Editorial 1/ Trickle Down
Editorial 2/ Spare me the stones
You only die once
Fifth Column/ Squaring the past with the future
This above all/ The cheerful goodbye
Sectarian violence and the neglect of justice
Letters to the editor

The planning commission seems to be developing cold feet about poverty estimates. The debate about correlation between reforms and poverty reduction has taken place in the absence of any hard data. There is a robust correlation between growth and poverty reduction, established through cross-country studies or through inter-state comparisons within the country, as attempted in a paper by Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia. This is the trickle down effect of growth and it works provided growth is above a certain threshold, such as the two per cent per capita figure cited in Mr Ahluwalia’s paper. To the extent reforms have pushed up growth rates, logically there ought to be an impact on poverty, measured by the head count ratio, or percentage of population below the poverty line.

In the context of the pro-rich image of reforms, the problem is that the national sample survey undertakes large sample surveys of expenditure at infrequent intervals. The last such large sample survey was in 1993-94 and to expect that reforms started in 1991 will lead to tangible results in 1993-94 is unrealistic. The 1993-94 figures had an all-India poverty ratio of 35 per cent. Since 1993-94, there have been thin samples, but these are unreliable. Subsequently, NSS collected data for 1999-2000 and these have been processed by the planning commission to arrive at poverty figures. In eliciting household expenditure data, NSS has traditionally asked households for information about expenditure during the preceding 30 days. Recall over 30 days is difficult and eliciting information about expenditure during the preceding seven days is more reliable. In 1999-2000, households have been asked about expenditure during the preceding 30 days, as well as preceding seven days. The planning commission has not placed its poverty estimates in the public domain. But media reports suggest that the all-India poverty ratio using seven days is 23 per cent, while that using 30 days is 26 per cent. Such a sharp drop over 1993-94 is too much of good news. So the planning commission initially complained about the quality of data. There were four sub-rounds in 1999-2000 and investigators had been asked to first obtain information about thirty-day expenditure and then information about seven-day expenditure. If the sequence was reversed, as was apparently done in 10 per cent of cases in the first sub-round, respondents would multiply the seven-day figure by four to arrive at the thirty-day figure. Why respondents can multiply and not divide is of course beyond comprehension. Now that the data for the three remaining sub-rounds have been processed and they confirm the drop reported in the first sub-round, the planning commission has come up with a new argument. Thin samples show that poverty ratios on the basis of seven-day recall are half those reported by thirty-day recall. So how come 1999-2000 only shows a divergence of three per cent? Data must therefore be wrong.

In all probability, the planning commission poverty ratios will be suppressed and a fresh NSS round commissioned. The debate about correlation between reforms and poverty will continue in a data vacuum, despite the fact that independent surveys like those by the National Council of Applied Economic Research reveal a drop in poverty, with significant inter-state and inter-regional differences. There exists a mindset that will not believe good news on poverty. Moving beyond trickle down, direct anti-poverty measures have not yet been reformed and delivery mechanisms for drinking water, sanitation, rural health care, primary education and housing are inadequate, with substantial leakage. Until these reforms happen, the poor will not be beneficiaries and the anti-poor image of reforms will continue.


Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has refused to be his party’s electoral mascot. He has firmly vetoed the indiscriminate laying of foundation stones by the chief minister in order to open umpteen governmental projects. This would hopefully reduce the riot of promise-making that has become the pre-electoral routine in most Indian states. Parts of Bihar, for instance, are a wilderness of abandoned foundation stones — evidence of Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav’s visions of development. West Bengal was gearing up, in a big way, for the “welfare of the people or constituency” charade with the assembly elections approaching, when Mr Bhattacharjee decided to abort this long tradition.

