Editorial 1/ Fire power
Editorial 2/ Blissfully blind
How to beat the deficit
Fifth Column/ Africa’s violent thirty years war
This above all/ Participating in the ritual of wasting time
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ FIRE POWER 
 
 
 
 
The second successful test of Agni II will do much to improve the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent. The missile was tested in its final operational configuration, and although it may be some time before Agni II is finally inducted into the armed forces, it will greatly restore the country’s confidence in the Defence Research and Development Organization, which developed the missile. The test should also calm critics of the government who were suggesting that missile testing might have been suspended under international, and especially American, pressure. International reactions to the test have been predictably harsh. But external criticism should not deter India from continuing to develop its delivery capability, which is essential if New Delhi has to acquire the necessary strategic autonomy in an unfriendly neighbourhood and an uncertain international system.

Ever since India conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998, it had become obvious that New Delhi’s claim of possessing a “very credible nuclear deterrent”, especially vis à vis China, would remain shallow without having a sophisticated intermediate range ballistic missile, that could strike deep into Chinese territory, as part of its arsenal. With a range of at least 2,000 kilometres, Agni II can at least strike some of the cities in the western parts of China if deployed in the eastern parts of India. It may be recalled that Agni had begun development in 1979 and that it became part of India’s integrated guided missile development programme in 1983. The first prototype of an operational variant was tested in April 1999. Significantly, Agni-II has a solid-solid propulsion system, which allows the missile to be mobile and flexible. It is obvious, however, that even after the induction of Agni II, it will be premature to believe that India has a totally credible nuclear deterrent. For that to happen, at least three other conditions have to be met. First, India has to continue with its plan to develop and test Agni III, with a range of about 3,000 kilometres, and Surya — an intercontinental ballistic missile. Only when India has the capability to strike Beijing or Shanghai will New Delhi be in a position to inflict unacceptable damage on China, which is essential for the success and stability of a nuclear deterrence relationship. Second, while India has an arsenal of strike aircraft capable of delivering nuclear warheads and IRBMs, it still is some years away from acquiring a nuclear submarine. It is widely acknowledged that only by possessing a nuclear triad of land, air and sea based systems can the survivability of the nuclear deterrent be ensured. Efforts, therefore, to develop the advanced technology vehicle must proceed with full strength. Finally, India must quickly put in place a coherent nuclear doctrine and an attendant command and control system. Although the national security advisory board submitted a draft nuclear doctrine last year, it is still not clear whether the government has adopted these recommendations.

The timing of the testing has generated some controversy since it was carried out while the Chinese leader, Mr. Li Peng, was still on Indian soil. This has invited comparisons with China’s nuclear test in 1992 during the trip of the former president, Mr R. Venkatraman. It would, however, be immature to suggest such a motive for the government’s decision. What, however, is clear is that New Delhi, even while continuing to forge better ties with China, will not compromise on the fundamental requirements necessary to ensure a credible deterrent against its eastern neighbour.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ BLISSFULLY BLIND 
 
 
 
 
The second successful test of Agni II will do much to improve the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent. The missile was tested in its final operational configuration, and although it may be some time before Agni II is finally inducted into the armed forces, it will greatly restore the country’s confidence in the Defence Research and Development Organization, which developed the missile. The test should also calm critics of the government who were suggesting that missile testing might have been suspended under international, and especially American, pressure. International reactions to the test have been predictably harsh. But external criticism should not deter India from continuing to develop its delivery capability, which is essential if New Delhi has to acquire the necessary strategic autonomy in an unfriendly neighbourhood and an uncertain international system.

