward to create awareness about the disease in children. Campaigns organized by the government and by nongovernmental organizations are of little help, as the last few years have shown.

Yours faithfully,
Jaikishore Jha, Calcutta

Bandit nonsense

Sir — It is really amazing that Veerappan has released the Kannada actor, Raj Kumar, after long captivity and that too without any of his demands being fulfilled (“Star returns, suspense stays”, Nov 16). It is not yet clear what made the forest brigand set the actor free after holding him hostage for nearly 108 days. It is puzzling that having successfully defied not only the two state governments but also the Supreme court which intervened in the case some two months ago,Veerappan suddenly had an attack of generosity and just set the actor free. It is difficult to comprehend this sudden change of heart and it is very likely that Veerappan has something up his sleeve. Every effort should be made to catch Veerappan before anyone else becomes his next target.

Yours faithfully,
D. Krishna, via email

Sir — It was annoying to see the members of Raj Kumar’s fan club waiting to receive him at Bangalore with garlands and crackers. These so called fans should be ashamed that they did not convince the government to take the necessary steps to free their idol and were instead venting their anger on Tamils settled in Bangalore. One hopes Raj Kumar will urge his fans to behave more responsibly in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Kalpana, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Free of Cost” (Nov 17), has rightly pointed out that the credit for the release of Raj Kumar should go to the Supreme Court for refusing to allow the state governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, from giving in to Veerappan’s demands. It is heartening to see the apex court remind the state governments of their commitment to uphold the laws of the country and the principles of democracy. What, one wonders, is the governments’ deal with the criminal?

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge/dt>

Sir — It is shocking that the chief ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had almost given in to the demands of Veerappan who had demanded the release of 51 of his cohorts, detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. The police-politicians-Veerappan nexus has been obvious for some time now. The state governments have been given adequate time to arrest this outlaw. It is now time to relegate this responsibility to the army and the air force.

Yours faithfully,
M. Das, Jamshedpur

Sultans of swing

Sir — Having raised the price of four petroleum products, the government had moved one step forward. With the decision to roll back the hike, the coalition government has again gone back a few steps under pressure. A possible explanation might be that this strategic retreat is aimed at keeping alive the marriage of convenience between the members of the National Democratic Alliance, and not at repairing the overall deficit. Ultimately, demand and supply will be the factors that will determine the price of these items.

Fixing the prices of kerosene and liquid petroleum gas in the lower range will be more beneficial to the middle and upper class than to the poor. This is borne out by such actualities as smuggling to neighbouring countries, adulteration of petrol and diesel and black marketeering. The poor ultimately have to acquire the products from these sources at three times the controlled price.

The real problem, therefore, lies in the distribution and not in prices. Cooking gas is beyond the reach of poor people. There can be no reason to reduce its price and do good to people who are already affluent. In fact, further cuts can be made in the subsidy of LPG to allot more money for the uplift of the poor.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

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