Henceforth, he will be screening every project carefully before agreeing to found it ceremonially. Detailed reports regarding the funding and implementation of the project will have to be submitted to him for his approval. Projects that will be worked on immediately after foundation and, better still, the opening of completed projects will be given preference. In general, his presence at these ceremonies will be minimalized. Already, the chief minister has caused some stir by refusing to attend one such ceremony because he was unhappy with what he was told about its source of funding. This is an entirely laudable move, showing a degree of good taste and a sense of how to win back a modicum of credibility for his government. The approach of the elections in West Bengal has been characterized by two, equally mindless, phenomena — brutal violence, leading to the collapse of law and order, and a series of declarations, of visions and intentions, generally for the public good. Both are deeply harmful for the image of democracy in the state. Mr Bhattacharjee’s firmness in this particular matter is a small, but significant, step towards the restoration of a bit of dignity to a debased polity.


India is a land of many deaths. The infant mortality rate is appalling, baby girls are deliberately killed, women are murdered for dowry, people are destroyed regularly in conflicts of caste and sect, in quarrels over land and political allegiances. They also die of perfectly curable diseases like malaria and gastro-enteritis. Untimely or violent death is quite a familiar, everyday, matter-of-fact affair.

India is also a land where the poor are desperately poor. Men kill their families and themselves in insane fits of misery, parents sell off boys and girls into prostitution or contemporary forms of slavery through dubious middlemen for just that much to feed their other children in the next three months, people sell blood and sometimes a healthy kidney to keep going — and racketeers thrive.

Throw into this context the phrase, “death with dignity”, and it begins to unravel in a most disconcerting way. Dignity in this world — uncertain, unjust, violent, calloused by need and fear — is built with blocks different from those in more prosperous lands. There is a qualitative difference here. Poverty is a disabling condition which eats away at constructive relations and attitudes that cement human society. Need changes the value of love and reverses the meaning of protection. It feeds ruthless exploitation. Death with dignity symbolizes the aspiration to die while still in a state of recognizable humanness. How can this aspiration mean what it is intended to mean in a world where humanness in life is a tenuous, cruelly-earned reward, where to acquire the loincloth of apparent human dignity it is so often necessary to be “inhuman”?

But when, in spite of all this, there is a petition in court for what is popularly known as mercy-killing, it has to be recognized that death with dignity is not just an aspiration, it is sometimes a need. The Patna high court now has a petition from a tea-stall owner whose wife has been in coma since October 1999. He has tried every treatment the doctors advised. He has no savings left. The doctors have asked him to pray. He feels that he cannot watch his wife go through this agony any longer and his lawyer has pleaded that in a “civilized” country, no one should be left to suffer in such an irretrievable condition.

This is not the first such case; just one of the few rare ones that have come up in court in recent times. What gives the case its relevance is that late last year, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to make a form of mercy-killing, that is, voluntary euthanasia, legal. Euthanasia is defined as “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life so as to relieve intractable suffering”. Throughout the advanced world — in Japan and China as well as in the West — there has been for years a passionate and unrelenting debate over euthanasia.

The arguments range through the fields of law, medicine, ethics, religion and collide again and again over a fundamental dilemma: when we cannot choose to be born, can we choose to die? In our present state of understanding of life, this dilemma is, quite possibly, insoluble. But the aspiration to die with dignity, the freedom to choose to remain recognizably human till the moment of death, the desire to exercise control over the quality of existence until the point of annihilation are symptomatic of the very qualities that impel the development of human civilization. So even though the arguments of the “pro-lifers”, the campaigners against euthanasia, are compelling, the question cannot be dismissed out of hand.

The careful definition of euthanasia is not a solution to the problems, it is just the beginning. The legal distinctions seek a black-and-white clarity, which muddies over the moment they become enmeshed within the pulsating compulsions and hesitations in a sickroom. Death with dignity can be of various kinds. If the act of intervention is performed with the patient’s consent, it is voluntary; if not, as would be with the tea stall owner’s wife, it is non-voluntary.

Then there are different types of intervention. There is physician-assisted suicide, in which the patient completes the act after receiving the necessary information and wherewithal from the doctor. Alternatively, medical treatment can be withdrawn or withheld with the patient’s informed consent after the uses and the futility of continuing treatment have been weighed. There is also the “double effect”, in which the means to reduce pain hasten death.