Ever since India conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998, it had become obvious that New Delhi’s claim of possessing a “very credible nuclear deterrent”, especially vis à vis China, would remain shallow without having a sophisticated intermediate range ballistic missile, that could strike deep into Chinese territory, as part of its arsenal. With a range of at least 2,000 kilometres, Agni II can at least strike some of the cities in the western parts of China if deployed in the eastern parts of India. It may be recalled that Agni had begun development in 1979 and that it became part of India’s integrated guided missile development programme in 1983. The first prototype of an operational variant was tested in April 1999. Significantly, Agni-II has a solid-solid propulsion system, which allows the missile to be mobile and flexible. It is obvious, however, that even after the induction of Agni II, it will be premature to believe that India has a totally credible nuclear deterrent. For that to happen, at least three other conditions have to be met. First, India has to continue with its plan to develop and test Agni III, with a range of about 3,000 kilometres, and Surya — an intercontinental ballistic missile. Only when India has the capability to strike Beijing or Shanghai will New Delhi be in a position to inflict unacceptable damage on China, which is essential for the success and stability of a nuclear deterrence relationship. Second, while India has an arsenal of strike aircraft capable of delivering nuclear warheads and IRBMs, it still is some years away from acquiring a nuclear submarine. It is widely acknowledged that only by possessing a nuclear triad of land, air and sea based systems can the survivability of the nuclear deterrent be ensured. Efforts, therefore, to develop the advanced technology vehicle must proceed with full strength. Finally, India must quickly put in place a coherent nuclear doctrine and an attendant command and control system. Although the national security advisory board submitted a draft nuclear doctrine last year, it is still not clear whether the government has adopted these recommendations.

The timing of the testing has generated some controversy since it was carried out while the Chinese leader, Mr. Li Peng, was still on Indian soil. This has invited comparisons with China’s nuclear test in 1992 during the trip of the former president, Mr R. Venkatraman. It would, however, be immature to suggest such a motive for the government’s decision. What, however, is clear is that New Delhi, even while continuing to forge better ties with China, will not compromise on the fundamental requirements necessary to ensure a credible deterrent against its eastern neighbour.

Children are really not a priority in India. There are just too many signs of this. Most telling is the fact that reiterated notice of this particular form of callousness in surveys, reports and the media has not made any difference to government departments. Now it is the comptroller and auditor general’s report recording the failure of the integrated child development services scheme. The scheme is under the department of women and child development and is thus directly related to the human resources development and the health and family welfare ministries. The tale of neglect is very simple. The trio of impressively named ministries and department has failed to supply the right amount of vitamin A solution and iron and folic acid tablets meant to be administered every six months to children under the ICDS scheme. This 25 year old project was aimed to prevent blindness in infants caused by vitamin A deficiency. India has one of the highest rates of infant blindness, the chief reason for which is the lack of adequate and balanced food. The target was thus clearly focussed, it needed the callousness and corruption of successive administrations to lose sight of it. The CAG report has shown that there was no supply of the solution and tablets from 1992 to 1999 in most states while in others there was no record of the receipt and distribution of vitamin A.

Yet, the arrangement would seem foolproof. The women and child welfare department was to coordinate with the state health departments regarding the requirements of each state and the resultant action was to be reported to the HRD ministry. Apparently the HRD ministry has no answers to any of the CAG’s questions; it is blissfully ignorant about the status of the programme. Besides proving that child health is a low or non-existent priority among those that run the country, this also shows that an administrative machinery bristling with papers and people is the best way to create an underdeveloped, unhealthy nation.

   

 
 
HOW TO BEAT THE DEFICIT 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
The fiscal responsibility bill, which the finance minister has piloted, represents an important step forward in the reform of the fiscal system. The finance minister has placed before the country very specific and tough targets of implementation in terms of fiscal deficit and revenue deficit. The targets obviously are modelled after the European Union and the Maastricht treaty. The belief behind the targets is that inflation can be controlled by reduction of the fiscal deficit. The limit of three per cent having been laid down in the Maastricht treaty, it has become a paradigm for other fiscal systems.

It is comparatively easy to pilot a bill before Parliament, although I do not underestimate the objections that will be raised by members of various parties. What is more important is to ensure that the targets are implemented. The finance minister seems to be having a problem in reaching even the targets set in his budget for 2000-01. The recession in the economy is sure to pull down revenue, although it must be granted in the finance minister’s favour that the corporate tax revenues have been showing a consistent degree of increase.