In places where euthanasia has been legalized, there are numerous safeguards. There is an informal or partial acceptance of euthanasia in certain regions of the West; in Oregon in the United States it is legal, and in the Northern Territory of Australia it was made legal briefly in the late Nineties before the federal parliament overturned the state legislation. The Netherlands decision is thus a crucial trial, because experience and the pressure of anti-euthanasia arguments, not to speak of “Dr Death” trials — together with political necessity — have obviously defeated the Northern Territory and prevented many other countries from legalizing euthanasia.

The safeguards seek, basically, three things. That the doctor’s power should be carefully limited: he should inform the patient and his family of all the implications, he should report each case thoroughly and must have a medical panel present when the intervention is made. That the patient must be fully aware of all the possibilities and the prognosis and his request to die should be repeatedly and determinedly made over a period of time. And should the patient’s relatives make the choice, especially in cases where the patient is in irreversible coma as far as available medical expertise can say, they must do so solely out of the desire to relieve the patient of suffering and not to free themselves of financial or other distress.

The loopholes are obvious and the pro-lifers’ arguments irrefutable, whether they draw on practice or principle. Legalized euthanasia would give enormous power to the doctor. Ultimately, no one can guarantee the doctor’s good faith in reporting to colleagues and the authorities, in fully informing the patient and his family. This can be a dangerous cover-up for incompetence, ignorance of the latest medical or palliative techniques, laziness, a fanatical sense of mission to relieve pain.

And is the patient really competent to decide? A clear mind is not enough. First and foremost, unbearable pain clouds judgment. Again, awareness of diminishing family finances with no end in sight is a strong motivation. If this is a problem in advanced countries, its force can easily be imagined in a country like India. Besides, the sense of being a burden, and not just financially, is common to the aged throughout the world. Is not wanting to be a “bother” an acceptable reason to ask for death? Is this what a “civilized” society really desires? This particular problem, anti-euthanasia campaigners have shown, grows more acute in regions where mercy-killing is informally or formally accepted. It operates as a pressure to give up life because others, perhaps even the state, expects it. The situation can be horrifying and pathetic.

Who decides? Can the family be trusted with purity of motive? Property, depleting resources, hidden hostilities, the “bother” — the possibilities are endless. Love is difficult to find, to identify and quantify. Would the tea-stall owner, with his savings gone, qualify for purity of motive? Yet it is more than credible that he cannot bear to watch his wife, whom he alone goes to visit every day, continue in her state of living death.

On the constructive side, the pro-lifers argue that in places with the most advanced pain palliative techniques the declared desire to die almost disappears. Besides, the scale of unreported cases of mercy-killing casts serious doubt on the strictest of guidelines. Neither is there a clear boundary between voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. Even a “living will”, they have shown, is sometimes not enough. The written decision by a healthy person to have life ended when he is suffering unbearable pain cannot mean the same in the context of actual illness. It is just convenient for others when his mind or consciousness is gone.

Behind it all looms the unavoidable question: what about the Hippocratic oath? What about the promise to act forever with the intention to heal alone and never do anything that might harm life?

Each of these arguments gains in resonance and an infinite number of unique ramifications if placed in the Indian context. Here death and dignity have meanings different from those premised in the mercy-killing debate. Mercy, suffering, pain, cure, informed consent, have dimensions which the pro- and anti-euthanasia campaigners cannot altogether imagine. We cannot think that a debate on euthanasia is relevant, let alone imagine mercy-killing as a legal possibility. The conditions of existence in India make it not just absurd, but immoral, dangerous, perhaps evil.

But sporadic cases in courts keep reminding us of the need for such a debate, of the urge to remain recognizably human till the moment of death. No one wishes to sink into irretrievable brainlessness or be at the mercy of uncontrollable bodily functions. Yet euthanasia cannot be an issue in this land of death in the foreseeable future. Why should this be so? This one issue exposes what we have done to ourselves, that we cannot even begin to think about a problem the “civilized” world is arguing so hotly.

The conditions of existence that make the question of euthanasia irrelevant in India are not immutable ones. They are, ultimately, manmade. Self-created. It is a terrible failure that Indians cannot choose to think of a form of freedom that might — or might not — help to dignify life and death. This failure can be corrected, however long it takes. We have the right to want to be human too.


The recently released details of the secret debate among China’s leaders before they crushed the pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989 don’t just tell us about China’s past. They also tell us a lot about its present, and even about its likely future. What comes through in the documents leaked to the Washington-based journal, Foreign Affairs, is the extent of the generational split in the Chinese communist leadership eleven years ago. That also explains why the “Tiananmen papers” have been leaked now — and why China will probably get democracy, in the end, without having to go through all that again.

It was always clear who decided to open fire on the students and citizens of Beijing on 4 June, 1989, killing at least several hundreds of them. The nine Communist “elders” who made that choice, most of them semi-retired men in their eighties and nineties, were the original revolutionary generation who had spent their lives ordering the death of any Chinese who opposed them. They were outraged at this challenge to Communist rule by “those goddam bastards”on Tiananmen Square, as Wang Zhen put it on 2 June according to the leaked documents. “These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it....We’ve got to (use force) or the common people will rebel. Anybody who tries to overthrow the Communist Party deserves death and no burial.”

Not one step backwards

It’s no surprise, either, that the “senior leaders” imposed the policy of massacre by removing those among the younger generation (i.e those in their sixties and seventies) who opposed it. Their key move was the illegal replacement of the party general secretary, Zhao Ziyang, who is still under house arrest in Beijing, with the current leader, Jiang Zemin.

This generational argument is still going on in China, and will determine whether the world’s biggest country becomes a democracy or remains the great exception to the historical trend. If you combine the internal evidence in the “Tiananmen papers” with the actual experiences of ruling communist parties elsewhere, there is considerable cause for hope. First of all, only the revolutionary old guard, the octogenarians who had been wading through blood since their teens, were willing to order the killing in Beijing in 1989. Most of the younger men would not have done it, and some of them had to be removed before it could be done.

That original revolutionary generation is now gone in China too. There is huge resistance to change from the leaders who got blood all over their hands in 1989, but it will probably be overcome by the larger changes that are happening in the party — for the one lesson that eastern Europe taught us time and again is that communist parties eventually hollow out. It’s the consequence of the fact that the party requires anybody who wants to rise beyond a certain rank to become a party member. So they join, but that doesn’t mean they become believers. Eventually, the great majority of party members are secretly non-communists.

Tactical democrats

In China, many of them have also got rich through their party positions. They are not convinced that communist power is secure in the long run, and the last thing they want is some post-communist regime asking where their money came from — so maybe their best option is a managed shift to democracy that leaves them on top.

It could be done. Free the press, allow the formation of rival political parties (as many as possible), and go to free elections in six months’ time, and the communists would probably get 70 percent of the votes. Most Chinese still live in villages, and it would be decades before any party other than the Communists could have a party organization in every one of them.

A democratic safety valve and a freer society, plus continuing communist power and the lucrative opportunities that party membership brings: it’s an attractive option to the rising generation of party leaders. But first these “tactical” democrats must defeat the not-one-step-backwards faction — which includes those who ordered the Tiananmen Square massacre. That is why these documents on that critical event have now been leaked. It also suggests that the struggle between the factions is approaching end-game. China could embark on real democratic changes much sooner than we think.


It is believed that the flame of a candle burns brightest as it dies out. Is that also true of human beings? Do people who have been sick for a long time suddenly seem to get the better of their ailments for a few hours and then, without any apparent reason, suffer a relapse and die? The question has been raised by Dr P.S. Sahni of Delhi. He asks if there is any substance in the belief — maut aaney par beemaaree shareer chhor deytee hai (as death comes close, disease leaves the body).

He cites the instance of his father, who died last November at the age of 87. Dr Sahni writes: “Three months prior to his death he had a fracture around the left hip. He refused surgery. Being an orthopaedic surgeon, I put him on conservative treatment (traction), converting his bedroom into a mini nursing home.