The finance minister has also got the increasing demands of defence to fulfil. When he is having such problems to attain even the modest targets in the budget for 2000-01, it is not clear how he expects to reach the targets, which he has laid before himself in the fiscal responsibility bill.

The bill commits the Centre to attain a gross fiscal deficit level of two per cent of the gross domestic product by 2006, a stiff target even by Maastricht standards. The more binding target is that in respect of revenue deficit, the difference between total revenues and expenditure on current account. The bill before Parliament commits itself to the reduction of revenue deficit to “zero” by 2006. In addition, the total liabilities (a measure of debt) are proposed to be reduced to 50 per cent of the GDP compared to the current level of 56 per cent.

The standards laid down are optimum and can definitely raise the fiscal health of the country. But, to reach this goal, the government has to do many things. Apart from cutting expenditure, it has to raise taxes. There is a limit up to which taxes can be raised. The country is suffering from recessionary trends and industry has already placed before the finance minister a request for reduction of the tax burden.

The budget for 2000-01 shows how limited a manoeuvrability the fiance minister has. One important constraint for reduction of revenue deficit is the mounting interest expenditure, now estimated at about Rs 101,266 crore. The situation on the border has also led to defence expenditure being estimated at roughly Rs 58,587 crore and rising. The revenue deficit of Rs 77,000 crore is more than fully explained by interest costs alone. The gross fiscal deficit of the government is roughly Rs 111,000 crore, again almost fully accounted for by interest costs alone.

If the government is to make the fiscal responsibility act a meaningful measure, it must carry through an “education” of the members regarding the imperatives of taking steps which will enable fiscal deficit to be reduced. These steps involve unpopular decisions, such as cutting staff and reducing subsidies.

Before the fiscal responsibility bill is passed, it is important that the finance minister undertakes the task of taking Parliament through the implications in detailed terms. There cannot be any continuation of things as they are. From the topmost level of leadership, the prime minister, the ruling coalition has to accept the imperatives of fiscal responsibility. No longer can there be the licence for the prime minister to announce large programmes, which are unbudgeted, however desirable they may be inherently. There has to be a drill by which any expenditure announcement between budgets has to be cleared by a fiscal responsibility group of cabinet ministers, headed by the finance minister. Unless fiscal discipline is observed, populist commitments will go on increasing and make impracticable the attainment of the goals of the fiscal responsibility act.

What are the directions in which the government can take steps to reduce deficit? Apart from the obvious one of not undertaking new populist commitments, such as subsidies, it stands to reason that the government should abridge its staff costs.

One of the problems in undertaking this arises from the fact that many of the staffing positions have been provided on the basis of agreed norms and are as a result of elaborate negotiations between labour and the government. Any attempt to reduce the Rs 40,000 crore of staff expenditure will be faced by industrial relations problems. The government may even consider an analogue of the voluntary retirement scheme, which has proved attractive in the banking sector. But it has to be affordable.

Reduction of interest expenditure is one of the most important measures. The government has taken repeated steps in vain to attain this goal. One of the measures, which is worth repeating, is that the government should enlarge the pool of resources from which it borrows. This can be done simply by undertaking sovereign borrowing in the international market. India’s credit rating today is still good, as evidenced by the recent response to India Millennium Deposit bonds. It makes better sense for the government to borrow directly in the international market. than through the medium of State Bank of India. Even if the international investor takes into account the likely depreciation of the rupee by six to seven per cent per annum, effective cost of borrowing will be only in the neighbourhood of Libor plus expected rate of depreciation — still lower than the rate at which the government borrows at the margin.

It will also encourage banks to lend to business. China’s experiment with international bonds, even a 100 year bond, proved successful. India can also make a successful foray. I am not suggesting this as a measure of encouraging fiscal extravagance. On the contrary, India’s presence in the international bond market will itself act as a check to fiscal profligacy. The Indian policymaker will have to assess how his decisions will impact on interest rates levied by the bond market.

Yet another suggestion regarding the mix of bond and money financing. Since the early Nineties, the Reserve Bank of India has been insisting on as little of monetization as possible. Considering that the present fiscal deficit net of interest is almost negative, it is worth considering a slightly more liberal blend in which the government resorts to monetization at least for a part of its borrowing.