“As he had to be in bed for three months, I took leave from work and nursed him full-time. He (a diabetic for over 20 years) went through several life-threatening situations during this period. He survived these emergencies as he did an attack of near-fatal pneumonia. However he had memory lapses (diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease). Two weeks before his death he developed an inability to swallow fluids — diagnosed as incoordination of pharyngeal muscles.

“Besides, an ulcer erupted on his left leg; this ulcer refused to heal with treatment. His face looked weak and pale for over a week before his death and he had spent restless nights then.

“However, on the morning of November 30, he woke up rather cheerful. He had slept well in the night (without any tranquilizer pill). His face was fulsome, with a glow on his cheeks. After being given bowel and bladder care, he was provided a hot water sponge bath, followed by a change of clothes. I dressed his leg wound and lo and behold, the non-healing ulcer had healed overnight! Unbelievable. I had an eerie feeling. That day (between 8 am and 2 pm) he drank one-and-a-half litres of fluids without regurgitating any bit! He enjoyed his breakfast heartily.

“During his period in bed these three months, I had been recording his vital signs. His pulse-rate, blood-pressure and temperature had returned to normal that morning after a long period. Examination of his chest showed that it was clear; his breathing was normal. He recited several lines from the Guru Granth Sahib and spoke a few sentences to my mother, praising her for having been a dutiful wife for over 60 years of their marital life.

“That very morning, my mother had commented that with the readymade turban perched on his head, he looked as if he was heading for his office as in earlier years of life. However at 5 pm, he developed a cardio-respiratory arrest. He stared at his children — the daughters and myself, who were at his bedside — as he breathed his last.

“I confess that I got ‘cheated’ by his normal vital parameters and the more-than-usual healthy look that day. I believed he was improving, whereas he was preparing for death!

“Could readers offer any comment or explanation? Have others come across this phenomenon personally? How often is it observed? Do allopaths have any explanation to offer or would they simply dismiss it?”

Money is what money does

I did not know why money is called filthy lucre. There is nothing filthy about a wad of crisp, new currency notes; nor of shining silver rupee or five rupee coins. Now I know. At the first World Punjabi Conference in Chandigarh, the convenors gave me a copy of the citation stating why I had been among the chosen Punjabis of the millennium, a silver plaque with two coins of the earliest Sikh currency depicting both sides with inscriptions in Persian. And a blue velvet pouch with a golden string. it contained the prize money of one lakh rupees. I expected it to be a crossed cheque; it was cash, a bundle of 500 rupee notes. My troubles began. I hurried back to Hotel Shivalik View, I had invited A.S. Deepak and Vandana Shukla to join me for lunch. I put the velvet bag containing the notes on the table so that I could keep my eyes on it. “You want me to count them?”, asked Deepak, “It may be more than one lakh.” I declined his offer. “It will take you all afternoon to do so. It may be less than the promised one lakh.”

After lunch, I went to my room to have a siesta. I locked the room door from the inside, put other things in my bag but held the velvet bag under my pillow and dozed off. I woke up to make sure the bag was still there. And dozed off again.

The room bell rang. I opened the door to let in two janitors. They said they had come to check if all the lights bulbs were functioning. I had not complained about any having fused. They changed one bulb. I became suspicious. I had to go to dine with the Kaushiks — Anil of the Indian police service and his wife, Sharda. I took the money with me. I could not put all of it in my pockets and gave some of it to Deepak, who had come to fetch me, to put in his coat pocket.

In the Kaushiks’s home, I mentioned the problem of having so much cash on my person. “Lets have a look,” said Anil. He felt the wad of currency notes. “Have you counted them?”, he asked. “No,” I replied, “I will do that in Delhi.”

Back in my hotel room, I bolted the door from the inside, put the velvet pouch under my pillow and switched off the lights. I slept fitfully. Every little noise outside woke me up. I switched on the lights to make sure no one had broken into my room. I felt under my pillow to make sure the velvet pouch was still there. I must have got up at least four times in the night, the longest of the year.