This remedy may appear as unorthodox. But, considering the number of gyrations which the government is forced to take to collect taxes, control expenditure, just in order to meet interest liability, it seems to be worthwhile resorting to printing money at least for part of the nation-building activity of the government. In the long run, there is enough theoretical evidence to show that printing money may not be more inflationary than raising money through bonds.

Ultimately, there is no gimmick by which the government can bring fiscal health to good shape. Fiscal responsibility involves hard decisions, particularly in the area of subsidies. The government has already taken a number of steps, but one subsidy is still continuing and that is the subsidy relating to oil prices. Considering that oil prices are globally volatile, it would be more pragmatic to ensure that the people of India will get all the petro-products at international prices.

Unfortunately, we have got into a system by which we continue to supply kerosene and diesel to people at prices well below costs. The political leadership has to be educated as to the fiscal implications of continuing this system. Kerosene prices being definitely low means that it is used for adulteration of diesel. The poor, who are the “targets” of kerosene subsidy, do not very often get kerosene because of its greater attractiveness for adulteration. The government has to bite the bullet involved in the decision for raising petroleum product prices. Ultimately, we are anyway importing petroleum products from the international markets and providing them at cheaper rates will only encourage wasteful use.

In the final analysis, one cannot escape the conclusion that solution to the fiscal problems lies in high growth. Growth alone will enable taxes to grow. The tax system has also to be reformed. Unless the tax revenue as a percentage of the GDP increases, it will not be possible to reach the goals laid down by the fiscal responsibility bill.

The least that we expect when the finance minister pilots the fiscal responsibility bill is that he also draws up a roadmap by which he expects the country to be led to attain the goals stated in the act. Surely, outlining of such a roadmap will create a controversy on some of the details. But, it is far better that Parliament passes the act in the full knowledge of its implications, rather than accepts some idealistic numbers as targets of fiscal responsibility. Otherwise, the act will remain just a declaration of pious intentions as many of our enactments already are.

The author is former governor of the Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ AFRICA’S VIOLENT THIRTY YEARS WAR 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
What can be said about the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and of the seven foreign armies fighting on its soil, after Tuesday’s killing of the Congolese president, Laurent Kabila?

You can safely say that neither the late president’s son, General Joseph Kabila, nor any of the nephews, cousins and in-laws who filled his government, will last long. Their power base lies a thousand miles away in Katanga — which may, in any case, be about to fall to Rwandan troops.

You can say that the Rwandan and Ugandan armies fighting in Congo are better troops with shorter supply lines than their opponents. You can observe that the Zimbabwean and Namibian governments have not managed to loot as much of Congo’s vast resources as they hoped when they sent troops to back Kabila, and may be thinking of pulling out. (Whereas Uganda, with no gold reserves, made nearly as much from gold exports last year as from coffee.)

But you cannot say when the war will end, or who will win it, or how many have died because of it in the past four years (one credible estimate is a million people), or even if there will be a Congo at the end of it. As the many-sided fighting has spilled across the country, with famine, plague and genocide as its constant companions, it has come to resemble more and more the 17th-century European calamity called the Thirty Years War.

Too many battles

Though every European power was involved, the fighting mostly took place in the German-speaking parts of Europe, where up to a third of the population was killed between 1618 and 1648. It was a war replete with famines, plagues and massacres, and the disciplined armies that began it eventually degenerated into starveling bands of freebooters who roamed the devastated countryside like wolves, practising extortion, rape, murder and occasional cannibalism. And it all went on for 30 years.

The Congo has not reached quite that level yet, but it could. And this is happening in the 21st century, not the 17th. The world can watch the Congolese disaster on television — and the question it silently asks is, how can things have gone this wrong in Africa?

Because it isn’t just the Congo. For the past decade, Africa has been full of wars like this: Sudan, Angola, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone.... The Congo just happens to be the biggest war, since with 50 million people it is Africa’s second-biggest country — but if Nigeria blows (and it could) even this disaster would pale by comparison.

No other part of the world is suffering remotely similar levels of violence, social breakdown and economic collapse. Yet at independence 35 or 40 years ago, most African countries were more developed, better educated, with higher living standards than their recently independent Asian counterparts. The Asians have escaped the worst of the violence and are mostly escaping from poverty too, while Africa sinks ever deeper into both. Why?

And too many tribes

Think about the Thirty Years War, and all the other huge wars that disfigure the past of Europe and Asia. What they really did, over millennia of misery, was to grind all the little tribes and their separate identities into the big, coherent ethnic groups that live in those continents today. Only eight languages now account for 75 per cent of Europe’s population. Only three languages account for about half of Asia’s much larger population.

These big, simple groups are a lot easier to govern, and their willingness to cooperate for the common good means they develop faster economically, too. Whereas Africa, uniquely among the continents, still contains most of the hundreds of ethnic groups it started out with. Nobody has ground them together, and each tends to put its own ethnic definition of the “common good” first.

The problem is not badly drawn colonial-era borders. There are no borders that make both economic and ethnic sense in most parts of Africa. That is the real reason not just for most of Africa’s wars, but for its economic decline too.

So Africans, to escape their current fate, have to solve a problem that the rest of the world mostly just dodged: how to run a modern democratic state containing a large number of different ethnic and linguistic groups. The price for failure is Congos everlasting.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ PARTICIPATING IN THE RITUAL OF WASTING TIME 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
Ujjal Dosanjh, prime minister of British Columbia (Canada) spent a fortnight in India. His main purpose was a pilgrimage to his village, Dosanjh Kalan. He was given a rousing reception wherever he went: welcome arches, guards of honour, mammoth crowds, marigold garlands, speeches — everything one could think of for a son returning to his mother’s embrace after many years.

He found time to see me in my little flat as I had known him over two decades. I asked him how he felt. He admitted he was overwhelmed by the receptions he got everywhere and added, “I wish our people would not waste so much time and money on meaningless ritual. I had to go through a painstaking schedule of four or five speeches everyday. I was pressed for time. It made no difference.

“More than half the time I had allotted for a meeting was spent in being garlanded. When my face was obliterated by marigold flowers I had to offload the lot to make room for another round of garlands. Then another. On the dais there would be another ritual of presenting bouquets: now Shri so and so will present a bouquet on behalf of the Sanatan Dharam High School to our distinguished guest, now Sardar so and so will present a bouquet on behalf of the Khalsa College to our distinguished guest.

“This would go on for another 10 minutes or so. In the end I was left with barely 15 minutes to talk about Canada and India. You must write about this in your column.”

And so I do. I have also been at the receiving end of such ritualized procedures of welcoming guest speakers in all parts of our country. First the garlanding — marigold flowers or shavings of sandalwood, an arti by young ladies followed by a tilak on the forehead. Then a rosette with ribbons of silk or nylon of different colours pinned on the chest.

The guest of honour is then led to the dais and asked to light oil lamps. Matches are not enough; so he is given a lit candle to light five diyas. Some wicks have soaked enough oil to be able to oblige; if the meeting is in the open, flames flicker and go out. That’s a bad omen.

Many meetings open with song. It may be one of welcome taken from a Hindi film “Sunee aahat aap kay aanee kee, apney ghar ko sajayaa ham ney (As I heard the sound of your approaching footsteps I decorated my home to welcome you),” or words to that effect. In most Rotary Club meetings they begin with Jana Gana Mana or Vande Mataram solemnly sung at attention and out of tune. In Kashmir and other Urdu-speaking areas it can be Allama Iqbal’s “Saarey jahan say achcha Hindustan hamara.”

Not to be outdone, every meeting where Sikhs predominate proceedings begin with Guru Gobind Singh’s invocation to Lord Shiva: “Dey Shiva bar moehai, shubh karaman tay kabhoon na taroon (Lord Shiva, this boon of thee I ask, let me never shun a rightous task)”. Everyone is asked to stand up while it is being sung, as if it is the national anthem or God save the King (now Queen) in England.

These rituals are charming in themselves but they do take a lot of time.