I was finally woken up by the operator announcing it was 6 o’clock and the room bearer bringing in a tray with a glass of fresh orange juice and coffee. My throat was sore. I went down with a heavy cold. It was the one lakh rupees in cash which brought it on.

In the train to Delhi, I hugged the pouch against my chest. It was very awkward with running nose and streaming eyes. However, I managed to get the money safely home. I dumped the pouch in my granddaughter’s lap and said, “Take the bloody lucre as a New Year gift.” And soon the nose stopped dripping and eyes stopped watering. That proves how filthy lucre can be.


Is the Maharashtra state government finally moving in the direction of fulfilling its pre-poll promise to implement the findings of the Justice Srikrishna commission that inquired into the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots that rocked Mumbai in 1992-93? Or is the latest round just one more example of the political games that have come to characterize the handling of the worst communal violence Mumbai has ever seen?

Some critics have termed the exercise an “eyewash” alleging that the action was prompted by the fact that they will soon have to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court detailing the action taken in the matter and not out of genuine interest to see the guilty being brought to book. This token step will enable them to buy time, they allege.

Pointing to the fact that the policemen against whom cases have been filed are relatively junior, activists ask why the government has failed to initiate action against a senior police official like R.D. Tyagi, then a joint commissioner of police. Tyagi was later promoted and even served as commissioner of police, Mumbai, even though the commission’s indictment of him is surprisingly explicit. According to the report, Tyagi, Deshmukh and police inspector Lahane of the special operation squad are guilty of excessive and unnecessary firing resulting in the death of nine Muslims in the Suleman Bakery incident. In fact, this is one of the two incidents singled out by the commission as “unjustified, excessive and...result(ing) in the killing of innocent citizens.”

Ever since the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government came to power, human rights organizations have been demanding action on the Srikrishna commission report, which had been summarily rejected by the previous government. These organizations had primarily focussed on two aspects of the report. First, action against the policemen and the politicians indicted by the judge.

Second, they have demanded that the government should initiate steps to reopen the over 1,000 criminal cases that the police had categorized as “true but undetected” — a category used to classify crimes that have actually taken place but where the accused cannot be identified owing to lack of evidence. These groups have contended that the Srikrishna report contains sufficient evidence to identify the accused in a number of these cases, and that the government should reopen them for fresh investigation on the basis of the facts gathered by the judge during his four and a half year enquiry.

They have argued that full compensation should now be paid to the relatives of those 500 people declared “missing” (and now assumed dead). Apparently, they are still being made to run from pillar to post to obtain what should have been rightfully theirs according to the government’s own orders.

On all of the above grounds, the Democratic Front government stands indicted of tardiness at best and of wilful delay at worst. Take the example of the action against the indicted politicians, the single most important one being the Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray. After one round of drama that took place in July last year, the government has dragged its heels on initiating further action against the “general” who “directed the troops” during the entire period. The same inaction is evident with regard to the closed criminal cases and with compensation.

Thus a full eight years after Bombay “was rocked” by what Srikrishna later described as “riots and violence unprecedented in magnitude and ferocity, as though the forces of Satan were let loose, destroying all human values and civilized behaviour”, the wheels of justice continue to grind slowly, if at all.



Hooliganism for art’s sake

Sir — The hooliganism of goons, allegedly affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on the City Pulse multiplex in Ahmedabad, slated to host the premiere of M.F. Husain’s new film, Gajagamini, is yet another attack by anti-secular forces on the arts (“Gujarat vandals stall Gajagamini release”, Dec 29). Although the VHP has denied its involvement in the incident, its leader had no qualms in declaring that Husain will not be allowed to enter the city. The sangh parivar’s moral and cultural policing is clearly on the rise, and this could not have been possible without active political patronage. For the members of the parivar, gripped by ignorance and intolerance, a film is not to be judged on its artistic merit, but on the religious tilt its director supposedly lends it. In fact, Husain’s film has attracted several unfavourable reviews, but they have not been premised upon Husain’s identity as a member of a minority community. The protesters in Ahmedabad must realize that a film is an art-form and not a religious manifesto.
Yours faithfully,
Nagendra Singhania, Howrah

Clearly stamped

Sir — It has become fashionable for some people in our country to criticize India’s ancient culture and heritage. This is clearly evident in Ramachandra Guha’s article, “The stamp of ugliness” (Dec 30). Guha has suggested that the “Sindhu Darshan” stamp issued by the post and telegraph department is indicative of the department’s saffronization.

Guha would do well to remember that the committee formed in Karachi to design the national flag of independent India in 1931 had recommended a saffron flag or the bhagwa dhwaj with a blue chakra on the top left corner. The committee included Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Tara Singh, Vallabhbhai Patel, D.P. Kalelkar, N.S. Hardikar and Pattabhi Sitaramayya. It seems to be divine providence that saved Guha and his ilk from having to accept a saffron flag instead of the tricolour.

Guha finds the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya distasteful. But he is silent about the reconstruction of the Shiv mandir at Somnath by the Congress government in 1950 and the Vivekananda rock temple constructed by Eknath Ranade, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak. The latter attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. In a democratic country like India, the desire of the majority of the population should be honoured.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Ramachandra Guha must be thanked. For the first time, the aesthetically unpleasant side to the neo-Hindutva brigade has been shown up. Isn’t it ironic that in the name of reviving ancient traditions and restoring Hindu heritage buildings it is systematically pulling down the high standards of art and architecture set by our ancestors? Anyone who has seen the model of the proposed Ram mandir will agree.

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Ghosal, Calcutta

Sir — Ramachandra Guha shoots blindly in his article, “The stamp of ugliness”. He mentions that the stamp issued to commemorate “Sindhu Darshan” displays an “unidentified (and unidentifiable) animal looking on”. It is surprising that Guha has little interest in India’s ancient history and the links of the Indian civilization with the ancient civilization of Latin America. The animal depicted on the stamp is shown in many seals found in the Indus valley civilization. An American archaeologist, Alden Mason, curator of the Peru Museum, has furnished evidence in his book, The Ancient Civilization of Peru, showing that the animal on the Indus seals is of Peruvian origin and is called the llama. This is the animal on the new stamp.

Yours faithfully,
Maya Goswami, Durgapur

Sir — One cannot agree with Ramachandra Guha’s contention that the “postal system has not been immune to the saffronizing of the state” in connection with the recent issue of a postage stamp to mark “Sindhu Darshan”. The postal department has issued many stamps to promote tourism and this is one. Ladakh, from where the Sindhu or the Indus flows, has already been opened to tourists. The postal department has also issued stamps related to religion and religious matters. We have had stamps before featuring temples, gurudwaras, Jain temples and the Buddha.

There is however some truth in Guha’s objection to the stamp on grounds of aesthetics. The design could have been made more attractive. This looks almost like a match-box label.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Still off track

Sir — There is no direct passenger train between Howrah and Durgapur except the Mayurakshi express. It carries passengers beyond its capacity and is almost impossible to board with children. Chances of seats in mail or express trains from intermediate stations are remote.

The introduction of EMU trains from Balichak has helped the people of the region. Durgapur is 158 kilometres from Howrah. It may be recalled that there are EMU trains from Ghaziabad junction to Mathura via Delhi covering a distance of 169 km in four hours.

It will help the people of Durgapur greatly if mail and passenger trains plying on the chord line and the main line connected the station to Howrah. Besides fetching the railways revenue, this will also attract people who travel to Burdwan by bus to use the railway.

Yours faithfully,
N.G. Biswas, Durgapur

Sir — While returning from an excursion on December 23, we had to board an overcrowded Gitanjali Express at the Bhusawal station. Cramped between people and suffocated by the incessant smoking of co-passengers, several of my friends and I started having breathing problems. I felt so ill that I needed immediate medical attention. I was prescribed injections and medication.

I am thankful to my own team and also the driver of the train and the stationmaster of Badhera station who delayed the train for more than 15 minutes to help us get over the crisis. I request the railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, to strictly ban smoking on trains.

Yours faithfully,
Tanaya Chatterjee, Calcutta

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