Part of an extended family

One afternoon in 1984 I happened to be in Calcutta’s airport hotel awaiting to catch my flight for Delhi. I prefer to stay near the airport than in the city to avoid hassles of bandhs and processions which are the bane of life in this metropolis. Also, one is less accessible and the chances of being left alone to read in peace or idle away the hours doing nothing are brighter.

That afternoon my phone rang. “This is Piyali speaking,” said a young girl’s voice. “Piyali Sengupta, I am working for my PhD. Can I see you for a few minutes? I learnt from the Ananda Bazar Patrika office that you were staying at the airport hotel.”

I invited Piyali Sengupta for tea. An hour later she came armed with her father as a safety precaution as she was a pretty 19 year old college girl. He brought me a bottle of Scotch as friendly offering: evidently he knew the way to my heart. We sipped tea and talked about her PhD. As the only child of her parents she wanted to stay single as long as she could with them.

At the time I did not know there was another reason not to hurry into a marriage. This was her mother’s fragile health; she was suffering from Myasthenia Gravis, a disease which impairs muscles and nerves.

Thereafter, I met Piyali many times. Whenever she came to Delhi in connection with her research, she dropped in to see me. Whenever I happened to be in Calcutta, she came over to spend some time with me. I became her chacha.

Two years ago she invited me to her wedding. I went all the way to Calcutta and found myself in a huge brightly lit mansion among well-dressed bhadralok, none of whom I recognized. There were no ladies to be seen. Ultimately, word got round that a sardar was loitering about in the garden. Then a lady came out of the house and introduced herself: “I am Piyali’s mother. Come inside, she is being prepared for her wedding.” I accompanied her.

There was Piyali decked in all her bridal finery and sandal paste dots being made on her face by a bevy of girls. She touched my feet and stood up. I took her in my arms. “Chacha, I am so happy you have come.” It was a very emotional meeting just as if I was giving away my own daughter in marriage. I noticed how closely the mother and daughter resembled each other.

Piyali’s mother, Basanti devi, was a distinguished woman in her own rights. She was the daughter of a renowned singer and composer of music, Gopal Dasgupta, who was music producer with All IndiaRadio. Music was in her blood. She began singing as a child artist in Shishu Mahal in 1948.

Years later, when she was afflicted by Myasthenia, she fought it back, taking on more work. She took a degree in journalism while she continued to perform for radio and television. In the memory of her father she set up the Banitirtha Gopal Dasgupta Academy of Music and Art. She was associated with the Children’s Little Theatre. She was honoured by the Bangiya Sahitya Sammelan for her contribution to music. She was a great wit and was passionately fond of dogs. She led a life full of cheer and laughter.

Meanwhile, Piyali and her husband settled in Delaware. She continued her post-doctorate research work; he joined the Dupont Corporation. Piyali rang me up at least once a month. The dialogue was the same. “Chacha, how are you?” My reply was “Fine! When are you going to make me a grand-uncle? When are you coming back to India?”

The last time she rang me up on New Year’s Day from Calcutta to give me the sad news. Her mother Basanti Sengupta had died in Woodlands Hospital. She was 63.

Of fallen men and heroes

Azhar and the other tainted guys,
Under the watchful BCCI eyes
Ruined the glorious game
And brought national shame
As their heaps of ill-gotten wealth touched the skies!
Veteran Jethmalani at seventy seven,
Takes on Vajpayee, Anand and other mighty men,
For calling him “impertinent”;
Says he is quite “transparent”,
And his virile pen exposes “Big Egos of Small Men”!

(Contributed by M.G. Narasimha Murthy, Hyderabad)

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Brutal unconcern

Sir — The article, “Famous for being famous” (Jan 7), has hinted at the media frenzy that the visit of the astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, has generated in our country. However, the reports have failed to focus on an important issue. Could Hawking have functioned in a country like India where disability is still a curse? Even after 53 years of independence both the Central and the state governments have done very little for disabled persons. From time to time, the government pays lip service to the problem by raising the issue in Parliament but nothing worthwhile transpires. Even the most basic facilities for the disabled, expected of a civilized society, does not exist here. Most efforts remain erratic and incomplete because of a lack of funds and brutal unconcern. Not only has the government failed to amend the Persons with Disability Act, 1995, but it has also been unable to raise levels of awareness regarding the treatment, care and rehabilitation of diseases like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.
Yours faithfully,
Pradip Mukherjee, via email

Legislating privacy

Sir — The decision to introduce a bill that will make domestic violence in any form a punishable offence is no doubt commendable.(“Bill to punish wife tormentors”, Jan 3). If the bill is passed, it will give hope to the thousands of women who are confronted with physical, emotional and sexual violence everyday. The passing of this bill, however, will not be enough. Efforts will have to be made to delve into the psyche of both the oppressor and the oppressed in order to find out what provokes violence of this nature.

The psychological ramifications of domestic violence also need to be examined. Most women who endure violence silently also encourage their daughters to do the same. Years of social conditioning have made it virtually impossible for women to confront their abusers. If the bill is passed and it becomes a law, one hopes that more and more women will be encouraged to raise their voices against domestic violence.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Given the fact that the existing laws have failed to protect women against all forms of violence, it is difficult to understand how this bill is going to do the same. The idea of appointing protection officers who will have the power to examine the premises of a couple’s home is ridiculous. How will the state justify this invasion of privacy? It is unlikely that the police will find any signs of violence because the perpetrator will do his best to to get rid of the incriminating evidence. Even if a woman finds the courage to lodge a formal complaint, it will be difficult for her to continue living under the same roof as her perpetrator. The bill will have to take into consideration all these factors.

Yours faithfully,
Mohua Roy, Asansol

Sir — Anjana Maitra’s article, “Man, woman and the law” (Jan 17), has highlighted a universal problem: violence against women. Most of the problems faced by women in India are because of their lack of economic security. It has been estimated that women do 60 per cent of the total work in society even though their share in property is only one per cent and their income is only 10 per cent. An apathetic society, a weak law enforcement machinery and age-old prejudices have made matters worse.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjoy Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — It was interesting to read the news report, “Sex harassment focus on govt jewels” (Jan 14). While there may be a few genuine cases of sexual harassment, many women use this as a pretext to get what they want from men. Some women use provocative gestures and clothes to attract men and use them for their own ends. What most forget is that sexual harassment of men by women is also possible.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Sexual harassment in the workplace remains one of the most pressing problems for women. Not only does a woman have to work harder than her male colleagues, but she also might have to deal with sexual advances and jokes.

After being sexually harassed, most women have no other alternative but to quit their jobs. Confrontation usually means publicity and embarrassment. One hopes that the Centre will implement the Supreme Court’s guidelines on sexual harassment

Yours faithfully,
Sangeeta Kaul, via email

Indian English

Sir — The article, “Language is the key” (Jan 18), highlights the grim condition of English education in our country. After passing the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination last year, I took admission in the College of Engineering and Management, Kolaghat. Many of my friends come from villages like Karimpur in Nadia, and from other villages in Midnapore and the other districts of West Bengal. Many have passed from Bengali-medium schools where English is introduced from class V onwards. These students have passed the WBJEE in Bengali and suddenly find themselves in a college where the medium of instruction is English. As a result, they suffer from an inferiority complex and seem to lose their power of speech when they are surrounded by students who speak in English. Some of them are so disoriented that they are forced to leave.

Will West Bengal and India continue to suffer from the lack of quality scientists, engineers and doctors? Politicians should realize the importance of English as the medium of instruction in all schools. Otherwise the future of our state and our country, especially in the fields of science and technology, looks grim.

Yours faithfully,
Saswata Barman, Calcutta

Sir — For all practical purposes, Hindi cannot replace English as a language of communication. While Hindi may be the official language of our country, people from north India can only communicate with those from the south if they can understand and speak English.

It is time we accepted the fact that more than 24 states in our country have vernaculars. English is the language of modern India and should be made compulsory in schools and colleges. After 200 years of colonial rule, English has become an Indian language.

Yours faithfully,
Raj Antao, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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